Principia Discordia

Principia Discordia => Or Kill Me => Topic started by: Cain on June 15, 2009, 12:06:40 pm

Title: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cain on June 15, 2009, 12:06:40 pm
In too many ways, Ancient Greece outweighs the influence it should have in academia, modern culture and society at large.  There is no doubt that Ancient Greece is a fascinating and complex society, and one that has had an impact on how following world powers - from the Roman Republic onwards, saw themselves.  But one could easily say the same of, for example, 15th century Italy, where the crucible of power politics, Renaissance art, humanism and the rediscovery of science started.  Or 1789, where French radicals turned the world on its head, and sought to undo all previous history.  Or, for the more pessimistic, the Thirty Years War, the rise of Napoleon or even 1939 and the shadow of war. 

And that is just in Europe.  We could look to the founding of America, its civil war, or the excesses of the Gilded Age.  Outside of the construct of "the west", we have Warring States China, the expansion of the Russian imperium into Central Asia by the Cossacks, the rise and fall of the Mongol war machine, and the ever shifting alliance of the Middle East, where Crusader states, Papal politics, knightly orders, Kurdish military leaders, Mameluk slave-soldiers, Seljuk Turk invaders, the Eastern renmants of the Roman Empire and secret Islamic societies all schemed and plotted for influence and control.

Yet we find ourselves coming back to Ancient Greece, again and again.  Perhaps because of the Romans, and because of Christianity, both Greek culture and language were preserved, and so became the basis of education.  After the defeat of the Greek city states by the superior Roman military, many Greeks made their way to the Imperial City, offering their services as doctors, engineers and thinkers.  Though spurned as outsiders, by the time the Republic was drawing to a close, Greek culture had permeated popular poetry, philosophy and history.  Furthermore, Romans wrote themselves into Greek history, with their foundational tale of being the remnants of the Trojan War, escaping the wrath of Achilles and the other famous Achaen commanders, and not coincidentally disparaging Greek military culture by tying it to Odyesseus and his "cowardly" form of warfare that relied on trickery instead of honour and martial prowess.

And of course, other nations, from the Frankish Merovingian Kings onwards, emulated the grandeur, and no doubt hoped to command a fraction of the wonder, that the Roman empire once inspired in their lands.  The Vatican too played a role, preserving the "spiritual" Rome, while an assortment of rulers attempted - with various degrees of failure - to hold up the military and political end of things.  Still, Rome was the model for any number of ambitious rulers, ie; nearly all of them, and so, as part and parcel of that, Ancient Greece continued to be part of the cirriculum, whether it was Homer, Thucydides or Aristotle.  Not to mention how impressed Islamic scholars were with Aristotle and Plato, preserving their works in the east, even as the west returned to pre-Roman chaos.

Greece was bundled up in a previous identity our respective lands and nations wished to emulate, and so Greek ideas and culture are embedded in our own, even if we do not recognise them, or they have mutated and been changed through the passage of time and events.  The Principia Discordia points out the Ancient Greeks were not influenced by the Ancient Greeks, but unfortunately, we do not have such a luxury.  One cannot read Thucydides today without thinking of America in the place of Athens, or think of the piratical chieftans of the Iliad without todays tribal warriors in places like Yemen or Sudan.  Alexander the Great reminds us of our own failures in Afghanistan.  And Platonic and Aristotlean philosophy still have their impact, whether through the more normal transmission routes of Christianity and Islam, or the (somewhat) improved ruminations of ethical theorists and political philosophers.

But yes, perhaps I should get on with my point.  Fifth century, war was beginning. I don't write of the war between Persia and the Greek city states, or the latter's continuous wars for influence and honour amongst themselves.  No, I mean a war in the realm of ideas, namely that Sophists had set up traditional Ionian philosophy the bomb.

