Romanization

Before globalization, there was Romanization.

In 42 B.C.E., Octavius, the nephew of Julius Caesar, became Emperor Augustus. Until his death in 14 C.E., as the deity of Imperial Rome, he Romanized the known Mediterranean world, and launched modern history.

In the lands of Galilee and Jerusalum and Jericho, between Sinai and Phoenicia and Syria, on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, lived a subsistence farming, communal people. Theirs was a culture of food purity, of bathing with running water, of sanctity of family and marriage, and of a covenantal relationship to an un-nameable God, a one true God.  Their lands belonged to this God, its fruits were to be shared in sacrifice to God.  Every seventh day was for rest, and for God.

In 63 B.C.E., the Romans came. While hunting pirates from Turkey who were raiding grain ships on their way to Rome, Pompey the Great marched thru Armenia, Syria, and then to Jerusalem, where he seized the Temple, conquered Judaea, and established the Roman Province, Syria Palastina. He eventually married Julius Caesar’s daughter, she died in childbirth along with their child. In civil war, at Pharsalus, against his brotherin-law, Pompey was defeated.  He escaped to Egypt, but was put to sword coming ashore.

Herod the Great came to rule in Syria Palastina, in collaboration with Rome.  He rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple into a wonder of the ancient world.  He built a great port city, Caesarea, and cities in the heartland – Tiberius in Galilee, and Sepphoris, just four miles from Nazareth.  With this Romanization, farming was commercialized and families were dispossessed, Roman patronage broke communal bonds, Roman money invaded traditional exchange, and – worst of all – piety to Roman power brought sacrilege – graven images near the Temple.

Local resistance grew.  A baptism movement developed.  Water immersion re-enacted the crossing of the Jordan of the ancestors, symbolically re-committing to traditional history.  The leader was beheaded by Herod’s son. An apocalyptic sect retreated into the caves near the Dead Sea. Collaborators and Roman officials were assassinated. A Kingdom of God movement arose in Galilee, advocating radical egalitarianism – shared living, non-violent resistence, and a dangerous rejection of Roman imperial divinity.  Their charismatic leader, in Jerusalem during Passover, protested the money commerce that invaded the Temple. He was swiftly arrested, and gruesomely crucified. His movement lived on, his followers moved out to Antioch, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Rome. They came to be blamed for a great fire in Rome, and Nero put their leaders to death. Revolts in Jerusalem and the surrounding lands attacked Roman legions. In a surprise victory, The Eagle Standard of the Twelfth Roman Legion was captured.  Roman honor was stained.  Nero dispached Vespasian, who, with his son, Titus, sieged and re-conquered Jerusalem. The Great Temple, all but the Western Wall, was destroyed.

While the Temple blazed, the victors plundered everything that fell in their way and slaughtered wholesale all who were caught.  No pity was shown for age, no reverence for rank: children and greybeards, laity and priests alike were massacred.”   Josephus, Jewish War,  6.6.271

Alan Turing, RIP.

In February 2011, Watson the IBM computer beat two humans in the game of Jeopardy!. Watson was programmed with massive information – some 200 million pages, 15 terabytes.  He can process 500 million books per second.  He ‘listens’ for key words in a clue, then matches them with clusters in his memory, then cross checks them against contextual information that is offered, and then ‘buzzes’ a decision when his statistical analysis finds the likelihood of a match.

Alan Turing would not be surprised.  “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”  1950.  Turing was the British mathematician who broke the Nazi Enigma security code. He was also a homosexual, which was a crime in England during his lifetime.  A lover blackmailed him. Turing sought police help.  He would not deny his homosexuality.  Despite his great service to the war effort, he was placed on house arrest, and ordered to receive female hormone treatments.

Mathematicians in his time sought to unify the truths of numbers, geometry, language, and logic.  With mathematics and grammar, and self evident axioms and propositions, they sought a symbolic logic that could derive all knowable truth. Was this possible?  Kurt Gödel ultimately proved that. . . no, such a system was not possible.  There are inevitably truths in any system of logic that can not be proven within that system.

