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Gardenworld Politics Chapter 8 key word histories - draft
I made a few parenthetical suggestions about the early form of several key words in chapter 1. Remember, we are looking for leverage points that can help us create a better future. I find histories of key words extremely important, showing the rich origins compared to the narrowness of much contemporary use. Old meaning resonate with a broad range of our feelings. New meanings feel relatively dead. For example - from Huizinga, Autumn of the Middle Ages.
When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had much sharper outlines then now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us: every experience had that of directness and absoluteness that joy and sadness still have not in the mind of a child. The great events of human life - birth, marriage, death - by virtue of the sacraments, basked in the radiance of the divine mystery.
I lived in Mexico in the late 60s and remember the local church and its hourly bells and the people coming in and out. Inside were music, paintings, sculpture, carved wood, stained glass windows, semi darkness and the candles. Even the poorest person felt the right to go into that space of high culture. Nothing in contemporary life is like that.
Next time you are near such a church enter in, not because it is religious but because it is cultural, and feel the impression it makes on the various parts of yourbody.
Technology, now usually seen as coming from
techne, Greek for craft or skill, and logos , meaning structure, for earlier Greeks, say 7th century BC techne meant engender. Sex - to create the next generation. This meaning slowly changed from the 7th to the 4th century BC to the creation of things, crafts, skills, arts. These activities clearly enhance the lives of the people who do. Related,
Truth is the same as troth, as in “ I pledge thee my troth.” It was a relationship word meaning faith with another, part of medieval culture. It moved then to the relationship between a craftsman and his tools, “this blade is true,” and finally to the relationship between things in the abstract, “what is true.”
The connection still exists between engender and craft. In the coal country of rural Pennsylvania I saw a t-shirt that read "minors do it deeper." But there are costs, especially when skills are hired out for wages rather than remaining a vital part of their owner’s own small business. Adam Smith was very critical of the human effects of division of labor, taking an interesting project and breaking it down and giving each part of the process to one person in repetitive, routine, work. Read George Eliot’s Silas Marner for an example of a person crippled by a work life of spinning wool. I once was a consultant to the International bricklayers Union and got to visit rural brick locals and saw how the members enjoyed their pride in the photo albums they kept of great projects and brickwork. Modern brickwork does not get the same thrill for the workers. .The drift is from the expressive to the passive from early language to ours is a fascinating and somewhat depressing story.
I want to go into the origins of a few more of these key words. I do suggest mulling these over as they contain hints of a different kind of world for us we may want to move toward as the overly mechanical and financial world we have breaks down.. These words speak of ways of being that we can study in order to see a more organic life and society we can work for. Words evolve meaning and their history tells us about what motivated each word’s earlier use, and how those meanings changed over time. Often the early meaning still has an effect on modern readers of these words, but work unconsciously.
Cosmos has such a history of amazing leaps in use. For most of us, and all the way back to the Athenians of the classical period, cosmos meant the larger frame of all existence. But cosmetics also comes from this word. How is it possible? Cosmos, in the earliest Greek, meant the pattern of silver studs decorating a horse’s collar. We can see how the word could be used by a poet or a child, in a moment of ordinary creativity, to point out constellations of stars; “see the cosmos!”, and from there to name the container of those stars, or perhaps all the stars together, the cosmos. But the pattern on the horse’s collar is also a necklace. Hence a short step to enhancement, to cosmetics. These shifts give us access to the experience in the world of early humans - and us.
Capital is the word that most shook me when I discovered its origin. We all use the word, but no one I asked knew where it was derived from. It comes from cap, latin for head, and used as in “a new head of cattle,” which we sill use today “How many head you got over to your place?” So capital come from the birth, production, of a new calf. Then the question that emerged was, ok, who owns it, what can be done with it? Among herders in North Africa there were clear conditions. I could give you a goat and you could eat it or give it away, but you could not breed it, since that threatened the grassland equilibrium. The birth producing of a new calf is the origin of the ideas of capital as production, surplus, increase, and the organization of that process of engendering. Sorry for the derail but this is crucial for reimagining the meaning of production in a sustainable globe. The nomos in economy as I mentioned in chapter 1 is derived from equal distribution, which meant early in Greek the division of land for grazing cattle.
Let me quote from some of the easily accessible Wikipedia entry on cattle.
Cattle … was borrowed from Anglo-Norman catel,
itself from medieval Latin capitale ‘principle sum of
money, capital’, itself derived in turn from Latin caput
‘head’. Cattle originally meant movable personal
property, especially livestock of any kind, as opposed
to real property (the land, which also included wild or
small free-roaming animals such as chickens — they
were sold as part of the land). The word is a variant of
chattel (a unit of personal property) and closely
related to capital in the economic sense. The term
replaced earlier Old English feoh ‘cattle, property’,
which survives today as fee (cf. German: Vieh, Dutch:
vee, Gothic: faihu).
