Words, Bywords and Apparent Truths: Danger of Anachronisms and How to Combat Them

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4 Responses

  1. Han Fei says:

    Many similar thoughts were coursing through my mind as of late, so I was quite surprised to come across this podcast which deals with the subject manner in such a relevant way.

    My understanding of Aristotle as a racist, in the perhaps you would say, anachronistic sense of the word, derives precisely from the modern mainstream interpretation. In my social studies classes, whenever the subject of his influence was brought up, it was never neglected to be mentioned what a horrible person he was. It’s not that the instructors were particularly hostile, but they would let us know of this perceived incompatibility of some of his ideas. I didn’t undergo a first hand study of Aristotle myself (aside from Politics, which was relevant to my field), so I suspect many of the quotes to which I was exposed, might have been taken out of context.

    Of course any personal racist attitudes are the solely the result of experiential knowledge and not any sort of intellectualism. One only has to spend a brief amount of time with some of these “culturally diversifying” elements (particularly from Africa) to grasp the deep ontological gap that stands between us. The biological reasons which might account for this are of no great concern to me.

    I disagree with you on one major point however. The claim that the ancient, pre-Christian world had no notion of human rights or mercy in warfare, can be easily demonstrated to be false. You can find in Heredotus, Plutarch, Livy, Polybius, et. al many, many examples where the civilized cultures of the era were known to behave in a remarkably humane and I should emphasize, merciful manner towards their vanquished opponents. Even in cases of clearly demonstrated wartime cruelty, such as for example, the seizure of a city, enslavement was a much more common outcome than unrestricted butchery. The honor in struggle and magnanimity in victory was mutually shared and expected of ancient civilized peoples, which sadly becomes much scarcer in accounts of Medieval history. Certain institutions such as the Delphic oracle mediated between conflicting parties and laid down the precepts of universal codes of conduct which we might refer to as “international law” today.

    I think the fundamental difference between paganism of ancient times and the prevailing mood of modernity is that there were always certain shared notions of truth that were accepted as a given starting point by either conflicting party. Or to be more precise, there was no question of whether there was such a thing as truth. Nowadays of course, with the global transfusion of Anglo-American technoculture with totalitarian Sino-Soviet philistinism, one can’t help but feel exasperated at the inability of most people to grasp, even to conceive of basic truths which do not involve the instant gratification of a certain class of abstract ideas that can fall under what one can term the subject of very contrite argumentative exposition. Picture this as every concept being a quantity and every idea being an interchangeable commodity. The notion that two people can, as you would say, mutually discern the truth by themselves, without it needing to be put into bits of mediated information and transferred from one NPC circuit cortex to another, is very, very hard for modern man to accept as valid. Thus any debate on topics it concerns would be grounded at the basic starting premise of “what is truth?” And the worst thing is not when people try to aggressively deny this, but when they demonstrate a banal, profane indifference to its matter as the highest peak of knowledge they can attain.

    With ancient man it was different. The success of Abrahamic religions lies in precisely that they could always find a common ground with which to approach the pagan traditions. While outward belief systems might have been diametrically opposed, there was a certain “canvas” upon which they were painted they more or less shared in common. For example work was also sacred in the Vedic tradition, although in a certain different meaning than we tend to give to “labor”, much for the same underlying reasons that can be found in Christianity. In classical India, there was a certain meticulous, detached, but reverent rational approach to religion, as if hinting at the sublime being something accessible to the mind, which stands in stark contrast to the mindless devotion and rat worship of contemporary India.

    • Malić says:

      “Politics” indeed is the text where Aristotle addresses slavery, Helenic superiority, etc. The trouble is that contemporary interprets neglect to point out the gap between his and “ours” anthropology that makes any accusation, or praise as is the case with Alt Right, obsolete.

      For this reason you’re right to object to what I said, it was far from nuanced enough.

      Antiquity indeed had the mood of universal value of human being I’d say precisely because they had no notion of human as an evolving animal. You can see some of that attitude still around in my parts, where you would be surprised how people who waged war on eachother, can, in everyday living, demonstrate suprising level of mutual tolerance. The thing is that postmodern notion of justice and retribution are not human but system centered notions. In reality even people who hate one another do not consider their opponents to be subhuman – just enemies. Yet enemy remains human and can cease to be an enemy just like Aristotle’s slaves became free men by his own decree.

      The difference Christianity brought, in my opinion, was to express the opposition to enmity itself and this was quite an upheaval. Gospel sermon on the mount addresses quite concrete attitudes that held sway not only over Jews but also Romans and Greeks, especially the norm that one should love his friend and hate his enemy.
      It was a foundation block of everything and Jesus just spinned it into its opposite.

      But one thing is true: his words fell on much more eager ears then contemporary neopagan would be willing to admit. After all, isn’t his conversion of Roman centurion brought about by Roman first accepting the truth of what He is and then being rewarded with the healing of his house slave who was obviously his friend and not his pet.

      This is something that would puzzle Aristotle, but would not be inconceviable to him, because centurion cannot be a friend to the slave but he can be a friend to a man.

      This demonstrates the age old principle that grace builds upon nature: Christianity addresses what is already present unfolds it to perfection. All those movements advocating “back to the roots” are apriori dubios because of this and more often than not bear fruits that are opposite of what was proclaimed.
      The roots are as a rule notions existing only in the minds of their advocates.

      This building on reality has no equivalent in postmodernity where reality is based in words while words are not based in reality.

  2. Mihai says:

    “The success of Abrahamic religions lies in precisely that they could always find a common ground with which to approach the pagan traditions. While outward belief systems might have been diametrically opposed, there was a certain “canvas” upon which they were painted they more or less shared in common.”

    Yes, this is extremely true. While there were some things in Christianity that seemed quite a shock for many of the people living in the ancient world, still there was a lot of common ground. For one thing, you didn’t have people who believed that they are free to choose their identity, to define the meaning of life and of the world, that organized worship is unnecessary and what matters is “what you feel” etc.

    I always say that, from the point of view of making yourself understood, it was an easier task to preach Christianity to the people during the times of the Apostles than it is to preach it to the post-Christian philistine of today’s Western world.

  3. Cartman says:

    I remember reading a section of The Republic by Plato, probably about the education of Guardians and seeing the similarity with the English public school system ( Eton Oxford and Cambridge) at the time if the British Empire. It was a major influence upon the State and the civil service policy. Greek and Latin were subjects which were central to education at that time so I imagine they too interpreted the classics according to their own lights. I do believe there was a noble intention operating there and not simply exploitation and aopropiation as is depicted currently.

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