“God” is a secretion of the human brain, says Michael McGuire and Lionel Tiger.
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In their 2010 book “God’s Brain,” McGuire and Tiger strongly suggest and demonstrate that the concept of God, or a God, is a byproduct of human cerebral secretions. Historically the various divine tenets, revelations, traditions, and expressions of social orders around the world are encapsulated from that specific culture’s or civilization’s perceived, geographical, organizational needs not just for survival, but for their perceived perpetuation, then recorded and implemented in a Code of Principles relevant to their time-period. McGuire and Tiger state there is simply no compelling evidence for any type of cosmic, monistic Being manipulating us and Earth’s events.
Now that Homo sapiens are more evolved, at least intellectually and socially no matter the multitude of progressive and digressing methods, historically speaking have our cerebral secretions of Gods and religions been helpful? On a micro scale Tiger has an intriguing perspective on the question:
I found Tiger’s elaboration of the individual and social functionality of ‘optimism’ or hope — that it seems to be a useful tool for survival and perhaps for thriving throughout life — to be of special interest. Why? Because its use requires no patent or jurisdiction other than culturally, in a specific time-period to a specific locale. How is trust defined by those people and their circumstance? One thing is evident, none of this religious human behavior can be adequately or universally traced to one source.
On a macro scale E.O. Wilson of Harvard University (retired) goes in a different direction. Organized religion has a dark side and ugly track-record.
[Intent of religious deities have]“been perverted many times in the past — used, for example, to argue passionately for colonial conquest, slavery, and genocide. Nor was any great war ever fought without each side thinking its cause transcendentally sacred in some manner or other.”
Hence, this could beg the question: Have we modern humans evolved or should we humans further evolve to a more practical, more progressive new social Code of Principles? What are/would those principles based upon? How many social affiliations should/can a human(s) be involved? Are the affiliations beneficial or detrimental to them and their family? Non-family? Do you already have affiliations and belief-systems that are more highly evolved than others?
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I think whether you agree or disagree with Tiger’s assessments of transcendental beliefs or empirical biological consequences concerning the origin of God and religions, it is paramount to develop and maintain a certain amount of scrutiny, or neutrality, or critical-thinking when considering this source or that source and its mechanisms.
Critical-thinking is not to be confused with agitation, or argumentative, or a personal attack upon someone. Critical-thinking actually helps us acquire more knowledge, expose ignorances, refines our theories, improves collaboration and construction, and strengthens or weakens premises for what they are. I feel one of the most beneficial aspects of applied critical-thinking is that it promotes “thinking outside the box,” a very healthy form of human empowerment and creativity. These two conditions are not achieved to their fullest in a restrictive or constraining closed-system typically preached and protected by religions. They are best achieved in environments of freedom of thought and scrutiny, as well as positive support for a person’s and all person’s natural-born abilities. Agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
Previously in Part II, methods of manufacturing uncertainty and five historical cases in which doubt was produced, the ignorance surrounding women’s bodies and pleasures both lost and suppressed, and the lost knowledge and worlds of West Indian abortifacients were briefly covered. Here in Part III I would like to cover cases of artful fabricated facts or conscious lying and how it might be recognized, how indigenous fossils have become lost worlds and knowledge, and finally how understanding the benefits and advantages of historical-interdisciplinary hindsight can improve one’s bull-shit detecting skills.
Once again, I apologize for the length. I realize this Part is over 5,400 words, but its content is critical, too vastly unknown today by the general American public, that again I just couldn’t reduce the word-count anymore than I have. I hope you’ll understand why when finished reading. Thank you in advance for your patience.
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Fabricating Facts (line break)
Profiling and discerning the who(m), what, where, when, and why of fabricators, their fabrications, infection, placebos and/or actual cures for individual or humanity’s honest betterment is not a Sherlock Holmes skill-set we are born with. It takes trial and error, often MANY trials and errors, over appropriate time, and hedged by just as many or more learners and teachers. Here are some uncinematic examples of prolific fabrication…
Secret Anecdotal History In 6th century CE Palaestina Prima, Byzantine historian and scholar Procopius secretly wrote a collection of abusive defamatory works about Emperor Justinian and other aristocratic elite whom he glorified in actual published works. After his death the writings became known as Anecdotal, which means a short obscure account of an event or events often for amusement and unsubstantiated. In our case here, truthy… maybe, possibly, probably fabricated. Political anecdotes are most suitable for casting degrees of public doubt.
Benjamin Franklin’s Boston Newspaper Hoax In 1782 a Boston, MA newspaper, the Independent Chronicle, reported a Native American tribe allied with the British had committed atrocities on American frontier settlers. The hoax-article written intentionally by Benjamin Franklin was to rouse pro-American and anti-British Crown sentiments. It was a significant propaganda success and proved very beneficial at later peace negotiations with the British Ministry.
Old French Canards 17th and 18th century French tabloids, known as canards, disseminated propaganda, one about a Chilean monster being discovered and shipped to Spain. This animal supposedly had “…the head of a Fury, wings like a bat, a gigantic body covered in scales, and a dragon-like tail.” The report was completely fictitious, but nonetheless became one of the best-selling broadsides in the streets of Paris—readers couldn’t get enough of the fake-news and ate it up.
Delmer’s “Black Propaganda” Radio Show From 1941 to 1943 in Nazi-occupied Europe, Sefton Delmer, known as Der Chef, regularly broadcasted what was thought to be actual news about the war and Nazi corruption to German listeners. The German High Command tried to block the radio signal, but unsuccessfully. As a result, Der Chef — who had a Berliner accent and came across as an old high-ranking Prussian officer — disclosed negative news such as German infantry receiving infectious blood-transfusions of syphilis from captured Poles and Slavs, two ethnic classes many Nazi-Germans despised. Delmer also gossiped on the airwaves that Italian diplomats in Berlin were bedding the wives of high-ranking officials and deployed officers. Through other radio stations, he introduced a youthful Nazi named “Vicki” that spread a mixture of real news taken from intercepted German intelligence sources and invented items like a nasty outbreak of diphtheria among German children. By most accounts of the radio broadcasts, as well as his Nachrichten für die Truppe (News for the Troops) air-dropped on the Western front, Delmer’s propaganda was insidiously effective and contributed at minimum to the disintegrating cohesiveness and morale of Nazi Germany.
The King Wizard of Fabrication One of the biggest, recent fabricated-facts scheme in American history was accomplished over a seventeen-year period by Bernie Madoff. The HBO film below summarizes the impact and ripple-effects well…
Bernard L. Madoff masterminded a multi-billion dollar Ponzi-scheme, defrauding thousands of wealthy investors, over 17-years until the Wall Street market began collapsing and imploding in 2008 from a Made-off-esque, unregulated, financial culture of greed, dishonesty, and severe lack of protective measures for common Americans wanting to trust and invest in the free-enterprise market.
Why Fabricate or Lie? (line break)
The June 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine writes specifically about this common, (natural? chronic?) human condition. According to the studies and researchers the article cites, “We all lie, but not all lies are the same. People [and assemblies of people] lie and tell the truth to achieve a goal: ‘We lie if honesty won’t work,’ says researcher Tim Levine.“ This graphic vividly illustrates the percentages of 11 reasons to fabricate, grouped under four general explanations:
The NatGeo article lists many other classic falsehoods, hoaxes, identity thefts, hoodwinks, scandals, and presidential untruths which infer the symptoms, behaviors, and mechanisms that manifest at certain rates from the cognitive psychology of one or a group. Hence, in this day and age an intimate familiarity with forensic psychology can be quite useful.
