The Finger

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Kittens today we are going to talk about something we all know,
everyone uses, always enjoys giving and never enjoys receiving, says
more with a simple gesture than most explainations ever can, is
universally known, doesn’t require a passport or ticket yet you can
use in any country on earth and will be recognized and has been used
by humanity long before Jesus walked the earth.

He probably even used it himself.

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You do not have to say one word to make your point very well known
when you use it. It is possibly the greatest communication tool
mankind has ever produced and aside from fire, the wheel, concrete and
the printing press I truly believe it is one of our more perfect
infoulable inventions ever.

It should be in the Smithsonian Institute alongside Fonzies jacket.

I am talking about the allmighty FINGER.

You can’t confuse the finger for the “we’re number one” sign. Nobody
ever thinks you are pointing at them when you use it. It doesn’t mean
“hmm….let me think about that for a while” or “gee I hadn’t really
considered your opinion.”

Never in history has anyone ever confused getting the finger for “why
yes I would enjoy a bit of marmalade with my tea and scone.”

We all use it and nobody ever asks why we use it, or wonder where it
came from. Kind of like wondering how or why we wipe our asses with
bits of expensive really soft paper and not a pinecone, or just having
the dog take care of it for us.

Us humans do that a lot. We do things without wondering why or where
it came from.

So what is the real story about the finger and where it came from?

For that we are going to have to go back in time before Jesus walked
around (not just on water) annoying money changers and look to ancient
Rome.

The finger or any gestures involving the middle finger, are thousands
of years old. In Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution, Desmond
Morris and colleagues note that the digitus infamis or digitus
impudicus (infamous or indecent finger) is mentioned several times in
the literature of ancient Rome. Turning to our vast classical library,
we quickly turn up three references. Two are from the epigrammatist
Martial: “Laugh loudly, Sextillus, when someone calls you a queen and
put your middle finger out.”

(The verse continues: “But you are no sodomite nor fornicator either,
Sextillus, nor is Vetustina’s hot mouth your fancy.” Martial, and
Roman poets in general, could be pretty out there,
subject-matter-wise. Another verse begins: “You love to be sodomized,
Papylus . . .”)

In the other reference Martial writes that a certain party “points a
finger, an indecent one, at” some other people. The historian
Suetonius, writing about Augustus Caesar, says the emperor “expelled
[the entertainer] Pylades . . . because when a spectator started to
hiss, he called the attention of the whole audience to him with an
obscene movement of his middle finger.” Morris also claims that the
mad emperor Caligula, as an insult, would extend his middle finger for
supplicants to kiss.

Another possible origin of this gesture can be found in the
first-century Mediterranean world, where extending the digitus
impudicus was one of many methods used to divert the ever present
threat of the evil eye, which is a look that is superstitiously
believed by many cultures to be able to cause injury or bad luck on
the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike. The
term also refers to the power attributed to certain persons, of
inflicting injury or bad luck by such an envious or ill wishing look.

The idea that the term denotes causes many cultures to pursue
protective measures against it. The concept and its significance vary
widely among different cultures. The idea appears several times in
translations (Tirgumim) of the Old Testament. It was a widely extended
belief between many Mediterranean tribes and cultures: Classical
Greece probably learned this belief from Ancient Egypt, and later
passed it to Ancient Rome.

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Isn’t anthropology fun Kittens? Not only do we get to learn things and
use our thinking bones, but the next time we use the finger to tell
some diabolical fool that he or she has displeased us, we can explain
to them where it comes from. Books are rather fun and chock full of
useful things aren’t they Kittens?

The ancient Romans used the finger to insult each other exactly the
same way we do today, and to protect themselves when somebody was a
jackass and gave them stink eye just as we still do to this day.

Humans spend a lot of time walking around bumping into each other and
generally acting foolishly without investigating why we do it. Many of
our goofy habits date back thousands of years and are as much a part
of who we are than we realize.

Thousands of years of both good and bad habits are exceptionally hard
to break. Considering that humans have been wandering around for
roughly 200 000 years and we have been giving each other the finger
for over 2 000 of them it really isn’t a great mystery that we don’t
know very much about ourselves or our habits.

For example, a couple of thousands of years ago in Roman times and you
had trail rage because some dork decided to cut you off with his
manure cart while trying to pass you in heavy traffic, would you have
given him the finger with your left or right hand?

