Archive for March, 2016

have a happy Easter holiday?

Easter

By holiday do I really mean holi day? “holi” being the Hindu celebration of the start of spring in which they welcome the Lord of Pleasure, Madana, son of Vishnu and Lakshmi? Or do I mean a Christian Holy Day, a day when we put aside our daily toil behind the plough, over the blacksmith’s fire or on top of a thatched roof, and attend worship services on a day set aside by the Christian Church for devout chanting and singing in the commemoration of a significant religious event?

In New Zealand, this Easter holy day was, of course, to commemorate the death and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; and we were commemorating this because, based on this resurrection, the collection of Christian Bishops, gathered together by Roman Emperor Constantine in Nicea in 325 A.D., voted that Jesus was actually a God as well as a human. With this declaration 1641 years ago, the Christian religion was established as a bona fide standalone religion rather than just a sect of Judaism. And so the Christian faith was established to become one of the three great religions of the modern era. It also slightly adjusted the Christian Church’s Judaic base belief system from being purely monotheistic to being a trinity of three Gods in one: a human form, a holy ghost form, and a paternal form.

And so, after 300 plus years of persistence, Christianity, we are told, officially replaced the beliefs of Paganism as the official beliefs in Rome. For a Church that believed that Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated the triumph of a human-form of God over the pagan forces of nature, it is peculiar, then, that the date of Easter changes annually, based on the timing of the first weekend after the full moon following the Spring Equinox. This uses an undeniably pagan calendar and coincides with a long-established Spring Equinox pagan festival.

One would have thought that the actual date of the crucifixion and resurrection would have been recorded according to the Julian calendar of the day in Rome and Judea, which would then have been handed down with the gospels by the early Christians and then readily been converted to today’s Gregorian calendar. But no, for some unexplained reason, the Council of Nicea decided the pagan symbolism and timing of the first full moon after the spring equinox was the appropriate time to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Spring equinox celebration in paganism (witchcraft) today is called the feast of the Germanic goddess of fertility and new birth “Ostara” or “Eostre”, which is clearly the root name for our Easter. This is one of the eight neopagan holidays that make up the pagan wheel of the year. Knowing the Roman Catholic Church’s fundamental opposition to paganism and witchcraft, it is surprising that the commemoration of the death and resurrection is also named Easter, after this Germanic goddess.

And if we dig a little deeper in history to paganism in Rome at the time of Emperor Constantine, we find the older Spring Equinox festival where they believed in a goddess Cybele, the great mother of Gods, who had a consort named Attys. Attys had been a shepherd who was born of a virgin birth from his mother, Nana. Attys is reported to have been killed by a boar, which is then thought to be why his followers abstained from eating the flesh of pigs.

Attys’ resurrection was then celebrated each year during the Spring Equinox. It is said that during this festival a pine tree was cut in the woods and brought to the sanctuary of Cybele. The duty of carrying the tree was entrusted to a guild of Tree bearers. The trunk was swathed like a corpse with woollen bands and decked with wreaths of violets (violets were reputed to have sprung from the blood of Attys). The parallels to our Christian mourning of the crucifixion are uncanny. On the third day of the festival the high priest (Archigallus) drew blood from his arm and offered it as a sacrifice. The inferior clergy also danced their way into a frenzy of self-mutilation to splatter their blood on the tree. The splattering of blood was supposed to be an aid to resurrection. Again the sacrament of the blood of Christ offered up at the last supper is an uncanny parallel. The subsequent rebirth of nature as spring progressed is then seen as proof of the restoration of life. The worship of Cybele and Attys was brought to Rome from Phygria (Asia Minor) in 204B.C. The black stone (meteorite) in which the spirit of the goddess was embodied was entrusted to the Romans who installed it in the temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill. The subsequent harvest was exceptionally good and her position in their belief system was established.

