If there was such a thing as cat-like-urday I would release this on that day, but there isn’t. So we are going to talk about it now.
You see there are the true cats, the felidae, and then there are cat-likes, the Feliforms. Now all true cats are feliforms, but not all feliforms are true cats.
You’ve probably heard of the fossa if you’ve seen the movie ‘Madagascar’. Well the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is a feliform in the family Eupleridae, this family is composed entirely of ‘cat-like’ species endemic (found only in a specific place) to Madagascar, the large island off the coast of South-East Africa. They are a clade (a natural group that can trace it’s lineage back to a common ancestor) closely related to the mongooses.
Oh, yeah. Mongooses are feliforms too! Along with meerkats, they are in the family Herpestidae, a family of cute, long, slinky things native to Africa, Southern Europe and Asia.
Possibly the most cat-like family in the feliforms that isn’t a felid is the Viverridae. Some of these species probably look quite a lot like the proailurus of the past, the progenitor species of all cats. This family is mostly made of up civet and genet species, many of which seem almost like primitive cats, with long, slinky bodies, slightly more pointed heads and coats with distinctly feline patterns.
But we’re not talking about them today. Instead we’re talking about the Hyaenidae family. It surprises people to find out these seemingly dog-like carnivores are actually more closely related to cats.
This has occurred through what is known as ‘convergent evolution’, whereby a species develops, independently, adaptations that another species already possess. Take wings and flight, for example, this has evolved convergently in insects, reptiles (in flying dinosaurs, the pterosaurs, I don’t believe there are any extant ‘flying’ reptiles), birds and mammals.
So the Hyaenidae developed these dog-like features from their own cat-like origins all by themselves and it becomes easy to see how they could be confused for canids.
There are four extant species of Hyena, the most famous is probably the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), there is also the brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and the aardwolf (Proteles cristata).
They all have a remarkable evolutionary history, stretching back around 22 million years, and the aardwolf is notable in its own right for being the most canid-like of the extant species, seeming to be directly related to the ancestral species, Plioviverrops, and representing what was an entire lineage of incredibly dog-or-wolf-like Hyaenas that likely existed until the true canids, from North America, found their way over into Eurasia.
However I want to focus specifically on Crocuta crocuta, the spotted or laughing hyena, probably the most well-known of all the hyena species.
The first thing I want to discuss is its hunting and diet. For one thing, the saggital crest (the mounting for the jaw muscles on the top and back of the head) is incredible. This would indicate an exceptionally powerful, crushing bite. The spotted hyena is from a lineage of ‘bone crushing’ hyenas, they are known to crunch through a carcass in about half an hour eating skin and bones that other predators may leave behind.
There is a common trope that hyenas are little more than scavengers who go around stealing kills off of lions and cheetahs. Nothing could be further from the truth, whilst it is believed the brown and striped hyena are predominantly scavengers, the bulk of the spotted hyena’s diet is obtained from hunting. In fact they are remarkable and intelligent pack hunters.
Of course they exist on the plains of Africa where every day is a fight for survival, as the most numerous big carnivore on the continent they obtained that success by also being ruthlessly opportunistic and where an opportunity to steal a kill or scavenge carrion presents itself the spotted hyena will not hesitate to take it.
So even though a few people, and some documentaries, still present hyena’s as thieves and scavengers it has been well recorded, since the 1960s and 1970s, that the spotted hyena is at least as good a hunter as the lion, if not better.
As far as their prey goes they are also intelligent hunters, seeming to have little prey preference, but definitely things they avoid (such as buffalo and giraffe). True to their canid-style convergent evolution they are chase predators, making their prey prove themselves over distances of a few miles. They can reach speeds up to around 35mph but the main chase is probably a lot slower, around 10mph. It is behaviour not unlike the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus).
They hunt alone or in packs, naturally solo hunting tends to be on smaller prey such as gazelle or hogs, whilst pack hunting (from 3 all the way up to around 20-25 individuals!) is reserved for wildebeest or zebra, animals that attempt to defend themselves.
So if they hunt in packs it stands to reason they must have some social structure. They exist in semi-matriarchal (Sometimes males and females will co-dominate, though usually females outrank males) ‘clans’, depending on habitat these can be smaller or larger with an upper-limit seeming to be around 80 individuals. Males typically leave their matrilineal (their mother’s lineage) clan and go seek a spot elsewhere around 2 years.
They are not necessarily a close knit group, with the size and composition of the group changing over time, and smaller, splinter groups often going off hunting or scavenging on their own. This is known as fission-fusion, and is also found in species like elephants, whales and porpoise or even social primates like chimpanzees.
These societies, then, are complex. Recognition of clan members, who come and go, a social dynamic of dominance and subordinance, even nepotism, with the dominant female’s offspring generally being regarded higher than others, this is a complex social situation. Similar to social primates, then, hyenas exhibit great development of the frontal cortex of their brain, the area most associated with social behaviour and social intelligence. Observations by colonists in the 19th century noted their canny ability to evade or escape traps, utilising deceptive vocalisations to either scare others away from their kills or protect their young if they are in danger. Observational studies show spotted hyenas use a wide range of vocalisations to communicate, as well as olfactory (smell) signals, such as scent-marking.
Studies on captive pairs of spotted hyena, by Christine Drea, an evolutionary anthropologist, even demonstrate that hyena are better at co-operative problem solving than even incredibly socially intelligent primates like chimpanzees! The study attached a food reward trap to a double-rope design where the ropes had to be pulled in unison in order to obtain the reward. Apparently the first pair of hyenas solved the problem within two minutes! She tried it with 13 other pairs and found that they very quickly learned to synchronise their pulling of the ropes and later examples done by hyena that had already done the exercise before showed they had a lower tendency to pull on the rope without their partner, exhibiting some understanding that the actions of the partner are vital in getting the reward.
Also quite telling is when competing, dominant females were put in the exercise together they often failed to cooperate!
Chimps and primates often require at least a reasonable amount of training to understand the exercise before they will demonstrate cooperation. The fact that spotted hyenas can independently come to a solution through a natural tendency to cooperate in order to obtain food is an astounding development in understanding animal cognition.
What this doesn’t necessarily mean is that spotted hyenas are smarter than chimps, merely that they exhibit cooperative problem solving skills that seem to be far and above our estimations of non-primate intelligence.
But I know what you’re thinking. “This is all actually informative and interesting. That’s not very We Lack Discipline. I assume you’re about to go on a long rant about persecution of animals or tell us how it eats its own shit.”
No I’m not.
What!? Spotted hyenas are of least concern to the IUCN, they’re very successful. Whilst human persecution occurs I actually trust hyenas to tell us where to go.
As for whether they are known for coprophagy (the scientific term for shit-eating) I don’t know. Maybe? It’s not a concern. I’m more mature than that.
Which is why, instead, I’m going to talk about the female and how they have an up to 7 inch clitoris known as the pseudo-penis! Big ol’ clitty ding-dongs! I’M MATURE!
The spotted hyena takes androgyny very seriously to the point that the females have a clitoris that seems to mimic the male’s penis. It’s very rare that there is a species with remarkable genitals but the hyena, especially the female, is one. They have no vaginal opening, for example, because the labia are fused into a pseudo-scrotum! So how do they mate? Well at the end of the female’s oversized clit is a main urogenital opening, through which it urinates, mates and gives birth.
Yup, female spotted hyenas give birth through their fake dick-hole!
They can even get a lob-on! The pseudo-penis is capable of erection!
This should come as no surprise in a species where their sexual behaviour shows females to be massive doms – The female is dominant, and shows a clear preference to subservient or passive males more than aggressive ones. They are promiscuous, so have no specific mate bonding, and have no specific breeding season, although births tend to coincide with the wet season.
As you might imagine, giving birth through your dick-sized-clit is not an easy affair and usually this results in a rupture. Especially since hyena cubs are comparatively large!
They can appear slightly unsightly. Their long, gangly legs (incidentally well adapted for hunting), their weird long necks (incredibly strong with good anchoring for their powerful bite, allowing them to grip prey), their sloped backs (excellent adaptation for escaping the claws of a lion by having it slip downward more often than not) and weirdly baldish faces (great hygiene for an animal unafraid to stick its head in some decomposing carrion) certainly do not make spotted hyenas the cutest looking of the feliforms.
But they are an absolutely incredible species, unfortunately much maligned by lion-friendly media such as wildlife documentaries or Disney’s ‘The Lion King’. Hyenas are not just giggling goofballs, or disgusting grave-robbers and thieves! They are a highly successful predator that happens to be smart enough to be relentlessly opportunistic. They are an intelligent and social animal with seemingly rich communication skills, cooperation skills and an ability to adapt. Spotted hyena variants were once common across Europe and Asia, and are believed to have mainly died out as a result of changing climate causing a change of habitat, a shrinking of their preferred grasslands and an increase in mixed woodlands in which their main competitors, wolves and humans, would have been a lot more comfortable than they were.
Their social behaviours alone make them a species well worth knowing, learning, understanding and studying and there is a lot we can learn about our notions of sex and gender, how we perceive ‘what nature intended’ from a species that gives birth out of its fake dick!
I think they suffer for their success, sort of like the saltwater crocodile. They’re not conventionally cute or appealing to us because of adaptations they have that make them good. They make weird noises, which make them socially more cohesive than other species. We are suspicious of their scavenging and carrion eating abilities but they’re opportunistic and intelligent, when food is scarce you take what you can get to survive and if that means digging up a human grave, nothing is sacred. They have also been known to hunt humans, and why not when we’re numerous and often easy prey?
They’re an incredible example of how, above all else, survival is key. There are plenty of cute species out there that have gone extinct. Many is the noble predator, with a clear preference for hunting a specific type of prey, who have disappeared off the face of the earth despite their so-called nobility, despite their perceived honour and despite any other virtuous traits we would bestow upon them. The spotted hyena is just good at surviving. In fact, it thrives at surviving!
I think we’re threatened by that.
Upset you didn’t get a true felid today? We have plenty of other cat articles for you to get your feline fix!
Caturday Special: The Origin Story – Proailurus and Pseudaelurus – The progenitor species of all modern cats examined. Caturday Special: The Snow Leopard – The ‘Ghost of the Mountains’ gets an examination, a beautiful cat with some remarkable characteristics. Caturday Special: The Scottish Wildcat – Once an emblem of so many Scottish clans, now this poor, cute, and feisty wildcat is struggling to survive due to historic persecution and current ongoing interbreeding with domestic cats. Caturday Special: The Serval – Find out about this elegant and beautiful medium-sized African wildcat and how it has become part of our domesticated cat lineage! Caturday Special: The Kodkod – The smallest cat in the Americas and endemic to only a small part of Chile and Argentina, find out about this amazing little boopster.
CONTENT WARNING: BIBLE SHIT! Contains discussions of women as property, pimping out women, trafficking of women, a lot of treating women like shit, as well as discussion of male genital mutilation. Later on there is a 14th century depiction of a 99 year old man cutting off his own foreskin with a butterknife. May be NSFW.
In our last instalment God had decided that everything he had previously said was “very good,” was not quite as good as he had first thought so he literally killed everyone and everything barring whatever was on the ark of Noah. This included Noah and his three sons Japheth, Ham and Shem, or the Ham Sandwich.
Everything started getting back to normal (barring a hungover curse because Ham took the piss out of Noah’s exposed winky) except the nations of the Earth were united and had come together to build a massive tower which God didn’t like with no discernable reason but what’s reason when you’re God? So he destroyed the Tower and ‘confused the tongues’ of the people, making them all speak different languages so they could go on to a future of inevitable miscommunication and conflict.
We had a nice long genealogy leading up to Abram, who I mentioned was about to become possibly the most important figure in the moral history of the world.
God tells Abram to “Fuck off!” – Well, not quite in that way. He wants Abram to go to a chosen land that will be blessed. At the moment they are in Haran, where Terah died. They are to go to Canaan to settle. So Abram, his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot all pack up their things and head to Canaan at God’s command. He wanders along, building altars along the route, as you do when you’re travelling until a famine put an end to their adventures.
What follows is possibly the worst set-up for presumed incest porn you could imagine.
They go to Egypt during the famine and I assume there was still food there. But, since Sarai, despite being 60-odd years old, is very beautiful all of the Egyptian men will want her. So Abram tells her this, and suggests she pretend to be his sister or else the Egyptian men will kill him and steal his wife.
This comes to pass and Sarai ends up shacked up with Pharaoh, as you do. He hands off a bunch of animals and slaves to Abram in exchange.
Sarai, though, comes with Holiest of STDs as God curses Pharaoh and his house with ‘great plagues’.
I’ve got no idea what the hell this is about! It’s Abram who is in the wrong here, and if God is on their side why would he need to be deceitful and lie about Sarai being his wife? Surely God will protect them?
Instead, what he does is trick everybody, get given a bunch of shit in exchange for his wife and then when the Egyptians are all cursed up, they just tell him to bugger off and take his stuff with him. He has obtained goods and/or services through deception. That’s fraud. God, Abram and Sarai are scammers! Although there’s every possibility God and Abram are scammers in which case Sarai is a victim of human trafficking for the purposes of a scam!
Abram and Lot go their separate ways in this chapter. Basically they’re all so damn rich (having scammed the Egyptians) that they have two big herds and their shepherds keep conflicting so Abram tells Lot to take any of the land and Lot decides to head off toward the Jordan valley in the direction of Sodom.
God also tells Abram that all of the land (North, South, East and West) will be for him and his offspring – who he will make as numerous as the dust of the Earth.
But Abram has to move again.
That’s the chapter.
War! Kings! Kings and war! There are some Kings, they make war! Honestly I’m trying to figure this out but it’s not exactly fucking Breaking Bad over here, there’s no gripping suspense keeping me hooked. A bunch of Kings go to war with some other Kings, then some Kings betray the head King in charge of the war and then they war with some other people then apparently some of them run away but fall into tar pits and that’s, of course, where Israeli museums get their supplies of mammoth bones and dead Kings.
The point is Sodom and Gomorrah get sacked and the sackers take Lot who has been living out that way. Abram by this point is apparently some kind of Hebrew mob-boss so he gets told about this and rounds ‘the boys’ up. Abram and his crew jump in the Jag, sandwiched between the two Range Rovers – all black, tinted windows. It’s all kicking off like proper British gangsters.
They go in pursuit as far as Dan.
Dan is a place, not a person. This confused me for a while wondering quite what Dan had to do with it. I was reading this part quite late in the evening.
Anyway, they obviously win and get Lot back and all of the possessions, women and people. I like that the ‘women’ and ‘people’ are listed after the possessions. Okay I get what you mean, furniture > wives > slaves – I get it, Bible, you’re morally arse backwards, no need to be so blatant about it.
So after this, the King of Sodom comes to meet with Abram and give him some food, wine and good, solid blessing.
Abram, because as we’ve established by now is a straight up motherfuckin’ G, refuses the favours of the King of Sodom saying;
“I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and Earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap of anything that is yours, lest you say ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol and Mamre take their share.”
