Genghis Khan and the Mongols’ beliefs in comparative perspective

The thirteenth-century Mongol leader Genghis Khan understood himself to be the divinely appointed lord of all the earth.  Such a self-conception isn’t exceptional.  Other emperors in eastern Eurasia considered themselves to be son of Heaven and lord of all the earth.  Such beliefs do not necessarily imply that the lord of all the earth wage war on others who do not acknowledge him as such.  Those others could be regarded as ignorant or ungodly.  The lord of all the earth could also think that the god who gave him a divine mandate would also bring about the submission of the others to him.

Thirteenth-century Mongol beliefs and rituals were cosmopolitan.  Mongol rulers burned sheep shoulder-bones and read the resulting cracks in the bones for guidance in taking actions.[1]  That’s similar to the ancient Chinese practice of reading oracle bones.  The Mongols ritually purified persons and objects by having them pass between two fires.  Such ritual action can be understood as a spiritualization of the process of refining silver and gold.  Spiritual refinement with fire is also described in Hebrew scripture.[2]  Before drinking, the Mongols poured out portions for cosmic entities:

{the steward} sprinkles it {the drink} three times toward the south, genuflecting each time, in honour of fire; next towards the east, in honour of the air; next towards the west, in honour of the water; and some is thrown toward the north for the sake of the dead.

The Mongol libation ritual could also take a simpler form:

When the master of the house is holding the cup in his hand and is due to drink, first of all prior to drinking he pours on the ground its own share. [3]

Such Mongol practices have been described as shamanistic rituals.  Ancient Greeks and many other ancient peoples made similar libations.  Mongols were eclectic, cosmopolitan users of rituals and beliefs common across Eurasian history.

Genghis Khan

Mongol rulers’ demands that rulers of well-established sedentary civilizations submit to them were not crude, violent ultimatums from a savage people.  The thirteenth-century Mongol ruler Möngke Khan described the Mongols’ cosmological beliefs thus:

We Mo’als {Mongols} believe that there is only one God, through whom we have life and through whom we die, and towards him we direct our heart. [4]

Jews, Christians, and Muslims shared that same highly developed religious belief.  Yet Möngke Khan wrote to King Louis IX:

This is the order of the everlasting God.  In Heaven there is only one eternal God; on earth there is only one lord, Genghis Khan.  This is the word of the son of God {Genghis Khan} which is addressed to you.  … if you are willing to obey us, you should send your envoys to us: in that way we shall be sure whether you wish to be at peace with us or at war. [5]

From the Mongol perspective, the only alternatives for other peoples were to submit to the Mongol ruler or to be at war with the Mongols.[6]  The Mongols’ cosmopolitan culture co-existed with totalitarian political practice.

Genghis Khan fought expansively to actualize his ideology of supremacy.  He apparently believed intensely in his favor with god, but worked hard for himself.  That seems to be the disparate pattern of beliefs that imply war.

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[1] Mission of Friar William of Rubruck, trans. Jackson & Morgan (2009), Ch. XXIX, para. 26-27, 41,  54.

[2] For Mongols and purification by fire, see id. Ch. XXXV, para. 3, and Carpini’s Account, Ch. 3, trans. Hildinger (1996) pp. 45, 47, 49.  The latter explains:

The purification by fire is done this way: they build two fires and they place two spears near the fires and a line between the tips of the spears and they tie onto the line strips of buckram beneath which and between the two fires the people, animals and tents pass.

Id. p. 49.  On purification by fire in Hebrew scripture, see, e.g., Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:2.  Cf. Genesis 15:17.

[3] Trans. Jackson & Morgan (2009), Ch. 2, para. 8.

[4] Id. Ch. XXXIV, para. 2.

[5] Id. Ch. XXXVI, paras. 6, 12.

[6] Voegelin (1940-1) pp. 112-116.  Voegelin seems to have written this analysis with insight into what Nazi Germany was then doing in Europe.

[image] Genghis Khan, from an 14th-century album depicting several Yuan emperors (Yuandjai di banshenxiang), now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei (inv. nr. zhonghua 000324).  Cropped slightly.


Hildinger, Erik, trans. 1996. Giovanni di Plano Carpini The story of the Mongols whom we call the Tartars = Historia Mongalorum quos nos Tartaros appellamus: Friar Giovanni di Plano Carpini’s account of his embassy to the court of the Mongol Khan. Boston: Branden Pub. Co.

Jackson, Peter and David Morgan, trans. and ed. 2009.  Willem van Ruysbroeck. The mission of Friar William of Rubruck: his journey to the court of the Great Khan Möngke, 1253-1255. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co.

Voegelin, Eric. 1940-1.  “The Mongol orders of submission to European powers, 1245-1255.” Byzantion XV, pp. 378-413. Reprinted in revised form, with English translation for all texts, pp. 76-125, in Voegelin, Eric, and Ellis Sandoz. 2000. Published essays: 1940-1952. Columbia, Mo: University of Missouri Press (pages cited to reprint).

COB-81: why nothing gets done

A common complaint about bureaucracy is that nothing ever gets done.  That’s not bureaucrats’ fault.  Zeno of Eleo, a Greek who lived about 2450 years ago, proved that no project can achieve its goal.  Zeno’s insight was that if each day you do half of the remaining work on project, you will need an infinite number of days to finish any project.  Zeno probably worked as a clerk in a major sheep-management firm.  He understood bureaucratic realities.

Committees for millennia have been meeting to establish a program for figuring out how to finish a project.  The growth of global bureaucracy offers a glimmer of hope.  World-wide collaboration through the United Nations brings together an unprecedented concentration of committees, meetings, and documents.  Innovative approaches, such as each day doing a third or a fourth or a fifth or …. of work remaining on a project, are being exhaustively tested to determine is they can yield a finished project in a finite number of days.

The United Nations’ High Level Committee on Management (HLCM) is block-heading the effort to establish a roadmap for finishing a project.  After 23 preliminary sessions, the HLCM turned to physicists’ recognition of the asymmetry of matter and antimatter.  HLCM pursued this innovative insight with a non-paper.  The non-paper observes:

At its 24th Session in September 2012, the High Level Committee on Management {HLCM} called for the development of a Strategic Plan to guide its work for the next three to five years … The HLCM Retreat scheduled for 14-15 January 2013 would build on these consultations, paving the way for the development of a Strategic Plan.

The HLCM’s non-paper is a key step for building on the consultations that are paving the way for developing a Strategic Plan for establishing a roadmap for finishing a project.

doing chores

In other bureaucratic issues this month, the Cyrus Cylinder is on exhibit at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.  The Cyrus Cylinder is an innovative medium for communicating a bureaucratic document within Cyrus’s vast Persian empire.  The Cyrus Cylinder is normally on file at the British Museum.  British Museum Director Neil McGregor has insightfully observed:

Unlike most empires of the period, which were based around rivers, Cyrus’s was a “road empire,” stretching thousands of miles, said McGregor, and also the first “multilingual empire.” It also had a civil service: “You can’t run this kind of an empire without a great bureaucracy.”

Any kind of great organization depends on a great bureaucracy.

Recent research is highlighting the importance of bureaucrats throughout history.  Bureaucrats, not slaves, erected the Egyptian pyramids.  The bureaucrats who did such extraordinary work were far from “fat-cat bureaucrats.”  Additional research on ancient Egypt has revealed the death-inducing circumstances in which the bureaucrats, including local middle management, worked:

although the cultural level of the age was extraordinary, the anthropological analysis of the human remains reveals the population in general and the governors – the highest social class – lived in conditions in which their health was very precarious, on the edge of survival.

Little is given to bureaucrats, and much is asked of them.

Evernote founder and entrepreneur Phil Libin displayed appalling stupidity in a recent interview.  Libin described his management priorities thus:

“It’s really about how quickly you can make decisions and how relentlessly you battle encroaching corporate stupidity,” he adds.

“It’s like you are locked in a battle against the natural forces of corporate bureaucracy – the things that just want to seep in and make everything stupid. It’s difficult to fight that – but it’s fun.”

