Tag Archives: Kevin McGrath

Freedom and bound: to have or to be


The next morning Carla and Man meet on the Beursplein.

“Last night I was too outspoken about Calvin’s predestination. Maybe I had the excesses in mind – e.g. the slave trade, the precipitation of revolts in the Dutch colonies, and the pursuit of capital – and I had too little attention to its merits, such as keeping livable a large piece of land below sea level and a large tolerance often based on a good business attitude. I am often too outspoken, more mildness would suit me”, says Carla.

“I admire Holland for its pictorial art, its pragmatism, its relatively good housing for everyone. This too is the result of the business attitude and God’s stewardship that has also taken shape in a socialist manner in last century. You have aptly expressed a number of starting points for derailments that were partly caused by Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. Any movement or sect that considers itself superior, has a strong tendency for derailment over time. There is Narrator”, says Man.

“Have you already been waiting a long time before this cathedral of capitalism? In many early Christian churches no regular church services take place anymore, because the believers have disappeared or have gone elsewhere. This capitalists’ cathedral is no longer in use, the followers of this religion have left for more profitable places like the South Axis in Amsterdam or the stock exchanges in London and New York”, says Narrator.
Berus van Berlage[1]

“That’s right, the capitalists pursuit maximization of profit [2], and hereby they are biting their own tails similar to players of a pyramid scheme. The sources of capital are enormous, but finite: once they will dry up.

Capitalism had already a long history before Calvinism had partially emerged from capitalism and gave further shape to it. Let me first tell you this long history in a nutshell.

Probably the meaning of capitalism is derived from the Roman word “caput” [3], which means head (of a person). This origin underlines the importance of private property within capitalism.
The onset of capitalism has probably been the use of devices by individual people to perform specific activities easier and/or faster. Among the hunter-gatherers such devices were stones to crack nuts, weapons to hunt animals and later devices combined with ingenuity to domesticate animals for food or for help during the hunt. In addition, hunter-gatherers needed a large environment as a means for their existence. When this environment or living conditions – also the possession of women and children – were threatened by other hunter-gatherers or groups of hunter-gatherers, these capital resources had to be defended.

Capitalism got a new dimension in nomadic societies of herdsmen; the capital of these nomadic herdsmen were their flocks and their pastures. The corresponding capital resources – such as animals for transport and for herding cattle – were used for tending and defending the herds of cattle, or men needed these devices – such as women and children – for survival. A religious expression within these societies of herdsmen was the cattle cycle [4]. In the Proto-Indo-European world, women represented the only possession of real value [5]; men needed the possession of livestock as a means of exchange to obtain women. In the Roman Catholic and Lutheran version of the Ten Commandments, we still see a relic hereof in the form of the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbour’s wife” prior to the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbour’s house” [6].

Within the agrarian capitalism of arable farming, the disposal – and later the possession of – land and water was necessary capital needed for survival [7]. In the course of time, the agrarian capitalism of arable farming has driven nomadic societies of farmers to the remote areas of Western society by occupying fixed crop lands. The introduction of the three-field system in arable farming during the early Middle Ages – in combination with limited cattle breeding – eventually allowed more people a living on permanent farmland.

Within the societies of herdsmen and farmers, bartering was needed, because people within these societies were not completely independent in their existence and because the need for specialized tools or services increased over time. There was barter needed at local markets or during fairs. The barter proceeded initially in kind; later rare objects – first rare stones or metals, and later coins with an image of a leader as trustworthy “person in the middle” – were used as “objects in the middle”.

During and after the Crusades in Western society in the second half of the Middle Ages, the trade in special items and services took further shape. Hereby, and also by the decay of feudalism arose a new economic organization during the Renaissance in Western Europe, where trade supported by the (city-)state in the form of mercantilism [8] increased further in importance. With mercantilism, the importance of coins as a trustworthy “object in the middle” also increased. Possession of coins became more and more an independent worthwhile life purpose in itself, because with money, all life goals could be obtained even remission of sins for a good afterlife through indulgences [9] within the Catholic Church.
Mercantilisme[9]

By mercantilism, the attention within the lives of people moved more and more from “to be” to “to have”. In the earlier world of scholasticism, one was a human in a predefined order of life in which one ought to live virtuously. In the new world order, ownership of money became a great good in itself whereby a good place in life and in the hereafter could be obtained; owning and maintaining money rose in esteem, and gaining profits changed in the course of time from despicable act in a praiseworthy activity.

This form of mercantilism boomed in the Dutch Republic enormously, because of the unique position of Holland in a major river delta, because of the lack of arable farming land in Holland whereby cereals must be obtained by trade like the city-state of Athens in the fifth century BC, and because of a unique system of collective management of the polders. Additionally, the merchants and wealthy citizens in Holland – the Nouveau Riche of that time – initiated far-reaching adaptations and innovations of mercantilism.

One of the changes was the replacement of coins as “barter in the middle” by bonds [10]. Without a direct purchaser of the cargo – after examining – a shipload could be exchanged on the Dam in Amsterdam for securities. The traders in Holland did everything to perpetuate confidence in these securities

One important innovation was issuing of shares in corporations of merchants in order to make risky trading on a large scale to distant overseas colonies possible. Herewith the initiative of issuing of shares moved from nobility or (city-)state to initiatives by private individuals.
Waardepapier van de VOC uit 1662[11]

These modifications shifted the importance from coins – minted out of precious metals and imprinted with the image of a confident ruler – to securities issued by merchants and wealthy. This change shifted the economic initiative form the nobility and the (city-)state to merchants and wealthy individuals and corporations thereof.

For the “common people” of farmers, local traders and craftsmen in Holland , this new form of mercantilism meant a landslide; their whole economic existence could completely disappear in a short time by a cause from outside; others – often in modified form – may easily take over their livelihoods. They could not influence this change in any way.

Within this change of the environment of the “common people” – from a world modelled after the medieval scholasticism to a new world of mercantilism – Calvinism arose during the Reformation in relatively prosperous Geneva [12], and it found a fertile ground in the Netherlands of the 17th century AC.

By Calvinism in connection with mercantilism, the main focus of people’s lives changed from “to be” to “to have”. While in Calvinism – with its the doctrine of predestination – “being” in God’s grace was of supreme importance. But on one hand the gratitude and obligation for the elect to be God’s steward and on the other hand the constant desire for success as forecast for the election by God, meant that “to have” in earthly life is of immanent and immeasurable importance for “to be” in this life and especially in the afterlife.
In continuation of his work “Fear of freedom”, Erich Fromm states in his later work “To have or to be” [13]:

“We live in a society that is based on the three pillars of private property, profit and power. Acquiring, possessing and making profit is a sacred and inalienable right – and a duty as God’s steward according to Calvin’s predestination – of an individual human being in the new world order that has emerged from the mercantilism. Thereby it does not matter where the property comes from, nor whether there might be obligations attached to one’s property” [14].

Calvin’s predestination – embedded in mercantilism – considers “having” possessions as a predestination of God, and therefore an immutable right and duty for God’s stewards. Dorothee Sölle states in her work “Mysticism and Resistance – Thou silent screams” that Erich Fromm rightly makes a meaningful distinction between on one hand the functional properties of utensils to be used for our existence and on the other hand property for enhancing the social status of the ego, guaranteeing security in the future or just for the convenience of self-desire. About ownership of the latter kind of property, Dorothee Sölle says – I think rightly –, that it destroys the relationship with the neighbour, with nature and with the I [14]. And she states freely rendered: the forecast of a hereafter in God’s grace through the pursuit of earthly possessions soon degenerates into a prison on earth and a herald of hell. Francis of Assisi had only allowed money on the dunghill. [14]

In our modern times, paper money is exchanged for virtual bits in computer systems that offer – via monitors – access to terrestrial resources. These virtual bits had started an environment of its own, wherein mankind will be more and more a servant – or slave – to the many forms of bitcoins in these computer systems. Having access to this world of bits and monitors overshadows “being” in our daily life. Through a long detour, the emptiness of the virtual bits and monitors have confiscated the richness of our existence. This is in a nutshell my introduction to capitalism”, says Carla.