So the question that I raise is, did the Council of Nicea actually achieve an official takeover of Paganism by Christianity, or was the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in effect a reverse takeover of the original Christianity by the pagan emperor Constantine? After 300 years of Rome trying unsuccessfully to suppress this Judeo-Christian cult, did he in fact simply don a Christian façade and bring the dissident Christians under his control in this way? Was the new, improved Christianity post-Nicea simply a hybrid Pagan/Christian religion designed to bring a bit of religious harmony into the Roman Empire? Did he bring the feasts of paganism and the dates of paganism, complete with funny hats and symbolic staves? (plural of staff, didn’t you know?), meld them with carefully edited texts about the life of Jesus (many original texts were said to have been declared heretical by this new church, and burned) and say: “Behold the new Christianity!” ? Constantine himself is reported not to have actually converted to Christianity himself until his deathbed, at which point who is able to dispute his conversion anyway?

How much do we really now know, then, about the early Christians? And what did they really believe? It was Peter who first started preaching to pagans sometime after the crucifixion and later Paul, who only joined the mission years after the crucifixion, also extended the mission to the pagans and gentiles. But the original mission as stated by Mathew’s account of Jesus’ instruction (Mathew 10:5) was “Do not turn your steps into pagan territory and do not enter any Samaritans town; go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” And later in Mathew 15:12 when a Canaanite woman asked for help, Jesus’ reply was “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel…..it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the housedogs.”  Pretty clear Judaic messages. We do know in the early days post-crucifixion there was much dispute among the Christian disciples about Peter and Paul selling out this Jewish mission to the Pagans. So was the Council of Nicea like “Bethlehem’s family bakery, baking bagels since 33AD” selling out to “Romano’s Bagel and Pizza Shack”- global franchise enquiries welcome.

Whatever your religious beliefs, it would appear that the Roman-Christian festival of Easter is in fact a rebranding of the Pagan festivals of Eostre and of Attys, including the moving-feast practice to align annually with the full moon following the Spring Equinox. So if we continue to base this Christian feast on a Pagan observation of the cycles of the sun and moon to bring in the ‘new life’ of Spring, then logically, in the southern hemisphere, we should celebrate Easter in September. Otherwise it simply makes no sense. Constantine obviously didn’t think it through to the spread of his Empire to the southern hemisphere.

So, did you put aside your daily duties and attend your Church Services? I confess that we celebrated Easter Sunday, not with a wafer of bread and sip of a cheap red wine at a Church, but with sharing a delightful platter of breads, olives, meats, cheeses and dips, washed down with an Allan Scott sav blanc and a West Coast beer and followed by desert and coffee, at a charming little restaurant. As did many other families.

For us, as I suspect for the majority of people, Easter, like Christmas, is actually a family celebration rather than a religious one. Families make an effort on these holidays to get together and share a meal. So shouldn’t we set aside the holidays of Yahweh, Allah, Jesus and Vishnu and replace them all with family celebration days? Use your annual leave for your specific holydays if that is your personal vibe, but should the official public holidays be just familydays?

Family gatherings promote harmony irrespective of creed. I am sure your God would approve and I suspect it’s the way Constantine would do it today if he just wanted to bring a bit more harmony into the community.

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For whom the flag flies

By the end of this Thursday we will know the outcome of the great flag referendum.

In this referendum we are in three groups. Group 1: those adamantly opposed to any change; group 2: those who want any flag that does not have the Union Jack on it; and group 3, those who would want a change in the flag to more appropriately represent New Zealand in the 21st century but would also need to very happy with the alternative flag before making a change. Group 3 were probably always going to be the deciding vote between the two extremes.

The polls are saying group 3 are nor convinced that the alternative flag is worth changing to. We shall see, but I suspect they are right. And, dare I say it, they are right because the flag committee did not listen to me in the first place.

180px-Flag_of_New_Zealand_Government_Ships_1867.svgThe use of the Union Jack was originally needed primarily for our merchant ships taking our export goods to foreign shores and returning with our imports. This was our merchant navy flag adopted in 1867. On open seas, ships are required to fly their flag, to identify under whose authority/ protection they sail upon the open seas. Without such, in the nineteenth century they could have been assumed to be pirates and treated as such, or assumed to be victims in waiting and also treated thus by any well-armed Spanish or Dutch ship’s captain. So our ships flew the Ensign with the Union Jack and therefore sailed under the authority of Queen Victoria and under the protection of her navy.

credit: Toby Morris

credit: Toby Morris

Somehow the flag design got into the “Union Jack vs Silver Fern” choice. That seemed to have been the briefing from the originator of the process, John Key and I just do not understand why that happened. They are not conflicting “either/or” design elements as demonstrated by the Falklands flag below. I totally concur that we were well overdue to review the use of the Union Jack on our national flag, but I simply cannot make the jump that a symbol of our native flora and fauna was the appropriate symbol to replace the Union Jack.