Bureaucrats produce more notes than the rest of the world combined.  Evernote should embrace bureaucracy, not fight it.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

death and gender: pathologizing masculinity, normalizing misandry

Men suffer many more injury-related deaths than do women.  In the U.S. in 2010,  the ratio of men to women dying from unintentional injuries was 1.7 men per woman.  That ratio does not account for men’s minority status among the adult population (men numbered 6% fewer than women in the U.S. in 2010).  Hence men’s deaths from unintentional injuries per 100,000 men (death rate) was 1.8 times higher than the corresponding death rate for women.  The bias toward men’s deaths is even higher among deaths from violence-related injuries.  Men’s death rate from violence-related injures was 4.1 times that of women.  Considering all injury-related deaths, men’s injury-related death rate in the U.S. in 2010 was 2.2 that of women.[1]

Public policies to reduce men’s deaths while respecting men’s freedom to develop and live as masculine men are feasible.  War, which is institutionalized men-on-men violence, should be avoided by any possible means.  Sexist selective service should be abolished, and military combat assignments should be reviewed to ensure the combat-death risks are not disproportionately imposed on men.  Special employment transition benefits could be enacted to help men interested in moving out of the most dangerous occupations such as mining and construction.  Public policy could encourage affirmative action to promote men’s opportunities in relatively safe occupations such as teaching and medical care.  To reduce men’s alcohol-related fatalities, policies could be directed toward reducing stress in men’s lives, increasing men’s sexual satisfaction, and providing a safe environment for men to behave raucously.

Public discussion of injury-related death shows stark effects of gender.  While women’s health is a major scholarly and public policy concern, the highly disproportionate number of men’s deaths has hardly attracted any attention.  The few scholarly articles addressing the issue have been highly gendered.  One such article began:

It has long been noted that masculinity can be harmful to men’s health (e.g., Goldberg, 1977; Harrison, 1978).  More specifically, scholars theorize that masculine socialization predisposes many young men to take excessive risks (Courtenay, 1998; Marini, 2005). [2]

The terms “masculinity” and “masculine socialization” are rhetorical, intellectually empty placeholders for actual men’s lives.  Those lives contract sharply with the lives that gender scholars, in their “theorizing,” want men to live.  The article quoted above shamelessly deploys such rhetoric to exploit in shallow scholarly research the lives of men returning with serious injuries from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Pathologizing these men’s masculinity after it has been exploited for war is utterly contemptible.

gender garbage

Another recent scholarly article on injury-related death treats gender with greater rhetorical sophistication.  This peer-reviewed article is entitled “Gender Disparities in Injury Mortality: Consistent, Persistent, and Larger Than You’d Think.”  That title obscures the paper’s central observation: men’s injury-related death rate is consistently and persistently about twice women’s. Moreover, the vaguely-titled article’s first sentence establishes gender-conventional framing:

Males are born with a numerical advantage, an advantage that decreases over time. [3]

Being born with a numerical advantage, such as being born among citizens of California rather than among citizens of Montana, is rather different from facing twice the rate of injury-related death of a similarly situated person.  Moreover, the appended dependent clause is much more related to the substance of the paper than is the preceding independent clause.[4]  Describing as men’s disadvantage their suffering from twice women’s injury-related death rate is disfavored within the gender structure of public discourse.  The article’s introductory sentence signals gender bias within that discursive structure.

Similarly gender-biased is the vaguely titled article’s subsection titled “consistency of male excess.”  It describes men’s injury-related mortality consistently being about twice that of women’s.  The issue of “missing women” in Asia has attracted considerable scholarly and public attention.  Men are missing in the U.S. from relatively high injury-related mortality.  The issue of missing men attracts almost no scholarly and public attention.[5]  The vaguely titled article, which actually is about missing men, describes the problem as “male excess.”