Before the advent of the Sophists, the Greek philosophers, normally called the Ionian skill, were more like theoretical scientists, or explorers of the natural laws of the Universe.  You can see some of this reflected in Heraclitus for example, with his thinking on various elements and the rules that underpin reality.  For Ionian philosophers, human nature was merely another aspect of the natural world, and bound to the same laws and rules.  The search was for the underlying original principle to which both humans and nature at large were determined by.

Sophists however, disagreed, and seperated human nature from that of the rest of the world, by claiming humans had their own behaviour and nature, which seperate from that of the physical world, dividing at once inquiry into two distinct realms, that of scientific endeavour and that of social observation.  As this divide became more widely debated, it became clear that firm foundations for human behaviour was harder to find, philosophical scepticism became more pronounced, and gave rise to Sophist cynicism and a form of ancient postmodernism.  Protagoras claimed "man is the measure of all things" and dismissed most claims to absolute knowledge as nothing more than rhetorical self-aggrandizement. 

Sophists were most numerous in Athens, where philosophy was both a way of life, and where the commercial and imperial aspects of the Athenian empire had challenged traditional aspects of Greek culture.  Sophists spearheaded that change, both commercializing and professionalizing their philosophy, and undermining the traditional elites, the Athenian aristocracy, at the same time.  Sophists taught that conventions were arbitrary, that areté (excellence) could be taught and not just acquired through wealth and breeding, and ridiculed objective standards of justice.  They considered themselves teachers, and offered their texts as objects of study and learning.  They also believed that every argument had a contrary thesis, and that all ideas were open to criticism.  Antilogic was their main weapon, a rhetorical device by showing how arguments implied their own negations and were contradictory.  Examination of every law, Sophists suggested, showed that rigorous application of "laws" of laws, whether of philosophical or human origin, would create unintended and contradictory consequences.

Most people here find themselves probably in overall agreement with that, or at least find certain aspects of Sophist teachings resonate with themselves.  In particular, antilogic has a feel about it of the Eristic Law of Escalation.  However, there was a darker side to Sophist teachings, and not all criticism of them was driven by jealousy at their virtual monopoly over Athenian thought.  Their philosophy had more of a flavour of nihilism about it, and probably reached its fullest expression in Critias, who claimed that justice was defined by power.  A claim that is innocuous, perhaps, if one does not have power, but not so much when you consider that Critias was one of the Thirty Tyrants, the brutal rulers of Athens who came to power in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War.  His claims have more of a flavour of a Dick Cheney or John Woo about them, along the lines of "it's not illegal when the President does it."  The problem of Sophism was that, like postmodernism, it was a great tool for ripping away the pretensions of those in power.  However, by underming ethical teachings and systems, it reduced everything to a contest of power, and in such a situation, those with the power win.

One of the students of the Sophists, Thucydides, seems to have realised this.  Not many scholars, at least those within political science and International relations circles, seem to realise that Thucydides, in writing his History of the Peloponnesian War, was in fact writing a Sophist influenced work.  Many scholars, particularly those with political aspirations, such as Donald Kagan and his progeny, have sought to use the History as a guide to building American empire during the Cold War and after, replicating the Athenian rise to power and hoping to avoid what they see as its mistakes - an analysis much different from the one anyone familiar w ith Sophist strategies would make.  Kagan's sons in particular seem taken with the amoral brutality of the Athenians, as shown at Melos, where they declared, like Critias, that justice is the interest of the strongest party, and slaughtered the inhabitants of the island for not siding with Athens in its war.  Thucydides deliberately distorted the events surrounding that (he does not mention the Melians had carried out acts of piracy, and plays down their links to Sparta) but he does so in order to make a point.