Falklands flag The Falklands are happy with the Union Jack exactly where ours is, but there is a real difference between us and the Falklands. The Falklands are an overseas British territory; New Zealand is an independent nation connected to Britain by being a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, whose head is the Queen of England. New Zealand is not governed by Great Britain. However we do have a connected but independent link. Queen Elizabeth is named in our legal system as the Queen of New Zealand.

ERSo we do not really sail our ships under the protection of the Royal British navy, which sort of makes the Union Jack a bit redundant. But we do have a constitutional link to the Queen of England. When I submitted my first flag option, it was rejected before even getting to the flag selection panel. It was rejected because I had thought that a national flag should have reference to its constitutional head of state. I agreed that the Union Jack was inappropriate since we do not come under the governance of Britain, so I included the more appropriate E:R crest of the Queen of New Zealand. REJECTED.

No one denies that John Key is a good salesman. But he is a currency and investment salesman. We know that he could sell money to the eskimos and acknowledge that he has successfully managed the New Zealand investment portfolio on our behalf, although the unproductive residential prices in Auckland, soaring at the same time as the value of productive dairy farms is crashing, does present a real challenge going forward.

But John Keys wanted to step up in the sales world from the currency, investment and insurance sales status to becoming a card-carrying member of the Madison Avenue Advertising Guru set. He wanted to be the guy that could rebrand a nation. It would not be up there with rebranding Coke, but it would be worth a column in the back of Advertising Age which would be a good start. He set the brief, he controlled the design process. He got his white fern on a compromised black background and neither Britain nor the Queen had any role in the design.

But a true MadMan gets inside the target market’s soul and touches the heart. A significant response in the polls is that the alternative just doesn’t seem like a real flag. It seems just like a product brand; and a fairly generic, compromised one as well. That would probably be the critical group 3 talking. For the Maddison Avenue explanation of that focus group response read “the target market is, emotionally, highly-invested in their national flag and the design alternative has not touched their heart and soul.”

For John Key has not understood the emotional attachment to the Queen of the critical group 3. A sweet little old woman living half a world away who, at 90, is still sharp as a tack. A sweet little old woman with her prince charming grandson and his beautiful wife waiting in the royal wings. John Keys may well run a good little business down here, but he is not royalty, he is not head of the family. When he prepared his brief on the rebranding of what he thought was ‘our business’, he forgot that we are at our heart and soul a family business, and he left our royal family off the flag brief. She may be a 90-year-old woman, but she is the only head of state that we have got. And as I said on my first submission, a flag needed our constitutional legitimacy to be demonstrated to the world. That is a fundamental role of a national flag. The royal family of Great Britain is our family. For that reason I believe John Key will lose his big entry pitch into Madison avenue. His rebranding of New Zealand will fail. When a salesman loses his big pitch, he loses his mojo.

So when the flag is run up the flagpole on Friday morning, Mr Key, ask not for whom the flag flies, it flies for thee.

Beat you John Key!Footnote: it’s Friday and the status quo flag flies high and proud. Group 1: delighted, Group 2: deflated; the deciding Group 3 see an opportunity wasted with a shallow design.

 

 

 

Flag_Take 2Next time just listen to me, I’m the AdMan, John, you stick to selling money.

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A bad haircut day

Yesterday was haircut day. A brief time to settle back for a pleasant natter with my hair-cutter. The parking meter outside was out-of-order so I was hoping not to be too long at the hair cutter to avoid a parking ticket.

As luck would have it, no-one was in any of the four chairs on this mid morning, so this shouldn’t take too long as long as my hair cutter didn’t natter on too long. But the natter was far from what I would normally expect in a men’s barber shop. One of the other hair-cutters (female) was trying on and modelling some pants for the other staff that she had bought online. The pants were bottle green instead of the black she thought she was getting, the waist fitted a bit funny and the length wouldn’t look so bad if she had different heels on, but otherwise an exciting and successful online shopping mission was completed.

“So how are the shops doing around here?” I enquired. “Oh its terrible,” I was told, “so many have closed down all up and along the street.”