Aner, Eschcol and Mamre are three Amorite brothers who travelled and fought with Abram.
It’s a very canny move, even considered out of a supposedly Holy context. In essence Abram is saying he does not want to be indebted to any King. He will not have another taking credit or responsibility for the riches in his life. By this point he is clearly rich enough, especially after robbing the Egyptians with the old White Stripes sister/wife routine.
What he’s also saying, however, is what he returns is not a gift, he is not paying tribute to the King of Sodom, merely returning what was already his. In that regard, he is not showing favour to the King, nor does the King owe him anything.
From the perspective of God, it makes it quite clear that the Lord is Abram’s King and he’ll not be in debt or favour to anyone else.
However I look at it from the perspective of someone who has done the odd bit of dodgy dealing in his time and I think it’s exceptionally savvy business from someone who is basically a religious gangster. He makes it apparent his power is his own and what he does is done for his own purpose. It puts everyone in their place with little room for misunderstanding.
Is it righteous? It could be considered so. Does it have to be? Absolutely not, this is a power-play.
We’re ploughing through these but it’s kind of because there’s a bit of a plot and not just a bunch of God doing stupid shit that it takes me 500 words to take the piss out of!
So God speaks to Abram in a dream and is like “I’m here for you, G!”.
Abram’s all like “But I ain’t got no kids, ‘s’up with that? My heir is Eliezer of Damascus!”
And I think I speak for everyone when I say fuck Eliezer of Damascus? Am I right?
Actually no, apparently Eliezer was just a servant of the family who actually did right by them so…I mean, surely it’s better your legacy is inherited by a useful servant than a feckless son? I mean I’m not saying their potential future son will be feckless but he’ll be the son of two old age pensioners, one of whom had her menopause an average lifespan number of years ago and his dad talks to sky people in his dreams who encourage him to do silly shit. That kid is gonna have problems!
Anyway God reassures him and says “Look, mate, you’ll have a son. Look at the stars in the sky. Your offspring will be that numerous!”
Then – remember what I was saying about the sky person in his dreams encouraging him to do silly shit?
So Abram’s having some doubts, asking questions of God about how he’ll possess the land etc. and God says to Abram;
“Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove and a young pigeon.”
Err…What…? Is this a setup to a gag?
“And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over again the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses Abram drove them away.”
Do you want to know what the point to all this is?
ME FUCKING TOO! Nothing is explained. Clearly it’s some kind of ceremony – and that’s literally all the answer I could find on it when researching, too! Nobody knows, it is just presumed this is some kind of ancient ceremony for the sealing of a contract or covenant.
Apparently then Abram falls asleep, God tells him the future of his people in his sleep, and then a ‘smoking fire pot and a flaming torch’ pass between the pieces (of cut-up three-year-old animal). This is, presumably, God ‘signing’ the covenant.
I’ll be honest, ritualistic behaviours are a jam of mine (thanks Lorenz) and I’d like to hear a lot more about the evolution of this contract signing. I also want to see it brought back. Imagine how interesting transfer deadline day in the Premier League would be if you had to have…I don’t know…Phil Foden walk over a bunch of dead animals to sign a contract with Real Madrid! Butchers would start having agents! It’d be weird and great.
Either way, God basically says “Yo, it won’t be easy, but eventually you’ll rule over this whole area, so chill dude.” And Abram chills. Then hopefully eats some meat, it’d be a shame if it all goes to waste.
Abram fucks the slave girl.
So Sarai has what is politely termed a ‘servant’ named Hagar and she says to Abram “I’m ancient and haven’t had a kid yet. Knock up the servant!”
And apparently Abram has absolutely no objections as to why he shouldn’t bang the young Egyptian servant girl, especially since his wife has so tenderly asked him to do so. Let’s be honest, Abram is a horny old bastard.
Once she’s knocked up, though, she gets all high and mighty about it, which upsets Sarai.
One interesting thing is that Sarai says “May the wrong done to me be on you!” So even though this was all her idea, it’s Abram’s fault for listening to her, paying attention to her thoughts, feelings and ideas and not immediately dismissing her. A wonderful lesson in how to ensure self-inflicted misogyny!
Abram is like “She’s your slave…err…’servant’ do what you want with her.”
So Sarai “dealt harshly with her” and Hagar flees.
So we’re advocating the beating of slaves now, are we, Bible?
Anyway the ‘Angel of the Lord’ finds Hagar and tells her not to be sad, because the son she will have with Abram, who shall be called Ishmael, will go on to have numerous descendants, but he’ll also be a “wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him.” So that’s alright, then?
So she does as God says and goes back to Abram and Sarai and apologises for Sarai’s idea of Abram getting her pregnant, because it’s clearly her fault.
Abram is now 99 years old, Sarai is somewhere around 90 which makes this the best time for God to turn up and be like “Remember how I promised you a kid!?” which is what he does!
I know. In case you didn’t figure it out from the earlier chapters, God is complete nutter! He does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants with no regard for any reason, logic, constancy or consistency. It would make sense for Sarai to give birth as a much younger, healthier woman, but that’s not a challenge enough for God!
So again God reminds Abram of his promise to make nations out of Abram, and to reflect this his name will be changed to Abraham. ‘Abram’ roughly translates to ‘father of many’, whereas ‘Abraham’ roughly translates to ‘father of many nations’. Given that, as far as we know, he’s only got one kid, this is a magnificent irony from God and I applaud his sense of humour.
I haven’t really been noting the names, but all of the Biblical names are like those novels where everyone’s name means something in the story. You know how like there’s a character called ‘Charity’ and she’s really nice to everyone and then there’s ‘Hope’ who’s supposed to keep everyone’s spirits up. The Bible is full of that.
So there are lots of reminders about covenants and then God’s like “Let’s make a new one!” and Abraham is like “Ooh sounds fun, what is it? Are we going to butcher a bunch of animals again?” and God’s like “Just one! Cut off your flap of dick skin.”
Now it is a testament to Abraham’s faith, and/or stupidity, that he does not ask more questions here. Instead he just wholeheartedly agrees with God that genital mutilation of all of the males in your household is a reasonably request as an act of faith.
Now, many of you might be wondering why it is modern Christians do not necessarily have to follow this covenant. The answer is because they don’t want to.
Seriously, we’ll get to the Pauline epistles later on when we talk about the establishment of the religion of Paulanity, but effectively he equates a baptism with a circumcision without ever actually saying one replaces the other – that’s just taken as a given.
There is actually zero evidence in scripture, either Old or New Testament, to suggest that modern Christians should not be circumcised to keep their covenant with God. Much like all the old rules about foods should still technically apply. Christians just literally changed the rules because they wanted to, not because God had directly given any indication otherwise, but because the people who, after his death, interpreted his words and actions, decided Christ said they didn’t have to.
The thing is if we take the Bible at face value what it looks like happened is Abraham literally had an actual, personal, non-faith based relationship with God. God came to him, walked with him, spoke to him and told him to do all these things.
Later on a bunch of people who didn’t have that personal relationship with the Lord himself decided a man was effectively acting for the Lord and they were the sole arbiters of interpreting the meanings of the vague, wishy-washy parables he used to preach and statements he used to make.
If I genuinely believed in the word of the Bible as a Christian, Paul can fuck himself, I’m getting circumcised.
Thankfully, mercifully, even that’s one leap of faith too far for me. But that’s just how I read it. There’s a lot of post-hoc Christian bullshit. If you want to keep this Old Testament about and say it’s important then uphold it, otherwise, lose it. If all one needs for salvation in the eyes of the Lord is faith in Jesus Christ as our saviour then why the hell do we need all the rest of this nonsense in the book?
It makes no sense.
Anyway, circumcision debate aside we now have unveiled Abraham’s true identity. Yes, this is Abraham of ‘the Abrahamic faiths’ Abraham. I mentioned that he would go on to become the single most important moral and ethical figure in history and I truly think that. Many people might like to point to Christ as that figure but, again, why do we keep all these Abrahamic legends in the Bible if Christ is the most important moral figure? The covenant God establishes with Abraham, and the laws and rules he passes to Abraham’s descendants, through Moses, are the foundations for the moral and ethical systems that would come to dominate the majority of the world!
According to a poll by the Pew Research Centre in 2015, over 50% of the world’s religious adherents are of a so-called ‘Abrahamic’ faith, with Christianity and Islam being the top, and second most followed respectively. Those two account for the bulk of that figure, whilst Judaism only retains 0.2% of the World’s religious population, albeit as a religion less obsessed with conversion.
Judaism and Islam claim direct descent from Abraham (or Ibrahim as he is in the Islamic faith) via Abraham’s sons. His son by Hagar, Ishmael, is supposedly the progenitor of all the Arabic peoples, and his other son (who we haven’t got to yet) is supposedly the progenitor of all the Hebrew peoples. Christianity takes a more spiritual descent opinion, although it still claims to be of the Hebrew line.
Other ‘Abrahamic’ faiths include Babism, Rastafarianism and Yazidism among other small, similar-but-different faiths.
If Abraham was a genuine historical figure – and to be perfectly honest, the way the Bible switches from obviously metaphorical to more documentary once we get to the story of Abraham, it would at least suggest that there is a possibility a figure in history who we can equate with Abraham (even if names were different or became symbolically changed over time) existed – Then there should be no doubt this is the figure who has altered the course of human moral-ethical development, their actions and behaviours, more than any other in history.
Whilst his grip or influence on the religions and ideas that have spawned from him is tenuous, at best, he is the conduit for all of them. Chances are, without an Abrahamic figure to justify our thoughts and behaviours, we would just invent one anyway!
I don’t have to believe in the divinity of a God, or of his blessings, to know and understand the importance individual, powerful human beings (especially thousands of years ago as communities were developing, shifting from pastoral-nomadic systems to agricultural, settled ones) can have in changing and shaping our societies. Even today we see popular movements spearheaded by powerful or charismatic individuals, or even just individuals who come to embody the power and charisma, the fervour, of the crowd. If Abraham existed I believe he was such a figure and I believe his influence has shaped what was a morality growing, out of necessity, in a world moving from disperse, mostly nomadic populations, to crowded, settled cities.
I may be alone in the atheistic community for wanting there to be evidence of the existence of Biblical figures, whether Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus etc. It will not make me any more of a believer, just as I don’t believe it will make believes believe any less. Indeed it may strengthen their resolve. What it will do, for me, though, is give me knowledge that there is a firm grounding for these ideas. I will understand that throughout time and history, seemingly innocuous people have been able to make a huge difference on the moral direction of not merely their own societies, but huge swathes of the entire world, through their actions.
Sometimes this is a double-edged sword, and those moralities become corrupted, used and abused for hideous acts of violence and inhumanity in the name of ‘righteousness’ and ‘belief’.
But knowledge is never a bad thing, and if we can understand that it was humans and their human ideas, whether or not with divine inspiration, that sparked these movements, we can then at least make decisions as humans, humane decisions, of what to do with this information.
As it is, I feel too much stock is put in ‘faith’ where that faith simply means an intrinsic entitlement to feel superior. In Christianity (as we’ll see when we get to the New Testament) this is about as far from ‘faith’ as you could possibly comprehend and yet, such is the way of people. Pride is a mortal sin, and one which ‘faith’ can often boldly engender.
Anyway, enough serious talk, God’s about to talk about getting a pensioner up the duff!
To celebrate this joyous abuse of a pensioner’s womb Sarai’s name is also changed, from Sarai to Sarah. Translation-wise I think this represents a shift from, effectively, ‘my princess’ to ‘the princess’.
We find out that Abraham and Sarah are to have a son named Isaac.
Then God buggers off and Abraham immediately takes all the men of his household to get their wieners snipped.
And that’s about where we’ll leave it. We are far from done with the story of Abraham yet. He gets to negotiate with God, have a son named Isaac, attempt to kill him at God’s command, have God say “j/k don’t kill him!” it’s all kicking off!
If there’s any major take-away point from these chapters it’s that the Bible very quickly becomes more of a truncated history than this allegorical creation story. It genuinely feels like there’s a tonal shift, and those earlier stories about Adam and Eve and Noah and the flood are just…stories…Whilst the stuff about Abraham, and as we move forward through Isaac, Jacob, Moses – they all feel a lot more biographical. Even if they’re ‘just stories’ there’s more human substance to them, they’re not abstract creation myths, they’re, if not actually accounts of real lives, at least portraying real lives.
I’ll be honest, that makes it much harder to take the piss out of, although the fact that a 100 year old man is about to fuck a 90 year old woman to have their first son together is pretty out-there! But it becomes a bit easier to see how people can be taken in by the ‘reality’ of the stories.
Narrative is hugely important in terms of how the human mind seems to understand the world. We forge stories constantly, linking events, putting together patterns, with cause and effect linking them all. I think if this book did not have such compelling narrative threads there is no way Christianity would have taken off and become the world’s most dominant religion.
So there we go, some old bloke gets ordered to leave where he’s at and move to Canaan, he scams some Egyptians, moves about, forms an organised crime gang in Canaan, owns some local kings and walks with God.
Not bad for a nomadic shepherd!
Want to catch up on your We Lack Discipline: Preaches? Introduction – Why I am doing this and the validity of studying the bible for an atheist. Genesis Chapters 1 to 5 – The creation, Adam and Eve, the Fall and Cain and Abel. Genesis Chapters 6 to 11 – Noah and the Flood and the Tower of Babel.
CONTENT WARNING: May contain ancient Gods – Whilst I don’t think there’s any rape in this one, it does contain graphic language because…Venus…She fucks!
There’s a lot to talk about with Venus! I will try and condense and simplify things as much as possible but do expect a long read on this one.
Venus: The Planet
Venus is a planet in our Solar System. It is only a shade smaller than Earth. It is the second planetary object orbiting the Sun, with only Mercury having a closer orbit.
Despite this, owing in large part to its exceptionally slow rotation and dense atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), Venus is the hottest planet in the Solar System, with a surface temperature of around 737K, or 465°C. It is also quite universally hot! There is little temperature difference between the sun-facing side and dark side of the planet, and also very little temperature difference at the poles. Again this is mainly due to the atmosphere as well as heat being transferred by powerful winds. The atmosphere also makes the pressure on Venus’ surface akin to being nearly 1km deep under the sea on Earth!
It orbits the sun once every 225 days (give or take) but rotates on its axis once every 243 days, making one day (rotation around its axis) on Venus longer than one year (duration of one complete orbit of the sun). It also rotates in the opposite direction to almost all the other planets (only Venus and Uranus are known to rotate this way – making the sun rise in the West and set in the East.)
Like Earth, Venus is a terrestrial planet, it is mostly made of rocky stuff (Hopefully mostly Rocky IV so then it can have robots and anti-cold war messages about change). It is relatively inert, almost desert-like, barring the fact that the surface regularly erupts and shifts from volcanic activity.