Thucydides, like all Sophists, did not believe in spoon feeding arguments and beliefs to his readers.  Gorgias, a teacher of Thucydides, had said that "he who deceives is more just than he who is not deceived, and the one deceived is wiser than the one who is not deceived."  By proceeding from simple to complex arguments, the Sophists layered their arguments with proposition and counter-proposition, with the deepest levels of the argument left unresolved, for the reader to decide.  Thucydides certainly used this method, but unlike his Sophist contemporaries, had had a couple of concerns.  Firstly, he did not want to see a repeat of the ruinous war between Athens and Sparta, a war that had devestated all of Greece, and left ruined cities in its wake, a war he had served in, only to be disgraced and exiled.  But secondly, and more importantly, Thucydides did not share the nihilism of his Sophist contemporaries.  While he owed his teaching to them, and adopted their techniques, he found their beliefs to be damaging to his home city, and found their amorality to have dangerous social consequences.

There was one area in particuar that the Sophists excelled above all others, and it was in their use of clever language, so much that even today a clever but ultimately meaningless or deceptive argument is called sophistry.  Thucydides, in documenting the civil wars, or stasis, that erupted around Greece, where democratic (pro-Athenian) and oligarchic (pro-Spartan) fought each other in the streets, considered language to be the main vector of strife.  Barbarized discourse encouraged violence by undermining long standing conventions and the constraints they enforced, culminating not only in the Athenian atrocities in Melos and elsewhere, but in the bloody civil war in Corcyra (modern Corfu), which set the standards for conflict all over Greece, where “sons were killed by their fathers, and suppliants dragged from the altar or slain upon it, while some were even walled up in the temple of Dionysus and died there.”  Every convention was violated.  And Thucydides did not hesistate to lay blame on both aristocratic and democratic faction leaders where ever stasis arose, since both "sought prizes for themselves in those public interests which they pretended to cherish, and, recoiling from no means in their struggles for ascendancy, engaged in the direct excesses; not stopping at what justice or the good of the state demanded, but making the party caprice of the moment their only standard, and invoking with equal readiness the condemnation of an unjust verdict or the authority of the strong arm to glut the animosities of the hour."  Few areas were safe, as “[r]evolution ran its course from city to city, and the places which it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before, carried to a still greater excess the refinement of their inventions, as manifested in the cunning of their enterprises and the atrocity of their reprisals.”

While Sophists were not the main cause of this, they had helped debase language in Athens and were certainly a contributing factor in how Athens reacted.  Words are the ultimate convention, and when they break down, so does everything else.  At the beginning of the History, Thucydides recounts how the ancestors of the Ancient Greeks came to be how they are today, describing how common action and language, they had cobbled together federations and alliance, which had put an end to the endemic banditry and piracy which plagued the country.  Common action required common understanding, and as such, language was a components of political stability and civilization.

Thucydides was no fool.  While he admired the values of an older Greece, where convention bound the aristocracy to see to the welfare of the lower classes and promote both stability and moral excellence, he knew such a time had passed.  Even in Sparta, which was traditional to the extreme by the standards of most Greeks (and not just Athenians) was transformed by the war, and had become more like its enemy in order to defeat it, more cruel and calculating, and even then their attempts to instate oligarchic rule over Greece, after the defeat of Athens, failed miserably.  For Thucydides, the model was Hermocrates, the counterpoint to Pericles, the leader of Athens at the start of the war.  While Pericles combined the ancient virtues with Sophistic rhetoric, allowing him to balance and mute the conflicts between the disparate factions in Athens, he also advocated an imperialist foreign policy which threw Athens into direct conflict with Sparta.  Hermocrates emerges to argue against this policy, instead advising prudence, reminding the Athenians of the riches of the empire they already had, and what they could lose in such a war.  Hermocrates emerges to "correct" Pericles, to perfect his default and show the middle way, where Thucydides believed a virtuous foreign policy could be found.