The gendered structure of public discourse, deeply entrenched in human social nature, risks pathologizing masculinity and normalizing misandry.  A recent scholarly article advocates public “interventions” to “challenge gendered identities” and “promote affirming ways of ‘doing gender.'”  It declares:

gender effects on health are characterized by a capacity for adaptation over time and space, in response to fashion, media, or public policy.  … Interventions that would explore and promote affirming ways of ‘doing gender’ may ultimately constitute ‘best buys’ for health and society. [6]

Interventions challenging gender identities should start with speaking out with concern and compassion for men’s relatively high injury-related mortality.  Interventions could proceed to speaking out about the grotesquely gendered structure of public discourse about sexism, the gendered structure of public discourse about sex-differences in lifespan, the gendered structure of public discourse about legal regulation of male sexuality, and many other important topics that current social practices of “doing gender” suppress.

The scholarly literature, however, does gender by pathologizing masculinity and normalizing misandry.  The gender-totalitarian solution to men’s relatively high injury-related death rate is to deny men the freedom to be masculine men.  That goes by the social-scientific cant of “modifying masculinity-linked behavior.”[7]  The gender-totalitarian solution takes as given social structures that define men as relatively disposable human beings.  It favors more discrimination against men.  For example, to address men’s alcohol-related injury mortality, the gender-totalitarian solution proposes:

a higher age for licensing males {allowing males to get a driver’s license}, a higher age for legal consumption of alcohol by males, or a policy of zero-tolerance for male drinking and driving. [8]

Males who understand this misandry surely will be driven in despair to drink more.  A more excellent way starts with love for men.

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Data: sex differences in injury-related deaths in the U.S. in 2010 (Excel version)

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[1] After age 65, the sex ratio for violence-related fatalities climbs sharply.  In the U.S. in 2010, the violence-related death rate for men ages 75 and older was seven times greater than that for women of those ages.  Older men may not be appreciating their frailty and may be too willing to sacrifice themselves by placing themselves in harm’s way.  U.S. fatal injury data are readily available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fatal Injury Reports (WISQARS).  Data compiled from that source for 2010 are in the workbook on sex differences in injury-related deaths.

[2] Good et al. (2008) p. 39.  The quotation’s in-line references foster a pretense of knowledge-authority and cow persons not familiar with the sort of scholarly work this is.

[3] Sorenson (2011) p. S353.

[4] Id. provides no substantial analysis of the sex ratio at birth.

[5] Id. p. S356 observes:

Systematic analysis of gender differences in injury mortality in multiple and diverse countries would help document the scope and nature of the phenomenon. To my knowledge, no other such analyses have been published in the peer-reviewed literature.

[6] Snow (2008) pp. 59, 72, including preceding quoted phrases.  Id. preposterously attempts to parse differences in mortality rates between “chromosomal sex” and “gender.”  Sex, which depends on much more biology than chromosomes, arises developmentally.  Human nature is clearly social.  Authoritative “interventions” that target adults’ “gender identity” may well do great violence to their well-being.  The distinction between sex and gender is obvious in scholarly discourse.  Sex is about males and females.  Gender is about rights of women and wrongs of men.

[7] Sorenson (2011) p. S357-8.

[8] Snow (2008) p. 70.  A more just form of sex discrimination would be to adjust men’s Social Security payments to recognize men’s death-rate disadvantage.  Increasing social appreciation for men and providing better social circumstances for men are needed to address the root social problem of men’s self-destructiveness.


Good, Glenn E., Laura H. Schopp, Doug Thomson, Stefani L. Hathaway, Micah O. Mazurek, and Tiffany C. Sanford-Martens. 2008. “Men with serious injuries: Relations among masculinity, age, and alcohol use.” Rehabilitation Psychology. 53 (1): 39-45.

Snow, Rachel C. 2008. “Sex, gender, and vulnerability.” Global Public Health. 3: 58-74.

Sorenson, Susan B. 2011. “Gender Disparities in Injury Mortality: Consistent, Persistent, and Larger Than You’d Think.” American Journal of Public Health. 101 (S1): S353-S358.

al-Jahiz the litterateur versus Yūhannā ibn Māsawayhi the physician

In ninth-century Baghdad, the eminent litterateur al-Jahiz wrote learned, scholarly works on theology and learned, outrageously humorous essays on illicit practices.  Al-Jahiz reportedly suffered from sensitivity to cold food in his feet, and to hot food in his head.  He also reportedly suffered from paralysis and numbness on his left side, and inflammation and painful tenderness on his right side.[1]  Whatever was troubling al-Jahiz, it had sharply contrasting symptoms.

