The Tower of Babel

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Survival / Culture>

Diversity vs. Mono-Culture: The Tower of Babel
Mission: to replace federated anything with networked small communities

links still to be fixed

Genesis 11 has it that the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. (And I apologize for my redundancies!) And the people of Shinar (wherever that is) decided Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; (how high is that?) and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar

Brick? No steel? No tensegrity? No rocket power? Frank Lloyd Wright had twentieth-century technology and the sky scraper he proposed was only one mile high.

Anyway, Genesis gives the project a humiliating outcome: the Lord confounded their language and scattered them. Not untypically, the Bible has another major thing backwards — it’s nature that favors diversity; it’s civilization that homogenizes. (And the Lord God is a pure reflection, not of nature, but of civilization.)

When I was a kid I was super-civilized. I thought Lincoln note was the berries for maintaining a United States. I thought the idea of us all speaking English was wonderful. However critical I was of what I was told about Roman Catholicism, I still embraced the “catholic” ideal: one God, one church. I was all for the formation of the United Nations.

By nature, men are nearly alike;
by practice, they get to be wide apart.


In other words, I was all for whatever I had been encouraged to be all for. I was aghast to learn that the United States hadn’t led the way toward the League of Nations. Now of course I think my own thoughts. I think of them all — the Unites States, the United Nations, the League of Nations, the Roman Catholic Church … — as the Five Families leaguing with General Motors, leaguing with arms merchants, leaguing with Bill Gates, leaguing with David Copperfield and Uri Geller …

This child had also swallowed the idea of the universe as God’s own private plaything. The story of Noah didn’t bother me in the slightest. Why shouldn’t He kill or torture anything or everything He wants to? He made us, didn’t he? don’t we belong to him? Can’t I rip my teddy bear apart if I want? Aren’t we all, like the priests say, no good bastards? I was no William Blake romantic. I revered the idea of “father” despite my actual experience with the only one I knew at all personally.

What about the animals? I thought no more about them than did the writers of Genesis. But the story of the Tower of Babel was hard for this child to take. The Christian Paul won that time, but the universalist and super-civilized Paul had struggled. These days the adult pk disciplines himself to regurgitate and reconsider before reswallowing everything he can bring to mind that he ever swallowed on order. This pk wants all old maps scrapped and all new maps made. And rechecked against the territory. Not by people who won popularity contests. Not by the survivors of a musical chairs played to the tune of Which of Us Is the Most Ordinary, the Most Commonly Deluded? We should prefer our descriptions of reality to be made by people skilled in the tools best suited to the task: scientific map makers, scientific historians, scientific linguists …

Plato banished poets from his Republic. Then, typical man, he let Homer in anyway. I’d put Homer among the first in my Republic and banish Plato. Which of them was more truthful? Which more grounded in reality? Who was the better map maker? Homer’s maps are old but not dated. That’s how right he got us.

What the great contemporary map makers are finding is that nature doesn’t do things the way civilization does. Nature was doing fine for billions of years before civilization. How well is civilization doing after only six or so millennia? I wanted to be different from my school fellows. I was. I still want to be different from my “neighbors.” I am. But I do not want to be different from nature. Nature is the only game we know that has never not worked. Nature will continue to work — in the same way (we believe) — should we turn this planet into nothing but a cinder. The Gods of monotheism may as well be Shiva: god of destruction. They certainly reflect every worst aspect of kleptocracies’ tyrannical caesars.

I’ll requote here an important statement by three rational and informed men:

The maintenance of organization in nature is not-and can not be-achieved by central management; order can only be maintained by self-organization. Self-organizing systems allow adaptation to the prevailing environment, i.e., they react to changes in the environment with a thermodynamic response which makes the systems extraordinarily flexible and robust against perturbations from outside conditions. We want to point out the superiority of self-organizing systems over conventional human technology which carefully avoids complexity and hierarchically manages nearly all technical processes. For instance, in synthetic chemistry, different reaction steps are usually carefully separated from each other and contributions from the diffusion of the reactants are avoided by stirring reactors. An entirely new technology will have to be developed to tap the high guidance and regulation potential of self-organizing systems for technical processes. The superiority of self-organizing systems is illustrated by biological systems where complex products can be formed with unsurpassed accuracy, efficiency and speed!

Address to the European Communities by
Christof Karl Biebracher, Gregoire Nicolis & Peter Schuster

My scientific map makers should make their maps. Offer them to us. And then leave us alone. I am not proposing that we replace politicians with scientists. I don’t want the politicians replaced with anything but nature.

What does that mean? What does that imply? I’ll spell it out a bit.