You would use your right hand and not because you were right handed.
You would use it because just like they do in most parts of the world
today…..Romans drove on the left side.
In 1998, archaeologists found a well-preserved track leading to a Roman quarry near Swindon, England. The grooves in the road on the left side (viewed facing down the track away from the quarry) were much deeper than those on the right side. These grooves suggest that the Romans drove on the left, at least in this particular location, since carts would exit the quarry heavily loaded, and enter it empty.

Some historians, such as C. Northcote Parkinson, believed that ancient travellers on horseback generally rode on the left side of the road. As more people are right-handed, a horseman would thus be able to hold the reins with his left hand and keep his right hand free—to offer in friendship to passing riders or to defend himself with a sword, if necessary.

The first legal reference in Britain to an order for traffic to remain on the left was in 1756 with regard to London Bridge. The Highway Act 1773 contained a recommendation that horse traffic should remain on the left and this is enshrined in the Highway Act 1835.

In the late 1700s, the shift from left to right that took place in countries such as the United States was based on teamsters’ use of large freight wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. The wagons had no driver’s seat, so a postilion sat on the left rear horse and held his whip in his right hand. Seated on the left, the driver preferred that other wagons pass him on the left so that he could be sure to keep clear of the wheels of oncoming wagons. He did that by driving on the right side of the road.

Countries that became part of the British Empire adopted the British keep-left rule, although some have since changed. In Canada, the Maritime provinces and British Columbia initially drove on the left, but changed to the right in order to make border crossings to and from other provinces easier. Nova Scotia switched to driving on the right on 15 April 1923.

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While you were giving the finger to a man on an oncoming horse in Roman times you may have wanted to pepper your sentiment with a few words. You know, to fully make your point. “Te futueo et caballum tuum” or”Te futueo et equum tuum” would have done nicely. It means screw you and the horse you rode in on, words still commonly used today.

Es scortum obscenus vilis, Es mundus excrementi, Cupis homines, Moecha Putida, Canis filius, Podex perfectus es, Futue te ipsum!, Stercorem pro cerebro habes, Caput tuum in ano est, Perite,Vacca stulta, Caput stercoris, Cupio te meam mentulam sugare, Matris futuor,Te odeo, interfice te cochleare, Stercus accidit, Hic puer est stultissimus omnium!, Non Gradus Anus Rodentum!, De gustibus non est disputandum, Tum podem extulit horridulum, Potes meos suaviari clunes, Saltatrix tonsa, Quando podeces te regi eorum fecerunt?, Cacator Shitter Plenus stercoris es, Antiquis temporibus, nati tibi similes in rupibus ventosissimis exponebantur ad necem, Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris, Derideo te!, Estne volumen in toga, an solum tibi libet me videre?, Hocine bibo aut in eum digitos insero?, Id imperfectum manet dum confectum erit, Morologus es!, Noli me vocare, Noli nothis permittere te terere, Puto vos esse molestissimos, Raptus regaliter and Tace atque abi are other examples of a few things you might have said and really pissed off the offender that are also used today and made Redd Foxx giddier than a Japanese school girl.

Unremarkably we have found these words and gestures far too handy to allow them to disappear from our vocabulary and universal consciousness. They are now and have been for thousands of years communication tools to allow us to convey a thought without any possibility of confusion or having to explain their meaning. You just cannot mistake the true message of the finger. It doesn’t matter of you like the message or not or agree with its usage. There is no other communication tool that has ever been created to equal its longevity and impact.

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There are however lots of people who do not like the finger and what it means. they don’t like most things that offend them so they seek to control your words along with how and when you are allowed and not allowed to use them.

Rather than not use the finger or words because they do not like them and leave it at that, they want to make sure you don’t use them either. Not only that, they want to make sure you obey their every whim and want without much regard for your own because “they know what is better for you than you do.”

They don’t just rudely merge their manure cart into your lane giving you an excuse to give them the finger, they park it in front of you and make you either climb through their shit to get to where you were going, or try to sneak around them because manure carts are huge.

This is where the finger got a bad rap. Another tradition began in Roman times that we still all know about in one form or another, and one particular Roman who everybody has heard of but few know why or have completely missed the point as to why they know about him in the first place.

