Societies: Synodic or Monodic?

I have always wondered what life was like with the transportation difficulties of past centuries. For example, how “adventurous” was it for Johann Sebastian Bach to go from Koethen to Hamburg 250 kilometers [160 miles] away, in 1720? What kind of roads were there at the time? How was it to travel for days at a time in horse-drawn carriages? Or, going back to even earlier times, 2,500 years ago, how could one go from Athens to Sparta, about 240 kilometers [150 miles] away? Again, were there any roads? Was it mostly on foot?

I guess people of different cultures and color of skin lacked the benefits or costs of frequent contacts between one another. For example, on returning from such a trip Bach found that his wife had died, during his absence. For the three months that his absence lasted, he could not have any contact with his family.

Also, besides the elite of those times, the ordinary people seem to have lived most of their lives in a very limited space around the place in which they were born.

I think that the dominant factor in this millennia-old problem was the road. The Greek word for road is “odos” [accent on the final “o”]. Now, the notion of togetherness is expressed in Greek with the preposition “syn” [hence in English, “syn-thesis”, “syn-biotic”, etc].

The synthesis of “syn” and “odos” results in the compound word “synodos” [anglicized to “synod”]. Which describes the fact of moving on a road intending to be together with other people.

The meaning of the word “synodos” in ancient Greece was simply: “assembly, meeting, especially for deliberation”. Then as Christianity started being propagated all over the place, the Christians realized that their communities had to communicate with one another. So, around 150 to 200 years after the birth of Christ, they formed councils in each community to discuss their problems and communicate these to other communities through representatives. As Greek, at the time was what English is for us today, it was natural that these councils were named “synods”, after the Greek word. Thus, today the word synod means “a regular meeting of church members for the discussion of religious matters”.

[Parenthesis: It is interesting to dwell briefly on the history and the “content” of the Christian synod. There were four kinds of religious synods (councils), depending on the rank of the religious official that presided in each synod and the geographical area covered: 1) Ecumenical (covering all the world), 2) Regional (covering the various churches of a region), 3) Patriarchal (covering a single church) and 4) Provincial (covering the area administered by a bishop).

The early Christians, especially of Greece, Asia, and Africa, instinctively realized the value of the “participation” of the “masses” in the process of decision making. So they built a system of decision making, the synods, that extended from covering the world down to small provincial areas. The decisions were based on the majority rule. The emperors or the kings did not have a right to vote, their role being rather “decorative”. The ultimate power was reserved only for the religious top-dogs. However, the Christians were shrewd enough to allow religious members of lower ranks and even ordinary people (the laity!) to participate in the synods, without the right to vote.

Of course, the religious “synod” was and is an authoritarian tool used by the religious elite to settle disputes among themselves or even to deal with the pensions of the clergy, as was the case only a few centuries after the death of Christ, but in essence they were a kind of “theatrical” public relations performance. A useful tool copied by the politicians to create their own theatrical performances in parliaments, congresses, etc.

The fact that in reality the early religious leaders used this kind of “theater”, through the synods, aiming to show that the people themselves participated in the decision-making, indicates the need for a “participatory” process in human societies. End of the Parenthesis.]

So, the religious people changed the original Greek meaning of the “synod” from that of a council to discuss social matters to a religious theater.

That does not mean that we cannot aim to create societies based on the original non-religious “synodic” idea of the “council”. A decision-making council that starts its trajectory from the neighborhood and reaches the entire “inhabited world”, which is what the Greek word “ecumeni” (and “ecumenical”) means.

The monodic

The Greek word for describing an entity that is alone or solitary is “monos”. The Greek word “ode” (as in English) means song or lay (ballad). So, the compound word “mon-ody” means a song sung by a single person, a solo.

Soloists do not perform only in places where music is played. “Soloists” have been performing their brutal “art” as emperors, kings, prime ministers, presidents, etc for thousands of years to this very minute.

Take Obama of the US. He is a person who “alone” decides to kill tens of thousands of people. That Obama is an instrument of a cabal of assholes, also known as the economic elites of the “inhabited world”, who dictate their wishes to him and who [Obama] then promotes them over the planet to the Merkelite-type local collaborators to the misery of humanity, does not make the crime “plural” even if it is the legendary 1 % who commit it. It is still a solitary entity, which rules a “monodic” society. A society in which only a “single entity” sings.