” Mmmm so I suppose fewer people coming in to their hair cut then?” I speculated. Went straight over her head as three of them looked on while the fourth was tending to me, their sole customer and one other bloke who popped in for some tobacco that they didn’t have in stock (would have to get the boss to order more). Anyway, sensing my opinion on the subject, my hair-cutter assured me that she preferred going to the shops because she was too short and wide to shop online. But there won’t be any shops left to attend to your short, wide needs I thought. At least I hope I only thought, these days I have a tendency to think aloud without realising it.

Credit D. Lloyd photographer 1976

Credit D. Lloyd photographer 1976

I recalled a few days ago noting the name “Johnson’s” still visible at the top of a building in George St and starting to recall what businesses were actually along the main street when I wore a younger man’s clothes. Johnson’s was a fish shop. A good one too, nowhere near as good as the Best Cafe in Stuart Street, maybe not even as good as Fresh Freddy’s in St Andrew Street, but certainly in the top 3 or 4. And as we went along we remembered Wing On Fruiterers, Eskrick’s butcher shop, Queen Anne pastry shop, Pacific Fruit Supply and on and on we could have gone. George Street was just like an old European market. Now their windows either promote boutique fashion stores, Australian Banks, the fine purveyors of credit and debt rather than meat, fruit, fish or pastries, or Colliers’ For Lease signs. Who could have imagined such a retail landscape change back in the heady, hippy days of the sixties and early seventies.

But now they are all gone as the ‘think-big’ eighties dawned and we all bought into the convenience and excitement of the supermarket. The independents collapsed and the supermarkets grew. Now in a blind taste test the only way that I could differentiate between beef and lamb is by the flavour of the sauce normally used with either. The meat itself could be anything; it is water-logged, preservative-polluted, indeterminate flesh. I have a lot more salads these days and it is nothing to do with moral vegetarianism.

And now we are watching the rapid closure of the boutique fashion stores because we prefer to shop online at the global supermarkets based in China or Bangladesh. So exciting, so much more convenient. So what? just a few shops. But when the shopping for every conceivable product goes off shore to the global online super-shops, so does the manufacturing.

In the same time that I recalled the shops that once lined the main street, I also recalled the things we used to make and do here. I recall the number of printers we had in Dunedin in recent times, before it became more exciting and more convenient to get printing done in Hong Kong. Now we don’t need so much printing because we no longer have any printers working here to buy things off other manufacturers. They used to print brochures for businesses like furniture manufacturers. But furniture can now be imported online from Indonesia in flat pack, much more convenient and cheaper. Where have all the furniture makers gone? long time pahassing..?

In Dunedin we used to make Fisher and Paykel appliances, now made in Mexico. We used to make soap! McLeod’s soap; we used to make electric heaters, Zephyr heaters in Kaikorai Valley. We used to make mattresses at Arthur Ellis, we used to make trains in Hillside Workshops. We made biscuits when Cadbury still had the Hudson name on its letterhead. We made woollen yarn and blankets at the Roslyn and Mosgiel woollen mills; Ross & Glendining, Hallensteins and Sew Hoys manufactured clothing; Methvens made taps and all sorts of plumbing equipment, McSkimmings made bricks and pipes at Abbotsford;  engineers were everywhere making all sorts of products. And on and on it went.

I was in the advertising agency business back in the 70’s. Princes St was our Madison Avenue. Not the Mad Men, we were the Princes of Advertising. (You thought the street name was Princess? you were wrong!). Our agency was only one of four national ad agencies with an office in Dunedin: Ilotts, Inglis Wright, Charles Haines and Dormer Beck who were all busy little beavers selling Dunedin made products around the country. We all organised photography, brochures and advertising campaigns for a vast selection of Dunedin businesses. That is how much productive business that Dunedin had back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Now there are no national ad agencies in Dunedin, they followed the yellow brick road.

Collectively over one or two short decades, we all bought into buying at the big overseas supermarket, we went global. We travelled a lot more. We made overseas contacts. We imported. We have absolutely destroyed the economy of a great little city (and country). Now the most creative business in Dunedin is the Australian banking industry. They create credit and false hope. Where once money issued had to be linked to the value of gold stored by the government, now money has no foundation other than the will over governments to keep putting more numbers onto more digital accounts so perpetuate an illusion of wealth in the hope that they will survive another term in government. The truth will lose an election, the people only vote for hope. Our individual and communal debt builds and, in reality, the Australian banks own Dunedin. And they bought it cheaply as they gave us all the credit we wanted to buy whatever we wanted from the global supermarkets rather than keep on making it ourselves. Our Scottish forefathers would weep into their Wilson’s.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.28.30 PMWhere once, not very long ago, if NZ Rail wanted a train carriage they came down and talked to the people at our Hillside workshops, today they can order one cheaper on the AliBaba website.

Today Dunedin essentially is a University town and that is probably successful because the University operate quite independently of Dunedin City Council and has the managerial talent to run a very smart business. But they have also setup Otago University branches in Auckland and Wellington and no doubt are embracing online technology as well to sell their education. So don’t bank on the Dunedin campus growing. The Dunedin campus experience is probably more to do with the well publicised, willingly tolerated, party culture  that students can experience in Dunedin.

While all these nostalgic thoughts were running through my mind and I was wondering what job prospects faced our young people I passed this scene.  graffitiThree able-bodied men spending the best part of a morning painting out the illegible social protests of someone with a spray can. I wondered whether one of these men was formerly a skilled wood-turner in a furniture factory? or could one have machine-lathed steel parts for a train carriage? Could one have once been a skilled brick-maker? Who knows? But if so and if they wanted to continue to ply their skilled trades, they would have needed to have moved to Asia. Nothing here in Dunedin but a paint-brush a hi-viz vest and $15 an hour less tax to spend on the cheapest goods the internet can provide. And successive governments at both local and national level have let it happen, even encouraged it, as they went on trade mission junket after trade mission junket and were wined and dined around the globe. Sister cities, trading partners. Our politicians have been babes in the wood. Today we no longer have the resources or skills to actually make the basic products upon which we depend for our survival. One well-directed solar flare, from the hundreds that are emitted annually, and our satellites will be fried, along with our ability to dial-up the internet or even make a phone call.

That haircut really ruined my day. If I want to invest in any business for the future, I think it would be the “Hunting and Fishing” retail franchise. After a single generation experiment in global trading and subsequent loss of our skills of manufacture of the products required to sustain our civilisation, I think the farmer and hunter gatherer may again find a vital role in our Kiwi society. Meantime, if you want to save what little economy you have left in your community, whenever you have a choice you must buy locally made and sold. It might cost a little more but at least they won’t be bottle green and they might fit better. Throw a local manufacturer / supplier under the global supermarket bus and you are throwing another chair on the fire.

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The power of language

Two hundred thousand years ago, give or take, we acquired the problem-solving gene that defines Homo sapiens. Intelligent man. The Bible poetically refers to it as eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. And the first problem we had to overcome was the very limited ability of homo erectus to communicate with each other. For achieving dominion over all the beats of the land and birds of the air required strategic planning, co-operation, idea sharing, imagination. It required language. And sophisticated language.

And we developed it and achieved great things as a result. So successful were we in fact that the Bible also records that God and his angels became alarmed that we had built the Tower of Babel and were challenging God himself, (Gen. 11: 6-9) “the Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.”

So the solution to denying Homo sapiens intellectual ambitions was to create confusion in their ability to communicate with each other. And we still carry out this confusion of languages today. Language is just as often used to confuse as to illuminate. We are fundamentally tribal and we use language to define our tribe and confuse other tribes. We can be amazingly co-operative within our tribe and brutally violent to those outside our tribe. The Middle East and African conflicts are largely created because of the political desire to unite tribes into artificially created countries under a common language. It just is not working. They define their community by their language not by artificial lines on a map. In Papua New Guinea there are between 800 and 1000 languages. It is our ears more than our eyes that tell us if someone is from Northland or Southland, New Zealand or Australia, England or America. The Americans were from England so why did the founding fathers create such a distinctive accent? To define themselves as a new tribe of Americans? Even within a city, the East-End London Cockneys developed their own rhyming slang primarily to confuse the outsiders who could not be trusted and, of course, the old Bill.

My interest in the power of language was piqued this week by hearing a Ted X lecture by a Vietnamese immigrant in the USA, Phuc Tran talking about the subjunctive mood. Probably like you, I could not recall back through my youthful education when the intrigue of the subjunctive mood was explained by my English teacher. But to recap, the subjunctive mood is used in English to explore imaginary or conditional situations.

“If I were prime minister I would ban brocolli”

“If it had not rained we probably would have gone to the beach”

“If I could just make this thing do that then the outcome would be…”

Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, obligation, or action that has not yet occurred. And as such the subjunctive mood is so critical to the fundamental point of language for Homo sapiens, that is to problem solve. For problem solving can only occur in the language of imagination.

Which is why Phuc Tran’s talk was so interesting. He was raised from a child in the USA and so was very familiar with the subjunctive mood in English. Phuc Tran has taught Latin, Greek, German, and Sanskrit at independent schools in New York and Maine and was an instructor at Brooklyn College’s Summer Latin Institute. In 2010, he served on a committee to revise the National Latin Praxis exam for ETS. Phuc currently teaches at Waynflete School in Portland. But his parents were raised in Vietnam and although his father was a lawyer and politician with the expected skills in the Vietnamese language, and yet he had no comprehension of the subjunctive mood in that language.

That came to light in a very poignant way. When they were escaping during the fall of Saigon, the Tran family was about to board a bus to the airport when young Phuc became hysterical. In calming him down they missed the first bus and caught the second. That first bus was hit by artillery and all on board were killed. The second bus made it safely. So today Phuc ponders the ‘what ifs’. His father cannot comprehend this line of thought. His father does not do “what ifs”. His father says “Why on earth do you waste time talking about what did not happen?”

His father has a point. And in that point we can also see that the subjunctive mood has two very distinctive moods. On the positive side it is the pathway to discovery, to problem solving, to inventiveness, to progress. On the dark side it can spiral down into regret, fear and fatalism. Sometimes through history some of our greatest geniuses were also among our most troubled minds. Soaring with the positive possibilities, then spiralling down into the negative fears of failure. The subjunctive mood is a wild horse that should not be ridden bareback; it needs reins, saddle and stirrups.

Phuc thinks that absence of the subjunctive mood may be the reason for the stoic resilience of the Vietnamese people. Does that mean that they are also an unimaginative, uncreative race because they do not have a subjunctive mood in their language?

Of course Phuc’s talk attracted some intellectual debate from other linguistic academics over the true definition of the subjunctive mood and whether the Vietnamese language does express it in different ways to English.  That is not a debate I wish to explore as, whatever the outcome, the point is what a significant tool language is in the development of our species and how fascinating it is that we have this conflict that originated in the time of babel whereby language is used as much to divide us as it is to unite us. Anyway the only Linguist’s observation that actually made any sense to me was from my daughter, Samara, who studied linguistics at Otago University, when she simply observed that the culture creates the language, not the other way round.

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Who wants to live forever?

So asked Freddie Mercury. So also concerned God when he banished our forebears from the Garden of Eden. As the good book says in Genesis 3:, ‘Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever ” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.

So it eventually became established in our culture that our human life on earth was limited to three score and a few more. This is the way of things on earth. Unimaginable that it would be any other way.

Yes if you subscribe to the Jewish/Christian faith or the Muslim faith from the same region then you believe that the soul is eternal and, for the faithful, the body and soul will be reunited in heaven. If you subscribe to the Indian Hindu faith then you believe in reincarnation of the soul into various life forms on earth until you reach nirvana and escape the physical world to be a perfect, eternal soul.

But from the sci-fi days of the mid 20th century, humans began to dream that anything would be possible by the 21st century. Doors that magically open by themselves as you approach (tick); space-craft (tick); pills to replace food (potentially a tick) and the ultimate, the ability to rejuvenate our human body in perpetuity. Drink from the fountain of youth. At the first sign of erectile dysfunction or bum and boob sag, off you go to a clinic to be hooked up to electrodes and just dial back the years.

So what a surprise then, back in the 1990’s when scientists discovered a humble life species on earth that can actually live forever. Or at least biologically can live forever as long as it’s not eaten by a predator. It is a

Turritopsis-nutricula; photo credit : Peter Schuchert

Turritopsis-nutricula; photo credit : P. Schucher

5cm long jellyfish,  the Turritopsis- nutrucula. It was first discovered in 1883 in the warm sea of the Mediterranean and also found living happily and potentially eternally in the Caribbean. But back in the mid 1990’s scientists studied this little marine creature and actually discovered it’s power of immortality. When immortal jellyfish become sexually mature, the male releases his sperms into a column of water. The sperm come in contact with eggs that are present in the stomach of the female jellyfish. During the embryonic stage of the jellyfish lifecycle they are either settled onto the mouth or the oral arms of the female. After they have passed this stage, they transform into free swimming planulae and separate themselves from the body of their mother. They float along the surface of the water for a few days and then settle on a hard, stationary object like the surface of a rock.

At this stage, they become transformed into polyps. These polyps continue to feed on microscopic plankton and the polyp then begins to grow multiple identical polyps until it becomes a colony. All the polyps are connected with minute feeding tubes and they receive equal nourishment from their microscopic diet. The colony of polyp can remain in this stage for years at a time. When the condition is right, this colony of polyp begins to grow horizontal grooves. The groove at the top is the fastest to mature, and will soon free itself and become a free swimming jelly fish.

This process of reproduction is common to most species of jellyfish. But what is unique about the immortal jellyfish is that after reproducing sexually, they are able to return to their polyp stage. The “original study of the species, published in 1996, records that if a sexually mature Turritopsis is injured, starving or under some other natural threat, it attaches itself to a nice warm surface and converts into a blob. From that blob state its cells undergo ‘transdifferentiation’, that is its cells simply transfer to become different types of cells. Back to polyp stage. Immortality is possible in our natural world on earth.

It raises a big question, if they are immortal then why are the oceans not absolutely clogged up with these creatures? Well, that’s when you have to read the fine print. Only the sexually mature jellyfish can revert back to polyp stage, and most of the deaths of these little creatures occur at the immature polyp stage of their lives usually as a mid morning snack for a sea slug. 

I can see I have lost you now as you calculate the pointlessness of finding the secret to eternal youth if in fact you are highly likely to die or be eaten by a sea slug during the born again process. But stay with me because you are missing the point.

Still here? Good, then I will explain the point. All life is fundamentally just bunches of cells getting together. Humans are nothing but something like an average of a trillion cells for every kilogram of weight (not counting bacterial cells of course which are ten times that number). Little 5cm jellyfish would be lucky to have a billion cells. Quite a tiny sample really, but the point is, if a billion cells can sort out a reversal back through the life cycle, then surely it is simple multiplication of the same principle to get 70 or 80 trillion cells to do the same thing. Cells are cells, life is life. Nature already has the secret to eternal life, so all we need is a civilised system to protect ourselves during the rebirth process and we effectively are as immortal as God and his angels. Just as Yahweh feared might happen back in the Garden.

Have I jumped a few trillion steps too far? Well explain the Anita Moorjani story to me. She was riddled with the deadly Hodgkin’s lymphatic cancer, had been for four years with tumours right through her torso. Finally, with all her organs going into total shutdown, she fell into a coma from which the medical staff telling the family she could not possibly recover. She would certainly die that night. But she survived the night and recovered rapidly; when they could first do a biopsy there was absolutely no sign of any cancer. The cells right through her upper body had reversed the process, reset her system and eight years later she is touring the world as a guest speaker at all sorts of events. The doctors simply could not explain it so had to just admit that and move on with their chemotherapy-based careers.

Again one case in the tens of millions of cases over the last ten years, but if it can happen once then there is a case study to confirm the possibility of cellular self healing. And if they can self-heal, why not revert us back to our youth. No doubt the scientists who study cellular behaviour are studying the immortal jellyfish.

But what if they succeed in working out how to encourage our cells to revert backwards to newborn status? Sounds good? But on second thought, there ain’t enough room on this planet for all of us. With this global population doubling over the last 50 years from 4 to 8 billion, we are already too many and are exhausting earth’s resources, fouling its waters and polluting it’s atmosphere. Introduce immortality and there will be 20 billion of us here for the next Rugby World Cup. And about forty percent of you will be looking after the other 60% percent of we juveniles. Is that really going to work?

Maybe now we understand why God threw us out of the garden of Eden. You want immortality???? you can’t handle immortality!!!!

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