Venus can be seen with the naked eye, in fact it is so visible that, barring a full Moon, nothing in the night sky should be brighter and if you notice something brighter than Venus or the full Moon it is possibly a good hint to worry!
What makes it so bright? Well I’d like to say “Because it is so beautiful!” But it is actually very reflective clouds of sulphuric acid that cover its surface and shroud the entire planet such.
So what’s the upshot? Venus, the planet named after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty, is actually hell.
Very little is known about it on a surface-level because of the difficulty of piercing through the dense clouds of sulphur and heavy atmosphere of carbon dioxide. However we have sent mapping probes to Venus, and even landers! Needless to say they didn’t last long, but we got enough data to put together an idea of the Venusian surface. It’s basically one massive desert, divided by a few ‘continents’ of high land, Ishtar Terra (named for the Babylonian Goddess) and Aphrodite Terra (named for the Greek Goddess). Its highest peak is Maxwell Montes, named after James Clerk Maxwell, the Scottish scientist famous for his work on electro-magnetism.
Venus’ surface appears to be very young, somewhere in the region of 300-600 million years old, which has, of course, led to a lot of discussion about how the surface changes. It is believed, because of this age and because of the relative lack of erosion of impact craters, that unlike Earth, which constantly shifts and dissipates the energy of its tectonic plates via subduction, effectively ‘recycling’ the surface, Venus just heats up. Eventually this heat and energy build up causes faults and weakness in the crust. This leads to a massive, potentially Venus-wide, subduction event almost completely recycling the entire surface. It takes about 100 million years! So this is far from a cataclysm, but it’s still a remarkable thing.
So was Venus always this sulphur-raining pressurised hellscape? Possibly not, it is believed that if we go back a few billion years Venus may have been positively Earth-like, right down to liquid water. Over the course of time that water began to evaporate, and caused a runaway greenhouse gas effect, leading to Venus being as it is now.
Because of this potential early-career of Venus, however, it is believed there was a possibility for life to have formed on Venus, and then potentially found a means of surviving, particularly as microbial life, in the clouds above Venus. The news of the discovery of biomarkers, in the form of phosphine gas, on Venus actually kick-started the launch of We Lack Discipline. Unfortunately, since the release of the data, doubt has been cast on the discoveries so we’ll wait for the dust to settle on that argument before we speculate any further.
For any physicists out there who always ask about the magnetic fields – Venus barely has one. What little magnetic activity it does exhibit seems to be caused by the interactions with solar winds in the ionosphere, it has no internal, intrinsic magnetic field. Weird, huh?
Venus: The Devil?
Now before we move on to the myth of Venus, the planet Venus, being one of the brightest night-sky objects, has a long and storied history, one aspect of which I want to remark upon.
It has likely been a feature of human life for as long as humans have been humaning (I’m verbing it, it’s a verb now) with the earliest recorded observations believed to have come from the Sumerians around 5000 years ago.
Obviously that means the ancient Greeks knew of it, but the thing with Venus is that depending on where you are in the world and what time of year it is it can appear as if it is two different objects; Phosphorus, the morning star and Hesperus, the evening star.
Eventually, around the 6th century BCE some Greek astronomer (credited as Pythagorus by Pliny the Elder) put two-and-two together and realised it was the same thing, but because stars and Gods were linked and the aspects of the Morning and Evening star were already distinct Venus became an object of duality.
Thus, by the time Romans had stolen Greek culture, even though it was known as one object, Venus had two aspects; Lucifer, the morning-star and “light-bringer” and Vesper, the evening-star.
Let’s focus on that first name, though. Lucifer – where have we heard that before? Oh year, that’s right, the Devil! So how did that happen? Via a series of coincidental translations.
Effectively it comes from Isaiah 14:12;
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
Now in the original Hebrew this is Isaiah giving a prophetic vision and apparently discussing the King of Babylon, condemning him in his speech. He calls the King “Helel ben shahar” (הֵילֵל בֶּן-שָׁחַר) which means “Shining one, son of the morning.” This would have been, apparently, a reference to the planet Venus specifically.
If we stop – rewind it back – let’s look at Venus in Pre-Jewish, or contemporaneous (at the same time) myths.
You see the motions of Venus in the sky, especially as the Morning Star, see it emerging, brilliant bright, only to be drowned out and cast down by the Sun, by the Dawn. This develops a motif of striving to shine, striving for brilliance, only to inevitably fall. Effectively trying to attain the highest seat in the cosmos only to be cast down into the underworld…Ya dig? Do you see what I’m getting at?
So for example the Sumerian Inanna, or Ishtar (See the caption text above for how they became one), often considered as a major creation Goddess and Goddess of love is also associated with the planet Venus. One of the myths, as we mentioned in our article about Pluto, talks of Inanna’s descent into the underworld to challenge her sister Ereshkigal, the Goddess of the underworld. For all intents and purposes it seems like a myth based upon the movement of the planets and the stars.
We find potential for a similar motif in other Semitic mythologies, especially the Canaanites, but there is also discussion of the motif of being ‘cast down’ as also relating to the stories of the Fall of Man and the casting of Adam and Eve from Eden.
What they all have in common is this motif of a ‘fall’, usually from heavenly favour or grace, and usually as a result of ambition.
So let’s go back to Isaiah and put what is being said into context. Isaiah is not necessarily speaking of a truly heavenly body, of an angel, as is proposed by many Christian interpretations, but is rather using a widely known mythos to describe the inevitable decline of an unnamed King of Babylon to a group of people seeking inspiration. Several identities have been proposed for this King, including a very political ‘every-king’, which would vibe with God’s ideas quite well given that He was supposedly opposed to Kings.
However what then happened in Christianity is the application of this term used to either denote a specific King, or group of Kings, via a mythology and associate it with ‘Satan’. This happened via a few scholars, such as Tertullian and Origen of Alexandria, early Christian scholars who noted similarities in motif between the Satan of the New Testament and the ‘King’ of Isaiah, thus equating the figures of enmity in the Old Testament with the Devil of the New Testament. However, none of these people seemed to have used the term ‘Lucifer’ in these comparisons.
In fact, we can’t quite pinpoint exactly where the Latin name for Venus, for the Morning Star, Lucifer, came to be used as synonymous with Satan or the Devil.
After that the identification of Lucifer, Venus, the Morning Star and Lucifer, Satan, the Devil becomes self-evident. To the extent that mythologies are built around those identities that are, most likely, from mistranslation and misinterpretation! People claim the Devil specifically called himself Lucifer to mock Jesus, the light-bringer, by aping his name. The motif of Lucifer, the angel, being cast from heaven, mimicking those earlier myths dating all the way back to Babylon, is astounding.
In this tale we can see everything I find so fascinating about comparative mythology. The ability of humans to take stories, even singular elements of stories, one line from Isaiah, and craft it into an entire mythos, is incredible. Not only that but those misattributions, misinterpretations and mistranslations then lead directly into behavioural and cultural movements, foundational ethics of entire belief systems are manifest through this mythos. It’s a remarkable thing, it truly is, and no doubt influences a lot of the Greco-Roman Pantheon as we’ve been discovering throughout this series.
Venus: The Goddess of Love
But, who is Venus – by that very name – really?
She is the Goddess of love, beauty, general sexiness, families and victory. In her guise as Goddess of families, Venus Genetrix, or Venus the Mother, Julius Caesar claimed direct descent from the Goddess and she is believed to have given birth to the entire Roman people through the myth of Aeneas, son of Venus and Anchises.
Her Greek equivalent is Aphrodite and they share a lot of similarities, not least in their mainline myths and stories, however Venus to the Romans took on an awful lot of different aspects not seen in Aphrodite.
Venus was born after Saturn lopped off Uranus’ cock and balls, the subsequent spilling of blood and spunk and caused the foam of the seas, from which Venus was born as an adult Goddess. This birth-from-water gives us a couple of things. One she is unflinchingly feminine (especially according to Varro), fertile (much food, by way of fishing, would have come from the seas), flowing, yielding (sexism at the time meant women were considered subservient), but also powerful and giving. In a way this ‘yielding’ nature of Venus reflects in her interactions with mortals, too. She is altogether more casual, less formal, like a tide she comes and goes seemingly as she pleases between the mortal and divine worlds.
Now, for a Goddess of love, desire, fertility etc. it should come as no surprise…Venus fucks. She fucks. Oh, how she fucks! Most of the stories about her involve fuck. There’s a whole lot of fuck in Venus, I can tell you.
Before we get into the tales of some of these fucks I want to discuss the social context of them because this surprises me. Very little is made of the ethical or moral nature of Venus’ fucking, which given how sexist Greek and Roman societies were seems odd to me. If I had to offer any explanation I would say Gods have their own rules and, for as liberally free with her love as Venus was, she was slightly more demanding of her mortal subjects – on the one hand she had aspects specifically worshipped by prostitutes and on the other hand she could induce those prone to vice to virtue. She has one set of rules and we have quite another, but even so to find such a positive depiction of feminine sexuality, and many Romans of note (Sulla, Pompey and Caesar among them) associating, proudly, with Venus (and specifically in Caesar’s case, by claiming descent, associating proudly with her penchant for fucking) is actually awesome.
So, Venus fucks. I’ve mentioned her liaison with Anchises, the father of Aeneas. Allegedly she disguised herself as a Princess to seduce Anchises but warned him not to boast of his conquest lest it upset Zeus. Now, I don’t know how many people reading are heterosexual males but that’s like asking a kid not to eat the cookie or you’ll tell them off. They’re going to eat the cookie. Anchises could not resist shouting “I FUCKED THE ACTUAL GODDESS OF LOVE, EMBODIMENT OF BEAUTY HERSELF!” from the rooftops and, who can blame him? Well, apparently Zeus who thunderstruck the poor bugger and permanently disabled him (disabling his legs, blinding him or in some versions apparently killing him!).
Doesn’t matter; had sex – with a Goddess – Of love – actually most beautiful thing in all the worlds both human and divine.
Again, people who are sexually attracted to females, would you give up your sight (or the use of your legs) for a few nights of passion with the literal embodiment of female beauty? Especially if you’re a male and she can give you kids? I want God kids! That’s like – a weirdly specific dream of mine! I’d totally do it and Zeus be damned! I think there’s supposed to be some sort of moral lesson in discretion in the tale of Anchises but, I definitely don’t get it and I’m fairly certain this is one of the pitfalls of heterosexual masculinity.
Famously Venus was married to Vulcan, the God of fire, volcanoes and blacksmithing. Allegedly this only happened because Vulcan kidnapped his mother Juno and Venus was offered as a sort of ransom. I won’t go too much into the myth of Vulcan (because he’s a potentially weird Celestial Classic too) but apparently he was no looker when he was a kid, and as a result he got picked on by the other Gods and eventually tossed from Olympus for a laugh (or out of horror at his appearance) giving him a permanent limp. Needless to say he didn’t take kindly to this treatment and when forging gifts for the other Gods made a trapped throne for Juno. The upshot was that Vulcan and Venus got married, though they have no known children together.
Venus then fucked Mars, whilst married to Vulcan. Venus and Mars had many children together, including Timor and Metus, the personifications of fear and terror, Concordia, the goddest of hamony and the Cupids – Winged deities of love often depicted as chubby babies with heart-shaped bows.
She is alleged to have fucked Adonis, potentially fucked Mercury, possibly fucked Jupiter and maybe fucked Bacchus and given birth to Priapus the fertility God with the comically oversized erection.
So, major gods, minor gods and mortals, Venus fucks! She also gave birth to fear and terror, which is both irritating and respectable.
The roots of Aphrodite-Venus are ancient for the Greco-Romans themselves, she probably traces her way back to Inanna/Ishtar of the Sumerian/Babylonian tradition, herself considered a creational Goddess of love and beauty. What becomes apparent, certainly in the Roman tradition, is that Venus adopts the very notion of femininity itself. She becomes woman, in all her complex forms. She is Mother (Venus Genetrix), Purifier (Venus Cloacina), lover (Venus Erycina), bringer of luck (Venus Felix), freedom (Venus Libertina), indulgence (Venus Obsequens), the material universal (Venus Physica), the heavenly universal (Venus Urania), the changer of hearts (Venus Verticordia), the victor (Venus Victrix) and, apparently, she has a fine arse (Venus Kallipygos).
Those are all different aspects of Venus, whether they be associated with other gods or goddesses, whether they be specific, local cults of Venus or whether they just be celebrating a particular aspect of her, Venus clearly had a broad appeal to the Romans. Again, it would be less remarkable to me if they were not such a patriarchal society, but they were! I’ve made points of it in various other articles – whilst they didn’t necessarily define their sex and gender roles as we do today the male was dominant over the female – that was just a given in Roman society.
Yet it is also clear how important the female was to the Romans, their multiple cults to Venus being some aspect of proof that they recognised the complexity of the female life, the womanly character and the importance of women. It is a shame they did not open their society up as much as they did their Pantheon!
So here’s to Venus! The beautiful, shining embodiment of the feminine, a prodigious fucker, a hell planet, our Morning Star and almost certainly not the Devil!
Fancy some more Celestial bodies and their accompanying myths? Catch up with the Celestial Classics Series so far!
Given the performance of my prior piece about ludism I don’t expect this will perform too well but given that recently I’ve been doing three things; 1) feeling very nervous, 2) reading the bible (point 1 unrelated) and 3) playing Dark Souls; and I’ve already written a piece about feeling nervous, I am left with only one option.
Japanese videogame development studio FromSoftware followed in the wake of their cult-classic 2009 Playstation 3 exclusive “Demon’s Souls” (recently re-released on PS5) with what can only be described as a runaway hit. 2011’s “Dark Souls” took the previously niche, notoriously difficult and fragmented-narrative driven style of its predecessor and thrust it, like a Silver Knight’s Spear, into the mainstream.
For those who do not know “Dark Souls” is a Western medieval fantasy action role playing game (ARPG). That means the player’s controls directly affect the player character’s actions – you control when to attack, block etc. in real time. The story is presented via a few main cut-scenes but is predominantly interspersed via item, weapon and armour descriptions, as well as what dialogue you can have with non-player characters (NPCs).
This method of story delivery is allegedly inspired by series director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s experiences reading Western fantasy books, in English, as a child. His lack of English vocabulary meant he could only enjoy fragments of the stories and had to piece the rest together with his own imagination.
What you are left with is one of the reasons I will forgive its indiscretions and go to bat for gaming as a medium of storytelling.
When everything clicks, when the game design meets the aesthetic, the narrative, the mechanics, the setting, the mood and the atmosphere just right you get a truly transcendent experience unmatched by most other visual media.
Paintings can be gorgeous, but they are a static and passive medium, they tell a snapshot of a story and are, by necessity, limited in their scope although that limitation can allow them to pursue aesthetics, style and beauty above all else.
