Monday, April 6, 2009

The new & improved Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

OK, the last two post have been a bit of fun. Time for another serious one.

I'm a fan of Mr John Birmingham's stuff. In his most recent book "Without Warning" a particular paragraph has stuck in my head like a piece of beef gristle between the teeth.
I hope he'll forgive my gross impertinence.
'Think about what happens when you take the lid off Pandora's box and everything we forgot about in history comes spilling out to bite you on the ass. Do you know how unusual it is in human history, for children to be able to grow up in a place like this?' she waved her hands around to take in the city. 'Never knowing the fear of someone riding over the horizon to steal their family's crops and burn their hut to the ground, and all as a prelude to being snatched up as slaves for the rest of their miserable fucking lives - That's normality, baby. That's life as it has been lived by most human beings through most of our history.

Grim eh?

Can't fault his logic though.

So to today's ponderous ponderings.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Wikipedia describes them as
"The "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" is a term used to describe four horsemen that appear in the Christian Bible in chapter six of the Book of Revelation. The verses traditionally describe the four horsemen as Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death."

I'm not a big one for biblical references, but lets use them as a metaphor. Who is going to bring us to the end of days?

I was idly leafing through a Harvey Norman junk mail catalogue on the back deck this afternoon. Now I'm sure Gerry Harvey is a very nice man who is kind to his mother and gives regularly to charities, but this catalogue was whispering "what you need is a new television / dryer / coffee machine." No Siren ever sung to a sailor so sweetly. I strongly believe that this kind of rabid consumerism is going to send us to hell in a shiatsu massaging all leather fully imported hand basket. So I vote Gerry on the consumerism horse.

Mr Robert Oppenheimer - inventor of the A bomb, or some unknown in a lab currently refining a new & improved airborne pathogen? How about we just use old Mr "I have become the destroyer of worlds" as a symbol on the gathering knowledge faster than wisdom horse.

The Pope with his " breed for Jesus" & "condoms are bad mmkay." One of the American Televangelists gagging for war in the holy lands, or perhaps, A Beardy Wahhabi Nutbar who put the Fun back into Fundamentalism?* on a blinkered dogma horse.

That's three - I'm scratching for a fourth. So many candidates so few horses. Kim Jong Il and Robert Mugabe would have to be in with a shot on a horse called The dear leader is always right.

What I want from you are the 21century horsemen. Four would be good, but what ever you've got for me I'd be pleased to hear.

* I know I stole it, but I cant remember from whom. Birmo?

& Props to Albrecht Durer for the Art. Nice one al!


  1. Liberalism
    The Cult of the Individual
    Belief in the 'Rights(!!!) of Man'
    A composite of Vishnu/Jesus/Mohamed et al

  2. Ah yes, Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death, then straight into Harvey Norman. Genius.

    I've felt like unleashing the Big Four on his ass a few times. Ever tried to get a part for something from them?.....or SERVICE.

    Four eh?. From THIS century?. I accept Sir!!.

    Not sure I know WHO they are, but I know WHERE they are!.

    Liberia. The Agriculture minister just resigned - (today, I googled ANYTHING for this comment. Couldn't find anything substantial so I'm aiming for comedy relief) - because of funding dramas over crops being eaten by caterpillars!. Pestilence.

    War, Famine, Death, (again, for those poor bastards) just follows along like rats and the pied piper.

    Okay, who's riding 'em?.

    Ronald McDonald for Pestilence. Ever been behind a Macca's industrial bin at 0200?.

    War. *cough cough Bush cough*

    Famine. The CEO of Light 'n' Easy the pre-made home delivered diet food shite. Ever tried their meals?. I'd have two then ring for a pizza.

    The Big D. Death. Hmmm tricky one. Bill Evans. The dude on channel seven(?) news that does the financial reports DURING the news. The one that looks like lurch off The Addams Family. Imagine him doing a hour long financial yap. That WOULD result in mass suicide. Sick bastard.

    There ya have mine picks.

  3. Dunno - I reckon that flipped out shroom head who wrote Revelation got is pretty much right. Pestillence, War, Famine and Death is pretty on the money for any civilisation coming to its end.