Turing’s genius was to see that in the mechanics of functioning devices, machines that really work must embody some kind of truth. He utilized the most basic element of logical mathematics, the binary system, 0/1, and then conceptualized the mechanical expression of the most basic operations, the Boolean operations: and, or, not, if and only if, and never. He created a process of physically ordering events in time along a moving tape, and applied ordered ‘sets-of-rules’ to discrete ‘events’ – positions on the tape.  He then proved, mathematically, that this Turing machine could compute anything logical or mathematical.  He had derived the theoretic essential elements of Mind, and defined the structure of the modern computer.

His mother would often say that he was so . . .”literal minded“.  This was autism.  Turing used his intellect to compensate for limited emotional understanding. Indeed, like Spock of Star Trek, he was machine-like himself.  He found himself defending machines against the outrage that machines could be intelligent.

And to him, humans weren’t so wonderfully thoughtful. They clearly and profoundly misjudge, after all, the simple meaning of sexual preference.  He mocked their faulty reasoning:   Turing believes machine think. . . .Turing lies with men. . . . Therefore machines do not think

Turing loved Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, particularly the scene where the Queen plots with the Raven to entice Snow White to bite into a poisoned apple, so that she, the Queen, can then be ‘the fairest in the land’.  He was found dead, on June 8, 1954, alongside a bitten apple dipped in cyanide.

Apple Computer’s logo?

Panopticon

The private ego is the most precious thing we each have, and it is far more vulnerable now than ever before”  Tomorrow’s People, Susan Greenfield, 2003

Modern Madness, by Louis Sass, 1992, explores the disordered self of schizophrenia to illuminate the nature of normal psychology.  The self, it seems, is not a self, but is selves.  We are at least three, an immediate-being self, a social self, and a self-observing self.  Particularly in modern times, the self-observing self must also be the leader self, the self-managing self. We are this mental multiplicity, and we need to be integrated. Modern times may be working against this.

Michael Foucault wrote of the Panopticon, a prison architecture in which inmates were to be housed such that they were always under observation, while never able to see their observers.  This was proposed by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1885, and he theorized that this predicament would uniquely disarm a person psychologically, creating a state of mental confinement that would reduce the need for physical confinement. Somehow, in the naked presence of omniscient observation, one’s self-observing self would not be able to ground its functioning in a place of privacy, and thus weakened, it would be subject to outside direction and control.  In this theory, the self-observing self is built and maintained by direct personal experience – experience that we differentiate from the experience of others – and to achieve this, privacy is an absolute requirement.

Lady Greenfield, Oxford neurophysiologist, cross bencher in the House of Lords, controversial popularizer of science, has fears that modern forces are eroding the personal self.  The mind is plastic, she knows very well from her research, and its experiences determine its nature.  For her, that increasingly ubiquitous experience – computer screen experience – which is fast becoming the dominant mental experience of young people – with its hypnotic suspension of self observation, its enhancement of immediate being, its artificially instantaneous feed back, its blocking out of prosody and gesture, its insulation from social emotion, its replacement of body-kinesthetic experience, its displacement of personal pedagogy – is undermining the development and integrity of the self-observing ego of young people.  She notes the explosion of ADHD, the prescriptions for ritalin, and the growth of autism – the latter a condition very comfortable with computer screen experience. For Lady Greenfield, a diminished personal ego is susceptible to GroupThink, and to fundamentalisms. She worries that the internet is driving this weakening and collectivization of the self.  She cites Bertrand Russell:

Man’s collective passions are mainly evil; far the strongest of them are hatred and rivalry directed towards other groups.  Therefore at present all that give men power to indulge their collective passions is bad.”

Are we building a panopticon?

Iowa America

Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience.  That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in the ordinary sense.  How well do we understand our role?

Gilead,  Marilynne Robinson,  2004

A small farm town in Iowa, like Gilead, formed in the abolitionist fever of the 1850’s, for many years would have to take care of itself.  There would be no national funding for a social safety net, or even for police protection or public safety.  A town like that, and most America towns were like that, would have to develop and nurture a culture of self sufficiency.  People would need to be self managing, self policing, self controlling.  And so they were.

In Robinson’s novel, Gilead, the character John Ames is an aging (and probably dying) minister, who, in an act of love and of responsibility, is writing for his young son, explaining himself now, while alive, so that years later, his son will have a way to know his father.

In Gilead, people try to do the right thing.  They pray and suffer and carry their guilty feelings, their hopes, their jealousies, their resentments, their appreciations.  They strive to understand, to forgive, to tolerate.  They consult their Bible, their ministers, and their consciences. They feel small, weak, sorrowful, and proud. They suffer loss and hurt. They endure.  “I heard a man say once that Christians worship sorrow. That is by no means true.  But we do believe there is a sacred mystery in it”. In disappointing times, these are people who ask themselves:  What does Jesus want me to learn from this?

In this world, Jack, the difficult and not-so-good son of another preacher in town, Robert Boughton, returns home.  He brings with him the uneasy memories of his past – not uneasy for him, but uneasy for everyone else.  He was a thief, he skipped school, he was devious, and mean, and it never seemed to bother him. He made a hapless girl pregnant and then abandoned her.  As a forgiving christian, Jack’s preacher-father assumes that his son was ‘aggrieved’ – that he had reason for his transgressions.

A perennial user of others, Jack may be back for more.  With devilish intent, he may try to insinuate himself into John Ames’ family, after John is gone. We sense that he never fully felt he had gotten the best of John Ames, and he needs to, people like him are like that. We feel uneasy, for in this town, he may pull it off.  John’s wife doesn’t seem wary of him.  Good people are foiled by his kind. The forgiving aren’t comfortable with anger. They avoid the resentment they feel being exploited and manipulated, and so they give berth, when they shouldn’t, and Jack Boughton will take advantage of it.

There is such a thing as no conscience at all.

The New Global Elite

The Rise of the New Global Elite“,  Chrystia Freeland, The Atlantic, January/February 2011

The global capitalist economy is booming. Global poverty is improving on a scale undreamed of. From 1973 thru 2002, per capita income in China and India have grown 245 percent. Investment, technology, and innovation are creating huge productivity gains, and increasing wealth world-wide.

Nearly everyone is getting richer, but the rich are getting even richer.  Chrystia Freeland notes that this “new super-rich” are largely first or second generation wealthy, highly educated, very hard working, self-made “meritocrats” who increasingly see themselves as apart from everyone else, a “transglobal community“.

Herself a vendor in this world, (she moderates elite world conferences), Freeland hints at scandal here, or at least an impending crisis. She thinks there is ill-gotten gain. “the vast majority of U.S. workers have missed out on the wind-falls of this winner-take-most economy. . .are ravaged by the same forces that have enriched the plutocratic elite.”

Freeland gives us inside gossip. The daughter of billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson, Holly Peterson, her friend, speaks of New York – “people have no clue about how much money there is in this town” and tells of dinner conversations in which a $20 million salary is considered not quite adequate – $10 million goes to taxes.

This “plutocratic elite” gathers actively in international forums for brainstorming, networking, education, and planning.  With “philanthrocapitalism“, they bestow their wealth entrepreneurally, “they are using their wealth to test new ways to solve big problems”. However, they do not seem interested in trying to help government, and do not want to pay more taxes.  “My money isn’t going to be wasted in your deficit sink hole“.

One has think that this worldwide economic growth, with millions being lifted out of poverty, is a good thing.  And these global elites do not have armies.  They do not take people away in the middle of the night.  But Freeland thinks that some kind of Robin Hood action will be necessary. “There is the simple fact that someone will have to pay for the improved public education and social safety net the American middle class will need in order to navigate the wrenching transformations of the global economy“. But it isn’t clear how a growing world economy that helps the middle classes of the rest of the world hurts the middle class of America.

The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth.”

One wonders about this ‘lesson of history’. The wealth of this new global elite is not hoarded in vaults. It is, in a real sense, already ‘shared’. It is held in bonds, and securities, and industrial investments that are selected to yield results and employ people to produce products and services that people want. While they pay a great deal in taxes, they don’t want to pay more, and this may be the sharing Freeland has in mind. These elites don’t see the value of supporting failing bureaucracies. They don’t believe that more money for public education will improve the results.

A little known history

American Creation, Joseph J. Ellis, 2007

Indians being the prior occupants of the rights of the soil. . . To dispossess them . . .would be a gross violation of the fundamental Laws of Nature and of that distributive Justice which is the glory of a nation.”  Henry Knox,  Secretary of War

A Boston bookseller, Henry Knox became principal aide to General Washington in the revolutionary war. As Secretary of War in the new nation, he faced open warfare with Ohio tribes and others throughout the lands westward to the Mississippi. The American victory ‘triggered a tidal wave of western migration” of white settlers across the Appalachian Mountains. Individual states were writing treaties, knowingly to be violated, with the intention of completely displacing all Indians to the west, beyond the Mississippi. American citizens overwhelmingly favored removal.

Knox and Washington resolved to honor the nation’s founding republican principles.  To do otherwise, Washington said, would “stain the nation”. To this end, they declared the Indian tribes to be foreign nations, which placed Indian policy under the federal government. Their plan was to enter into treaties negotiated “on principles consistent with the national justice and dignity of the United States“.  They envisioned protected enclaves, protected by American troops, which American settlers would bypass. The Indians would be trained and equipped to learn and practice farming, for an evolution to a more ‘civilized status’ and eventual assimilation as new states.  This was a vision of humane coexistence and aid, bold and unprecedented for a new national power.

The first – and last –  such treaty was accomplished with the Creek Nation, a very large confederacy of tribes in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.  Their powerful chief, Alexander McGillivray, was a very successful Indian leader who was part Scotsman, part French, and part Creek, and he spoke Creek, English, and Spanish. He was treated, in New York, then the capital of the United States, to all the pomp and circumstance that would have greeted a royal European head of state.  He was a guest in Henry Knox’s home.

McGillivray was a realist, he did not expect the United States to endure, and saw himself more powerful, in his lands, than the United States government, and he kept ties with the Spanish, with whom he traded in Florida. Much of his land had just been sold, however, to settlers by the Georgia legislature, a move he was eager to block, and Washington was also determined to stop. And so the Treaty of New York was signed and passed by the Senate in August of 1790.  It gave sovereignty to the huge Creek Nation, and guaranteed federal troop protection of its borders.

It was not to hold.  Settlers streamed into the Creek lands. The new nation did not have the federal troops or resources to protect the vast borders. Like elsewhere and throughout history, farmers overwhelmed hunters.

Scarcely anything short of a Chinese wall will restrain the Land jobbers and the encroachment of settlers up on the Indian Country”  George Washington.

Iron Lady

Absence of Mind, Dispelling of inwardness from the modern myth of the Self,  Marilynne Robinson, 2010.

“But there is a fact of modern history, and there is the fact that intellectuals, renowned in their time, made significant contributions to the worst of it.

So speaks the literary mind, author of the novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson, across C.P.Snow’s divide between the two cultures – science and the humanities – to the illustrious “parascientific” priests of modern atheism: Dennett, Wilson, Dawkins, Harris, and others.  In her Yale Terry Lectures, she  speaks of her concern for the modern scientific dismissal of human subjectivity – the human soul – that is so increasingly entrenched, and unacknowledged, in the pontifications of these august thinkers.

The brain and its satellite glands have now been probed to the point where no particular site remains that can reasonably be supposed to harbor a non-physical brain.”  E. O. Wilson

She finds these pronouncements to be breezy and deft, but unsubstantiated and conjectural, and indeed not very scientific. Parascience, she calls this, a sort of science fundamentalism. You could learn something from the best of religious thought, she tells them:  Respect what you cannot know.