Al-Jahiz and the eminent physician Yūhannā ibn Māsawayhi squared off in a knowledge test.  They reportedly met in ninth-century Baghdad at a lavish dinner that the caliph’s vizier hosted.  They tested each other thus:

Among the dishes there was fish, followed by meat cooked in sour milk.  Yūhannā {ibn Māsawayhi} avoided mixing them. Said Abū `Uthmān {al-Jahiz}, “O Shaikh {respected teacher}, either the fish is of the same nature as the milk, or it is opposed to it; if they are opposed to each other, they are canceled mutually; if they are of the same nature, we may assume that we are eating one of them and continue until we are sated.” Said Yūhannā: “By Allāh, I am no philosopher, but eat, O Abū `Uthmān, and see what happens tomorrow.” Abū `Uthmān ate as an argument on his behalf, but during the night he was half paralyzed.  Said Yūhannā: “By Allāh, this is the consequence of an invalid syllogism.  Abū `Uthmān was led astray by his belief that fish and milk are of the same nature.” [2]

Al-Jahiz the litterateur argued based on linguistic logic.  Yūhannā ibn Māsawayhi the physician emphasized learning from practice and observation.  Al-Jahiz’s body suffered from his failing to recognize in words proper differences in nature.  Māsawayhi’s empirical method demonstrated its superior merit.  Of course, mixing fish and meat doesn’t actually cause any physical harm.  Moreover, the above story is almost surely fabricated.[3]

Neither al-Jahiz nor Yūhannā ibn Māsawayhi was strictly a litterateur or an empirical physician-scientist.  Al-Jahiz made careful observations of the natural world and described Darwinian evolution.  Yūhannā ibn Māsawayhi was famous for caustic wit and forceful quips.

Battles between litterateurs and scientists continue.  But the outcome is certain.  Nature and truth will not be defeated.

anchored in cloudy water

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[1] Fihrist, trans. Dodge (1970) p. 399.  In the Fihrist, al-Nadim included al-Jahiz not among literary men but among theologians of Mu’tazilah.

[2] HP p. 347 (Ch. 8, entry for Yūhannā ibn Māsawayhi).  The transmitter of this story was ibn Butlān.  Ibn Butlān was skilled both as a rhetorician and a physician, but he could not establish sufficient social strength to overcome ibn Ridwān in a knowledge battle in eleventh-century Egypt.  Al-Jahiz wrote a book called Refutation of Medicine (Naqd al-Tibb).  Fihrist, trans. Dodge (1970) p. 407.  That work hasn’t survived.  Montgomery (2005)’s bibliography of al-Jahiz’s surviving works. Al-Rāzī wrote “a refutation of al-Jahiz’s refutation of medicine.”  HP p. 546 (entry for al-Rāzī).  Al-Jahiz lived 776-869; al-Rāzī, 865-925.  Al-Jahiz’s hostility toward medicine evidently was sufficiently influential to prompt a leading physician to write a book in response many years later.

[3] Among various indicators of fiction, ibn Abi Usaybi’ah attributed the story to ibn Butlān, who died c. 1068.  That’s roughly two centuries after the events of the story would have occurred.


Dodge, Bayard Dodge. 1970. The Fihrist of al-Nadīm: a tenth century survey of Muslim culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

HP: Ibn Abi Usaybi’ah, Ahmad ibn al-Qasim. English translation of History of Physicians (4 v.) Translated by Lothar Kopf. 1971. Located in: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 294Online transcription.

Montgomery, James E. 2005. “Al-Jahiz.”  Pp. 231-242 in Cooperson, Michael, and Shawkat M. Toorawa. 2005. Arabic literary culture, 500-925Dictionary of Literary Biography, v. 311. Detroit: Thomson Gale.