The political climate these days has got me reading about the 16th century Italian Nicolo Machiavelli. Living, as he did, in tumultuous times and never ending political intrigues which saw him rise to prominence and then fall out of favor with the ruling elites and, being the libertine he was, it’s pretty clear why he maintained a pessimistic assessment of his fellow men.
Machiavelli has earned his reputation as the paradigm of hard-fisted (under-handed?) political maneuvering due, to a great extent, to his book The Prince. In the book Nicolo determines that the Prince, whether secular or religious must learn to do evil and develop the art of deceit. Testosteronal virtu, necessary to tame O Fortuna is an absolute must for anyone wishing to sustain power, he writes. A Prince must exhibit cruelty, kill a few of his people, maybe, in order to instill fear among the populace.
Interestingly, around the same time the Prince was written, Martin Luther, in a pretty disagreeable frame of mind due to hemorrhoidal issues, brought about the beginnings of centuries of religious conflict, breaking as he did from the Catholic Church (not that that body was in anyway an innocent victim). So, it seems to me, 16th Century Italian power struggles resulting in a blatant disregard for the well-being of the people, although perhaps being a bit more violent than today, still seems pretty familiar.
I suppose an evolving humanity plodding along by fits and starts into the future is about all we can really expect. Still, hope is in my nature; I always look forward to tomorrow.
I’ve been reading that the idea of ‘time flow’ might be an illusion. According to some theoretical physicists time is maybe better thought of as a series of ‘instants’. On this theory, past, present and future are meaningless; all ‘instants’ exist within a block of time. ‘Now’ is a timeless instant that is recorded in memory, but as it distances from ‘now’, dissipates as it is retired to deeper recesses of the mind or is moved deeper toward the blocks periphery.
In such a perspective a loved one’s death doesn’t mean non-existence but is comparable to the existence of someone living far away, beyond communication lines. And, me blowing out candles at my 10th birthday party is just as real and in existence as me writing this right now.
As Dan Falk, in the book, In Search of Time, points out, psychologically, linguistically, we are so locked into a flowing time, block time is pretty counter-intuitive to real life experience. Still, I bet those inclined toward religious practice might kind of like the idea.
I’ve been hearing, lately, about the proliferation of witches in late 17th century New England. Apparently, there were quite a number of people identified as such. A penetrating gaze into the eyes of a young girl suffering adolescent angst could result in an accusation of witchery. Men, women and children were found to be guilty and imprisoned. Two dogs were determined to be witches and executed. Widespread frenzy turned son against parent, husband against wife, child against family pet. Witches were seen flying about on broomsticks, gathering in covens, casting evil spells. The guilty were brought before Judge William Stoughton, who, supported by the likes of Cotton Mather, tried and executed the guilty.
Anyway, this got me thinking about current alternative realities which seem to be proliferating these days. It seems all it takes is for a localized majority or a community of like-minds, egged on by media venues that know a good thing when they see it, to distill the complexities of modern life into a palatable elixir. Upon consumption everything becomes crystal clear. Black and white eliminates those difficult shades of gray, good and evil become clearly defined and it becomes very evident there is no room for compromise.
Well, apparently what happened in Salem was that some astute individual saw the witch hunts as disrupting business as usual; it was bad for the economy and in very short order the issue was dropped. After all is said and done pragmatism rules, I guess.
I’ve been thinking, lately, about how much time I spend thinking. I find contemplation to be a very important part of my daily regimen, to the extent that social interaction is non-existent some days; a lot of days, really.
Of course much of my thinking is about people, wondering about how some folks arrive at the opinions they hold, how groups of like-minds take on a public identity which lifts individuals out of their private worlds and offers a public character which seems to be what a lot of people crave. On a personal level, social networking is pretty easy, social media being what it is, and, I guess, having a large group of ‘friends’ tends to fend off perceived loneliness even if it is delusional (any sort of personal closeness, that is).
If social striving and seeking public identity gets out of hand, if popularity is too high a priority, danger lurks. When you think of individuals in the spot-light these days it’s unlikely anyone’s public persona provides much more than a caricature; which certainly can’t be what anyone wants. Better to spend more time thinking.
As I understand it civilization advanced, as the human mind developed, from nomadic hunter gatherers to an understanding of domestication of plants and animal life; which led to a fairly sedentary existence and population growth. Clan organization gave way to diverse populations that learned to work together for mutual benefit; up to a point. Class structure developed and with it the inherent violence of workers and overseers, haves and have-nots.
Which I guess, is kind of where we’re at right now, although what ‘having and needing’ means has changed no doubt. Beyond our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter we have found significantly more is required for our well-being; our mobility and entertainment needs require considerable resources. I wonder, sometimes, if happiness might be better served up living closer to basis subsistence, growing and raising what is needed; supporting and receiving support from my neighbors.
