Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Olympic View of Nudity

Photo by Matthias Kabel. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
The ancient Greeks, who invented the Olympics (hence the name) competed in sports in the nude. For one thing it was a couple of millennia before Nike—the only comfortable clothes for sports were birthday suits.

Athletes' bodies in Greek eyes represented divine perfection, so that has a lot to do with calling the Pan-Helenic event the Olympics: it was, in a metaphorical sense, a gathering of the gods.
This association between naked physical perfection and divinity extends into classical Greek and Roman sculpture. So for example there is a sculpture of Caesar around the age of forty with that slight natural facial sag that becomes a man that age, but with perfect six-pack abs! What's going on here? In all probability Julius Caesar sagged generally and not just facially, but the sculptor gives us the visual cue, as they often did, of divinity through the nude perfection.

We now take this too literally, so fundamentalist Christians would like to eradicate those statues in the same way that fundamentalist Muslims blow up ancient statues of the Buddha. But there are at least two things wrong there: quite possibly the sculptors were being metaphorical. And second, anyone who goes around blowing up statues or even condemning them as idols etc are really clearly demonstrating they're not religious at all. 

Now I make a big jump, but bear with me. I want to go back in time to see just why we're so hung up about nudity.

Repeatedly throughout history, religion has been used for colonization. So, for example, when white Europeans showed up at the island that eventually became known as Hispañola, they persuaded the local folks to chop down vast forests of trees, plow fields, and plant sugar cane. After that the people had to work long, hard sweaty back-breaking labor, to harvest the sugar cane in fields crawling with rats and bugs. How did the Spaniards bring the locals to change their idyllic leisurely lives to working in awful conditions for the King and Queen of Spain? They gave them Jesus.

How this patrimonial control structure came to be is a matter of speculation for anyone. There isn't much question about the rise of the city—the rise of agriculture necessitated central marketplaces, which spawned record keeping, which evolved into writing. It permitted specialization—instead of everyone having to be hunter-gatherers, people began to specialize in trades, beginning with those trades like basket-weaving and pottery that directly supported agriculture. That's how the city-state emerged. In my system of thinking, the city-state is a product of the native culture: it is a grass roots phenomenon, and the culture is made by the people for the people.

Then the final stage of this progression involves the emergence of a leisure class, which produced ruling and priestly classes, which, at least initially, overlapped. Once people find themselves in a position of leisure—of being done for instead of doing—they begin an estrangement from their own people, at which point the alien culture is born. So, theoretically, the alienation necessary between the two cultures in my theory could happen within a single culture.

J.M. Coetzee wrote a novel, the narrative of which alternates between the life of a professor and an interesting historical book on the rise of the nation that outlines a likely scenario. (I spent some time looking for this book because I don't remember the title, but I ran out of time. Sorry. I'd like to get it myself. I'll update this text when I find it later.) Coetzee's history imagines a time in the beginning in which everyone is functioning economically, religiously, and politically through city-states. Mind you, it's mostly rural agricultural life. In the city are the trades people, the ruling class, perhaps a school, and the marketplace itself, but most people are out in the countryside growing crops.

In this economic model, the trades people benefit from the business of the farmers, and the ruling & priestly class benefits from tributes, taxes, tithes, or extortion. Therein lies the seed of expansion. Human nature is avaricious, so someone starts thinking that "If I can make this much money from this city, imagine how much money I could make if I could also make the City on the Hill also beholden to me."

Now in those days, because of the sexual dimorphism of humans, men were stronger and better equipped to handle whatever primitive weapons these people had. And it's pretty obvious to anyone that I'm not going to take over the City on the Hill's tax base without a fight. So I think that at this point, the priestly-ruling class has become male dominated and bent to conquest. Once I take over another city, I've got the taste for blood, so I take a third then a fourth. Before I know it, I've expanded my control from shore to shore and a kingdom is born, and it is ruled by men and alienated from the common people, and there begins the conflict between alien ruling class culture and the native culture of the people.

In Medieval times the Church defined how everyone in Europe should live in painstaking detail: when they should rise, what they should eat, how they should work, how they should practice hygiene (if at all), and numerous other quotidian details that compose daily life. In addition, they provided ceremonies for all the major events: christenings for birth (and don't the Christians have a coming of age ceremony analogous to a bar mitzvah?), a marriage ceremony and a requiem mass. But this power has faded considerably, and "religious people" pay lip service to the ceremonies, and a few Catholics might eat fish on Fridays, but the level of control is minuscule compared to what it once was.

Now the TV tells me to use certain toothpastes, wear certain pajamas, clothes, macaroni and cheese, virtually any material good is promoted through the television. The TV instructs me on how to live. As a citizen of a nation enthralled in secular materialism, money is my sacrament; my pantheon comprises celebrities—actors, athletes, and politicians, who act out the myths on a daily basis in the news. The chief god, however, is the self, and I measure the success of my existence by the extent to which I have pleased myself.

As a rule of thumb, humans instinctively dance when they are involved in their religion's most dramatic moments. Yet except among a few evangelicals, you will find most Christian services moribund and funereal. The dance of ecstasy these days is on The Price is Right where people move frenetically when they win large amounts of sacrament.

The subjugation of Hispañola by the Great Commission that reduced the locals to slaves exemplifies in a microcosm the process in which the native culture is replaced by the conquering authoritarian alien culture again and again throughout the world. Keep in mind that four centuries after the conquest of Hispañola the entire world was controlled by either a European nation or the US.

There are certain traits that alien cultures share and that contrast with traits of native cultures. Alien cultures tend to be patriarchal, institutional, and with a male priesthood; native cultures, matriarchal and centered in the home around priestesses. In alien culture a woman's body is an object of shame, whereas in native culture a woman's body is the root of the concept of beauty and all aesthetics. And this is where this religious anti-sexuality lies. To this day in even the freest societies an uneasy tension exists between the essentially masculine authoritarian powers of the state and the feminine creative powers of artists.

What the alien culture brings through its religion isn't spirituality but control and power mongering.

With the Church and all its protestant splinter groups respectfully swept into a Sunday corner, the alien culture continues to exercise its power through a new religion. The secular materialism propagated by television has usurped the sociological niche that once belonged to churches. The colonialists used to send gunboats full of missionaries for the 80% sheep and soldiers for the 20% dissidents. Now they just distribute televisions, and that keeps most of the colonized world in check. The television inspires people everywhere to live as the Americans they see on the set, so they buy the finished goods from America, and this is one of the ways that a nation incurs debts that will insure the colony's natural resources remain the property of the colonizing powers.

Television first became commercially viable in 1948, and in twelve years it saturated the market with 98% of households having TVs. It didn't take the corporate end of broadcasting long to discover that they had a new tool of control. The Americans had inadvertently colonized themselves — no worries because from the corporate side there can never be too much control.

Propaganda is an old school trick of control that works best in newspapers and radio. Television works because we are primates. As a primate my brain is hard wired to be attracted to things that sparkle because in the primeval forest sparkly stuff was fruit. Food.

As primate I am also predisposed to imitate behavior that I see. Humans by nature have Zelig natures. Seeing a culture in action on television has a much more persuasive influence than hearing about it on the radio. Paradoxically, language that I see modeled on television has a much greater influence than language I hear spoken on the radio.

Language defines the reality in which I live, so if a powerful tool like television redefines my language, it also redefines my reality. Propaganda was woven out of lies that made me believe in such a way that my behavior was controlled. But television doesn't need to lie because it can redefine reality. Radio took Mohammed to the mountain; but television reshapes the mountains altogether.

In this way the television serves as a tool to redefine reality and assert the alien culture from its top-down position of control. And with the propagation of the Internet and my phone to frolic there, I'm not thinking critically about the daily tsunami of information washing over me. It becomes increasingly difficult to know where the mind of control ends and my native culture mind begins.

This control is the contemporary manifestation of an ancient masculine power structure that lies behind the alien culture, and it continues many of its repressive measures against people in general and women in particular, and one of those is the shaming of nudity.

Many of the ideas in this blog are inspired by Hugh Starbuck's Naked and Beautiful, which, starting tomorrow (the 14th), will be significantly marked down in an Amazon Countdown sale.

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