Be open as well as skeptical (to necessary degrees) to all sources of information and corroboration. “When you have eliminated the impossible,“ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, “whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth“ or highly plausible, as I like to quantify. This does assist one in profiling, impeding and/or countering fabrications. In my limited subjective experience and education, I’ve learned that the larger a collective database with interdisciplinary methodologies, i.e. verifications, comparisons, variance including reasonably opposed or contrasting perspectives, offer at the moment the best hedge against fraud(s). Presently, even technology must not be solely trusted because even it has proven vulnerable — e.g. internet phishing — and Yudhijit Bhattacharjee writes, “has opened up a new frontier for deceit.“
Lost Worlds and Knowledge of Indigenous Fossils
When the word “indigenous” is used here, it often indicates those peoples living on the continents other than Europe and Eurasia in the late prehistoric period, the ancient history period, and up until the Age of Exploration/Discovery (1400’s). Here specifically I will be referring mostly to the peoples of North America during those time-periods, also known as Native American Indians.
Secondly, it is probably important to quickly review modern techniques of fossil-dating before diving into this area, lost area of Indigenous Fossils Knowledge. How do modern archaeologists and paleontologists calculate the age of fossils? They have more than a dozen very reliable methods, all able to corroborate (or not) the others. Click here to learn more from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Adrienne Mayor is a research professor in the Classics-History and Philosophy of Science department at Stanford University. Her speciality is how “ancient “folk science” precursors, alternatives, and parallels [that of] modern scientific methods.“ She calls attention to five cases from Imperial Colonization to the Enlightenment where indigenous people’s knowledge of Miocene-Pleistocene fossils are completely missing in Euro-American paleo-histories. Of Mayor’s five cases, I wish to introduce these three: Mather’s Claverack Giant, Cuvier’s Mastodons, and Simpson’s Dismissals, with a very short mention of the Lakota’s Agate Springs Corkscrews.
Mather’s Claverack Giant Bear with me a moment while I state the obvious. Though the last of the Cretaceous dinosaurs went extinct over 65-million years ago, falling exactly where they were, then buried over several millenia under many levels of geology, erosion and/or excavation unearthed and still unearthed today all across the Americas. Native American Indians discovered these massive bones of giants long, long ago, countless centuries before the first Europeans set foot in the Americas. The bones became the oral traditions of the 800+ tribes (est. population of 50—100-million) on the N. American continent alone. When European settlers first heard of these bones from giants in 1705 from Iroquois, Delaware, Shawnee, Wyandot, and other tribes along the Hudson River, they had to see for themselves. Debates broke out between the Indians and European settlers over what the bones were and meant.
In 1712 Cotton Mather, a celebrated New England Puritan minister, wrote the Royal Society of London about the gigantic bones from Claverack, New York. What is a minister, a theologian doing interpreting archaeological finds? Dr. Mayor offers her expertise:
“Mather was a complex man: he demonized the “savages” as devil worshippers, but his writings show a keen interest in their knowledge of natural history, and Mather took the trouble to learn Algonquian. In his letter to the Royal Society, Mather argued that the bones belonged to a giant victim of the flood. This and similar finds in North and South America were “scientific proof” that giants had once inhabited the Americas and died when the flood inundated the whole world.”
Wanting to support his (and the world’s) Christian beliefs Mather used these Indian stories while at the same time asserting that the Albany Indian folklore was ridiculously unreliable. Though many Euro-American church ministers and theologians argued the massive bones legitimized native oral traditions of ancient giants. Adrienne Mayor:
“In contrast, Mather believed that all pagan mythology was inspired by Satan. Could the seemingly spontaneous interruptions in the letter [to the Royal Society of London] be an artifact of a collision between Mather’s faith-based belief system and his scientific impulse to be objective and inclusive by citing Indian giant legends as proof of Christian doctrine?”
Using contradiction for an end-game, Mather’s humoured dismissal of indigenous accounts further cloaked valid evidence to broader knowledge:
“With [his] decision to cancel out native fossil knowledge, Mather became the first authority on record in North America to deny Indians a role in interpreting fossil evidence. I suggest that Mather modeled his tactic on a similar strategy of the Roman historian Plutarch, whose reports of giant bones Mather cites in his letter. Plutarch described the amazing discovery of a gigantic skeleton in North Africa in the first century BC, but dismissed indigenous explanations as “fantastic legends” and scorned their language as “absolutely unpronounceable.””
Cuvier’s Mastodons Following the 18th century Euro-American indifference of indigenous explanations of enormous ancient fossils, the 19th century records and accrediting was hardly improved. In spite of Georges Cuvier‘s extensive use of both native South and North American Indian traditions of their non-whereabouts, he went against popular prejudices. Cuvier is considered the founding father of paleontology and due to his exhaustive work in comparative vertebrate anatomy, his theories of Earth’s extinction-events were often aggressively challenged by mainstream socialites claiming why God, having created all things and commanded them good, would only turn around and raze it to into the ground. Mayor explains…
“Cuvier was especially impressed with Shawnee and Delaware legends surround the “astonishing abundance” of fossils of mastodons and other mammals in the Ohio Valley. In 1762, five complete mastodon skeletons were described and measured by “les sauvages shawanais.”
The details that emerged from indigenous accounts were consistent. The giant beings had lived in the remote past but were wiped out by some violent destruction event before the era of present-day Indians: no one claimed to have seen them alive. These widespread extinction scenarios, from Peru to Canada, helped Cuvier to rule out migration and focus on catastrophic extinctions, and therefore were significant in developing the theories that established the new science of paleontology.”
Historians of paleontology today give no credit to Cuvier’s intimate deliberation over Greek and Native American fossil accounts and finds, nor any speculation of their impact on his theories. Only by reading Cuvier’s original memoirs and publications can one recognize the Native American sources. Cuvier’s modern translator, Martin J. S. Rudwick, does not disseminate any of the indigenous finds either. They’re simply ignored leading the audience to assume Euro-Americans found them.
Simpson’s Dismissals In the July 1935 issue of the Journal of Paleontology, E.M. Kindle, from Cornell and Yale Universities in geology and paleontology wrote that Native Americans deserve credit for their fossil discoveries. This was not to happen. Not then, and for the most part, not in the 21st century either. Why? In 1942 – 1943 renowned U.S. paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson vowed to keep out Native American compensation or recognition in their field of science. In two popular monographs Simpson all but blocked any exchanges between the tribes and Euro-American “finds and accounts.” G.G. Simpson maintained:
“The first vertebrate fossils to be seen by Europeans in the Western Hemisphere were mastodon bones collected by the Indians in Tlascala, and shown to Cortez’s army in 1519. A few casual finds were made in the next two centuries but these also had no sequel and cannot be called scientific discoveries.“ — Simpson, George Gaylord (1942 September). The Beginnings of Vertebrate Paleontology in North America. Abstract p. 130. Retrieved from: http://www.blc.arizona.edu/courses/schaffer/249/Ohio%20Animal/Simpson%20-%20Beginnings%20of%20VP%20in%20NA.pdf
Mayor continues about Simpson’s indifference toward indigenous involvement:
“Since there was no record of “continuous consciousness” of fossil knowledge in Indian culture, argued Simpson, their discoveries never resulted in scientific advancement and thus had “no real bearing on paleontological discovery.” Why would a towering figure like Simpson go to such lengths to deny Native Americans a role in the early history of paleontology?