From antiquity, insistance on the ontological unlikeness of God to the categories to which the human mind has recourse is at the center of theological reflection.”

gravity, light, or time . . . are sufficient to persuade me that conclusions about the ultimate nature of things are, to say the least, premature, and that to suggest otherwise is unscientific.”  Harper’s Magazine, 2006.

Robinson notes that despite the true and profound biological origins of the human mind that are rooted in the drives for survival and for reproduction, the subjective human mind still is what it does, and what it does is have emotions, and aspirations, and seeks knowledge, and wonder, and develops culture, and art, and social cooperation, all with a capacity that can’t be explained.

there is that haunting compatibility of our means of knowing, with the universe of things to be known.”

Conscious subjectivity is substantially who and what we are, and has consequences that can’t be denied.

For Robinson, this growing arrogance of modern science – that everything that has come before is wrong, that subjectivity is not central – is as dogmatic and authoritarian as the religions they decry.  Morality is nothing if not respect for the subjectivity of individuals.

She wants science to see its own active role in fostering tribalism and violence in human history.  “if there is a special virtue in the scientific perspective, why do the worst regimes have so little trouble recruiting the best scientists?” She reminds us that Huxley, the great Darwin champion, was eugenicist, that the abolitionists were christians, and that the Amish fundamentalists – who don’t teach evolution – are very ‘green’ and are pacificists!

Mental Engineering

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.  The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things.”

Robert M. Pirsig,  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1974

This book came from nowhere and was a sensation in its time. It is about someone who was really smart, who somehow lost his mental bearings, and now is on a motorcycle journey, haunted, retracing his former lost self, trying to understand it all.  He is with his son, who, like a ghost of his father, is having his own mental trouble.

Mental illness is about confusing what is “out there” and what is “in here”. We try to keep our mental selves – our motorcycles – running smoothly, despite the confusing differences of others, and the unpredictability of our engines.

There are objects and events, like rocks and rainfall, and there are attributes, like tall, short, and long. Some minds see the thing, some minds, the idea-of-the- thing. These different kinds of minds often don’t get along, and the author has been bothered by this.  He can see both things and ideas of things, and wants to clarify, and in the process, heal.

In his former self, his eccentric path – he started in science, then had a sojourn in India, and then returned to study philosophy – led him to discover a little known voice in the Socratic dialogues of Plato, Phaedrus. Phaedrus, it seems, unlike Socrates, sensed that we know things, without knowing how we know them, and without having learned them. Socrates and Plato wouldn’t listen, you see, and the rest is history, including the human creation of inhumane technology.

Pirsig found that in his teaching of technical writing, his job before his mental breakdown, his students unfailingly could recognize good writing when they heard it, without being taught its attributes, and whether they could write well themselves or not.  He also found that experiencing good writing helped them become better writers.

Good writing had something he decided to call ‘Quality’.  He discovered that this ‘quality’ can not be defined. This created an epiphany – here was a truth, knowable and yet undefinable, a mystical reality. Further, this aspect of good writing could be found in the good of all things – art, philosophy, and technology. Pirsig came to believe that holding this mental category, this category of the knowable unknown, powerfully enhanced one’s intellectual, emotional, and even scientific understanding, much like holding the category zero – the something that is nothing – powerfully advances mathematics. For him, it seemed to be the path to a unification of thinking and feeling, reason and intuition, technology and humanism, the synthesis prior to all dualities, the Tao of the ancient oriental sages.  He discovered, in his own way, the perennial philosophy, . . . and it gave him ideaphoric mania.

He see’s it all now, on this journey.  Ideas and attributes are wonderful and powerful, they can design a motorcycle, but it still requires maintenance.

Founding Mystic

Transcendentalism, n. 1. the philosophy that proposes to discover the nature of reality by investigating the process of thought rather than the objects of sense experience. . . Webster’s Unabridged

Emerson, The Mind on Fire, Robert D. Richardson, Jr.  1995

Scales and chords. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, it was words and sentences.  He was a prose artist, and his practice was journal writing.  He sought the artistic experience of using a crafted skill to achieve meaning in expression.

Emerson was, like Immanual Kant, disturbed by skepticism, the philosophy of David Hume that says that we can’t really know what we know, that causality itself can’t be proven, that all thinking derives from sense perception, that no inductions can have the force of certainty, that the self is illusory. Emerson believed in the validity of intuition, the truth of what can be sensed from self-awareness in parallel with awareness of the world. One’s mind is made by nature, one’s mind is valid. Live, look, and see. From one’s full experience, one can know all that there is. “The whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.”  “My own mind is the direct revelation I have from God .”

Unwittingly, he affirmed the American political vision, in the mystical realm. “The highest revelation is that God is in every man.

He was well aware of the pitfalls, the draw of sophistry, of experts, of the easy, shallow path.  “It is easy to live for others, everybody does.  I call on you to live for yourselves . . .”  Follow your mind, but watch your step.  “When you write do not omit the thing you meant to say“.

Writing was self-actualization, his steadied stepping along a true path.  He was after first impressions, not second thoughts.  “For the best part . . of every mind is not that which a person knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him”. He recorded dreams. He cultivated flow. “The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent“.  Don’t fret for that hobgoblin: consistency.

I will no longer confer, differ, refer, defer, prefer, or suffer

In his relentless exploration of words and sentences, as he journeyed and journaled his own mind, Emerson learned to know what words can’t say, and what mystics always discover:  that there is thinking, and there is knowing, and they are not the same. In carefully perceiving what is, and listening to what one thinks – in this mysterious interplay of sensing and thinking -Emerson came to sense the nameless, universal essence of the world.  And so can we all.  Self Reliance.

Emerson grasped that nature self-registers. The active mind vivifies the attributes and forms and living magic of beauty, love, time, and eternity. All individuals, then, can be gods, in this way, creators of the world.  And for Emerson, that is the way to live.

Evolution not Revolution

 

a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Edmund Burke

The past teaches for the future, and society, like life itself, must learn from its experience and carry this knowledge forward.  Society must both honor its past and adapt for its future.  In times of dramatic change, social movements arise, and, like the French Revolution, can advocate radical rejection of the past.  The French revolutionaries sought wholesale reconfiguration of all elements of society.

[they] “completely pulled down to the ground, their monarchy; their church; their nobility; their law; their revenue; their army, their navy; their commerce; their arts; and their manufactures”  Edmund Burke

The ensuing chaos and tragedy provoked a philosophy of counter-revolution, most notably from Joseph de Maistre and Edmund Burke, a philosophy that we call conservatism, today.

Joseph de Maistre opposed what he called ‘rational’ government, government directed by seemingly reasoning elites, those who say they know best for the rest of us, using the cover of majority rule.  Government of ‘reason’, he argued, would lean towards abstract and impossible-to-achieve utopia, and lead to human evil, in its quest for efficiency and to please the whims of the majority.  He advocated for a heirarchical authority, in the form of a religious constitutional monarchy. Only allegiance to values held outside the minds of men – including the king – values held in protection by the rights of property, indeed values held with irrational commitment to time-honored tradition, he believed, could rule over time without corruption against the everyday interests of the majority.  de Maistre was a privileged aristocrat. He has been vehemently derided, and even credited with creating fascism, but he was not surprised by the Reign of Terror.

Edmund Burke, an Irishman in England, was initially supportive of the French Revolution, but also came to denounce its abstract, metaphysical extremism, its extreme rejection of the past.  Democracy can be excessive.  He found that a common heritage was best supported with property rights, and by due process of common law, and that change for the future was best cultivated with education, commerce, and free trade. He argued against taxing the American colony, and warned of the inherent dictatorial expansionism of the French revolutionaries.  He was not surprised by the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.

de Maistre and Burke have support in history.  Authoritarian regimes that maintain tradition – Japan, Germany, Spain, Chile, South Korea – have been able to progress to democratic systems. Totalitarian regimes which severely reject their past – Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba – have not.

A conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop‘”  William F. Buckley, Jr.

Conservatism is evolution, not revolution.