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Catch A Fire By Timothy White English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2023 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Bob Marley was quoted as saying, Who are you to judge the life I live. I know Im not perfect -and I dont live to be- but before you start pointing fingers… make sure you hands are clean. (Thumbpress)In the following pages, I will present to you the meaning of being human from the perspective of a middle class American. Beginning with a retrospective look at the travels and travails of Bob Marley and his life as presented thru the book, Catch a Fire. We will review examples from the book as well as other research sources as we define what it is to be human. Life as a human is one of inconsistency, fraught with the choices and decisions made to satisfy our hierarchy of needs, often necessitated by circumstance.

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Thru a study of the text: Catch a Fire, we reveal the life of Bob Marley. The people that surrounded his life, loved one, friends, enemies and associates alike get exposed to our scrutiny. As these lives unfold before our minds eye, we begin making unconscious assumptions about the different aspects of these characters. The questions of who, what, where, when and why about what they are doing in the story start to shape our understanding of the tale. With understanding comes opinion. As we form opinions about the storied characters and the lives we have learned about, we begin the process of awareness and see how these characters lives are much like our own, yet, uniquely different.

Until recently, it has been these ideas of consciousness, understanding and awareness that have been the stalwart foundation of some scientists’ insistence; we are human because we are different from animals in this way. Quoting from “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness”;

On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states,…We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

A footnote on the paper provides some context and writing credit for this presentation;

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch. The Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Low, Edelman and Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes.

When I first read the article “Prominent scientists sign declaration that animals have conscious awareness, just like us” by George Dvorsky at io9.com, it surprised me. I am of the school of thought that expounds the theory (Deem) that consciousness is one of the determining factors in what it means to be human. The way our brain takes input and “gives rise to private Technicolor experience” (Deem) is different from other species and is unique to us. Has this difference now been boiled down to a communication barrier? Will we soon be taking classes on how to use sign language with our pets? I myself remain skeptical. Being human requires consciousness, but that is not all. Being human also means being able to communicate.


Bob Marley’s life was one centered on a type communication, singing. Foremost in his songs were messages about life. Marley’s’ singing oft-times contained verbal imperatives to change or suffer the consequences. In example of this, is his first single, ‘Simmer Down’ (White, 157). A message to his mother as much as it was for the island ‘rude boys’ (158), to “Simmer down, oh control your temper” (James, 2). Another examples arises in the song ‘Small Axe’, originally a piece meant to disrespect the big three record companies (White, 224) by boasting ‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe / Sharpened to cut you down / Ready to cut you down’ (Kenner). Whether he used them consciously or not, Marley used poetic tools such as free verse and imagery in his writing. <> Other tools such as metaphors and similes appear in his writing to provide comparisons such as we find in ‘Small Axe’.

One of the noted difficulties in working thru the text was Timothy Whites inclusion of phrases in the Jamaican Patois. The Jamaican Patois is mostly a spoken language, with Standard British English used for writing (Wikipedia). I take an example from the chapter Rat Race, “Yahso! Dat like de ring in de dream!” and “Me t’ink dat dream might be a blessin’ from ya faddah,” (White, 215). I originally found this way of communicating very hard to grasp and it took me some time to be able to read it without backtracking. The inclusion of the patois, eventually, provided for me a sense of environment as I studied the text. Even though it raised the level of effort required in my studies, I came to appreciate the inclusion.

Another form of communicating we find related in the text is body language. While not a uniquely human trait, I find it important to mention it here. Communication is essential not only for humans, but in other species as well. See appendix for example of how other animal species communicate. Perhaps the significance of what it takes to be human is not as great as we tell ourselves. Earlier in this paper, it was presented that science is now questioning our understanding of animal consciousness, maybe; just maybe, being human is not very different from not being human. Consider a hypothesis: humans may have evolved spoken language because we could not grasp a sophisticated body language.


Considered a uniquely human trait, the seeking of beauty has created entire industries predicated on the seeking of beauty. Man has sought beauty throughout the ages as evidenced in this phrase from ‘Symposium’ by Plato, 360 BCE;

Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may.