Never since high school did I ever expect to encounter a scientific historian. If the historian is a scientist he’s called an anthropologist, a geologist, a paleo-pathologist … Now I’ve read “good” historians. Barbara Tuchman is very good. Even historical novelists like Gary Jennings and James Clavell can be very good. But the most extraordinary thing just happened: I’ve found an actually scientific history! Of course it wasn’t written by a historian. The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond. Jared Diamond may be listed as a physiologist, but he’s clearly a Dr. Everything. Before long there may be as many references to his work here as there already are to Bateson, Frazer, Korzybski, and Prigogine.
[2012 06 25 Poor me, the follow note is So out of date!] ( offered an Index (ruinously high-maintenance) when his file was written; [for a while] I offered Google-based search features: which didn’t work well: because my host for some reason didn’t attract the search engines. I’m moving all ASAP to the gracious [long since kaput])

My own “histories” have hitherto been based in Frazer, the anthropologist. It’s fact and factual overview that I now add from Jared Diamond. Chimp is the most comprehensive. Why is Sex Fun? is the most fun (with perhaps a queasy moment or two). Guns, Germs, and Steel is as unified and comprehensive a quintessentially relevant argument as you will ever see. Run out, buy, and read it. (Just remember: I’ve been making similar-to-the-same points all along.) (So, no doubt, has he. It’s just that I didn’t know the work as he must not know mine) (or I’d have heard from him. Should I succeed in contacting him, I’ll publish such correspondence in the letters directory (or in my Mail Box).) Meantime, I duplicate one of his charts here.

Types of Societies

Type Band Tribe Chiefdom State
Number of people dozens hundreds thousands over 50,000
Settlement pattern nomadic fixed: 1 village fixed: 1 or more villages fixed: many villages & cities
Basis of relationships kin kin-based clans class & residence class & residence
Ethnicities & languages 1 1 1 1 or more
Decision making, leadership “egalitarian” “egalitarian” or big-man centralized, hereditary centralized
Bureaucracy none none none, or 1 or 2 levels many levels
Monopoly of force & information no no yes yes
Conflict resolution informal informal centralized laws, judges
Hierarchy of settlement no no no –> paramount village capital
Type Band Tribe Chiefdom State
Justifies kleptocracy? no no yes yes –> no
Food production no no –> yes yes –> intensive intensive
Division of labor no no –> yes yes yes –> no
Exchanges reciprocal reciprocal redistributive (“tribute”) redistributive (“taxes”)
Control of land band clan chief various
Stratified no no yes, by kin yes, not by kin
Slavery no no small-scale large-scale
Luxury goods for elite no no yes yes
Public architecture no no no –> yes yes
Indigenous literacy no no no often

A horizontal arrow indicates that the attribute varies between less and more complex societies of that type.

2005 01 23

I’ve been celebrating Jared Diamond’s scholarship, imagination, science for the past few years — since first hearing of him, reading him — and, far more recently, less than a year, have also been citing Denis Wood, based on his Five Billion Years of Global Change: A History of the Land [NY 2004]. Now I see Wood making fun of Diamond’s view (The Land, p. 210). Specifically, Wood finds the classifications of “bands, tribes, chiefdoms, states” too simple. I doubt that Diamond would disagree: we’re modeling realities. The model is never the reality (except insofar as models, in being made, also become “real.”)

Wood does not mention Diamond by name. The first time pk mentioned Wood expressed an annoyance at him for semantic quibbling with René Dubos’ famous advice to Think globally; Act locally. Likewise without naming Dubos Wood reversed the saying: without changing the meaning one iota! Authorsmanship. Elbow your elders aside, hoping you’ll be alone in the spotlight.

I’ve read a number of excellent history books. I have no way of estimating how many good ones I’ve missed thus far. Diamonds says that his is the first scientific history. I don’t doubt that Wood’s is the second. Both are essential.

Machiavelli said that all groups of men are governed either by republic or by monarchy! Wrong, Dr. Evil!

I’ve made the point for decades (though perhaps not hitherto more than implicitly here at my home page) that all groups larger than two hundred and fifty individuals should be allowed to die a natural death. I believe that they’ll die a natural death anyway: the point is to let them die before they take everything else with them. I look at Diamond’s chart and say, Wow! What corroboration!

Where did I get the idea originally? Oh … Desmond Morris, probably. A combination of sources. Nigel Calder. The Leakeys. Donald Johanson.

links to be fixed

Diamond’s last item is indigenous literacy. No, no, no, and often. A couple of modules here, Deception in Evolution, for example, have argued that speech originated as much for the purpose of deceiving as for communicating “truth.” My fiction has long dramatized problems inherent in communications. What I have not yet gotten to is my piece on the ambiguous nature of literacy. OK, I have some stuff up on conflicts between “creative” and “custodial” tendencies in cultures: but I haven’t hitherto discussed literacy per se. (It was first due either in the personal narrative of my experiences with schooling or in a sub-file to FLEX. Diamond shows me that he and others have beat me to it. He quotes Claude Levi-Strauss: ancient writing’s main function was “to facilitate the enslavement of other human beings.” The subject will still get a couple of modules, but now a start toward them is here.

I don’t believe kleptocracy will ever permit enough real education for sufficient numbers of people to get real enough to rationalize the majority toward a safer, more humble, course. Most “scientists” are of little help. They’re funded by those with the funds. So they limit their rational procedures to their specialties, keeping their own counsel on any ideas they might have about the falsifiability of institutional dogmas. They develop the weapons, but the morons wield them.

