Book review: ‘Reclaiming Civilization’ by Brendan Myers

‘Reclaiming Civilization’ by Brendan Myers

Subtitled “A Case for Optimism for the Future of Humanity”

Moon Books, 2017

ISBN 978-1-78535-565-3

$23.95/£13.99

For the most part, this is a philosophy book.  The author, a Canadian academic with an interest in pagan thought, is doing some personal soul-searching during his long summer break.  This provides something of a narrative upon which to attach various philosophical arguments.  I can identify with this process, having gone through a similar internal rumination in my late teenage years.  I struggled with questions like:

  • How best should I fit into a technological and mechanistic civilisation which I have issues with? 
  • In our remorseless effort to improve the quality of our own material lives, are we inadvertently, or ignorantly, destroying our futures, the futures of our children, and that of the world around us?  In which case, why not just slow right down?
  • Is civilisation what it’s cracked up to be, or is there a better way?
  • What’s the point, really?

These are similar to the kinds of questions Brendan Myers explores, although his chosen format is often academic and rigorous.  He draws upon extensive personal learning and reading, and provides a solid discourse and argument.  Certainly, the journey the book took me on was interesting, informative and enlightened, and I felt the better for it.  However, in the end, the conclusions seemed to fall short of the Magnum Opus goals set for the book.  Looking back, it seems to me that the author was examining his own attitude and feelings towards life, and then extrapolating outwards (I suppose we all do this); taking a melancholic sensibility and trying to re-motivate himself by critically examining the broader picture to find reasons to be cheerful. 

As one might expect from philosophy, this generated more questions that answers, and just a general sense from the author that, yes, I probably should just get on with it, then.  But that personal aspect aside, the book delivered a broadside of philosophical materials and arguments in a highly readable and engaging manner.  For me, it placed the current political trends towards nationalism and mega-corporatism into sharp relief.  The author’s humanist approach went hand-in-hand with a gently left-wing economic and political outlook.  His appeal to the reader was essentially to battle on, despite all of the absurdities, because things could be better than this.  Indeed.  The dichotomy is that the aggressive nationalistic and imperial ambitions of many civilisations are the very elements that drive the levels of high civilisation up (levels as defined by Western thinking). 

In which case, what kind of civilisation should we be aiming for in the first place?  That, essentially, is where the meat of the book lay.

The front cover of the book shows Prague’s old town as seen across the famous Charles Bridge (unusually empty of folk).  It cleverly reflects many of the flavours of the book:

  • The author’s own excursion to the Czech republic for a philosophical sabbatical, to mix with rural Europeans and, occasionally, tourists.
  • The journey faced by the philosophical pilgrim, under the stony gaze of the late great-and-good.   
  • Light and beauty among the dark spires of authority and power.
  • High civilisation flourishing within oppressive walls.

The author takes the reader right back to the very beginnings of civilisation, working up from first principles.  We encounter many outstanding philosophers along the way.

Brendan Myers’ rural idyll, whilst house-sitting in the Bohemian countryside, allowed him to consider how civilising principles first arose among small community groups, and how eventually ‘otherness’ created antipathy between tribes, and the emergence of physical defences around settlements.  These arguments felt at odds with some of his later descriptions of pre-Columbian life among indigenous folk in North America, but did feed into his general thesis that civilisation can take many forms, not all of them obvious. 

In principle, his review of philosophical history seemed sound, although I found myself questioning his assumption that food surpluses created by the organisation of labour would (literally) feed into greater rates of reproduction, and population growth.  In fact, poverty and high infant mortality is often a driver for higher birth rates – hence why Africa’s population is currently rising significantly compared to wealthy old Europe, where it generally stagnates.  I found the section on how farming methods, and crop choices, shape cultural mindsets much more convincing (p170).

Then came issues of power, dominance, kingship and, I guess, the evolving feudal nature of most early civilisations.  In many ways, not much has changed – just the cultural lens through which we view things.  Most of the world’s wealth is owned by a quite small band of people whose barony is carefully wrapped in an artifice of liberty and freedom.  Our engagement as homo economicus indicates broad rationalism, and a reduction in conflict, but built within a structure which actually benefits a select few vastly more than others.  Still, better that than bloodthirsty raping and pillaging, I would say.

The author discusses how a human veneer covers our inner animalistic, or child-like, nature (p234).  I’m reminded of advances in neuroscience, and the important emerging relationship between different parts of the brain (e.g. the rationalist pre-frontal cortex c.f. the emotional limbic system).  These dual-brain conflicts within us very readily explain how power is practically wielded, and civilisation controlled.  Given that modern humans have been around for over 100,000 years, then that emergent rational thinking has been active for a similar period of time.  Arguably, one might counter that it’s the retention of the survival drive of the limbic system which drives forth many of the civilising factors, and which puts up the walls.  In this, I’m swayed by Machiavelli’s description of power over, say, Plato.  Getting the job done and staying alive means sometimes setting aside moral principles, and it’s this approach that sustains an empire – rightly or wrongly.  The human dual-brain creates the self-evident dichotomies found within our civilisations.  Our ambiguous cultures merely reflect our dual natures, our cognitive dissonances.

