Where and when are the roots of our mythic alienation from Nature and our impulse to colonize landscapes, peoples, and ourselves?
A long while ago, I attempted something like a decolonization of the “Western mind” (with all the fallacies inherent in that) by way of healing ancestral trauma for European-descended folks. In those posts, I made sure to wind back to historical examples of how many cultures within the ancient European world were “colonized” by one power or another. My aim was to trace the shifting inheritance of this corrupting cultural impulse.
I landed somewhere in Rome, as it was a rather well known historical example and an early one, besides. But now I realize I did not go far enough. Rome was merely the imperialistic/militaristic manifestation of the colonial impulse. They “obtained it” from older cultures in the Mediterranean that possessed different forms of it. In this case, namely, the Greeks.
Though there was a brief moment of “imperial Hellenism” under Alexander the Great, his overwhelming and direct influence radiated eastwards only briefly. The distaste of his generals for “the Orientals” coupled with their inborn sense of superiority guaranteed that Alexander’s legacy turned passive and eventually waned. In many cases, it was subsumed by the existing and ancient cultures already present East of the Middle Sea.
For the Greeks, this impulse of colonialism was almost entirely philosophical and occupied the relationships between the civilized and barbarians (a term not yet used) and the civilized and Nature. Evident in every one of the famous Greek myths, the wilderness was often seen as dangerous and corrupt, not at all the proper domain of a thinking man, even less for dignified ladies. This attitude of opposition carried over to the Romans, and to every culture that was reborn from their imperial ashes down to us. The Olympians, often quite cosmopolitan gods, had already conquered the wilderness of monsters, giants, and Titans.
This early “colonial” attitude seems to have emerged and been shared by all pre-Collapse cultures of the Bronze Age. While the mental life of Myceneans, Assyrians, Minoans, and Egyptians–just to name a few–might have varied somewhat, each of them placed centrality of human beings and human endeavors upon the divine workings of Earth and Heaven. Their metaphysics were already somewhat removed from the life-giving soil and waters of their origins.
Mastery of the world and the spiritual elements can be seen clearly in two things: priestly castes and agriculture. In fact, any one with a cursory knowledge of early civilizations (and the invention of writing and centralized power) will be able to note the connection between religious officials and the growing of crops. The strongest lines of evidence here comes from the Near East, specifically in the city-states of Sumer.
And, with enough patience to gaze far back, one can see in the Fertile Crescent the origins of the colonial impulse, now very far removed from its expression in modern times. Taking into consideration the archaeological sites of Jericho, Catalhuyuk and Gobekli Tepe, the origins of our story come into focus. Here, humans first made the leap into domestication before social complexity and exploding populations. This feat is likely to have started with the first real priesthood of divine personage, and the ritual feasts and burials that brought minds together in ecstatic revelation. It is here that we first learn the impulse to classify ourselves above another–non-human beings like goats and einkorn–that eventually leads to European colonial empires and international extractive corporations.
Ever since writing those posts, I have been puzzling over the throughline connecting all of the insights here mentioned: a developing mindset that is now crippling our society. I think I’ve found it–allowing for future alterations, as needed. Now I understand the saga that has brought our world to revelations.