killing politicians
January 9, 2011, 10:25 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: ,

No doubt, partisan media and political voices fan the flame of hatred in America and lead directly to tragic events like this one [the attack on Congresswoman Giffords].  At this point, we should expect them.  However, there are other – are they profounder? – issues than a political and media culture that peddles hate: we are a martial culture. Our ethos is war and security.  Our highest office is a commander; our largest and richest industries sell munitions and war; ostensibly, the most influential people in our society lobby for the security industry; the mandate of our foreign policy is inextricably tied to it.

Recently, I asked a friend why South India seems so genteel compared to the crass north.  Because the priestly Brahmin class moved to the south leaving the warrior castes in the north, was the answer I received.  America is basically a martial society, like north India.  The affects of the belief systems are palpable: harsh, crude, survivalist.

Now the media and politicians are saying we must ‘tone it down.’  This will work in the short term, but will not make significant change.

Laissez faire is our political fall back stance; doing little or nothing the expedient and only course of action.  We stand no better chance of regulating hatred and its deadly affects, than we do toxic markets, because we take a ‘no position’ position. Just tone it down a little folks, thanks!  Put away the guns.  No cheating.  Everyone out of the pool.

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ornate and mad in the evening sun
January 6, 2011, 6:31 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

I first read the poem Money by Philip Larkin over 20 years ago, and have gone back to it occasionally since, and it still comes back to me and sits in my mind these many years later.   Mostly the image of the fourth stanza:  looking down / From long french windows at a provincial town.  How strange – and beautiful – that money could be like looking out a window over a town.

There are two kinds of people in this milieu, those who use money and live and those who don’t understand these systems and become critical of them and eventually merely observers of life.  Try as he may, the poet can’t let go his criticism of the futility of acquisition and pursuit and allow himself to enter into life.

In the first stanza he’s goaded by money:  it scolds him – use me for pleasure, it says.  In the second he looks around at other people not waiting to buy relationships and material goods with their money.  In the third he agrees with what the world tells him:  it’s crazy to wait, spend your money and live now, he decides.

It’s the fourth stanza that’s strange and beautiful.  He’s ensconced, now, in his acquisition and money in a room with tall windows looking down at a town far below:  a place that is backward, poor, superstitious, gaudy, crazy, but also alive.  He’s outside of life in all four stanzas but in the fourth he’s in money, looking down from it at people madly pursuing life.  Money separates him from the life he was told he could live if he embraced it, and now it’s late, sunlight is draining away from the town and money sings it’s melancholy song.

Read the whole poem here.  Following is the fourth stanza —

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down

From long french windows at a provincial town,

The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad

In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Money, Philip Larkin

philosophy of success

Alain de Botton writes and speaks with a perfect blend of erudition and accessibility.  He’s on the vanguard of a new movement to popularize philosophy.  But we hate ideas, we’re a ‘just do it’ culture, how can there be a movement with any traction to popularize philosophy?

Consider that in this society and the world, we are going through a great deal of tumult and change: a lot of unemployment, corruption, and general upheaval.  And consider too that perhaps we need to question some of the ideas that have formed the basis of everything that went wrong and got us into this mess.  In theory, new ideas gain traction when enough people start to think that the ‘just do it’ culture should pit stop and begin to listen to people who broker in ideas, like philosophers, like de Botton.

A philosopher, and someone who knows philosophy, can tell you why a perpetually positive society has lots of envy and depression.  And why a meritocratic society can become very cruel.  And he can tell you that one very real way out of our hyper competitive work and social culture is an understanding of Greek tragedy which sets at its theatrical center, failure.  He can tell you how our analytic ways of thinking preclude the truth that our relative successes and failures in life are often very haphazard.

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