Simpon’s drive to erase Indians from the story let to convoluted reasoning. In his descriptions of the historic 1739 discovery of mastodon fossils by Abenaki hunters in the French army, Simpson’s logic is torturous: “Even though Indians were probably involved in the real discovery” of the Ohio fossils, “they cannot fairly be called the discoverers.” Despite the Indians’ “absolute priority,” which has been acknowledged by French scientists since 1764, Simpson went so far as to create an ahistorical discovery scenario in order to give credit to the French commander of the expedition.”
This bias for Euro-American findings, procedures, and ingenuity Simpson ardently portrays can be further gleaned from the same web link above (Beginnings) pp. 132-138.
As in many cultures around the world, including the U.S., there are longstanding mythos of elusive, mystical spirits or angels of good, as well as evil. Have any been caught on modern video which support or prove their existence? The validity of tangible paranormal activity with the aid of advancing electronics and technology is still an emerging (scientific?) field. In the case of the Agate Fossil Beds in Nebraska, the Lakota Indians named the site “Animal Bones Brutally Scattered About” because their ancient oral traditions — like those of the desert nomadic tribes of Judean Hebrews pre-Old Testament — were legends of Unktehi, ‘evil water monsters killed by Thunder Beings‘ long ago. Lakota elders believed that disturbing the giant bones of the dead was “bad medicine.” Hence, on moral grounds, or virtuous ignorance, these details were kept not just from outsiders, but within the general tribe too.
[The silent-secret virtue] “evokes some aspects of the Puritan witch hunter Cotton Mather’s anxiety about the satanic influences of Indian fossil legends 300 years ago. Mather deliberately created ignorance as a strategic ploy borrowed from Plutarch.”
The fact that many modern place names originated from antiquity’s legends and continued into the 14th century New World and through today indicates people, no matter their continental ethnicity or methods of knowledge-preservation, observed and theorized sedimentary traces of Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene life-forms before “modern” Euro-American scientific investigations officially began.
These are a few cases of lost and/or dismissed knowledge. Would interdisciplinarity help lower or uncover cases of knowledge-ignorance? Would that have positive or negative consequences on humanity’s progress? (line break)
Advantages of Historical-interdisciplinary Hindsight (line break)
A Prelude — I feel it bears importance to mention or reiterate that with regard to all hindsights of history and science there are pervasive varying degrees of knowledge and ignorance inherent in their operations. Further still, there is no one extant human activity (e.g. religion; theology and their claims) that operates with complete impunity from interdisciplinary examination, verification, and universal collaboration. No one discipline of human activity should ever be above these jurisdictions, yes, including science and history. The concession to or theft of complete impunity, with its implicit power extensions, has too often had disastrous consequences for thousands-to-millions of souls. (line break)
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Ask yourself and answer this question, “Where will I be and doing what on July 15, 2023 at 12-noon?” Think about your answer for a minute before reading further.
Do you have a precise answer? Is your answer full proof and exhaustive? It might seem a silly exercise, but it does characterize several mechanisms involved in and constrained by ignorance. Dr. Alison Wylie of the University of Washington, USA, and Durham University, U.K., specializes in the epistemological unknowns of archaeology, its research ethics, and the social sciences relative specifically to feminism. It is her epistemic expertise in archaeology that I find useful in a broader spectrum. Allow me to summarize her archaeological approach to ignorance, in as few words possible, while also interjecting my own wider glimpses, then elaborate more the shadowing onto advantages of historical-interdisciplinary hindsight.
Intro: Mapping Archaeological Ignorance There are a number of factors and constraints to consider at archaeological sites when attempting to understand what is uncovered, unknown and why it might be unknown. Wylie examines several.
Epistemological Factors — a chief source of ignorance is the poverty of empirical data. For example, the scarce fossil evidence of hominid evolution compared to more plentiful prehistoric vertebrates of the Triassic through Cretaceous periods; the former strangely being significantly more recent! One might think most recent artifacts would be most plentiful. Another is technology which today can better locate, recover, analyze, and interpret data had not yet developed. Neurology and brain research are an obvious example. Epistemic deficiency isn’t the only factor; a noticeable inadequacy of theory also contributes. Observations without invigorating theoretical interpretations becomes mundane procedure. R. L. Gregory, Sir John C. Kendrew, and W. B. Webb, all contributors to the Encyclopedia of Ignorance (1977), elaborate:
[Mundane observations]“…are awash in detailed knowledge of form but not function, of correlations but not causal relations, of manifest pattern but not mechanism.”
Joined with historical-interdisciplinary hindsight, causal determinism, the language of precision, conjecture, and extraneous control, though always present everywhere, are further unpacked.
Ontological Constraints — levels of ignorance are often directly proportional to the expanding scope of knowledge, e.g. the more we know, the more we realize what we don’t know. R. W. Sperry explains this illusion of absolute certainty:
“A psychobiologist considers the implications of ongoing evolution: it “keeps complicating the universe by adding new phenomena that have new properties and new forces.” […] But the most daunting for these scientists is any phenomenon that is conditioned by human action and intention.” — Sperry, Roger W., “Problems Outstanding,” Encyclopedia of Ignorance, pp. 432-433
In gathering evidence we must factor in the projection or contamination, if you will, of the observer’s limitless ability to construct new frameworks, new twists, and new endings. From an intrinsic standpoint this is in essence theory and valuable. However, it also means exact science is impossible. That said, degrees of probabilities — the infinite divisibilities notwithstanding — can be, well, more exact when complimented with expansive historical-interdisciplinary hindsights.
Contextual & Normative Factors — standing opposed to the above factors and constraints are those doctors, scientists, and scholars who move their figurative microscopes away from ontological and epistemic ignorances, focusing instead on normative cultural, economic, and social factors. With chemical addiction general society has a complex and robust reaction to drug dependency, so much so that what defines addiction is less precise than the convictions about our knowledge of its causes. Geologists ask why is so much ignorance allowed right under our feet when scientists and engineers have been drilling in the deepest oceans with technology available for many decades? Considering epistemic, ontological, cultural, economic, and social factors within their contexts Dr. Wylie continues:
“…it is striking that these [geologists and addictionologists] do not chiefly blame biasing intrusions from outside science for the failures and limitations of inquiry they describe. […]
With the benefit of hindsight — specifically, thirty years of development in science studies — there is clearly considerable scope for asking why particular lines of evidence and theoretical insight had languished while others were avidly pursued, rebalancing the weight of the factors [above] in the direction of the political economy, the institutional structure, and the culture of the sciences in question, as well as the larger social contexts in which they operate.”
Dr. Wylie has begun inferring a symmetry thesis on ignorance she firmly believes: that contexts and factors which produce knowledge “…are quite relevant for understanding the production (and maintenance) of ignorance.” She insists that though these factors are symbiotic, we cannot always predict at any given time what all factors might be, their full impact, or the exact interactions.
