Freedom: Expanded Book 1–The Human Condition Explained
Part 3:11C Adventurous Adolescentman
The Adventurous Early Adulthood Stage of Adolescent Humanity
The Adventurous Adolescentman stage is the time we took up the battle to overthrow our idealistic instinctive self or soul’s ignorance as to the fact of our conscious self’s fundamental goodness.
The species: Homo erectus–1.5 to 0.5 million years ago
The individual: 21 to 30 year old
Drawing by Jeremy Griffith © 1991-2011 Fedmex Pty Ltd
By 21 years of age, after about six years of blocking out the negatives and focusing only on the tiny positives available to them, resigned humans finally adjusted to life in Resignation. In fact, by 21 both resigned and unresigned young adults were able to arm themselves sufficiently well with a positive attitude to commit themselves to the battle that humanity as a whole was involved in of gradually, step by step, generation by generation, working towards one day accumulating sufficient knowledge to be able to explain and liberate the human race from the human condition. Indeed, by 21 young adults had made sufficient adjustments to be raring to go, with men in particular having become so focused on the positive of the adventure of attempting to make a good fight of the battle to validate themselves through winning power, fame, fortune and glory that they were cavalier and swashbuckling. Naive about just how quickly overwhelming the battle was going to become, both resigned and unresigned males had plenty of strength and resilience–plenty of ‘rock-n-roll’. For their part, 21-year-old women had also become firmly focused on the few positives they had of the reinforcements they could receive from men for their physical beauty and of the satisfaction of being able to support men and nurture another generation of brave humans to carry on humanity’s heroic struggle. Hence the significance of the long-held tradition in Western societies to hold a so-called ‘coming of age’ party for offspring when they reached this milestone, at which they were typically given a ‘key’ symbolising that they were at last ready to leave home and ‘face the world’, and so with a big kiss from Mum and a slap on the back from Dad the young adult set off ‘to see what life held for them’. Interestingly, the fact that young adults were considered sufficiently adapted to life under the duress of the human condition to be considered independent at 21 rather than at the round figure of 20 is an indication of how precisely all these stages with ages occurred, and also how uniform and powerful the effects of the human condition have been.
Basically our 20s, during humanity’s adolescence, was the period when we began refining all the techniques we needed to cope with living with the horror of the human condition. In our teens we agonisingly adjusted to having accepted a life of living with upset, and in our 20s we took up the challenge of living out that life. The forebear who lived in humanity’s adventurous early adulthood stage was Adventurous Adolescentman, H. erectus, who existed between 1.5 million and 0.5 million years ago. Consistent with the description that has been given for this stage, fossil evidence has revealed that it was H. erectus who first adventured out from our ancestral home in Africa around 1.25 million years ago and migrated throughout the world.
It was during the one million year reign of Adventurous Adolescentman that humanity perfected the many techniques for coping with the human condition, techniques that have been part of human life for so long now we tend to think of them as having always been part of our species’ make-up, but all the methods of coping with life under the duress of the human condition had to be invented. We describe these ways of coping now as simply ‘human nature’, but in truth an immense and an amazing transition took place in our behaviour–especially amongst those who had resigned, who changed from living cooperatively, selflessly, lovingly and gently, to living competitively, aggressively and selfishly.
As mentioned, while humanity’s infancy and childhood was matriarchal or female-role led (because the nurturing of infants was the all-important activity during those stages), when the upsetting battle to defy our ignorant instincts and find understanding emerged during humanity’s adolescence our society became patriarchal or male-role led. As will be explained more fully when men and women are explained in Part 7:1, this change occurred because, with women preoccupied nurturing infants, it was men who had to take up the now all-important role of championing the conscious thinking self or ego over our instincts; it was men who were particularly charged with the extremely upsetting task of trying to defeat the ignorance of our instincts and prove that we humans are good and not bad–which is why men became so egocentric, combative and angry.
It is important to note, however, that while men have been so upset, they are far from being evil blights on Earth–indeed, they are the heroes of the story of life on Earth because they had to, and did, succeed in championing the conscious thinking mind over the ignorance of the instinctive state. One of the main reasons men are such heroes is because they had to endure being so misunderstood and misrepresented for so long, for the truth was not as it appeared. There was great meaning in the sparse, tightly written prose that the great American novelist Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) used to describe the stoic lives of men in his books; just consider these titles alone of some of his books: Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Winner Take Nothing, The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream. So Ernest, I write these few words of appreciation for you.
As briefly mentioned in Part 3:7, one of the first adaptions to living in the resigned embattled angry, egocentric and alienated state was that we changed from being a relatively peaceful vegetarian species to ruthless hunters of animals. The hunting and killing of animals was the first great expression of men’s upset anger and egocentricity. It has always been claimed that the hunting in the ‘hunter-forager’ lifestyle that characterised virtually the entire two million year period of humanity’s adolescence was primarily driven by the need for protein-rich food–a denial-complying belief that has so far protected upset humans from the condemning truth of the extreme aggression involved in hunting. But, in fact, research shows that 80 percent of the food consumed by existing hunter-foragers, such as the Bushmen of the Kalahari, is supplied by the women’s foraging (see Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers, eds. Richard B. Lee & Irven DeVore, 1976, p.115 of 408). So if providing food was not the reason, why did men hunt? The honest, unevasive answer is that hunting was men’s earliest ego outlet. Men attacked animals because their innocence, albeit unwittingly, unfairly criticised men’s lack of innocence; it condemned their upset aggressive lives. Also, by attacking, killing and dominating animals, men were demonstrating their power, which was a perverse way of demonstrating their worth. If men could not rebut the accusation that they were bad, they could at least find some relief from that guilt by demonstrating their superiority over their accusers. The exhibition of power was a substitute for explanation. This ‘sport’ of attacking animals, which were once our species’ closest friends, was, as just mentioned, one of the earliest expressions of our upset. One of the definitions given for ‘sport’ in the Encylopedic World Dictionary is ‘the pastime of hunting, shooting, or fishing with reference to the pleasure achieved: “we had good sport today”’ (1971). The ‘pleasure’ of hunting was of the perverse, sick kind, of attacking animals for their innocence and its implied criticism of us.
Anthropological evidence supports the notion that hunting is an aspect of fully conscious, upset Adolescentman, because it was during the time of H. erectus that the first signs of hunting appeared in the fossil record. All the anthropological evidence indicates Childman was a vegetarian, but with big game hunting came meat eating, an adaption that would have revolted our original instinctive self or soul since it involved eating our soul’s friends–even today, the act of killing animals, or just seeing animals get slaughtered, produces feelings of deep revulsion within us. But we weren’t to be put off and in time, as our increasingly upset and driven (to find ego relief) lifestyle developed, we became somewhat physically dependent on the high energy value of meat. (Again, as to whether the lifestyle of Adolescentman should be described as hunter-forager or forager-hunter, since the priority was the heroic search for knowledge and hunting provided men with some retaliatory relief from the criticism of the innocent world they had to live in, it should be described as hunter-forager.)