In Greek, the word for lawlessness is anomia.  This is derived from nomos, the Greek word which can mean convention, with the usual a- prefix, to indicate a lack of this particular quality.  When reading Thucydides, especially in Ancient Greek (where all the nuances which are otherwise lost in translation become apparent), it is quite clear he considers, like the Sophists, that convention makes up social reality.  The conventions and rituals people establish give people frames of reference for their behaviour, and provide models not only of the world, but of themselves too.  Conventions like words and meaning are the basis for civic cooperation, and thus both the polis and civilization as a whole.  Driving the point home, Thucydides shows how it is impossible to ascertain where mutal interest exists, once language breaks down, and that in such a situation, justice becomes impossible.  The Corcyreans, in the first book of his History, can quite easily claim they are the more just party in their dispute with Corinth, by showing how much more powerful and indispensable they are, in such a world.

Hobbes was wrong.  There is no need for a Leviathan to "impose" order on unruly actors, whether they are nations or individuals.  Pre-Pelopnnesian War Greece was disruptive and filled with conflict, but their conventions held.  War had to be officially declared, fighting was prohibited on certain days and during the Olympic Games, and prisoners of war had to be treated fairly.  A sense of community, of all of Greece as the land of the Hellenes, bound them together and constrained their actions.  As demogogues and politicians emphasised atomistic self-interest above such concerns, the individual needs of each city-state were put before the conventions of Greece.  And then things broke down further, as even the conventions that held the polis together fractured, and factions took to the streets to dispute their right to leadership.  And this found its zenith in the Thirty Tyrants, who disarmed Athens, and expelled or imprisoned anyone who posed a threat to their rule, looting wealth as they pleased and relying on mercenaries, toadies and the Spartan need for friendly oligarchies to maintain their personal hold on power.  The only convention they held themselves to was to their small fraternity, and no doubt had their regime not lasted longer, they would have eventually turned on each other, until only one was left.

In the final analysis, this change in Greek culture meant that Athenian dominance, or hegemonia, became based not on consent, on its bravery and sacrafice in defense of Greece against the invading Persian threat, the original foundations of the Athenian Empire, but on force and the interests of the strong against the weak instead.  The Greek word for this was arche, power based on control, through material methods ie; military power.  It sacraficed hegemonia, and as any student of history will tell you, all empires fall when they have to rely on force to maintain their position, because no-one has enough power to do that, and they inevitably become overstretched and so bring their ruin upon themselves.

There is a lesson here, for the conduct of America, under Clinton, Bush Jr and potentially Obama (who shows signs of restoring hegemonia, but when challenged, could revert to arche).  But that is not my main concern.  As I made clear at the beginning, there are more than a few similarities between the Sophists and Discordians.  Not so much in influence, certainly, but in attitude, inclination and general disposition.  Now we see the effect the Sophists had on philosophy, and on language, we have what is potentially a very effective armoury.

Tools like rhetoric, antilogic and their more modern manifestion, deconstruction, are not in and of themselves evil, just as a knife, or sword, or gun can be put to both moral ends (defence of the weak against the depredations of the strong) and immoral ones (to enforce arche).  However, there is a responsibility in their use that must be considered carefully.  As hegemonia turns to arche, it may be the right thing to hasten that downfall.  If it seems inevitable, then it may be better for things to explode faster, rather than be drawn out over decades of bloody warfare and civil breakdown.

On the other hand, with this understanding, it might be possible to deploy such tools with more discrimination.  Thucydides in part managed this, realising how language could be used both to destroy meaning, but how equally, he could create a new language, which might help reconstruct it.  In part, his History was an attempt at this.  Indeed, it coins more neologisms than any other Greek text.  While the toolkit of the Sophists should be deployed against those who rely on a fundamentally unjust nomos to retain authority, Thucydides' reverse-engineering, his constructivist methods, should also be considered, to use against those who would rely on Sophistic tools to encourage a breakdown, so that they may be like the Thirty Tyrants of years past, and rule without any limit on their power.