How might these afflictions in archaeology or ignorance be minimized? Perhaps refining our powers of identification, a hearing the silence, if you will, can offer guidance.
Historical Silence Regarding the hazards of ignorance, the definition or composition of ignorance is inevitably sucked into battles of “objectivity” versus relativism and constructivism. The anxieties over error and ignorance, at least in archaeology admits Wylie, had created emergencies about every 30-years since these scientific disciplines began to professionalize as well as commercialize early in the 1900’s. It wasn’t until around the 1960’s that this fixation with ontological and empirical constraints on the depravity of insufficient theory shifted to political and sociocultural factors. Enter Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s study of “Silencing the Past.” Wylie finds Trouillot’s analysis of history very useful here:
“…there is no prospect, [Trouillot] argues, for eliminating the systematic ambiguities inherent in the way we use the term history to refer both to events in the past and to the narratives by which we understand the past in the present. History, the narrative, is produced at innumerable sites, few of them controlled by professional historians and all of them deeply structured by contemporary interests and power relations. What we do not know, as much as what we do know, tracks power as it operates in social contexts both past and present.”
Trouillot considers four stages of historical productions:
genesis of textual clues or traces
collection of these clues/traces into an archive
retrieval of clues/traces as facts for deposit into historical narratives
development of narratives with retrospective impact
At every juncture of the aforementioned epistemic and contextual-normative factors, coupled with the ontological constraints, these four stages symmetrically outline our knowledge and ignorance. Dr. Wylie probes these stages with three lenses.
Empirical & Ontological Factors — empirically speaking, the attrition or decay, displacement, or destruction of material traces and artifacts, as well as hyped optimism over the nature of garbage, are significant imprinting factors upon Trouillot’s first and second stages. Regarding a peoples garbage and artifacts, explains Wylie…
“…the production, consumption, circulation, and discard of material culture are as deeply structured by power relations as is the creation [and collection] of a textual record. […]
Here ontological constraints enter: what archaeologists can know (or know reliably) is conditioned by the differential survival of stone tools and metal artifacts, fired ceramics, and architectural features, by contrast, for example, [to biodegradable items].”
Further still, the seemingly egalitarian nature of a population’s waste or discarded items (which does provide a general theme of the people’s lives), is not represented equally from the rubble. Hence, this takes us to Trouillot’s third stage: retrieval of facts for entry into a narrative. “Here the entire spectrum of epistemic and sociopolitical factors are in play” says Wylie. What is understood about a subject is as dependent on visibility, the means to find it/study it, and manage it technologically, as it is to what the observer finds valuable. Retrieval and formation of usable facts of an archive or pool of data “…is very largely a function of what questions we know to ask and what material traces we know (how) to look for in attempting to answer them” for a narrative.
Given these considerations, factors, and constraints, archaeologists and historians alike must respect the reasonable parameters of evidence, taking care not to indulge too deeply in the forms and speculative practice of social configurations or religious dynamics, both with their hazards. Consider Diogenes of Sinope and his large wine cask—the researcher-observer may find his tub, but altogether miss its resident.
Theoretical Considerations — by the 1960’s and 70’s there was a strong reaction to the traditional skepticism of reliable archaeology. New modern archaeologists insisted the limitations of full understanding reflected, not ontological obscurity and empirical scarcity of extant clues/traces, but rather deficiencies of the valuable theories supplied to inquiry. As a result, the New-Era Archaeologists brought two strategies for redesigning Trouillot’s stages three and four to the skeptics:
reorientation of all retrieval modes: all evidence and artifacts (excavation, data analysis, survey) should be tested to problem-oriented questions, not (random?) open-ended exploration, i.e. theorem building on evidence/artifacts.
increased expansion of stage three and four: frame or rent independent background knowledge, “mid-range theory,” within and from the sociocultural contexts and norms.
Dr. Alison Wylie cram-packs her summary of these two strategies. Get your oxygen tank and mask, take a deep breath, and bear with me (and her):
“The contours of possible knowledge and probable ignorance are shaped by the resources—technical, empirical, theoretical, economic, and social—that archaeologists [and historians] recruit for the purpose of constituting facts of the past: identifying, recovering, recording material traces, and, crucially, interpreting them as evidence. What facts (of the record and of the past) archaeologists can establish has everything to do with what resources they have internally, or what connections they cultivate with the collateral fields that supply the crucial linking principles, and this is a function of institutional dynamics as much as of internal, problem, and theory-driven judgements of relevance; of conventions of authority and prestige, and the shifting availability of research funds, as well as accidents of personal interest and connection.”
As we continue analyzing the historical silences, a less-fuzzy picture is emerging. Compared to our pool of knowledge, we are finding ignorance to be atlantic! Indeed, the distant horizons where “dragons” lurk, recede and turn into minnows as we frequently embark. Not necessarily as authorities, but as explorers, finding other explorers in unchartered and newly charted seas. However, there has risen a new phenomena, a strengthening storm, if you will. It is loosely known as modernized scientific skepticism.
Sociopolitics — since the early 1980’s, with an increased fervor in the 2000’s, there has been a strengthening reaction to whether science can know and understand the past, particularly archaeology. This storm challenge is explicitly cast in sociopolitical terms, even with threads of religiosity mixed in—the Christopher Hawkes top-rung of his Inference Ladder (Evans, C. (1998). Historicism, chronology and straw men: Situating Hawkes’ ‘Ladder of inference’. Antiquity,72 (276), 398-404. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00086671). The eye of the storm is directly against Trouillot’s fourth stage, narrative construction.
These new warriors against archaeology, science, and history argue that stage-four narratives about the past are inescapable from contemporary bias and significance. Though this is a plausible, universal argument, it overlooks genre or discipline-specific credibility-tests designed to expose possible contemporary bias and significance. What exactly is meant by this?
One could characterize this modern reliability debate as Exclusion vs. Inclusion. Consider Ian Hacking’s counter-argument to these new warrior’s skepticism. In 1986 Dr. Hacking presented his lengthy essay-argument to the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, and I paraphrase:
In the field of lucrative high-stakes weapons-research, when boards and scientists target specific troubles, time and resources are not only rechanneled away from other equally bright lines of research, but future options of research are also revamped before given a chance of success. This diverting reshapes the “world of mind and technique” where science operates.
Accurate and reliable scientific research and development takes necessary time, sometimes years, and the ripple-effect of these redirections, refunding, and defunding has consequences, as Wylie explains:
“By extension, this canalization of inquiry in any one field has implications for what is or becomes possible in other fields, determining what technologies of investigation, what collateral knowledge, is available for application in the kinds of interdisciplinary exchanges that have enriched archaeology [and history] from its inception.”
The present-day skepticism and worries by new warrior-critics has formed and morphed into an implicitly uncompromising constructivism for which at its core assumes there is little archaeology, history, and sciences, perhaps even technology can exhaustively account for other than layered silences; “expansive ignorance and exuberant invention” says Wylie. Trouillot would certainly take exception to this new-age opposition and posture.
In his Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Trouillot superbly uses the folklore, myths, and legends surrounding the battle of the Alamo in Texas — today and for almost two centuries a popular lucrative tourist-site and sociopolitical extension of Texas’ proud Anglo-American image, “history(?)” and heritage intensively taught throughout primary and secondary public school levels — to make the crucial point of just why strategies and credibility-tests are necessary for historical silences or ignorance. I am also inserting two pieces of embellished artwork highly treasured inside our Texas state capitol.
