Monday, 14 March 2011

a rock and a hard place

There is a saying that if we do not know history we are doomed to repeat it.

The rise of sophism and the countervailing effects of the traditionalists in ancient Greece are uncannily reflected in these times of the propaganda war now inflicted upon us by corporatism and the religious right.

In ancient Greece the sophists were a class of teachers who charged money for their services (mainly to the ruling class, grooming budding statesmen and nobility). This was not bad in and of itself but the historical context in which it occurred was a period of great tumult in the Greek consciousness as its military and commerce expanded and discovered new cultures, languages and religions in their forays into the broader world which challenged their unique sense of place.

It was the sophists who, like the modern day corporatists, saw that they could tailor and cater to the needs of the rich and the ambitious, to justify ever increasing atrocities against not only the "enemies" but their own people, to do away with ethical standards by legal but extremely cynical means and rape not only the mundane but also the sacred.

Contemporaneous with this dark period were the traditionalists who, like the political moderates and doves of today, became increasingly powerless to stem the evil tide. Grima, called Wormtongue, is a powerful but evil figure in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; his words are flattery and manipulation of the facts that entangle his victims into helpless stupor.

I think there is a way out of this creeping malaise. We have been dazzled by the power of the idea of "scientific knowledge" and "rational" sophistry for so long that there seems to be no room left for ethical skepticism in this world created by Wormtongue, but that is only an illusion. Awareness and critical education are our tools.

From stone-age tools came space-age technology; it is a matter of cultivating what we have to transcend the evil that has entangled us into this state. With awareness comes discernment, with discernment comes humility and culture (an engaging curiosity of the world around us tempered by a skeptical and ethical philosophy).


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