Time Travel with Our Peers

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society & Its Pathologies / Social Survival / Evolution /
@ K. c. 1997

Eoarls & Cheorls

I just added a note to Masks and Deceptions:
Clothing as magic: Does the graduate wear a mortar board to signify his education? to accomplish his education magically? to mask his very real ignorance? Those are all magical functions. Even more magical is the fact that the student doesn’t conceive of the mortar board for himself: it’s assigned to him. So the “real” magician is the school, the school board, the society as a whole … mislabeling goods already mislabeled to begin with. First the society assumes without verification that the child is ignorant in the first place. (don’t forget: Homer was “illiterate”; Shakespeare had “little Latin and less Greek.” So of what value are these standards?) After twelve years of steeping the child in the society’s standard brand ignorance, they label him educated: certified to belong, be made “useful.” Some few of the students may somehow manage to be truly educated: but what about the bulk of them? They’re all wearing mortar boards! (Or they’re not in the ceremony.)

That’s merely part of what I awoke thinking this 2 AM. The points all relate to social magic: the things that social man tells himself to reify his preposterous picture of the world. First I’ll just sketch it in the terms in which it came to me.

Citizens of kleptocracies descended from English Common Law are entitled to a “trial by a jury of their peers.” “Trial,” “jury” “peers” … pure kleptocracy.

Let’s consider “peers”: who and what are they? Descendants of the feudal concept of “eorls” and “cheorls.” Either you’re an earl or a churl: there are no other choices.

Mark Twain’s venture into Science Fiction/Fantasy titled A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court won and keeps some popular support. The rest of the public saw it as a musical comedy with Bing Crosby as Sir Boss. Twain showed a technologically adept American time-transported to a feudalism of myth and magic. The protagonist knows about solar eclipses and such; the resident earls, churls, and single magician don’t. Now there are two magicians in their world.

I started to write before the sleep was wiped from my eyes. The coffee gurgled in the background while the Mac booted. I wrote:

let us prey: and the people put on their blindfolds, ensorcell their mirrors, don their invisibility costume, get drunk … do whatever they do so that their behavior will be invisible to their conscience

Now that I’ve splashed water on my face, gobbled a grapefruit section or two, and imbibed some of the coffee, let me try to put all that together.

In nature there are no aristocrats. Neither are there peasants. No butchers, bakers, candlestick makers … no citizens, no scholars, no voters. There are creatures. Some live off of nothing but rock and water. Some photosynthesize. Some are predators, some are parasites. Some are both predator and parasite. There’s territory, but no property. There’s mating, but no marriage. There’s loss, cessation … but no divorce. There are females who exercise a variety of practices to keep herself exclusively for one male, there are males who return repeatedly to one female, even help with parenting beyond supplying the seed. If something, a pebble, a toothbrush, is in your hand, it’s yours. If someone can take it from you, it’s theirs. The ground or water or air you occupy is yours. So is the air, ground, or water you’re obviously moving into. If someone or something scares you off, or kills and eats you, then it isn’t. Pieces of paper might come into existence, marks might be made on them, but it has no meaning.

A man as solitary as a spider might have thoughts, but there would be no literature. Literature, meaning … is an emergent product of groups of men banding together and agreeing (or pretending to agree) to certain things. Language can then develop beyond sighs, grunts, and expressions. Next thing you know, men are believing their agreements (or pretending to). By the time agriculture is developed, human overpopulation and ecological impact already being severe, human society has become specialized. Those responsible, either by election or force, for the harvesting, storage, and distribution of the grain and other spin-offs of agriculture — animal husbandry, fruits, nuts, wine … — divide the population into producer/consumers — churls — and administrator/consumers — earls: parasites on the producers. But man is still part of nature regardless of his ideas. Over-population continues. So does invention. Next thing you know, there are tailors, tinkers, and shoemakers as well as farmers among the churls. In Europe they invented Guilds. So then there were earls, churls, and tradesmen: tradesmen, professionals … Next thing you know, by Shakespeare’s time, there were players. What the hell do you do with them if you’re an earl/churl administrator?

Now the earls were always pitted against each other, always raiding some other earldom, always laying waste to whatever they didn’t collect taxes from. Life for an earl was one trial after another. Proof of arms complicated to proof on paper. Trials on paper had to be judged by other earls. You don’t want no peasant telling you whether the farm you just grabbed belongs to you or some other earl now, do you? You certainly don’t want the peasant saying it’s his. So laws are written justifying the long true fact that the earls don’t have to listen to the churls. But life goes on complicating things, the plague raises the value of peasants by making them scarce … and within a few more centuries republics are invented: democracies and so forth. Next thing you know, by simple analogy, churls must be judged by churls.

Please notice. Nature is still there. It’s all still really creatures occupying space, moving to new spaces, pushing and getting pushed. But complications complicate further. Once upon a time you walked around the farm, rode around, wheeled a chariot around … You never saw such a thing as a player: or a gypsy. If you were all Jews, there were no Christians. If you were all Christians, there were no Jews. But in the new complicated world there were Jews and Christians … and gypsies and players … and, suddenly, “Indians” and blacks. They’re not earls. Neither do you find them hoeing next to you: so they’re not churls. What are they?