However, I provide the framework for the use of such tools for whoever wants to use them.  I advocate their use in this way, as it is in line with my own inclinations, but it may be the case that enough people take both approaches, the tearing down and rebuilding of convention, to stave off arche, or massively reduce the potential for its emergence.
Title: Re: Placeholder
Post by: Mesozoic Mister Nigel on June 15, 2009, 07:59:45 pm
Title: Re: Placeholder
Post by: Hoopla on June 15, 2009, 09:23:20 pm
I feel so insignificant with my mere 9000 posts.  Baaaah
Title: Re: Placeholder
Post by: Template on June 15, 2009, 09:56:41 pm
I'm going to do something cool with my 35,000 post....only retroactively.  Stay tuned.

That is an amazing 35000th post, there.
I intend to quote the good post when it's up, too.

Curiously, this is my 300th post.  Between us, that's 5 0's, 2 3's, and a 5.  Ironic :fnord: .
Title: Re: Placeholder
Post by: bds on June 15, 2009, 11:29:05 pm
I'm trying to think of something amusing to do with my 1,000th... Kinda stuck so far. Might just have to stop at 999.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cain on August 15, 2009, 03:02:27 pm
Personally, I think that was worth waiting for, don't you?
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Payne on August 15, 2009, 06:39:38 pm
Personally, I think that was worth waiting for, don't you?

Yes, I think so too.

A lot of stuff to take in, of course, and I'll need to think on it more before I can give any kind of meaningful response. I have to say though, I like the theme and the conclusion.

Hopefully I'll come up with at least a decent question or two  :D
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Triple Zero on August 15, 2009, 07:25:36 pm
That was a really good read. Like Payne, I have to marinade it in my brain for a while.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Template on August 15, 2009, 10:14:43 pm
Personally, I think that was worth waiting for, don't you?

You blew my mind when I saw a post of mine on I thread I didn't remember seeing before.

I'll respond more when I've read it.  Good show.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: N E T on August 15, 2009, 11:14:38 pm
Excellent read.

There are a lot of great ideas in there, a few that jumped out at me:

If I've read you correctly, you seem to be saying that discordians either are or ought to be using postmodernist strategies to undermine language to hasten the downfall of arches in their nation, city, township, etc.

Could you say more on the mechanics and relationship between undermining language and the downfall of arches?
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Template on August 16, 2009, 04:41:30 am
I read that bit as abbreviating or attenuating the archic part of the process.  Any process that leads away from arche reduces violence in defense of power.

Many, including Discordians, could use deconstructive and constructive forces to dispel or abate archic processes, if I understand correctly.  Or drive down into each cleavage pane, splitting groups recursively until nobody's sure enough who his enemy is (or maybe what enmity is) to engage in violence.  And doing that before the big violence gets going full-blast.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Kai on August 17, 2009, 01:56:02 pm
This was excellent. I need some time to digest it after the first read through, then come back and read it again.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cainad (dec.) on August 17, 2009, 02:32:32 pm
Woah. Good stuff; can't believe I missed it.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cain on August 17, 2009, 03:35:44 pm
Woah. Good stuff; can't believe I missed it.

Before Saturday, there was only a placeholder here, the date it was edited was the date it was published.

I wanted to do something big and showy for my 35,000th post, but at the time I was busy with a lot of other things.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cain on August 17, 2009, 03:57:55 pm
Excellent read.

There are a lot of great ideas in there, a few that jumped out at me:

  • Ancient Greece being interchangeable in importance and relevance to contemporary times as the Renaissance, French Revolution, Thirty Years War, rise of Napoleon, etc.
  • "Sophists spearheaded [the challenge to traditional aspects of Greek culture], both commercializing and professionalizing their philosophy, and undermining the traditional elites, the Athenian aristocracy, at the same time."
  • "... Sophists did not believe in spoon feeding arguments and beliefs to his readers." "...Sophists layered their arguments with proposition and counter-proposition, with the deepest levels of the argument left unresolved, for the reader to decide."
  • "While Sophists were not the main cause of [Greek civil wars] , they had helped debase language in Athens and were certainly a contributing factor in how Athens reacted.  Words are the ultimate convention, and when they break down, so does everything else."
  • "Tools like rhetoric, antilogic and their more modern manifestion, deconstruction are [not inherently good or bad]."
  • Neologism as a reconstructive element, restoring meaning where it had been destroyed.
  • Postmodernism used to undermine language and foment the dissolution of power maintained by physical force.

