Friday, February 19, 2010

Rise and Fall

Been reading an excellent history of Egypt, Greece and Rome. We sometimes forget that there were three thousand years of fully human history BC (and of course tens of thousands of years of human life, love and struggle before that). During the past several days – reading on the Esplanade in Darwin – it was the rise and fall of Rome. Very instructive. The reality was much more complex than simple rise and decline and Rome left an immense lasting legacy. But in reaching imperial heights – though its movement to empire was not in any sense planned, sort of like the rise of America as a “superpower” – it surpassed its ability to maintain itself. Is this what is happening to us too?

The world we live in offers an entirely new level of complexity (what John C Wright calls the Era of the Second Mental Structure in his excellent The Gold Age Trilogy). The many aspects of modern technology – the Internet and our growing ability to manipulate matter and biology – offer many more opportunities to correct, and also cover up, our shortcomings. So maybe decline can somehow be put off. Perhaps all this new stuff that we have seen grow into our civilization before our eyes will provide new forms of monasteries, hermitages, walled communities and the like for the next dark age (which was not so dark anyway). Maybe even some cyber urban centers where the barbarians won't be able to get us?

What can we do to keep the barbarians from the gates? Fully support those leaders who lean more toward empathy and adaptability even when they are imperfect, as they must be to be leaders in the world we live in? This means supporting guys like Obama and doing all possible to avoid the Republican dogs who just want to eat our bones while preaching at us.

Another may be to keep trying to be heard by talking with those who will stop to listen and talk back. This approach has not made great headway since Socrates tried it but the Internet provides more street corners to stand at. The other side of this is the need to be persistent, civil but persistent, in order to be heard. And then we must build on what we find with whom we find. (Socrates got hemlock for persistence so we do need to watch where we step even if we step anyway.)

These Tea Party folk show a possible further step. A movement of the civilized for civilization. Possible?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The Greeks elaborated tragedy out of the Dionysia, yearly festivals of sexual abandon. Yet their central theme and pre-occupation was the realization that we can never know for sure the results of our choices and actions but must nevertheless choose and act. We can never know for sure the right path to take nor once chosen can we be sure we have avoided the wrong path. We can never be sure what the gods have in store for us. Sometimes, we must chose between alternatives both with equal claim on us but also mutually exclusive. Often we must choose between alternatives mixing the good and the bad. And yet we must choose.

The tragic flaw is that in our character, in our pattern of being, which leads us to err, to choose, in a way that we and others may be able to predict but which we are powerless to avoid. Confronted by choice and even knowing the good, we choose through emotion, our reason overcome, and in a way that lends a special sense of doom to our actions.

Bad choices are bad choices and often tragic in their outcome. Tragic in that they force good people into situations where their choices are between actions equally bad. Witness Bush's decision to invade Iraq with the many compromising choices it forced on the millions of people affected by that decision.

Tragedy lies in those occasions where their are no completely good choices but we must nevertheless act, when even inaction would be a choice. To create tragic situations is evil, as the Greeks came to understand of their gods.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Words and desires

Freud noted that we try to control our desires -- assimilate them into our psychic unity -- by fixing them to words. Words are old friends with whom I grapple constantly in the hope that somehow, they will free me. They do for the fleeting moment it takes to finish that thought. It is the desire that always remains sovereign and free.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

As of Now, what I believe

After years of thinking about consciousness, quantum mechanics and cosmology, I have come to believe that Mind had to come before Creation and that each of us individual consciousnesses is part of the larger Consciousness. I expect to rejoin that One some day, though hopefully not too soon. Of course, none of this is certain. And in any case, it doesn't always seem to help much in my trying to be as good a person as I would wish to be. I don't believe in original sin per se, but I do believe that we never really learn. What we say we are, what we say we want, is always at best more aspiration than reality and more often just another story we tell ourselves.