The key insight for me is that capital is what comes from breeding, sexual encounters managed by herders , creating new wealth (remember the early use of techne). Creating that wealth was a key part of early life, from the hunter gathers who foraged for the fruits of nature, nuts fruits, fish, frogs, turtles, rabbits, birds, roots and seeds… and on to early agriculture. Cattle came at the point in time when hunting and foraging was slowly (a thousand years) replaced by herding and planting. Later I will discuss the resistance of some humans to that process. The original settlements were fenced, not to keep marauders out, but to keep slaves in.
Besides ownership (whole tribe, families, individuals?) , there were other questions: how to breed, feed, and care for cattle/capital. Aristotle said that money couldn’t breed so interest on debt was not reasonable since money did not sexually reproduce itself, even though the Greek and Romans used the same word, tokas, for interest on a loan and offspring from cattle.
You can see why I say that early economy was organic and about reproduction. Capital is increase through the magic of managed sexuality, one of the greatest mysteries of the universe, and still felt as such. Sex and food are still fundamental for society and life, and thinking through how to deal withthem will be a major concern of GardenWorld and its politics.
Often when entrepreneurs talk of what they are doing I seem to see a misty spiritual look on their face because they feel they are engaging with the deepest mysteries of the universe. I hope you can sense why it is important to feel through what a society is from these histories, incomplete as they are..
So, in in the spirit of filling up our studio space with potential relevancies, quoting from the online Etymological Dictionary
capital (adj.) early 13c., "of or pertaining to the head,"
from Old French capital, from Latin capitalis "of the
head," hence "capital, chief, first," from caput (genitive
capitis) "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head").
Meaning "main, principal, chief, dominant, first in
importance" is from early 15c. in English. The modern
informal sense of "excellent, first-rate" is dated from
1762 in OED (as an exclamation of approval, OED's
first example is 1875), perhaps from earlier use of the
word in reference to ships, "first-rate, powerful
enough to be in the line of battle," attested from 1650s,
fallen into disuse after 1918. Related: Capitally.
A capital letter "upper-case latter," of larger face and
differing more or less in form (late 14c.) is so called
because it stands at the "head" of a sentence or word.
Capital gain is recorded from 1921. Capital goods is
recorded from 1899.
A capital crime or offense (1520s) is one that involves
the penalty of death and thus affects the life or
"head" (capital had a sense of "deadly, mortal" from
late 14c. in English, as it did earlier in Latin).
Early 15c., "a capital letter," from capital (adj.). The
meaning "city or town which is the official seat of
government" is first recorded 1660s (the Old English
word was heafodstol; Middle English had
hevedburgh). For the financial sense see capital (n.2).
capital (n.2) 1610s, "a person's wealth," from Medieval
Latin capitale "stock,
[The term capital] made its first appearance in
medieval Latin as an adjective capitalis (from caput,
head) modifying the word pars, to designate the
principal sum of a money loan. The principal part of a
loan was contrasted with the "usury"--later called
interest--the payment made to the lender in addition
to the return of the sum lent. This usage, unknown to
classical Latin, had become common by the thirteenth
century and possibly had begun as early as 1100 A.D.,
in the first chartered towns of Europe. [Frank A.
Fetter, "Reformulation of the Concepts of Capital and
Income in Economics and Accounting," 1937, in
"Capital, Interest, & Rent," 1977]
In current anthropology and early history the story is showing itself to be even more complicated. Goetzmann’s terrific book, Money Changes Everything, shows that in Macedonia 5000 BC the exponential growth of cattle was already understood, along with contracts, interest, and complex accounting.
The depth of reliance on cattle as core to the economy, and hence to the culture, is articulated in Seaford’s Money and the Early Greek Mind and Mcinerny’s The Cattle of the Sun - cows and culture in the world of the ancient Greeks.
The modern stockyards and stock-market carry this past into the present. Economics relies heavily on markets in countable units: grain most obviously, can be divided, weighed, stored. Most consumer products however cannot.