His name is Epicurious and wasn’t just a guy who liked a good meal and large portion of wine.

Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom very little is known—Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear (ataraxia) as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia) through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of our desires. The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure as the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from “hedonism” as it is commonly understood.

In the Epicurean view, the highest pleasure (tranquility and freedom from fear) was obtained by knowledge, friendship and living a virtuous and temperate life. He lauded the enjoyment of simple pleasures, by which he meant abstaining from bodily desires, such as sex and appetites, verging on asceticism. He argued that when eating, one should not eat too richly, for it could lead to dissatisfaction later, such as the grim realization that one could not afford such delicacies in the future. Likewise, sex could lead to increased lust and dissatisfaction with the sexual partner. Epicurus did not articulate a broad system of social morality that has survived.

Epicureanism was originally a challenge to Platonism, though later it became the main opponent of Stoicism. Epicurus and his followers shunned politics. After the death of Epicurus, his school was headed by Hermarchus; later many Epicurean societies flourished in the Late Hellenistic era and during the Roman era (such as those in Antiochia, Alexandria, Rhodes and Ercolano). The poet Lucretius is its most known Roman proponent. By the end of the Roman Empire, having undergone Christian attack and repression, Epicureanism had all but died out, and would be resurrected in the 17th century by the atomist Pierre Gassendi, who adapted it to the Christian doctrine.

Some writings by Epicurus have survived. Some scholars consider the epic poem On the Nature of Things by Lucretius to present in one unified work the core arguments and theories of Epicureanism. Many of the papyrus scrolls unearthed at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum are Epicurean texts. At least some are thought to have belonged to the Epicurean Philodemus.

Epicureanism emphasizes the neutrality of the gods, that they do not interfere with human lives. It states that gods, matter, and souls are all made up of atoms. Souls are made from atoms, and gods possess souls, but their souls adhere to their bodies without escaping. Humans have the same kind of souls, but the forces binding human atoms together do not hold the soul forever. The Epicureans also used the atomist theories of Democritus and Leucippus to assert that man has free will. They held that all thoughts are merely atoms swerving randomly. This explanation served to satisfy people who wondered anxiously about their role in the universe.

The Riddle of Epicurus, or Problem of evil, is a famous argument against the existence of an all-powerful and providential God or gods. As recorded by Lactantius:

God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. If he wants to and cannot, then he is weak – and this does not apply to god. If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful – which is equally foreign to god’s nature. If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful, and so not a god. If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?

In modern popular usage, an epicure is a connoisseur of the arts of life and the refinements of sensual pleasures; epicureanism implies a love or knowledgeable enjoyment especially of good food and drink.

This can be attributed to a misunderstanding of the Epicurean doctrine, as promulgated by Christian polemicists. Because Epicureanism posits that pleasure is the ultimate good (telos), it is commonly misunderstood as a doctrine that advocates the partaking in fleeting pleasures such as constant partying, sexual excess and decadent food. This is not the case. Epicurus regarded ataraxia (tranquility, freedom from fear) and aponia (absence of pain) as the height of happiness. He also considered prudence an important virtue and perceived excess and overindulgence to be contrary to the attainment of ataraxia and aponia.

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By now my Kittens I am hoping that this humble crudely assembled history lesson about traits and communication that date back thousands of years is beginning to seem rather familiar.

We are not that much different from the men and women of Roman times, we just have different stuff. There is nothing impressive about the age that we live in aside from the fact that we can LOL each other on mobile slave collars while driving around in cars and not on top of horse powered manure carts, although that is not to say that modern cars are much different either. It is just that now the manure is at the helm most of the time.

We are still lashed to forces comprised of inextricably linked forms of control. Religion and government are the same as they are now as they were in Roman times. They tax, they perform police and military actions, they occasionally feed the poor just enough to keep them alive and working poor and thus on their knees and they don’t like it when you give them the finger very much.

This is probably why the finger has survived as long as it has. We still need it because we still can’t behave ourselves enough to abandon the need for other people to govern us or even figure out what side of the road to walk on.

Until that happens we will still need the finger and the message it represents. This is why I like it so much. You can’t count on many things in life, but you can always count on somebody somewhere deserving The Finger.

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~ by jeff on February 19, 2010.

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