“The lesson of the [Alamo] debate is clear. At some stage, for reasons that are themselves historical, most often spurred by controversy, collectivities experience the need to impose a test of credibility on certain events and narratives because it matters to them whether these events are true or false, whether these stories are fact or fiction.
That it matters to them does not necessarily mean that it matters to us. But how far can we carry our isolationism [exclusionism]? Does it really not matter whether or not the dominant narrative of the Jewish Holocaust is true or false? Does it really not make a difference whether or not the leaders of Nazi Germany actually planned and supervised the death of six-million Jews? […]
But how much can we reduce [oversimplify, extrapolate, biasedly project] what happened? If six-million do not really matter, would two-million be enough, or would some of us settle for three-hundred thousand? If meaning is totally severed from a referent “out there,” if there is no cognitive purpose, nothing to be proved or disproved, what then is the point of the story? [Hayden] White’s answer is clear: to establish moral authority. But why bother with the Holocaust or plantation slavery, Pol Pot, or the French Revolution, when we already have Little Red Riding Hood?
Constructivism’s[anti-science warriors’]dilemma is that while it can point to hundreds of stories that illustrate its general claim, that narratives are produced, it cannot give a full account of the production of any single narrative.[his emphasis]For either we would all share the same stories of legitimation, or the reasons why a specific story matters to a specific population are themselves historical. To state that a particular narrative legitimates particular policies is to refer implicitly to a “true” account of these policies through time, an account which itself can take the form of another narrative. But to admit the possibility of this second narrative is, in turn, to admit that the historical process has some autonomy vis-à-vis the narrative. It is to admit that as ambiguous and contingent as it is, the boundary between what happened and that which is said to have happened is necessary.
It is not that some societies distinguish between fiction and history and others do not. Rather the difference is in the range of narratives that specific collectivities must put to their own tests of historical credibility because of the stakes involved in these narratives.” — Trouillot, Silencing the Past, pp. 11-14.
And personally I would add “…must put to their own tests disclosed and compared to those of interdisciplinary credibility tests as well for increased accuracy” because of the stakes involved between fact-or-fiction!
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Given the hitherto three-part coverage and hopefully amplification of some of the intricacies and mechanisms constituting knowledge-ignorance, how it’s produced, and why it has silences, it becomes clear that a form of enlarged intellectualism is presently needed, especially in the U.S., and nurturing (versus uncompromising) in the general population, or at minimum a trustin those few credible experts who have obtained it, in order to better monitor and counter severe imbalances. Therefore, in Part IV, the conclusion, I will examine social theorems of ignorance, perhaps white (yes, Caucasian/Anglo) ignorance, should time permit and you readers/followers demand it in your comments below, and then finally ask Where are America’s Public Intellectuals?… to help in this imperative movement. I hope you will join me. Meanwhile, please leave your thoughts about Part III below and I will do my best to respond. (line break)
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
In Part I the various forms of ignorance raised five studied categories with applicable questions. For example, when does knowledge create ignorance? Ignorance for whom? Against whom? Selection and suppression are key factors influencing rise, stagnation, or fall among civilizations, organizations, or families. Recognizing how certain tactics impact you and those people goes a long way toward composing, testing, and restructuring the best available actions and reactions benefitting, as best as possible, the greater good. As A.B. Hill elaborates:
“All scientific work is incomplete — whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, or to postpone actions that it appears to demand at a given time.
Who knows, asked Robert Browning… [truthfully], but on available evidence most of us make ready to commute on the 8:30 next day.”
These are the wonderful rewards of living and working within a free open-system of inquiry, probabilities, plausibilities, and collective consensus! There is typically more — more accuracy in knowledge, more progress, and more accountability. As a slight apology, I realize this Part II post reached over 5,100 words. On the contrary, its content is so critical, so vastly unknown today by the general American public that I just could not reduce its word-count anymore than I have. I hope you’ll understand why when finished reading.
As I mentioned in Part I, in this post I am stepping extensively into manufactured uncertainty and ignorance, as well as into some women’s social and political issues, their implied status now and treatment throughout history with regard to learned forms of ignorance. However, I will do my best to allow women like Dr. Nancy Tuana and other highly credible female experts to do the talking as much as possible. Experience has taught me in the arena of Feminism, as a bumbling male at times, this is a wise and healthier approach. 😀
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In the world of athletic sporting events such as the Olympics, or the FIFA World Cup—both held only every four years—during the ensuing three years between, excitement and anticipation build to a fever pitch. In American sports in 2016 the three major pro leagues of football, baseball, and basketball raked in a mind-boggling $27.3-billion in revenues. Viewing the HowMuch.net infographic below it is easy to see just how much in dollars and socioeconomic values professional sports and their fans impact the entire globe.
In those stadiums and arenas of competition, both in the front and back offices, locker rooms, television broadcasting and sponsorships, in sports pubs and bars, and family homes, with that much annual revenues and profits flowing, how well do you think it would go over (to everyone in sports concerned) if none of these leagues, franchises, owners, players, and administrative offices had any sort of referees, umpires, or league policies and procedures? Zero. Would it upset some fans? To remain successful and winning, how would players and owners react to no enforcement of any league or game rules? Would parity exist? For how long might it exist?
Whether on the field of competitive sports or in the daily market-place, unchecked, all the worst human faults and ugly behaviors would run wild. Dog-eat-dog and survival of the fittest as they say… or rather the smartest, quickest, and most cunning would soon dominate. Those born disadvantaged would have dreadful, bleak, survival odds. Like it or not, the world and each of us NEED referees and umpires of integrity to keep the playing field equal and fair not just for survival, but for the innate right of livelihood for all.
Consequences of Deregulation or No Regulation The effects and impact of regulation, deregulation, or no regulation are never more central than in protecting the domains of public health and its environment where our health resides. This is more crucial for those who are disadvantaged and gullible, for unique reasons, and therefore are susceptible to acts of diversion and deceit. Following are five historical cases Dr. David Michaels, PhD, published concerning manufactured uncertainty and sustained ignorance.
Tobacco, Disease, and Doubt — in the early 1950’s as health researchers were discovering and publishing the negative effects of smoking, the tobacco industry launched major campaigns of counter-measures. “Doubt is our product” was one primary rallying cry directed to The Tobacco Institute, the industry’s voice or bullhorn defense against medical science as instructed via memorandum from Hill & Knowlton, Inc., one of the industry’s major public relations firms. With millions of dollars invested from large and small tobacco companies into these doubt campaigns, the success set the precedent for future successes against other scientific communities and their protection of public health and the environment, such as the effects of climate change.
VIOXX — and Merck. Before the FDA could approve Merck’s blockbuster pain-relief rofecoxib hit drugstore shelves, health professionals were finding and reporting in 1999, 2000, and 2004 the drug increased the risks of heart disease. With 88,000 – 139,000 heart attacks (30% – 40% fatal) attributed to rofecoxib, over four years later the drug was finally banned in November 2004. “On Friday, a Texas jury found Merck liable for the death of Robert C. Ernst, who died in May 2001 after taking Vioxx” reported the New York Times journalist. During the case it was found that Merck executives knew of the increased cardiac risks, but intentionally mislead physicians and the FDA in numerous documented company communications.
Beryllium — is a rare element in our universe produced by cosmic ray collisions. It increases the yield of nuclear explosions and thus has been highly valued in the U.S. production of weapons systems throughout the Cold War. As is corroborated by InvestorIntel.com, U.S. weapons manufacturers today dominate the beryllium market at more than 87% share of the world output. The revenues and profits are naturally a guiding economic force and investor’s criteria. The downside to beryllium manufacturing is exposure and lung disease, known as Chronic Beryllium Disease. Once again because of precedents set, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the DOE (Department of Energy) were constantly misinformed by the Department of Defense and funding-PR work by Brush-Wellman (now Materion Corp) the leading U.S. producer of beryllium products, that CBD-exposure was below hazard-standards and sporadic. Floor supervisors at Brush-Wellman were told by executives that when asked about CBD-exposure answer news reporters with more questions and uncertainty. This tactic leads us to another well-funded doubt campaign: PPA.
Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) — this particular case with PPA manufacturers and the federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is a glaring use of well-funded misdirection and selling doubt. In the early 1970’s young females began suffering from hemorrhagic strokes when taking PPA. When these strokes were reported to the Mayo Clinic, only 20-years later did the FDA begin looking into the safety of the drug. Why 20-years? The manufacturers of PPA — organized together as the NDMA — were denying it was their drug causing the hemorrhagic strokes. They had hired and funded Yale University School of Medicine to study the effects of PPA. They also constructed the study to be approved by the FDA. In October 1999 when the results were finalized, the Yale study confirmed the link between PPA and hemorrhagic strokes. Did the NDMA remove the drug from pharmacy shelves? No. Instead they hired the Weinberg Group to attack the Yale study and science. The annual sales of PPA were well over $500-million despite over 200-500 men and women suffering strokes between ages 18 and 49 using the drug. These tactics stalled the removal of PPA from the market long enough (in 2000) to redesign them for a ready-made replacement that kept the flow of profits going — at the expense of crippled or deceased consumers. On their company website the Weinberg Group gloated* about their success for the NDMA.
The Funding Effect that $500-million in sales for an industry can elicit against protective science is a modern corporate tactic never to be ignored or taken lightly.
Funding Effect & BPA — When there is a close correlation between the desired results of a study by a study’s funders and the reported results of that study, it is called the funding effect. Dr. Richard Smith, M.D., a member of CBE and former editor of the British Medical Journal explains:
“Why are pharmaceutical companies getting the results they want? … The companies seem to get the results they want not by fiddling the results, which would be far too crude and possibly detectable by peer review, but rather by asking the “right” questions — and there are many ways to do this [see list below] … There are many ways to hugely increase the chance of producing favourable results, and there are many hired guns who will think up new ways and stay one jump ahead of peer reviewers.” — Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies, by Dr. Richard Smith, May 2005
With regard to BPA, an environmental estrogen used in polycarbonate plastic found in canned foods and dental sealants, exposure to low doses of the poly-plastic was found to alter human endocrine functions. At the time there were many conflicting reports. In response to the negative reports, the American Plastics Council employed the services of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis to dispute the reports and found that the effects of BPA exposure were inconclusive. A separate group of scientists felt the HCRA study was too small given the number of studies already done. When reexamining the some 115 separate assessments of BPA exposure conducted in addition to the much smaller samples by the HCRA, the conclusions were drastically different! What was found to be more disturbing was…
“90% (94 of 104) of the studies paid for with government funds reported an effect associated with BPA exposure; not a single one of the 11 corporate funded studies found an effect.” — Protecting Public Health in the Age of Contested Science and Product Defense, David Michaels, Ph.D., M.P.H., Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, pp. 156-157
A New Regulatory Paradigm The debates, controversies surrounding corporate funding-effects versus independent science, the millions-to-billions of dollars involved, and the risks posed to public health and our environment has created another industry niche that could be termed as Product Manufacturing Defense. In recent years these law and consulting firms have popped up to oppose independent science panels they label as “Private Surgeon Generals.” Here is one such lucrative strategy the firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP in New York, NY advertises and utilizes:
“Private Surgeons General seek to force manufacturers and retailers of food, consumer and household products to post Surgeon General-like warnings, change package labels and advertising and refund hundreds of millions of dollars to unharmed and otherwise perfectly happy consumers who purchased perfectly healthful and untainted products. Why? Because a substance shown in the ingredient list is claimed to be dangerous or a statement in the product advertising or label is claimed to be misleading.”
In the fight to return and maintain the scientific integrity in federal policymaking, the Union of Concerned Scientists published their January 2017 report detailing why more transparency is needed due to past conduct between manufacturers, agencies, science, and their possible bias. No records of gross misconduct are greater, writes the UCS, than what took place during George W. Bush’s administration:
“Bush administration officials manipulated, misrepresented, and suppressed inconvenient data and censored experts. They systematically chose science advisors based on ideology rather than scientific credentials, they prevented federal scientists from sharing their research and expertise, and they rewrote scientific reports to help justify predetermined policy decisions.
The evidence is clear: when policymakers undermine science, the public is left with laws and regulations that leave them exposed to unnecessary danger.”
It is very apparent that some/many industry-related research is not published, or distorted, or delayed until financially-covering alternatives are in place at the expense of health and/or environmental risks and consequences, some irreversible. Government laws and regulations—our referees and umpires of the highest integrity—must be in place for pure independent research and results to be readily accessible. More importantly, to offer the public and our environment parity-protection from well-funded Congressional lobbyists and biased product defense firms, our federal agencies such as OSHA and the EPA must have the best impartial, scientific information available! A two-way street of the funding for the science and possible conflicts of interest encourages transparency and integrity for these agencies to make informed regulatory policy-decisions.
In many ways Western civilization has only just departed the Dark Ages concerning women’s necessary place in all of society. The lethargy belongs squarely on two agents: Men and ignorance. For over a millenia, going back to ancient Greece, any mental or emotional “peculiarities” of a woman’s behavior would be diagnosed as hysteria by doctors; and all doctors were male. It was believed the hysteria was caused by a disorderly wandering uterus. This irregular behavior, as the story goes, led to the invention of the vaginal vibrators as treatment! Until the 21st century some of Emily Dickinson’s passionate works were little known, suppressed by men in positions of power:
“Wild nights — Wild nights! Were I with thee Wild nights should be Our luxury!
Futile – the winds – To a Heart in port – Done with the Compass – Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden – Ah – the Sea! Might I but moor – tonight – In thee!”
Her publisher was horrified and distraught over whether to publish those first four lines due to “social norms” of 1860’s patriarchal puritan America.
By the 1800’s male doctors noticed the time-correlation between “hysteria” and PMS. By the 1900’s male doctors and medical societies were linking menstrual insanity with tuberculosis and sexual molestation. Fortunately, modern medical science has greatly dispelled the myths concerning women’s bodies, but there is a long bumpy road still ahead with respect to eliminating all the ignorance.
Dr. Nancy Tuana reasons that what a group or person knows cannot fully be appreciated unless the unknowns are equally appreciated and who the knowledge or ignorance benefits or handicaps. It is an area that Dr. Tuana says:
“Female sexuality is a particularly fertile area for tracking the intersections of power/knowledge-ignorance. Scientific and commonsense knowledge of female orgasm has a history that provides a rich lens for understanding the importance of explicitly including epistemologies of ignorance alongside our theories of knowledge.”
Dr. Tuana closely examines seven subjects concerning women’s bodies and pleasures for a contemporary understanding: Epistemologies of Orgasms, Unveiling the Clitoris, Fingering Truth, The Issue of Pleasure, The Either/Or of Women’s Orgasms, Sisterhood Is Powerful, and finally Bodies and Pleasures. As mentioned before, I will let Dr. Tuana do most of the speaking and attempt to single out her key points within the first three areas.
Epistemologies of Orgasms The 19th century constructed and taught that sex, and women’s bodies and pleasures were a “problem of truth.” Dr. Tuana goes on…
“Can my investigations of the power dimensions of ignorance concerning women’s orgasms not fall prey to a constructed desire for the “truth of sex”?
…The bodies of my attention are those of women; the pleasures those of orgasm. But bodies and pleasures are not outside the history and deployment of sex-desire. Bodies and pleasures will not remove me, the epistemic subject, from the practice of desiring truth. Bodies and pleasures, as [Michel] Foucault well knew, have histories. Indeed the bodies that I trace are material-semiotic interactions of organisms, environments, cultures. Bodies and their pleasures are not natural givens, not even deep down. Nor do I believe in a true female sexuality hidden deep beneath the layers of oppressive socialization. But women’s bodies and pleasures provide a fertile lens for understanding the workings of power/knowledge-ignorance in which we can trace who desires what knowledge; that is, we can glimpse the construction of desire (or lack thereof) for knowledge of women’s sexuality. I also believe that women’s bodies and pleasures can, at this historical moment, be a wellspring for resisting sexual normalization.”
Hence, Dr. Tuana begins with the clitoris.
Unveiling the Clitoris Remarkably most adults in America, including university campuses, know more about the penis than they do about women’s genitalia and pleasures. In her many years of teaching at Penn State University, when Dr. Tuana has asked her students to sketch a drawing (from memory) of a woman’s internal and external sexual organs they are vague and typically exclude the clitoris.
“This pattern of knowledge-ignorance mirrors a similar pattern in scientific representations of female and male genitalia. Although the role of the clitoris in female sexual satisfaction is scientifically acknowledged, and well-known by most of us, the anatomy and physiology of the clitoris, particularly its beginnings and ends, is still a contested terrain. A brief history of representations of the clitoris provides an interesting initial entry into the epistemology of ignorance.
As I and many other theorists have argued, until the nineteenth century, men’s bodies were believed to be the true form of human biology and the standard against which female structures — bones, brains, and genitalia alike — were to be compared. The clitoris fared no differently. Medical science held the male genitals to be the true form, of which women’s genitals were a colder, interior version.
Even after the “two-sex” model became dominant in the nineteenth century, with its view of the female not as an underdeveloped male but as a second gender with distinctive gender differences, the clitoris got short shrift. It was often rendered a simple nub, which though carefully labeled, was seldom fleshed out or made a focus of attention.”
Not until the 1980’s did women’s health take another grand step forward in medical science. “…the clitoris expanded in size and configuration to include three structures: the shaft, the glans, and the crura.” Yet, this new expansion still fell short.
“But none of these [medical] texts focuses attention on coming to understand the sexual response patterns of these and other bits. Feminist imagery diverges significantly from nonfeminist in providing us far more detailed views of the impact of sexual stimulation on the glans and crura of the clitoris, as well as the labia majora and the bulbs of the vestibule, the latter of which possess a very extensive blood vessel system that becomes very engorged during arousal, doubling, even tripling in size, we are told, during sexual arousal… The always-found illustrations of male erections… are now accompanied by an illustration of female erections, …something absent in nonfeminist texts. Feminist texts also lovingly detail the other bits that are part of our seat of delight. Reminding us that the clitoris, impressive though it be, is not our only sensitive bit, feminists also provide us with images of the urethral sponge that lies between the front wall of the vagina and the urethra, which expands with blood during sexual arousal… It was this structure that was allegedly “discovered” with Columbus-like gusto (Christopher, this time, not Renaldus) by Ernst Graffenburg and popularized as the “G-spot.” Although a few nonfeminist anatomical illustrations, post-Graffenburg, provide us glimpses of this pleasurable sponge, apparently neither they nor Graffenburg have gotten the hang of the feminist speculum, for they continue to overlook feminist presentations of the other sponge, the perineal sponge located between the vagina and the rectum, which also engorged when a woman is sexually aroused… Pressure on any of these engorged structures can result in pleasure and orgasm.”
Thus, clearly the clitoris and her compliments are far more than a simple nub.
Fingering Truth How has the clitoris historically and socially remained as a mere nub? Because I am male I think it more wise to yield the floor to Dr. Tuana in her own words. She explains:
“Despite fifteen years of clear illustrations of this [modern] view of clitoral structures, our impact has been surprisingly minimal, at least so far. A review of anatomical illustrations in standard college human sexuality textbooks reveals a surprising lack of attention to the functions and structures of the clitoris. No surprise, then, that my students have, at best, a passing knowledge of the depths and complexity of its structures.
There is a politics of ignorance at work here, one that is linked to the politics of sex and reproduction… There has been little dispute from the Greeks to the present of the importance of male pleasure and ejaculation for conception. In contrast, the question of female seed and the link between it and female pleasure was always a point of controversy… Women’s sexual pleasure came to be seen as inessential to reproduction, although many scholars admitted that it might be useful in promoting the desire for intercourse.
Now to this view of the functions (or lack thereof) of female erotic pleasure add the politics of sex, namely the view that the only or at least the main function of sex is reproduction. To this view add the politics of female sexuality, namely the tenet common in scientific and popular accounts well into the nineteenth century that women were more lustful than men and that their sexuality was a danger to men, and a path is cleared to an understanding of why clitoral structures get lost in the process. The logic becomes quite clear: (a) There is not good reason to pay attention to the clitoris, given that it allegedly plays no role in reproduction and that sex is to be studied (only) in order to understand reproduction. (b) Worse, there is good reason to not pay attention to the clitoris lest we stir up a hornet’s nest of stinging desire. From Pandora on, and well into the nineteenth century, women’s stinging desire and limb-gnawing passion had been branded the cause of the fall of mankind. What better reason to construct and maintain an epistemology of ignorance? What better way to disqualify and perhaps even control women’s sexual satisfaction?
Leaving Sigmund Freud aside for the moment, genitals came under scrutiny during the end of the nineteenth century as science constructed the category of the “invert,” namely, those who mixed with members of their own sex. Evolutionary theory linked the newly “uncovered” sexual identity of the homosexual to degeneracy, and widespread societal fears of the degeneration of the race (that is, the white race) led to broadened support for eugenics movements… Belief in the degeneration of the race led many to believe that so-called inverts were proliferating. Anxiety led to a desire to be able to track such undesirables and an equally strong desire to believe their perversity and devolution would be clearly marked on their bodies… Although through images to be kept only for the eyes of professionals, whose objectivity and dispassionate nature would protect them from corruption, science began to turn its gaze on the structures of the clitoris to seek out and control deviancy.”
From 1935 — 1941 sexual deviancy outside the accepted binary norms was conducted to ‘learn the physical marks‘ of such behavior in order to stop contamination of the white race by other races (see p. 211 here).
“The point here is that this epistemology is not about truth. …What is missing or only sketchily attended to in nonfeminist anatomies, at least when the focus is on the “normal” rather than the “deviant,” is the desire to map the geographies and functions of the clitoris and our other pleasurable bits.
…What I am arguing is that the history of our knowledge-ignorances of the clitoris — indeed, our lived experiences of its beginnings and ends — is part of an embodied discourse and history of bodies and pleasures.”
For the sake of length and my time-constraints, and probably yours too, I am leaving out the next four sections — The Issue of Pleasure, The Either/Or of Women’s Orgasms, Sisterhood Is Powerful, and Bodies and Pleasures — all four of which are well worth the read! If you are interested, here’s the complete version: Coming to Understand: Orgasm and the Epistemology of Ignorance.
Abortifacients and the Making of More Ignorance
It is as easy as sipping a cup of Pride of Barbados herbal tea and washing herself with the same herb/flower in a morning bath. Doing this shortly after intercourse, according to secretancient medicine in the Caribbean islands, prevents conception safely and comfortably. In fact, a woman could do this repeatedly two or three days after intercourse accomplishing more assured results. Why has this profound medical knowledge NOT been circulated around the world, especially in European civilizations? That is literally the million-dollar question.
Age of Discovery? 1500 — 1899 Advances in European maritime navigation and ship-building saw an unprecedented extent of exploration far beyond the continent’s seas between the 1500’s and 1900’s. Empires such as Spain, Portugal, France, and Great Britain were economic competitors and often bitter enemies when the riches of the New Worlds were discovered and calculated. The magnitude of historical influence on the world by just these four maritime empires cannot be overstated — three of the world’s most widely spoken languages today are Spanish, English, and Portuguese. During the Age of Discovery and Exploration humanity witnessed and experienced at the time what might be described as the biggest economic boom in recorded history, for European nobility particularly, followed by a new age of scientific breakthroughs. But not all breakthroughs found in the New Worlds made it back to European headlines. Why?
“…in the eighteenth century, both European science and societies were structured to cultivate certain types of knowledge over others. Funding priorities, global strategies, national policies, structures of scientific institutions, trade patterns, configuration of technologies all pushed investigation toward certain parts of nature and away from others.”
Centuries of European gender politics and mercantile profits were the undercurrents of this knowledge-ignorance. Following were two basic distortions in 18th century botany. Taxonomists like John Ray asked: What is the uniformity of plants and flora across various continents? It was postulated that Caribbean flowers and plants were brought to the islands by the Tainos of South America and afterwards by the Dutch, Spanish, and English. What botanists failed to observe was crates and sacks of produce awaiting transport in harbors inadvertently collected soil and seeds of other weedy species. Thus, trade routes/winds, their imports/exports, and human mixing/influence caused taxonomists to wrongly conclude that “uniformity” in tropical flora was global rather than diverse according to regions and climates.
Two centuries later famed English botanist, William T. Stearn, along with earlier recorded scientific excursions from several other renown 18th century European botanists corrected this faulty science. Where 17th century science was in favor of profitable trade and commerce, Stearn also noticed European taxonomists then were not as interested or invested in the notion of boring, all the same, un-lucrative uniformity. Highly novel filled the pockets of East and West Indies shipping and commerce.
The second distortion in 18th century botany which fueled cultural ignorance was technology and transcontinental movements. Not until the early 1800’s did European botany more accurately know and understand taxonomies of the New World’s resources as opposed to their own. Voyagers crossing the oceans preferred succulents and bulbs over heavy stones and minerals simply because they’d survive the journey back to Europe; they weighed much less and cost less to transport. These trade conditions didn’t change until ships became larger and faster. However, New World abortifacients like the Pride of Barbados or the peacock flower, was not embraced in Europe even though the knowledge of its use had been known for centuries in indigenous cultures and in select scientific disciplines.
Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th century German-born Naturalist and botany-entymologist illustrator, documented that both Amerindians and African slave-women used the abortifacient flower almost exclusively because they did not want their child born into the slave-trade for life. There are several possibilities of the origin of the Pride of Barbados (peacock flower) and its use, but Dr. Schiebinger feels the more likely origin-knowledge is South America:
“The historical record of the peacock flower used as an abortive from Surinam up through the French Antilles to Jamaica suggests that the plant was known to the forebears of the Tainos, the Saladoid peoples, and followed their migration out of South America into the[Caribbean]islands. …While it is possible that displaced Africans taught the Tainos the use of the peacock flower, I find it more likely that the Tainos and Arawaks taught its uses to the newly arrived Africans.”
Despite the fact that so much Amerindian, African, and Caribbean resources and knowledge entered Europe during the Age of Discovery, their knowledge of abortifacients like the peacock flower did not. Again, why? What induced this European ignorance? Dr. Schiebinger explains pre-19th century social-moral legalities:
“Throughout the early modern period, the general consensus was that for legal purposes a woman was not pregnant — not truly with child — until “quickening” or “ensoulment” took place, usually considered to occur near the midpoint of gestation, late in the fourth or early in the fifth month of pregnancy (or according to Aristotle, forty days after conception for a male child and ninety days for a female child). …Even though abortion was legal in this period, it was never undertaken lightly: moral trepidation and physical danger argued against it.
Cultivating knowledge of West Indian abortifacients in Europe was discouraged by the fact that European colonial enterprises were largely male. The majority of Caribbean planters and slaves were men, as were colonial administrators, naturalists, and physicians. Colonial governors, such as Hendrick van Reede and Philippe de Lonvilliers, chevalier de Poincy (for whom the Poinciana pulcherrima was named), were most interested in medicines to protect traders, planters, and trading company troops, among whom few women were found.
Developing abortifacients or any drugs used predominantly to control fertility also worked directly against the interests of mercantilist states. Mercantilist governments sought to augment the wealth of nations by PRODUCING growing and healthy populations.”
There is simply no other more pleasant way of putting it. Women, in the Age of Discovery, were breeders, meant to bolster the wealth and resources of male nations. For European states and their foreign colonies, abundant population — both slave and citizen — was to increase production of crops and goods. Domestically large populations filled the armies and navies. It generated workers who would pay substantial taxes and rents. In the empire’s colonies it grew negroes that would push and pad the empire’s wealth. The moral issues surrounding abortifacients were just as centered around a company’s and nation’s wealth-accumulation as it was (or less so) seen in God’s eyes and prosperity for “true believers.”
And so the simple, safe, and comfortable remedy for a possible (objectionable? shameful?) conception — drinking an herbal tea of peacock flower and bathing in a warm “peacock floral” bath — went disinterested and/or suppressed throughout an apparently ‘advanced’ European people. How much has changed today in our knowledge-ignorance of safe, simple, ancient and Renaissance abortifacients?
For further information about women’s bodies and pleasure: OMGYes.com — “See What Science Says About Women’s Pleasure”
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In Part III of Games of Unknowledging, I want to cover the art of Fabricating Facts, the Revelations of Indigenous Fossils and their knowledge-ignorance, as well as gaining a better understanding of the benefits and advantages of thorough Historical-Interdisciplinary Hindsight. I hope you’ll join me there with your thoughts and comments.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always