Monday, December 03, 2007

The Decline of the West and Other Historical Phalluses (11.11.10)

I had enough blessed slack yesterday to finish Bolton's The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal Cosmogony. First of all, I think the man's a metaphysical genius. While he doesn't have the "musical" quality of Schuon -- rather, his prose is more "geometric" -- he writes with effortless flow and with great authority about all matters suprasensible and transnatural. He is undoubtedly a man of genuine spiritual achievement. Nevertheless.... I go back to my coontra: what would the original Raccoons, Toots and Herman, say?

It's difficult to reject an overall thesis that contains so much truth; then again, it's the same reason I reject natural selection as an all-encompassing paradigm -- plenty of truth there as well, just not The truth. I found myself highlighting half the book for its subtle insights into the spiritual world, and yet, I just can't go along with the idea that time is inevitably proceeding in the direction of degeneration and dissolution. Rather, I think this conclusion has always represented the "easy way out" for seriously spiritual-minded individuals who cannot help but notice the gulf that exists between the transcendent ideal and the actual, or Reality and maya. There has never been a time that people haven't been concerned about "the direction of history."

To cite one particularly glaring example, Jesus appeared at a time when it was felt by the masses that things could hardly get worse. Everyone was anticipating the messiah, convinced that historical degeneration was so complete that the end was near. According to Bolton's thesis -- and of the traditionalists in general -- ancient Rome would have been much closer to the "Golden Age" than our time, but this seems to me to be almost pure fantasy, divorced from historical realities.

As a matter of fact, this is what the traditionalists habitually do; they seem to feel that it is so obvious that history is going in a "negative" direction, that it requires no historical support at all. But if you examine the actual conditions of the average Job living in Ancient Egypt, or Greece, or Rome, or the Middle Ages, it strikes me as a horror. But because the traditionalists are extremely aesthetically-minded, it's as if they make sweeping historical conclusions based upon the most beautiful objects of antiquity that have survived to our day.

Yes, the Egyptians left us some impressive artwork, no doubt. Then again, they had 5000 years to do it in, a figure so vast that it is inconceivable to us. Frankly, I don't think we can even grasp the fact that when Augustine -- who had the greatest influence on Western thought for 1000 years -- did his writing, it was already going on four centuries after the time Jesus lived. We don't even know all that much about Christianity during its first two-plus centuries, a period of time as long as the United States has existed.

But the further back in history we go, the more we "compress" the time, which not only obscures all of the detail, but ends up being no better than a psychological projection into the past. Thus, for example, if you are on the depressive, pessimistic, or alienated end of the psychological spectrum, it's easy to conclude that the present more or less blows, since we see all the horrifyng, disgusting detail of our own age up close and personal. One glance below through the looking glass-bottomed boat at the sewer of dailykos, and you would be forgiven for believing that mankind cannot sink any lower and that the end is at hand.

It's very similar to what psychotherapy patients do on an individual basis. People tend not to remember much before the age of five, and only scattered details between five and nine. But obviously, life was just as rich and detailed then as it is now -- in fact, more so, since every single day was an alternatively delightful or calamitous novelty, largely depending upon the quality of parenting. Life was overflowing with the fullness and the presence of being, but we just didn't have the language or the concepts to reflect upon it. My son is the happiest and most intense person I know, but he'll never remember it, except unconsciously.

Patients who come in for therapy often have what are called "screen memories" of their childhood. They will remember this or that event with great detail, but upon investigation, it will turn out that it is a sort of "composite portrait" of a whole period, rich with symbolic meaning that needs to be "unpacked" and articulated. It's never just a literal memory, but more of a holographic pneumagraph that can reveal layer upon layer of meaning by "turning" it ever so slightly, like a blinky toy.

Perhaps history is the same way. I know it is for me. It's like a huge black canvas upon which we project things from the present. Since the past is behind us, we imagine that we can take it into our view, but this is obviously impossible. There are huge lacunae that we just fill in with fantasy, much in the same way that we fill the hole in our field of vision, where the optic nerve meets the eye. In a very real sense, it's true: there's nothing new except the history you don't know.

I tried to present just a fraction of the historical evidence of how bad things were in the past in Chapter 3 of One Cosmos, but obviously, that chapter could have been expanded into a whole book. My purpose was simply to make the point and then move on. I'm obviously not a scholar, but a... a... what? I have no idea. You decide.

