Archives for posts with tag: Alexander the Great

The relatively flat layout of most parliamentary chambers has induced in us the idea that society is linear. From left to right and backwards.
Also, the current almost ubiquitous existence of parliaments drove us to forget that until recently – historically speaking, of course, most societies have been punctiform. The sovereign king was the only one able/entitled to make any significant decision…

Meanwhile we are told by the political scientists that long term political stability can be achieved only through ‘checks and balances’. Meaning that the state has to be organized in such a way that nobody can get amass too much power.
Actually most modern states have an executive, a legislative body and a judiciary. Each of them performing their specific tasks while keeping a jealous eye on the other two.

The problem with long term political stability being that it is a very abstract goal while most people just want to be happy. And are willing to go at considerable lengths in order to achieve their goals….

And it’s exactly here where ideologues start to argue among themselves

Some say that the individual is sacrosanct. That individual freedom is the most important value that is and the most fundamental ‘human right’.
Others say that society is more important than any individual. That all individuals should put themselves at the service of the society and that individual liberty pales when confronted with social necessity.
And a third category consider that democracy is a waste of time and of opportunity. That the best for any society is that a capable person/group of persons to be given absolute power over it. The rationale being that ‘the capable’ will take good care of their ‘property’. A far better kind of care than any group of bickering politicians would ever be able to offer….

On the practical side, those preoccupied with ‘freedom’ consider that the main duty of the state is to preserve/protect individual liberty. That people, once free, will know how to achieve their personal happiness.
The socially minded consider that individual happiness cannot exist before/outside the well being of the entire society. Hence the ‘rational citizen’ has to postpone (read forget) any personal goals and sublimate their own persona into the society.
‘The more capable than the rest’ consider that the ‘incapable’ cannot be trusted with defining their own goals and have to be told what to do. For their own good!

It is very easy to observe that none of the three ‘ideal types’ described above doesn’t work on its own. That each have been experimented and found to be ‘unpractical’, to say the least.

Individual absolute freedom exists. The Saan living in the Kalahari desert and the  Baka in the Cameroon don’t have any formal rules, no social hierarchy and are absolutely free to do as they please. Both have been easily overcome, their habitat is being encroached/destroyed by their ‘neighbors’ and have been able to survive only by going further and further away from anything.
Socially minded people have, time and time again, congregated. Only to witness their communities dissolve or develop malignantly. From the early christian settlements to the XiX-th century phalansters.
The ‘know better’ is, apparently at least, the most successful arrangement. All kingdoms and empires have been organized according to this principle.
And all of them eventually failed. Even Plato’s idea of ‘king priests’ has led to Alexander the Great’s ultimately disastrous campaign into the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that the erstwhile mighty Athens had fallen into anonymity just after starting to be governed by specially trained rulers.

Since the pure ideal types didn’t work, let’s see what we get if we combine them.

Since I’ve been experimenting it for the first 30 years of my life, I’ll start with the result of crossing ‘social minded’ with ‘know better’. Does ‘communism’ ring any bells with you?
Let’s cross ‘liberty’ with ‘know better’. Actually this has already been done. It was about liberty for those who knew better… Nazism, and its newer variants, are the first examples which come to mind.
And the most interesting result comes from crossing freedom with social minded. This has also been experimented. In the democratic Ancient Athens and in during the truly Republican phase of the Roman Empire. The same combination was used by the vikings and somehow perpetuated to this day. Its offshoots being the western style democracy.

Which democracy – just like the Roman Empire, will survive for only as long as it will conserve both individual freedom and social mindedness while allowing, but only when needed, the ‘know better’ to take over for the short periods of time when their presence at the helm is absolutely necessary.

Apparently, heretics are hated while nonbelievers are simply despised.

Does any of this make any sense?

Actually, yes.

First of all, faith is like riding a bike.
If you stop moving, you either fall or you  have to put a foot on the ground.
And, after you learn how to do it, you don’t have to think about it anymore.
All is fine as long as you keep on moving…

Secondly, some people need to learn how to curb their initial enthusiasm… which is not such an easy thing to do… and the more dedicated among them have the greater difficulties…
Let me give you an example from the world of the martial arts.
The corpus of knowledge pertaining to this domain includes a series of resuscitation and first aid methods. Very efficient ones.
Our current, safety above all attitude, would mandate for these methods to be taught first to every new student. Which doesn’t happen. Age old experience has demonstrated that ‘enthusiastic’ newcomers would hit/choke each-other far harder and take far less precautions when knowing that resuscitation is so readily available. This is why these powerful methods are taught only to the more experienced,  and self controlled, practitioners of the art.

Going back to the difference between heretics and nonbelievers, let me point out another less obvious thing.
Most of us are imprinted with a faith or another in our early childhood. Way before any of us was capable of thinking for their-selves. As a consequence, most of us are very relaxed towards something which is both very familiar and shared by most of those around us.

Until something happens, that is.
Something which contradicts our faith. Something which might force us to ‘stop the bike’. Which might cause us to fall. Or stop and reconsider.

And this is the real difference between heretics and nonbelievers.

As believers, we’ve always known about nonbelievers. That they’ll go straight to hell. There’s nothing unsettling for us about that. They are so different from us that, practically, they don’t count. We might bump into them on the street, we might even do business with them… but, in the end, they don’t count.
They cannot influence our ‘deep thinking’. The way we see the world.

