The Gods Are Crazy — And So Are We: PART ONE — Nicole Sallak Anderson
“ You are trying to understand madness with logic. This is not unlike searching for darkness with a torch.” Image by from
“Inside the skull there is a place where the essences of creation play and mingle-
The ecstatic light of awareness and the awareness of that light.
The divine feminine and masculine sport with one another in that place.
The light of their love-play illumines all space.
Rest in that light ever present, and gradually awaken to the steady joy of that which is everywhere.”
~ The Radiance Sutras, a translation of the Vinjnana Bhairava Tantra by Lorin Roche, PhD
A year ago, I sat alone in my wheelchair, parked outside “Le Cave” where I’d just been wine tasting with my husband, along the bustling street called Place Michel Debré, in Amboise, France. Behind me rose the magnificent Château d’Amboise, but it was the rickety, boarded-up, medieval house across the narrow cobblestone street that caught my eye. Imagine this-on either side of the rundown house there were bustling cafés complete with diners enjoying their fromage and vin rouge. People strolled past the gloomy house without a glance, as if I were the only one who could see it. The shutter of the top-most window on the left was open, windowpanes cracked, the darkness beyond beckoned me to fall into it, the world around me disappearing. When my husband returned to my side, I asked him if he’d noticed the house before. We’d been in Amboise, one of the many charming towns along the Loire River, for three days. As he glanced at the rickety maison, he shivered. No, he hadn’t noticed it before.
A new novel began taking shape within the recesses of my imagination. As I began to research Amboise, and that specific cobblestone street, I would get more than I bargained for. WARING: graphic content in the next paragraph.
Little did I know, we were standing on the exact spot where 1,200 Huguenot rebels had stormed the chateau on March 17, 1560, in a failed attempt to kidnap then king, Francis II. I would learn that this quaint little village where my husband and I had celebrated a romantic anniversary, had been host to a massacre-that very same street covered in the blood of rebels, as the king and queen (none other than a young Mary Queen of Scots) ordered the Huguenot leader drawn and quartered and his flesh displayed at the gates of the town, while the rest were also killed and hung on iron hooks along the façade of the château and from nearby trees; others were drowned in the river or exposed to the fury of the townspeople of Amboise. [Wikipedia]
I’ve long wondered what causes human evil, especially group evil, and since my new novel was shaping up to be a horror story, I began to pull out books like People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck and The Devils of Loudon by Aldous Huxley. My desk looked like the lending library at a sanitarium. As individuals, we often know how to do the right thing, but as a mob, we’re one of the most terrifying forces on Earth. Even the Kraken has nothing on a group of enraged humans. I’ve read many theories on the origins of evil, but as my research phase kicked off in the fall of 2019, it would be The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain that finally, after searching my whole life, provided an answer that not only made sense, but gave me hope that perhaps by knowing the roots of group evil, we could reshape the future and avoid the senseless behaviors of our ancestors.
Shlain was a neurosurgeon and, dare I suggest, a seeker. Using his understanding of human brain development, specifically the right and left hemispheres and their interplay, he discovered that the most violent periods of human history often occurred just after a major technological leap in communication. Advancements such as the inventions of speech, pictograms, the alphabet, paper production, the printing press, telephones, photography, radio, and eventually TV and motion pictures. Each of these inventions pushed the hemispheres of our brains into hyperactivity as we began to use and understand them as a species.
Moreover, communications that deal with words activate our left brain, and communications that use images activate the right brain. Of all the inventions, the alphabet Shlain claimed, has had the most violent aftermath. “Every time there has been a great advance in science and knowledge assisted by alphabet literacy, it has been associated with war. The periods that historians most admire-Classical Greece, Imperial Rome, Renaissance Italy, and Elizabethan England-were born in strife and carried within them a vein of terrible madness.”
What is madness? Again, from The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, “Madness is extreme irrationality. When someone is mad, we say they are ‘unbalanced.’ The alphabet, through its emphasis on linearity and sequence, caused the left side of the brain of those who learned it to be hypertrophy, resulting in a marked cerebral dominance of one lobe over the other. Metaphorically, the mind listed to one side…it seems more than coincidence that the Greeks, who codified logic, would at the same time elevate madness in a place of honor. Dionysus (madness) and Apollo (reason) alternated in presiding over the sacred oracle of Delphi.”
Madness comes from an unbalance. Many of the great “books” of our time, whether the Bible or the Little Red Book, blame evil on things outside of us-our monetary system, the devil, the gods. What if evil is actually a neurological imbalance within the human mind? One that occurs naturally as we develop and evolve as a species, integrating more and more information, sometimes overstimulating the left brain (violence and aggression, such as the religious massacres that followed the advent of the printing press), and other times overstimulating the right brain (conformity of the group toward evil, such as what happened in Germany when Hitler took to the newly minted radio waves, using his voice and suggestion to bewitch a civilization to comply with his Final Solution).
As a species, we invent new ways of communicating and the immediate aftermath is chaos until our minds are rewired and we settle into the benefits of said technology. As Shlain writes in the book’s epilogue, “A subtheme of this book is that a lopsided reliance on the left side’s attributes without the tempering mode of the right hemisphere initially leads a society through a period of demonstrable madness. It is only after this initial phase passes that literacy begins to work its salutary wonders for a culture.”
Shlain published The Alphabet Versus the Goddess in 1998. He ended his work on a hopeful note, namely that since the advent of photography and screens, the image was making a resurgence in our society and thanks to the internet, we would see a renaissance of the right brain, one that would balance the overstimulation of printed information in our world. The key word here being balance. We want both sides of our brain active, not one or the other, in order to build societies that are fair and just.
Unfortunately, Shlain’s life ended in 2009, just as social media was born and with it, the absolute onslaught of communication and information in both image and word that our minds are now confronted with on a daily basis. As I look around the world at the end of 2020, I see rage, anxiety, fear, anger, conspiracy theories, indoctrination of a new sort, and words and images pouring past my eyes at record speeds. The iPhone was invented in 2007. A mere thirteen years later, the entire world has changed; for inside of our pockets we now have access to every word and every image imaginable.
If Shlain’s theory that technological advancements in human communications lead to a lopsided reliance on the left brain’s attributes is true, then we find ourselves in such a moment right now. The amount of information streaming past a sizable portion of humanity is unprecedented. Moreover, many of the advancements Shlain takes you through in his book occurred over prolonged periods of time in history. The time between the advent of human speech and the alphabet is about approximately 50,000 years-a conservative estimate. The time between the invention of the alphabet (1000 BCE) and the printing press (1440 CE) is a few millennia. The time between the printing press and photography (1826 CE) is a mere 400 years. The time between photography and the first radio broadcast (1920 CE) is 100 years. The time between the first radio broadcast and the internet (1983 CE) is sixty years. The time between the invention of the internet and the smartphone (2007 CE)-you can see where I’m going. Whereas our ancestors had thousands of years and many, many generations to adapt between major shifts in communication technologies, we haven’t had even a generation between the various information innovations created since the photograph was invented. I got my first PC in 1984 and my first smartphone in 2008. Only 24 years between them! Thus, Moore’s law of circuit technology also applies to improvements in communications-we are in a phase of exponential change, and that affects the neurological balance within our brains. In this case, as more people come online, more brains go into a state of lopsidedness, aka madness.
This can be seen in the rising rates of anxiety, depression, trolling, irrationality, inability to discern truth from fiction, and impulsiveness. Take the pandemic-from those who claim masks are an infringement to their liberties to those who think we’re all going to die if we leave our houses-our minds are whirling and unable to meet in the middle. Here’s the catch, it is an infringement on your individual rights to be told what you have to wear, but we do it all the time for civilization’s sake. And we are all going to die eventually, whether from the current pandemic or something else. So find the balance, the best way to deal with the crisis, without making it sensational.
Worse, Shlain notes during these times of madness, we often cling to “a book”-the Bible, Torah, Quran, Communist Manifesto, Little Red Book, today it’s “science” or the latest YouTube edition for QANON. Perhaps I’m clinging to The Alphabet vs. the Goddess? We know deep down something is very wrong, so we scramble to figure out the cause of our failing civilization and look to a “book” or “data” to solve the issue for us.
But what if “the book” is part of the problem, not from a content point of view, but neurologically? What if the more information we stuff into our heads makes us crazy at a time when our brains actually need to be balanced? I opened this essay with a sutra from an old book, the Vinjnana Bhairava Tantra. Like all poetry, it appeals to the right brain, the place where we can solve puzzles with imagery. By replacing the archetypes of divine feminine and divine masculine for the right and left hemispheres of the brain, this sutra may point to a way of peace during these very intense times.
Inside of our skulls, the very essences of creation exist, for we are the ones who make the world better or worse. Our group madness can explode into fire and brimstone, or instead we can balance our brains and allow the two sides to love-play aka sport with one another, eventually leading to a sense of peace as our neurology comes back into balance.
How then, can we do this?
Continued in “The Gods are Crazy-And So Are We”
Originally published at https://nicolesallakanderson.com on December 3, 2020.