Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Be aware of Greeks bearing debts

April 25, 2015

Greece is, you see, the opposite of California, and I’ll tell you why.

The first thing is: Greece is very old. California is, on the other hand, very new.

The “West”–that is to say, California and all the rest of us New World types– actually started in Greece about three thousand years ago. Greece was the “West” because it was westward from what was, in ancient times, the Old Country, the region we now call the Middle East, or Levant, or Holy Land, depending on your point of view.

Long ago, after Alexander and his military legacy turned the Persians back at the battle of Marathon, long about 490 b.c.e., the people of the Greek city-states began joining together to form an historical entity that we now call Ancient Greece.

And since that time, the whole thing of Greek culture moved westward and northward over a couple of millennia  of time. The great thrust of Western thought, anchored in a mental discipline called philosophy and a political idea called Democracy,  inspired empires and nations from those ancient days until the present day.

We still dream about governing ourselves in this thing call a democracy, but it has never quite manifested in a way authentic to the original concept.

Probably never will, but it’s a nice thought.

A  couple hundred years after the Greek Golden Age, the Romans came along with their Republic and their empire. Much of their marvelously innovative empire-building was rooted in Greek thought and mathematics (Euclid and Pythagoras). A lot of what the Romans did was direct imitation of Greek stuff. A good example of this is their omnipresent use of Columns for holding buildings up.

You’ve heard of Doric columns, Ionic columns?

That’s Greek stuff. Except that–guess what!–the Doric and Ionic names originated across the Aegean sea from Greece, in a region called Asia (Minor), which is now Turkey. Go figure!

A couple hundred years after the Greek Golden Age, along came the Romans. What they ended up doing was much grander and more elaborate than what the Greeks did. They took Greek columns and turned them into a universal architectural art-form. Those two earlier Column designs–the Doric and the Ionian– were not fancy enough to suit the Roman sense of grandiosity. So the Romans decorated the capitals (tops) of their columns with new, leafy frou-frou carvings and castings  which came to be called Corinthian.

The Corinthian name, however, was not Roman, but Greek. Corinth was an important city in Greece.  So once again, go figure.

Figuring is important to the whole advance of Western civilization. Everywhere Greeks and their European progeny went, they were figuring stuff out.

Thus did Western Civilization expand over millenia of time. Along came the Germans, French, Spanish, British, all of them making ever grander plans,  striving to construct their own versions of civilization.

When the Greco-Roman enterprise got to the big Sea at the end of Europe–aka the End of the Earth–its expansion was delayed for a few hundred years. But then along came Cristoforo Columbo and Presto!, Western civilization took a grand leap across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now we Americans know about Boston, New Yawk, Philly, etc etc etc;  and we are intimately familiar with Paul Revere and Grampa George Washington. Why we even know about Charleston and Savannah and all that unreconstructed goings-on down south, but what’s important here is California!

Why?

Because Americans are adventurers. Our forefathers and foremothers hit the ground running after we got off the boat in Baltimore or Ellis Island or wherever it was.

Before you knew it, we were all the way over on the far other edge of the continent, in California, baby!

Or bust! That’s what the Okies said.

And that was, if you think about it, the very end of the Greek frontier. From Athens to Anaheim, westward ho all along the way. That’s all she wrote.

The westward expansion of Greek culture ended at California. It couldn’t go any farther. Why, even when they o’erleaped the wide Pacific, what did they find?

China!

It doesn’t get any older than that–China. No Westward expansion there, although the Brits made a few dents, and of course there was Marx and all that People’s trial and bloody error.

Now We Americans have a saying: as California goes, so goes the nation.

That means that, from the 1849 Gold Rush on, the great exploratory thrust of American ingenuity and creativity originates in place called California.

The land of fruits and nuts.

And broccoli, lettuce, grapes, wine, silicon, integrated circuit chips, beach boys, beach girls, computers, iPhones, movies and pop culture, etc etc etc.

So once all the migrant Europeans got themselves planted on the East Coast back in the 1800s, they built so many cities, and built them so quickly, that before you know it they got overcrowded and pulled up stakes to head West.

