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Archive for August, 2009

I’d just like to type this somewhere:  everything is connected.  That’s in essence the essence of Platonism.  It’s all about reason, and philosophy, but it looks for the ways in which things influence other things.  Thus, an image of a compass, of the kind used to draw a circle, is a good metaphor for the Platonist approach.  To a two-dimensional person, who lacks the perspective of a third dimension, the two points of the compass on a piece of paper would seem to be separate.  But to someone with the proper perspective (wisdom, knowledge, insight, education, however you’d like to put it), they can see that there is much more going on than simply two points on paper, one of which is fixed and the other which draws circles around it.  On a higher plane, the two points draw closer to one unity, which symbolizes how they are both emanations from one idea.  Now, one doesn’t have to literally believe in ‘unities’ or even ‘ideas,’ or ‘ideals’ as if they truly existed, let alone believe in ’emanations,’ to see that, very often times, there are a lot of things which don’t seem to be connected, but which are, for example, spitting on the sidewalk and dictatorship (see previous post).

And the most brilliant use of this idea that I know of, which dates from the time when it was still possible to believe in a Ptolemaic universe, i.e., before Galileo came and proved once and for all that the Sun was the center of the solar system, and that most of the lovely medieval ideas that go along with the ‘harmony of the spheres’ idea were proven to be scientifically impossible, is John Donne’s poem, A Valediction:  Forbidding Mourning.  Which I’ll reproduce here: (more…)

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It’s almost scary reading ‘good manners’ books from the 1930s or the Victorian era – one gets a sense that social interaction was highly rigid, boring, and took up a lot of extra time (which isn’t entirely true–but they’re still scary).  The astute observer will notice that after the 1940s, we find fewer and fewer of these books being published, until the the 1970s, the idea was so out of fashion as to seem quaint at best, or monstrous at worst. 

Why the sudden change?  Well, for one thing, World Wars I and II saw an unprecedented shift towards women’s liberation from the home in western society, and at the same time, the western (and especially the US) middle classes raised in status far beyond what they had ever done.  In other words, it became very expensive for upper middle class and even wealthy people to hire a servant from the 1950s, becasue the standards of living for even the lower classes were suddenly so much higher, that no one apart from the super-rich could afford to hire servants.  Prior to the 1940s, wages amongst the poor were so low, that even a middle class person could afford to keep a single live-in servant.  At the same time, rising wages meant that young women could go out and compete for new white collar jobs with men, and escape their previous fate of domestic servitude. 

Societies with domestic servants are always much ‘fussier’ than modern societies without domestic servants. (more…)

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We’ve introduced this here and there in other posts, but the topic is important enough to warrant a header of its own.  In short, we’ve got a big problem, and it’s getting worse fast:  that being, that the earth’s population has just surpassed 7 billion, and the UN projects that it will reach 10 billion before it begins to level off ca. 2050. 

Now, why is that a problem, people all-too-commonly ask?  Well, leaving aside the appeal of a world where everyone could afford to own multiple acres of real estate, and where there would be huge swaths of relatively pristine wilderness to adventure in, we can start with the fact that overpopulation is the root cause of almost every bad thing that Al Gore mentions in An Inconvenient Truth.  Gore mentions this briefly, but he doesn’t dwell on it, since he knows that mentioning population control is even more of a political pickle than his brave championing of environmental issues.  You see, Global Warming = average eco. footprint x number of people.  So, Gore has been focusing on reducing our ecological footprints per capita – which is fine and dandy, but the simple fact is, that if the population of the planet were say about 1/7th or 1/10th of what it is now, we’d have a lot fewer emissions – and, what is better:  everyone alive could pollute like a smokestack, and not have to worry about its impact on the environment.  I, for one, would far rather live in a world where I could drive whenever I wanted, burn wood in my chimney, and leave all the lights on, than have to live in a world where I am allowed 200 sf of space, can’t drive, have a fireplace, or consume anything more elaborate than a bowl of chic peas (which are my favourite bean, by the way–but beans, after all, are only beans).  The point is not to emphasize my own selfish desires, of course, but to point out that this would be the case for everyone–having to ‘go green’ would become more or less a non-issue! (more…)

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So, a big part of ‘the good life’ is finding a suitable place to live.  It would seem as if one can live a good life in cities, especially if one is very youthful and one’s life revolves around one’s friends on an almost continual basis, and while one is full of idealism (if one has idealism, one has it in abundance in one’s youth, and, almost inevitably it will fade, as one’s life path moves from potential to actual and past tense, and the choices open to one thereby progressively close).  Also, it’s easy to live in a city in your 20s, in part because you know that you always have the option to move to the country later – or, as many urban professionals hope to do, one can buy a house in the country to use as a retreat.  But almost everyone I know feels the need to get out into the country – and would prefer to live there, if only they could get to the amenities and coolness of the city easily therefrom. 

So the question is:  in our circle of western countries, where is it best to live?  (more…)

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So, everyone is of course focused on the American healthcare issue – with the American right doing it’s darnest to inject its share of almost unbelievably irrational scare-mongering – the sort that it has found tends to work with the stupidest/angriest quarter of the American population.  I mean, Sarah Palin could actually mention “death squads” or however her handlers tried to label it.

We might as well add that, beginning with Rush Limbaugh, and now his legion of imitators (which forced the left to finally put up a few people like Colbert), well, Rush concentrated on the sensational, the anti-rational – despite his protesting otherwise – and now his imitataors like O’Reilley will spend the show saying things like “it’s a dangerous world out there,” which is known as fearmongering.  Fear, as Yoda will tell us, is the enemy of reason, and reason is what is required to run a democracy.  Unreason is not debate, but propaganda.  Thus, Rush and now much of the rightist punditry in the US has become infected with an antidemocratic strain of propagandizing, and Rush is no different from Tokyo Rose or Axis Sally – they are the voice not of reason, but of the party line at all costs.  Which is why when the democrats tried to have a ‘town hall debate’ – and bring back old-style democracy, they found that this played right into the hands of the US right, who are these days geared up for anything but town hall debate – and in an atmosphere of fear, those who try to debate are like Calvin vs. Moe the schoolyard bully nemesis.  Don’t bring words to a boxing match – that should be the new republican motto.  Or should that be – don’t bring words to a semi-automatic shooting match? (more…)

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So, the previous posts have made it glaringly obvious that we need a working definition of ‘the good life.’ 

The Platonist would argue that the good life starts with nature as its ideal environment, since we are evolutionarily attuned thereto.  Of course, that would usually mean ‘nature improved by art’ which was the eighteenth-century ideal.  The enlightenment, it would seem, had an awful lot of things pretty spot on, especially about the good life – the only things they didn’t quite get around to were the equalities that we’ve discovered since WWII – although it is arguable that with Woolstonecraft et al., the englightenment was even getting around to that, when Napoleon came and put a lid on everything for a hundred plus years.  So, we can agree that nature improved by art might be our ideal environment, or backdrop, for the good life (think Pemberley, or an Italian Villa, or the Lyceum).  Of course, books could be said about this alone, but we can bracket it for now.  But of course, we also need human society in order to have the good life (remember Tom Hanks in that UPS movie).  The problem is, if nature can stand a bit of improving here and there, then human society leaves a lot to be improved upon, since tradional society, both human and animal, is based on two very nasty principles, these being violence, and dominance.  And dominance is a subcategory of violence, so the main point in natural society, therefore, is violent competition.  And some champions of capitalism have jumped to the very mistaken conclusion that this means that the best way to order society, and/or an individual’s life, is to have it emulate the violent competition of nature.  (more…)

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 So, we can maybe attempt to get at some deeper truths about how culture affects not only society but the individuals who compose it, by posing what might seem to the Platonist to be something of a banal question – albeit one which is pretty popular on Yahoo Answers and other such sites:  Are Europeans and Canadians somehow more sophisticated than Americans?  And if so, how?  And, even better, why?  Well, having lived in all these places for a while – I think that there are definite differences, and, furthermore, that there are fairly obvious reasons for these differences, which we could use to help construct a better society if we recognized them and then acted accordingly. 

Clearly, there is little difference in average IQ between the US and Europe (98 vs. 100)–though Canadians seem to be getting smarter than ever(?)  And I do hear that Americans place quite a bit lower in general knowledge surveys… but having grown up in the US, and having spent substantial time in Canada and Europe, I can honestly say, that the average Canadian and Northern European just seems noticeably more aware, or plugged in somehow, than the average American.  You walk into small-town liquor stores in Canada, and find people who will talk to you about Zimbabwe, or painting, or the history of Christmas.  You go to the U.S., and are confronted by 300-pound people wearing sweatpants and swearing loudly at their kids.  Americans seem more vulgar, on average, than Europeans, especially than the Dutch, amongst whom I am living at present.  The Dutch are incredibly well socialized, meaning that they are very polite, and make sure that they conduct themselves in a way which will make for friendly and cheerful intercourse between people in a social environment.  The Japanese seem to be very much like this as well, from what I hear and read.  Some of the Americans’ vulgarity may well come from the fact that they have much more space per capita than Europeans, and certainly than Japanese.   (An architect friend quoted me the figures… but I forget, something like 1400sf for americans’ average home, 800 for europeans, and like 400 for Japanese).  (more…)

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