Saturday, June 25, 2011
Gold and Tragedy: What's so bad about Death and Destruction?
If you hadn't noticed, everyone dies. Everything dies. Life is one long constant losing struggle against Death and Destruction.
Sounds dreary, pessimistic, self-defeating, right? Certainly to modern Greeks, Americans, Europeans, who have all bought into the Hollywood fantasy that a successful life is filled with comfort, glamor, and loads of vacation time.
But not so the founding fathers. Not so Jefferson and Ben Franklin and John Adams - and George Washington. They embraced the ethos of Death and Destruction. They loved and revered Greek Philosophy. After all, they didn't invent Democracy (Grk: Kratos: Power to the Demos: People.) and they didn't invent Capitalsim (Grk: Kephalos: Head, Mind syn: Kratos: Power.) They rediscovered these institutions by studying Greek thought and philosophy - in Greek.
The ancient Greeks invented both these systems. And both were intended for the same purpose: to lend dignity to Man in his perpetual losing struggle to the inevitability of Death and Destruction.
Now, I know it's fashionable amongst dimwits to call Plato a Tyrant, and to point out that the Greek Demos didn't include their slaves, and even many scholars will point out that there was no sense of Capital in the ancient economy in the way we moderns view Capital as something to hoard in order to keep score as a measure of wealth and success.
But my point here is that the power to behave correctly in the course of human struggle (Ortho-dokeo: orthodoxy) to the Greeks was intimately tied with the two institutions they invented to give dignity to this struggle.
First, through Democracy, man could persuade his fellow man to act through the eloquence of argument, rather than the force of arms. This conveyed an essential dignity to the Struggle by exalting the life of the Mind over which the indignities of Death and Destruction have no dominion.
Second, by creating a Common Currency: Gold that could be amassed, used and disbursed by every man according to his own ingenuity, foresight and perseverance, lent dignity to the Struggle by once again exalting the life of the Mind, over which Death and Destruction have no dominion.
In the end, of course, Death and Destruction always win out. But they have no power over the manner in which we conduct ourselves during the struggle. They have no power over the Noos: Mind, and the Logos: Reason: which are the guiding force behind Democracy and Capitalism - which to the Greeks meant a gold currency.
The strength of both Democracy and Capitalism however is dependent on both the ability of man to act with dignity and the understanding that dignity is all we have in the face of the losing struggle.
Take away humbling Struggle, take away the constant awareness of Death and Destruction, and you lose the concept of Dignity of Behavior. And, without Dignity in the face of Destruction there is no Democracy, there is no Capitalism as envisioned by the Greeks, and by the Founding Father of the United States of America.
Take away the struggle in the face of certain Death and Destruction and all you are left with is the Appetites of Man. The appetite for power. The appetite for wealth. The appetite for I phones, efexor and artisanal chocolate (I know, I like it too.) The appetite to screw your neighbor and grab as much for yourself as you can. The appetite for glamor, comfort and vacation time.
The artform the Greeks invented to compliment Democracy and Capitalism was Tragedy. In Tragedy, as I pointed out in the last post, the audience comes together to communally experience the downfall of a Vain Actor who struggles in vain against the tide of destruction. Dramatic Irony dictates that the audience understands that this struggle is doomed while the actor can not see it. The actor is blinded by the quest to satiate his appetites. It causes him to lose his dignity. In doing so, he loses everything.
So maybe consciousness of Death and Destruction isn't so dreary, pessimistic and self-defeating after all. Certainly not nearly as dreary as life is proving to be without it.