If I've read you correctly, you seem to be saying that discordians either are or ought to be using postmodernist strategies to undermine language to hasten the downfall of arches in their nation, city, township, etc.

Could you say more on the mechanics and relationship between undermining language and the downfall of arches?

That's an excellent summation, I think that really boils the argument down to its essential core.

I'll try, though its an area I'm still trying to get to grips with myself.  Shared language, in terms of how we understand words, phrases and ideas, is the basis of a community or any form of cohesive social group.  Without that understanding, its very hard, perhaps even impossible, for conceptions of justice, the good life and the cultivation of aerte to take place.  That understanding can still be fairly broad, as it was with the Greeks, between hyper-commercial and expansionist Athens, and the insular and ultra-traditional Spartans, but there was still, for a long time, a sense of community.  Greeks referred to themselves by the group name of "Hellenes" and of Greece as "Hellas".  Within that, there were shared concepts about the rules of warfare, the role of religion, culture and commerce and things like that.  Despite their differences and quarrels, they saw themselves as a single grouping, above and beyond the polis, in some form.

Now, it could be that the Sophists were a symptom or result of increasing modernization of Athens, or that their teachings helped cause it.  More likely, it was a mix of the two, whereby their discourses legitamised the new practices and commercial, as well as increasingly imperialist model, that Athens was undertaking.  Since humans are self-aware agents, they can cause feedback loops, which help to move a social network increasingly in one direction and away from another (I think The Art of Memetics has a lot more on that).

The exact methods of the Sophists are hard to say, since they were often cast in the role of villain by later philosophers, though at least Plato took their arguments seriously.  However, given the nature of Athenian life, I can wage a few guesses.  Sophists likely sided with the discontent, newly enfranchised middle classes against the traditional and aristocratic Athenian elite.  This new middle class wanted to, in effect, be part of the Athenian nouveau riche, and part and parcel of that was having a passing knowledge of philosophy.  Sophists were often respected public intellectuals though, and helped write new laws, and often debated openly and with anyone that was in range.  With their schools and rhetorical skills, which made smashing the arguments of the earlier Ionian philosophers so easy, they commanded high prices as verbal guns for hire - cutting political enemies down to size for the highest bidder.

The thing is, though, that when you play as dirty as many Sophists did, and with an aim to try and question as much as possible, the logical conclusion of this is to go to the absolute extremes.  Its kind of like dirty warfare, the only way to fight it is to become even dirtier and nastier than your opponent.  And so, these skills went into play in increasingly powerful attacks, becoming the mainstream of public discourse, while at the same time undermining all the assumptions that made such a discourse possible.  And when that discourse finally broke down...well, what can you do to an enemy you cannot communicate with, but is hostile?

Discordians may do this, if they want....but they don't have to.  I mean, from my point of view (and rather ironically, given that Neocon scholars praise Plato and hate both Sophists and postmodernists) the cynical leaders of the Anglophone Right are doing enough all on their own, changing the meaning of words, living in their own bubble reality where phrases have mightily different signifiers than they do to anyone outside of their social grouping (I had a topic on this and Glenn Beck in Literate Chaotic, a few months back).

If they want to hasten the process though, then I suggest that is the grand strategy they may wish to pursue.

On the other hand, the Peloponnesian War was pretty terrible, and that was just with spears, swords and bows.  If a Discordian doesn't want to go down the Marxist/Anarchist route of "heightening the contradictions", then the recapture of meaning and discourse may be a route they want to take.

I still need to figure out the details on that though, which would mean going back to Thucydides, and some heavy Plato reading too.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cramulus on August 17, 2009, 04:48:33 pm
very interesting reads. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Cain.

I'm reminded of the Situationists, who used their own brand of absurdism and irrationality to challenge the hegemony of french life. They weren't interested in winning a rational discussion - they expressed their discontent through nonsensical slogans, a sort of rebellion against the existing channels of discourse. They protested in a way which did not invite dialogue. They were not the black sheep which sought to reclaim the existing order, they wanted to knock it down and build a new one from scratch.

Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cain on August 17, 2009, 04:56:52 pm
No problem.

I would suggest the Situationists were more of a failed model, however, precisely because of their irrationality, their vocab and methods did not catch on among all groups.  The Sophists were pretty rational, they were just jerkasses.  If you stripped PoMo theorizing of its atrocious vocab and pretentiousness, you'd get something similar to Sophism, though not exactly the same, since the analogy between the two can be overdrawn, despite many similarities.

The Sophists in fact preferred Socratic dialogues and debate, as a way of making their points.  Its just that their methods were...well, if you've read the Eristic Art of Debate, or How to Win Every Argument, kind of like that.  But metaphysically and morally applied, too.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cain on August 17, 2009, 04:59:08 pm
Though, on the other hand, Sophist rhetoric didn't exactly set Athens on fire overnight, and, given how things are now...
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Payne on August 18, 2009, 01:40:57 pm
I've given this a little thought now (though I still intend printing it all off and reading it on the train to Edinburgh), and I just want to check I've got some ideas straight in my head before I come up with anything to add or adapt.

-History as an academic exercise can give greater weight to certain events/places/people than they necessarily had in their own time, perhaps as subsequent events are influenced by what was originally a marginal or minority view. The success of the subsequent event in it's own right gives more exposure to the original one than it would have otherwise had. Or something. I've not quite got this idea sorted out in my head yet. I do agree that the Romans had a significant role to play in keeping Ancient Greek culture alive (perhaps to try and emulate Alexander, or co-opt his achievements into their own glory), just as the post-Roman powers kept Rome alive in some fashion and so on. Greek culture seems to have been a genesis of some kind from this view of history.

-There are elements of the Ancient Greek culture, amongst many other cultures in different eras and places, that may be used to provide an insight into today's (one of the tools history provides us with, and why there are historians after all). These elements will necessarily be fairly broad brush as it is seldom that a concept  can be transplanted wholesale between two identifiably different contexts, but this one way of looking at a community can provide a different and possibly useful perspective.

-The ways of describing our own ideas in culture (such as left and right wing political stances, or populism versus authoritarianism) are dependent on the conventions of language. One reason that such ideas are able to co-exist within a community is because their proponents can talk to each other in terms they both understand if they wish, meaning they can compromise if necessary. Undermining the language by either "side", or by a third party, makes this less easy and polarises positions.

-From our own point of view, this could be a powerful tool, not just for our perception of events and ideas, but also for influencing them in some way. Leaving aside the actual aims we'd want to achieve with such tactics we could either cause language to break down, polarising ideological positions, or shore it up. It seems to me that the results from such intervention would be necessarily difficult to predict, and that the most subtle uses of this tactic would probably be the most effective. The real difficulty I would think though is identifying where, when and how it would be most effectively used - not to mention whether whatever aim we set out to achieve would be met (perhaps we could use the ideas about risk in The Black Swan in this arena).

~~~Payne: Floundering. And possibly just restating things.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Cain on August 03, 2011, 04:47:45 pm

Phox may enjoy this.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Phox on August 03, 2011, 07:06:58 pm

Phox may enjoy this.
I did, indeed.

.Very well written piece, Cain.  I will think on it for a while and hopefully, I'll come up with some interesting commentary.
Title: Re: In Fifth Century BC, War Was Beginning...
Post by: Phox on August 10, 2011, 07:16:08 pm
I have thought about this a great deal and have arrived at the conclusion that I have nothing to add. I had never quite thought of the sophists in that way before, but that is an excellent characterization, and I think it fits splendidly.

Very good.  :mittens: