The Dissimulation of Man: Will to Power, Hubris, and Downfall

“But you and we should say what we really think, and aim only at what is possible, for we both alike know that into the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where the pressure of necessity is equal, and that the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must. (Thucydides 5.89)

“For of the Gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a law of their nature wherever they can rule they will. This law was not made by us, and we are not the first who have acted upon it; we did but inherit it, and shall bequeath it to all time, and we know that you and all mankind, if you were as strong as we are, would do as we do.” (Thucydides 5.105)

What is the source of ancient Greece’s lasting legacy? What contributed to her dominating force and efflorescing beauty in the ancient world? I’d like to examine Athenian culture (paideia) within the context of the ancient Greek world and identify will to power as the prevailing causal mechanism for her greatness . However, I argue that, despite being a source of initial strength, this inclination for power is eventually the source of Athens downfall as hubris leads to self-deception and miscalculation.

The fortitude or hellikon that arose in ancient Greece was a result of their common preoccupation with the ideal man. In ancient Greece the ideal man manifested as a continual striving towards arete (Gk. ἀρετή, Lt. virtus), or excellence, which served as the source of their competitive spirit. This competitive spirit was vigorously active among the Greeks, with the city states constantly challenging and competing with each other, even when foreign enemies, such as the Persians, were no longer a threat. The spirit of competition was most exemplified through the agon characterizing Greek Olympic games and Religious festivals. They praised the noble character containing virtues which extolled the nature of man as a continual overcoming. This ideal was first embodied in Homeric works as a type of humanism in which struggle (agon) and glory (kleos) were the grandest features of the human experience. The propensity for overcoming was none other than a will to power, or the will to survive, which the Greeks insisted was preserved through their freedom; specifically, their freedom from oppression and, likewise, their freedom to oppress. Indeed, as a slave owning society, oppression was a common feature yielded among the Greeks and the resistance of these slave owners to be ruled seems only natural.

Beginning in the 5th century BC there is a marked change in morality in the Athenians that can be witnessed throughout their culture. What occurred was a shift in the cultural value system that deviated from the internally ideal man towards an externally ideal representation of man. In the arts and drama this was marked by a transition away from mysticism and religion toward realism and secularism. This schism may be symbolically represented between the relationship of Socrates and Plato at the turn of the 4th century BC, with Socrates representing an emphasis on the internal man and Plato emphasizing the external man.

It was Socrates who refused to record his philosophy because he understood that wisdom and right living cannot be contained in words, but in present action and mutual dialog alone. In Plato’s dialog Phaedrus, Socrates discusses his aversion for writing, saying that writing would not allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time as they do in the mind during oral exchange, so that over time written language cannot change and the meaning is lost. Socrates was the gadfly who emphasized the exercise of inner reason and reflection over immediate appearances and traditional convention. However, Socrates was an empiricist at heart, as illustrated in the Phaedrus when he said “to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous”, and always questioned stories and ideas until they were demonstrated or experienced for himself.

In contradistinction, Plato came on the scene at the pinnacle of this transition, just as Athens was feeling a backlash from the Greek world due to her propensity for power and control. Fittingly, it was Plato who first to attempted the distillation of the noble essence contained in man in his formulation of the good and forms into an objective, logically coherent system. The very act of transcribing and writing down a systematic formulation of man epitomized the Greek sentiments of an idealism that could be functionally preserved outside of man.

As the Athenian conception of the ideal man developed and took external form, so too did their emphasis on materialism and power. Seated at the head of the Delian league, Athens collected taxes from her Greek allies for their protection and engaged in a subtle form of expansionism. Boundaries beyond Athenian walls were extended and both wealthy and middle class Athenians enjoyed a period of economic expansion. The revenues collected from the Delian league were arguably used to free up city building projects as well as reimburse citizens for civic service, such jury duty and the like. The economic expansionism was greatly increased due to Athens role as a naval power which facilitated the corn trade among other commodities throughout the mediterranean world.

While it is impossible to determine whether emphasis on the external representation of man lead to material and economic accumulation or vice versa, what can be said is that the will to power was the driving force behind its inertia. By emphasizing the external, the Greeks began institutionalizing their culture in a way not seen since the Homeric epics, but rather than the anthropomorphized qualities and virtues of man manifesting as Greek gods, man himself became a god devoid of the inner variegation captured by the Pantheon. For the Athenians, the culmination of this change in values meant that man no longer sought to overcome himself, but sought to overcome others. That is, Athen’s enemy was no longer the vices, ignorance, and folly characteristic of man as it was so long before, but rather it was the external world that was to be overcome. The exploitation of other Greek cities created inequalities that injured the resilient Greek spirit or hellenikon they shared. When it came time for war, the Athenians argued that “might makes right” as their justification for battle, rather than any sensible or restrained words of wisdom. This over estimation of their ability lead to gross miscalculations and, consequently, their eventual downfall.

The Dissimulation of Man, which serves as the title of this post, refers to the self-deception that occurs when external “material” values trump internal “spiritual” values of the kind extolled in arete and virtues personified by the Greek Gods and exercised through reason. Existing as a natural tendency of man and, in the context of this paper, Athens, the will to power is the driving mechanism that allows for continual overcoming. So long as we are overcoming ourselves, and seeking to change and modify internal man, rather than the external world and others contained in it, humanity will flourish.

References
Boardman, John, Jasper Griffen, and Oswyn Murray. The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 126-213.

Plato. “Phaedrus.” Phaedrus. Internet Classics Archive, n.d. Web. 26 Apr 2012..

Woodruff, Paul. On Justice, Power, And Human Nature, The Essence Of Thucydides’ History Of The Peloponnesian War. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub Co Inc, 1993.

Know Your Enemies: Insecurity and Threat

You can always spot those who are threatened by you because they will be the first to compete with you. Anyone who sees you as a threat is an enemy. The surest way to crush your enemies is to avoid competition. This does not make you weak; rather it makes you superior. Those who want to compete are attempting to bring you down to their level, to their preoccupations, and judge you according to their inferior criterion of worth. To preserve your prestige and remain impervious to your enemies, stage all competitions according to your rules and only your rules. By acquiescing to another standard of competition you compromise your integrity and forfeit the very values used to justify the individual greatness that they view threatening.

Your enemies suffer from insecurity; therefore they are threatened. Their lack of self-confidence is a lack of responsibility, a lack of faith in their ability to rise to the challenge or overcome or equate to external values. If they possessed faith in themselves, they would be secure. They would not be threatened by anyone or thing, nor would they compete in a test to measure their worth against another man.

Men of greatness compete with themselves and themselves alone, never compromising their self-generated criterion of worth. When someone extols their personal achievements, you can be sure that they struggle to possess an authentic sense of self. If the measures of greatness are self-generated and self-imposed, what need is there to publicly announce your achievement? The only hope for this announcement is an external affirmation of self.

When you live authentically, self-worth is derived through a process of becoming. Each man lives according to his own ends, as each man possesses his own set of demands afforded to him by life. He becomes more of what he embodies, of what values presuppose his every thought and action. It is vital that these values bolster the purest and greatest sense of self, the highest self-esteem possible.

Competition is death. Domination is the elimination of competition through sheer superiority of values. Would any competent man compete with an invalid? This is how the superior man, the over-man, must think. His values place him above such competition, out of sheer pity or principle. In this way he is morally superior: any competition must occur out of charity alone. I maintain that charity is the gravest form of oppression as it leads to domestication and enablement. Charity is a false generosity that ensures conditional dependency and establishes a hierarchy between the self-sufficient and the self-deficient.

Do you want to maintain superiority? Never compromise your values through competition except when you dictate the rules of the game. Otherwise, let the success of your self-guided actions speak for themselves. Never compromise your integrity, your authenticity, by playing to the rules of another game. Other’s will pine for your competition, but you must never stoop to their level unless the guarantee of winning is indisputable and inevitable.

Recall: familiarity breeds contempt. If you wish to know your enemies, see how they behave when they are lead to believe that they know you. Present yourself plainly as if there is nothing more than meets the eye, nothing deeper below the surface, and see what reaction this elicits. If there is insecurity, your enemy will capitalize at first chance to highlight the superiority they believe to perceive. Do not let this sway you into competition or emotion. Your self-worth, your value, is internally generated, not externally imposed. Any insecurity they voice through comparison or judgement reveals a chink in their sad suit of defense. Capitalize on this error at a later time.

Remain quiet. Do not speak of your achievements. Genius is often seen and seldom heard. When other’s pass judgment, do not flinch in their direction: remain stolid and steadfast. If need be, recalculate the rules of your game and press on toward self-mastery. Those who continue living in competition never reach heights of greatness because they fail to realize that greatness is attained from within. Greatness is demonstrably true, not by way of judgment, but of effect. Your impact on the world will be proportional to the original value you create within yourself.