As upset increased, so too did men’s insecurity about being corrupted, as did, it follows, the need to combat that insecurity with whatever form of relieving reinforcement they could find. And since it was men who had to especially take on the responsibility of championing the conscious-thinking self or ego over the ignorance of our original instinctive self, it was men who particularly came to need reinforcement of their worth. In the case of resigned men, they particularly needed to seek out power, fame, fortune and glory. In the soundtrack to the 1986 African musical Ipi Tombi, the female narrator says, ‘The women had to do all the work because the men were so busy being big, strong and brave’ (Narration: Sesiya Hamba, Drinking Song, lyrics by Thandi Lephelile). This quote acknowledges just how preoccupied men eventually became in trying to prove their worth, in defeating the implication that they weren’t worthy. Men became so insecure/ego-embattled that in the end it was a case of ‘Give me liberty or give me death’, ‘No retreat, no surrender’, ‘Death before dishonour’, ‘Death or glory’–they just stood there refusing to do anything except receive glorification and adulation, which meant someone else (that is, women) had to do all the practical work if it was going to get done. The following two pictures, from Richard Borshay Lee and Irven DeVore’s Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers (1976), of the relatively innocent Bushman members of the present H. sapiens sapiens variety of humans, perfectly illustrate the situation. In the first picture women are shown gathering the aforementioned 80 percent of the food, in addition to nurturing the children–basically doing all the practical work–while the other photograph, titled Telling the Hunt, shows the men sitting around together with their backs contemptuously shunning innocent nature’s condemning presence as they boldly tell each other about their heroic conquests over innocent animals.
Photographs by Marjorie Shostak/Anthro
Photographs by Marjorie Shostak/Anthro
This destruction of innocence, such as the killing of animals, has been going on at all levels. In resigning, humans also destroyed the innocent soul in themselves by repressing it. And having turned on and attacked their innocent animal friends, men then turned on the relative innocence of their partners in life, women, and attacked that.
As will also be explained in Part 7:1, men perverted the act of procreation, inventing sex as in ‘fucking’ or violating or destroying or ruining or degrading or sullying the relative innocence of women. Prior to the perversion of ‘sex’, women weren’t viewed as sex objects and so nudity had none of the problems of attracting lust and so there was no need to conceal our nakedness with clothes. To quote the Bible, when Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of knowledge–set out in search of understanding–‘the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves’ (Gen. 3:7). Clothing was not originally designed to protect the body from cold as children have been evasively taught at school, but to restrain lust, to the extent that once we became extremely upset even the mere sight of a women’s ankle or face became dangerously exciting to men, which is why some societies demand that women be completely draped. The convention of marriage was invented as one way of containing this spread of upset. By confining sex to one life-long, monogamous relationship, the souls of the couple could gradually make contact and coexist, in spite of the sexual destruction involved in their relationship. As stated in the Bible, in marriage ‘a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one’ (Mark 10:7, 8.). Brief relationships kept souls repressed and spread soul repression–however, the more upset, corrupted, insecure and alienated humans became, the more they needed sexual distraction and reinforcement through sexual conquest (in the case of men) and sex-object attention (in the case of women), and thus the more difficult it became for both sexes to remain content in a monogamous relationship. The saying ‘the first cut [the first falling out of love] is the deepest’ is an acknowledgment of the deep and total commitment humans make to their first love. It reveals that the original, relatively innocent relationship between a man and a woman was monogamous. Since sex killed innocence, ideally (although impractical for the majority of the human race, who had to ensure the continuation of the species) if we wanted to free our soul from the soul-destroying hurt sex caused it we needed to be celibate; as Christ explained it, some priests ‘renounce marriage [for] the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 19:12).
But, while sex was an attack on innocence, an act of aggression, it was also one of the greatest distractions and releases of frustration and, on a higher level, an expression of sympathy, compassion and support–an act of love. The emotions involved in sexual relationships were also part of romance, part of the dream that the image of innocence in women could inspire of living ideally, of living free of the human condition. As mentioned earlier, men could dream that women were actually innocent and that, through that partnership, they could share in that innocent state, while for their part, women could use the fact that men were inspired by their image of innocence to delude themselves that they actually were innocent. Men and women could ‘fall in love’, let go of reality and dream of an ideal world. The beautiful lyrics of the song Somewhere, written by Stephen Sondheim for the blockbuster 1956 musical (and later film) West Side Story, perfectly describe the dream of the heavenly state of true togetherness that humans allow themselves to be transported to when they fall in love: ‘Somewhere / We’ll find a new way of living / We’ll find a way of forgiving / Somewhere // There’s a place for us / A time and place for us / Hold my hand and we’re halfway there / Hold my hand and I’ll take you there / Somehow / Some day / Somewhere!’ Cole Porter’s 1928 song Let’s Fall In Love also contains lyrics that reveal how falling in love is about allowing yourself to dream of the ideal state, of ‘paradise’: ‘Let’s fall in love / Why shouldn’t we fall in love? / Our hearts are made of it / Let’s take a chance / Why be afraid of it / Let’s close our eyes and make our own paradise.’
The effect of the ‘attraction’ of innocence–which has been the preserve of youth because the young hadn’t yet been exposed to all the upset in the world–for both dreaming through and for sexual destruction was that through the course of the two million year journey through our species’ adolescence our physical features became increasingly youthful looking or neotenous, as the increasingly child-like features of the skulls of the varieties of our Homo ancestors pictured in Part 3:11 evidence. The dramatic increase in neoteny from H. habilis to H. erectus reflects the dramatic increase in upset that took place once humanity set out on its search of understanding at the age-equivalent of 21, and the dramatic increase in neoteny from H. erectus to H. sapiens sapiens reflects the dramatic increase in upset that occurred when humanity entered the rapidly dis-integrating stage in the progression of upset in the last quarter of the exponential growth of upset’s development. Women were especially selected for their more innocent looking, neotenous, youthful, childlike features of a domed forehead, large eyes, snub nose and hairless body. Just how adapted women have now become to being sex objects can be seen in women’s magazines, which are almost entirely dedicated to showing women how to be ‘attractive’, which really means just better able to imitate the image of innocence. Women are now habituated and codependent to the reinforcement that men, for over two million years, have given their object self rather than their real self–for instance, they love to adorn themselves with beautiful objects, use make-up on their faces to increase their neotenous appearance, and wear high-heel shoes to give themselves the leggy, youthful, almost pubescent, ultra-innocent look.
In summary, since all forms of innocence unfairly criticised humans, all forms of innocence were attacked by upset humans, who not only attacked animals, but attacked nature in the broader sense because all of nature was a friend and ‘ally’ of our instinctive soul and therefore an ‘enemy’ of our apparently ‘bad’ conscious mind. There was even satisfaction in chopping down trees and setting fire to vegetation. The wearing of dark glasses ostensibly as sunshades was often an effort to alienate ourselves from the natural world that was alienating us–it was a rejection of, an attack on, the innocence of the daytime, of sunshine. The attacking and murdering of each other, and eventually outright, organised warfare, represented a dramatic escalation in our upset with the condemning innocence of the ideal world of our soul. But, as will be explained during the 40-year-old equivalent stage, this extremely destructive behaviour didn’t emerge until the latter period of our two million years in adolescence.
Of course, the more upset we became the more we needed ways to escape and relieve the trauma of our condition. We sought the material rewards of luxury and comfort to compensate for the high price we were having to pay of becoming corrupted. Later, when upset became extreme, materialism became one of the main driving forces or motivations in life. Glittering dresses, sparkling diamonds, bubbling Champagne, huge chandeliers, silver tea sets, big houses, swimming pools and shiny, pretentious cars gave us the fanfare and glory we knew was due us, but which the world in its ignorance would not give us. From being bold, challenging and confrontationist, the heroic 21-year-old eventually became embattled, cynical and exhausted, greatly in need of escapism and relief and thus an increasingly superficial and artificial person. We abandoned any idealistic hope of winning the battle to overthrow ignorance as to the fact of our true goodness and became realists, concerned only with finding relief and bestowing glory upon ourselves.
As mentioned earlier, while innocent Childmen were instinctively coordinated and connected, once upset, especially alienation, developed, language became a necessity. With alienation differing from one person to another there became a need to try to explain ourselves, to explain why we were behaving differently, in such a seemingly non-ideal manner. In fact, talking became the key vehicle for justifying ourselves, both in our minds and to others. But since we couldn’t speak directly about the human condition, or about other people’s particular states of alienation without overly confronting and condemning them, stories became a way of passing on knowledge, or what we call wisdom, about the subtleties of living under the duress of the human condition. Much later, with the development of the written word about 6,000 years ago, the fundamental quest for self-justification became greatly assisted because the wisdom acquired during each generation could be more accurately recorded, which meant that quite suddenly the accumulation of knowledge gained real impetus. And throughout the journey through humanity’s adolescence the need to somehow explain and justify ourselves with words, both oral and written, became increasingly sophisticated with the invention of all kinds of excuses and lies. The industry of denial became one of the main features of our behaviour; indeed, the extreme denials that have taken place in science about our species’ innocent, upset-free, psychologically secure and happy past bear stark witness to just how sophisticated the art of denial became.
At this point in our journey, other forms of self-expression, such as art and music, became particularly useful because, unlike language and stories, their message wasn’t as clear and therefore as potentially confronting. Each person could derive as much meaning from the art or the music or even the dance and other cultural rituals as they could personally cope with. On the whole, culture essentially encompassed the various ways people passed on, from one generation to the next, the knowledge they had learnt about living under the duress of the human condition. More will be said about cultural traditions shortly.
Although the oldest known cave paintings are just 35,000 years old, archaeologists working in Zambia announced in 2000 that they had found pigments and paint grinding equipment believed to be between 350,000 and 400,000 years old. At the time of the discovery it was reported that the find showed that ‘Stone Age man’s first forays into art were taking place at the same time as the development of more efficient hunting equipment, including tools that combined both wooden handles and stone implements…[and that it was evidence of] the development of new technology, art and rituals’ (BBC World News, 2 May 2000). The British archaeologist Lawrence Barham, a member of the team in Zambia, described the find as the ‘earliest evidence of an aesthetic sense’ and that ‘It also implies the use of language’ (ibid). As explained, language would have emerged with alienation because people would have then needed some way to account for their unnatural behaviour to each other, and, since we can expect alienation to have begun soon after the emergence of Homo, we can assume that at least a rudimentary language would have been practiced by H. habilis. The oldest musical instruments found so far, phalange (bone) whistles, show that Neanderthals, the early variety of H. sapiens sapiens, were making music around 80–100,000 years ago, while a Neanderthal burial site at the Shanidar Cave in Iraq, estimated to be around 50,000 years old, contains traces of pollen grains, indicating that bouquets of flowers were buried with the corpses. The creative and aesthetic sense of our ancestors of nearly half a million years ago, as indicated by the pigments and paint grinding equipment, suggests that the creative and spiritual sensitivities demonstrated by the Neanderthals were in existence long before their time.
I find the extreme sensitivity that is particularly apparent in the rock paintings of the Bushman of southern Africa and Australian Aborigines, and in the cave paintings of early humans in Europe, especially revealing of how much innocence the human race has lost in relatively recent times. In order to draw the little pictures that have been included throughout this written presentation, I learnt long ago that I have to disconnect my conscious mind and just let my instinctive sensitivity express itself, and that if I don’t do that I simply can’t draw at all. For example, the drawing of the three childmen happily embracing that I used to illustrate humanity’s Childhood stage earlier was done so quickly I shocked myself because I could hardly believe that such an empathetic drawing could be produced from an almost instant scribble. At that moment I saw just how much sensitivity we once had, and how much alienation now exists within us two-million-years-embattled humans. The extraordinary empathy and accuracy of the paintings of animals in the rock and cave paintings I referred to above are similarly incredibly revealing of the amount of sensitivity we humans once had and have since lost. We are such an embattled species now, so worn out, so brutalised, so toughened. How extremely sensitive must early humans have been! Sir Laurens van der Post wasn’t exaggerating when he wrote that ‘He [the Bushman] and his needs were committed to the nature of Africa and the swing of its wide seasons as a fish to the sea. He and they all participated so deeply of one another’s being that the experience could almost be called mystical. For instance, he seemed to know what it actually felt like to be an elephant, a lion, an antelope, a steenbuck, a lizard, a striped mouse, mantis, baobab tree’ (The Lost World of the Kalahari, 1958, p.21 of 253).
The Chauvet Cave in southern France contains a wealth of Neolithic cave drawings that, as one reviewer of them described it, are ‘miraculous’, ‘overwhelming in density, humbling in sophistication, and awe-inspiring in sheer beauty’ (The Goddess Bites, accessed 14 Oct. 2011 at: ). The drawings, some of which are reproduced here (see next images), are made of charcoal and, in some cases, red ochre. Carbon dating shows that the earliest of the paintings are around 32,000 years old. Only discovered in 1991, the cave was sealed by a rockslide some 28,000 years ago, so its contents are pristine. What struck me most when watching the German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s wonderful 2010 3D film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, on the Chauvet Cave drawings, was the extraordinary empathy the artists exhibited towards the bison, mammoth, horses, rhinoceroses, lions, bears and other animals that they so effortlessly drew in the cave–some of the drawings even appear to be animated, such as the rhinoceros depicted throwing his horn forward. When our mind becomes preoccupied with upset, with psychosis and neurosis, it loses the ability to take an interest in anything else. The pain in our brain stops us feeling or seeing or engaging in our surroundings; recall Plato’s depiction of our human-condition-afflicted state of alienation or estrangement from the true world that our original instinctive self or soul has complete access to–he described it as living in a dark cave where we can only ‘see dimly and appear to be almost blind’ (see Part 3:10). Our brain is distracted from everything else that is happening in the world. The more upset that our mind is preoccupied with, either trying to understand or, if the upset is extreme, constantly trying to block out, the less we can access all the other events and experiences going on around us. So, as the human race became more and more upset, so its ability to feel and savour the world around it shrank. For example, later in Part 6:4 I describe how power addicts–adults who as children had to stand up to tyrannical parents, especially tyrannical fathers, and, as a result, became psychologically exceptionally preoccupied trying to prove they are good and not bad–are typically described as ‘lacking any ability to empathise with others’. So although the humans responsible for the drawings in the Chauvet Cave were not anything like as upset-free/innocent as humans were two million years ago when upset first began to develop in earnest, their ability to draw the animals around them so vividly indicates they were much, much more innocent than humans today. Clearly alienation has increased at an extremely rapid rate in the final stages of humanity’s two-million-year journey through adolescence.
When all the upset in humans heals, as it now will with understanding of the human condition now found, the world is going to open up for us. We are going to be able to feel everything around us. We are going to have so much kindness and love and empathy for each other and our fellow creatures because we will, once again, be able to feel everything they are experiencing, including just how embattled the lives of other animals are. While, through the nurturing, love-indoctrination process that was explained in Part 3:4, our primate ancestors were able to break free from the tyranny of genes having to ensure their own reproduction, other animals are stuck having to continually compete for food, shelter, space and a mate; unlike humans, they can’t develop full unconditionally selfless cooperative instincts. And so, in these amazing drawings of animals, above all else, it is this empathy with, this feeling for, the relatively short, brutish, forever-having-to-fight-for-your-chance-to-reproduce lives of animals that those who made these drawings have so sensitively expressed. To use Sir Laurens’ words, they ‘seemed to know what it actually felt like to be’ a bison, rhinoceros or horse. You can sense the whole internal struggle of the animals’ lives in these drawings. Their huge chests heave with their brutal and tough battle to survive–they are struggling so much to endure their lot that it is as if they have asthma! One day, when we humans get over the terrible agony of our ‘human condition’, we will again be able to empathise with the terrible agony of the ‘animal condition’. It’s not very nice to have to belt the living daylights out of others to ensure your genes reproduce, let alone other members of your own species–in fact, your cousins, uncles and even your own father! No, it is not at all easy being a non-human animal, and that is an extreme understatement, just as it has not been at all easy being a human, which is, of course, another extreme understatement! In those who made these drawings there is not the alienation that now exists in us humans that separates us from having an awareness of what it’s like to be one of these animals. In his commentary in his film, Werner wonders whether the paintings ‘somehow [show] the beginning of the modern human soul’, but in truth they show the last remnants of our all-sensitive human soul. At least Werner gets it right at the very end of the documentary when, in showing footage of mutant albino crocodiles who live in a tropical biosphere that has been created by the surplus warm water from a nuclear power plant that has been built some 20 miles from the cave, he asks, ‘Are we today possibly the crocodiles who look back into an abyss of time when we see the paintings of Chauvet cave?’ Yes, these paintings certainly reveal how alienated we are now.
As I mentioned, while the Paleolithic artists clearly weren’t as alienated as we humans are today, they still had to be much, much more alienated than humans originally were. I think this is revealed by the fact that these cave artists almost completely avoided depicting humans. In the entire Chauvet Cave complex there is only one representation of a human, and even that is limited to a drawing of only the bottom half of a woman’s torso. On the few occasions when these cave artists tried to draw humans they almost invariably ended up drawing stick figures. The human face, in particular, which you would think would be the most interesting and relevant of subjects for these artists to depict, seems to have been totally beyond their ability. It seems clear that the facial expressions of humans were by then so alienated, so devoid of the innocence that they must have once exhibited, that our instinctive self or soul couldn’t relate to it; it couldn’t draw us. The artist Francis Bacon revealed just how visibly corrupted we really are in his deadly honest painting of the psychologically-twisted-smudged-face alienated human condition that was included at the beginning of Part 3:11B. Also included in that Part was Sir Laurens van der Post’s honest description of the physical effects of alienation, when he described the psychologically devastated River Bushmen as having ‘faces…[that] were strangely uneven as if each one belonged to a different race from which he had been torn by a violent fate’.
But it’s not just these River Bushmen who have been ‘torn by a violent fate’ from their soulful moorings–that is the reality of the entire human race. When looking at some Aboriginal rock paintings, thought to be some 2,000 years old, at Ubirr in the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia, I asked the guide, who was accompanying a tour group, whether she thought the reason the paintings of wildlife were so accurate while the paintings of the humans were so pathetic was because we are now too alienated for our soul to be able to empathise with us. I remember the guide, and everyone else, reacting with a real shudder and audible choking noise–what I had said was just too close to the truth.
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In light of my comment above, about the River Bushmen being ‘psychologically devastated’, I should context comments that I made earlier when I spoke of the relative innocence of the Bushmen race that still exists today. The Bushmen’s ability to paint eland with the empathetic sensitivity that is so evident in the painting (see previous image, bottom left) is another indicator, like the happiness and zest for life of the unmolested, natural living Bushmen I mentioned earlier, that the Bushmen are a relatively innocent, relatively non-upset, relatively soul-preserved race. However, for their souls not to be able to relate to and thus draw themselves indicates that they are far more ‘psychologically devastated’ or upset than original, fully soulful, innocent humans were. The fact that the life of the Bushmen is so focused on hunting shows that they are indeed very upset, even if they are not as far along the exhaustion curve as other races today. After all, the Bushmen are, like the artists who drew the animals in the Chauvet and Lascaux caves, and on the Ubirr rocks, modern humans, members of the extremely upset genus, Homo sapiens sapiens.
It is truly an insight into how sensitive and loving we humans once were that our instinctive self or soul can’t relate to the way we humans are now. Consider the tenderness in the expression on the face of the Madonna in the drawing of the Madonna and child that was included at the beginning of the Infancy stage in Part 3:11A. My soul drew that–I, my conscious self, had nothing to do with it. Truly, as William Wordsworth wrote, ‘trailing clouds of glory do we come, From God [the integrated, loving, all-sensitive state], who is our home’ (Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, 1807). And people say we humans have brutish, aggressive instincts! It’s the world we humans currently live in that is mad. It is just so traumatised with upset that it hasn’t been able to deal with the fact that it is deeply, deeply dishonest, horrifically alienated. What did the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), one of the modern world’s most accomplished artists, famously say about his ability to paint: ‘It’s taken me a lifetime to learn to paint like a child.’ And what did R.D. Laing say, ‘between us and It [our true self or soul] there is a veil which is more like fifty feet of solid concrete’. Turn on the television and find a wildlife documentary and I bet it will show pictures of crocodiles on the Mara River tearing wildebeest apart, or white sharks devouring seals, or snakes striking at the camera lens. All the beauty in nature has been reduced to representations of butchery and horror because we humans have become so upset all we can cope with are pictures of animals ‘being’ as aggressive as we are, everything else in nature is far too confronting. I have been to natural Africa and seen its spectacle, and the sheer magic of it all surpasses all imaginings; it is just achingly beautiful, the most sacred realm on Earth–‘spiritual amnesia’ are the only words I can think of to describe it and they don’t even make sense. My partner Annie and I have sat hidden amongst the trees on the banks of the Tiva sand river in Tsavo National Park in Kenya and seen dust rise above the tree line in the shimmering midday heat and then watched as a vast herd of black Cape buffalo, led by an old crooked horn cow, quietly materialised from the bush, cautiously coming down to drink at pools in the river bed. I really felt like a spy in heaven. It was all just unbelievable. The Earth at its primal, spiritual, authentic, soulful, magical very best. I think God was there beside us sitting on his heels like a little Bushman smiling at all that he had created. With our sophisticated communication technology, why oh why don’t we have documentaries sensitively immersing us in all of that. It is so sad. We haven’t been able to cope with any truth. Our world has shrunk to the size of a pea. All the beauty and magic that is out there escapes us, we don’t see it; worse, we don’t want to see it. No wonder our soul can’t relate to us and just draws stick figures with weird blobs for faces.
© Fedmex Pty Ltd 1992
Similar to what happens when I draw, in my writing I have also learnt to, as I describe it, ‘think like a stone’, or ‘think like a child’–say the simplest, most elementary thought–because I learnt that such a thought will be the most truthful and accurate and accountable and explanatory. Absolutely every time I encounter a problem I have to solve in my thinking about the human condition I go into a routine where I say to myself, ‘Just go into yourself and think like a stone, just let the truth come out that’s within and you will have the answer.’ Basically, I learnt to trust in and take guidance from my truthful instinctive self or soul. I learnt to think honestly, free of intellectual bullshit, and all the answers, all the insights that I have found, and there are many hundreds of them, were found this way. Indeed, I know every sentence I write is truth-laden, in complete contrast to the millions of sentences being churned out every second everywhere else on Earth. It is the innocent instinctive child in us that knows the truth. As usual, Christ put it perfectly when he said, ‘you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children’ (Matt. 11:25). Albert Einstein also recognised the mental integrity of the young when he famously said that ‘every child is born a genius’; the American architect and philosopher Richard Buckminster Fuller similarly said, ‘There is no such thing as genius, some children are just less damaged than others’ (NASA Speech, 1966), and ‘All children are born geniuses. 9999 out of every 10,000 are swiftly, inadvertently de-geniused by grown-ups’ (Education for Human Development: Understanding Montessori, by Mario M. Montessori Jr., Paula Polk Lillard & Buckminster Fuller, 1987, Foreword); while R.D. Laing noted that ‘Each child is a new beginning, a potential prophet [denial-free, honest, truthful, effective thinker]’ (The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, 1967, p.26 of 156). Laing also pointed out that ‘Children are not yet fools, but [by our treatment of them] we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high I.Q.’s if possible’ (ibid. p.49). Sigmund Freud was another who recognised the problem of the alienated adult/modern human mind, writing, ‘What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult’ (The Freud Reader, ed. P. Gay, 1995, p.715). Many exceptionally creative people have made statements to the effect that genius is the ability to think like a child. As just mentioned, one of the most accomplished artists of all time, Pablo Picasso, famously said (about his struggle to paint well) that ‘It’s taken me a lifetime to learn to paint like a child.’ Truly, our species’ original instinctive self or soul, which the innocence of children still has access to, is wonderfully orientated to the cooperative, integrative, ‘Godly’, loving, ideal, truthful state. We do indeed come ‘trailing clouds of glory…From God, who is our home’.
Interestingly, a comment that was included earlier, by the biographer George Seaver on the theologian, missionary and physician Albert Schweitzer, reiterates what I have just said about natural thinking: ‘Naturalness. That is the keynote of Schweitzer’s thought, life, and personality. The ultimate thought, the thought which holds the clue to the riddle of life’s meaning and mystery, must be the simplest thought conceivable, the most natural, the most elemental, and therefore also the most profound’ (Albert Schweitzer The Man and His Mind, 1947, p.311).
It was bad enough to have acquired a fully conscious brain, the marvellous computer we have on our heads, and not be given the program for it and instead be left to wander this Earth searching for that program/understanding in a terrifying darkness of confusion and bewilderment, most especially about our worthiness or otherwise as a species, but to then have to be disconnected from access to the ideal, ‘Godly’, cooperatively orientated, integrative, all-loving and all-sensitive, truthful world of our original instinctive self or soul–having to block it out because it unjustly condemned us–meant we have been enduring an extraordinarily lonely, sad existence! It follows that it became a matter of great urgency for the increasingly upset human race to find ways to cope with the utter devastation and loneliness of our situation.
Having repressed our soul because it condemned us, a counter need developed to reconnect with it, to find our way back to purity and sanity, and one way we managed to do so was by creating one of the earliest forms of religion, namely animism or nature worship–religion being the strategy of putting our faith in, deferring to, and looking for comfort, reassurance and guidance from something other than our overly upset and overly soul-estranged conscious thinking egoic self. Unlike our upset soul-destroyed self, the natural world remained in an innocent state, and since nature was also associated with our original instinctive self because our species grew up with nature, it could also reconnect us to the innocent, true world of our soul. So, despite our upset state’s often violent repudiation of nature’s condemning innocence, nature could still link us back to repressed ‘spiritual’, soul-infused sensitivities, feelings and awarenesses within us that we had lost access to.
Another way that developed to counter the loneliness of our situation, and this was also one of the earliest forms of religion, was ancestor worship. Having managed to survive our mind’s loneliness and our soul’s estrangement, our ancestors were a source of great reassurance and comfort. In our uncertainty and distress, we could look to them for the hope that we too might survive the horror of life under the duress of the human condition. We could look to them for ‘spiritual’ guidance, for inspiration for our troubled minds. If we tried to imagine how they coped and what they would have done in situations that we now faced, we could be inspired to reach potentials within ourselves that our troubled minds might not otherwise have allowed us access to. By revering them and cultivating their memories, our ancestors could remain a presence in our lives to look after and guide us. Prior to developing writing and with it the ability to very effectively pass on and accumulate knowledge, especially knowledge about how to cope with being a human, we had to depend on the oral communication of knowledge through stories that were easily recalled, and on the memories of our ancestors who embodied that accumulated knowledge.
Rituals involving pantomimes and the use of visual totems and objects like masks also helped build a cultural tradition that could reassure and guide us from one generation to the next. It follows that since masks are representations of the human face they should be extremely revealing of our species’ whole psychological condition, which they are.
As has been described at length, there are two fundamental aspects to the human condition: the tragic repression of our original all-loving and all-sensitive instinctive self or soul, and the extremely angry state of the unjustly condemned conscious thinking egoic intellect. In the day to day lives of humans living under the duress of the human condition the truth of the extent to which our soul has been brutally repressed has been hidden from view. Similarly, the depth of the anger of our conscious mind has also been mostly restrained and contained and thus also not often revealed. We learnt to be, as we say, civilised; we tried not to let the true extent of our corrupted, upset state show. So, for the most part, we went about in a state of extremely artificial and superficial pretence that we were sound, secure, well-adjusted, sane and happy people. We went to great lengths to conceal our extremely tortured, disfigured, soul-dead, furiously angry real condition. While this denial of the truth of our condition saved the upset human race from unbearable self-confrontation, the extreme dishonesty, artificiality and superficiality of living that way could also become unbearable–psychologically and then physically sickening in fact, at which point some purging, cathartic, exorcising honesty was needed. The wearing of masks that revealed the true depth of how either soul-dead or ferociously angry we upset humans had become was a powerfully effective way of bringing some relieving, therapeutic honesty to our lives. It comes as little surprise then that masks have, in fact, been used in the ceremonies of almost all cultures.
The Greeks call masks ‘ekstasis’, a word which means ‘to stand outside oneself’. It follows that when we stood outside our self we were, in turn, looking into our self and seeing the real devastation that R.D. Laing spoke of when he referred to the ‘fifty feet of solid concrete’ that now exists between us and our original soulful true self. The term ‘mask’ is actually derived from the term msk, which was used in the middle Egyptian period to denote ‘second skin’. That ‘second skin’ that the mask sought to exorcise was our soul-corrupted, immensely upset, human-condition-afflicted real state. Masks allowed the wearer to momentarily relieve themselves of their extremely dishonest everyday masquerade of being a secure, sound, well-adjusted, happy person, and let the truth out, which could be very therapeutic for both the wearer and the observer.
By far the most common variety of masks are those that reveal the true extent of the, in truth, volcanic, demonic anger inside of humans. The following are some examples.
Masks that focused on revealing and exorcising the other aspect in the duality of the human condition, of the extent of the devastation of our cooperative, integrative, ‘Godly’, all-loving and all-sensitive original instinctive self or soul, were always going to be rarer than masks that revealed the extent of our intellect’s anger. This is because the more upset humans became, the more we replaced any sensitive, inward-focusing, introspective awareness and concern about our loss of soulful innocence with an increasing need to get even with the world for its unjust condemnation, at which point outward-focusing, egocentric ferocious anger became the dominant concern and orientation of life–which is why masks that exorcise ferocious anger predominate. Put simply, the more upset we humans became, the less we wanted to be reminded of how soul-dead we had become, which means that any masks that did reveal how estranged from our soul we humans have become were going to be few and far between, if not non-existent. In fact, in my research I have not yet found any masks that seem to me to have the specific intention of revealing and exorcising the truth of how soul-dead we humans really are–however, what I have found are masks that were made for another purpose but which happen to reveal how soul-destroyed we are.
The pictures that follow are of a selection of these truly extraordinary masks that were made by a few central African Bantu/ black/ negro tribes who practiced ancestor worship. These examples were chosen from many, in some cases hundreds, of very similar masks from each of what appear to be the main tribes who crafted these particular ancestor masks. For example, the website of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium (<>) displays some 800 of these masks that were collected between the late 1800s and the early 1900s from tribes living in or around the Congo River basin, and if you glance through them you will see that the samples I have chosen are not at all unique, but, in fact, typical of all the masks.
To explain the meaning behind these masks, I first need to present a brief description of the tribes that made them.
The Fang tribe are warrior-like people who spread over a large area encompassing the forests of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon along the Atlantic Coast. Fang masks ‘typically are large elongated covered with [white] kaolin [clay] and featuring a face that was usually heart-shaped with a long fine nose. Apparently it has been linked with the dead since white is their color…[Skull fragments, or sometimes complete skulls, of ancestors] would be consulted when the village was to change location, or when a new crop was planted…or before going hunting, fishing, or to war…[Representations of the ancestors] also served for therapeutic rituals and, above all, for the initiation of young males’ (Rebirth African Art Gallery, accessed Aug. 2011 at: <>).
The Lega are another war-like tribe who, in the sixteenth century, migrated down from modern Uganda to their present location in the virgin forests of eastern Congo, near Burundi. In their society ‘both men and women aspire to moral authority by gaining high rank in the bwami association…[who] regulate the social, religious and political life of the Lega…Circumcision [initiation] was an indispensable process that allowed entrance into the bwami (African Art Museum, accessed Aug. 2011 at: <>). ‘The highest rank of Bwami…is directly associated with the skulls of the ancestors, which are placed in a hut at the center of the village…[and] are not exposed to public eye’ (Art & Life in Africa, accessed Aug. 2011 at: >). ‘Masks with heart-shaped, concave faces painted with white pigment are owned, in some areas, by every male member of the [most advanced levels] of the bwami association’ (African Art Museum, accessed Aug. 2011 at: <>).
The Chokwe tribe were once one of the twelve clans of the great Lunda Empire of seventeenth and eighteenth century Angola. They have since spread over a wide area of eastern Angola, southern Congo and Zambia. ‘They are vigorous and courageous hunters and agriculturalists, who used formerly to engage in the slave trade…Masks are used during investiture ceremonies of a chief and sacrifices to the ancestors…[and] play a role in male initiation…training [which] lasts from one to two years. Boys between the ages of eight and twelve are secluded in a camp in the wilderness, away from the village. There they are circumcised and spend several months in a special lodge where they are instructed in their anticipated roles as men. As part of their instruction, the boys are taught the history and traditions of the group and the secrets associated with the wearing and making of masks…The eyes closed to narrow slits [of masks] evoke those of a deceased person’ (African Art Museum, accessed Aug. 2011 at: <>).
Originally from Angola, the Pende people relocated to southern Congo in the beginning of the seventeenth century. The Pende ‘ancestors are placated through various rituals and offerings. The family head is responsible for taking care of the shrines and appeasing the spirits…when ancestors are neglected they cause bad things to happen…Pende masks…appear in ceremonies such as millet-planting celebration or circumcision and initiation ritual, and the ritual of enthronement of a chief. There are two styles: the western one of the Kwilu with its mbuya mask characterized by a somber, gloomy expression; and the Kasai style that is more geometric and colorful. The Kwilu Pende are especially well known for their masks that were originally used for circumcision ceremonies’ (African Art Museum, accessed Aug. 2011 at: >).
The Woyo tribe of Africa, who left the Congo River cataracts area sometime prior to the fifteenth century, live along the Atlantic coast in Congo and Angola near the mouth of the Congo River. ‘Masks are used during initiations, funerals of important individuals or may have social control functions or are used by diviners and healers…The subtle relief carving of the face with the down turned mouth with teeth was painted a dots color applied by fingertips to further set it off from the face painted a startling white to indicate understanding and knowledge. This use of color reflects the complex symbolism of color…such as red for bravery, male potency or black for darkness and white to illustrate illumination and knowledge or femininity, fertility and social harmony. White also makes reference to female ancestral spirits’ (Africa Direct, accessed Aug. 2011 at: <>).
I have included these details because while I, and those helping with this research, have found only one suggestion in the literature to indicate that these extraordinary masks are meant to represent the white skulls of deceased ancestors, I think it’s clear from these descriptions that that is, in fact, what they are. Such sacred importance is placed on the skulls of ancestors that for the Lega ‘the skulls of the ancestors, which are placed in a hut at the center of the village…are not exposed to public eye’, with ‘Masks with heart-shaped, concave faces painted with white pigment…owned…by every male member of the’ elite. The description of the Fang mask mentioned that the ‘color’ ‘white’ is ‘linked with the dead’. The Chokwe quote also mentioned that ‘The eyes closed to narrow slits [in their masks] evoke those of a deceased person.’
Interestingly, the most distinctive feature of a human skull is its large eye sockets, which clearly the ‘heart-shaped, concave faces’ of almost all the masks I have seen from these tribes capture, but the problem for an artist is that if they don’t put eyes in the concave sockets the face has no feeling or emotional presence, which is needed if a connection is to be forged with the ancestor they represent. On the other hand, if the artist places round eyes into the concave socket to give it presence the mask takes on the appearance of a living person, not a dead ancestor; this ‘awake’ effect is apparent in two of the masks in the photo of the Lega collection above. It seems clear that the answer to this problem was to make the eyes slits, so that the mask still represented the skull of a deceased person, but was not vacant and devoid of presence–which is why ‘eyes closed to narrow slits evoke those of a deceased person’.
As such, I think these masks are clearly representations of the skulls of ancestors that were used in the very important ritual of ancestor worship. But while the veneration of ancestors has been practiced by many, if not most, tribal peoples around the world, these ancestor skull masks, from these few tribes from the Congo River region of Africa, are the only ones I have found. The question this raises is why haven’t other tribes around the world made ceremonial mask representations of the skulls of their ancestors? I think the very good reason is because, as mentioned earlier, the more upset people became the more unbearable it became to confront the truth of how soul-dead they were, and these skull masks of deceased ancestors are far too evocative of the death of our soul. So while these masks were clearly made to represent the skulls of deceased ancestors, their accidental effect was to reveal the hidden truth of how soul-destroyed we immensely upset humans really are. The sadness, the emptiness, the grief-stricken bereavement in the expressions of these African masks is overwhelming. It is like the face of a human stripped of all facades–the human condition rendered bare. If we compare the Fang mask, for example, with the face of the boy who, the day before, had lost all his classmates in a plane crash (pictured in Part 3:8), what we see are two identical expressions–the same deeply sobered, drained-pale, long-faced, hollowed-out-cheeks, gaunt and empty, all-pretences-and-facades-stripped-away, pained-tragic-human-condition-laid-bare countenance.
Given their long agricultural history and war-like, opportunistic nature, the Bantu Africans who made these masks were obviously not as innocent as the Bushmen, but, nevertheless, they must have been relatively innocent to tolerate the making of masks that evoke such incredibly confronting honesty about the death of our soul. I can’t imagine extremely upset races coping with such honesty in their everyday lives, even if that honesty wasn’t intentional. But not only did these Bantu people tolerate the confronting honesty of these masks in their midst, they cultivated it, encouraged it, ultimately developing it into an extremely sophisticated, stylised art form. Of course, having been able to tolerate the inadvertent honesty of these masks, these tribes would have also benefited from the exorcism of the truth of the loss of soul that the masks then facilitated. These masks are absolutely extraordinarily revealing and thus exorcising of the tragic, lonely, sad demise of our true, all-loving original instinctive self or soul. It has been suggested that the long face of some of these masks symbolises ‘the soberness of one’s duty that comes with power’ (<>, accessed Dec. 2010), but I suspect that what happened is that once these obviously extremely soul-guided and thus talented artists recognised the accidental therapeutic value of their art they deliberately developed it–some of their creations are just too powerfully honest for there to be any other interpretation.
Another illustration of the relative innocence of these Bantu Africans is that not one of the many hundreds of their masks that I have seen appears to exorcise anger. Amongst the collection held at the Royal Museum for Central Africa, I did find some masks that showed ferocious aggression, but when looking at their origins it turned out they were either from Mexico or from the Iroquois Indians of North America. Another interesting observation I made when looking at the RMCA collection and that of other museums was that the masks that were made by Bantu tribes from further north in Africa, such as Nigeria, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), all seemed to be missing the authentic connection to reality and truth that the masks from the Congo region exhibited. The sensitive presence so apparent in the Congo masks was gone, replaced by superficial, bland, inane expressions, even silly looking smiles and, often as not, by completely mad, demonic grimaces. But at a certain point in the development of upset that is what happened–people’s psychological situations became so messed up they lost all moorings to anything real. Perhaps the Arab slave traders who had been coming down on raids from the north of Africa for centuries, and the Europeans who followed them, corrupted the Bantu in these central northern areas at a faster rate than those who were situated further south. Of course, the Bantu down in the Congo region were also horrifically brutalised for forty years, from 1880 to 1920, by Belgian colonisers who not only employed such horrific tactics as chopping off villagers’ hands to intimidate the rest of the village into gathering ivory and rubber from the forests, but also exposed them to the outside world and the trauma of having their numbers decimated by diseases that they had never before been exposed to and therefore had not built up any resistance to, such as smallpox–but, despite such incursions, perhaps their prolonged isolation from exploitation and disease allowed the Congolese to remain more innocent than their northern relatives.
Overall, as is talked about later in Part 7:4, upset has been overrunning, oppressing and often replacing innocence since upset first appeared. As Sir Laurens van der Post mentioned earlier, the Bushmen of the Kalahari were, in turn, decimated by the Bantu who were, as just mentioned, brutalised by the Arabs and the Europeans. The Biblical story of Cain and Abel perfectly summarises what has been happening: ‘Abel kept flocks, [he lived the nomadic life of a shepherd, staying close to nature and innocence] and Cain worked the soil [he cultivated crops and domesticated animals and as a result was able to become settled and through greater interaction with other humans and being more removed from innocent nature became increasingly upset]…Cain was [became] very angry, and his face was downcast [he became depressed about his upset state and]…Cain attacked his [relatively innocent and thus unwittingly exposing, confronting and condemning] brother Abel and killed him’ (Gen. 4:2, 5, 8). Only the finding of understanding of the human condition was going to stop the march to ever greater levels of upset. And absolutely thank goodness it has finally arrived.
To return, however, to discussing these incredible masks from around the Congo River basin, the truth of the loss of our soul that these masks helped to reveal must have been especially relieving for the adolescents amongst these tribes who were undergoing the initiation into adulthood, namely negotiating Resignation–for as the description for each of the tribes mentions, these masks were also used in initiation/Resignation rituals. Recall in Part 3:8 how much it helped the art critic Robert Hughes to find that etching of Goya’s The sleep of reason brings forth monsters when he was negotiating Resignation. Well, I doubt that an adolescent who was going through Resignation could find anywhere in the world an expression that captured the agony they were going through more accurately than the ivory Lega mask; I have never seen such a pure representation of inner suffering.
This further quote about the use of these masks in initiation ceremonies is interesting, especially its reference to the ‘energy’ of resigning adolescents being ‘dangerous and destabilizing to society’. Adults have always been unable to cope with the agony and distress that adolescents went through when negotiating Resignation, and have, as a result, sought to assist, if not force, the adolescent through to resigned adulthood as directly as possible; as mentioned, the Chokwe even started this ‘danger’-avoiding process when their children were ‘eight’ years old: ‘As people change physically, especially at adolescence [actually, as has been explained, it was the psychological not the physical change that was painful for adolescents], old age, and death, masking rituals are performed to mark the transition and make it safe. Adolescent energy, for example, can be dangerous and destabilizing to society. To insure a safe transition, groups of young boys, for example, may be gathered and kept away from their village for long periods of time while they are taught the ways of masculine adulthood’ (Masks – The Functions of Masking, accessed Aug. 2011 at: <>).
Interestingly, many of the masks feature tears–as seen in two of the masks I have included here. I have not found any explanation for these tears, but I know that the secret to being a good healer is the ability to empathise with those who are suffering, and there can probably be no greater empathetic connection for someone suffering than for their healer to be crying for them. I think I would find an ancestor who was crying for me much more therapeutic than one who wasn’t, so this might be the reason for the tears. Indeed, in addition to ceremonial and initiation rituals, these ancestor skull masks were actually used for healing–the Pende mask I’ve included was described in the literature accompanying it as a ‘sickness mask’–which makes sense since the masks are so therapeutic.
Although it was not their primary intention, a measure of just how extraordinarily suggestive these masks are of the true extent of the inner devastation, loneliness, emptiness and sadness of our lives under the duress of the human condition can be gained by how deeply they effect us when we look at them. We are such miserable wrecks of what a human could and should be, so it is relieving for our true self to see such honesty. Indeed, the extraordinary therapeutic, exorcising power of these masks from the Congo region of Africa has led to them being considered amongst the finest creations in the art world. For instance, a Fang mask very similar to the one shown sold for around $US7 million in 2006 (Lot 193, Vérité auction, Paris, Jun. 2006).
It is no wonder some of the world’s greatest artists have been influenced by these African masks. A 2010 documentary, titled Paris The Luminous Years, describes how ‘The walls of his [Pablo Picasso’s] studio were hung with African masks and African musical instruments. There was severe competition in those days [the very early 1900s] between [the great artists] Picasso, [André] Derain, [Henri] Matisse and [Georges] Braque, as to who could discover the most beautiful African heads. [As Braque said] Negro masks open new horizons to me. They put me in touch with things instinctive’ (Thirteen production). And indeed, Picasso himself said he experienced a ‘revelation’ (Picasso, Rubin & Fluegel, 1980, p.87) while viewing African art at a Paris museum and his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (see next image) was the first work to result from that inspiration. The two faces on the right were especially inspired by the African masks Picasso saw in the museum, which were ‘similar in style’ to the ‘Fang sculpture’ that I have included in the selection above (Accessed 3 Feb. 2011 at: <>). Picasso also perfectly understood the healing value of masks, saying, ‘The [African] masks were not simply sculptures like any other. Not at all. They were magic objects…They were weapons. To help people stop being ruled by spirits, to free themselves. Tools. If we give a form to these spirits, we become free…I understood why I became a painter…Les Demoiselles d’Avignon must have come to me that very day [when I visited the museum and saw the African masks], but not at all because of the forms; because it was my first exorcism painting’ (In a conversation with André Malraux in 1937; André Breton, Oeuvres Completes, ed. M. Bonnet, 1988). Yes, as Christ said, ‘the truth will set you free’ (Bible, John 8:32). I might add that in Picasso’s representation the eyes are open, not closed like they are in the masks, and as a result his depictions are not nearly as effective in revealing the extent of our alienation. Later in Part 7:5 we will see how the artist Francis Bacon got the eyes-closed, twisted-face representation of our alienated human condition right, just as the African artists did way before modern art was invented. Indeed, it could be said that the honesty imbued in these African masks cracked the denial being practiced by humans today and laid the way for modern art. Such is the power of innocence.
To return now to the more abridged description of our species’ journey through its adolescence, throughout which technology was also growing in its sophistication. For instance, sharpened stones, choppers, hand axes and scrapers, cudgels, spears, harpoons and bone needles appear in the archaeological record from 3 million years onwards, while other evidence shows that H. erectus made refined tear-drop shaped flint axe heads and that even the earliest of this species were using fire, as indicated by the remnants of hearths at Koobi Fora in Kenya. However, it is only in the final 14,000 of those two million years that the most dramatic improvements have occurred–it was then that the bow and arrow, fish basket traps and crude boats first appeared, while the practice of agriculture and the domestication of animals, which both began around 11,000 years ago, prompted the associated production of earthenware pottery, looms, hoes, ploughs and reaping-hooks. Around 7,000 years ago the Stone Age was replaced by the so-called Bronze Age, which in turn was replaced around 3,100 years ago by the Iron Age.
It needs to be emphasised that throughout these epochs of time the whole development of upset was being driven by increasing intelligence. The more intelligent we were, the more we searched for understanding and the more upset we became–and with each new level of upset a new psychological and accompanying physical existence and state emerged, including increased alienation.
The following two graphs chart the psychological journey that humanity has been on, with the top graph charting the development over time of mental cleverness, as indicated by brain volume, and the bottom graph charting the development of cooperativeness or integration.
We can see that while the brain size of Childman (the australopithecines) was not much bigger than Infantman (such as common chimpanzees and bonobos), a sudden increase in brain size occurred with the emergence of the first Adolescentman, H. habilis, when the need to think and understand began in earnest as a result of the emergence of the dilemma of the human condition. This dramatic growth continued through Adventurous Adolescentman (H. erectus) and Angry Adolescentman (H. sapiens) before finally plateauing with Pseudo Idealistic Adolescentman (H. sapiens sapiens). Anthropologists have long wondered why this growth stopped. The reason is that in Pseudo Idealistic Adolescentman a balance was struck between the need for cleverness and the need for soundness; between knowledge-finding yet corrupting mental cleverness and conscience-obedient yet non-knowledge-finding lack of mental cleverness, with the average IQ today representing that relatively safe conscience-subordinate compromise. The bottom graph shows that by five million years ago nurturing had enabled our ancestors to live in an utterly cooperative state. However, with conscious self-management, and with it the upsetting battle of the human condition, becoming fully developed some two million years ago, we see that the graph charts a rapid increase in upset from that time to the present, where, as will be described, we faced the prospect of terminal levels of alienation and social disintegration.