It seems pretty appealing, this agricultural life-style, in a Thomas Hardy pastoral sort of way. But, of course it’s just a romantic delusion isn’t it.
I think we might do well to continue subsidizing the farmers.
I’ve been reading and thinking about fanaticism, how and why it arises and the forms it takes. The idea can certainly be thought of in terms of most any passionate belief, but most often, I think, it is thought of in terms of religion.
At some point in the development of the human intellect belief in some sort of supernatural entity was a given; it defined a singular reality. But, as the mind evolved toward reasoned thought, belief in nature spirits gave way to religion, with its requisite doctrinal, dogmatic and political implications, which in turn led to skepticism. Beliefs came to a fork in the road and took it. As beliefs grew further and further apart, fanaticism reared its ugly head; people at opposite extremes being absolutely certain about things no one can be absolutely certain of. Unfortunately, this seems to be the place where humankind presently resides.
I guess a lot of people like to grasp certainty and then not think about it too much anymore. It would be good, wouldn’t it, if everyone put a little energy into questioning? You know, questioning what we can truly know, questioning the efficacy of our chosen beliefs, questioning the legitimacy of our op positional stances. Wouldn’t the resulting cooperation override the necessity of blind faith?
Apparently there is an aspect of Quantum Theory called retro-causality which suggests that something could be done in the future that would affect what occurred in the past; something you could do now that would change what happened then.
It all has to do with sub-atomic particle ‘entanglements’; apparently, simply observing one of an entangled pair changes the nature of the other one which alters what was a micro-second ago. Extrapolating from this brings into focus an idea sci-fi writers have been exploiting for decades: time travel. While some theoretical physicists are pretty sure time travel can’t happen I have to wonder: as I was passing a local elementary school recently, a question on the school’s electronic poster board asked: Do you have a student in Kindergarten next year? Any definitive answer to that question would suggest there are, indeed, people living in the future.
There’s a lot of discussion these days about whether or not humankind is putting excessive pressure on our earth’s finite resources. Population growth, new technologies for extracting fossil fuels, depletion of forest lands, loss of clean fresh water sources, garbage in the oceans, over fishing, the list goes on and on.
I was reading an interesting commentary on what would happen to our world if humankind was suddenly to disappear, how quickly it would rebound, become healthy again. Such a scenario, human extinction that is, is not all that unthinkable in view of international tensions these days.
Such thinking made the book, The World Without us, by Alan Weisman, compelling reading. Mr. Weisman suggests that, in his believable future world, infrastructures would begin to fail, the New York subway tunnels would flood almost immediately and within a few hundred years our most solidly built brick, mortar and concrete structures would crumble. Native vegetation would push up through asphalt roadways hastening nature’s reclamation of the earth. Coral reefs and sea life would rebound as the resilient oceans healed themselves.
Even 500 years later the earth, it seems to me, would be a much more attractive place to be; except, of course, I wouldn’t be there; unless I could somehow live in the future. But, I guess that’s a whole other issue.
I’ve been thinking about what the concept of progress means these days. I’m pretty sure that, from a materialistic standpoint it has something to do with economic growth: increased consumption to drive increased production to hire more workers to then increase consumption; seems pretty circular and pretty unconcerned about depleting the earth’s finite resources.
My inclination is to see progress more in terms of a bigger picture that has to do with mutual respect for each other and our environment. I really thought we were moving in that direction but recent events have truly shaken that belief. I thought pluralism and tolerance for others was being widely embraced. Sure, there are pockets of reactionary dissidence, even dangerous terroristic hostility, but I really thought that most of us were on the same page, you know, as far as mutual respect for social and cultural differences.
It’s hard not to fall into pessimism, even though I know large numbers of people think as I do. I guess it may be time to take things more seriously, take to the streets, I suppose; shout from the roof tops. And in emulation of our new president I’ve decided not to pay my taxes this year. Who’s with me?
I’ve been wondering about the idea of objective universal truth, whether there can be such a thing. I guess it stands to reason that within mathematics and logic it certainly exists. And when it comes to science, inductive reasoning establishes certain truths that pretty much must be considered objective.
But, universal ethical truths are a bit difficult to get a handle on. I suppose if we accept the innate value of nature and all people, fair treatment for everyone and everything should be accepted as a universal moral truth, although, cultural differences might make ‘fairness’ a somewhat relative idea.
And when it comes to aesthetic judgments universals are even more elusive.
I guess it’s just an inherent characteristic of human nature to pursue undeniable truths; some innate connection between mind and world; a beyond doubt, true reality. Such an inclination must be where religion comes from.