Was Marley seeking beauty when he stood in front of a mirror and admired himself in his stage clothes? (White, 161) I think so. Marley also demonstrated seeking beauty in his relationship with the eventual Miss World, Cindy Breakspeare, with whom he fathered a son (314). There are other forms of beauty than physical attractiveness. Described as beautiful by Rolling Stone in the list of 100 Best Singers, Marley’s music espoused imagery that inspired people to see beauty in his lyrics.

However, physical attractiveness is one of the main aspects of beauty. When one sees something as beautiful, are we not merely seeing the outside of it? With the exception of the species that reproduce asexually, all species must mate to survive. There can be intense competition amongst some species for the privilege of mating. There are many examples of mating rituals based on a flashy performance by a male. Take the peacock for example, the male with his beautiful feathers displayed for the female. Given this example, is the seeking of beauty a uniquely human trait? In the context of mating, I would say no. Perhaps its not the seeking of beauty that is uniquely human, maybe it is the understanding of beauty that is uniquely human.


In my honest opinion, many people would fall back to the understanding of right and wrong as fundamental difference between what it means to be human and what it means to be animal. Religion has been a major source of guidance for many people throughout the years. Marley did not consider Rastafarianism as a religion. For him it was a way of life. In the time after his return from the states, where he had been working to get money to open his own label, he began to see what this was doing to his wife. Initially he was concerned (224). As he saw more and more evidence of the Rasta in his life he sought out more information. As he gained understanding of the Rasta way, he adopted those ways as his own.

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Life as a human is one of inconsistency, fraught with the choices and decisions made to satisfy our hierarchy of needs, often necessitated by circumstance. I have presented evidence of shifts in thinking about animals and consciousness. We have looked at some small examples of communication and the affects of beauty on aspects of life. For Bob Marley, life in Jamaica was a mixture of chaos and struggle. Growing up to earn the nickname Tuff Gong, he was not known for backing down from a fight. Yet when attacked in his home, he wisely went into hiding, coming out of hiding briefly for the Smile Jamaica concert. This was inconsistent with his past character. His polygamy is also inconsistent with monogamy, which is the norm in contemporary western societies. Probably the most glaring aspect of inconsistency was the philosophical inconsistency in the nickname Tuff Gong. Here we have Marley singing for peace and love and widely known for his aptitude with a ratchet and fighting skills. Even to the point he had a special saying about having the handle and the adversary getting the blade (217).

Works Cited

Thumbpress.com, “10 AWESOME BOB MARLEY QUOTES”, 01 Sep, 2011, WEB, 01 Dec, 2012

Philip Low et al, “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness”, WEB Jan. 4, 14

Rich Deem, “The Human Difference: How Humans are Unique Compared to All Other Animals”, WEB Dec 2, 2012

Rob Kenner, “5 Amazing Stories Behind Bob Marley Songs” Apr 6, 2012, WEB, Dec 2, 2012

<>Quizlet, “Poetic Tools”, n.d., WEB Dec 2, 2012

Wikipedia contributors. “Jamaican Patois.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 Dec. 2012.

Plato, ‘Symposium’, 360 BCE, translation by Benjamin Jowett, accessed, from http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/symposium.html, 2 Dec. 2012.

Rolling Stone Contributors,”100 GREATEST SINGERS”, Rolling Stone Music, 2012, Accessed 2 Dec. 2012, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-singers-of-all-time-19691231/bob-marley-20101202

Stephen Messenger, “10 Animal Courtship Rituals a Guy Could Learn From”, treehugger, (2011), Accessed 2 Dec. 2012, http://www.treehugger.com/slideshows/natural-sciences/10-animal-courtship-rituals-a-guy-could-learn-from/page/2/4-Jan-14

Cara Santa Maria, Is Monogamy Natural?,Talk Nerdy to Me, 2012, Accessed 2 Dec 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/10/is-monogamy-natural_n_1087009.html


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