Europe's First Euro
The Florin of Florence
Lily of Florence - - John the Baptist, Patron of Florence and of austerity
He was a dear friend with writer's block. It took months of talking, dialoguing, about his book. We spent hours in my apartment, hours in the Annexe, at Princeton. A friend of my father's, a classicist, translating Homer, joined us. Our conversation ranged - and linked - right and left hemisphere brain functioning (like the obverse and reverse of coins), Babylonian gods with great staring eyes, Athena being hallucinated, externalized, by Odysseus in moments of crisis, Catholic schoolgirls seeing statues of the Virgin nod to them, and the monsters under the bed children know are terrifyingly real. He finally came to me with the cover of his book, great bold letters across the title page, a photograph of himself on the back. I objected to both, the title too long, the photograph so unlike his genial self. It will never sell, I said. It became immediately a best-seller! Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. His other friend - my father's friend, the classicist who studied under W.B. Stanford at Dublin's Trinity College - Thomas Day.
I used to love the great libraries of Britain and France, the Pannizzi dome of the British Library, the great hemispheres of the Bibliothèque Nationale, libraries replicating the human brain with synapses and the domed sky above. John Ruskin complaining about the cheapness of material for the upper stairs out of sight, William Morris beginning News from Nowhere there. Then, in my lifetime, these libraries were placed instead in square glass boxes. A loss. And damaging to the books. We need a strong opaque rounded bone structure to protect our soft brain cells and their synapses, our book bindings and their pages. Our modern architects are insufficiently holistic, are out of touch with practicality or with Pythagorean ratios and harmonies, or with the Fibonaccian curves that conform to Nature. Too, our clothes, once of organic materials, curved to our bodies, dyed and printed and embroidered with colours and designs from Nature, have become made of chemicals and mechanized with zippers, have become monotones, have become angular, have become like cars. Ancestral hand-made wooden curving rocking cradles that kept babies from crying by their soothing movement have become throw-away unyielding ugly things of plastic and metal. School desks that once sloped to accommodate the curving eye are now flatly square. Quality and practicality that had formerly aided children's well-being and development from centuries of wisdom now replaced with damaging shoddiness and boxiness for maximum profit.
A school friend's husband and his friend were working on Crete, studying the development of the human brain with the human hand in tandem, Jonathan Musgrove and Colin Groves. I mentioned their work to Julian Jaynes, noting that the movement from the use of the hemispheres in balance with each other to the domination of the left hemisphere governing the right hand and side of the body appears to come about with literacy, it being pre-literate children who hallucinate monsters under the bed. Homer is an oral, not a scribal, poet. Plato's Phaedrus and Havelock Ellis came in useful here. Buckminster Fuller taught that the cup is an extension of the human hand, the vehicle of our legs, the camera of our eyes, the hearing aid of the failed ear, the computer of our brain. Frustrated by his deafness when speaking with us, I took his hand and placed it on my hearing aid and smiled. And he smiled too.
Byzantinist colleagues taught me that mosaics in rounded domes and apses in Orthodox churches of Christ/God as Pantocrator have one side of the face be stern and judgmental, the other kind and merciful. Look at your self in a mirror and hold your hand over your left side (governed by your right hemisphere), then your right (governed by your left hemisphere). You will see the same. One side sad, the other merry. Dante, when he sees God in the Commedia, says he seems 'as if painted in our image'. This bicameral aspect of our brain in our body gives one side as discriminating, remembering the past, planning the future, the other accepting, in the present moment. A woman anthropologist friend doing field work in Spain after cattle from America were introduced which yielded more milk so babies could be bottle fed, found the Madonnas with Babies at their breast came to be covered up as they were now regarded as obscene, expendable, instead of as sacred and nurturing. Have you noticed how in paintings of Mary her Baby is held on her left side? That is because mothers who hold their babies find a child is calmer, more tranquil, when she/he can hear/feel the mother's heart beat, restoring that connecting music of the womb, that secure love, governed by the right hemisphere. I wrote a different essay long ago on 'Cruelty and Mercy' (http://www.umilta.net/mercy.html). The right hemisphere is the God/Human side of our brain, of mercy, of kindness; the left, that of the machine, the Golden Calf, Pharoah's chariots, the world of money, cut off from reality, schizophrenic, of cruelty. Both are needed for survival in modern society, but not with the left hemisphere as dominant; instead the two in balance, the one tempered by the other, justice tempered by mercy.