The word economy, crucial here, is well known as eco = household + nomos = law - at the time of Aristotle’s and Xenophon’s books with that title, meaning management. Eco-nomy was thus estate management. Society was organized by estates, more likenTexas cattle ranches. Have to be careful here. We have two words, economy, the complex thing, and economics, the science of that thing. I dealt with economy already in the introduction. What is key is that it contains equal distribution early. The word nomia, which then evolves to management from about the 7th to the fifth century. (Nomos). As usual the shift is from value rich to more value neutral (the word management is not entirely neutral as it implies organization and hierarchy and an implicit stated goal.) A law isn’t necessary if there is no reason for it. The use of nomia as equal distribution thus implies that the tendency toward unequal distribution existed (no surprise). Economics, the study of economy, doesn’t appear until the 19th century, introduced by William Jevons to avoid the political in “politics economy.”as economics was become the science of wealth accrual for those who already had some rather than the policy of wealth for all (Adam Smith)
Personal property is fascinating. The modern tendency is to read these as constants of society and all civilizations. Hardly so. Need to take them one by one Personal. person (n.) from the online etymological dictionary.early
13c., from Old French persone "human being, anyone, person" (12c., Modern French personne) and directly from Latin persona "human being, person, personage; a part in a drama, assumed character," originally "a mask, a false face," such as those of wood or clay worn by the actors in later Roman theater.
OED offers the general 19c. explanation of persona as
"related to" Latin personare "to sound through" (i.e. the mask as something spoken through and perhaps amplifying the voice), "but the long o makes a difficulty ...." Klein and Barnhart say it is possibly borrowed from Etruscan phersu "mask." Klein goes on to say this is ultimately of Greek origin and compares Persephone. In legal use, "corporate body or corporation having legal rights," 15c., short for person aggregate (c. 1400), person corporate (mid-15c.). The use of -person to replace -man in compounds and avoid alleged sexist connotations is recorded by 1971 (in chairperson). In person "by bodily presence" is from 1560s. Person-to-person first recorded 1919, originally of telephone calls.
The concept of person is highly dynamic and we need to rethink its deepest meanings. GardenWorld needs to be aligned with the way humans really are. The very idea that it is a mask means it hides some reality. Rilke in the Notebooks wrote that he came into a square late at night and startled a girl sitting by a fountain, who raised her head to see who was coming, “the first time I ever saw a human face without a mask,”
In GardenWorld people will still wear masks. David Brooks, himself struggling with what to believe, wrote an op ed about person.. Several key passages:
Moreover, most actual human beings are filled with ambivalences. Most political activists I know love parts of their party and despise parts of their party. A whole lifetime of experience, joy and pain goes into that complexity, and it insults their lives to try to reduce them to a label that ignores that…Yet our culture does a pretty good job of ignoring the uniqueness and depth of each person. Pollsters see in terms of broad demographic groups. Big data counts people as if it were counting apples. At the extreme, evolutionary psychology reduces people to biological drives, capitalism reduces people to economic self-interest, modern Marxism to their class position and multiculturalism to their racial one. Consumerism treats people as mere selves — as shallow creatures concerned merely with the experience of pleasure and the acquisition of stuff….. (He quotes) Back in 1968,
Karol Wojtyla wrote, “The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in apulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.” ….The crucial questions in life are not “what” questions — what do I do? They are “who” questions — who do I follow, who do I serve, who do I love?… Margarita Mooney of Princeton Theological Seminary has written that personalism is a middle way between authoritarian collectivism and radical individualism. The former subsumes the individual within the collective. The latter uses the group to serve the interests of the self. Personalism demands that we change the way we structure our institutions. A company that treats people as units to simply maximize shareholder return is showing contempt for its own workers.
Schools that treat students as brains on a stick are not preparing them to lead whole lives. The big point is that today’s social fragmentation didn’t spring from shallow roots. It sprang from world-views that amputated people from their own depths and divided them into simplistic, flattened identities. That has to change. As Charles Péguy said, “The revolution is moral or not at all.”
Sorry for the long quote but it makes the point that there is broad consideration of these issues of person, personality, human development, in society.
Property. What is proper to show a man’s rank in society. We still use this: “are you dressed properly for the party?” “That is not appropriate!” “That is not a proper way to eat”. Property then was a sign in society of who you were. Most societies have rules more or less explicit, about who can wear what and when. The penalty for wearing the wrong hat, cloak or sword could be death in some societies. Moving from social sign to property as a thing that could be sold - placed in a market - took centuries.
An English sea captain arrives in Boston in the 1600’s and a dinner is arranged with a group of natives. This story from Hyde The Gift. At one point the chief brings out a peace pipe and, after
passed around, says to the captain, “This is for you”. After elaborate thank-yous and goodbyes the captain takes the pipe back to London where it goes into a museum. A few years later he is back in Boston and the dinner party recreated. At a late point in the dinner yjre translator whispers to the Captain, “Now would be a good time to bring out the pipe!”