For an author who often writes about paganism, that particular topic did not feature as strongly as I had expected.  Towards the end of the book, the emphasis shifted towards the ‘immensities’ beyond our life-bubbles.  Experience of nature, space, cosmology.  The author seemed to take great solace from nature itself, and his immersion within it (walks and cycle rides in the countryside, views from look-out posts).  There were elements of eco-mysticism, certainly a due regard for our planet’s own welfare.  The message seemed to be one of re-connection.  Civilisation creates great absurdities, many of which we are so wrapped up in we don’t even see them (the increasing dominance of our virtual lives been a stark example).  So, a laudable enough aspiration, although perhaps not the kick-butt conclusion one might have hoped for.  But, as I noted previously, that’s philosophy for you.

Book review by Andy Lloyd, 16th September 2017

Books for review can be sent at the author/publisher’s own risk:

andy-lloyd@hotmail.com

 

 

 

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Book review: ‘Ontogenesis’ by John Evan Garvey

‘Ontogenesis’ – A novel by John Evan Garvey
Self-published via the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017
ISBN 978-1-54257-238-5
$12.33/£10.07

My son, currently sitting his GCSEs, spotted this book on our dining room table, and said, “Oh, yeah, ontology, that’s all to do with God, and our state of being – we’ve done something about that in R.E.”.  Which showed that (a) studying for your public exams actually works and (b) my son knew significantly more about this than me.  So, having read most of John Garvey’s excellent novel by this point, I said, “Yeah, it is kind of like that, only way weirder, all to do with alien intervention, all that stuff.”  With a half-absent “Cool”, my son moved on to something else, and I decided perhaps now was the time to look up what this title actually meant.  It’s relevant because, although this is ‘just’ a novel, in my opinion ‘Ontogenesis’ is a deeply thought through work of metaphysical enquiry. 

I’m not really sure my review is going to do it justice, because the philosophies underpinning the work were, at times, stretching my conceptual understanding.  At one point, I wrote in my notes that the book was Cubist, in that it was using multiple vantage points to explore certain concepts and situations.  Later in the book, it went multi-dimensional, like a game of 3D Tic-tac-toe, and the Cubist structure turned into something more akin to a Möbius strip. 

So, let’s get a bit academic here, before I try to engage this novel’s narrative.  My son was pretty accurate; ontology is indeed the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.   However, ‘ontogenesis’ has been defined as ‘the development of an individual organism or anatomical or behavioural feature from the earliest stage to maturity’.  Somehow, the author has brought both of these concepts into the book’s 337 pages, amalgamating human evolutionary progress with New Age metaphysics, theology and Ufology – all pinned together by plenty of Socratic rhetorical debate.  The contents may involve some heady stuff indeed, but the novel is coated by a chilled Californian vibe – rather in the style of Joe Satriani’s guitar work; vigorously intellectual and creative, whilst remaining damn cool. 

There’s a political struggle woven into the work, too; a very American contest between liberalism and social conservatism:  A breaking free of mainstream thinking, and a rejection of established and repressive community values.  This is all drawn together into the New Age concept of Ascension – a spiritual evolution of being which allows humanity to break through into a multi-dimensional universe already inhabited by more highly evolved alien entities from neighbouring star systems. 

The kick in this book is how that transformation plays out on an existential level, i.e. how the protagonist and his Scooby Doo-style band of friends experience this bizarre multi-dimensional roller coaster.  There are many allusions to the Matrix movies, at least in terms of the way the book steps out of the box.  There are many allusions to Virtual Reality games, an increasingly straightforward solution as the narrative weirdens.  But this is no first-person shooter.  The author’s science fiction style harkens back to a Golden Age, more like Asimov or Bradbury, and brings in action sequences reluctantly, I felt.  It didn’t help that most of the book is written in the present tense.  This may have been a consciously worked aspect of the underlying metaphysics, but it made the pacing of certain tracts of the book feel stilted.  To be fair, it can’t be easy to mix heady New Age philosophy with widescreen action adventure.

So, to the narrative.  The story begins as a Close Encounter of the Fifth Kind (“bilateral contact experiences through conscious, voluntary and proactive human-initiated cooperative communication with extraterrestrial intelligence”) on the hills overlooking Los Angeles, involving an eclectic group of UFO enthusiasts.  The main protagonist of the story, a marketing executive called Trevor, has brought along his beautiful new girlfriend Veronica, who seems to be settling into this odd clan unexpectedly well.  A highly successful encounter with a UFO turns into a classic abduction experience for several members of the group, which is then plunged into chaos when the UFO is intercepted by dark forces mid-abduction. 

The abductees are rounded up and imprisoned within a military facility, partly manned by aggressive aliens.  Upon their escape, they manage to find their ways home remarkably easily – making the whole thing seem like an extended acid trip.  Someone laced the Kool Aid?  But this is just the beginning of an evolution of weirdness, which permeates and ultimately takes over the lives of the abductees.  They progressively experience a deeper multi-dimensional reality, aided by alien presences whose motives are often questionable.  Inevitably, the course of the transformation and ascension of humanity to a new existential level relies upon the courage, determination and underlying humanity of these abductees.

The narrative draws from many, many strands of Ufology.  One might even consider it to be a comprehensive exposé of the subject, attempting to understand this disparate discipline by attempting to incorporate all of its fayre simultaneously.  The alien denizens of Earth, decidedly ‘Men-in-Black’ in concept, rely heavily upon Ufology’s menagerie – Greys, reptilians, Nordics, preying mantis-types, shape-shifters, and so on. 

Then there are the many conspiracy theories which each try to explain and/or contextualise the UFO phenomenon, including alien bases, mind control, MILABs, ancient aliens, abductions, hybridisation, multi-dimensional encounters, folklore, demonology, environmental catastrophism, our estranged place in the galactic community, and quite a lot of dark David Icke-style material. 

But, ultimately, the preferred solution edges towards human progress to a higher spiritual truth, aided by various quasi-religious figures known as Ascended Masters.  This requires the book to turn in on itself, and provide multi-faceted experiences for its reader, which serve to penetrate this higher reality.  It’s an ambitious gambit, and for the most part works well.  It’s certainly thought-provoking.  The sardonic, jocular wit shared by the abductee group gives the sense of a literary work smiling at itself knowingly – like an amused Bodhisattva.  Whether the book would appeal to readers not acquainted with the diversity of Ufology, I don’t know, but personally I found ‘Ontogenesis’ engaging and immersive, and enjoyable.  I’d certainly read another of John Garvey’s books. 

Book review by Andy Lloyd, 25th June 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book review: ‘Immortality of the Gods’ by Nick Redfern

Subtitled “Legends, Mysteries, and the Alien Connection to Eternal Life”

New Page Books, 2017

ISBN 978-1-63265-075-7

$16.99/£13.99

Is it so ridiculous to imagine that our ancestors were visited by hyper-advanced beings from space?  It would be entirely natural for them to consider such beings to be gods.  It’s not just the ‘magical’ technology on view, their level of knowledge, or their awe-inspiring presence.  Perhaps these visitors were indeed effectively immortal.  In the last decade or so, futurists have begun to seriously consider a world where aging is eradicated – or at least seriously curtailed.  Gene therapy, cloning, stem cell research, advances in medicine – potentially a potent brew of treatments which might, together, offer a fabled fountain of youth to Humanity. 

As Nick Redfern argues in his latest book about the ancient gods and their alien connection, if interstellar space-farers were just a few centuries more advanced technologically than us, then it is quite reasonable to imagine that they had already cracked aging.  Indeed, one might even add that extending lifetimes considerably would be a mandatory requirement to interstellar exploration, given the timescales involved.  In other words, the very presence of spacecraft in our ancient skies millennia ago implies that the pilots are effectively immortal. 

But … we’re jumping ahead of ourselves.  Firstly, what of the evidence for such a contentious claim?

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Book Review: Ancient Giants of the Americas

Ancient Giants of the Americas: Suppressed Evidence and the Hidden History of a Lost Race
by Xaviant Haze
New Page Books, 2017
ISBN 978-1-63265-069-6
$15.99/£13.99

ancientgiants

My exposure to the concept of an ancient giant people in the Americas has been largely peripheral – reading materials that have crossed my path when I’ve researched the Anunnaki (often depicted as giants in Mesopotamian iconography).  I’ll admit to not having been terribly impressed by the disparate shreds of evidence of giant human skeletons depicted here and there on the Internet.  Having read this book, however, I find myself more open to the possibility that among the many indigenous tribes inhabiting both the South and North American continents were ‘mighty men of old’, ranging from 6′ – 8′ tall…perhaps taller. 

There’s certainly plenty of evidence to that end in historical accounts written by the European men who invaded these lands, wiping out so many of the indigenous peoples through war and disease.  This book does an excellent job of pulling all of those accounts together from the four corners of the Americas.  Together, the case seems compelling. 

