coromandal


Comradeship and justice
April 18, 2020, 7:49 am
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Saving Hieronymus Bosch from the devil

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Our understanding of the medieval world is on the whole negative: long centuries marked by superstition, plagues, illiteracy, feudal bondage, and wars. We see it as a dark age bracketed by the relative brilliance of antiquity before and enlightenment after. The victors write history and much of what we believe about the medieval world was written in the 19th century to propagate this carefully crafted historical narrative.

The collapse of empire, the crusades, feudalism, and plagues are indeed dark, but there is a lot about the medieval world that is attractive: its mysticism, social life, art and architecture, and stories. Similarly, if we’re honest, there’s an awful lot to not recommend in the Western canon world we live in: its alienation, rationalism, instrumentalism, blind faith in humanism, reason and capital.

As an example, in the realm of work G. K. Chesterton noted that the medieval view was human and redeeming and our modern system decidedly debased:

The principal of medieval trade was admittedly comradeship and justice, while the principle of modern trade is avowedly competition and greed.

G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett, 1926

Strange how the highly religious medieval world comes up with such modern concepts to organize the world of work: comradeship and justice; yet we, drawing on the grand rational traditions of ancient Rome and Athens, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution, evolved a system of backwardness and superstition: competition and greed. We have high priests – robed flunkies – to flog this ignorant ideology; its influence is airtight, profound, omniscient, omnipresent. They use propagandas which are part of the air we breathe: Survival of the Fittest! Healthy Competition!

Tom Hodgkinson describes the outcome of our ‘enlightened’ dark age:

The theory is that competition leads to good quality and reasonable prices in goods. But the reality is the opposite: unfettered competition, that is, commercial war, and the endless expansion that necessarily goes with it, inevitably results in monopolies, as one giant company swallows up its failed competitors.

Tim Hodgkinson, The Freedom Manifesto, p84

That’s not enlightened. We’ve no doubt entered one of Dante’s circles, or the hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch.

It would be unfair to not at least ruminate on the effects on life built on a commitment to comradeship and justice. As we’ve seen, there is a lot of poor scholarship that pushes a view of the desperate nature of the life of the Medieval peasant; no life at any time has been a bed of roses. But we know they held to these commitments and thereby built for themselves meaningful, faithful, and social lives. And we can too.



the many instead of the few
June 19, 2016, 3:09 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: ,
[Andrew Billington]

Here is real democracy, vague and far off, and in retreat. We have the few, the creative class; real democracy favours the many. We have the coalition of the ascendant where advancement is kept for a select class; real democracy cares not for class. We have funding by ‘political action’; real democracy removes the poverty obstacle.

The administration of Athens favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy.

If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if there is no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit.

Nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is never hindered by the obscurity of his condition.

Pericles



a strong element of the haphazard
May 14, 2016, 1:01 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

photo: Gregory Crewdson

Your fault if you’re poor – says Gates; how can it be your fault there’s just so much randomness – counters de Botton, below. Gates’s – also Trump’s – view adds misery to life unnecessarily.

If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it is your mistake.

Bill Gates

I think it’s the randomness of the winning and losing process, that I want to stress.  Because the emphasis nowadays so much is on the justice of everything … Now I’m a firm believer in justice.  I just think that it’s impossible.  We should do everything we can to pursue it, but at the end of the day we should always remember that whoever is facing us, whatever has happened in their lives, there will be a strong element of the haphazard.  And it’s that that I’m trying to leave room for, because otherwise it can get quite claustrophobic.

Alain de Botton



rational pursuit of maximum value
November 16, 2014, 2:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,
Naples, Italy | A Couple CooksIn civilizations gone by merchants never occupied the top rung of the social ladder.  Plato’s republic, the ancient castes of India, Renaissance Italy: they were always several steps down. But, somehow, we know better and have them ensconced – or more likely they have themselves ensconced – right at the top.

