Category Archives: Think Tank
Took photos of deserted Paris streets. Photos look like crime scenes. The purpose of them is to establish evidence. They demand a specific kind of reception. Free-floating contemplation is not appropriate. They unsettle the viewer, she feels challenged to find a particular way to approach them.
Arendt’s account of the human condition reminds us that human beings are creatures who act in the sense of starting things and setting off trains of events. This is something we go on doing whether we understand the implications or not, with the result that both the human world and the earth itself have been devastated by our self-inflicted catastrophes
Arendt argues that faith and hope in human affairs come from the fact that new people are continually coming into the world, each of them unique, each capable of new initiatives that may interrupt or divert the chains of events set in motion by previous actions. She speaks of action as “the one miracle-working faculty of man” (p. 246), pointing out that in human affairs it is actually quite reasonable to expect the unexpected, and that new beginnings cannot be ruled out even when society seems locked in stagnation or set on an inexorable course.
For the other side of that miraculous unpredictability of action is lack of control over its effects. Action sets things in motion, and one cannot foresee even the effects of one’s own initiatives, let alone control what happens when they are entangled with other people’s initiatives in the public arena.
Action is therefore deeply frustrating, for its results can turn out to be quite different from what the actor intended.
Many stories in the Histories are case studies in the nature of power. The reasons are always similar: power leads to excess. Blindness to the limitations of human action incurs the downfall of mighty kings like Croesus, Cambyses and Xerxes. The condition they suffer from – the Greek word is hubris – is depressingly modern and familiar.
In the world of Herodotus, any excess is ultimately corrected: what goes up must come down. This applies to individuals, to empires and to peoples.
The traditional gods of the ancient Greek pantheon are still very much alive in the Histories. Yet in contrast to Homeric poetry, they no longer intervene directly in the world. They have receded to a transcendental distance from which they oversee and steer the workings of the world.
The Persian Wars nearly ended the Greek experiment. Divided among themselves, not really prepared for a large war, and with many Greeks siding with the enemy, the eventual defeat of the Persian invaders by a handful of scrappy city states was one of the great victories in military history. It would define how the Greeks, particularly Athens and Sparta, saw each other and the outside world. The “histories”of Herodotus give a good sense of how they saw both the Persians and war itself.
The Persians saw tyranny as the natural state of things and underestimated the cohesion that could come from democracy.
Xerxes dithers on responding to the humiliating defeat. Herodotus, characteristically, attributes his decision to attack the Greeks to goading by lousy subalterns and a series of prophetic dreams, misinterpreted. It is interesting that one of his best warriors and smartest advisors is a woman, and Herodotus lacks the misogyny or patronizing attitude we might expect.
We are taught that LIFE is a Journey with a destination that it ought to arrive at. But life is best understood as an analogy to music. Music is play; it differs from travel – where you are trying to get somewhere. The system as it currently exists makes us believe that we are supposed to arrive at a particular destination: Success, Wealth, maybe Heaven? The trouble with this mind-set is that we miss the point of life.
Life is like music. You’re supposed to sing and dance while the music is being played. Life is a vast pattern of intelligent energy. We are not subjects of kings or victims of blind process. We are not in it at all… We ARE it.
“The spiders were an ode to my mother. She was a tapestry woman, and like a spider, was a weaver. She protected me and was my best friend.”
In his earliest Minoan form, Dionysus is associated with honey beer or mead. Both honey and grab juice become images of Dionysus because they ferment. When honey ferments what has rotted comes back to life by bubbling up and in this way its spirit survives. You drink the ‘spirit’ and it comes to life in a new body. The god becomes reconstituted.