I think that the case of Hirohito of Japan is one of the most enlightening examples of the “solitary hero’ [or of the inexplicable behavior of millions of humans ].


[Note: All the information about Hirohito contained in the text below is based on the writings of Herbert P. Bix, especially in his excellent book “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan” (Perennial, 2001). End of Note.]

Hirohito became emperor of Japan in 1926. Three years earlier, in 1923, as a crown prince, while riding in a car he was attacked by a young anarchist with a small pistol used to kill birds. The only damage done was broken glass and a cut by the glass of Hirohito’s chamberlain. At his trial the young anarchist “asked whether the chief judge really believed in the emperor’s divinity or merely professed such belief out of fear. When [the judge] refused to answer the would-be assassin reportedly declared, ‘I’ve proved the joy of living for the truth. Go ahead and hang me’”, [p. 140-141] He was executed.

Now, what kind of a person is one that lets a great part of more than 100 million people profess that they consider him to be divine?

Bix concludes that, “For much of his life [Hirohito] was at or near the center of power, the active agent of his and the ruling elites’ interests … I believe he was also a troubled and tense human being …”, [p. 17-18].

He was an emperor, that is, his was the sole voice (or song) in a “monodic” decision-making process in a “monodic” society. Here are the results of his decisions:

– In 1931 “he failed to prevent his army from invading Manchuria”. In 1937 “he sanctioned the full-scale invasion of China” and “he exercised full control over the use of chemical weapons in China…” [Bix, International New York Times (INYT), October 1, 2014]

– During World War II [WWII] he was responsible for the deaths “of at least 20 million Asians (including more than three million Japanese) and more than 100,000 citizens of the western allied nations, primarily the United States and Britain.” [Bix,INYT]

– Today it is confirmed that had it not been for “Hirohito’s bullheadedness in delaying surrender [of Japan during WWII] … the firebombing of its cities, and the two atomic bombings, might have been avoided.” [Bix, INYT]

Bix writes, “He [Hirohito] headed a religiously charged monarchy that in times of crisis allowed the Japanese state to define itself as a theocracy”, [p. 16]. The mixture of religion and  the state offered Hirohito the means to destroy not only his country but also the neighboring populations. The physical instrument to do that was the soldier.

Hirohito, as, also, the progeny of many of the European and the US elites was brought up with the barbaric culture of the ancient Greek Spartans. Of course all this Spartan upbringing took (and still takes) place in comfortable luxury. Also, a tour of Europe by Hirohito, in 1921, enforced his militaristic and authoritarian tendencies, as it did for many of the elites of my country, Greece, during the decades of 1920 and 1930.

The case of Hirohito is not a “special case”. The solitary “hero” that devastates his own people and other peoples is the norm. Hirohito’s “divinity” stuff is so ridiculous that it can be ignored. What counts for Hirohito and counts also for Obama, for Merkel, or for Cameron is the human suffering for which they are responsible: The dead, the maimed, the drones, etc.

So how can one explain that millions of humans, the Japanese, let a person like Hirohito bring about all that pain and insult against their life and their dignity? How come a single person is allowed, this very minute, to spread all that evil “monody” over millions of us.

A possible answer

Let us try to find the causes that “create” such a “paradox”, that is a single person ruling over millions, while force is on the side of the millions. Hume’s paradox, which Noam Chomsky has brought to our attention [at least for me] and analyzed for us. Noam Chomsky doubts that the “force is on the side of the governed”, and he adds that centuries ago this was put thus, “The power of the sword is, and ever hath been, the Foundation of all titles to Government”.

For example here is my experience on this matter, during my life from 1930 to this day:

– In 1936, my age at six, a British supported dictatorship is established in Greece, mimicking the fascists of Italy and the Nazis of Germany.

– In 1941, my age at 11, the Nazi tanks occupy Greece. There is a quisling Greek government.

– In 1944, my age at 14, the British tanks occupy Greece and they bivouac in the … Parthenon. There is a rightwing Greek government.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Ira Woodward October 26, 2014 3:56 pm 

    Its a good question.

    I think we are all capable of democracy and working together, cooperating, making group decisions. I think we’re not used to it.

    I can tell you from my experience its really hard to learn the skills of democracy. Like anything, it takes practice, no?

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