For the natives the value of the pipe is in its journey, for the english in its possession, cutting off further episodes the communal story of the pipe.
John Locke, whose tortured logic has created our own legal regime around property, in the early 1600’s proposed, in justifying private property, that people wondered around in nature as isolated individuals and then acted to possess something by using and or improving it and this made it theirs. It is important to understand that in early times there were no “individuals wandering around.” Locke makes the qualification use so long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else's. Impossible in a crowded society. Locke was legitimating property as owned by aristocrats, not by the kind. Ordinary people were not considered.
The idea of private property takes us into the important discussions around community and individual. The original Latin source for private meant “remove from the public”. (From Latin prīvātus (“bereaved; set apart from”), perfect passive participle of prīvō (“I bereave, deprive”), from prīvus (“single, peculiar”). That is, death from the group. What is private is a death and the state bereaved. Long way to the modern meaning.
From the Online Etymological Dictionary 1590s, “private citizen,” short for private person “individual not involved in government” (early 15c.), or from Latin privatus “man in private life,” noun use of the adjective; 1781 in the military sense, short for Private soldier”one below the rank of a noncommissioned
officer” (1570s), from private
late 14c., “pertaining or belonging to oneself, not
shared, individual; not open to the public;” of a
religious rule, “not shared by Christians generally,
distinctive; from Latin privatus “set apart, belonging
to oneself (not to the state), peculiar, personal,” used
in contrast to publicus, communis; past participle of
privare “to separate, deprive,” from privus “one’s
own, individual,” from PIE *prei-wo-, from PIE *prai-,
*prei-, from root *per- (1) “forward, through” (see
So private property is a social sign removed from the public (losing its status as a sign) and becoming a dead thing, no life in the community. This whole piece of thinking is core to the legal issues faced by GardenWorld which will rebalance community and individual, not ass opposites but together. Strong individuals require strong communities, strong communities require strong individuals. Families and schools are the intermediaries.
Money often treated as obscure in origin comes from the name of the treasury below the Parthenon in Athens, the Moneda, the building where deposited tax collections were stored as grain or meal . The slow recognition that a piece of paper with marks on say the number of urns of olive oil, or bags of grain could itself be traded, took a long time. Goetznann’s Money Changes Everything has lots of very important history.
Since ideology around individuals and community is so important, , we need some examination of that history.
early 15c., "one and indivisible, inseparable" (with
reference to the Trinity), from Medieval Latin
individualis, from Latin individuus "indivisible," from
in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + dividuus
"divisible," from dividere "divide" (see divide (v.)).
Original sense now obsolete; the word was not
common before c. 1600 and the 15c. example might be
an outlier. Sense of "single, separate, of but one
person or thing" is from 1610s; meaning "intended for
one person" is from 1889.
"single object or thing," c. 1600, from individual (adj.).
Meaning "a single human being" (as opposed to a
group, etc.) is from 1640s. Colloquial sense of "person"
is attested from 1742. Latin individuum as a noun
meant "an atom, indivisible particle," and in Middle
English individuum was used in sense of "individual
member of a species" (early 15c.).
So, a late comer, and causing lot of contemporary conflict. Margaret Thatcher remember said there is no community, only individuals. Individuals are treated as the source of the productive society, forgetting that knowledge and action are group, not individual achievements. Newton said “If I appear to have achieved anything it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” Robert Merton has a very intriguing book with that title about Newton’s sources.
A few other key words, just a hint..
Philosophy, love of wisdom unfortunately
reduced to epistemology and logic.
Politics the study of the town, called polis. Theory of organizational management of serious conflicts in the community, the polis.
Feudalism. From feudal, meaning farm. from
Medieval Latin feudalis, from feudum "feudal estate,
land granted to be held as a benefice," of Germanic
origin (cognates: Gothic faihu "property," Old High
German fihu "cattle;" see fee). Feudal
Again note the importance of cattle in early
economies as land, property, cattle, capital all interact. Modern society and potentially GardenWorld can easily be seen as mere modifications of these ancient dynamics
The most widely held theory is put forth by Marc Bloch. Bloch said it is related to the
Frankish term *fehu-ôd, in which *fehu means
“cattle” and -ôd means “goods”, implying “a
moveable object of value.” When land replaced
currency as the primary store of value (Italics mine. DC.,
the Germanic word*fehu-ôd replaced the Latin word
beneficium.But the word goes on to morph
into federal, as in the US federal system, federation.
I hope these give a feel for the change from hunter foragers to agricultural and the origin of key modern concepts that just may suggest new ways of thinking about our time and it's possible futures. Many more interesting word histories are given on my webpage at