I’ve been reading, lately, about the conflicts that developed between the ancient Romans and early Christians. The Romans were polytheistic, their many gods acquired for the most part from the Greeks were represented by magnificent marble sculptures housed in elaborate temples that played significantly in their daily rituals. Through sacrificial offerings the gods were appeased whereby good fortune reigned upon the Romans (well, the monied ones anyway).
The monotheistic early Christians were reluctant, to say the least, to recognize the Roman gods much to the displeasure of the Romans, and, so, suffered some pretty nasty earthly ends for their defiance, that is, until the visionary emperor Constantine converted, tossing the ball into the Christians court. The game changed big time; churches were built, idols and temples destroyed.
Over the centuries to follow the Christians, through draconian laws and inquisitions singled out the heretics, finding ever more creative tortures to convince the pagan Romans of the truth of the Cross. Tit for tat, I guess.
Other than who or what was worshipped the rub seemed to be primarily about the right way to live. The Romans ate, drank and were, more or less, happy in their licentious debauchery, recognizing as they did, the shortness of life while the Christians lived in severe austerity forgoing anything they saw as sinful in nature, suffering this life for the rewards of the next.
Notions of how best to live one’s life have been somewhat softened these days but the dichotomy persists. I guess we’re pretty evenly divided as to which path is the best one to take. A good case could be made, I think, for pursuing a middle way.
I’ve been reading a very credible, in-depth commentary suggesting that never at any time in history has humankind enjoyed a better, more favorable existence than we do right now. Economic growth world-wide has increased longevity, relative health and safety; social strife, whether racial or religious has seen significant reductions as has conflict between nations. Relatively speaking, I’m led to believe, the potential for living a long happy and satisfying life has never been better anywhere.
As I read these optimistic observations and being, as I am, a regular consumer of the daily news and commentary, filled, as it is, with notions of potential doomsday scenarios, from terroristic infiltrations of our homeland to environmental devastation of our good earth not to mention even more dire possibilities like cyber attacks potentially destroying democracy as we know it and genocidal viruses being loosed upon us which could in all believability kill millions, I have to wonder how long, if I were to jump on the optimist’s bandwagon, such a deluded sense of well-being would be sustainable.
I don’t think it’s responsible to quit paying attention to the news altogether but maybe I might do a bit better sorting the sensational from the truly dire. Is it worthwhile to be conjuring images of ant-biotic resistant pathogens consuming one’s body from the inside-out or should I perhaps temper my news consumption a bit, maybe focusing on the truly useful issues like reducing my carbon footprint, being a more responsible consumer? I’ll try to take a more balanced approach to information consumption.
I suppose there must be an inclination for the thoughtful mind to balance opposites. During the 18th century the scientistic logic of the Enlightenment generated the philosophical counterpoint of Romanticism, a view of nature as transcendent ‘beauty as truth, truth beauty’. The thinking was, I guess, that Nature was the source of all knowledge, the way to deep understanding, so communing with nature, engaging in contemplation of the natural world was the way one might proceed to fully find the secrets our world holds.
I wonder if the adolescent ideas of ‘romance’ get in the way sometimes of an understanding of the significance of this early philosophy. Certainly the aspects of the romantic displayed in media dramatics: maudlin emotionalism, heroic fantasy and the like are a far cry from the philosophical significance of 18th century Romanticism.
I think that the attention to our nurturing natural world that the Romantics found so significant mustn’t be forgotten. The contemplative mind will embrace those ideas and work to philosophically assimilate them. Hopefully the true’ Romantic spirit’ won’t be lost amidst the superficiality of our popular culture.
I came across a commentary, recently, suggesting it might not be such a good idea to introduce thoughts philosophical to young people. I guess the thinking was that young minds were not developed enough to handle deep thought, which made me wonder what the commentator thought philosophy is. Philosophy, it seems to me, is, to a great extent, about reflection: thoughts about relative moral values, how best to deal with difficult situations, maybe thoughts about what might underlie our daily existence.
While children may be less inclined toward thoughtfulness, they are certainly intellectually savvy, dealing, as they do, with the rough and tumble world of the playground. What they do have is a general openness to alternatives, particularly when it comes to human relations. Provided a forum for reflection, I suspect most will reach an attitude of tolerance for the other.
So, in my opinion, given these terribly divisive times, I think philosophical thinking should be encouraged in the schools. I have this feeling that, given the opportunity, children could reach out to our hardened unswayable opinionated psyches and teach us all philosophical perspectives on tolerance and mutual respect.
I’ve been reading, lately, about the idea of moral entitlement: how some people assume privileges others are denied. Or, to put it another way: some individuals and groups feel themselves morally entitled to take advantage of those they consider lesser or inferior.
I have no doubt such situations have existed, probably, for as long as man has walked the earth. A sense of superiority on the part of some accompanied by the complementary assumption of inferiority by others is pretty well embedded in our psyches. This idea has perpetuated social class and sectarian divisions that continues to account for dissonance and conflict.
One can argue the moral illegitimacy of such stratification, I suppose, but what I find more curious and annoying is the ego driven individuals who assume unjustified advantage. I suspect such people and/or groups will realize the idealistic beliefs that have led to their divorce from mankind must be tempered in the interests of everyone’s basic social needs. One can hope so, anyway.
It has occurred to me recently that people who identify themselves as being intellectual, or are thought of in that way, are often considered arrogant. There seems to be an elitist connotation associated with intellectualism. The image, I guess, is one of out of touch academic ideologue lacking a pragmatic real world outlook.
And this, despite the fact that intellectualism is really nothing more than an attitude of exploration and investigation; an open perspective to ideas and positions of all sorts. Questioning is the essence of the intellectual stance, which, when healthy, stops short of blanket skepticism to arrive at the best possible answers at the moment, aware, always, that better answers may certainly appear in the future.