    "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper"

    I sometimes wonder though, if the electricity went off tomorrow, and the heralds of the horsemen all fell silent, would we know? Would we even notice the galloping hooves?

  4. One of my favorite sayings is "I'm hearing horses" when something is about to turn to shit. funny thing is over the years, as i end up working with younger people fewer people seem to know what i'm talking about, SO Ignorance in the face of so much accessible knowledge in the 21st century would be one horseman (oblivious for short maybe), the rider would have no eyes or ears, but a big big mouth . I like consumerism and fundamentalism. Both the consumer horse and rider would be blinkered and have no saddle or reins to signify unfettered spending and ignoring the ramifications.
    The fundy will have 1000 eyes to see what everyone else is doing wrong and 2000 arms each with an iron bound "different to the next" version of gods word to beat non-believers to death with. He would have the heads of small children in his saddle bags.
    famine would still be there - but he would be white and fat, carrying a kfc bucket filled with emaciated brown and yellow people, all worked to death making sports shoes for people who never run.

    (oops sorry my pinko left wing is showing)

  5. The filthy lazy mum-can-clean-up-after-me teenager donkey is gonna be the death of me!

    Brilliant idea for a post and great response U....your fat KFC bucket wielding horse is gonna give me nightmares...once I finish giggling.

  6. I'm for nominating the person who builds programs the first self learning sentient machine

  7. Nat - would that be an ass wearing an Ipod?

    Don't you just hate it when you remember 10 hours after posting half of what you were thinking.
    I was going to sugest my fourth horseman to be greed - a pinstriped M.F. who places short term return$ over all else.
    So U - I'm right there with you buddy.
    Eat the rich!

  8. i took your recommendation and bought this before i left. glad i got the right one as i couldn't remember the title

  9. wall street
    big pharma
    the creators of 'my super sweet 16'

  10. Fear, Ignorance, Intolerance and It's Not Getting Warmer I Tell You.

  11. NBob, hmm I feel a bit picked on here sometimes i think about medium term profit as well....

  12. Wowsers (I guess thats intolerance)
    Ignorance (sponsored by 'the Sun' or 'Hello')
    Arrogance (Bob Mugabe, Gordon Brown or maybe Ted Kennedy)
    Negligence (Rees,Iemma,Bernacke, Mervin King)

  13. Fundamentalism, celebrity, fearmongering, capitalism.

    Alternately - Stewart, Watmough, Orford and... um... some other objectionable tool in a Manly jersey.

  14. I remember that passage as a stand out in Birmo's prose, and I remember disagreeing with it. I have strong reservations about the Hobbesian material. I think the characterisation of life in the Enlightenment era obsession, a "state of nature" as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" is a misguided, extreme position as worthy of ridicule and example as the wackiest Panglossian best of all possible worlds. Actually Candide is probably more representative of my position in that regard than anything else ;)

    Anyhow I pretty much concur with Doc Y here, though I would elide Fundamentalism and Capitalism, since the really problematic part of the latter these days is the extreme Libertarian position, which is itself a kind of Fundamentalist economics. That leaves a horseman short, and I'll nominate Baz Luhrman. Just because he has to be good for something.

  15. Damian welcome & thanks for the comment. While I'll take Baz for a horseman nomination, I'm interested in your rejection of the "Hobbesian material."
    As I said above it strikes me as irrefutable that the majority of human existance has been lived in such conditions.

    Are we about to see TEOTWAWKI? Well that's a different bucket of mullet.

    Two examples.
    With our internationalised food markets, we no longer have the possibility of a community failing due to the crash of a single crop. Commercialised industrialised argiculture has resulted in the loss of discrete regional breeds of crops - biodiversity. If a new & improved rice, corn or wheat disease were to emerge it could causing starvation on a continent rather than village scale.

    Or B:
    I was visitng Aribear (hello - lovely to see you, please poke the Silkster in the eye for me) in Edinborough when I had an unpleasant epithany regarding food stocks relative to population. If for any one of a number of possible reasons, food supplies were to be stopped to the megapolis of your choice, just how long would civil order last? How long would the population last? Ditto water supplies? weeks?

    I'm off to Google "Panglossian."

  16. Cheers NBob. I'll go in reverse order there. Not sure exactly what you mean by "civil order" and what measures are in place to work with it. Many cities in Europe suffered exactly those conditions in 1945 and there were indeed many different outcomes. Notable is the poll of the most memorable experience among German WWII survivors, which turned out to be regaining access to coffee, something I can easily understand. Bottom line is: for sure the worst people will emerge and enrich themselves from the situation, but in general people act as they do, and survive as they can.

    Many commercial food crop seeds are disturbingly genetically homogeneous these days, and the big companies are doing their utmost to further that. Monsanto are currently trying to make it illegal for farmers to keep and grow their own seed in the USA, and given the aggression in their marketing here (you're a "primitive backwoods" farmer if you are suspicious of their GM stuff), it won't be long here either.

    That said, there actually exist seed banks and biodiversity reserves in many countries now, specifically as a counter to the decline in biodiversity in agricultural crops. Sure companies like Monsanto will be trying to eradicate this sort of activity, but given that seed saving is as old as agriculture, and therefore a fundamental condition of the human condition, I don't like their chances. Not that the fact they're trying isn't scary as shit.

    As for Hobbes - his view wasn't regarded as common sense even in his own time, and people like Locke and on the continent Rouseau and others had very different ideas.

    The very idea of a "state of nature" supposes that society and kinship and everything that relates one human being to another, all these things came AFTER human beings suddenly started existing much as they are now. This is clearly and demonstrably untrue. We evolved as social beings. Language, culture, even agriculture and alcohol (we have evolved the ability to produce an enzyme with no purpose other than metabolising alcohol) are all part of being human. Societies with something that looks like a government are very much the norm of human history. And where the scale was much smaller than the Eurasian experience would credit, and this represents the overwhelming majority of the human expereince, in those cases that military concern had little bearing. Think pre-contact Australia, SEAsia, Africa, etc. The overwhelming majority of human history is about living with and stewarding your culture's local environment, without much or any external threat.

  17. I should say, I apoligise for taking a contrarian tone here. Sometimes I think I simply have to explain why I think a position isn't right. I don't make any strong claim about being right myself, so I guess there's some ontological complication there :). Hope it's not too nonsensical a way to be getting on. Also note I don't claim to have any answers whatsoever

  18. No apology warranted. As I said in an earlier post, one of the things I like most about W3 is the chance to have "bull sessions" with those whose opinions differ from my own.

    My sociology & prehistory knowledge are not what they should be. That said, I struggle with the concept of the golden age in the past when societies (such as they were) lived in a state of ecological balance and social cohesion.

    From my limited understanding; people submit to governance either in a trade-off for public-good services provided by the state, or because there is no choice. IE a Gov provided defence and a framework of laws & structures to enforce them in the former, or in the latter it was yield or be smoted up real good. In my understanding of civilisations pre - lets say - Roman Empire, Govs were either strong arm thugs of the second type, or theocracies who proclaimed a divine authority. In either form I'd sugest the litle guy actually tilling the field & tending the goats got the rough end of the pineapple. The few social goods provided were largely about the preservation of the power & influence of the ruling elite, not nurturing Joe Goat-herder. A classic example would be the crofting laws in Scotland.
    My (limited) knowledge of African Kingdoms, the Khmer Kingdom & Indian dynasties, China, Inca / Maya and Pre Shogunate Japan would all suport this - authority via a jabby stick. Perhaps the worst example was the Rapanui of Easter Island where vanity or faith destroyed an entire society. The only exceptions I can think of are some of the North American First Nations groups.
    As for external threat - history (in the strictest text based definition) is written by the victors - few of which would be prepared to say "yeah we invaded them & ate their babies." The Southern Islands of Japan are a semi recent (last 300 years or so) case in point.

    I'd sugest we selected the ADH & ALDH enzymes (& their dopamine reactive opiate receptor friends) so we could blot out the grinding misery of our lives. OK, perhaps a little over the top but I'm sure you take my point.

  19. NBob, your response is quite clear and while I think there are a few points tangled together I won't try to tease them out till my head's a little clearer... which might not be for a few days given Easter...

    Watched the frontrunners in the B to G from quite afar from Scarborough yesterday, especially as they pulled out between Bribir and Moreton. Great drinking weather it was too ;)

  20. Okay, a bit rambly but probably the best I can do:

    1) we often seem to have this theme where we imagine other's lives aren't like our own, since it's hard to imagine them. So the Americans clearly have the strange idea that our standard of living doesn't match there's, whereas we "know" that ours exceeds theirs greatly.

    So when you characterise the lives of ordinary people in pretty much all cultures and times other than the modern western one as "miserable", it's worth automatically being suspicious just because of that initial ingrained bias. If you have a go at seeing through the eyes of the "little guy tilling the field", you'll find that withing the worldview he has available he has pretty much all the things that he wants, that most of us want really.

    2) Even Hobbes, along with other early political scientists of his time, understood that even the most autocratic governments can only rule with the consent of the governed, in the long term at least. Sure the pointy stick exists somewhere and underpins the power structure, like it does in our own society, but it does not follow that the exercise of power must be more raw than in our culture. We have an entrenched notion of antagonism between governing structures, the elites that people them, and the people governed; this is a fairly modern idea.

    Most social structures and consequently governments grew out of the extended kinship structures that most cultures other than the modern western one have and always had, and that ours had up till industrial times. We talk about paternalistic governments in negative terms, but where there is this strong kinship metaphor at work in a culture, there's an incentive to treat one's fellow citizens like members of one's family.

    Over time societies that people don't want to live in don't last. The Rapanui are actually a good example here, stuff that had worked stopped working due to changing conditions, and the people couldn't just leave. There is, or rather was another example on New Guinea where a culture had obviously split off from elsewhere and developed into something so counter-adaptive that it was in the process of dying out at the time of contact. Since it was a pretty horrible warrior cult with sexual practices to make you shudder, I believe it was permitted to lurch into extinction unhindered.

    The point is that there's a basic pressure on cultures to develop in a way that makes people want to be a part of them, and that provides for their needs once they have done.

    3) I don't think the development of alcohol is about "blotting out misery". It emerged in that context in the early part of the industrial age where there really were huge masses of people displaced from the land (and their traditional social, cultural, physical homes), crowding the emerging enormous cities, and even then the reports are, I think, more about the shock of urban elites in their first encounter with the baccanalian aspects of the working class cultures that had been established over centuries.

    I'd suggest that alcohol and indeed other drug use is about "blotting out" misery. Rather, it's a pursuit that brings euphoria and some transient "happiness" that in certain circumstances is the only one available to some people, hence its association with poverty in a modern context. I think in a traditional context there were plenty of other ways to pursue happiness available, and that this was simply a part of life.

    Like I said, a bit rambly and a bit rushed, hope it makes some sense.

  21. 1 Excellent point on cultural relativity - "If I cant get 23 channels of TV & icy cold imported water I must therefore be in hell." So agreed not all pre here & now cultures where brutish & terrible. That said I wouldn't accept the proposition that "they're happy because that's all they know." I'm sure a father gathering rice by hand wants a better life for his children perhaps "better" is subjective to his experience, but I'm confident a very small percent of the worlds population doesn't have aspirations for their children of a easier & healthier life.

    2 Does it count if the consent of the governed is manufactured or coerced?

    Dinner has hit the table I'll be back.

  22. Sorry I got sidetracked - we will return to our regular programming in just a few moments.

  23. Again sorry guys - Easter school holidays, so I'm working 11 straight and inundated with datefingers, asshats & buttmunchers.
    I will get back to this as soon as I have the energy.

  24. Sweeeeet blessed days off.
    Be with you soon.

  25. Can't blog, Clown will eat me.
    Sorry folks.
    Up to my eyebrows in it @ the moment.

    Craptacular I know, but I can only do what I can.



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I was the proud recipient of the worlds first monkeys ass to human face transplant. Friends of the donor monkey says it took well, I'm not so sure.