Go West, young man, wrote Horace Greeley, about a hundred and fifty years ago.

And very quickly. We developed America from raw earth,  from Schenectady to San Francisco in less than a hundred years, blazing a yankee trail all along the way.

And when we hit up against that great Pacific rim, the grand tide of our exuberance struck a sea wall and then it swayled back the other way: Disney in Paris, McDonald’s in Athens, Kennedy in Berlin!

But now–and my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars–our grand millenia-old Restatement of Greco-Roman expansionism strikes, back at its ancient nascence, an Athenian rampart.

So I see the next phase of history this way: As Greece goes, so goes the West. And this is what it looks like, according to a pic I recently snapped in Athens:

EarthBraceAgor2

Which is to say, a propped up portal. Where can we go from here?

Glass Chimera

Advertisements

Back to the future of Religion

February 21, 2015

Human history is full of walls. Everywhere people have gone upon the earth, they have built walls. Walls can keep good stuff in and bad stuff out, or the other way around.

For instance, consider this wall, which we encountered in Rome when we were there a few weeks ago:

VaticanWallC

Beyond this wall lies the body of Western Civilization. . .

if you consider the history of the Christian Church as a primary trunk of Western Civilization.

Not everybody does of course. Some folk are not believers, but rather thinkers, like the early, pre-Christian Greeks. . . Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. etc. . . Descartes, Locke, Marx . . .etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_philosophy

Many people in Western Civilization understand the difference between thinking and believing this way: they are mutually exclusive, two different animals. You either spend your life thinking, or you spend your life believing what is taught to you.

This is not true; it’s a false dichotomy.

I myself am living example of this. I am a Christian believer, and yet I do like to think analytically about everything, including faith itself.

This I have concluded: Faith is what you find at the end Thought.

In other words, when you’ve exhausted your brain in trying to figure life out, then you start believing in something besides thinking itself.

In my youth, I considered the Catholic Church, in which I was raised. And I decided it was for the birds.

I took a look at Philosophy, and decided I couldn’t not understand enough of it to make sense of the real world.

I studied the Law of Moses, and learned that I could not live by it.

Recently, I studied a little bit about Mohammed, because, well, you know. . . he and his followers are all the rage. Mohammed was a very smart guy, probably even a genius, but he was obviously a man, like me and you. His visions and ultimate indoctrinations were human, not divine. The outcome was True Religion by Intimidation.

Jesus Christ, on the other hand, laid down his life rather than settle for merely human solutions to our predicament. Now there’s a man I could follow, even though he went to the cross and suffered death. He was pure goodness, and I could follow him through death’s door, all the way to eternal life.

Of course that’s what Peter, his right-hand man, said about Jesus: I will follow you.

Then he went on to stumble through life, like me or you or any other human being. I look forward to interviewing him in heaven. I can relate to his resolution to follow Christ, even though he screwed up on more than one occasion.

A lot of things were done, in subsequent Christian history, in Peter’s name. There’s the Chair of St.Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church

Which leads me back to Walls phenoma. . .people building walls. Consider the one pictured above, in the great city of Rome. This wall was built by the Catholics to protect the museum part of St.Peter’s Basilica (in the Vatican.) Pretty impressive wall too, don’t you think. I was quite moved by its immensity; that’s why I snapped the photo. It seemed so . . . medieval.

On the other side of it, as I later learned, is the Vatican Museum, which is why I say therein lies the body of Western Civilization . . .

In a metaphorical kind of way, and even then only if you’re a person inclined to place value on religious traditions and institutions.

Like Tevya, you know. . .Tradition! tradition. Tradition.

Well guess what. Life goes on. That day in Rome, after the big brown wall image was safely in the iPhone, Pat and I resumed our walking tour of the city. It was a beautiful experience.

But just so you’ll know what a backward thinker I am, here’s a different photo that I had snapped about a week earlier, in Athens:

ConstXIPal

This is a statue of Constantine XI Palaiologos. He was the last emperor of the Byzantine empire.