Unlike books you are not necessarily locked into a particular narrative thread, though sometimes you need to go from A-C, you don’t have to go through B as you do in a (non-choose-your-own-adventure) novel. Instead you can attempt to navigate through to C via multiple different routes. This allows alternative situations, ‘emergent storytelling’ (where the player character, and thus the player, has their own unique journey and events), and greater freedom.
Movies and TV are exceptionally passive, one absorbs them and the exploration comes via interpretation and opinion, with videogames the onus is on interactivity, on being an active participant in events. This allows for ‘embodiment’, where the player effectively ‘becomes’ the character they are playing as and is thus permitted a greater detail of intimacy with the scenario’s events, since their actions directly invest them in those events.
These are all aspects of “Dark Souls” that I believe contribute to its lasting legacy.
The narrative itself is remarkably bland, but that’s one of its strengths. I shall summarise.
Before there was fire the world was exclusively dark and inhabited by the Everlasting Dragons. This is the ‘Age of Ancients’, but then a fire randomly springs up and causes disparity – a separation occurs between life and death, light and dark, cats and dogs, heffalumps and woozels, yin and yang, insert your own dualities here.
Four ‘beings’ happen to stumble across some powerful energies near this flame, known as the ‘Lord Souls’, they come into the possession of Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight and Zeus-like God of Gods; Nito the First of the Dead, very much a Plutonian reaper-like figure; the Witch of Izalith, a sort of Hekate-type figure and the Furtive Pygmy, literally described as “So easily forgotten.”
Everyone except the Pygmy takes their new found power and uses it to fight the Dragons and usher in an ‘Age of Fire’.
Unfortunately all does not go well. Though Gwyn’s lightning is enough to knock the immortality scales off the Dragons (because that’s how it works, apparently), Nito unleashes a miasma of death and disease upon the world which is probably not the best idea. What’s more it is discovered that the First Flame is slowly dwindling, inevitably to usher in an ‘Age of Dark’, and Gwyn doesn’t want this because that means humans get all the power. As an attempt to combat it, at some point the Witch of Izalith decides to attempt to recreate the First Flame but in so doing only unleashes the red-flamed ‘Chaos’ upon the world, seemingly turning herself into a tree-monster and a couple of her daughters into sexy spider ladies.
Gwyn, desperate to keep the flame from extinguishing decides the only thing left to do is immolate himself so her can be the fuel that keeps the fire burning. The fact that I’ve been reading the bible recently might explain why I don’t consider that as nonsensical as it is.
Your role, as the player, is to unlock the way to the Kiln of the First Flame and immolate yourself to perpetuate the ‘Age of Fire’ and be a hero.
Along the way, however, you can find all sorts of clues that maybe this plot isn’t all as simple as it’s cracked up to be. There are other NPCs, events and bosses that all hint at something deeper. Why should humans, who are said to inherit the world during the ‘Age of Dark’, having to sacrifice themselves to keep Gwyn and the Gods’ ‘Age of Fire’ going? What actually happens if you…just…don’t?
That open-endedness, the presentation of what is a seemingly quite derivative plot and leaving it fragmented, deliberately vague, open to interpretation, is the narrative strength of the Souls series. The ‘right way’ and the ‘wrong way’ are never signposted, and there is every reason to believe that there is no ‘good’ ending, only lots of different ones.
Much like how our life’s experiences might all lead to us reading and interpreting a book differently, Dark Souls presents us with a narrative you can literally ignore if you just want to stabby-stabby some bosses, but if you want to overthink it you can create an entire Youtube channel based around one game and make a living off of it.
For me I find the themes fascinating too. A plot concerned with an inevitable decline is paying homage to cultures, empires and generations past whilst also making us take a look at our own lives, roles and experiences. Is what we’re doing now really so important as to burn the world over? Or will we be tomorrow’s ruins? The desperate, cloying, self-immolating God’s who’d rather burn than accept our day is done?
What drives us ever forward? Climate catastrophe looms, difficulties are inevitable, a population is spiralling out of control, war, famine, disease, it’s all creeping steadily on the horizon and yet we forge forward, we move on, we may cry sometimes, maybe we’ll scream, but we also laugh in the face of despair and conquer it. One only needs to look at the recent human efforts regarding Covid and our response. Within 12 months we had multiple seemingly effective vaccines for what was a completely novel illness. Why did we persevere and not just accept the losses and move on? Why do we work hard to save others? How do we keep our sanity when death, destruction and despair are all around us?
These are questions that are all major themes of Dark Souls! It is said quite explicitly, even in the first game, never mind the full series, that this ‘Age of Fire’ is fleeting, that the immolation of so many heroes is only delaying an inevitable. Why do we delay? What is that spark that causes us to fight?
It’s a question I ask because, well, if you have read the “My Life and…” series you’ll know I’ve faced my share of difficulties in my day. My life’s not easy, it never has been, and I have tried to give up, I truly have, but I find it impossible. What compels me? What drives me forward? I despair for my future, when I can even contemplate having one. I am obsessed with death and its inevitability, and I believe that life is cheap and ultimately not really worth a lot, so why do I feel compelled to think, to write, to try, to achieve? What drives me forward?
These themes present various philosophical arguments, built upon foundations of nihilism, existentialism, absurdity and eschatology and present them in a way whereby, again, if you don’t want to think about them you don’t have to. If you do, however, you are free to engage with them either solely within the games world, or on a meta level, much as I have, asking these same questions of your own life and motivations.
Then we have the gameplay. “Dark Souls”, at least when it first came out, did not feel like most other ARPGs. It was heavy, weighty, some might even say clunky. This, however, is by design. It’s spiritual predecessor, “Demon’s Souls” (and to an extent the King’s Field series before that) made deliberate use of action and movement. Thus rather than having a rip-roaring, button-mashing, fighty-slash combat system your every move needs to be thought out and planned. Once you begin swinging your sword you are locked into that swing, there is no cheap or easy way to cancel it, much like in real life, and how momentum would carry you, so in the game.
It’s slower, more tactical and strategic and means you can enjoy “Dark Souls” as a purely mechanical exercise, even if you ignore the plot, the themes, the philosophy and the deeper ins-and-outs. It is also excellent in its execution as a ‘game’. It makes difficulty a part of the repertoire, death is an inevitable part of gameplay – with its own risk/reward system (you can only ‘level up’, or get stronger, at particular locations – Bonfires to level up yourself, blacksmiths to level up your weapons etc.) so all ‘experience’ – gained in the form of ‘Souls’ – is carried with you until you reach this point. If you die, however, those ‘Souls’ are deposited in a blood stain on the ground where you were killed and if you die before you have successfully retrieved them, they are lost. If you rest at a bonfire, however, all enemies get reset and come back to life. ‘The flow of time is convoluted…’ is basically the way a lot of these mechanics are explained!
There’s strategy even in the make-numbers-bigger, arbitrary, gamey aspect of the game. Do you continue onwards in the hope of finding that next bonfire, or do you go back to use your ‘Souls’ but knowing you have to make all that forward progress again?
To an extent it reminds us it’s a game! At a time when many videogames, your Call of Duty, your Uncharted, your Batman: Arkham series, were attempting to balance the ebb and flow of narrative and gameplay to give people a smooth, ‘cinematic’ experience, along came Miyazaki who said “Fuck that, throw that out of the window – You die, all the time. We don’t want smooth, we want stilted, we don’t want ‘cinematic’ we want ludic!” and it worked! It worked because for all of the so-called difficulty Dark Souls is fair. It tells you from the beginning it’s going to be a clusterfuck and a clusterfuck it is. Indeed, for beginners, that first run is a torture. Even experienced gamers will struggle.
For a while, and then you’ll either quit and proclaim it the worst game ever or else persevere, feel incredibly proud of yourself and then find yourself bored, playing something else, hoping it sticks on some Medieval fantasy leather and starts whipping you like the filthy little sub you are because you are going to want that challenge again!
Christ! We haven’t even talked about the setting. I mean, some of it is clunky looking and quite dated in appearance now, for sure, but the whole world is one massive, interconnected map. Some parts (Anor Londo) look better than others (Lost Izalith), but the areas of the game all have their own stamps of identity, their own unique eye-catching details and something that oozes character (even if we could do without the silly filters – I’m especially looking at you grey-green Blighttown haze!).
What you get with “Dark Souls” is a package that, if not justifying videogames as art, at least puts them in their own subcategory of ‘things that can sort of do what art does’. In the way it makes you think, the way it makes you look, the way it draws your eye, the behaviours it engenders and encourages, inspiring certain feelings that further inform your behaviour. I would certainly call it art, for me art is any creation intended to spark thought and/or feeling and “Dark Souls” does that for me!
I don’t suspect I’ll get a lot of non-gamers reading this, but I do think I have a sizeable audience of them. I guess what I want to do is give some idea of why it’s not all just teenagers in baseball caps, playing online games where you shoot each other in the face and shout racial slurs down the microphone.
There is more to gaming, there is more to games, than the popular presentation and I want to be a frontline activist in the fight to make videogames as good as they could be. They are a massively corporate exercise and that, right now, determines the direction. Instead of having a drive for increased embodiment and expression we have a corporate greed for increased engagement and net user-spend. Few are the auteurs in videogames because they can be prohibitive to make. That doesn’t mean excellent experiences do not turn up in the independent gaming market, but they are few and far between and massively outcompeted for resources; time, energy and money, by experiences that are increasingly about sapping our money and attention from the real world.
I will be the first to admit that much of gaming is in that wrong direction, but “Dark Souls” is a reminder of what happens when it gets done right. It is a notoriously difficult, niche, sword-and-shield, medieval fantasy role playing game that became a major mainstream hit! It led to grey-jogging-bottom wearing chavs telling each other to ‘git gud’ (or ‘get good’ to translate to real words) on street corners. It had a level of mainstream popularity that nerd shit like that should never have seen and the transcendence occurred because it was a well thought through, well designed, engaging and very personal experience.
If you’ve never thought about it before, give videogames a chance. Watch a few videos on Youtube, or ask to play a friend, a neighbour, a kid or grandkid’s console and give it a try. You might be surprised with the experience.
Biologically it’s hard work being alive. There’s very little easy about it. In the wild a human’s life is a constant stream of interactions, interpretations, communications, events, distractions, responsibilities and that’s before you’ve even donned your loin-cloth or figured out where you’re getting food for that day.
Modern life, you would think, would make it easier. Has it, though? Once upon a time a human was considered productive if they could merely forage or hunt enough food, now they have to adapt themselves to arbitrary tasks for currency, an intermediary exchange medium between effort and food. The value of those tasks is determined not by the value of time as a finite resource for the individual, but in line with what the people who exploit that resource are willing to pay to the surplus-size group of individuals all desperate for a chance. This has created a crazy competition, whereby scores of people all compete for the same chance to devalue themselves just so they can survive.
To me it makes no sense, but then I am autistic and many aspects of society make no sense.
There’s something about this particular brand of competition, though, that rubs me the wrong way. There is little about it that is meritocratic, the best jobs rarely go to the best people and the levels of investment involved in getting even a ground-floor job mean many people work to their social circumstances rather than their potentials – which it doesn’t take a genius to figure out is inefficient.
Then we have rejection.
Rejection is a hard thing for any person to take. Everybody likes to be valued. Rejection is the opposite of that. Rejection is saying “We don’t value you enough.” Whether it be asking someone you like on a date, an application for a job, a club membership or even just not feeling welcome somewhere, rejection is uncomfortable.
Now certain conditions, like ASD, ADHD or depressive conditions can make that situation a whole lot worse. Particularly in ASD and ADHD all of your senses seems to be over-sensitised anyway. Imagine, then, that all of these people have a sort of emotional sunburn. Usually your skin is sensitive it has many nerve endings used to detect changes in touch, pressure and temperature. When it is sunburned it is particularly sensitive, touch and pressure feels excruciating, colds feel like ice-daggers and heat feels like the sun. That’s sort of what happens with rejection sensitivity dysphoria.
I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding, a belief that people with conditions like ASD or ADHD are just thin-skinned, can’t take the hard realities of life. That’s not the case and many of the people I know with these conditions are some of the strongest people in the world. When you have an overly sensitive nerve it is not because it is weak, but because it is exposed. That’s how it is with people with these conditions.
So what is Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD)? Dysphoria is an extreme discomfort with something, an inability to bear it, the other two words pretty much explain themselves. It is an inability to bear the suggestion of rejection.
That’s right, it doesn’t even have to be a full rejection, merely a perceived rejection, maybe someone responding a little late, someone calling you in for a meeting and not telling you what it’s about, someone saying “Good job,” in a monotone rather than “Great job!” with an upward inflection. All of these things could be perceived as rejection by someone with RSD and it will cause an acute period of difficulty.
That difficulty can manifest itself in many different ways. For me, I withdraw. I retreat within myself, I shun social contact and company, I desire to be alone. It sets off my other autistic sensitivities, so I prefer the dark, the quiet and the anti-social more than light, noise and people. It hurts, it physically hurts – Studies have shown that social rejection manifests in many of the same pathways of the brain as physical pain – So being more sensitive to it means more pain!
It’s relatively acute, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t troublesome. ‘Relatively’ acute in my case means anything from 4-14 days to get over it fully! Four days of extreme discomfort is about four days too many. In that time I need to be very careful as the rejection can trigger other aspects of my conditions, anxiety and depression being the two things I need to manage very carefully during this time. One small rejection can lead to one long depressive episode and that’s not good!
Other people might respond differently, they may have angry outbursts, or extreme sadness, crying, anxiety etc. It varies.
Obviously longer term it has implications, too. People who experience RSD often find themselves either busting a hump to please everybody and stay in everyone’s good books or else withdrawing longer term and finding it easier to avoid rejection by avoiding everything. A tendency to perfectionism can occur. Guilt and/or shame are common long-term emotions of people with RSD.
What’s more, there’s a gun-shy aspect to it too. Anticipation of rejection can lead to people who experience RSD selecting themselves out of situations for fear of the rejection. I talked about it in ‘My Life and Intolerance to Uncertainty’. One of the aspects of uncertainty I don’t like is the potential rejection! Exposing myself to any new scenario, particularly if it is a social scenario, is exposing myself to the potential of feeling like I don’t fit, like I’m being rejected, like I’m doing something wrong and like I’m powerless to control any of it.
It’s a horrible thing. A truly inhibitive complex of symptoms associated with what are already some of the most difficult to manage and alienating conditions we are aware of. People with ADHD and ASD are significantly more likely than the base population to experience rejection, in all forms, from friends, socially, from colleagues, professionally, in terms of opportunities, feeling like they’re not heard, being marginalised in society – it’s already hard enough. Does this sensitivity manifest out of that? Or is there something in these conditions that creates the sensitivity already? That we don’t know.
Research into RSD, like with many aspects of the neurodivergent experience, is recent.
What I do know is we have a world setup in the exact opposite way to work for these people – A world of competition, often entirely arbitrary and to prove worthy of doing the most mundane of things. Rejection is hard enough when you’re an expert getting rejected a job opportunity in which you compete with other experts, but when you’re competing for a base-level job as a rejection-sensitive, ASD-diagnosed, otherwise hardworking and intelligent individual and you lose out because you don’t smile enough at the interview it cuts deep, it cuts hard and it causes bitterness.
It can make you hate what you love.
I have to be very careful with We Lack Discipline. I genuinely love what I do. I’m an overthinker by nature and having a website where I can freely overthink anything I might be interested in at that point, it’s a beautiful thing. I have rarely been happier with what I am doing.
But some days the viewing figures are not so great, some days I get no comments or interactions, some articles perform better than others, do I go for views or write what I love. Sometimes what I love feels like it’s rejected. I see twitter accounts with a thousand times as many followers as mine and all they do is retweet memes whilst I invest full time working hours in research, writing, editing, formatting, all as one lone person and that feels like a rejection, people don’t give me feedback, positive or negative, so I have no idea what I’m doing right or what I’m doing wrong, so I inevitably think everything I am doing is wrong – It builds and builds and builds and can ruin things you love if you’re not careful.
Sometimes I reach out, when numbers are particularly bad I probe and I prod on Twitter, on Facebook and try and get people to engage but often the best thing I can do is re-read what I have written and remember the fun I had writing it.
Even articles like this, about topics it can be difficult to talk about because of my personal experience (and I have literally left places and never gone back because of RSD – I have movies I won’t watch, songs I won’t listen to, images I can’t stand to look at because of their associations with rejection!) are enjoyable because I get to share aspects of myself that otherwise go unshared.
So do your best to anti-reject me. Like, share, follow, tweet, retweet etc! It all helps me to put my own worth into some wider context and, frankly the sooner I start getting some dissenting voices the better because I am going to have to learn how to manage them at some point!
Until then I just want you to consider RSD as very real, as not indicative of a weak person, but an exposed person, and to give people the care and patience they deserve.
I figured my Top Ten animals lists often perform quite well but I like to talk about animals, nature and wildlife often without a theme! So I am introducing a new series ‘The Origin of a Species’ in which I talk about a specific species (or possibly genus).
Today is inspired by a short bit I did for a recent article about monsters. In there I mentioned how early humans and pre-human hominids would have grown up in the midst of dangerous predators.
I included a photo of a very large boy, a saltwater crocodile, and made mention of the fact that they are one of few species that still actively hunt humans.
To be honest that’s not as scary as it might sound, frankly the saltwater crocodile actively hunts just about anything made of meat. They are a hypercarnivorous species, that means their diet is made up for 70% or more of meat, and they basically eat their food whole. Most things are smaller than a saltie.
Widely regarded as dangerous in its territory (which is basically the waters between India, Asia and Australia) it’s very much an apex predator – especially once fully grown. Females clock in at a respectable 3m in length (10 feet) and probably weight somewhere in the region of 500kg. Males, however, become very big boys, large males usually hit around 6m (20 feet) and in the region of 1,000-1,3000kg, although their maximum possible size is estimated to be up to 7m.
We’re talking 6m and a metric ton of murder. I love these guys. If you follow my wildlife stuff you’ll know I have a penchant for predators and the saltwater crocodile doesn’t mess about. They are savage.
Now, inevitable comparisons between dinosaurs and crocodiles always come up but they’re actually surprisingly distantly related. Crocodilians didn’t first show up until around 95 million years ago, only 30-or-so million years before the extinction of most dinosaurs. Their semi-aquatic nature is one of the reasons they are believed to have succeeded where most dinosaurs did not. Basically crocodilians are no more a ‘living dinosaur’ than birds are, in fact they are members of the same clade. A clade is a taxonomic group of organisms with a common ancestor, so technically crocodilians are the closest living relative of modern birds.
So no, crocodilians, even the saltie, are not living dinosaurs. I am sorry to say for all your dinosaur fans.
They are still incredible beasts, though.
Listed as of ‘least concern’ to the IUCN, it shouldn’t really surprise people. Despite the fact that environmental exploitation, habitat loss and (particularly up until about the 1970s) hunting for its skin for crocodile leather are common problems the relative levels of danger involved around saltwater crocs I think helps redress the balance. As far as I know they are one of few species capable of successfully biting back when we try to hunt them! I have massive respect for them for that.
So what are their numbers? It is hard to tell but estimates of the Australian population alone are between 100,000 and 200,000. Considering we’ve spoken of species before with fewer than 10,000 adults, or 5,000 breeding pairs – It’s nice to talk about a species, particularly a dangerous predator, with numbers on its side.
The saltwater crocodile is the largest living reptile on planet earth (that we know of) and, obviously then, the largest crocodilian.
They tend to be an ambush predator. I know it’s hard to think of something as lethargic and dopey looking as the saltwater croc to ‘ambush’ anything, but make my words they can put a spurt on when there’s dinner on the table and for as chill as they may seem they are always ready to strike.
It’s a surprisingly versatile hunter. It’s not called the Saltwater Crocodile for nothing and, despite the fact that it likes to spend most of its time in brackwish waters, deltas, estuarine areas, mangroves etc. it is perfectly capable of swimming great distances out at sea. This puts a diverse range of species on its menu from land animals, cattle, birds, other reptiles, or fresh and saltwater fish and even many of the sharks it shares its habitat with would not have a lot of defence if a saltie took a fancy for them.
We’re on the menu, too. Humans aren’t a regular part of the diet of saltwater crocodiles, with only an estimated average of 30 attacks a year (compared to several hundred attacks per year from the Nile crocodile) of which only around half are fatal. In terms of danger to humans, the Nile crocodile is by far our bigger threat however the areas the Nile crocodile inhabits are also a lot more populous so that might have a lot more to do with the numbers of attacks more than anything else.
That and, as discussed in the shark articles, frankly we’re skinny, relatively fat-free and bony. Any hypercarnivore attempting to eat us is either taking advantage of a good opportunity (e.g. a couple of people out swimming alone in the creek) or is very hungry (crocodilians are known to go a long time without food thanks to their slow digestion and metabolism).
Another similarity they share with sharks is utilisation of ocean currents to help them swim efficiently over long distances. Sometimes they even just float and let the current carry them! For as much as we want to think about them as always-alert, prowling predators I think there’s much to respect for the crocodile’s ability to just relax and literally go with the flow.
This lethargy is a common crocodilian trait, resting, relaxing, basking, chilling in the water, hunting in the cool of the night but always being ready to strike if an opportunity presents itself is, pretty much, the modus operandi of the crocodile.
It’s widely believed that crocodiles are stupid. They have one of the lowest brain mass to body-weight ratios of any animal (with only approximately 0.05% of its total mass being brain) but the truth is they just don’t need to think much. The behaviours they have are very finely honed and they are capable of learning, following changes in migrations of prey for example, surprisingly quickly.
Another thing that might be quite surprising is they are, comparatively, doting parents. Generally saltwater crocs will mate only once in the wet season, with the female laying a clutch of approximately 40 eggs. The female will select the nest site but both parents will guard it vigilantly. As a result of this guarding saltwater crocodiles experience very little predation on their eggs, with most loss accounted for by environmental factors such as flooding of nests. Female salties have also been seen helping their young to hatch (by rolling the eggs gently in their mouths) and depositing the young into the water, where she will continue to guard them.
Sadly the wilds of the water are a different ball game to the nest sites and only around 1% of all saltwater hatchlings will make it to adulthood. By the time they’re in the water they are fair game for all kinds of predators and even their own siblings. Saltwater crocodiles are viciously territorial and siblings have been known to fight the moment they get into the water.
By the way, hatchlings are tiny and adorable. Despite huge discrepancies in their adult size, the eggs and young of saltwater crocodiles are not that much larger than their freshwater counterparts, so they come out tiny and have to grow into the monsters we might think of.
So that’s the saltwater crocodile. To some it might seem like an ugly monster, but we’re talking about a reptilian super-predator that has stood up to some of the worst behaviour humans have managed to throw at it. Once massively persecuted for their leather, and despite habitat loss, environmental exploitation and human exploitation of their prey species they continue to thrive and survive despite us. For me, any animal that manages to do that deserves respect.
I recently watched the movie “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021), directed by Adam Wingard. It comes on a wave of a revival, somewhat, of monster movies, particularly BIG monster movies or ‘Kaiju’ as they might call them in Japan, like Godzilla.
Now I won’t give a full review of the movie, that’s not my intention with this article. All I can say is go in with either an incredibly open mind, or one completely shut and just looking for dumb monster-smashing fun. Big thingies go smack-smack on head, do hurties to one another, break city – that’s the best bit of the film.
The rest of it is a threadbare plot, barely any exposition, characters that could be completely cut without detriment to the film, dialogue that frankly hurts, built around a premise so flimsy it wouldn’t hold up to a gnat’s fart. But, big monster do smashy-smashy make boom happen – Smile smile.
It is literally the dumbest fun I have had since being sobre and, do you know what? If you read this website you realise…I overthink shit a lot! It’s basically what I’m best at. Being able to sit and watch a movie that literally forces me to suspend my disbelief lest I leave scarred is sometimes a good thing. Watch it for the monster smashy, not the ‘good movie’ – there isn’t one. It’s a theme park ride on your television screen. 2/10 plot, 7 or 8/10 movie – Expect that.
Anyway it got me thinking about the role of monsters!
It’s not a new phenomenon, I mean, Godzilla sprung up via Toho into a post-nuclear Japanese movie industry. As a metaphor for the lingering, monstrous effect that the use of atomic weapons had on Japan it is, frankly, a masterpiece. The fact that it literally spawned a series that endures to this day is a testament, though, to something deeper.
The bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, only 9 years later, in 1954, the legend, the “King of the Monsters” Godzilla was born. He is a clear metaphor for those bombings and other nuclear disasters, indeed, as a monster he was created by nuclear fallout – to an extent mirroring the very creation of our own monster, in nuclear arms.
So, one role monsters play is as a manifestation of our own internal fears.
It makes it very hard to consider the ‘earliest’ monster ‘myth’. For one, our proto-human ancestors inhabited a world of literal monsters. The Pleistocene, the age during which modern humans were developing, began around 2.5 million years ago and ended only around 12,000 years ago. It was an incredible age, which saw titans like the Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), the giant ground sloth (Megatherium americanum) and the short faced bear (Arctodus sp.). This was a time, as far as we know, before town walls, solid defences, quality weapons and the separation from nature that humans have today.
Early humans and our proto-human ancestors grew up with monsters chasing them, they grew up with the inevitability of losing family members to predators. Humans were preyed upon by many of these monsters. We also fought against them, combining our strengths, our skills, our weapons and our greatest weapon of all, our minds, to take down humongous animals like mammoth for our own exploitation.
For much of our evolutionary history, being snatched by, and fighting against, nature’s greatest monsters were the lessons we learned.
As the glaciers retreated, the real monsters died out, and our once unsettled ancestors learned to cultivate, to build, and to safely wall themselves off from nature and her remaining monsters, the dangers and predators. All that was left was the monster in our mind.
One reason for monsters, then, could be this lingering ancestral memory. I’ve talked about the ‘snake detection hypothesis’ in my article about the Bible chapters 1-5 (discussing the serpent in Eden). This hypothesis suggests that humans and other primates have particularly attuned visual abilities when it comes to spotting snakes disguised in the environment, and suggests this is because of the danger they posed to us in the past.
So, checking in the closet, under the bed and behind the curtains for monsters might seem outlandish by contemporary safety standards, but as I like to constantly remind people, our memes, our culture, develops significantly faster than our genes, that code for our bodies and minds. Venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions etc. would all have been a significant danger to humans and could all be lurking in the dark, dank corners of our lives. It takes a long time to undo what could be innately cautious, anxious codified behaviours.
Sometimes we invent monsters to talk about the potential pitfalls humans could be walking towards, like with Godzilla. Sometimes the monsters were very real, but in our safe human world of today are no longer lurking in our shadows ready to kill us. Is that all there is to it?
You see I, and many others, also believe that many monsters are made of our inner selves, indeed most ‘monsters’ represent aspects of an inner self.
Vampires, for example, may be a surprisingly modern Eastern European folkloric legend, but the notion of monsters – especially very sexualised monsters – draining our life essence, our blood, is one that dates back potentially as far as the earliest myths we have. Hindu mythology has it’s vampire-adjacent monsters, Babylon and Assyria bring us the Lilitu, who would become the Lilith of Hebrew myth, a very sexualised and vampiric demonic being.
So the notion of ‘draining essence’ seems to be innately tied to the two most fundamental, and mysterious, of life’s processes – Sex and death. You can read all about them in my introduction to biology here. Effectively, though, sex and death are two processes fundamental to our lives working as they do, but even today they remain enigmatic, mysterious and unknown even the biggest of experts in the field of biology.
So are these monsters, like so many other myths, a means of making sense of the world around us? Sexual desire is a baser urge, capable of clouding even the most rational of thinking minds and, thus, turning them into a beast, a monster.
Fear – the physiological state more than the feeling – is mirrored by many of the same biomarkers that would indicate arousal. Sex and monsters, fear and arousal, sexual horror, just works.
So what other monsters could be linked, similarly, to psychological processing of our own behaviours? Werewolves are an obvious one. Much like with the vampires, they represent the overwhelming of our conscious, rational mind with a more bestial essence.
Indeed it is suggested the roots of Medieval werewolf legend could come from a pre-Christian, animist idea of the warrior (particularly in certain Germanic groups) being imbued with the spirit of the wolf. Effectively, in battle, they become a werewolf. With a later Christian rationale this could be looked at as adopting a demon, allowing oneself to become possessed.
In the case of the werewolf I would argue the internal considerations are more temper-based, being overcome with anger, with a desire to do violence and do harm, to consume your foes, more than it is sexual as it is with vampires. We all have this! Very few are the people who act on those urges but so many people have them. You have a bad day, your boss gives you grief and you just momentarily imagine tearing them limb from limb. That violent, bestial entity exists, lurking in the shadows of our psyche at all times. How better to explain it than through monsters, through werewolves. It crafts this perfect metaphor for the transformation of an otherwise rational human into an animalistic creature.
These kinds of beasts are represented through the human monster cannon, from satyrs, centaurs and sirens through to the emblematic Minotaur. The Minotaur not only represents a monster as created by hybridizing (literally, in this case) a human and a bull, but also is a cautionary tale of human hubris on the face of the Gods.
King Minos prayed for favour with the Gods (specifically Poseidon, God of the seas) and asked to be sent a white bull as a sign of this favour. He was given the favour, but was ordered to sacrifice the bull to honour Poseidon. Minos, being so entranced by the beauty of the bull, tried to sneakily sacrifice something else to Poseidon instead and so Poseidon made Minos’ wife, Pasiphaë, fall in love with the white bull. She fucked it! In fact she had Daedalus make her a hollow, wooden bull contraption so she could fuck it. The result was the Minotaur, this half-man, half-bull monster.
