Monday, July 2, 2007

Agricultural revolution first - History 5 podcast

Diligently I continue through the course of History 5, the podcast of UC Berkeley about European history from the renaissance to the present, about which I have written several times previously. On Thomas Laqueur's series and on Margaret Anderson's fourth lecture and her reply to my thoughts. By now, I have reached the Industrial Revolution.

It is commonly known that the Industrial Revolution started in England and it is also commonly known that the revolution was possible because of new technologies that allowed for mass production. The question is why it began in England in the nineteenth century and not in another place or time. The Chinese had the same technology - Anderson tells us the Chinese had steel bridges, long before the English had them. And France had the same, if not better technology, yet the French took much longer to industrialize. We need therefore a broader answer and I am excited as to how clear the history 5 podcast brings the point home.

If I have to recount this in my own words, I'd do it thus - and this is after one run of the lecture... What is needed for mass production is both a labor force to deliver and a market to buy. A sizeable labor force in England became available because of an agricultural revolution that preceded the industrial. By improving the organization and methods of agriculture, a much smaller force was needed to supply food for the population, thus freeing a large amount of workers for the factories. In addition, England was already a market economy, meaning, that it already had a division of labor going on and had the average Englishman, not produce for his own needs, but rather go out to the market to buy his needs and sell his specialty goods or services. In addition, the strata of English society were permeable and continuous, allowing for a climb on the social ladder to every individual. Consequently, the English already were consumers and therefore, a demand for the mass production on industrial society was also in place.

That was unique for England. In other places, less workforce could be freed from agriculture and less consumerism was in place, so that the market was less capable of growing demand.

Intermediate mindfulness

On the zencast podcast you are instructed in various ways to mindfulness. Gil Fronsdal has no started an intermediate level course into mindfulness generally. This is in an attempt to widen the strengths of the introductory course. What is good about the course, what is good about the repetitiveness of having courses and what needs to be extended. Fronsdal also reveals he is inclined to feel a bit embarrassed if he repeats himself. However, when it is in the framework of a course, and a repeated course, for that matter, he feels less hampered.

As a podcast, this series takes off on a slow start. In the first issue there is a long sitting (meditation) in the middle and that provides for a long silence on the pod. The second issue starts off with questions. Though the recording qualitey has dramatically increased and the questions are entirely audible, still, these silences and questions make the podcast listener rather detached from the course. It takes therefore considerable effort and intent, not to say mindfulness of the podcast, in order to make this course work through the recordings rather than by being present.

Parashat Balak

Jewish tradition has mapped the Torah onto the year and sectioned it into weekly portions, so that in a year's time, the Torah will be read entirely. The portions are named and sequential, so that they are recognizable and read and referred to in the same week, across the board. Last weeks section, called a parasha, or parsha, was Parashat Balak.

Parashat Balak recounts the story of King Balak of the Moabites, who sends for Bileam (Balaam, Bil'am) to curse the Israelites. When Bileam sets out to do so, he rides a donkey that is stopped three times by an angel. Three times he hits the ass and only by the third time understands he is to bless the Israelites in stead.

There are two podcasts I listened to in order to get a teaching on the parsha, KMTT and Rav Dovid's. As usual the teachings are very different, but what was interesting is that I took from them an almost similar bottom-line, though this line was arrived at in a totally different manner. Rabbi Yonatan Snowbell, in KMTT, points out that throughout Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers, Numeri) the Jews are miserably failing by whatever prescript they are met and nevertheless, Bileam is stopped from cursing them. The lesson is, according to Snowbell, that a Jew can always mend his ways and is encouraged to do so. He may be punished, severely at times, but will never be cursed. In other words, one assumes some innate moral quality in the Jew.

Also according to Rabbi Dovid Bendory, drives to this moral quality, but in a much more mystical fashion. In his view Bileam represents the immorality of the non-Jews. Bileam, being this mighty man who can bless or curse and allows his corruption by Balak of the Moabites, once he is sufficiently lured to do so. The Jews on the other hand, also have a mighty prophet on their side, Moshe, but do not lure him into corruption, hence show their innate moral quality. In spite of, adding the words of Snowbell, miserably failing most of the time in acting according to that morality.

So what I see, is that in very different ways, the Jews are encouraged by these interpretations to lead their life morally, that is according to Torah. I feel always a bit uneasy with this exclusion towards Jews and Torah. I am the eavesdropper who is not properly Jewish and therefore is not addressed, maybe even the haughty one who is on the part of Balak and Bileam. But then again the encouragement to lead a moral life is laudable in any case, applicable to everybody. For a non-Jew to hear this, only means that he has an ultimate excuse to stray as he is not Jewish and the appeal is not directed toward him. But at the same time, since he understand and sees the quality, is invited to follow nonetheless and may choose to do so. Hence, in the end, the morality is for everybody. I would add: if it is not for everybody, it is for none.