“So much in so few words in front of this cathedral of capitalism. Near this building and during your introduction, I am reminded of the haiku by Rӯokan after thieves had taken everything out from his hut:

From my little hut
Thieves took everything
The moon stayed behind [15]

The moon stands for the unshakable believe of Rӯokan”, says Narrator.

“To have or to be. After this truly somber picture of human existence. I would like to show you a different kind of emptiness: the emptiness of the Waddenzee. The next few days the weather will be good. May I invite you for the last sailing trip with my small sailboat; soon I will give the boat to a good friend who is much younger. On the sailboat we may prepare “emptiness” – the next part of our quest”, says Man.

“Shall we this afternoon look into what we still have to investigate on this part of our quest?”, asks Carla.
[1] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beurs_van_Berlage
[2] Another explanation about Capitalism is given at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism
[3] Source: Ayto, John, Word Origins – The hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z. London: A & C Black Publishers, 2008
[4] See also: Origo, Jan van, Wie ben jij – een verkenning van ons bestaan – deel 1. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Uitgeverij, 2012 p. 33
[5] See: McGrath, Kevin, STRῙ Women in Epic Mahābhārata. Cambridge: Ilex Foundation, 2009, p. 9 – 15
[6] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments
[7] See also: Beyens, Louis, De Graangodin – Het ontstaan van de landbouwcultuur. Amsterdam: Atlas, 2004
[8] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism and http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geschiedenis_van_Europa
[9] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indulgence
[10] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism
[11] A bond of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie from 1622 AC. Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waardepapier
[12] See also: Fromm, Erich, De angst voor vrijheid – de vlucht in autoritarisme, destructivisme, conformisme. Utrecht: Bijleveld, 1973 p. 67 (Fromm, Erich, Fear for Freedom. New York: Rinehart & Co, 1941)
[13] Free rendering of paragraph from: Fromm, Erich, Haben oder Sein. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2011, p. 89 (Fromm, Erich, To have or to be?. New York: Harper and Row, 1976)
[14] Sölle, Dorothee, Mystiek en verzet – Gij stil geschreeuw. Baarn: Ten Have, 1998, p. 327 – 328
[15] Source: Stevens, John, Three Zen Masters, Ikkyū, Hakuin, Rӯokan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993, p. 131.

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Five common realities – facts en logic 15


“I think that we have finished our conversation about the paradox within the mind of the warrior in ourselves too abruptly. Although at an earlier age and in another way, I have known the euphoria of the conqueror. As young girl, I had caught a grasshopper in a matchbox. I felt an unknown joy; I would never be lonely any-more, because I would always have a companion in my life. When I had shaken the box, I could hear my grasshopper. The next morning the grasshopper was death. This was my first real loss in my life; herewith I lost my innocence: this started my decay. When I look at the Palace of the Medici, I am reminded of my matchbox”, says Carla.

Feiten en logica 15a.jpg[1]

“I had read somewhere that the family of de Medici – after a short exile from Florence – had wished to use its influence behind the scenes in the 15e centurary and purposely had wished to have a low profile to the outside world. The outside of this palace – build in commission of Cosimo de Medice – shows this strive [2]”, says Man

Carla, Man and Narrator enter the palace.

“In the 15th century the well-off in Florence were aware of the periodic floods of the Arno River, therefore they had their living areas on the first floor. This palace resembles the Ark of Noah [3] from the book Genesis in the Old Testament. In this palace an image was available of all wealth and of everything of value within the de Medici family. Everything in this Palace is a miniature reflection and a reminder of the conquests of the family in the outside world. When the tide goes well, then the reflection and the memory will be brought back into reality. This Palace shows the inner world of the family in all its wishes and with all its expectations”, says Narrator.

feiten en logica 15b.[4]

“In this hall Luca Giordano [5], the aspiration of the familiy – displayed within this palace – shows God-like traits. The paintings on the ceiling of this hall resemble the ceiling paintings in the churches of this city.

feiten en logica 15c.[6]