So to an extent not only does the Minotaur represent the bestial innate within humans, but also their guilt. In fact I suspect a lot of other monsters are manifestations of this as well. How often do we say alcoholics are under the spell of the ‘demon drink’, or that someone daydreaming or not paying full attention is ‘away with the fairies’ – We craft these myths and monsters to explain our behaviours.
In a way, then, these myths and monsters could represent some of the earliest forays of humanity into the notion of psychology. It is a means to understand ourselves, our place in the world, and how we feel about it all. Given that the human mind seems particularly enamoured with understanding through narrative, it makes monsters, myths and the stories built around them, perhaps the most universal means of conveying that meaning. It seems very Jungian to suggest but perhaps Jung was on to something with universality of meanings of certain motifs, and the means to connecting humans via this universal, symbolic language?
Either way, I think we need monsters. I think the human mind is liable to break when considering everything in the cold light of rationalism, and certainly creativity suffers. Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein represented the dangers of biological explorations and Frankenstein’s monster was the monstrous manifestation of that danger. Godzilla is the monster of a post-nuclear world, in which inhumanity has been demonstrated in the most catastrophic way. These monsters, though metaphors, perhaps represent a more universal way of communicating these ideas, these cautions, these dangers, the guilt and the pain, than conventional language.
I like monsters. I’ve always liked monsters. I know they’re supposed to be big scary things. The thing is, though, I’m all too aware that they themselves only represent the worst of us.
I’m not scared of monsters lurking. It’s the people you need to worry about.
When we last left off, God had made the universe and everything in it, decided to make a tree people shouldn’t eat off that he’d do better to keep a secret, told the curious apes he’d made about the tree, they inevitably ate from it, God kicked them out of Eden, they had kids despite one of them possibly being a sex-manipulated clone of the other, and apparently their kids had kids with magic women from nowhere or possibly their own sisters, one, Cain, killed his brother, Abel, and was rewarded for this deed by being removed from God’s overbearing presence and being allowed to make his own way in the world, and lots of people had lots of kids until we were finally left with Noah and his sons who shall forever be known as “The Ham Sandwich.”
We discussed the notion of man’s dominion over nature and animals and how I think it is a misguided view of custodianship of nature, the role of the serpent in the temptation of Eve, how God was actually the one who lied and the serpent deceived nobody, how God’s punishment was unjust, the potential reasons why he might want to keep humans from having knowledge of good and evil and a lot of stuff about how, biologically, none of this could have happened because incest would have killed us all.
This chapter has some interesting shit in it!
This is the chapter in which a distinction is made between ‘the sons of God’ and ‘the daughters of man’.
God decides, arbitrarily, to limit human lifespans to 120 years, after having given close to a millennium to all the previous generations. No explanation for it, he just says it so it’s true.
But “The Nephilim” often translated as ‘Giants’ were said to be on the Earth in those days.
Now it is debated as to whether or not ‘The Nephilim’ refers to the ‘Sons of God’, or ‘The Nephilim’ refers to the children of the sons of God and the daughters of man.
It is also debated whether ‘The Nephilim’ or ‘The sons of God’ refers to angels, or some other being divine in nature, or just very big people.
Even the very etymology of the term in its original Hebrew is debated. There are those who believe it is from the root of the Hebrew word ‘To fall’, therefore the Nephilim could be ‘fallen ones’ i.e. angels descended from heaven. There are others who believe it is actually rooted in the idea of ‘to cause others to fall’, which, in ancient Hebrew, could be analogous to an overseer, or a captive.
What we have here, then, is the first bit of the Bible where there is something mythologically disputed and interesting to discuss.
Indeed, this notion of the ‘Sons of God’, of the ‘Fallen Ones’ – these Nephilim, would go on to be used in various crackpot theories about ancient visitors from outer space, giant people in the past and all sorts of weirdness.
It doesn’t help that it all gets associated with the so-called ‘Book of Enoch’, supposedly written by Enoch before he ‘walked with God’ into the sunset, these represent some of the most eschatological and odd works in the Apocrypha – the Hebrew-Christian associate texts considered non-canonical.
In those books the author makes it quite clear that the ‘Sons of God’ were a group of angels who came to Earth and ‘knew’ human woman, often said to have taken them for wives, because they perceived them as so fair. This is disputed because Jesus would later say something about angels not having wives, but, what the hell would he know? He was literally my age now when he died, what he didn’t know could fill a fucking firmament.
Another suggestion, and one that follows conventional rabbinical thought on the matter is that, being in favour with the Lord, the ‘Sons of God’ refers to the descendants of Seth, versus the ‘daughters of man’ who were the descendants of Cain. But what, then, of this word Nephilim? Is that referring to a ‘fall’ in standards, the pure line from God, via Adam, to Seth and his kin, tainting itself with this murderer’s blood? Why do the children of these unions get their own, special name?
What we have here is a genuinely interesting biblical mystery. These Sons of God and Nephilim are actually interesting. Especially since these terms are pulled from nowhere in Genesis 6:1. What it all means is massively open to interpretation and without a time machine to go back to those days and figure out quite what the hell they were on about, it shall remain that way.
If you feel like delving into it then see if you can source yourself some Apocrypha, especially the Enochian books, have a read, have a compare, find some rabbinical discussion and thought on it. Frankly I feel like a lot of the Christian discussion against the idea of angels descending to Earth is effectively done to remove divinity from the clutches of humanity. The idea that the ‘Great and Good’ would not ‘taint themselves’ is frankly farcical to anyone who has nominally studied power balances, and given that God and/or angels have the power to impregnate a woman divinely according to the New Testament, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to do it in the Old Testament.
But, again, it’s a genuine mystery. I have no answer or conclusion to draw other than – I dunno! So let’s move on.
Remember in the first part (Chapters 1-5) when I told you to remember that God, the supposedly infallible, all knowing, all powerful God, looked upon the Earth and all of his creation, including humans and said that it was all – and I quote – “Very Good”?
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
GOD MADE A MISTAKE!
God admits God made a mistake!
As far as I am concerned this knocks any notions of the omnipotence, the omniscience and the omnipresence of God out of the window. God created humans, and later regretted it. God, then, did not foresee the ‘evil’ that was grow in humans.
How does he rectify this mistake? By using his Godly powers to influence the hearts and minds of all the people of the Earth to behave more holy?
No, he drowns them.
“I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Wow…What a dick! I mean, okay it’s one thing to have a go at people but kill all the birds and animals too? Dick move, God. Major dick move.
Thankfully for, you know, all existence, God favours Noah and tells him to build a fuck off massive boat because he’s got to fit an estimate 2 million to 1 trillion species on it, at least two individuals (male and female) of each. Quite what they did with hermaphroditic species such as earthworms, or various gastropods (snail/slug species) is anyone’s guess.
God commands Noah to build a boat out of an unknown type of wood called ‘gopher wood’ and gives exact dimensions. He tells Noah to put a bunch of animals and food and seeds on it, because he’s going to make it rain for forty days and forty nights (otherwise known as British Spring and Autumn) and blot every living thing off the face of the ground.
So, instead of talking about how God is a murderous dickbag I want to talk about the Global Seed Vault at Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway. An absolutely remarkable, ark-like project, intended to act as both a catalogue of extant plant species on the planet right now, as well as a backup genebank should local biodiversity end up being lost due to natural disasters, war, drought or other strife. There is also the potential that it can act as a global store should something on the level of a planetary catastrophe or extinction-level event occur.
There are other seed banks around the world, but the project in Svalbard acts as a backup to all of these. It’s a remarkable project, the building of which was entirely funded by the Norwegian government, and the maintenance of the stores is paid for by the Crop Trust, an international Non-Governmental Organisation dedicated to preserving crop biodiversity.
This is something that humans did, of their own accord, without needing a helping hand from a lunatic God who just wants to watch the world drown. I think it significantly better to focus on monumental human efforts like that than give any time, thought or consideration to a God so petty and petulant he’d kill everything because he doesn’t like it.
So Noah, his family, including his sons, the Ham Sandwich trio, and all of their wives, are allowed on the boat but no other people.
…Wow God really has a thing for fucking up the human genome with inevitable inbreeding…
Everything flooded, mountain deep flooding!
There is no specific mention of the extinction of unicorns here, but for all of you unicorn fanatics out there, this is when God killed all unicorns because people were bad. Let that sink in.
The flood subsides, but there’s still a lot of waiting for the waters to go down. While we’re waiting why don’t we do some comparative mythology?
Whilst the Bible may contain the most popularly well-known flood myth, it was by no means the first and only.
It is commonly believed nowadays that the flood myth from the bible is likely inherited from an older myth from Mesopotamia. The always-mentioned-in-comparative-mythology ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ flood myth actually closely resembles the biblical version. The God, Enlil, wants to destroy the world because humans are annoying, however Ea, who created humans, decides to warn them through Utnapishtim and gives him instructions on how to build a boat.
There are so many commonalities that it seems more than likely the Hebrew traditions inherited this Babylonian account, itself believed to have stemmed from the earlier Sumerian creation myths.
But this is not the only flood myth. Flood myths exist in Hindu mythology, in Plato and the Greek tradition, in various African traditions, in North American native traditions, Mesoamerican traditions, South American traditions, The Great Flood of Gun-Yu from Chinese mythology, many different Asian traditions, Irish traditions, Bergelmir in Norse tradition survives a flood of blood, and given that the water and seas are central to their beliefs, there are flood myths in Polynesian tradition.
It’s ubiquitous. Why?
Well the simple answer is so is flooding in human history. We have to consider a site like Gobekli Tepe in Turkey is estimated to be around 11,500 years old, we have evidence of other sophisticated objects of culture and worship that date back to that time. I’ve no doubt that as we uncover more and more of the early human record, often so ill-preserved due to the materials used and the conditions in the places they exist, we will discover evidence of sophistication, symbolism, language and communication pre-dating even this.
If we consider, then, even with a figure dating back say, 12,000 years, that’s a lot of time living in fertile areas. Humans tend to gather around water, seas, rivers, lakes. These, inevitably, flood. We are coming to understand that these would have been sophisticated humans creating myths to pass down the generations. All it would take is one flood of significance to people to create a legend.
12,000 years ago is long enough ago that waters were settling from the last glacial period. Land-bridges would have existed in Beringia, connecting Siberia and the Americas, Doggerland, connecting Britain and mainland Europe, Indonesia and Malaysia and the Asian island chains would likely have been a big peninsula attached to mainland Asia, Australia likely had a land-bridge with Papua New Guinea.
Large areas would have been flooded, large areas that people would have inhabited. I know artefacts are regularly dredged up by trawlers and fishing boats in the North Sea leading to suggestions that the Doggerland, between Britain and the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark, potentially as far north as Norway, was not only inhabited but a bustling thoroughfare for life and trade.
How quickly these areas flooded is anyone’s guess. Whilst it can be safely assumed many areas would have seen a steady rise in sea levels, mountain glaciers may have held back the deluge of lakes that came cascading as those glaciers melted. It would be impossible to think there would not be cataclysmic events affecting early human populations during that time, even if only one major event happened on every continent it would be of such terrifying magnitude, to what would have been a relatively small population, that it would likely endure in legend. As we do today, people would have sought to make sense of the events. Nowadays we have a greater understanding of climate and geology, we have satellites that can witness events from low-earth orbit. Back then all they would have had is stories around the fire and their own imaginations.
Combine that with sedimentary rocks, built up over millions of years with deposits of fossils of seemingly mysterious sea-creatures that could be found by ancient peoples as high up as mountains and I think you have a perfect combination of conditions for creating a lasting mythos of flooding on the earth.
I certainly find it to be a very interesting motif, especially the numbers of victim-blamey reports, where a God specifically floods an area because people are the problem. Naturally I’m an atheist so I believe if these are descriptions of historical events the notion that it was done as ‘divine punishment’ is interesting from a social, behavioural perspective. Why, after a catastrophe, do people feel the need to ascribe it to a problem of the people who succumbed to the catastrophe? Psychology would tell us that self-preservation, maintaining sanity through the ‘Just World’ likely plays some part and yet as evidenced by the way the Gods are portrayed in Homer, there is clearly absolutely no need to consider the ‘victims’ as the problems when the ‘Gods’ can be considered capricious.
Is there something in the nature of certain belief systems, certain social structures, that lends itself to a need to justify a gross natural disaster as having been deserved? Well, you only need look at modern Christian idiots who, when a flood strikes, when a mass shooting happens or when an earthquake shudders the ground immediately note any supposedly un-Christian liberality of that society as the problem. “The UK legalised gay marriage and a few months later was flooded…Clearly God is angry!” They say. It’s nonsense, of course, but there are, clearly, individuals, systems of thought and belief and perhaps societies who feel the need to justify natural injustice in this way to make themselves feel happier with their place in an innately chaotic and completely human-oblivious universe.
It’s all very interesting stuff, and it’s why I love comparative mythology so much. You end up coming to an inevitable intersection of belief, mythology, anthropology, sociology and psychology. All of these things feed the traffic to the others. Systems of belief rarely exist without some rituals and behaviours to enforce those beliefs. These are generally built around narratives, myths, and mythological figures, that in turn promote certain ways or systems of being, or certain end-goals, certain virtuous ways of living and, often, of dying.
To quote the Book of Austin Powers – “This sort of thing is my bag, baby!”
Back to Genesis – The flood subsides and Noah establishes an altar to God. He makes offerings, and God’s like “Sorry, G. Won’t happen again.” I don’t trust a word that deity says.
God goes through the same set of rules with Noah and his kids as he’s already been through with Adam and Eve. Fruitful multiplication, all of Earth is your dominion, the birds, the animals, the plants, they’re all yours, etc.
He does not permit the eating of something’s blood, meaning black pudding is a sin. How Lancastrian Christians reconcile this, I do not know.
So God goes on a long-winded apologia about how he’ll never destroy everything on the earth in a flood again and gifts us rainbows as a means of signing this covenant. So, if you thought this was caused by a combination of reflection, refraction and scattering of light through water droplets, better think again. It’s actually God promising not to drown everything in a flood again.
Note the easy get-out clause, though. He promises not to drown everything, basically all at once. So God is still permitted to drown things in batches. Remember that.
Then Noah grows a vineyard and gets drunk, and Ham sees him naked and tells his brothers, Shem and Japheth. Shem and Japheth cover Noah’s nob, and deliberately avoid looking at their naked dad.
As a result of these events Noah, presumably very hungover, curses Canaan (Ham’s son) and blesses Shem and Japheth.
I literally don’t get it. Since when was it a crime to see your pissed-up dad naked? Why does he take it out on Canaan and not Ham? Well let’s go to our good friends at EnduringWord for some analysis.
Apparently the words used to describe Noah’s nakedness ‘become uncovered’ could also mean he was sexually molested in his drunken state, perhaps by Ham and/or Canaan.
They then go on to make what I can only interpret as a couple of Christian prohibitionist statements about alcohol – my suspicion is the bible intends to mean that Noah got drunk and nekkid, no specific assault took place, and EnduringWord have imparted their own sensitivities on the idea to put people off drinking.
They do mention, usefully, however, that the Hebrew indicates that Ham ‘told with delight’ his brothers what he had seen in his dad’s tent. So Noah, in a sensitive, hungover state, curses his own Grandson for his son taking the piss out of him being a drunken sod.
Yup, still doesn’t make sense. Although, having had many an irrational state caused by hangovers I can understand why Noah would be angry, but, come on, cursing your kids and grandkids?
Anyway, Noah lived 950 years and then snuffed it.
It’s time for another thrilling instalment of BIBLICAL KIDS!
Yup, it’s a chapter of a list of children again. Please note, these are all sons, where there is a nested set of bullet points these are the next generation.
These guys apparently lived on the coast.
Nimrod is noted as a ‘mighty hunter’.
Ham is noted to have lived in Babel, Erech, Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From there they moved into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah and Resen.
It is noted that the Philistines came for Casluhim.
Given that Canaan apparently fathered two sons and nine tribes it must be assumed he was a very busy boy. There’s no explanation as to how he ‘fathered’ tribes, but they are named as such.
They are said to have lived from Sidon, in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.
All the children of Eber?
These guys lived from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the East.
These are literally all the men left alive after the flood killed literally everything, and a selection of their kids. Apparently wives and daughters are fit to be ignored further proving the Bible is sexist as fuck.
I am assuming by saying “Shem fathered all the children of Eber,” it means he is responsible for a whole family by patrilineage, effectively the father-of-the-tribe, and not that he fucked his own great-grandson and got him pregnant. This is the Bible, though, so you never know!
Whilst there is much cultural insensitivity that could be milked from some of these ancient names, I am going to leave that up to your own sick, sick minds to do. I think it would be irresponsible to disrespect ancient peoples and cultures in this way.
Almost as disrespectful as naming a child ‘Mash’. It roughly translates in Hebrew as ‘departed’ – So not only does this kid have a horrible name for English, being named after a potato dish, but his Hebrew translation basically means ‘Fuck Off!’ Which is what I intend to call my firstborn son on a regular basis, just not on his fucking birth certificate!
It becomes quite clear that many of these names represent tribes or nations, rather than just an individual son. Again, Canaan being the father of nine tribes makes this pretty apparent! I think a lot of biblical naming seems to do this, with tribes or groups of people named collectively.
We’ve already had him flooding the whole world, killing everything besides what was on the ark. Surely God couldn’t do anything else to demonstrate the levels of dickery he’s willing to sink to in this instalment?
Well let me tell you a little story about the people of Babel.
Apparently everyone was of one language, and they moved to the East in the land of Shinar and settled there. They had ample materials for bricks and apparently said to one another;
“Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.”
…I assume they mean ‘kiln fire’, and not burn. Because burning rock would take some intense heat and serve very little purpose. They continue;
“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
Well isn’t this good? Everyone is communicating effectively with one another, they are all united under a common mission to build a town, and a tower, and to leave a mark should they disperse so they can all have this unifying sense of identity. What a noble aim.
UNLESS YOU’RE GOD!
“Behold,” says the insecure little prick, “they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Cheers God you massive, overly-sensitive, puerile twat!
Now I often hear it told that this story is about humankind’s ambition to be God, or be better than God. God had to punish humanity thus because they were building a tower to the heavens to ‘challenge’ him. But, err, I read no such thing.
In fact I read unity, common purpose, goodness in the words of the people of Babel and insecurity in God who fears the potential achievements of a united humanity.
It’s the same shit as when he kicked Adam and Eve out of Eden. God is scared of the abilities of humanity. It is almost like he needs to exist as a force to hold humanity back.
What this move does is create literal division among humankind, leading to inevitable failures of communication, causing endless suffering, needless squabbles, pointless wars and loss of life when actually all people wanted to do was build a really big building.
There follows a bunch of stuff about Shem’s descendants, the only stuff I haven’t included is ages, otherwise the genealogy is included in the nested lists above, I can’t be arsed to write it out again.
The story moves down several generations to the descendants of Terah, who are the sons Abram, Nahor and Haran, and Haran fathers lot.
Haran dies in the presence of Terah in the land of Ur, of the Chaldeans.
Abram and Nahor take wives, named Sarai and Milcah respectively.
They all travel together from the land of Ur to the land of Canaan and settle there. In a place called Haran, not to be confused with the person Haran, Terah dies.
And that’s the end of the chapter!
I don’t know if you know your bible but Abram is a pretty significant figure in world religion and when we pick up we will be dealing with the story of this person who, if they were ever a genuine, real, historical figure, has potentially affected the morality of humankind, from the past all the way to our future, more than anyone else in history ever did (including Jesus).
As I said in my introduction, whether you believe in it or not there is much that can be learned from the Bible. Today we have discussed seed banks, universal human mythological motifs and the notion of God as a deliberate hindrance on humanity!
So, the Sons of God mated with the daughters of man, then God flooded everyone except a handful of people, one of whom got drunk and naked, then people started to grow and flourish again, so much so in fact that God had to hold them back because they were getting too good!
Whatever you might think of it, it’s a mad, hell of a story!
Want to catch up on your We Lack Discipline: Preaches? Introduction – Why I am doing this and the validity of studying the bible for an atheist. Genesis Chapters 1 to 5 – The creation, Adam and Eve, the Fall and Cain and Abel.
Much like the cat itself this post is likely to be quite small but very sweet. You see the Kodkod is the smallest cat in the Americas. They are only around 40-50cm in length, with a short tail of around 20-25cm and only around 25cm in shoulder-height. They are, then, slightly more diminutive than your average housecat, and with an average weight of around 2-2.5kg.
Of course they differ in coat pattern, being a gorgeous spotted-pattern, moving to a striped tail, on a yellow- or grey-brown coat. They have small, close, rounded ears and an adorable, kitten-like face.
They are believed to live for approximately 10 years.
They are native mainly to Chile, and some areas of Argentina, but otherwise they seem to be a rather remarkably endemic species (a species restricted, for some reason, to a very specific area). I cannot find any research discussing a potential cause for this, or whether or not historically their territory would have been much larger.
It does seem to have a preference of habitat, enjoying mixed, temperate rainforest, so perhaps the Andes keep them penned in and prevent their distribution more widely across South America and into the Amazon regions – but again, this is just speculation.
They are another diurnal cat, like the serval of last time, actively hunting during night and day, though they tend to keep themselves hidden during the day, slinking among the undergrowth and keeping out of sight.
They are a small cat, so their prey is also most likely to be small and, as with many other small cats, they are probably quite opportunistic. They mainly seem to be terrestrial predators but they are capable of incredible feats of climbing for their size so perhaps, if opportunity strikes, they will hunt in the trees as well. Their main prey is likely to be birds, rodents, lizards, insects and potentially smaller human livestock like chickens.
That penchant for chicken hunting is likely to cause them problems in terms of conflict with humans. They are known to venture close to human habitations. They are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, although I suspect habitat loss, and replacement of their preferred habitat with plantation forests is likely to be the biggest burden they face in the immediate future.
That’s about it for the kodkod. Very little is known about them, so why don’t we talk about that?
This is a species that was first described in 1782, so it’s not like we haven’t known about it. Wildcats, particularly small wildcats, are exceptionally shy and cautious. People have persecuted them for as long as people have been in contact with them so they will be naturally very cautious but, what is it about us that makes us not want to study the smaller cats?
You may have noticed that of my articles about cats the longer ones (generally longer because they are built upon a solid, foundational knowledge base to build discussions around) are the bigger cats.
Some of that is shyness of the animals we don’t have much research on. However that does not account for all of it. I think there is an aspect of availability, as well as similarity to our own domestic cats, that makes us ignore them. I think of the statistics on my Top Ten Cats series and, comparitive to everything else unknown, impressive or beautiful, the black-footed cat massively underperformed. I think people just look at it as a small tabby. In fact it is an incredibly impressive cat!
Big cats are impressive. They inspire fear and awe in us. Therefore we are naturally attracted to them and attracted to learning about them. But what value do we lose by not studying the odd, the large, the impressive and the beautiful?
This then, leads us to one of the tropes of conservation science, we talked about it a lot in ecology, that we use these ambassadorial species to raise money – your lions, tigers, pandas etc. – so that we can invest not only in those species but all the other smaller, uglier things people don’t care about but that may be significantly more vital to the ecosystem.
Let us take, for example, the Brazilian rainforest and consider the Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa). Now when we think of saving the Amazon we might think of jaguars, sloths, giant river otters, ocelots, tapirs, squirrel monkeys, macaws, toucans etc. etc. But I bet you’re not thinking of the agouti. Agouti are large rodents in the genus Dasyprocta, there are many different species throughout central and south America and, as far as we know, they are the only species able to crack open the seed pods of the Brazil nut, that are otherwise exceptionally tough to crack open.
Like squirrels these agouti bury nuts for future consumption and often forget about them, this allows new growth of brazil nut trees. Without the agouti, this growth doesn’t happen, there would be no new brazil nut trees.
But for the agouti to get to the brazil nuts, and for them to successfully grow, they must be pollinated, as far as we know exclusively, by euglossine bees.
Euglossine bees are a ‘tribe’, a semi-official group within the bee family, the Apidae. Unlike the bees you might think of euglossines, or orchid bees, are generally solitary and do not possess any eusocial behaviours.
But there’s even more sensitive dependence – You see those euglossine bees, being solitary, have a very specific mating practice whereby the males try to entice females by rubbing themselves with the scent of specific orchids.
So we have this incredible interdependent mutalism in nature, this titanic tree, the brazil nut tree, requires a specific genus of rodent to open up its seed case, that requires a specific type of bee to ensure it is fertilised and pollinated, that requires the local orchids in order to reproduce. Any disruption to this causes disruption to all the species involved, and yet many people might not look at the mighty tree and the tiny orchid and realise one needs the other.
So whilst certain species, the cute or impressive animals, make great ambassadors for raising money, conservationists have to make difficult decisions as to how to allocate those resources in order to ensure the survival of entire ecosystems.
We may ignore smaller cats, but we do so at our own peril, we never know what effects they may have on particular rodents, particular birds, which may, left to run rampant, disrupt the delicate balance of things themselves. We must make the effort to observe, to investigate and to learn of as many species as we can so that we might have the best chance of maintaining nature’s, often tentative, balance.
The kodkod deserves just as much love as the jaguar.
CONTENT WARNING: What follows is a discussion on The Bible, so it contains discussions about violence, sex, fratricide, incest, rape and God – all of which could be considered offensive. It is also written by an atheist, so Christians without a sense of humour, beware.
We begin, funnily enough, at the beginning. Now the words of the ESV bible say “God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void…” Many of you might be asking how you can ‘create’ something that is ‘without form and void…’ but I’d suggest you listen to Justin Bieber’s latest album before asking that question. I think you’ll come to understand.
This chapter is a lot of words about God making stuff. He realises he’ll probably trip over the formless Earth if he doesn’t flick the light on first so he goes “Oi! Light!” and they come on, “and God saw that the light was good.”
God looks at a lot of what he creates and proclaims it good, which is how you know he’s either a) not real or b) a narcissist. Every creator I know constantly complains about how their creations are not good enough.
Then God separates his firmaments, the waters and the heavens (or sky), and makes land and calls it ‘land’. I’m not kidding. It’s put down as “God called the dry land earth” with a footnote that it could also translate to ‘land’. So “God called the dry land land.”
He sees it’s good.
Then he makes plants and veggies and it’s also good.
God is coming across as a smug git.
Then he separates the days and nights, the seasons etc. the swarms that swim and the flying things (presumably birds and not Boeing 747s).
They are all, of course, good.
Then he makes people, and tells them “Be fruitful and multiply.” So they ate too many strawberries and did mathematical calculations.
He also tells them to ‘subdue’ the earth and that they have dominion over the creatures, the fish and the birds.
Theologically this is possibly one of the most important passages in the book. I obviously have a biological background, to me evolution by natural selection is what created humanity, and any dominion that humans feel entitled to comes out of that natural instinct to dominate and procreate – to remove effective competition from the face of the earth so our genome can triumph.
We are rapidly coming to learn that the genome is hideously misguided in this regard, and ecosystems lacking in biodiversity very quickly decline and thus no longer remain for us to exploit for our own survival. Indeed, fruitful multiplication is only so good up to a point, at that point growth becomes exponential, and slowing growth for the sake of sustainability becomes far more important.
So this small passage that gives Christians permission to subjugate the earth and dominate its animal inhabitants is something I passionately disagree with. To me, every creature has survived a very long, arduous process of evolution and just as validly exists as any other, however to someone who believes in the Bible it could be construed that people are better than animals.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…” remember that for later. He’s just made everything, Adam and Eve included and he thinks it’s “Very good…”
On the seventh day, God’s lazy. In all fairness we’ll let him have a break, he did just create the heavens and the Earth and the seas and days and – it’s a lot to get done in a week. I can barely paint the bathroom of a long-weekend! Okay, we are about to find out he didn’t do as good a job as he likes to give himself credit for, but he tried hard.
In this chapter we find out that Homo sapiens is not actually a remarkably well-adapted, bipedal, upright hunting ape but is actually just some dust that got breathed on.
Now this is where we move on to one of my favourite bits of the book of Genesis for discussion.
God makes man, shoves him in the Garden of Eden, presumably like that little yellow person on Google Maps when you drag them to street view, says “Matey boy, you’re gonna love it here. You can eat everything…Except that! DON’T TOUCH THAT!”
Point one, if man is made in God’s image then God must be a curious bastard because asking anyone not to touch something is going to do one of two things; make them ask why, and want to touch it.
But more importantly what man is not allowed to eat from is “The tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
There is a massive discussion to be had about ignorance and innocence, the wrongful equating of those two ideas, and the fact that according to the scripture, God effectively wanted to hold humans captive in the Garden of Eden to tend it whilst keeping them ignorant.
After all what is innocence, what is goodness, without a sense of bad, or evil? How can one truly say one is ‘good’ if there is no idea of ‘evil’ to contrast it with? Surely goodness comes from having knowledge of right and wrong and choosing to do right, even when it is the harder option?
Having knowledge of the differences between good and evil will merely make humans more knowledgeable, not necessarily evil. In fact, it would allow them the opportunity to demonstrate themselves to be truly good. Yet God prohibits them from gaining that knowledge.
I would ask the question “To what benefit?” and the only suppositions I can come up with are that God is so stupid he conflates ignorance and innocence, or God is evil and doesn’t want humans figuring it out.
It then brings a whole new meaning to the serpent of temptation, too. But let’s wait for that bit.
Somehow God parades all the creatures of the Earth before Adam (which basically just means ‘the man in Hebrew) and has Adam name them and whatever he names them is what they should be called. That’s why we have such wonderful animals as the fatpinks, the bigmoos, colourbawks and of course the Idontknowcraftmeawomanalready.
What they were searching for was a ‘helper’ for Adam, and since none of those creatures was good enough it’s necessary to anaesthetise Adam, remove a part of his body and craft a woman out of it.
There are possibly scientific ways this could be done, but all of them would leave Eve a little genetically lacking, so let’s just say it was Godly magic and not look too deeply into the fact that Adam’s wife is literally a gender-swapped clone of himself.
Whatever, they were naked and unashamed, so they were clearly winning.
This is the chapter where the wily serpent convinces poor, dear Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and she gives it to Adam, and the serpent laughs and God loses his shit.
You see Eve thinks she has ‘been deceived’ – and she has, just not by the serpent. God said to Adam that if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil then he would ‘surely die’. To this point there has been no reason to suspect Adam wouldn’t die, in time, anyway. The implication, then, is eating from that tree kills you by the action of the fruit of that tree, it’s poison, in other words.
Except it doesn’t.
The serpent knows as much and says to Eve;
“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
And that’s exactly what happens, as confirmed by God near the end of the chapter when he says
“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.”
He goes on to confirm my suspicions that man did not have eternal life by saying;
“Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat and live forever – “ and he casts them out of Eden.
So clearly there was another tree that they didn’t know about, this so-called ‘tree of life’ that they hadn’t eaten from yet. They did not ‘surely die’ because of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and everything the serpent said was actually true!
Now personally I think this is all a metaphor.
At one point in time humans were naked, free, unaware and unashamed, and then as culture developed, civilisation and communities developed, suddenly we start coming up with rules. Put your nob away, cover your nipples, don’t touch this, don’t do that, etc.
The longer we exist in our environment the more we learn about it thus the more we eat of the metaphorical tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Morality is not innate but rather is something that has developed as behaviour to protect us from ourselves, each other and our baser behaviours. To some extent there is a socially cohesive cognitive mechanism, that one could call ‘shame’, that encourages us to fit in, co-operate and abide by these social norms. Naturally, over time, these are subject to change, such is the whim of fad and fashion and the quickness with which human culture develops. These rules are constantly shifting.
The thing is there are people who don’t think this is a metaphor, who think this actually happened and who think God is in the right. How?
I mean for one thing God curses serpents to crawl along the ground and eat dirt. Snakes are very adept at climbing trees and eat whatever the hell they want. Clearly God did a bad job of cursing the serpent.
Now again, anthropo-sociologically I look at the serpent metaphor and I say okay, a species develops in the plains of Africa, moving to the fertile crescent at some point, we’ve got cobras, mambas, vipers, adders – all in those regions. As a long-distance, walking, hunting species Homo sapiens would have had snakes as one of their worst enemies. Serpents would have directly led to an awful lot of loss of life.
There is a theory, the ‘snake detection hypothesis’, that credits the incredible development of primate visual acuity, including that in humans, to the necessity of the ability to spot snakes – often well camouflaged and difficult to spot. There is some evidence to back this up, although the theory is still contested.
I’d argue it makes sense, snakes eat smaller primates and many of the snakes humans would have evolved around still had the power to kill us. Being able to spot a snake is a valuable survival skill, therefore I look at the serpent in the book of Genesis as reflecting that necessity. We are being taught to be wary of serpents. This, to me, is exactly what is referred to when God later says, of the serpent;
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
It is saying “You guys are gonna hate each other, because humans will step on snakes’ heads and snakes will bite back!” as far as I’m concerned.
But again, some people don’t believe it’s a metaphor, they believe that the devil, in the guise of a serpent, tempted Eve.
Let’s say it is all true. Everything written in Genesis, Chapter 3 is true.
God lied to Adam about exactly what would happen if he ate from that tree, the serpent told the truth, Eve gives some to Adam, and Adam, like a little bitch, grasses up his wife to God; God then curses the serpent to crawl on his belly and eat dirt, Eve to have the tremendous pain of childbirth and subjugation to her husband, and Adam to have to work and suffer to make any food, but God also makes sure the ground is full of thistles and thorns. He concludes by saying “Now you’re half as good as me you can all fuck off!” and sends them out of Eden, and he put a Cherubim, an angel, with a sword of fire, in the way of their returning not in case they wanted to squat, in case they wanted some food, in case they just fancied a nap somewhere safe, it specifically states to ‘guard the tree of life’. God put a guard to prevent Adam and Eve from gaining eternal life.
You still wanna tell me God’s the good guy here? It’s like kicking a homeless person out of a shop doorway in the middle of the night because you’re scared of how it’ll look to your brand. God is an insecure little whelp. He seems to be obsessed with subjugation, with humiliation and with proving how big and ‘ard he is.
As a metaphor for the development of complex human social structure, and a weird innate, primate ability to be cautious of snakes this chapter is incredible. It’s fucking poetry, frankly.
To take it literally, though, is to demonise snakes and women, to excuse Adam for being not only a suggestible twit, but also a fucking grass, and to forgive God for literally being the biggest bastard in the Bible.
Again, God does not stop Adam and Eve from returning to Eden lest they live a comfortable life. Having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they are, cognitively, as God. They know. They are simply missing the eternal life part. God needs to keep them from that, apparently.
But why? What is God so afraid of? And this reaction, this anger, acting out in this way does scream ‘fear’. Perhaps man was not so much made in God’s image so much as their capacity for togetherness worked out some kinks of this selfish, petulant creator. Perhaps a unified group of people with eternal life beats a solitary God?
I don’t know, but I know if I took this literally, if I believed this was the literal word of God and was the truth of how things came to be I’d think long and hard on those passages. There’s a lot that doesn’t add up.
Adam ‘knew’ Eve. Now, ‘knew’ is Bible for ‘fucked’.
They knew each other twice in quick succession, and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel. Abel was a shepherd, although how well he knew the sheep is not mentioned. Cain, meanwhile, grew fruit and crops.
Anyway, Abel took some fat portions of lamb to God and he was chuffed and loved it. Meanwhile Cain took him some fruit and veggies and God hated it.
Oh yeah, by the way, apparently despite all of the “Get the fuck out of Eden, you good and evil knowing bastards!” Eve thanks God for her kids, and they’re all busy giving him tribute.
I mean…That sounds less like a God/subject relationship and more like indentured servitude, but whatever…
So yeah, being the first violently self-righteous opponent of livestock farming, Cain kills Abel. It seems a perfectly reasonable reaction to God preferring a bit of lamb over his veggies.
So God punishes Cain by telling him he’s a dick, and to piss off. In my opinion this ‘Curse’ seems more like a blessing to get out of the toxic relationship his family seems to have with their ‘Lord’.
For the crime of murdering his own brother (which, incidentally, comparative mythology speaking, big theme – Fratricide is big in human myth, I don’t know why) Cain goes to settle in the lovely sounding Land of Nod, and is banished from the general area of Eden, but nobody can take vengeance on him because if they do Cain will be avenged ‘sevenfold’. That’s his punishment.
Now, I’m confused anyway, because who’s going to murder him? Adam and Eve had two children, Cain and Abel, of which one is now definitely dead. If Adam and Eve were the first and only people, for one, as a biologist, one couple is not enough for a stable, healthy population. Indeed they would be considered functionally extinct because eventually inbreeding effects would destabilise the population such that future complications and infertility are inevitable – so I call bullshit straight away.
But, yeah, who is Cain worried about taking vengeance on him? His dad? His mum? They’re literally the only two people left on the damn planet and you’re their only remaining kid!
Allegedly, Adam and Eve had more kids we just don’t hear about. That’s convenient!
Anyway Cain gets a wife from somewhere? Won her in a card game or she fell from space or something.
They have a child named Enoch, and apparently they founded a city and, in the pioneering spirit of originality, named it Enoch. You know, just to avoid confusion.
This is where the Bible does what the Bible loves to do and tells us a bunch of consecutive kids.
Enoch has Irad Irad has Mehujael Mehujael has Methushael and Methushael has Lamech.
The bible loves doing this – so and so begat so and so and all that. Get used to lists like that above.
Anyway, Lamech has two wives, Adah and Zillah. Adah gives birth to Jabal who apparently was the father of all nomadic shepherds. Zillah gives birth to Jubal, who is the father of all musicians. Zillah also gives birth to Tubal-Cain, who apparently foraged bronze and iron instruments. So presumably the first archaeologist? Although I suspect the intention is the first metallurgist. He had a sister called Naamah as in “Please, Naamah of these fucking pointless stories about biblical kids.”
Anyway, Lamech tells his wives he killed a dude, so now nobody can attack him because, like Cain, he’s now protected.
You see! God’s punishment of Cain literally makes murder preferable! The ‘Mark of Cain’ is a mark of God’s protection. When you do a murder, God protects you!
Seriously, though, I have no idea what this passage is even about. So of course I googled ‘Genesis Chapter 4 meaning’ and discovered the treasure trove of interpretative biblical comedy that is EnduringWord.com. This is the world’s foremost resource in post-hoc biblical interpretative nonsense.
According to them what it’s supposed to be suggesting is presumably how humanity is growing quickly, and further away from God. But they’re developing housebuilding, the arts, music and metallurgy! I mean, did God not give humans dominion over all things? And then cast them out of Eden and tell them to make their own way? And then God’s, what? Disappointed when they actually do well? What did he expect? That humans were going to sit in a corner crying about how they disappointed ‘Daddy’?
Again, this is where the theological concept of God creating man ‘in his image’ just seems to fall apart for me. To steal a line from King Lear it seems our God “Hath ever but slenderly known himself.” If mankind is created in God’s image then they are just as prideful, capable and murderous as he, surely?
Finally we end the chapter with Adam and Eve (yeah, they’re still, apparently, alive) having another kid named Seth to replace Abel.
Seth has a kid named Enosh.
“At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” Too right they did! They were probably moaning about the inbreeding defects. Where did all of these wives come from!?
Shall we answer that? As far as I am aware (which means making fun of enduringword) the thought is that at this point the human genome was of such Godly purity that incest was fine, and the genome would only be compromised further down the line.
Biologists understand this is literally not how life works. Besides the fact that to make a human female out of a biological part of a human male would likely involve extracting one set of that man’s chromosomes (including the X, sex-determining, chromosome). Then at least cloning that X chromosome to give Eve two copies, making her already, effectively, a sex-swapped identical twin of Adam. But actually relatedness, the closeness of a relation, is the bigger danger in inbreeding. The more closely related you are to your mate, the higher the danger of unviable embryos, stillbirth or birth defects.
What’s more at no point does it say “And Cain married his sister.” Which you would think would be a pertinent point. What’s more, Cain is banished and cursed to wander the earth, settling in the Land of Nod, East of Eden. He went somewhere completely different. Did he take his wife with him? Did he go back to his parents and say “Yo, gimme a sister to shag?” – I think it’s most likely Adam and Eve are metaphorical ‘first people’.
There were others upon the Earth. Humanity did not evolve in a vacuum, this is not a story of the ‘first of all people’, this is a story of the ‘first of all of a specific group of people’ namely what would be the nation under Abraham, named Israel – It is the origin story, specifically, of that group. Cain got himself a woman from elsewhere!
To have a belief in scripture that fundamentally accepts inbreeding on the basis that God had created a creature so pure in humans that what are presumably clones could fuck each other, and then their kids could fuck each other and have kids who wouldn’t be severely compromised is fabricated, post-hoc bullshit.
If this is, in any way, rooted in the history of people it is the history of a specific group of people. Otherwise you should take it for what it is – a story from that alien world of the far-distant past that would have been told for close to a thousand years around campfires and hearths, spread orally, before it was even written down. The original stories would already be so alien to us, but when their true intents, meanings and purposes are obscured by a millennium of interpretations, changes and cultural shifts – There’s not a priest, rabbi or imam on the planet who can tell you what is truly intended to be meant. Claims to the contrary merely represent arrogance.
Are you ready for a list! Because this chapter is basically just listing the generations between Adam and Noah, and their respective ages! It’s thrilling, but there’s a cheesy punchline at the end for ya! I’ll make it worth it!
By the way, only one child is ever named but everyone has ‘other sons and daughters’ – I bet those ‘other sons and daughters’ feel really important in heaven right now.
Anyway, Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born. Adam lived to 930 years old and then he died.
Seth fathered Enosh when he was 105 years old. Seth died when he was 912 years old.
Enosh fathered Kenan when he was 90 years old. Enosh died when he was 905 years old.
Kenan became best friends with Kel (who, behold, loved orange soda, it’s true). They went on many adventures together, including inventing the burger. They made an offering of Burger to God who said it was “Good.” Henceforth it was known as Good Burger.
Kenan fathered Mahalalel when he was 70 years old. Kenan died when he was 910 years old.
Mahalalel fathered Jared when he was 65 years old. Mahalalel died when he was 895 years old.
Jared fathered Enoch when he was 162 years old. Jared died when he was 962 years old.
Enoch fathered Methuselah when he was 65 years old. Enoch walked with God (or ‘pleased’ him, according to the Septuagint version) – Either way, Enoch and God were besties. Enoch only spent 365 years on Earth. He did not die. He went for a walk with God and was not found. So apparently God took him. It is obvious they did not have dog-walkers in those days, because I’m fairly certain Enoch’s body would have been found if they did.
Methuselah was 187 years old when he fathered Lamech. Methuselah died when he was 969 years old.
Lamech was 182 years old when he father Noah. Lamech was 777 (JACKPOT!) Years old when he died.
After Noah hit the big 5-0-0 and had his 500th birthday he had three kids; Shem, Ham and Japheth.
Since Ham is the middle child you could call Noah’s sons a Ham sandwich. Badum-tisch! Thank you, I’m here all week.
What does this teach us? Well, keep fucking! Apparently if you keep fucking well past pensionable age you live to be nearly a millennium old! Look at these horny old bastards!
Now I’ve worked out that I absolutely love EnduringWord.com because they’re hilarious. At the beginning of Chapter 5 it explains that God’s naming of humanity. It says, in the ESV “Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.”
Literally no reasoning whatsoever – It’s just what God called people.
EnduringWord’s analysis on any supposition that this could be considered sexist nomenclature is thus;
“It is not sexist or gender-biased to call the human race by the general heading Mankind because God does this.”
So, if ever you feel like impregnating someone with your only begotten son, then specifically delivering them up for torture and execution that’s okay, because God does this!
Ever get the urge to drown everyone and everything because it is morally impure in your eyes? That’s okay, because God does this!
Feel like completely obliterating two cities because you disagree with their morality? It’s okay, because God does this!
Feel like giving two daughters permission to rape their drunk and sleeping dad? It’s okay, because God does this (oh yeah, we’ll get there!)
The circular reasoning “It’s not sexist, God did it…” well…how do you know God’s not sexist? I mean, he literally, according to the Bible, created Eve to be Adam’s fucking ‘helper’! It kind of feels like the cards are stacked against woman from chapter fucking 1!
This is where we’re going to call it. The heavens and the Earth are made, life is flourishing and I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong!