Planets

In Greek, “planet” is from Latin planetaplanetes, from Ancient Greek πλανήτης (planētēs) variant of πλάνης (planēs, “wanderer, planet”).

When the astronomers of antiquity cast their gaze upon the nights sky above, they noticed certain lights wandering about in eccentric patterns of motion, in contrast to the fixed stars in the background. These lights were thought to be gods wandering about in the heavens and were thus named “planets” and received their respective Greek god names, later translated by the Romans into our modern titles for the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter (Uranus and Neptune were discovered later).

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.

Myopic Zeal

To the Zealots:
— which may include the Religious, Pious, Orthodox, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Dogmatic, Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, Sectarian and the like–

I don’t identify with a single myopic vein of thought, and any hopes of converting me into the herd would not only be regressive and detrimental to a healthy flourishing mind seeking wisdom, it would be futile.

I do love you, and I love that you always think of me and share these little bits of biblical joy you come across, but I’m not looking for answers. I’m looking for understanding. So while these may contain little nuggets of biblical wisdom and feel good rhetoric, they will not be an end for me. As an evolving creature it is my duty to adopt all the wisdom of the world so that I may adapt to and overcome challenge and flux and obstacles most appropriately.

Contrary to religious ideology, understanding the human condition is the beginning of all wisdom. But this requires that we consult not only external sources, but explore our internal sources as well. In Greek culture religion was not an individual journey nor a spiritual encounter but a collective enterprise to create a uniformity of experience via the dissemination of a consistent historical narrative which detailed social values and collective moral agreement. The gods of the pantheon were not seen as real or existing, but only as anthropomorphic representations which preserved aspects of the human condition; that is, they were the idealized values and virtues incarnated into typological beings and symbolic situations (myths, fables, parables) that could communicate and explain the world to each generation in society through oral or written language.

The preservation of this culture and its order was predicated on a cultures ability to retain this language, which they called nomos. In Greek nomos means “law” and refers to the structural ordering of experience, specifically relating to daily living and normative activities. Religion was simply an institutional vehicle that served as a way of preserving and perpetuating nomos, or social order and law. The nomos provided explanations and resolutions in the face of anomos, or chaos, conflict and turmoil. The individual appealed to this collective social law for explaining and handling problems arising in their conscious experience that was outside their ability to resolve themselves. In this way individuals sought the advice of the priests or prophets who knew the oral or written tradition exquisitely and offered their personal or propaedeutic interpretations– interpretations that would be absorbed into the tradition for later consultation, much like a contemporary judge’s ruling becomes canonical common law.

Language is all important. The limits of your language dictate the limits of your world.

Man is not made in the image of god: God is made in the image of man. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with god and the word was god.” (John 1:1) Interestingly, ‘word’ here is Gk. logos derived from the Proto-Indo-European word *leg- meaning “to collect, bind, gather”. The word ‘religion’ is a combination of the words re- “again” + lego “choose, gather” or “I go over or go through again in reading, speech, thought, read, relate or recite again, revise, recount”. In this way we see the intimate connection between repetition in binding words to the mind in order to create a consistent world view, a structured ordering of experience. Religion is the institution charged with the preservation and diffusion of a language via enculturation. Throughout history religious institutions have been replaced by various community organizations and governing bodies, most notably Academic institutions that actively inquire about the world with a more precise and thoughtful methodology.

On an interesting side note, the first institution of higher learning, Plato’s Academy, was established in the olive gardens on the temple grounds of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. It is no coincidence that the first school of philosophy– the love of wisdom– and the first institution of higher learning (beyond the gymnasium) was affiliated with the cult of Athena. The Academy derives its name from the legendary Greek Attic hero Akadamos who defected to the aid of the Tyndarid’s Castor and Pollux when they invaded Attica to liberate their sister Helen. As a result, the Lacedaemonians devoted a plane of land in homage to Akadamos planted with Olive trees in the spot where he revealed to the Divine twins where Thesus had hidden Helen of Troy. This plot of land was located just outside the walls of Athens and was later the site where Athena’s temple stood throughout the Bronze Age.

Through this brief sketch I hope it becomes obvious of the potential trappings of cultural institutions like religion. As their perfunctory duty to society, they seek to preserve the status quo, to present man to himself through a slanted portrait of the past. In a “stable” society the only people who can offer legitimate interpretations are those in positions of authority, i.e. priests, professors, professionals, politicians or any other title. Every so often a prophet arises from the herd and expresses the collective opinion in a fell swoop of the pen or brush or voice. These are the artists, the leaders, the creators, the visionaries– all subversive forces of established authority, all necessary agents of evolution and change. These are the disestablishmentarianists, the revolutionaries, the rebels, the terrorists. They are impelled to express the change they see around them, to lead the blind into the light. They are called by nature to tip the scales in favor of progress, despite the howls from stagnating pools of thought and undeterred by the biting guilt of defection, of desecrating antiquated tradition and custom.

The Greeks maintained that the past contained the understanding necessary for adapting to the present. What is important is that, like the Greeks, we view our culture as an instrument of understanding and ordering experience and maintain a tolerance and openness to other cultures and veins of thought. All language, all culture, all knowledge aims at providing explanatory power and utility for navigating through the world. To remain prejudice is to retain a myopic view of the world, deficient in variegated color and devoid of curvaceous depth, and we rob ourselves of another instrument for charting our world.

Sincerely Yours,

X

Democracy and Wealth: Athenian America

The Athenian democracy operated politically and economically as an aristocratic slave owning society. In order to be a citizen you must be male and of Athenian descent, but more importantly, you must possess capital, or tangible assets, usually land, but other times a horse was a sufficient indicator. Business and economy functioned among households, where each home was a corporation with women providing children for labor, but more importantly to inherit the capital assets and business. Slaves and the very poor non-Athenians were the laborers and looked at as nothing more than expensive tools, much like a plow or hammer or, for a more contemporary example, a car, which can serve various functions maintaining the business and household. Most interesting is that Athenian citizens universally considered wage labor to be the most debasing form of work, primarily because of its repetitive mechanical nature which requires no thought. In Ancient Greece it was unthinkable for any self-respecting citizen to ever work for an hourly wage. That was reserved exclusively for the slaves and xenos. Honorable means of income included rent, investment activities, and growing the business, whether it was in manufacturing or mining or crafts.

Some thousand years later John Locke purposed a treatise on government and politics with the sole aim of facilitating human self-preservation. For Locke, the most important and only worthwhile goal of the government was to ensure that property was parceled out and protected fairly among citizens. Locke believed that man’s naturally ordained rights were a healthy life, liberty, and property, all of which were essential for the pursuit of self-preservation. The right to property was a significant aspect to securing the other provisions that aided in self-preservation. Property, or more specifically capital assets, allowed man to retain value and worth, provided him a means of subsistence, and a means of attaining happiness by laboring his land in order to increase his value.

Capital assets, such as land or other hard assets of value, were a fundamental role to being an autonomous, equal, and free member of society throughout history. I ask myself,  what is the current state of the US economy and society, and how do we compare and stand up with the values and realizations that past thinkers and societies valued as paramount to liberalism, that of liberty, autonomy, and equality, that facilitate and ensure self-preservation?

I look around at society and I see many problems: inequality, concentration and centralization of wealth, wild financial speculation or “irrational exubrence” in investment markets, debt and credit, poverty, stagflation, corruption among politicians working for corporations and financial institutions, corporate person-hood that robs individuals of representational power and dignity, and many more. What is the cause of these problems? While I believe the questions and their inquiry are philosophical, the explanation, in my mind, is purely economical, or exists within the realm of political economy.  After all, economics is the study of human interactions within the various ecologies that sustain them. This includes every facet of the human condition, as well as environmental and sociological externalities and considerations.

Unlike many economists, my premises are philosophical and existentially rooted in a singular force that guides and shapes all decisions. This force is the will-to-power. I’ll elaborate more on the nature of this often wildly misunderstood concept at a later time.  But first it’s important to explore some assumptions contained in the prevailing macroeconomic theories, specifically the mainstream economics of Keynes, Friedman, and other monetarists.

I’ll need to explore their basic assumptions in value-theory, decision making and preference theory and their relation to various consumption theories (such as conspicuous, necessary, etc), money, supply and demand, labor markets and employment, wages rates, prices, institutions, investment and saving, economic development and growth, business cycles, the nature of competition and competitive markets, capital accumulation and its role in capital concentration and centralization towards inequality formation, entrepreneurism and technological innovation, government fiscal policies and taxation structures, monetary policies and inflation, banks and financial intermediaries, the wealthy and more. I will also explore assumptions contained within neo-classical and contemporary theories such as ceteris paribus (as well as the associated equilibrium states, atomistic and neo-platonistic conjectures and their ideal, representative variables), real balances and the Real-balance effect, the purchasing power of money, Say’s law, the Fisher effect, the nature of inflation, the liquidity-preference theory and liquidity trap, and the nature of aggregate supply and aggregate demand.

I also want to explore the how we conceive and view the role of various entities and nature of contexts, such as imperfect competitive markets (such as monopolies, duopolies, oligarchies and the like), short-run and long-run outcomes, propaganda and advertising, product differentiation, the affluent society, institutional powers and their countervailing powers, and others.

Lastly, I will examine the methodology for justifying and legitimizing these various claims by looking at various paradigms or frameworks such as those characteristic of empiricism and analyticism, and how they factor into an array scientific and non-scientific traditions like those of historicism, psychology, sociology, biological evolution, and even physics and the metaphysical reflections of phenomenology and its dialectical method.

In sum, I would like to combine understanding from all these aspects to produce a sound, organically rooted, evolutionary paradigm for political economy existing, if at all possible, under the pretext of political philosophy’s liberalism, like that found in the US constitution.

I’m so excited I’m trembling. My mind is brewing with enthusiasm. I feel like I can see through the noise, the static, perfect problems. I don’t know what the solution is, but I need to articulate the fundamental problems first. My next post will elaborate on the current issues and problems I observe within our country and explain why they exist. Specifically, I will expound on why our fatally flawed economic paradigms are only contributing to these problems.

 

quick post

I’m not happy with my lack of journaling lately. In fact, I’m not happy with my current all around lack of reflection. I have much homework and studying and so little time and energy to get it done. Here’s my brief update:

Tomorrow marks the third week of school. I’m taking 17 credit hours, working roughly 15 hours a week, developing a KLICK project that focuses on researching social entrepreneurship in third world countries, participating in Alternative Spring Break (ASB, community service work during spring break that includes service work and training throughout the semester), and I am pledging a fraternity- zeta beta tau.

That brings me to my next point. I have no life. Why? Well, I wasn’t planning on pledging and now that I am, my expectations and demands have skyrocketed. I have class or work from 8-330ish everyday. From 4-6 we clean the zbt house, 6-7 we eat together as a pledge class, 7-10 we have mandatory study hours, 10-12 we get hazed. We have to memorize copious amounts of information, not to mention running errands all day every day.

Anyway…

My classes are enjoyable so far… I suppose. I haven’t been spending as much time as I would like. I should be journaling every night. I need to practice better time management. By the end of the week I am completely exhausted- mentally, physically and emotionally. Why am I pledging you say?

Because at Vanderbilt, 50% of the school is greek, and if you aren’t involved, you are deprived access to those networks, relationships, and exposure. In reality the greek scene dominates the school. If you would like a social experience on any level beyond studying with a group of friends, getting wasted with hall mates, attending sports or theatrical events on campus, then the greek scene is your only avenue. It could be argued, of course, but I’m being realistic. The pain in the ass, however, is this bullshit 8-10 week pledging period where 19-21 year olds bitch me around because I’m a “pledge” or “New bitch”. Its all a game to me, really. And I know how to play games extremely well. When I say game, I mean its learning to abide by the myriad of social expectations and pressures until you are received as having a genuine and legitimate place as a “brother”. Initiation, whatever you wanna call it, is really a tradition of retribution passed down to each new pledge class, all in the name of brotherhood. I had no idea it would be so serious. And painful. And a pain in the ass. I figured we just worked and ran errands. Getting hazed by a bunch of kids younger than me is just a humbling pain in the ass.

I like to evaluate it as a psychological experiment. I’m not one of the 18 year old freshman in my pledge class desperately willing to perform fellatio for friends, booze, and women. I’m a 23 year old recovered addict who has indulged in more debacle and bacchanal gratifications than these kids will ever see in college. While they’re participating in the stereotypical greek life, doing the best they can to live up to the illusory images of what greek living should look like, I have run out of inspiration for such things. While kids were doing this in college with responsibilities, i was doing this as a bum, with no responsibilities. I could have a hangover for a month straight, getting high morning, noon, and night. There was no reason to preserve my brain cells. I took it to the extreme and I know what it leads to. Most of these children haven’t a clue. They manage to juggle academics and the occasional community service hours and boast about their valiant contributions as a member of the Vanderbilt community. That being said, the more I spend time with these kids, the more I love to appreciate them. All the seniors are a year or more younger than me. They have their cool card, checked out from the silly ‘sophomore’ activities of their past. They’re beyond that now, too cool. I laugh at myself because, shit, that’s what I do.

I have so much to say right now. About social animals. About people and how they function. Learning their ticks.

I will tell you something beyond value. We humans love people who make us feel good. Period. If you can do that through a smile, through genuine compliments (because we all know what is bullshit and manipulation and what isn’t… timeliness, accuracy, whether we think its true, whether that person has a stake in gaining your approval), or simply by your association. That last one always sticks out in my mind. If you exemplify the traits and characteristics that people admire and value in life, or simply think are cool and worthy, then simply your association with that person adds value to their life. Most people don’t come out and tell you they think highly of you, so you need to be keen to watch for their interest, otherwise they might grow resentful that you don’t give them the time or day. When this happens they put up walls. They get defensive. You need to make people feel good, feel that when they are around you their life has improved for that moment or simply thereafter. If you can do this, people will gravitate and orbit around you.

Anyway. I have much work I need to finish. I should write more often. I will write more often.