A friend, retiring from teaching, decided to take intensive Italian in Florence. He struggled with memorizing grammatical paradigms, hours upon hours, to the point of exhaustion. But the language did not come. I mentioned that I found with learning languages that first one dreamed in them, then one thought in them, and last of all one spoke in them. Right-brain learning. That each language became easier than the last one. But that I used to have to drink a glass of wine when memorizing left-brain paradigms, verbs and declensions. Just as I found that the night before an exam one should go to a film, rather than cram-memorize dates and facts, and then these would come up to the surface from unknown layers of the brain. I observed my oral illiterate Roma friends, already having their Sanskrit/Persian/Turkish Romanì, as well as their Romanian, immediately learn Italian, even English, much more quickly than I can. Just as children learn, orally, without books. Through the music, the context. I, being deafened in WWII, was taught lip-reading formally, to no avail, only to find that where I relaxed, the meaning, from the contexts, came naturally from a bundle of clues, that I could not force myself to understand but which instead were intuitive. With the right hemisphere which links rather than divides, which constructs rather than analyzes. And I remembered Thomas Day and W.B. Stanford and Sir Uvedale Price and Elizabeth Barrett Browning discussing the scansion of Greek, its pitch marks, its music, as intrinsic to its language and its poetry. This is what we do not teach. But should. Languages are holistic song, not linear prose, poetry, not memorized paradigms. Augustine said, 'He who sings, prays twice'. The acoustics of Gregorian chant in vaulted stone monastic churches excels over the prose of sermons, both architecturally and in its brain hemisphere reception. I mentioned all this to a couple from San Francisco, he, black, she, white, both psychiatrists, and they said 'Yes', that the primitive limbic connection between the two hemispheres is crucial, that in medical school there had been too much to memorize and they had found it best instead of cramming these at the last moment to go to museums, to concerts. Then the right answers would well up from the unconscious - where it had been effectively processed in sleep, in dreams. The right concepts do not dredge up from the memorizing, compartmentalizing left hemisphere, but from the processing, connecting, right one.
Struggling with the problem of Roma illiteracy and with my own discontent with the increasing left-brain managerial bureaucratization of universities - which I describe in 'Arabesquing the University', a presentation I gave in Antwerp and which I discussed in Rome at two conferences on the future of the University (http://www.ringofgold.eu/ArabesqueUniversity.html) - I came to see how important it is in education not to overstress the left hemisphere aspects only but to maintain the balance, the linking, to allow the play between the two. Likewise that it is important to maintain the medieval monastic balance between body, mind and soul, work, study and prayer, manuality with the intellect and the spirit. Christ was a carpenter, a scholar needs to know how to build bookcases for her books, a father a cradle for his child. That desperate cry from Heloise, that one cannot combine ink wells with distaffs, cradles with libraries, causing women's exclusion from the pagan Greco-Arabic categorizing university lecture halls in which Christian theology came to be taught for centuries and which cripples human families, is something I defy. We proudly have a curved wooden Roma rocking cradle in our library.
In a sense Erasmus, More and Montaigne, in their rebellion against Greco-Arabic Scholasticism of the Aristotle-espousing universities, tried to balance the hemispheres with Humanism, Virginia Woolf echoing them in her brilliant essays on other writers. Jean Leclercq found contemplative theology by women and men, freed from the left-hemisphere dominant Scholasticism of the university, to be deeper, superior, and Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict agreed with him, speaking of the revealed theology of Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich. I was precepting for a Dante scholar, Professor Robert Hollander, in a Humanities course at Princeton where the students were asked to write on Montaigne. Bob Hollander instructed them to write analytical essays in the Scholastic manner. I was disobedient and suggested that the students instead write essays in the Humanist manner of Montaigne. I explained they could use snatches of poetry, even in other languages, play off these, digress, allow the mind to wander as it does in dreams, and permit the self a presence. Wonderful essays came in, the students beaming, exclaiming this was the most splendid experience they had had in writing. It was right-brain work in which the microcosm tuned to the macrocosm, to the great Pannizzi domes and Fibonacci curves and Pythagorean harmonies of things. One can't do this when functioning in hierarchical, specializing, narrowing little self-contained boxes shaped by so-called detached observers in sterile white lab coats, deliberately cut off from life, from reality, learning 'more and more' (really, less and less) about less and less. The right hemisphere is universalizing, rather than particularizing, of 'we', rather than 'me'. It is the paradox of humility leading to inclusion, that curvingly stoops to conquer, instead of the ego which despises - and rigidly seeks to annihilate with pogroms, the Inquisition, lynching, the Holocaust, the Porrajmos, with Fascist salutes, with goose-stepping marches, - the 'Other'.
My great challenge in retirement is caring for a cemetery, Florence's English Cemetery, in which are buried poets, sculptors, Abolitionists, of the nineteenth century. When I came in 2000 the garden had been put to weed-killer for thirty years, its plants were uprooted, the tombs were vandalized, the white marble black with atmospheric pollution, their stories un-researched, untold, syringes were everywhere and Black Magic and suicide attempts carried out at its gates, an abandonment, an undoing. This photograph is from 1990.
I and the despised, hated, feared Roma, repaired its dry-walls that had collapsed in 1977, gardened, planted irises, lavender, roses, and cleaned and repaired tombs within its great oval from which we glimpse Florence's Duomo's dome. These photographs are taken in 2012.
With wild irises, Florence's purple lily.
A Romanian Roma family, members of our Aureo Anello Associazione, mothers and children, work together.
On Sundays we hold Alphabet School. Because we combine literacy and work. To become members our Roma must first learn to sign their names. And they do, along with scholars and descendants, in our membership book, learning which letters have curves, which have angles, and with them their sounds, creating necklaces that spell their names, the Lord's Prayer. This is an economy of sharing knowledge, where we all mutually benefit. This is an economy of sharing knowledge, where we all mutually benefit. Our restoration and cultivation of this oval in Florence is a microcosm of what is possible economically as macrocosm with the whole globe. With what the Roma earn they repair their homes in Romania. It is possible. And creates great beauty and healthier families. We call our project 'From Graves to Cradles'.
But we question ourselves seriously about Roma and education. Theirs is an oral culture, where skills are passed down, father to son, mother to daughter, mother to son, father to daughter, for generations, how to be blacksmiths, coppersmiths, stonemasons, carpenters, gardeners, how to sew, how to cook, from watching and learning - right brain and left brain in balance. And the music is so splendid, yet with great sadness, the Romanian Roma traumatically enslaved from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century. I use methods from Maria Montessori (who devised hers for deprived slum children though now they are only used for the deprived children of the rich), Joseph Lancaster, Margaret Macmillan, Don Lorenzo Milani, Paolo Freire. I challenge the concept I heard in Brussels and in Romania, that Roma children must be put in Nursery Schools to integrate them into the dominant cultures. Repeating the error of the Aborigines in Australia's Lost Generation and that of the Native Peoples in Canada, repeating the error of America's Headstart project which considered that black children should not have books as 'they needed to work on their socializing skills first'. That is the age when the young would most learn their own and valuable culture of manual skills from their parents. And most adventure in the world of the book. We need to value home as well as school education. Instead I argue for preserving these skills at the same time all ages are taught the alphabet and surrounded with books. Indeed, access to library/schools for all ages in families would be preferable. Whole families together can become literate. In this way there is not an abyss between parent and child enforced by state schooling, but a sharing. Women were barred from the great but left-brained Scholastic universities. But where they had access to libraries, as did Christine de Pizan to the French King's library in Paris, and as did Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her father's and brother's fine library of books in Malvern, they became the great writers of educational and liberating poetry for women and men. In our pilot model the Roma teach each other in their own beloved oral Romanì, immediately spilling over into all our scribal languages. Next, we hope to bring five Tuscan school leavers without work to our project, the Roma teaching them their manual skills (though it is much harder learning skills, as with languages, in one's teens than as a pre-school child), in exchange for their teaching the Roma the alphabet.
I have now come to understand that there is a spectrum amongst persons that ranges from the universalizing circling right-brain individuals (the God/Human side) to the most taut squaring left-brain ones (the Atheist/Machine side). At that far end I place acquaintances of mine with schizophrenia who rigidly define themselves as the all-important narcissistic centre, the others as expendable, and who must have things performed in a pre-determined linear sequence, a Procrustean bed, not permitting deviation from its linearity, who discriminate against the 'Other', dehumanizing women, immigrants, and racial groups ear-marked for slavery, genocide, war, and who may become mass-murderers slaughtering the young (Dunblane, Columbine, Beslan, Utoeya), who split themselves off from reality into their rigid self-centering that they then seek to impose on all. Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik deliberately medicated himself into such a left-hemisphere dominant condition to carry out his acts. That word 'schizophrenia', 'split-brain', is actually a just description of the condition. Something of that far end of the spectrum can also be induced, through pain, deprivation, abuse, shock, war, in early childhood or later trauma, PTSD, not into schizophrenia but into depression, bipolarity, self-harming, multiple personality, etc., where the brain's chemistry itself is changed through the limbic region, the caring, nurturing, playful part in the mammalian brain, but which responds in crisis with heightened response, with excess sometimes being damaged, engineered, tailored, in that process. Initiation rituals so play with conforming personalities into group loyalties by these means, through 'shock and awe', through terror, through violation. Sparta did this to children to create a warrior class to suppress the Helots, their slaves, leading to Plato's Myth of the Metals, where he admired the enemy's hierarchy of King, Nobles, Slaves, of gold, silver and iron, Karl Popper, I.F. Stone and Michel Foucault correctly seeing that Socrates and Plato in so doing were betraying Athenian democracy, eleutheria (freedom) and parrhesia (the obligation to speak the truth at personal risk and to be protected for doing so). In my English convent school it was the girls who submitted to trauma who became scornful of those who had not, creating of themselves a master class who collectively bullied the threatening and free 'Other'. I saw the same pattern in American college fraternities and sororities where we, who again were the free 'Other', internalized our status, and sadly, proudly, called ourselves 'Pariahs'. Twelve years ago I wrote about St Augustine's education/trauma (http://www.umilta.net/trauma.html), which had caused him to believe that children were not innocent, as Christ taught, but instead depraved with Original Sin. That act of trauma changed a Christian saint into the left hemisphere dominance, from the maternal right-hemisphere one - to his mother's tears. At first, from my father's and my brother's scorn for women, bred into them at all-male schools, like Ardingly, Oxford, Spyway and Shrewsbury, where they were abused, I, too, internalized this great myth of women's inferiority, despising women's writings, completely believing we were inferior. Then I discovered Birgitta of Sweden, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Julian of Norwich, among many other women, and edited them, publishing them for women and men to value and share. This perception of the 'split-brain' of schizophrenia now means I can look back at abusers and see them, too, as victims of their childhood traumatizing, which has changed their brain chemistry, their wiring. From this came the gifting of blessed olive leaves, small tangible healing objects sacramentally placed in the hands of trauma victims, be they Jew, Christina, Muslim or other, even to be gifted by the victims to the perpetrators for their mutual healing from the harm caused, as a freeing from the inability to forgive, the bondage/bonding with what is unforgivable (http://www.umilta.net/oliveleaf.html). Christ in his teaching opposed the Myth of Metals, broke down the barriers, exalted the down-trodden, women, lepers, Samaritans, the poverty-stricken, prisoners, thieves. Christianity is right-brain. Though not necessarily the Church.
Naomi Klein in her Shock Doctrine showed how governments manipulate the electorate through trauma, rewire them to admire and vote for the rich and the criminal and the war monger, to vote for Barabbas, not Christ. Tolstoy said governments create the enemy to have an army, create the criminal to have police - against their own people - to stay in power over them. The fulcrum is here in Florence, between the Primo Popolo and Republic, the Res Publica, the Commonwealth, of Arnolfo di Cambio, Giotto, Dante, the great city walls, the Palazzo del Popolo (now Vecchio), the foundations of the Duomo, Orsanmichele, the Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova, the Misericordia, all of these medieval, versus the Renaissance princepality of the Medici, who built fortresses against their own people, and palaces and villas just for themselves. Savonarola sought to return Florence to her Commonwealth, against such Princes. One visits the Uffizi to see paintings in the first rooms of the gold-leafed beauty of saints, the Madonna nurturing the Child, once in the churches for the people; in the later rooms, instead, paintings of pornography against bitumen backgrounds for the Medici's private palaces. Machiavelli, former Chancellor of Republican Florence, wrote his Prince with the greatest irony, advising the returned tyrants how to be such, a diabolic counselling to be overheard and overturned by the people, whom, Machiavelli says (within that text as its true key) 'having once been free will never consent to be ruled by tyrants'. The Prince is Swift's Modest Proposal, Orwell's Animal Farm, the deepest satire. It is taken seriously, as doctrine and dogma, by CEOs who hold seminars funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities with taxpayers' money in which they read its twistedness straight. Where the spectrum goes too far, through indoctrination, through trauma, to left-brain dominance, morality is cast aside, criminality ensues, profits trump persons, the centering upon the self to the cost of the other destroys the economy and its delicate balance of reciprocity, of democracy, of equality, of civil rights. As with churches so with political parties, what had been right-brain, Guelf, Labour, Democrat, will become infiltrated and subverted to the left brain, to be wolves in sheep's clothing, to be Ghibelline, Conservative and Republican, waging multi-murdering bankrupting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. You do not wage wars without raising taxes and practising austerity. But we did. To an inevitable collpase. The great capitalists, the pre-Medici Florentine merchants of the Guilds, the Quakers, Cashes, Cadburys, Frys, and Warren Buffet, knew to live simply and that adopted poverty is, paradoxically, great wealth.
We seem to forget that the European crisis began, besides these cruel wars for petroleum, with banks in America, England and Iceland disconnected from reality, behaving deceitfully, with magical thinking, with smoke and mirrors, seeking a Darwinian and Machiavellian market 'killing' for themselves, and then going bankrupt. We are fostering a culture of competitiveness, 'he who dies with the most toys, wins'. It has crashed. Iceland has been intelligent, refusing to pay the bankers' indebtedness. If we ring-fenced the banks, instead of rewarding them, they might learn to reign in their recklessness with our money, our work, our energy, our property. We own them. We need to fire them. They don't own us, despite all their mortgage foreclosures. They should be a service to the people. We learned this lesson already in the 'Thirties and regulated them then. Keynes and Galbraith were right, not Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand. They must be brought to heel, not pampered with huge bonuses. Just so did Florence exile her land-owning, money-grubbing Ghibellines outside of the city where they became robber-barons in the countryside, while the Guelfs poured their profits back into education, hospitals, a granary, caring for the poor, the stranger, the sick, the dying, the orphan, creating a great Republic, until the Medici in turn became a Ghibelline princepality. Florence's Patron is the austere Saint John the Baptist. Italian laws required savings banks to spend a handsome proportion of their profits on culture and charity, not on themselves, were excellent - until Berlusconi hedonistically undid this wisdom. IBM began Silicone Valley and flourished when it poured its profits back into its development - as a service - not into its shareholders' pockets. Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia is such a service model, democratically sharing knowledge, not money.
But simultaneously with a curbing of the false economy of today's banking industry we must also ourselves return to the work ethic, an economy outside of money (which is a false symbol system by which we lived, and moved and had our being until it collapsed), curbing consumerism and encouraging thrift, curbing debt and encouraging sharing. This real, rather than false, economy, needs to be based on a circling excellence of work, of knowledge, of love, of ethics, of morals. Where we do not seek for ourselves in a left-brained way, but for all, with the right-brain, where we share and build and exchange what we have and what we create, composting for soil, farming organically for food for our tables, building roofs for the homeless, schools and libraries for children and adults, hospitals with doctors for the ill and the well, to prevent as well as cure diseases, and where we learn again how to sew our clothes, build our homes, farm our land, and where we bicycle to our schools, our libraries, our museums, our workplaces. Where we throw away our tvs, billboards, advertizing. Where we reduce our dependence on petroleum, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals. Where we do not go into debt. Where we curb lobbyists and directly participate in our governing. Where we exile speculators, futures traders, hedge-fund corporations, and ring-fence their offshore islands against activities on the mainlands. Sending a clear message about our need for economic health, rather than disease. Then we will be free and have prosperity.
The left-hemisphere aspect, by its very nature, has to exclude, women from men, emotion from reason, religion from science. It is rigid, it compartmentalizes, it hierarchizes, it enslaves. Balancing the hemispheres, obverse and reverse, of the florin, of the euro, includes women with men, compassion with justice, the reverence for the Creator and the Creation, the body, the mind, the soul. And it allows us to see how the brain in tandem with the hand and its manuality evolved - but that it may now be self-destructingly mutating. It allows us to see how the right and left hemispheres of the brain and our modes of learning can interact; it does not impoverish us. It opens rather than closes.
Then I saw a splendid TED presentation by Jill Bolte Taylor in which she, a neurologist, had the privilege of observing her own massive stroke and its effect upon the two hemispheres of her brain: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html. She lived to tell the tale.
Europe's First Euro
The Florin of Florence
Lily of Florence - - John the Baptist, Patron of Florence and of austerity