I used to teach at a university which installed as its dean the ex ceo of Jiffy Lube, his administrative and money skills no doubt outweighing his academic credentials at the selection interviews.

So what do we get when we put businessmen and economists at the top of our institutions, like government and universities? The accepted argument is solvency and profit, but are there other dividends?

Here’s a portion of an essay by a Harvard law student. He describes courses in which ‘feasibility’ and ‘efficiency’ are the central, generative ideas, and ‘justice’ – which one would believe to be central to the study of the law – tertiary.

Feasibility and efficiency are the lingua franca of the economist / businessman counting and distributing his beans: what are they doing in courses in the law at America’s best school?

The Johnny-come-lately nineteenth century science, economics, has come a long way and occupies a position of extreme privilege. It’s illegitimate. The study of law should be the study of law. When it’s whored out to business it stops defining, protecting and facilitating justice. It leads to self interest and self destruction.

Here is Ted Hamilton:

A year ago, I imagined — as most people probably do — that the initial year of legal studies would put a heavy emphasis on the good. I anticipated lots of lofty vocabulary about justice and rights and freedom. Attorneys may not have the cleanest reputations, but it seems fitting that an introduction to the life of the law would aim high, if only as an idealistic and rhetorical reprieve before the realities of the job market set in. But while there’s certainly some discussion of liberty and righteousness in the halls of our law schools, there’s not quite as much of it as you might think. The path to the bar is not paved with sentimental cobblestones of the Good and the Right. It’s much more pragmatic than that.

In fact, the most repeated word in my first year law curriculum was not justice, or liberty or order.

It was efficiency. Continue reading



in the name of imagination
October 20, 2011, 9:12 pm
Filed under: brave new world, unseen world | Tags: , , , ,



despised people

There’s guilt and innocence, and then there’s despised.  The idea that we limit ourselves, in our emotions and thoughts, to the first two is maybe a little naive.

The law claims we do; that we are dispassionate and reasonable.  It says that crimes are committed, that enforcement brings perpetrators to the courts by whose honored mechanisms evidence is weighed and judgments meted.  That everything from the slash of the blade to the clang of the door that shuts out the condemned, is analyzed, vetted, debated and safely concluded.  The claim is not that the system is perfect but that, even in its imperfections, the broader aims of Justice ultimately prevail and social order is reestablished.

But there are cracks in the stones at the very base of the institution of law:  we don’t confine ourselves to guilt and innocence; we do despise.   Continue reading



Revenge is a kind of wild justice
September 23, 2011, 1:44 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to the more ought law to weed it out.

Sir Francis Bacon, English author, courtier, & philosopher (1561 – 1626)



how can we make it easier to ask, is it right?

Some big breaking news here.  It’s time, now the 21st century is upon us, to storm the walls of our most sacred institutions, especially biggies like individualism, progress and will.  How we have defined them is not working for us and this author – Matthew Taylor – shows how delinking one from another — individualism from narcissism, happiness from progress, for instance — can help to make our most revered ideas purposeful again.

First up, the unassailability of individualism is — assailed.  The author doesn’t dismiss it outright; he sets it straight:  our drives no longer rule us, rather we capture them to serve us.  Our political boundaries are broadened past self and kin, and difference and the other brought in and considered true and valid.

Next, happiness is delinked from progress.  The grand old institutions of progress – science, markets and bureaucracy – come up wanting: science and markets fail to address the general good of society and bureaucracy’s rules don’t care about results.  He recommends humanism and its concern for ethics be brought back in to soften and enrich how we define progress.

And finally, says this author, mere will isn’t enough.  He names three pillars of our triumphalist culture:  freedom, justice and progress, which have hardened into platitudes and abstractions around which a priesthood of flunkies has formed and nearly everyone else a blissfully ignorant adherent.

Who are we, who do we need and want to be?  Summon a new energy, spirit, leaders, thinkers to define a new paradigm for life in the new century.

Continue reading



taxonomy of strangers


(-, bacon, ernst)

Here is Plato’s description of stranger types that come to our cities, some like birds, some on narrowly defined missions. The first kind of stranger is one that stays all summer.  The second comes for a shorter period to become enlightened by way of Muses.  The third comes with public business.  And the fourth comes on a special, rather vague assignment to look at richness and rarity in the visited city.

Plato was a rule guy and there are a bunch of mildly ridiculous ones in here if you have the patience to mine for them.  For him the minimum standard is justice; his version of hospitality is guarded and prescribed.  He sounds like a fear-monger.  Surely this is the standard for our own immigration rulebooks.

Now there are four kinds of strangers, of whom we must make some mention – the first is he who comes and stays throughout the summer; this class are like birds of passage, taking wing in pursuit of commerce, and flying over the sea to other cities, while the season lasts; he shall be received in market-places and harbours and public buildings, near the city but outside, by those magistrates who are appointed to superintend these matters; and they shall take care that a stranger, whoever he be, duly receives justice; but he shall not be allowed to make any innovation. They shall hold the intercourse with him which is necessary, and this shall be as little as possible. The second kind is just a spectator who comes to see with his eyes and hear with his ears the festivals of the Muses; such ought to have entertainment provided them at the temples by hospitable persons, and the priests and ministers of the temples should see and attend to them. But they should not remain more than a reasonable time; let them see and hear that for the sake of which they came, and then go away, neither having suffered nor done any harm. The priests shall be their judges, if any of them receive or do any wrong up to the sum of fifty drachmae, but if any greater charge be brought, in such cases the suit shall come before the wardens of the agora. The third kind of stranger is he who comes on some public business from another land, and is to be received with public honours. He is to be received only by the generals and commanders of horse and foot, and the host by whom he is entertained, in conjunction with the Prytanes, shall have the sole charge of what concerns him. There is a fourth class of persons answering to our spectators, who come from another land to look at ours. In the first place, such visits will be rare, and the visitor should be at least fifty years of age; he may possibly be wanting to see something that is rich and rare in other states, or himself to show something in like manner to another city. Let such an one, then, go unbidden to the doors of the wise and rich, being one of them himself: let him go, for example, to the house of the superintendent of education, confident that he is a fitting guest of such a host, or let him go to the house of some of those who have gained the prize of virtue and hold discourse with them, both learning from them, and also teaching them; and when he has seen and heard all, he shall depart, as a friend taking leave of friends, and be honoured by them with gifts and suitable tributes of respect. These are the customs, according to which our city should receive all strangers of either sex who come from other countries, and should send forth her own citizens, showing respect to Zeus, the God of hospitality, not forbidding strangers at meals and sacrifices, as is the manner which prevails among the children of the Nile, nor driving them away by savage proclamations.”

– Plato. Jowett, Benjamin, translator. Laws. 348BC. The Project Gutenberg EBook. Release date March 1999, Online. 16 April 2007



a world lacking description
March 26, 2008, 4:09 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Interesting that vampires cannot see their own reflection.  A little less interesting that dogs see their reflection – and that of their bones – and greedily drop the real attempting to get the unreal.  So it seems vanity and greed are metaphored in images of reflection and that the dead are robbed of these human indulgences. Here, in post war communist Poland, all points of reference are removed by refusing to name and describe things.  Instead images and words are used to make an idea that isn’t real.  And living in that place is hard and lonely and duplicitous.

“It’s hard to live in a world lacking description. It cannot be understood if one didn’t live in a not-described world. It is as if you lived without identity. Simply, anything around has no reflection, anywhere. You can’t see any reference point around, for nothing has been described and nothing has a name. So you live on your own, alone; anything that could be used to describe the world was used by propaganda to build the theoretically attractive idea, but… in reality, unfortunately, it always ends up the same way: I mean, you feel a gun on your head. We lived by ideas of fraternity, equality and justice, but there was neither fraternity, nor equality and no justice at all.”

Krzystztof Kieslowski