Willfully Powerful

Lower organisms overcome competition by multiplying, through progeny or duplication.
Higher organisms overcome competition by dominating, through killing or deviant oppression.

Vegetation, containing the most basic of organisms, simply multiply into sheer numbers for survival. Predators, containing the greatest complexity of organisms, have little offspring, but survive by killing off competition and threats. Humans can be said to be the greatest of predators. However, we have reached a new plateau. We no longer kill the body. We kill the mind.

Interesting to note: Developed societies have an inverse proportion of low birthrates to immense knowledge and power. Undeveloped societies have an inverse proportion of high birth rates to limited knowledge and power. Humans have graduated a rung on the ladder of power by learning to dominate through knowledge. Knowledge (language) is the ultimate tool of influence and domination.

Knowledge is power. It is the ultimate form of power. No longer do people live through their offspring. They live through their ideas and influence. These ideas and influence, this knowledge, is a means of dictating a subjective reality to others to ensure their conformity. Once knowledge has been programmed, and their critical self consciousness sufficiently whithers, influence can be effortlessly woven into their unconscious mind.

He who has the power decides the knowledge. Knowledge is nothing without power. Recall the institutions throughout the age, religious and academic and governmental. Look at the trends of academic development. Is it a wonder that western civilization’s knowledge has so pervasively made itself the gold standard for knowing?

All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is afunction of power and not truth. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Formal education seeks to indoctrinate minds with a formal historical knowledge. This knowledge breeds functional fixedness, among other constricting cognitive maladies. It is predicated by predetermined definitions and parameters dictated by predecessors. It prevents fecund creative minds from adopting novel solutions to problems in order to maintain a homogeneous worldview.  It also limits the ability to see, to conjure possibility.

Formal education is a process of censorship where rough robust rocks are hewed into small smooth stones. Such rocks are more manageable and less dangerous.

Knowledge can be a dangerous thing, a threat to a free flowering imagination where possibility blooms. It is a subversive means of control. It bestows a false sense of empowerment. Be wary of who’s feeding it to you. Animals always return to be fed: this is how domestication occurs. Feed yourself. Experience and experiment. Challenge.

Arguing is not about right or wrong; it is about will, the will to power. Arguments are about winning and losing, where the winner has successfully demonstrated his robust capacity for his knowledge and the loser willfully accepts defeat on the false grounds that he is wrong, rather than without. We’ve developed a ‘civilized culture’ where killing is no longer a suitable means for demonstrating the will to power. Today it is demonstrated through dialog. But this dialog is terribly slanted and skewed to serve a foreign body of knowledge that we have willfully adopted to believe is our own. And, in our minds, we are right, until this bastardized knowledge tells us we’re wrong.

Tired. Need more clarity. More thoughts later.

Random Thoughts and Notes Dump:

You will never solve the worlds problems; you can only solve your own.
Search the origin of your thoughts and you will discover they are not original to you.
I master myself so that I may master others.
Improve your condition by improving the condition of others.
There is no such thing as hard work; only time well spent.

I have accepted that people will fail you, there will always be failures who are okay with failing. These are the majority, though they don’t know it. People rationalize their failures like they rationalize their morality. There is no one who is good for all. Even Jesus was bad for the Pharisee’s. I must will myself to power, to dominate through subversiveness, by leveraging the good will of others. I must be first feared, then loved. Love is a great deterrent, but fear is greater. The fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom, says the bible. Likewise it is when I am feared. But never bark without bite, and let it be strategic and well planned.

Intelligence is no substitute for experience. Only experience renders wisdom.
I don’t want to continue being the person I’ve been.
The more I love, the more I feel loved.

A dream:

I had a dream last night and you were in it. We hung out and talked. It was interesting. I hope you’re as cool in real life as you were in my dream. So you came over my boss’ house to keep me company. You were wearing a baby blue sundress and a white flower in your hair. We talked and messed around on the computer. It appeared to have what looked like porn virus, which was awkward. We walked around a country road with some trained puppies. Had them catch us foxes then we domesticated them and they were our friends.  Then pirates in flying boats landed near the house we were watching. Police and pirates crashed and continued gunfighting. I got shot in my leg by pirates. You helped keep me safe and tend my wound, which eventually got worse. We had a tough time looking for the bullet but eventually pushed it out. So we played a slot machine and made a few grand and continued figuring out our escape. Etc.,

It’s the fool who plays it cool by making the world a little colder