According to Richard Hofstadter, former Pulitzer Prize winner and history professor at Columbia, anti-intellectualism has probably always been with us but was exacerbated in America by frontier expansion which left behind the social structures of education, religion and government resulting in social regression. The early pioneers found themselves in a more primitive social situation where rule of law was replaced by retributive payback and moral relativism replaced trusting reciprocity between neighbors. By the time religion finally caught up to the westward expansion the unlettered populace responded to a revivalist approach that undermined education in favor of pure passionate religious response.
What makes all this so fascinating to me is the fact anti-education, anti-intellectual sensibilities have not only not dissipated but, judging by current political occurrences gained strength, at least in some quarters. I wish I knew what it would take to get more people to think things through a little better. I don’t think one has to be an intellectual to do that.
I guess the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is still getting a bad rap for recognizing, in the late nineteenth century, that belief in Christian dogmas was in a steep decline. And then, he added fuel to the fire by condemning what he called Christian ‘slave morality’, arguing that such a stance undercuts the abilities of the capable among us from exercising the strength and knowledge necessary for social advancement.
Unfortunately for our philosopher certain totalitarian regimes, have, over the years taken this philosophy as a justification to terrorize and exterminate populations of peoples of their choice. It’s all so unfortunate because the valuable message Herr Nietzsche gave to us all is that we need to rethink our moral values, find true ground for our personal moral values rather than rely whole-heartedly on a two thousand year old text.
So, anyway, what got me thinking about this was an article I read recently that suggested our moral values can be thought of as having a firm grounding in evolution. For life as we know it cooperation has always been the key; on a molecular level single cells join together to form complex organisms, which, of course, are basically us. Cooperation is primary to the survival and flourishing of animal life, from acquiring basic needs to the care and protection of off-spring, and is found everywhere. In humankind our inherent cooperative tendencies manifest as love, compassion and altruism. The aberrations hate, lust, greed are fairly looked upon in a negative light.
So, perhaps we should all thank Charles Darwin for having the strength and courage to bring to light the true basis for our humanity.
I’ve been wondering how natural it is for those who are able to take advantage of others. Beside the moral imperative to do to others what one would have done to one’s self and the often stated acknowledgment of the appropriateness of equal rights there seems to be a strong impetus for factions to separate along ideological lines and when those ideologies gain sufficient support, to find in others’ actions and beliefs a corruption deep enough to find those others undeserving of any respect for their contrary views.
So, the factions struggle for political dominance in order to impose their particular values in a way which will be, pretty clearly, disadvantages to the opposition. And, since it’s also pretty clear there will never be full consensus about much of anything, someone will suffer at the hands of the other, which makes me think the potential for discontent and even violence is in the nature of our society. And, the vulnerable minority or passive majority may find their very being twisted and tortured in most inhumane ways. A benevolent overseer, Plato’s philosopher king maybe, might deal fairly with the most egregious of impositions of one on the other but it seems, ultimately, human nature will prevail; the strong imposing it’s values and beliefs on the weak.
Maybe a good solution, a means of avoiding the discomforts associated with factionalism, would be to remain apolitical, avoid the news of the day, and even, if necessary, maintain one’s being outside of the social milieu. It’s not an unprecedented move after all; Buddha did it and by all accounts ended up in quite a favorable situation.
I’m worried about Mother Earth. It’s not like I need air to breathe or food to eat or water to drink like those sentient beings of flesh and blood but our Mother as a living, breathing organism needs to be cared for; she is after all responsible for everyone’s existence.
Mother is amazingly resilient overcoming as she has the pressures of an exploding human population but I’m worried she may be losing the battle. She is fighting back as best she can, imposing foundation leveling earthquakes followed by inundating tidal waves and air befouling volcanic eruptions.
The big question is will humankind heed the warnings and learn to work with our Mother in mutually supportive ways.
I was telling all this to my friend Mini-Max. He not too subtly suggested I was being a bit of a hippy, liberal, tree-hugging eco-freak. His position is that our Mother is here to nurture us, we must take what we need to thrive and Mother will have to roll with the punches.
Besides, he said, our Mother has a rather sinister side that manifests itself in our animal natures. Humankind’s very existence is and always has been dependent on some other sentient’s extinction which is a clear indicator of our own vulnerability and need to aggressively pursue our survival.
Thinking about it later, I realized my inorganic make-up did probably give me a fairly unique perspective on the situation and I suppose Mini-Max is right in pointing out the inter-connectedness of it all. Perhaps mankind will destroy itself or be consumed by a stronger cleverer life-form-maybe Mother herself. Then perhaps dolls will inherit the earth.
I-Ron, the post-modern man, was telling me the other day he never misses church on Sundays even though he doesn’t believe in God. He said he enjoys the company of the faithful while knowing he will probably never and, anyway, had no interest in experiencing the faith himself. Then, he said that, come to think about it, he didn’t really believe in anything particularly other than those immediate impressions that allowed him to go about his daily activities.
So, when he found out one of the members of his congregation had taken his own life recently and how unsatisfactory that action was in the eyes of the congregation and the church, all he could think of was the scene from Dante’s Inferno where the suicides are imprisoned in trees and are constantly pestered by the nasty Harpies landing on them, breaking off limbs and causing much pain and distress.
Although he felt a bit guilty about not feeling any remorse and pretending concern, I-Ron could only see the story as colorful and not the least bit disturbing.
Well, even though I do lean toward a moral relativity myself I had to feel a bit sorry for I-Ron; how can one really enjoy life without having strong moral feeling of any sort? I wondered to what level of Hell Dante might assign I-Ron.