The natural world has whatever it has. The human world has ideas: that have an increasingly annoying habit of not matching experience. So people adapt. But not the law. Not philosophy. Not religion. Or they do only slowly, clumsily: one stupid rule and then a hundred, then a thousand, then a million “exceptions.” The law that became English Common Law and then American law needs revision twenty-four hours a day without every getting anything right because it keeps modifying things that were never true except as human ideas (though they may have seemed self-evident once upon a time). Earls and churls.

Were I a member of the House of Lords I’d be entitled to a trial by a jury of my peers: meaning other earls. Were I a Cockney pickpocket I’d also be entitled to a trial: a trial by a jury of my peers: meaning churls chosen for me, not by me: chosen by the earls’ lackeys. Of course pk is neither a member of the House of Lords nor a Cockney pickpocket. American law says I’m an American. Any other American is my peer: chosen for me, not by me. See how advanced we are? No earls. And we no longer call ourselves churls. (We now save that term (or similar terms) for the gypsies, the Indians, and the blacks.) So what meaning does peer have?

You don’t have any peers.
James Kelly, Esq.

After my assault I was discussing juries with my lawyer. “The law says I’m entitled to a jury of my peers to hear my suit against my attackers. As founder of FLEX, I was the first person to offer networking to the world. Where are you going to find six or twelve other people first in history to offer public networking? My doctoral thesis was so brilliant, so incriminating of our epistemology, that my doctoral committee couldn’t or wouldn’t understand it. …” “You don’t have any peers,” my lawyer said.

Does the law see its error? Does the law dissolve itself? Does it apologize? Do we get our money back? No: the law just goes blithely on. Maps don’t correspond to territory: just keep blundering: onward and onward, till everything is garbage. Keep those taxes coming.

Try taking the word peer seriously for a minute. The concept has something to do with the similarly nonsensical concept of “equal.” Forget about me: think of Shakespeare. Who were his peers? Kit Marlowe? I don’t think so. Maybe Homer. Maybe. How about Mickey Spillane? Please. But the law says that you can grab thirty people off the street and six or twelve of them will be peers. How stupid do you have to be to go to law school? How stupid do you have to be to graduate? Education is nonsense that we repeat until it’s familiar. And meaningless. Of course in nature, it’s all without meaning. Meaning is something to beware: if you want a biosphere than can continue to support complex creatures: especially the one who’s lost his tether.

We read Twain’s Connecticut Yankee. We see the movie. (Maybe it doesn’t even come on TV anymore. So read the book.) Sir Bing has a safety pin. The feudal lady is amazed. Tell her about Connecticut: you’ll go straight back to the dungeon. Society believes its faulty maps. It doesn’t want to discover the real nature of the territory. Say you’re a Christian. Imagine yourself being hit on the head and waking up among head hunters, cannibals, Attis worshipers, worshippers at a Saturnalia … Try telling them about your Messiah. No, that’s the sort of preaching you do only to people already converted (or raised among the stories). Among aliens you’ll keep your mouth shut.

Imagine being hit on the head and waking up in seventeenth-century Cambridge. First thing you do is run into some seventeenth-century physicists. Don’t waste your time with the Messiah: they already know. Try telling them some things that you know “objectively,” things scientifically verifiable: evolution, genetics, continental drift, plate tectonics, relativity, quantum theory, hyper-strings … They ain’t verifiable in the seventeenth-century! Say you run into Sir Isaac himself. Try telling him that mass increases with velocity. Well, he might actually listen: but not once he’d been sniffing the mercury vapors. But even then, unless you were Einstein himself, you wouldn’t be likely to be able to answer his questions. You would be unlikely to understand his questions. Suddenly your superior knowledge would seem very uncertain. Even Einstein might well need a translator.

Now imagine being a genius: oh, even a 1% genius, somebody with ever so slight a part of an actual mind. There you are: a time-traveler: far more likely to be in the dungeon than privy to the Oval Office. Try to communicate your observations at Cambridge, at Harvard … even to the local reporter. You’ll do fine if you’re repeating stuff about genetics or hyper-stings: they’re reciting that stuff themselves. Try telling them something … verifiable: by your abilities … that they’re not already reciting 99% of. Rots a ruck.

2000 11 20 (Again up at 2. Both times I’d really wanted to sleep till dawn, or as close to it as I could get.) I promised that this module would belong in FLEX. I look it over now and see that I never got to that part. And I’m no longer sure exactly what the hook was. So I simply “continue” by starting a new file there: No Censorship, Spam.

For an early mounting of this module, I wrote:
This piece belongs in my History/Evolution folder. It also belongs in my History/Magic folder. It could go as well into my History/Kleptocracy folder. It belongs equally well both in my Social Pathologies/Social Epistemology and my Social Pathologies/Kleptocracy folder. My Social Solutions Directory/FLEX folder has similarly legitimate claim to it.

In those days my Society files were organized between a Society folder and a History folder, each with their own subdivisions. Then all went into one Society folder; now the contents of that one folder have been redistributed. The points hold whichever folder I’ve moved something to. A Topology of Organization is a more recent statement of the same lesson. link to be added


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.
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