1999 09 16 There’s more to follow from the above, but for the moment I want to develop a pair of illustrations of nature’s tendency toward diversity frustrating human efforts at unity.

I. Women’s Lib is at least as old as the Tales of Sheherazade. The vintage from 1970 or so came up with a new word, “Ms.,” to erase the distinction between Mrs. and Miss. All men are Mr.: let all women be Ms. Good idea?

It didn’t erase any distinctions that didn’t want to be erased; it added a new one. It didn’t unify; it further diversified. Now people had a new land mine in the social mine field. If I call her Ms. and she prefers Mrs., I don’t get the job. If I call her Ms., and she prefers Ms., but So-and-So overhears, he’ll think I’m a toad and I won’t get the job. …

II. I founded FLEX. All skilled persons were invited to register their availability as teachers. No certificates: proof of quality would be in feedback about experience. Several trustees were among the faculty at Columbia. Did they register their skills? Not one. Did the schools and universities realize their errors and turn over their resources to FLEX? Not one. On the contrary. Universities sprouted alternative programs like the forest after a fire. I heard from people around the world. Some hundred of them started FLEXs of their own. Another couple of dozen started without corresponding. Fine. Great. Every community should have its own FLEX.

But part of the point had been that the local FLEXs should coordinate, form one universal FLEX. Not one asked my FLEX what resources we had germane to their community. Not one shared their information. What was I to do? Play Lincoln and conquer them? Be unified or I’ll crush you!

We have so many myths about grassroots unifications. “We, the people …” No such thing. It was a room full of lawyers who started the United States. It’s been a handful of hallucinated philosophers who think that “man” decided to form governments. Governments are the surplus food holders imposing themselves, telling what lies they must, breaking what heads they must to get their way. FLEX had to be universally voluntary. You didn’t support it. You didn’t join it. You don’t have it.

Mentioning proposals like “Ms,” I must add that the style of such proposals is typically kleptocratic. No one owns the language. No one has authority over it. Don’t say ain’t. Why not? So many do. Therefore, it is in the language. Groups only have authority to exclude you from their group. don’t be Jewish or you can’t play golf with us. Say Ms. or we’ll call you a name.

Man wants unity. Nature gives us babel. Nature is probably a lot smarter than we are. But there’s still a problem. Unless we break the mold and actually do unify, the kleptocratic patterns will continue to produce kleptocratic results. We’ll have more crops and less biomass, more people and less value, more cows and fewer tigers, more money and no air. I am one of thousands of people offering “soft learning” solutions. Nature will in time be forced to impose “hard learning.” (Finish this module but don’t neglect to visit the Learning module to appreciate the difference between hard and soft learning.)

200 07 01

Babel: I just scribbled before remembering that I’d already addressed the topic here:

the universe (Pleroma) diversifies, life diversifies … but Sentiens wants to “see” things singular (or dual, or triune …)

Look at a political primary: all are at each other’s throats: the other Republican is worse than Attila. Once there’s a victor, they all pretend to join hands. How stupid are we?

Have you ever heard a Sephardic Jew talk about an Ashkenazim? Have you ever heard a Bolshevik communist talk about a Menshevik?

(See the Emo Phillips joke quoted in my Sects piece.)



right arrow drawing


left arrow drawing



@ K. 1999



I thought Lincoln was wonderful without realizing that the southern states didn’t want to be united. How can “union” be forced? I also thought Lincoln was wonderful for arbitrarily, without the legislature, without a Constitutional amendment, without discussion (other than the one in which his entire cabinet opposed him) … abolishing slavery. Oh, I oppose slavery. We never should have started it. It should have been outlawed in the Constitution. Or the Constitution should have been amended. Or all good Americans should have gone straight to hell. What I am against is tyrannical abrogation of law in a supposed democracy.



Tom, Dick, and Harry have a hard time distinguishing names (like Jesus) from titles (like Christ). Many “names” from the past actually are titles: Caesar “Augustus” … Hokusai … A friend of mine who was the first American to disciple himself to Tai Chi master Cheng Man Ch’ing told me that Confucius is of that group: we don’t know his name; he’s called only by his title.

Before I proceed, I offer a warning: Otto Jespersen was the greatest of all etymologists. He cautioned that he estimated that 10% of the “knowledge” of his field was “certainly” right, 10% “certainly” wrong. Trouble was: no one knew which was which. The remaining 80%? “Probably wrong.”

Now I give the etymology for Confucius. Even ordinary Americans now know what Kung Fu is. “Kick the shit out of people”? No. At least not primarily. Kung Fu means discipline. Now: you know Lao Tsu? “Tsu” means master. (“Doctor” is not part of Dr. Johnson’s name. Lao Tsu was almost certainly a title as well. We have no idea what his mother or the local magistrate called him.) Ready to put it together yourself? Con-fu-cius. Kung – Fu – T’su: Master of Discipline.

And no, I don’t mean he wore studded leather, a stuffed cod-piece, a black mask, or carried a whip.



About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in culture, pk Teaching, social survival, society. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s