Anyway, to cite some statistical examples that are of obvious concern to us, no matter how violent things appear in the present, they simply cannot compare to how violent human beings were in the past. Michael Medved cites statistics indicating that "New York City is on track to have fewer than 500 homicides this year, by far the lowest number in a 12-month period since reliable Police Department statistics became available in 1963.... But within the city’s official crime statistics is a figure that may be even more striking: so far, with roughly half the killings analyzed, only 35 were found to be committed by strangers, a microscopic statistic in a city of more than 8.2 million."

In contrast, according to Lawrence Keely's War Before Civilization, the homicide rate of some prehistoric villages "would have been 1,400 times that of modern Britain or about 70 times that of the United States in 1980." Likewse, the Middle Ages were (was?) almost inconceivably violent. We just have no idea how "tame" and domesticated mankind has become in the past several centuries.

Indeed, we have only to look at the contemporary Mohammedans to get a glimpse of the literally psychotic violence that prevailed in the past. I remember reading about the Crusades recently, during which battles took place where the combatants were knee-deep in blood. Yesterday I was reading about the sacking of Rome in 410, when the Gothic warriors mercilessly "raped, pillaged and murdered for nearly three straight days." As Dawson writes, the Goths did not regard themselves as barbaric, certainly no more so than the Romans, who were nobody's punk. Rather, "as they understood it, Alaric and his men were loyal Romans and only desired formal recognition as legitimate armed forces." Yeah, like the Palestinians. They just want to be recognized.

I remember reading about Ancient Egypt in a book entitled Slaughter of the Innocents: Child Abuse Through the Ages and Today, and it was a pretty strange place. Their politics were very different from ours, especially their erections. Different strokes, you might say. For example, Breiner writes that "The phallus was honored and vitally important in the religious and cultural life of Egypt. The gods are shown with an erect phallus, and a pharaoh was expected to demonstrate in public that he had one, too. At certain ceremonies, the pharaoh would stand before the people and show his erect phallus. Indirectly, this would be shown many times when his erection would lift his loincloth."

By this low-hanging standard, even Bill Clinton was a great defender of the principle of separation of crotch and state. Thank God we didn't have to hear details about the state of his union.

58 Comments:

Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

OT-
Hi y'all! We have a pineapple express happenin' in our neighborhood of western Washington.

We're surrounded by some major flood waters and cut off from town in my neck of the woods.

More details at my blog.
We would appreciate any prayers you can toss our way.

Thanks!!! :^)
I'll try to stay online as long as possible.

12/03/2007 09:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

May the mighty phallus of Thoth be pointed in your general direction!

12/03/2007 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Bob referenced "The phallus was honored and vitally important in the religious and cultural life of Egypt."

In all seriousness, this "honoring and vital importance" continues to be practiced in and around parts of San Francisco. Rigidity of intent is considered a high value thereabouts. Er, or so I've heard.

(By the way, Ben's not lyin'!)

12/03/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Walt--

Yes, absolutely! Did you see Zombie's photo collage? Truly, a reversion to paganism.

12/03/2007 09:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob: Hysterical last paragraph...maybe you should scab for the striking writers...could it be summarized as the good/bad old days? Perhaps much of the past was violent by universal and timeless standards. But then again, if those of the past could "see us now" and some of our behaviours (?abortion), they might conclude the same.

12/03/2007 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Abortion? They'd wonder how we abort the child before it comes out of the womb.

Remember the Spartans?

12/03/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, ancient and even medieval infanticide was much more common than contemporary abortion. They had no moral qualms about it whatsoever.

Later in the week I will attempt to explain why things are always getting simultaneously better or worse, depending upon how you look at the temporal blinky. It has to do with the two streams of time, one of which proceeds from past to future, the other from future to past. And now I must get to work...

12/03/2007 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks Cuz!
I think I got more than enough phallus to deal with this storm!
But hey! Extra phallus couldn't hurt!

Skully- Groggin' the flood away.

12/03/2007 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spartans?...no I don't remember.

12/03/2007 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Later in the week I will attempt to explain why things are always getting simultaneously better or worse, depending upon how you look at the temporal blinky. It has to do with the two streams of time, one of which proceeds from past to future, the other from future to past. And now I must get to work..."

Cool! I love your timestream posts! Mucho Optimisto!

12/03/2007 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

The Spartans killed many (many) children who they thought were unworthy (too weak) just after birth. They left them on the hillside. In comparison, the percentile rate of abortion and the actual procedure involved are tame.

12/03/2007 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we should go back to the ways of the egyptians - at least as far as the publicity of the phallus. its the only way to reverse the feminization of masculinity. the main problem is little pricks run amock!

12/03/2007 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Aquila said...

I wonder if King David's infamous nearly-naked public dance when the Ark returned (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=10&chapter=6&version=31) was a reversion to the old Pharaonic phallic-display?

12/03/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger debass said...

I heard some comic say that the Washington Monument doesn't look much like George Washington but is more representative of Bill Clinton.

12/03/2007 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

"As a matter of fact, this is what the traditionalists habitually do; they seem to feel that it is so obvious that history is going in a "negative" direction, that it requires no historical support at all. But if you examine the actual conditions of the average Job living in Ancient Egypt, or Greece, or Rome, or the Middle Ages, it strikes me as a horror. But because the traditionalists are extremely aesthetically-minded, it's as if they make sweeping historical conclusions based upon the most beautiful objects of antiquity that have survived to our day."

This doesn't seem to me to accurately reflect the point of view of traditionalists. First, I know of very few traditionalists who think highly of Ancient Egypt--certainly Schuon did not. Generally, traditionalists view each civilization as a cosmos unto itself, with a golden age and a decline. In Greece, for example, Plato is seen to have been at the beginning of its decline, not in its Golden Age. Therefore, much of the architecture that remains would have emerged in a decadent era. Same for Egypt.
In fact, traditionalists typcially look not so much to the big things, but the little things--handcrafts, homes, vestments, statuary, etc. to get an aesthetic "feel" for the civilization. These would have been the items made by the folk--those who were supposedly living in horrible circumstances by modern scales. Oddly, many of these people took the time to do things in an amazingly detailed, skilled, and beautiful manner. There are still places where this takes place. It is a kind of axiom, it is true, among traditionalists that "by their fruits ye shall know them", that is by the things made. Anyone who has participated in "the well making of that which needs making" (a famous line from Ananda Coomaraswamy) knows the soul satisfying happiness it does bring. It can even overcome poor sanitation, aches and pains, and longevity. Couple that with the deep certitude that their soul will land in heaven, the traditionalist find that it was the rank and file who had, if one's priorities are in line, a very fine existence indeed, certain obvious abuses aside (like Egyptian slaves, or Incan sacrifices).
Furthermore, by virtue of the fact that traditionalists see these civilizations more or less in isolation, it stands to reason that things don't necessarily get better the further back one goes. It all depends on the civilization in question and the time in question.
Lastly, if not leastly, traditionalist tend to accept, generally, what all the major traditions teach about time and history--that it is going to end in disaster and generally gets worse--and, particularly, the Hindu theory of yugas, which is the most explicit theory on the history and future of the world. Along the way, during this overall dissolution, there are redresses that bring a given civilization back to a kind of golden age. One of these eras was around 600 BC, for example. As Americans, we could point to the constitution as one of these times.

12/03/2007 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Debass -

That was a "log" joke, right?

I think you've been out in the woods a little too long ....

12/03/2007 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous at in la said...

Bob, I wouldn't say there isn't much in ways of early Christian writings, see St. Ignatius of Antioch here for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Antioch and there are other early Church Fathers to check out as well...

12/03/2007 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Joseph:

Still, it strikes me as historicism by another name, i.e., the idea that we really don't have free will and are being conditioned by impersonal historical laws traveling in one direction only. In my view, the "golden age" is mythological and archetypal, not actual, located in the vertical, not horizontal. If it weren't, we couldn't sanctify the world today by living vertically.

12/03/2007 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous at in la said...

there's also Justin Martyr
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Martyr

12/03/2007 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous joseph said...

Bob,
That may be. I was just trying to clarify, based on my own reading, the traditional view. It is more subtle than appears at first.
On their side, though, is the fact that their view is scriptural and more or less universal among the traditions.
As for free will, I think they would argue that civilizations are not free in the same way that individuals are and are obliged to obey certain laws.

12/03/2007 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Joseph--

My point -- which I will expand upon later -- is that these ideas about degeneration are not so much metaphysical as empirical, then "metaphysicalized". In other words, even people living in the so-called "Golden Age" would have looked around and thought they were living in a time of degeneration -- which is true, since creation and destruction -- Shiva and Vishnu -- are always rumbling with each other, then as now.

12/03/2007 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

And AT-- I'm well aware of the early Christian writing. I'm talking more about, say, the day to day interior life of a typical illiterate female peasant.

12/03/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous dloye said...

I've a problem, and maybe some of the coons can help with the solution. Nothing like swimming with gators like Ben. Prayers going out to Ben and those in the flood waters...

Here's my little problem. Someone in the Sunday School class said, "we're about to run out of this study, and need a new one," pointing to me. What I have in mind at the moment is something like the pictoral children's bible with the great old testament stories... but with the difference that I want some sort of a study of those old stories with a more adult, less simplified perspective. Adult meaning we can read the stories and advice about concubines, but also touching on the historical setting, mores and the way the "typical illiterate female peasant" lived, to borrow from the master. Hey we could probably "handle" some of those mighty phalluses!

Of course we can take the Children's illustrated Bible, and take a story a week, going to the original source and digging a bit ourselves, but if someone has seen or done something similar, why reinvent the wheel?

Then there is an alternate thought. The church, the local congregation is in a world of hurt. We're still in the aftermath of being in the epicenter of the wrath of Katrina. The congregation wonderful bunch of giving, giving, giving people, and they have just about given out. Trying to maintain mission as well as a choir is getting to be a truly tough balancing act. So something uplifting and comforting might be just the ticket as well.

And really no limitations... if you've come across a study you thought was worthy, pass me the word? I'd love to look over a few and let the group know something of what is available other than the denomination's canned studies which they rejected years ago.

Thanks in advance.

WRT the blog, bingo...Vishnu and Shiva...our modern convenience store would be a miracle of wonderous proportions to the "typical illiterate female peasant." Air conditioning, glass windows, fresh milk refrigerated and pasteurized no less....

12/03/2007 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous at in la said...

Bob, I was going off of this from your post -- "Frankly, I don't think we can even grasp the fact that when Augustine -- who had the greatest influence on Western thought for 1000 years -- did his writing, it was already going on four centuries after the time Jesus lived. We don't even know all that much about Christianity during its first two-plus centuries..."

You mention the writings of Augustine four centuries after Jesus, and the lack of knowledge of Christianity before two-plus centuries, so I was just pointing out that there are in indeed substantial accounts written before then. Ignatius of Antioch, was himself, a student of the apostle John. And Justin Martyr wrote quite extensively. Augustine just happened to be an extremely gifted theologian and communicator, not to mention one of the most prolific Christian writers even to date.

As for the day to day interior life of an illiterate peasant girl; you couldn't have picked a more remote subject. Except, of course, unless you also made her mute. Let's face it, what do we know about that person even living today? The day to day interior life of the illiterate peasant girl living in Serbia in present day, let alone two thousand years ago in Ephasus? I don't think, however, it would be that much different in substance (ie. faith/hope/relatioship), though, the accidentals of times, place, and references, etc...would be.

Anyway, I just wanted to make that point in case some of your readers may think there was hardly any knowledge of early Christianity prior to the third century.

12/03/2007 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger debass said...

I think the degenerative idea of history comes from flatlanders or leftists who feel that they are degenerating from their ideal of never wanting to grow up, ie: the Peter Pandemic. Whereas racoons are trying to get back to the One and are doing what they can to bring everyone along. Contrast that with the islamists who are trying to drag us back to the 8th century. I'm sure our idea of history is a lot different than theirs. It seems that the spiritual history is always progressing while the non spiritual history does seem to degenerate.
Interesting article at American Thinker:
http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/11/integrated_patterns_of_civiliz.html

Walt-

I'm on the southern end of Ben's pineapple express so I'm off work today. Don't like to be in the woods on days like this. Too many widow makers. I've combined my skills of music and logging. Now I play logger-rythms.

12/03/2007 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Joseph, you said:
"In fact, traditionalists typically look not so much to the big things, but the little things--handcrafts, homes, vestments, statuary, etc. to get an aesthetic "feel" for the civilization. These would have been the items made by the folk--those who were supposedly living in horrible circumstances by modern scales. Oddly, many of these people took the time to do things in an amazingly detailed, skilled, and beautiful manner."

Something about this passage struck a wrong chord with me, but it took Lileks to clarify my misgivings:

"I have, however, read review that dwelled on the double-sided nature of Perry Smith - he draws, he plays guitar – yet he kills! How can an artistic sensibility sit side-by-side with the ability to murder?"

My own point, then, is that just because they made pretty things, even beautiful and lasting things, that doesn't mean that their civilization - or even the artist's own life, for that matter - was good. I would imagine that the artisans who carved and painted the halls of Mayan temples thought their art was beautiful, gained great, even soul-deep satisfaction from their work, and "took the time to do things in an amazingly detailed, skilled, and beautiful manner" - in spite of or even because their work glorified the ritual slaughter of other human beings.

Creating and striving for Beauty is one of the ways we can gno God. But. Divorced from Truth and Goodness, it can also be meaningless, banal, empty (as per the link Bob had in his post on Friday), or even serve evil means. And even if it does serve all three characteristics, that doesn't mean the society as a whole in which it was produced is a good society.

12/03/2007 01:22:00 PM  
Anonymous cousin Dupree said...

I think I align myself with the sentiments expressed in this take on Reactionary Nostalgia:

"I saw the Drudge Report's synopsis of the contents of Pat Buchanan's book about the end of civilization or whatever he's on about. What a turd....

"Apocalyptic visions can be a sort of dumb fun, I guess. Between him and Al Gore I'm surprised you can hear yourself think at the intellectual bus stop with them both shouting at the passing traffic with visions of DOOM, DOOM, I SAY!

".... The world changes all the time and people don't like it. They certainly don't understand it. Neither side. As I get older, I realize that if I'm going to talk about Old Bastid stuff, I have to be careful not to drift into just being cranky. If I was under the age of thirty, and I saw Pat Buchanan and his Legion of Doom Factoid Brigade approaching, I'd cross the street to avoid him. Even if he was right, he's a jerk....

"If you have experience about a period of time, and it was bad (hello, Jimmy Carter!) you should point out that things were lousy to anyone that might be tempted to try it again in their ignorance.... But it would be so much more useful to employ your first hand knowledge of time gone by to point out whatever things are glittering in the big pile of woe and sorrow and detritus we call life. They're always there. Help people to see them for the first time, or remember them kindly."

12/03/2007 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Then again, they had 5000 years to do it in, a figure so vast that it is inconceivable to us. "

It never fully hit home to me the span of time I'd nimbly traverse when tossing off something like "well, back in ancient Greece, they..." until I read Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950. In order to impress upon you the inconceivable expanse of time he attempts to span, he takes you through a step by step regression, and by the time you get back to just Shakespeare's lifetime, your head is just reeling from the shock, and that's only 400 or so years - to go back one thousand years, two, three thousand years... it is stupefying.

And you're right... it's nifty to talk of favorite highlights in history, but to actually go back and try to live in them? for a day even?

NOT!

12/03/2007 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Yesterday I was reading about the sacking of Rome in 410, when the Gothic warriors mercilessly "raped, pillaged and murdered for nearly three straight days."

If you haven't yet, wait till you take a look into the muslem invasions into India - horrifying. Will Durant called it something like 'the most blood drenched episode in all of human history - and he was very much aware of the various frolicks of Alexander, the Romans, the Goths and Mongols.

The death and destruction they stampted out before them... religion of peace? Raises my hackles whenever I hear it....

12/03/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

This has gotten too analytical for me. I take Chesterton to have the best feel for it: The past was both bad and good; just like the present. We were human then, we're human now. Some things are more monstrous, others less. Some civilizations did have a nice period when things were pretty good for a lot of people in that group. It's a total mixed bag. There has been a general movement but it's not unlike a jagged saw line. Tracing the movement through the specifics is hard; so if you focus on the specifics you'll find many peaks and valleys.

Instead, I'll try to float on the infinite sea for a moment with this:

A Night As Bright As Dawn

Each star a twinkle
Beyond the wrinkle of cloud
The city, below

A great star on land
This creeping hand touches sky
Dim and burgundy

They say it grows dark
And darker yet, "Mark my words!"
Night's shadows grow long

But now as clouds clear
"Look!" and "See here!"- hands pointing
To a hand-writing

Darker it is yet
And still with each hue get sharper
And brighter the stars.

12/03/2007 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

debass said... "I heard some comic say that the Washington Monument doesn't look much like George Washington but is more representative of Bill Clinton."

Hmm... maybe they were speaking from experience... but my guess is that the St. Louis Arch is probably more representative of Bubba....

12/03/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Joseph said "In fact, traditionalists typcially look not so much to the big things, but the little things--handcrafts, homes, vestments, statuary, etc. to get an aesthetic "feel" for the civilization"

hmmm... are those the comments of Traditionalists or of Anthropologists? Aren't Traditionalists usually more concerned with... well. traditions? Practice of Family reverences, religious practices, behaving in ways that their various founders did - more behavior than craft?

Still though "Therefore, much of the architecture that remains would have emerged in a decadent era.", that is true enough - see Augustus's boast, something like "I found Rome a city of brick, and left it a city of Marble", and he was certainly no Traditionalist - wanted to evoke traditions, but only within the scope of his innovations.

12/03/2007 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

At in LA said... "Anyway, I just wanted to make that point in case some of your readers may think there was hardly any knowledge of early Christianity prior to the third century."

If anyone's of that impression, probably want to read back a few months posts - should be enough references to those periods to disabuse you of the impression.

Until I happened in here, I thought I was Mr. History... but Gagdad gno's the times....

12/03/2007 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Walt said "... Too many widow makers. I've combined my skills of music and logging. Now I play logger-rythms."

(rimshot) Groooaaannnn!!!!

12/03/2007 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

oops... Debass... de bomb...

12/03/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Van -

I could repeat his joke, if it'd help you out.

12/03/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous at in la said...

Van--definitely don't consider myself mr. history or anything like that (i know you were referring to yourself) and i know bob knows his stuff (i've been reading for a few months now and i'm into the third chapter of one cosmos), i was just making the point in case there are readers here who aren't christian or in the know about that particular thing, and may be lead to believe after reading that paragraph that there wasn't much in the way of writings....that's all.

12/03/2007 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

KROK-o-Dial
evolve already
reptilian history
coming and going

12/03/2007 04:07:00 PM  
Anonymous dloye said...

Oh debass.. logger rhythms! I totally missed it. groan and double groan. Thanks for pointing it out van. get the hook...

12/03/2007 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Damn Ben! Just saw the news, be careful - conserve the Grog!

BTW, somewhat relevant and blatantly self promoting, I finally popped out a new post.

12/03/2007 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Walt, no need to repeat it, but if you could hum a few bars...

12/03/2007 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

It is easy to think that the human mind was the same during ancient history as it is today. This mistake is natural because the minds we perceive through the mist of time are exactly those who were crucial in shaping our modern mind. It is easy to think that because we can recognize ourselves in David's psalms or the discourses of Socrates, common people at the time were much like common people today.

This is not the case.

Common people before the printing press and public schooling were stir crazy. Incest, child abuse (sexual and otherwise), uncontrollable rage, split personalities, phobias and taboos, and above all a groupthink worthy of a lynch mob, except it was virtually always on. The few people who towered above this lumpy brown stream are the ones still seen today.

Even a couple hundred years ago, it was perfectly commendable for two men to earnestly attempt to kill each other in broad daylight over mating rights. Today you would not allow this to happen to livestock or test animals. Go back another century, and condemning witches based on hearsay was considered God's good and holy will. Failure to participate was a good start toward your own death sentence. You think political correctness is bad? It is just a shadow of its old self.

12/03/2007 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'm with Magnus!

I'll have more to say about this question as these posts unfold....

12/03/2007 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Magnus Itland said... "It is easy to think that the human mind was the same during ancient history as it is today. This mistake is natural because the minds we perceive through the mist of time are exactly those who were crucial in shaping our modern mind. "

An interesting observation Magnus, how we look back into history and see ourselves... echoing another perspective of that in my post, "...The Ideas of the west have ever since been expanding and deepening the layers of conceptual landscape that exists within us, but they exist only after being created in our mental RAM - by us, each of us, individualy. Ideas that began with Homer, then the Polis, then Poetics, the Roman atop the Greco, the Christian upon the Judeo, Rights, Statehood, and then Nationhood – each of these builds upon the previous layer – and the previous layers must be learned and laid down, for the next one to be properly acquired and poured upon that. At any point, a person or even an entire period, may get it wrong - it's a difficult cake to bake."

12/03/2007 07:47:00 PM  
Anonymous joseph said...

yes Magnus, thank heaven for all the good things brought by public schools! Finally, people are not barbaric and have the deep morality to surf porn sites, listen to rap, and eat cheese curls. It's true, though, their not killing each other. They are living to be 97. Soulless, but 97, and that's not nothing.

12/03/2007 09:30:00 PM  
Anonymous joseph said...

Van,
My communication is sometimes--OK, it's often--lacking. I was making reference to the aesthetic dimension, when I made the reference to handcrafts and what not. Your point is well taken.

12/03/2007 09:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

Julie said, "Creating and striving for Beauty is one of the ways we can gno God. But. Divorced from Truth and Goodness, it can also be meaningless, banal, empty (as per the link Bob had in his post on Friday), or even serve evil means".

True enough. If we simply, for your benefit, restrict ourselves to the Christian world, then what. Have you ever seen Chartes? Or the pottery of the medieval Christian world? Were they wallowing in evil?

12/03/2007 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Not always, but you can't deny that sometimes and in some ways it was. My point was simply that if you are judging a society as good or bad based on the fact that its denizens created things of beauty and spiritual significance, then you are basing that conclusion on incomplete evidence at best.

I don't think anyone here is suggesting that nothing good has come out of the West, and of Judeo-Christian civilization in particular. But to suggest, based on the artwork of Michelangelo or Leonardo, or on the craftsmanship of a nice piece of furniture or a thatched roof, perhaps, that they all lived like characters in a Jane Austen novel, with happy, simple and generally good lives is frankly ridiculous.

If they were all happy as they were, we'd still be living that way.

If my ancestors in Ireland had enjoyed potato famines and harsh poverty, they wouldn't have risked their lives coming to America, then taken further risks traveling the Oregon trail.

If my ancestors who were bought and sold as slaves had been contented knowing that though they labored under unimaginable circumstances they would surely go to heaven, they never would have fled to Michigan and helped other slaves escape to freedom in Canada.

River put it more simply earlier today. There has been great good and great evil present in every human civilization, and the same is true today.

12/03/2007 10:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dilys here.

I feel a good bit of sympathy with Joseph's position on the "fruits" of a culture. Years ago in Avignon I was thinking how much I would prefer to live in a place with this kind of beautiful, more traditional, architecture. It is more than aesthetics. However, the defense still boils down to a kind of materialism, much higher-quality of course than the consumerist target of cars and McMansions. Walt's Nicoll excerpt today may be relevant, in its reference to senses that are entirely discontinuous with even our most refined sensory apparatus:
...to obtain a higher reality of oneself, the center of gravity of one's being must be in oneself, and this qualitative change in being will clearly remain impossible as long as we are turned only outwards. The center of gravity of oneself must not lie outside through the action of self-love and the senses.

The whole discussion raises an interesting challenge: what ideas or Soul-themes can survive our aesthetics even in the face of incidental shabbiness, or kitsch, or socially-embarrassing adherents. Unexamined materialism lurks in many places. It is probable that this mechanism accounts for the Church's, and other traditions', prescription of occasional ascetic exercises, not as negativity to good things, but to separate out the "senses."

12/04/2007 07:17:00 AM  
Blogger Smoov said...

Dilys:

I've spent significant time in France and about to purchase a home there. I may have misunderstood you, but I disagree with the notion that "McMansions" are necessarily aesthetically inferior to French architecture. We may need to adjust our notions of what is pleasing somewhat. For me McMansions and other aspects of American culture represent a liberation of the "lower classes" which even today does not exist in Europe. Many of those McMansions belong to second or even first generation immigrants who started a tire repair shop and grew it into a state-wide chain. Only in America. America may seem superficially crass at times, but that is the result of an underlying ebullient economic beauty which levels "classes" and rewards diligence and character.

France is postcard-beautiful, but her soul remains pinched and mean in comparison with the exhuberant and generous America. And that I find beautiful.

And I'm aware those sentiments would get me an F in Aesthetics 101, but America made me a rich man and I don't care ;-)

12/04/2007 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous joseph said...

"If they were all happy as they were, we'd still be living that way."

Julie,
I think if you examine that statement, you will find it pregnant by an unwanted father. But it explains much of what comes to be given as examples of "progress". This kind of thinking is what leads high school students to not find anything useful in the study of history.
Certainly there has been progress in some areas. Other areas are quite doubtful, but they have the great advantage of advertising which convinces the passive that whatever is being promoted is somehow better.
I remember travelling through Ireland a few years ago. After driving several hours through winding roads, blind curves, and such while seeing the most amazing scenery, I finally stopped in Donegal at a Bed and Breakfast. The owner and I chatted a bit, as she was very keen on knowing how I was enjoying Ireland. I mentioned the scenery, the friendly people, the music, etc. But then I mentioned the roads (the roads were well repaired, just harrowing). She quickly responded, that you cannot have it both ways. An interstate highway system like you have in the US would destroy the scenery (just as it has primarily in the US). Yes, it is efficient. It is perfectly quantitative and leads to many quantitative fruits--lots and lots of cheese curls.
This also brings to mind my experience with the Amish, among whom I worked for several years.
Other than access to land for pay and anti-biotics for pay, the Amish really don't need anything from the "English". They don't have indoor plumbing, they don't use cars, they don't have electricity. And yet, they are incredibly happy, peaceful, pious, and crime free. I even, after getting fairly close with a few men, once asked what percentage of the Amish were homosexual. Zero. None. Not a one. I love to see the looks on people's faces when I tell them that, because it flies in the face of the so-called science of the percentage of homosexuals in the population.
Yes, they are not free to do many things that we enjoy, but they are remarkably happy--especially the children.
They do develop, in the sense that if someone among them comes up with a better way of hammering a nail, they adopt it, and in a flash.
Now, I am not suggesting that everyone should be Amish, but it is a remarkable example of people living roughly like folks did before the advent of electricity and thriving quite well.
For them, it is a question of priorities--family, religion, community, land. For us, or rather, for the modern world, it is also a question priorities, and ours seem to be primarily material and quantititative. We know how to make lots and lots of things, but we have little idea what humans are for.

12/04/2007 08:00:00 AM  
Anonymous joseph said...

Smoov,
I agree with what you say about the French, but my experience in Ireland, Scotland, and Spain are quite different. The people were lovely, helpful, friendly, generous, and smart. The aesthetics were amazing, by and large, though it was more difficult to get about at high speeds.
America has a huge disadvantage aesthetically because we are not nearly as homogenous culturally as these countries and we did not develop in an era where the prevailing theory was quite religious, and with the limitations of being pre-industrial.

12/04/2007 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"I feel a good bit of sympathy with Joseph's position on the "fruits" of a culture. Years ago in Avignon I was thinking how much I would prefer to live in a place with this kind of beautiful, more traditional, architecture. It is more than aesthetics."

You have me there, Dilys (and Joseph). Sometimes I get hung up on details. As an artist, I'm all too aware that the final version of a piece of art can tell many stories - the obvious one that is the "point" of the piece, so to speak, but also the story behind the making of something, which can be drastically different from what the viewer perceives in the finished result. For instance, in many places the faces used in various pieces of religious work were the family members of whatever wealthy nobleman commissioned the work. So when the parishioners came to church and beheld the faces of saints, they might also be looking at the faces of their earthly lord and lady (which only now occurred to me, and how weird would that be?).

But all of that aside, people did care enough, and revere God so much, that they created incredible monuments of beauty, wrote songs that still touch our souls today, and painted pictures that still surpass much that contemporary art has to offer. And it's not so hard to imagine that for average people in the Christian world, while their lives don't meet up with our own standards, maybe didn't have it so bad as we often believe.

Am I flip-flopping enough? :)

12/04/2007 08:09:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Smoov, after I went to bed last night I realized I was rather up a creek without a paddle with my arguments. What can I say - sometimes I'm right, and sometimes I'm a bit of an ass.

12/04/2007 08:14:00 AM  
Anonymous joseph said...

Julie said, "If my ancestors who were bought and sold as slaves had been contented knowing that though they labored under unimaginable circumstances they would surely go to heaven, they never would have fled to Michigan and helped other slaves escape to freedom in Canada."

I think this was a pretty effective argument. It is still near enough and continues to have some consequences to make us realize that one cannot argue consclusively that things were "better" in previous eras.

12/04/2007 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks, Joseph - I knew I had a point somewhere in that muddle :)

12/04/2007 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Ah... I've been missing a good flurry... I can't find the entire essay, but a sizeable excerpt is here from Matthew Arnolds Civilization in the United States, and he makes some very thought provoking comments about the nature and necessity of Architecture in, and in order to fully have, civilization (he didn't think we had it circa 1888).

12/04/2007 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Smoov said "And I'm aware those sentiments would get me an F in Aesthetics 101, but America made me a rich man and I don't care ;-)"

YEAH!!!

ahem.
[straightens imaginary tie, sits back down]

12/04/2007 08:48:00 AM  

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