He was killed by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1453. He died defending Constantinople, the epicenter of Orthodox Christianity during that period of history. The empire that he ruled, the Byzantine, had been trying to build a Wall, of sorts, a wall of Christian religion and dominion that would withstand the onslaught of Muslim Ottomans, but Byzantium could not withstand the Ottomans. So now the place is called Istanbul.

But such is the fate of Western Civilization’s aspirations for world dominion. Orthodox Christendom and the Byzantine empire that defended it could not stand against the onslaught of Islam in 1453.

Later however, the Ottoman empire suffered its own demise, in 1924, after Western Civilization imposed a new victory over the Ottoman Caliphate in the aftermath of World War I.

Alas, nowadays we Civilized persons of the West face a new Islamic Pretender. This one, arising in ancient Syrian lands, is claiming to recover the lapsed Caliphate mantle which had been worn for a few centuries by the Turks, even though the arrogant ISIS brutes do not acknowledge the Ottoman legacy as a legitimate Caliphate.

Consequently, we survivors of Western Civilization are now building a new network of Walls: digital walls, firewalls, psychological walls, spiritual and moral walls, to arrest the shock and awe of “violent extremists.”

Ultimately, we will have to erect some military walls, both defensive and offensive, before it is all over with, the end of the world or whatever.

Or just the end of Western Civilization. Then where will the body lie?

Whatever happens, our opposition to the jayvee-team fascists of the Khilafah will not end as Constantine XI’s last stand ended in 1453; nor is it likely to be enshrined within the walls of  the Vatican Museum.

 

Smoke

at The Cradle of Western Civilization

January 26, 2015

Back in the 1960’s days of my youth I began what eventually became a lifetime study of history and literature. While studying classic English literature in college (LSU) I sometimes wondered why the great writers of British literature had such a fascination, almost obsession with, ancient Greek literature.

Yesterday I began to understand why.

When you actually go to a place like Athens and walk around for a day, your definition of literacy changes. You see how far back our quest for knowledge goes. You notice  how different that quest was then, even though it now seems to be somehow the same pursuit.

While ambling on foundations (literally) of Western civilization established in Athenian ground 2500 years ago, you get an unfamiliar sense of time-travel, especially if you’re an American like me. I grew up in a national identity that was only hundreds of years old instead of, you know, thousands of years old.

This sense of getting deep insight into the origins of constructive thought is probably similar to what the classic English writers–Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Keats, Shelley, etc. etc.–felt when they came here.

It is a sense of this Culture thing that’s going on in the annals of mankind–it goes back a long, long way!

What I want to do here is present to you three examples of this experience that I had yesterday.

1.

Pat and I  stumbled upon (with a little help from a map) an ancient theatre, thousands of years old, where actual people who lived during that time came to see and hear actual plays being acted, like we would go to plays or movies today.

It was in this place:

TheatrDion2

In this very place, in this grandiose structure, playwrights of ancient Athens were amused as they watched ancient Athenian actors acting out on stage the dramas that they–the playwrights– had written.

When I dabbled in classic literature, back in the day, in college, I read selections from very old plays or poems written by long-dead Greek guys like Aeschylus, Euripides, or Homer. When I was reading, on printed pages, their old dramas and stories–like Oedipus Rex or The Odyssey or whatever–the reading experience was rather shallow.

To see the place where those ancient Greek stories were recited or acted out–there’s just something about it that propels the awareness of human story-telling into a new reality, a new appreciation for history that I never understood before.

Doesn’t that resemble a theater of auditorium in which you have been seated, having been perhaps assisted by an usher?

So that you see and hear some old story acted or sung about.

The urge to watch drama–plays or musicals of whatever fashion–goes back a long way! It’s nothing new.

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the ancient (even older than these Greeks) Hebrew poet Ecclesiastes noted.

What I am seeing is that, while the content of the narrative may change with time and fashion, the fundamental means of dramatic story-telling has changed not so much.

2.

This is true not only of literature, but also of military conquest and politics.

Pat snapped this picture of the antiquated structure called Hadrian’s Arch. You see me standing there beneath the architecture.