Heretics are something totally different. They are people like us, who share most of our beliefs and who behave almost like us on most occasions.
If we don’t pay special attention, we might confuse them with ‘our own people’.
And by being so close to us, they constantly remind us that, maybe, it is us who are wrong. About that small thing which makes the difference between us and them.
I must add here that ‘fresh’ converts have the ‘worst of it’. They had already reconsidered their faith, reached a conclusion and are now under a more intense pressure to defend their ‘deliberate choice’. The ‘born again’ are in the very same situation, choosing to comeback to an erstwhile lost faith is no different from adopting a new one.

This pressure is unbearable. Having to nurse such a huge doubt is like a devil constantly whispering in our ear… A culprit must be found, blamed for the torment we had to endure and punished for their arrogance. For their audacity to exist. To constantly remind us that there are alternatives to what we’ve been led to believe.

And this is valid for all kind of faiths. The phenomenon is not restricted to the religious world.
People who had vaccinated their children actually hate those who had chosen not to.
Well, some of them… I’ll come back to this…
Atheists hate the faithful.
The progressives hate the conservatives and the conservatives respond in kind.
Those who believe the Earth is round hate and/or make fun of those who are convinced  the Earth is Flat… and so on…

In this situation, people might ask themselves ‘how come we hadn’t yet slit each other’s throats in sleep?’

‘well, some of them…’

The point being that, most of the times, the haters are a small minority. Most of the believers have either understood that the main tenet of all ‘faiths’ is ‘don’t harm anybody unnecessarily and respect all other human beings/opinions’ or actually have better things to do than to split hairs.

Which brings us to the present situation.
When various ‘con-artists’ have learned to inflame hate and to prod the haters to fight each-other.

Only both the haters and the rest of us – the silent majority who, until know, have been too lazy to intervene, have forgotten that ‘divide et impera’ had always ended up disastrously. Usually for those who allowed themselves to be divided and, quite often, for the ‘imperators’ themselves.

Both Alexander the Great and Cesar, two of the most acclaimed generals and political figures, had ended up both prematurely and in an undignified manner. After causing enormous suffering to both the conquerors and the conquered.
Let’s not forget that Greece had practically disappeared from the world stage after Alexander the Great and that Cesar had been the first – well, the second, of the long list of Roman dictators who had led the empire to its eventual demise.
This might have been a ‘natural’ occurrence. ‘Natural’ as in ‘then inevitable’.

But why repeat it, now that we’ve already learned how it invariably ends?




Let me first clear up something.
I’m an engineer. Converted to sociology, indeed, but still an engineer.
So don’t expect any fancy wording or very sophisticated philosophical considerations!

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that we’ve just arrived on this planet. Just ‘you and me’, not ‘us humans’.
Being sent by some alien civilization to see what’s going on here.
Like we, ‘the civilized people’, study the natives still living in the Amazonian forest – minimum contact and so on, no intention what-so-ever to invade the territory or any other-way purposely intervene in the natural evolution of things.

I don’t know about you, but my report would be something like this:

The most interesting aspect of the planet is the manner in which the intelligent inhabitants have evolved.
Those living in a relatively small and isolated corner of the landmass have somehow developed the most consequential culture and then imposed some very important aspects of it on most of the rest.

Even more baffling is the fact that all major religions observed on this planet start from the same tenet.

the golden rule

The only thing which singles out those who had managed to impose their culture on most the rest being that they apply the rule in a ‘pro-active’ manner.
‘Do unto others what you wish others to do unto you’ versus ‘do not do unto others what you don’t like being done unto you’. ‘Normative’ versus ‘preemptive’.

– Why are you so baffled about any of this? The universal law of evolution maintains that things which are not suitable enough for the environment where they happen to exist will eventually disappear… Each culture produces a certain civilization – modifies the environment according to its wishes/as a consequence of its mistakes, and the other cultures have to adapt/evolve to the new situation… nothing new or peculiar here…

– Nothing new, indeed, except for the fact that while most of the cultures on this planet learned to ‘live and let live’ – “do not do unto others…”, while the two most successful ones have adopted the slightly but very consequentially different “do unto others…”, a.k.a. ‘who’s not like us is against us’….

– Is there any explanation for the most aggressive attitude being the most successful one?
Until now, at least… considering that the two cultures which share the ‘do unto others what you wish to be done unto you’ attitude seem to ‘have worked themselves up’ into a rather ‘confrontational situation’… both intra and inter culturally…

– The only putative explanation I can come up with for such a divergent evolution is that Plato, the seminal intellectual figure of the ‘doers’, taught his followers not only that the world is knowable but also that he who has reached a learned state must, forcefully if necessary, lead his peers to the ‘light’ he had found while the ‘significant others’ believe that the learned ones should speak out, at their discretion, only when somebody asks them to.



– One more thing.
The immediate consequence of Plato’s teachings was that Alexander – an emperor who was tutored by Plato’s eminent student, Aristotle, had conquered most of the then civilized world only to die, untimely, a drunkard’s death… intoxicated by booze, intoxicated by power… who cares?

%d bloggers like this: