Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond – book review

Jared Diamond’s Upheaval analyzes why a nation is how it is now. Of course, culture plays a role in changing the ethos of each new zeitgeist. Still, it is not so much a differentiating element as a distinguishing factor to characterize a national character. Instead, it is a mindset of individuals, including the governing elites in the nation, that determine the success and stagnation of the nation’s progress.

Of all nations’ approaches to and results of political and sociological revolutions, the most successful example is Japan’s Meiji Restoration in the 19th century and democratization in the aftermath of WWII, both of which are one-of-a-kind upheavals yielding to outstanding progress. Japan’s confrontation with the West might have blown their isolated cultural prestige. However, rather than coiling in fear of the changes, Japan sprang back with new attitudes adapted from Europe’s and the U.S.’s technological development and cultural legacy to survive the new zeitgeist as the time’s juggernaut.

On the other hand, the United States today needs change because it is highly polarized by political affiliations, ideological inclinations, and racial stratifications. The U.S. seems to have lurched in the above marsh when it should focus on the constructive, substantial, and realistic aspects of political agenda and social movements. For example, Americans tend more to ideas than facts that collectively affect individual needs, such as universal healthcare, a better educational system, employment opportunities, housing assistance, welfare programs, and workers’ rights. It s because American politicians aim to mobilize an army of people, aka constituents, to win their ideological war for occupying more congressional seats. In fact, American exceptionalism, that America is the best of all other countries in the world, averts the eyes from the lessons from other countries simply because they are beneath.

Diamond is a polymath well versed in science, literature, philosophy, geography, psychology, and sociology. He talks about his family, students, and friends from other countries. He is no stranger to their cultures with the knowledge of the languages and cultural cues, which entitles him to an appellation of “a citizen of the world.” This book reads persuasive and perspicacious, among other books on similar subjects. Maybe I am biased, but if the man whose assessment of nations strikes my chord, then I can’t help it.

Tears for Children

People like to blame deities for tragedy of human lives to avert their fury to the forces unseen. But most problems in the world are manmade and not entirely unresolvable. Such is the case of the children of present-day Ethiopia. They are maimed or killed by weapons of political hegemony, territorial dispute, and ideological subjective for which no gods but humans are responsible.

According to an article from the Reuters, 3,320 children have been either killed or maimed as a result of stepping into buried explosives from the civil war between Prime Minister Ably Ahmed’s government and Tigrayan forces commanded by leaders of the TPLF, the party that controls most of the Tigray region and used to run the federal government. It is this TPLF’s use of land mines that destroys the lives of the children in the region. The number above of children casualties is, in fact, only a fraction of the reality when more children are becoming guiltless victims of furious greed and evil ambition. These children are put into a deadly game of Squid Game against their will, and it is a form of violation against children. In the west, people associate child abuse with sexual exploitation by default, whereas they are more exposed to physical beatings and mental harassment. The present case of Ethiopian children’s casualty applies to physical and psychological violence because the effects are indelibly carved on their bodies and minds, changing the course of their lives. If a fifteen-year-old girl stepped onto a landmine while trying to collect water from a river, would she be liable for losing her leg for life?

When it comes to war ranging from a domestic, familial fight to a full-scale national war, the memories become traumas that become lifelong narratives, depending on a child’s degree of sensitivity. But the children’s minds are like blanket slates where they write what the eyes see, and the ears hear. All children in the world, even in the remotest touch of civilization, are innocent and to be loved with care. However, my head swivels in wonderment when people seem to care more about children based on their countenance, preferably familiar with their kinds or attractiveness. Not only do Ukrainian refugee children deserve our attention, but Ethiopian children call our attention to stop this vile violence against children of any kind. So why not campaign against it with an international movement? Would Greta Thunberg be interested in the cause? I wonder.

Believe it or not

The morbidity of cannibalism is often associated with the primitive obscure tribes living on a faraway island or in the deepest heart of the darkest jungle over the other side of our comparatively Atlantis-like world. To put it more blatantly trenchant, it was a practice of uncivilized non-European races reported by European explorers of the age of voyage until the mid-twentieth century. As it is always dark under the lamp, the idea of eating human flash ipso facto overrides the fact of consuming it in one way or another yet purposefully. The evidence is the existence of mummia in recent Europe.

Mummia was human flesh or excretions mostly imported from the Middle East as medicinal palliatives in apothecaries’ shops, a prototype of a modern-day drugstore. It was made of desiccated human corpse matter from mummified bodies and ingested for its supposed healing powers in the same sense that the ancient Egyptians and Romans crushed up mice to put on cavities to cure toothaches. Farther to the east, people believed that the leg of a fresh corpse was to be a panacea to any incurable disease during the Chosen Dynasty in Korea. For mummia in the 16th and 17th Europe, it was recently deceased bodies of executed criminals, a youth of violent death, or unfortunate socially disfranchised. The former two kinds are the flash of passion that rushed thru the veins to the brain, resulting from a sudden frenzy of instantaneously leashed sensations. Such corpses were believed to possess magical feeling power akin to aphrodisiac or love potion, aka pharmaka, enveloped in an Egon spell with the aid of a demon. Mummia of the corpse was famous for abscesses, carbuncles, menstrual problems, and pestilence, all of which are directly or indirectly connected to blood circulation-related illness.

Believe it or not, the presence of mummia was conspicuous in British pharmaceutical catalogs until 1908. I think some people might have bought it without the information about the source. But even if they knew about it, if the poor people could not afford to see the doctors cure their painful illness, the abomination of a corpse would yield to the need. The intuitive preference of judgment by resemblance applies to the folk religion, especially in the form of magic or witchcraft to which ordinary villagers often had recourse in need of an instant response to their wishes without rigidity and arrogance of the church putting dogmas before hearts. So, I like to believe that the use of mummia was on the same continuum. After all, it was different from Druids, Mayans, and Aztecs, who killed humans in the most defiantly brutal ways as sacrifices to their devil gods.