Thursday, December 07, 2006

Against His-story, Against Leviathan Chapter 6 (octopi and worms; Assyrian, Phoenician, and Chaldean Leviathans)

Against His-story, Against Leviathan Chapter 6


The Phoenician octopus and its later Greek, Venetian and other offspring will come to be seen as something altogether different from the Assyrain worm. There will even be those who will see the octopus as a form of human freedom. I intend to show that this is an optical illsuion.

There is no doubt that the two Leviathans differ. The artificial worm's claws and fangs, its armies, are usually attached to the body, whereas the tentacles of the artificial octopus detach themselves from the body and can be said to move about freely, especially if the tentacles are ships. The worm is largely landborne whereas the octopus tends to be seaborne.

There is no doubt that two different types are in question. The point is that these are not types of human community but types of Leviathan. Both are what Hobbes will cal "artificial men." Each of them is an automaton, a machine, and like other machines it can sometimes be converted or adapted to do what the other does.

The main difference between them does not lie in the way the tentacles move nor in the medium through which they move nor in the size of the head, but rather in the way the two automata use the already-mentioned surplus. Both live off the surplus product of zeks' labor. But the worm uses most of its surplus to enlarge its head and body, its officials and armies, whereas the octopus keeps most of its surplus continually circulating between sources and destinations.

This different treatment of the surplus gives each a specific advantage over the other. The one tends to have greater wealth, the other greater power. An efficient and flexible octopus--and the Phoenician cities seem to have been both--can suck an ever greater part of Mother Earth into its tentacles. The Phoenicians not only could but apparently did carry a vast proportion of plundered and denatured Biosphere in the holds of their ships. But with all this wealth, the Phoenician octopus was still at a disadvantage to the Assyrian worm in terms of power, as a single campaign led by the third Tiglathpileser revealed.

We will be surprised by the ease of the Assyrian conquest. We will think the wealthy can buy power as easily as the powerful can grab wealth. We think of the British Empire, an octopus with the power of a worm, or of the American Empire, a worm with the tentacles of an octopus.

The Phoenicians do buy armies. A few of Levi's grandsons, in fact, distinuish themselves as mercenaries in those armies. But armies eat up the surplus in the ships' holds, and the heads of the mercantile houses know that all the wealth of the Phoenicia comes from taking the things in the holds to places where they're precious, and from filling the holds with cheap things that are precious elsewhere. The merchants also know that large armies acquire insatiable appetites and threaten to swallow all the things in the ships' holds. And of course the merchants are right.

When the third Tiglathpileser's war engines knock down Phoenicia's gates, the Assyrians do not inherit a world empire of floating tentacles. The Assyrian militarists do not need to deport Phoenicia's merchants, and they may not even want the floating empire to end. But the moment their hungry armies plunder the ships' holds, the Phoenician octopus collapses. All that's left of it are the pieces of tentacles beyond Assyria's reach, the outposts on both shores of the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic. The parent of all these outposts rots like the empty ships in its harbors. The ships, whose holds cow contain only what's left of a once lush Levantine forest, will eventually sink. The trees in the ships' holds will have no heirs because the soil on which they grew has been washing into the sea since the day it lost its cover. This soil, still rich with living organisms, will join the sunken ships in the bottom of the Mediterranean, where both will gradually turn into offshore oil.

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The Phoenician seaborne octopus was initially nothing but a tentacle or outgrowth of Sumerian and Egyptian landborne worms, and one might wonder how the octopus managed to stay loose for as long as it did, especially in view of its unavoidable miliatry inferiority vis-a-vis the Assyrian monster.

We will have to keep reminding ourselves that the landed worm is a coherent and efficient entity only in the wishful thinking of a Hobbes. Continual decompsition is the normal state of artificial worms in the field. The human beings reduced to springs and wheels never cease to resist this reduction. The beast's military campaigns against external as well as internal resisters, naemly its attempts to halt the decomposition, are in fact the stuff of His-story.

Decomposition was also the normal state of the Assyrian Leviathan during the twenty or ten generations of Phoenicia's heyday.

When the Hittite Leviathan collapsed, Assyria's Tukulti Ninurta led his army to capture and enslave thousands of the fallen empire's stranded soldiers, probably thinking to gain as much power as the other lost. But Assyria did not gain by this capture, and the sudden scarcity of boasting tablets suggests that in trying to feed its enlarged army, Assyria lost the ability to sustain itself. Babylonia as well as Elam withdrew from the monster's east, and when the first Tiglathpileser recovered these losses, federated tribes of Mushki tried to storm Assyria's west. The great grandfatehrs of Medes and Persians are said to have been among these angry Mushki.

Assyria's attempt to hold on to its extremities by military means apparently failed; the tablets speak of famines and withdrawals. Hurrian-speaking Mushki established themselves in a fortress called Uratu in the Armenian mountains, and even Assyria's Semitic-speaking zeks, both Aramean and Chaldean, began to witdraw from labor gangs and armies. The second Ashunasipal moved the head of the Assyrain Leviathan from Nineveh to Kalah to be closer to the rebels' strongholds, but his successor, the third Shamaneser, faced an even larger resistance, and this Civilizer had to raze Nineveh as well as Ashur to restore a Pax Assyriana.

Even then Assyria's troubles weren't over. The Hurrians of Uratu attacked in concert with zeks undermining Assyria from within, so that the third Ashrdan suffered what in Assyrain eyes must have been the greatest ignominy: military defeat on every front. And then his successor, the fifth Ashurnirari, suffered the even greater ignominy of being overthrown by the uprisng of his own capital, Kalah. For all these reasons, the Assyrian Leviathan did not even begin its career as swallower of all it competitors until twenty or ten generations after Tukulti Ninurta's capture of the stranded Hittites.

Assyria's third Tiglathpileser, called Pulu the Restorer by his contemporaries, was another of those great innovators along the wide path that leads from Barbarism to Civilization. Inhuman cruelty had been practiced by the Civilized before. This progressive monarch's innovation was to deport entire populations from their familiar places of refuge to strange places where they had to depend on the conqueror's generosity even for food..

The second Hiram of Tyre is mentioned on Assyrian tablets as a willing vassal; apparently this Hiram tried to buy his reprieve from the Assyrian tyrant. We've seen how much such a reprieve would cost Tyre and the other Phoenician cities.

Damascus, Edom and the little State of Israel with its capital at Samaria, tried to resist Pulu the Restorer, but King Ahaz of Judah and his troops served the deporter as auxiliaries who helped Assyria repress the resisters. Many heirs of Moses, people as well as prophets, rebelled against collaboration, and Ahaz was succeeded by King Hezekiah, who walled his kingdom in against the Assyrians. But by now all other independent Levantine Leviathans had been battered or turned to vassals by Pulu's successor, the fifth Shalmaneser, and the next Assyrian, the second Sargon, beat down the gates of Samaria and is said to have deported its entire population of twenty-seven thousand. Judah was now the last independent Leviathan on the Levant.

The second sargon's reign is another great leap forward for Civilization. This tyrant is far ahead of his Akkadian namesake in death-technology, inhuman cruelty and sheer killing power. Like his namesake, he sets out to conquer the world. At Khorsabad he builds a palace which will be dug up by our contemporaries: its impersonal, intimidating hierarchic sculpture and architecture expresses unequalled cruelty and terror.

This Sargon, also like his namesake, sets in motion forces that will swallow his successors. Already in his own reign, withdrawing Chaldeans and Arameans allied with Elamites find a champion in a former zek called Merodach-Baladan and leave the Assyrian no rest.

Sargon's successor Sennacherib, beset by continual rebellions, sacks and massacres most of his empire's inhabitants. During this madman's reign the Assyrians at last beat down the Kingdom of Judah and deport most of its inhabitants, they impound Phoenicia's empty ships, and they massacre the Chaldean and Aramean rebels at their Babylonian stronghold.

Then, under Essarhaddon, the Assyrians destroy Phoenician Sidon, besiege impoverished Tyre, and proceed to invade Egypt.

Ashurbanipal, the last tyrant of Assyria, inherits an empire embracing the entire known Leviathanic world, and lives to see his empire shrink to the size it was before Pulu set out to restore it. Ashurbanipal consoles himself by becoming a librarian and contemplating Assyria's pas greatness on the thousands of cuneiform tablets he collects at Nineveh. He is the precursor of historical scholars who will find similar consolation in their libraries.

Egypt, the Levant and Babylonia emerge from the decomposing Assyrian Leviathan, scathed and unable to resume.

Something else emerges, something that was set in motion from the world-raping Assyrian war engines: another federation of tribes from the steppes and mountians.

The avatars of this new assault from outside are the Medes, who easily install themselves in all-but devastated Elam. Behind the Medes are the federated speakers of Turkic and Iranian tongues whom the Greeks will cal Scythians and Persians. The newcomers help Naboplasser the Chaldean oust Assyrian power from Babylon and then join Naboplassar in putting a definitive end to Assyrain His-story.

Naboplassar the Chaldean, an armored man who spent his youth in the Assyrian war machine, seems to think the newcomers irrupted out of the Eurasian steppes in order to help him raise Babylon to the glory of fallen Nineveh. The Chaldean destoys the last remains of Assyrian power hiding in ancient Abram's town, Harran, and then proceeds to the Levant.

The next Chaldean, Nebucadrezzar, tyrant over a populous Babylon of glittering wealth and wretching poverty, reduces the by-now immiserated Levantine cities, and installs Zedekiah of Judah as puppet governor of Tyre, Sidon, Moab as well as Judah, but when Zedekiah offers to perform a similar service for Egypt's Pharaoh, the Chaldeans of Babylon besiege Tyre, burn Jerusalem, and deport the remaining Levantine Jews to Babylon.

This is as far as the Chaldeans are able to stretch their neo-Babylonian Leviathan. Nabonidus, the last of Babplastar's heirs, like Ashurbanipal the last Assyrian, is an antiquarian. The newcomers from the steppes overrun every stronghold ever held by Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians or neo-Babylonians.

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