HadrArchCare

What’s funny about this is, on one side of the arch the citizens of Athens had inscribed (only barely visible) this statement:

“This is Athens, the city of Theseus.”

A few centuries later, the Romans came through and took over Athens. The Romans conquered the Greeks, or subjugated them, or threw their weight around in such a way that they wanted to demonstrate to the Athenians that  they–the Romans, new kids on the block of civilization– were now in charge of things around here and so now we pre-Italianos would be running the show and things would be different around here and you better know who’s calling the shots, if you know what I mean. And so, to make their point in an impressively architectural way, the Romans inscribed on the other side of the arch a new statement:

“This is the city of Hadrian, not Theseus”

I thought that was quite funny when Pat read it to me in the guide book.

3.

Here’s a time-travel appointment with one more  event that had happened in Athens, almost two thousand years ago. We were at a stony hilltop called Aereopagus.

AeropRoc

Yesterday I was standing here, looking at the marbly rocks of geological and historical time; the stones were worn smooth by millions of human feet that had trod there since the tree of knowledge was first encountered. Here, Greeks of long ago would gather to talk about the meaning of life, and probably drink coffee or wine, while discovering among themselves great thoughts of philosophy, history, politics, sports and bullshit and war and whatnot.

One day a zealous proponent of a new movement called Christianity came to town. He had come on a boat from Israel.

Paul had wandered in Athens for a day or two, and had heard about the serious pursuits of knowledge and nascent Western civilization that were taking place up on Aereopagus. So he went up there to listen, and to deliver a message to those sages. Here is (as recorded in a book, Acts of the Apostles) the beginning of what he told them:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man . . .”

But that was only another new beginning, even though it was in the middle of everything.

More to come. News at 11.

Glass Chimera

Pax Statismo, and Anarcho

March 28, 2014

In the modern industrial era that began about 200 years ago, a zeitgeist god named Kapital rose up to dethrone the god of the former age, Monarchy. Very early on during the Kapital dynasty, the Marx demigod happened along and he figured out that Kapital god had some real vulnerabilities that would ultimately lead to Kapital’s downfall.

So the Marx whipped up a revolution that ultimately would dethrone Kapital and replace him with a new god for the new age, Communo. As it turned out, from about 1905 until long about 1989 the Kapital and the Communo were at each other’s throats constantly everywhere you look.

But early on during the struggle between the Kapital and the Communo, the Keyneo demigod happened along and detected some serious vulnerabilities within Kapital’s corpus that, if infiltrated, would ultimately enable the Communo to sucker punch  Kapital into mayhem and oblivion.

Meanwhile, changes within the demographic of Communo’s domain morphed him/her into a new multigodural entity. The demigod MediaMad dubbed the new chimera god Statismo. The thing about Statismo is that nothing really matters to him/her. No noblesse oblige, no limits, no antiquated outdated obsolete faith or sentimentalities and for sure no sacred damn cows.

One result of Statismo’s evolving infiltrating insidious insurgent machinations was that institutions of the former Kapital and Communo realms began to topple slowly, one by one, two by two and whats-it-to-you, etc. For instance, one sacred cow of the faltering Kapital was that feral relic, the balanced budget, which had formerly enabled Kapital power throughout the the West and sometimes the East by preserving and extending and colonializing the value of Kaptial’s four currencies: gold, oil, paper and electrons.

Statismo had determined that the balanced budget had to come down, along with several other sacred damn cows like marriage and family and so forth and so on etcerata etcetera etcerata . This devolution would make the way clear for the New Order. Thus the Kapital Void and also the Communo Cloud could be flooded with Statismo Stato.

Here’s the The thing about Statismo revolutionaries:  they don’t give a damn about budgets, fiscal responsibilities, deficits, profits or prophets. When the gods of Kapital and Communo have completed phases I, II, and possibly III of their deathly video-game brouhaha, all hell can break loose and the way will be clear for Pax Statismo and ultimately his doppelgänger twin Anarcho.

