Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Building Babel

One of the oldest stories in the Bible, is the story of the Tower of Babel. Despite being the first significant postdiluvian event, even chronicled in other histories, it gets a scant 9 verses in The Holy Book. A forgotton lesson lies within. One that has as much bearing on the society of today is it did on the original society of the Postdiluvians.

King James Reads below.
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

For contrast and comparison of the scholars, Young's Literal
1 And the whole earth is of one pronunciation, and of the same words,
2 and it cometh to pass, in their journeying from the east, that they find a valley in the land of Shinar, and dwell there;
3 and they say each one to his neighbour, `Give help, let us make bricks, and burn [them] thoroughly:' and the brick is to them for stone, and the bitumen hath been to them for mortar.
4 And they say, `Give help, let us build for ourselves a city and tower, and its head in the heavens, and make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth.'
5 And Jehovah cometh down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men have builded;
6 and Jehovah saith, `Lo, the people [is] one, and one pronunciation [is] to them all, and this it hath dreamed of doing; and now, nothing is restrained from them of that which they have purposed to do.
7 Give help, let us go down, and mingle there their pronunciation, so that a man doth not understand the pronunciation of his companion.'
8 And Jehovah doth scatter them from thence over the face of all the earth, and they cease to build the city;
9 therefore hath [one] called its name Babel, for there hath Jehovah mingled the pronunciation of all the earth, and from thence hath Jehovah scattered them over the face of all the earth.

Here is the central themes as I interpret them.
Postdiluvian society is unified.
They take on the collective project of building a tower to heaven, not simply to be closer to God, but for their own glory as well.
God sees this project, and upon declaring that nothing could be denied from the unified people. . .
He injects differences in the form of language to promote disunity among them.
Disunity causes the project to be abandoned.

Why am I spending time on this. I think that some important philosophical points are clearly presented in Genesis that have fundamental impacts on our understanding of the state of man and society. We learn in Genesis the knowledge of good and evil is a departure from innocence that in one way makes us like God, but in another way sentences us to a life of difficulties and strife. Following the purge of evil that was the deluge, mankind is intent of joining Earth and Heaven, two kingdoms God had created as separate places, and undertakes an epic building project to do so. Heaven represents a perfect state of existence, God's perfect world. Earth on the other hand is what Earth is, full of joy and suffering, love and hate, feast and famine, as God intended it to be.

The arrogance that we here can unify Heaven and Earth, build the perfect unified society on Earth, is sheer folly. Mankind's differences that hinder our unity do not end with our differences in language. Point at any attribute of humanity, and you will find a distribution across mankind, varied as the spectrum itself, expressing that attribute.

Some are motivated, some lazy.
Some are smart, some are dull.
Some heed their fellow man, some are criminal at heart.
Some crave freedom, some find social constructs comforting.
Some are altruistic to a fault, some are selfish.

Throughout history, model after model of the "perfect society" has been proposed. All of these perfect societies suffer from the same flaw, they cannot, even feebly, compensate for the differences that pervade humanity. Every attempt suffers in inequity to some degree and subjection to another. The values of society determining the extent to which they will tolerate either. The folly in the modern world exists mainly on one side of the scales. Those who value freedom and individuality, except for a bare few, understand deeply the inherent limitations of man, and, what role the coercive will of the collective as it manifests as man's law must play in molding a society. We are each cannot be free to do as we please, and we must, to some degree, give over some of the fruits of our labor to the common good. Atheist and Believer see clearly the role of law even in a society that deeply respects the unique nature and will of every human.

The other side of the scale, those that value equity, often times worship a form of egalitarianism that places equality in every fundamental sense as not only an obtainable objective, but one that should be sought at all costs in what they think of as a fair society. They see each step that subjugates the individual to society bringing them ever closer to an egalitarian paradise. But inequity can not be driven from man, our curse from the tower, that we WILL be different in many ways, and those differences will reflect in our society. But the egalitarian continues enslaving the individual to the whole unabated each level of control bringing him closer though as with a hyperbolic function, as much can be gained with a few laws in promoting equity, the more laws made the less that is gained with each one. So the task remains elusive, just beyond the grasp of the egalitarian. And forevermore as they cannot accept the fundamental flaws of societies on God's earth, they will want just a little more control, just a little more, and they can reach it, perfection, Heaven brought to Earth will be achieved. The evils of man finally purged away.

This is why they cannot be humored. They cannot be trusted to measure their approach or moderate their view because they cannot accept that what they want they will never achieve. Because whatever unfairness exists, no matter how small is too much for them, and no amount of freedom lost is too big for the sacrifice at the alter bearing "=". So go warned as you encounter those who talk endlessly about the unfair. Ask them, how much? When can we stop enslaving the individual? When can we say we've done what we need to do to be "fair". Where does their pursuit end? How many laws, how much intrusion, what does the fair society they want look like so that we can stop the subjection? At what point is society fair enough for them? You might get interesting answers but more likely; as someone who values uniqueness, freedom, and individuality, discusses society with those who idolize egalitarianism and fairness, you will likely find that you just talk past each other, as if the words and ideas cannot be understood across the breach of air. As if you were speaking different languages all together. But then again, that is how it is supposed to be.