The Gilgamesh Syndrome

sandLChapter One

John Conway watched a large elephant saunter across the patio. A bull, he noted – a full-grown, African monster of an animal with ears near half its height flapping irregularly to its steady gait. It didn’t look at him. Even as John sat up to stare it didn’t look at him but simply walked, a steady plod, to the corner of the building where it turned and was gone.

Slumping back into his canvas chair he pulled again on a long glass only to wonder – An elephant of that stature would need two hundred plus kilos of vegetation every day – six tonnes a month. They could ship it in on trucks, but from where? Higher up the Indus Valley? Certainly not from over the border in Afghanistan; there was nothing there. Where then? Central Africa would be ideal but . . . Ah. He had it. They’re bringing in green bamboo from Burma in that old Hercules Freighter – using it to hide the armaments ferried in from China. Clever. Powerful elephants could do much of the heavy lifting here where earth moving equipment was scarce and what there was was always in need of repair and, and they had gas. There’s nothing quite like a big elephant if you needed gas – methane gas would do very nicely out here in Balochistan where just about everything combustible is in short supply.

He turned to see Bill Brown in faded denims and a Guns ‘n Roses T-shirt approaching quickly. John stood, extending a hand. “You keepin’ pets then boy?”

“We are, and shit. Tons and tons of shit. We got shit like you’d never believe.”

“Soft, warm, shit I bet. Not like the stuff I’m about to pull down on you.”

“Straight to the point then Commander. No courtesies – no sit Bill, take the weight off, have a drink . . .”

“Sit and drink Bill, you’ll be needin’ it.”

***

It tore at her, ripped into her, and it seemed not to matter how many times she went around and over it she could find no way to ease the pain in Syria. In saner moments, she reflected, there was very little she could do for any of the pain in a world of military regimes and manic clergy but Syria’s needs seemed so much more pressing. It was her home, and her father’s home, for some years and was the incubator in which the seeds of much of human progress had germinated and grown. Cuniform, the first written language, if you dismiss Ogam, which she did, was born here, developed here – in the markets, in the foundries, in the forums, brothels, lavatories . . . here language, and how it was to be written, was established for the very first time. Sun discs, too, for cooking, purifying, preservation, glazing . . . and for battle, were first formed here – right on the Tropic of Cancer. Later, much later, it was from here that King Gilgamesh set off in search eternal life leaving a tale, the very first tale, of the new, post apocalyptic, era.

She had wept long and deep at the destruction left tumbling in the wake of American forces rampaging across Iraq but to witness it happening again, in Syria, was a mind numbing experience – one that left her hell-bent on bringing such madness to a halt. As heiress to the Matriarchy she was, for the most part, above local wars but slaughter and destruction in Syria, in the very centre of human development, wrenched at her – wracked her whole body in searing pain.

“When will they stop Mother? When will they cease to hurl metal and poison at each other? How long must I wait?” She knew the answers but a little screaming and crying in really bad moments helped to her realign.

There was work to do: a lot of work to do; she was in need of her helpers. Ben, Benjamin Ali Akbar Saint Thomas Houghton, what a wonderful name, immediately sprang to mind and she was going to need Peter, if wasn’t buried under one of his pyramids. Ben is the son of Sir William Saint Thomas Houghton, a product of the old British schools: Winchester, Cambridge, the Guards, and later MI6 and the foreign office. He had been her mother’s greatest ally against the Federation of Fossil Fuels Suppliers, right wing elements of churches and governments and, at her mother’s behest, her personal mentor and protector in Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Far East. During that time he became her hero: her most beloved hero of the old British Empire. His son, Ben, despite his rather effeminate outward appearance, was cut from the same resilient cloth as his father and had saved her life on several occasions in China and India. On the other hand, Peter, a brilliant physicist, came from ruder stock: comprehensive schools, red brick universities and was, and still is, as mad as a hatter. She loved them both.

Loud, guttural, shouting and that flat, deadly, sound of automatic gunfire, brought her back to the present: to the area behind the Great Mosque in Damascus where she had been examining the west wall. There were treasures here, and not just Muslim treasures. There were Christian treasures; John the Baptist was here before Mohammed, and the Roman gods Jupiter and Saturn were celebrated here, but before that, in the tens of millennia before the deluge and the great disaster, there was Atargatis, Venus by any other name, who reigned over a matriarchy that had been in continuous existence for eight thousand years. As to how long she governed, Meira had been unable to determine, but she would: she would if she could dig deep enough under this ancient building.

The chaos of burgeoning civil war had given her the cover she needed to set up camp under the guise of a stall holder in the little bazaar beside the Great Wall. Piece-by-piece she was able bring in, and assemble, her mining equipment, but she would need more than wood and canvas covers when the serious digging started. She peeked out to the open ground beside the mosque to see troops scampering. Then the slapping of gunfire and a soldier fell. Others scampered back to an empty street where they threw themselves against the nearest wall: More gunfire, this time from further away, up a street where she could see people flying into alleys and doorways. She waited: unafraid. This was a common occurrence now: almost daily as the rebel forces grew ever bolder. The prospect of death seemed not to bother them.

The other stall owners were all cowered under shelves and tables as she threaded her way back to her own little corner and dived under the counter to the wooden ladder that took her down to a door in the Great Wall. Through the door were steps, centuries worn, leading down to a cellar where there was the constant sound of dripping water. The floor was made of heavy stone slabs: too heavy to lift, and too thick to break.

She sat in the middle of the room, adopted the lotus position, and let her mind drift for a few seconds before forcing it to go blank. She had perfected the technique under the relentless tuition of Smiling George, the beautiful young monk she thought she had killed on the road in Western China. She had knocked him down with the stolen Hummer while trying to escape from Tor, a ruthless killer in the service of Commander John Conway, who was, at the time, in the service of the Federation of Fossil Fuel Suppliers. She had picked up the shaken monk and taken him to his village in the hope of making amends to his family. In practice things went quite differently; they taught her so much more than she could offer them. Besides exploring some hitherto unknown pyramids she had learned to elevate her mind to higher plain within seconds of entering meditation, and once there, in the areas of consciousness reached by few humans, she could start to connect with the memories of her ancestors.

The trigger for these meditations was deep in her mind and only came into her consciousness when she was physically present in places where her matriarchal ancestors had lived and worked. In Tiahuanaco, Bolivia, she had reached Andean villagers dying under the cruelty of Spanish Conquistadors. In Mehrgarh and Harappa, in the Indus Valley, she reached Catherine and almost made contact with Anima. Catherine had survived the great disaster. She had known the Mems, who lived in Egypt long before the Greeks and Pharaohs, and she had worked with the old men in Kabul when that land was green and fertile. How long, she wondered, had she lived? How much had Catherine seen?

Reaching back she touched on early times in the Indus Valley when humans made their greatest advances and the Matriarchy had evolved. It was here, during those millennia, that women mastered the art of implanting their own knowledge, their memories, into the memories of the babies while still in womb. In this way an accumulation of knowledge cascaded through the generations bringing truth and wisdom, and an end to the destructive warring of the alpha male.

Just before the cataclysm longevity had peaked at 478 years: leaving women with centuries of freedom between bearing, and raising, children. In Egypt, and all across the Arabian Peninsular, language had developed and writing was beginning to move toward a universal format. Food, water, and shelter had long been stabilised, and music was being heard from The Rift Valley to the slopes of the Himalayas. If there was a cloud on that rosy horizon it was population growth which, if unchecked, would require migrations to edge of the warm climate zones because the flood plains, if they were to continue to be sustainable, would support only finite numbers.

Meira drifted further into her memory banks hoping to find some remnants of Anima. Anima was so elusive: so hard to contact. A day passed, and then a night, while new images surfaced and sank, but she couldn’t find Anima. Anima was key; she had to reach her.

To be continued . . .

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When Democracy Fails

blue LThis year the old Siamese oligarchy decide there had been enough corruption, too many illegal immigrants, and far too many demonstrations disrupting Thai business so they threw the politicos out of government. Quite right. If elected representatives cannot govern then a selected body should be given the job.
Sadly that goal is not so easy to achieve in the richer countries where the roots of democracy have sunk deeper and the ideology of one-person-one-vote continues to outweigh all alternatives.

Loose financial reins are synonymous with, essential to in some books, capitalist democracies but they shouldn’t be – they should be tighter in money fuelled systems otherwise all the nation’s assets, air, land, water, minerals . . . slip away from the many only to be corralled and harnessed by the few for the good of only the few. History endlessly demonstrates that – not with cherry picked examples, but with examples taken from under most democratic administrations over long periods. The renowned economics Professor Thomas Piketty in his recent masterpiece Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, carefully presents 250 years of the economic history of Britain, France, and the United States revealing, in the process, the dangers of loose financial reigns. He draws conclusions from known data and demonstrates the inadequacies of administrators, both in analysis and corrective action, yet the court of public opinion blunders on under the flag of democratic freedoms.

It is hard to find a more glaring example of administrative folly than that currently being carried out in the Eurozone. How can policies that leave 50% of a nations’ recent graduates standing on the street corners be the right ones? Such policies are clearly asinine yet we continue. We continue to elect the wrong people who, in turn, employ the wrong people, to do the most important work. Why do we insist on that? Why is such mindless medalling allowed to prevail? We might as well worship an invisible god and spend our days chanting and singing of wonders never performed. We might as well throw our scientists and historians out of the window and allow the stimulating odours of fear and greed come rushing in to return us to the survival of only the very fittest.

Twenty-five hundred years ago our most enlightened ancestors examined these issues and concluded that democracy works only if the populous is informed. Poorly educated electorate are doomed to seduction by the sophists so our only protection is education. We learned that then, and have seen the lesson repeated endlessly because we fail to face the facts. One-person-one-vote only works if all are informed. Until that situation prevails democracy cannot be usefully employed.

As I write the people of Hong Kong are declaring themselves well enough informed to choose their own candidates for election to high office but the oligarchy that oversees them doubts their wisdom. The citizenry can voice their objections, even demonstrate in public places, but if they extend those activities to obstruction of business and chaos in the streets then they will have proven their inadequacy, leaving the oligarchy no choice – as was the case in Thailand.

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Democracy

sandLThe First World nations enjoy a distillate of all the systems of government tried over the years which we call Democracy. It’s not everyone’s preferred choice: many of the famous, and many more of the influential, have passed less than flattering remarks about democracy. Some are funny, most are pithy, and nearly all are accurate to some degree but the ones to which I most closely identify are those of Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, ‘Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to chose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy therefore, is education,’ and Karl Marx’s observation that, ‘Democracy is the road to socialism,’ – wow. Had many of the United States Republican Conservatives read Marx they’d be all in a quandary unless, unless they turn to Plato, who was not at all keen on democracy, for his, ‘Tyranny naturally arises out of democracy.’ Aristotle and Socrates too, were none too enthusiastic about this system of government: The most notable drawback, they observed, being its tendency to generate sophism.

A word here about sophistry: originally from the Greek sophizesthai, to make wise – to teach. Once a respected profession in Ancient Greece sophism fell into disrepute because the teachers quickly saw they could earn more money teaching the sons of the rich than those of the poor – no education for daughters. In order to engender a comfortable life for their families the educators tended to pander to the wealthy: i.e. teach the rich man’s son what his father longed to hear. Imagine if that was the case today: we’d have elite schools, available only to rich kids, preaching the word their parents dictate in order to ensure future administrators are all of a mind.  We’d have the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer – how awful.

So back to democracy: is it the best for us today?

The answer is: it could be.

It could be if we pushed all the hucksters and bully pulpit orators, the sophists, into the backroom where they belong and let the proletariat express their opinions on topics various. This we can do. Through our wonderful Internet we can, and are, doing it. We have data processing on a massive scale. We have analytic algorithms writing their own scripts to further analyse our analyses. We just have to stop the blah, blah, poppycock of the sophists from filling our TV screens and bending our thought processes with their images of the cool, and the free, and the oh, so, happy. We just have to stop that silly spending to elect people who care not for we the people, but for themselves and what they can do to further their own agenda. If we don’t, if we don’t insist on integrity and honesty we’d best throw out the democratic process: didn’t FDR say that? Didn’t he say, ‘Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to chose wisely?’

The current system is far too cumbersome anyway with the arcane paper and physical transport process. I mean really, pieces of paper marked with ticks and crosses to be folded into a slot then removed for a physical reading and selection. Dear me. It is before that process starts though, before all the hucksters go about ‘Getting Out the Vote,’ that the real damage is done. The real damage is done behind locked doors where the electoral candidates are trained and scripted before setting out on voyages of deceit and deception in which they lie about their commitment to family and religion and promise a fair and competent administration not hitherto seen.

The truth is the necessity for elections is no longer there. That is not to say we no longer need them: we probably do, at least for a period of adjustment. We no longer need to actually vote formally because we already vote informally. We already tell those who care to listen our preferences, prejudices, and ambitions through our blogs, reading habits, search criteria and purchases. Why, then, do we need go to rallies and queue for the privilege of voting? It makes no sense.

Before you dive for the keyboard to plead the case for the computer illiterate recall Winston Churchill’s observation: ‘The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.’  So when the argument is raised about the inability of those who are not computer literate to vote you have to wonder if they should. It doesn’t take away their right to vote any more than the inability to write. The requirement for a driving test doesn’t take away the right to be a motorist, but it does insure you know what you’re doing. If help is needed, be it physical, logistic, financial . . . voters have only to ask and a volunteer will bring a notepad to the door within a few million nanoseconds.

The introduction of online voting will be the first, radical, step into the world of the modern democratic process and will of course raise many questions and uncertainties. Will it reveal your vote and thus alienate your right to secrecy at the ballot box? Yes and no. No to those unable to hack and crack the encryption – say 98% of the populace. Yes to all those clever folks who can, and to the data miners that normally come in the form of interrogative algorithms. I don’t see the problem with that anymore than with electronic filing of taxes or online banking and brokering.  If we are to have open government then surely open voting cannot be a handicap.

Within a short space of time the need for voting will fade as the majority view on many issues becomes readily available dynamically, as our shopping and reading habits are already. As I write social media, which has long since graduated from a ‘bit-of-fun’ for the less serious to an important monitor of current interests and values, is galloping ahead and is soon to be as integral an element of our lives as walking, talking and drinking tea . Twitter, facebook, Linkedin, Google . . . have all taken up their position and will, in all probability, coalesce into one or two global institutions fed by a plethora of specialist sites. National administrations have only to take up the mining tools developed by commercial interests to have ready access to current opinion and the needs of citizens. In this way  democracy can graduate to socialism beloved of Karl Marx, and the voter choose as wisely as FDR would have wished.

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