Vive la revolution! But this time with no liberte, egalite, nor fraternite.  That was yesterday’s news, even in 1789 when this whole scenario was hatched in the minds of neo-platonist-confucianist-ex-post-facto-nihilist philosophers.

But hey, have a nice day! This will take a while. Put your seat belt on. As for me and my house, I’m waitin’ on Pax Christi.

Smoke

The Berkeley bathroom experience

September 24, 2013

Yesterday we were wandering around in Berkeley, and I found myself at the mid-campus Campanile just about the time that nature was calling. So I ambled over to an interesting academic building where I knew a bathroom could be found.

When you’re sightseeing on a college campus, finding a facility is not difficult, if you know what to do: just act like you’re any other student or professor whose cerebral deliberations are caught up in the clouds of knowledge-pursuit;  walk right in the nearest building like you belong there. Before you can say fool on the hill you’ll discover that magic sign,  “Men” or “Women”, as the case may be, which offers assurance of imminent deliverance.

It is really a very simple prospect, much easier than, say, finding an appropriate place to do your business in a moment of need in the downtown area of any major city. Although in the downtown predicament, your troubles are over if you can locate a McDonalds. God bless MacDonalds. I mean, I didn’t really appreciate McDonald’s until I stumbled upon one in Rome while searching for a cup of identifiable American style coffee.

But I digress. So there we were at Berkeley yesterday and I walked up the stone steps of a lovely old building called Moses Hall. I immediately understood after entering the place that I had stumbled upon the hallowed halls of the Philosophy Dep’t. It seemed a little unusual that the old Hebrew, Moses, would be associated with philosophy, which is Greek thing.

Nevertheless, slipping with no trouble at all, into my accustomed perpetual-student identity–just, for a novelist, like putting on an old glove–I ascended the well-worn marble stairway with its absolutely smooth wooden handrail, then turned a few corners, and located, within a minute or less, the appointed place for bladder catharsis.

I stepped inside the bathroom, and oh, what a philosophical experience it was.

Indeed, a time warp it was. Suddenly, I was back in a bathroom in Allen Hall at LSU, where I had studied as a clueless English major back in the day, 1970 or thereabouts. This bathroom in Berkeley was almost an exact duplicate of the one I had made frequent use of when I was a student:

Marble walls, perfectly illuminated in the bright sunshine through large, old wooden sash windows with brass handles. White and gray streaky, dappled marble, and not only on the walls, but also the large partitions between roomy toilet stalls. Chrome fastenings on the partitions, well maintained and not rusty nor grimy. Pristine white fixtures: large, sparkling urinals, and toilets with chrome handles.

Ancient, rounded lavatory white fixtures with separate hot valve and cold valve, shining with seasoned chrome anneal that was old enough to reveal at its spout edges and knobby handle-ends the brass integrity beneath.

An entire floor of solidly grouted 1-inch hexagonal white ceramic tiles. I mean, an Interstate gas-station bathroom this was not.

It was a perfect place for a philosopher to productively continue his pondering, even while enduring the interruption of a trip to the bathroom.

And I thought: this place was built in the ’30s, just like the bathroom in Allen Hall, where the main hall walls had been painted, old Post Office style,  with murals that depicted for posterity those swarthy, 1930’s-style agricultural workers who had heard America singing while they coaxed fruitful productivity out of the land of milk and honey, between rows of wheat 0r barley or corn, back in the day when our parents and grandparents were working themselves out of the “Great” Depression.  This was my memory of the halls, back at the ole alma mater, LSU where I first learned how to think too much: Allen Hall, shaded by stately oaks that reside perpetually in the verdant groves of academe. So very similar in appearance and feeling to the campus I was now exploring.

Sure enough, as I exited the building a few minutes later, there was a brass plaque on the wall in the vestibule entryway: Moses Hall was built by the University of California in 1931.

Since I am now a Republican who resides in North Carolina, I have heard, from time to time, a critical word or two about Roosevelt and his New Deal. But one thing I can say for those NewDealers–the WPA, CCC, etcetera etcetera etcetera–they sure knew how to do bathrooms with aesthetically exceptional sustainability.

And I walked out of there relieved.

Glass half Full