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Book review: ‘The Sagan Conspiracy’ by Donald Zygutis

Book review: ‘The Sagan Conspiracy’ by Donald Zygutis

saganconspiracy

Subtitled “NASA’s Untold Plot to Suppress the People’s Scientist’s Theory of Ancient Aliens”

New Page Books, 2017

ISBN 978-1-63265-058-0

Price; $16.99/£13.99

Carl Sagan was one of my heroes when I was growing up.  His hit TV show ‘Cosmos’ was truly inspiring.  Probably one of the reasons why I was drawn to science in the first place.  My copy of his eponymous book was a school prize, still on my shelves.  He came up with some great ideas, many of which were highly imaginative and, let’s be honest, pretty speculative.  It was part of his broader appeal to push the boundaries of possibility, particularly regarding the potential for extraterrestrial life.

Later in his life, he seemed to become more conservative, more sceptical, more apprehensive about the darkness of superstition.  These are natural changes as people age, of course.  I assumed that Sagan had lost that early zest, but I was wrong.  Having read this revisionist book, I realise now I was wrong about several things.

I always knew that Sagan had collaborated with the Russian scientist I. S. Shlovskii on a book entitled “Intelligent Life in the Universe” back in 1966, but I was unaware of the so-called Stanford Paper, which is the central plank of Zygutis’s book. 

The full title of Sagan’s 1962 Stanford Paper is “Direct Contact Among Galactic Civilizations by Relativistic  Interstellar Spaceflight”.  It pre-dated Erich von Däniken, and beat Zecharia Sitchin’s 1976 book “The Twelfth Planet” by a country mile.  How could that possibly be important, given the way Sagan seemed to vilify pseudo-scientists later in his life?  Read on…

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Book review: “Fact, Fiction and Flying Saucers” by Stanton T. Friedman and Kathleen Marden

“Fact, Fiction and Flying Saucers” by Stanton T. Friedman and Kathleen Marden

Subtitled “The Truth Behind the Misinformation, Distortion, and Derision by Debunkers, Government Agencies, and Conspiracy Conmen”

New Page Books, 2016

ISBN 978-1-63265-065-8

$16.99/£14.99

One of the running themes of this book is that governments can keep secrets, and that it is rather naïve to think otherwise. That may fly in the face of the impression we sometimes get of the impact organisations like Wikileaks can have, as they release thousands of classified documents onto the Internet.

But consider this: Stanton Friedman has long paraded a basketful of heavily redacted declassified government agency files about UFOs as evidence that freedom of information simply does not apply to this subject, and that Western governments continue to keep a cupola-shaped lid on it.  To my knowledge, Wikileaks et al have not managed to acquire, or publish, the full versions of said files – even though knowledge of their existence is already in the public domain. Given the kinds of other sensitive materials they have sourced and released down the years, I find this surprising – and also illuminating.  This kind of material is clearly buried very deeply, and remains highly sensitive despite the passing of many decades.  Why is that?

There is a misperception generally of the efficacy of government secrecy, which this book goes some way to address.  In the light of this consideration, the fact that this book (like so many UFO books) tends to concentrate upon the events in the decades following the Second World War is both a strength and a weakness.  A strength because the history of the UFO subject is now so old that there seems very little reason why any kind of information restriction should still be applied to it by government.  Sensitive intelligence sources are now dead, their gathering methods well known, the technology of the time is now obsolete, and the politics forgotten. A weakness because we’ve heard it all before, many times.  Yes, diligent researchers like Friedman and Marden continue to unearth new materials from archives, but really the story has remained largely the same for many years.

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Book Review: The Children of Roswell

I’m a big fan of these two authors.  Their no-nonsense approach to research is refreshing, and has undoubtedly been one of a number of factors which have placed the Roswell incident at the fore of UFO reality.  Carey and Schmitt have written several books about Roswell down the years, each essentially an update on their on-going research over a 25 year period.

This particular book begins with a wise and thought-provoking overview of why the stasis of non-disclosure persists, despite the well-documented evidence compelling the need for answers from government and the armed forces, which took firm control of this incredible event back in July 1947.  Given the probable nature of what actually crashed on the desert floor at that time, it’s hardly surprising that the event was buried beneath an Orwellian edifice for so many years, before witnesses finally felt safe enough to come forward… helped no doubt by safety in numbers, and a changing climate towards the rights of the individual before government power post post-war.

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Book Review: “The Aztec UFO Incident”

“The Aztec UFO Incident” by Scott Ramsey, Suzanne Ramsey and Frank Thayer

aztecincident

I, like many readers of UFO lore, had always assumed that the widespread condemnation of the 1948 Aztec UFO crash as a hoax probably meant that it was just that – a hoax.  After all, what better way to muddy the Roswell waters than create additional UFO crash stories that later turn out to be fictitious?  Some of the top researchers in the field have dismissed this case in the past, mostly on the basis of a court case which brought into question the honour and integrity of some of the key ‘expert witnesses’ of the case.  A domino effect has killed this story across five decades.

But not anymore…

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