The second dynasty of the Medici family is depicted by the painter Luca Giordano as a mirror image of the heaven wherein Cosimo de Medici – as the Central father-god – enthrones above his two sons and his brother. Here shows the inner of the prevailing “warrior” the ambition to at least match the Christian Divine Trinity, if not to take the place of God”, says Man.

feiten en logica 15d.[7]

“That is evident. At the height of his power, a warrior feels invincible and supreme: the warrior evades the world of mortals; the warrior can conquer the whole world. At the same time, the world of the warrior is dehumanised; care for the environment and the empathy for living beings and humans disappears. A state of euphoria – a perception of uniqueness and omnipotence, self-centredly focused on the warrior, his compagnons and the world for which they exist – arises. This state of euphoria can be recognised within Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa when they shot arrows with joy at everything that tried to escape from the fire in the Khandava forest, within you Narrator when you as a young warrior with a militia in Central Africa shot at everyone who tried to escape from a burning village, and within Karl Marlantes [8] when he – as lieutenant at the American Marines during the Vietnam war – let the air forces drop napalm on the jungle with Vietcong fighters [9]. ” says Carla.

feiten en logica 15e.[10]

“”The hel are the others” [11], had Jean-Paul Sartre written in one of his plays, maybe also because the others limit the warrior in his omnipotence – and thereby in his freedom”, says Man.

“You explain my feelings of joy and exhileration during the shooting at all and everyone who tried to escape from the burning village very well. But after this euphoria I felt shame and fathomless emptiness. In the first part of our Odyssee to “Who are you” [12] – at the description of the Peloponnesische war – we noticed on on-going cycle of honour/power – pride – wrath – revenge [13] among the parties concerned. In my experience we must add to this cycle “shame and emptiness” that simultaneously is an antipode to honour and power. In the time of my forefathers, the combatants in the old India took their spoils of conquest – usually stolen cattle within the cattle cycle – to their home village. There the loot was shared with everyone during a big feast. Showing the victory to the world was more important for the warriors than the victory itself [15]. After the feast an emptiness began to arise together with an emerging shame about aimlessness. With honour/power as antipode to this emptiness/shame, an urge arose for new conquests to confirm and maintain the inner and outer ego of the warriors. The conquest – or wealth in our time – creates at the same time an emptiness and a lack of something. Wealth creates a lack of richness that is not yet conquered. This hall reminds the living warriors within the family de Medici to the worldly riches which they must defend and expand, and to the richness of the Godlike Kingdom of Heaven that they still do not possess”, says Narrator.

“In this reasoning lies a truth. The decline begins after a conquest, because there is something to defend; the imperator must always conquer more for safeguard what he already owns. From the possession of wealth arises the need for more lasting wealth; also the imperator is subject to the law of nature called “greedy little pig”. Is there a difference between men and women?”, says Man.

“There is a study on the role of women in Mahābhārata. In the Mahābhārata a warrior only acquires immortal fame when fallen on the battlefield at the time women mourn him in shrill cries and weep over his life boasting his former beautiful appearance [16]. The women of the warrior caste put their men into action; the warriors are monomaniacal executors of the wishes of their women. When all warriors are deceased within the Kshatriya caste, the women go to the Brahmins to procreate new warriors. Women have their own role in the mind of the warrior”, says Narrator.

“Don’t we all have a role within the mind of the warrior? What do you think of the Gods and the Bodhisattvas?”, asks Carla.

“Also they, also we”, says Man.

“That is true. Shall we tomorrow – on our last day in Florence – visit Palazzo Pitti where the family of de Medici showed its splendour and magnificence to the outside world”, says Narrator.


[1] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Medici_Riccardi

[2] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Medici_Riccardi

[3] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah%27s_Ark

[4] Source image: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Medici_Riccardi

[5] See also: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galleria_di_Luca_Giordano

[6] Source image: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_Medici_Riccardi

[7] The Apotheosis of the Medici: Cosimo III sat central between his two sons and his brother below him, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. Source image: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galleria_di_Luca_Giordano

[8] Source: Marlantes, Karl, What it is like to go to war. London: Corvus, 2012 p. 40 – 41

[9] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viet_Cong

[10] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napalm

[11] In the play “Huis clos”. See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Paul_Sartre

[12] See also: Origo, Jan van, Who are you – a survey into our existence – part 1. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2012, p. 200 – 209

[13] See: Lendon, J.E., Song of Wrath – the Peloponnesian war begins. New York: Basic Books, 2010 p. 9

[14] See cattle-cycle in: Origo, Jan van, Who are you – a survey into our existence – part 1. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2012

[15] See also a contemporary observation by Hannah Ahrendt in: Keen, David, Useful Enemies – When waging wars is more important than winning them. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p. 9

[16] Source: McGrath, Kevin, STR Women in Epic Mahābhārata. Cambridge: Ilex Foundation, 2009, p 25

Narrator – Amsterdam: the inverted world 3


My first autumn in Amsterdam was cold and wet. Still, I marvelled about the abundance of water and at the uneasiness that people felt during rainy weather. Rain was a feast in my home country, because regularly there was a lack of water for the cattle [1]. My mother moved around with her herd looking for water and new pasture. In Holland, this is all in abundance; a hole of half a meter deep is enough for water and pastures are everywhere.

During my first year in Holland, I came to love the skies. The clouds are of an enchanting beauty. The paintings of the Dutch masters show a glimpse of this wealth; the real sky together with the sun are a world miracle without precedent. In this reverse world nobody is interested in looking at the sky; except artists, but they are seen as idlers. “Time is money and we cannot make a living from looking at the sky; we have something better to do”, is the opinion of the people in Holland.

[2]

Dutch consider themselves God’s steward, but they omit to pay attention to half of God’s creation [3]: the heavenly sky [4]. In the Dutch literature is one main character who gave attention to the sky and the play of the sun, but this painter became insane, because he could not capture the sunset on a painting [5].

[6]

The second winter in Holland I began to love the shelter and the confinement of fog and mist. In this reverse world clouds on the ground are still present, as if God had chosen not to complete the separation of sky and earth around Amsterdam. The people in Holland do not notice this. The Kingdom of Heaven is for the poor in spirit [7], normal mortals should take care of the earth and afterwards God will allow the elect to his Kingdom. For me Holland was a Godlike paradise with a heavenly splendour on earth.

[8]

The next spring, a Goddess appeared in my life. One of my lovers stayed for half a year abroad and I was allowed to use his house and his Citroën DS in the meantime. He gave me ample living allowance [9]. That summer I was gliding with my white Goddess over the roads of Europe; I also visited my friends in Rome.

[10]

At the end of my second year in Amsterdam I changed from an attractive exotic appearance into an idol. In the world of fashion and vanity, I became a favourite icon. I was desired by influential attractive men who love men and equally authoritative as the King’s daughter Draupadi [11] in the Mahābhārata [12], I lived with them in polyandry.


[1] Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masa%C3%AF_(volk)

[2] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolk

[3] According to Genesis 1:1 – the first book of Old Testament – God created/separated the sky and earth at the beginning of time. The Hebrew verb core “bara” in the Hebrew version of Genesis 1:1 has four meanings: “creation”, “cleave”, “selection” and “feed”.  Source: http://www.qbible.com/hebrew-old-testament/genesis/1.html

[4] In the Western translations of the Hebrew version of the Old Testament, the word “shamayim” is translated as “Heaven”. Probably “sky” or “firmament” is a better translation for the Hebrew word “shamayim”. See also: http://www.qbible.com/hebrew-old-testament/genesis/1.html and http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/35_home.html and Benner, Jeff A.A Mechanical Translation of the Book of Genesis – The Hebrew text literally translated word for word. 2007

[5] See: The painter Bavink in amongst others De uitvreter en Titaantjes in: Nescio, Verzameld werk I. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Nijgh en van Ditmar en Uitgeverij van Oorschot, 1996.

[6] Source photo: Marieke Grijpink

[7] See: the Gospel of Matthew 5:3 in the New Testament.

[8] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mist

[9] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allowance_(money). In Holland a living allowance is just sufficient for daily life.

[10] Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_DS

[11] See also: McGrath, Kevin, STR women in Epic Mahâbhârata. Cambridge: Ilex Foundation, 2009 en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draupadi

[12] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata