The Natural Man…

In A Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau does bring up some good points regarding the natural man and is able to point out some flaws in Rousseau’s argument.  However, some of Rousseau’s argument is based on a very romanticized version of Native American culture, leading me to find it difficult to agree with all of his points.

One of the things Rousseau does is that he refutes Hobbes argument.  He points out that Hobbes says that man is “naturally evil because he has no sense of goodness.”  Rousseau counters this point with the point “one could say that savages are not wicked precisely because they do not know what is to be good.”  This ties in back to our discussion on what makes a monster.  Some definitions in class have us discussing how society has no monsters, but defines monsters through a mixture of cultural values and socialization.  This perspective makes sense if we look at cultural relativism and ethnocentrism.  If we look at cannibals from our own western values, we’d say they are evil, but a cannibal would look at our values are evil.  Additionally, if we look at The Tempest it could be said Caliban only became a monster after he met Prospero and that from our society, Caliban’s urges are monstrous, but they were brought forth by Miranda.  So in a sense, Rousseau has a point here

However, there are also times Rousseau is wrong.  Downright wrong.  He makes some references to the Native Americans as noble savages, independent people without society.  But, contrary to belief at this time, Native Americans such as the Iroquois, the Souix and the Inuit, actually have very highly developed societies.  The Iroquois were actually very advanced and created a treaty that is thought to have been the forefather of the constitution used by the United States.  Additionally, one of the greatest aspects of Native American life, WAS it’s community, was how man and women depended upon each other and how their traditions (essentially laws) regulated their actions.  So if Rousseau argues laws create passions that prove detrimental to man, explain those societies, that were  working perfectly fine until the Europeans came over.  Who knows if they would have failed later on, but they were working fine.

I look forward to comments and the lecture.

Leviathan: Well we’re in one… kind of

In Leviathan Hobbes puts forward a number of views and arguments that do make logical sense and some that appeal to us, but also seem repulsive.  One might think the type of government he supports is almost like a Nazi or Communist (Stalin type communist not the true form) state.  Yet his ideas are actually in existence around us and if we look around, we’d feel rather scared.

For the state to have total control  over the people… is scary, and at the same time it is comforting.  In Hitler’s Nazi state, which had consolidated all the power in Hitler and his cronies, everything was in control, predictable, the fact there was no opposition meant that the entire production capabilities of Germany were pooled into the Nazi War Machine.  This goes the same for Napoleon’s Empire, in which he and his family held all the reigns of power, no opposition allowed.  These types of states were in a sense, successful when they continued to protect the natural rights of their subjects.  Did Hitler not bring Germany out of an economic crisis and allow the people to live their natural rights?  Didn’t Napoleon initially protect the French people from the opposing monarchial European states?   Only when those states began to endanger the citizens natural rights as opposed to protecting them, did they fall.  Hitler, it was Russia, and although he attempted to justify it, he undertook an action that brought more danger to his citizens than protecting them.  Same with Napoleon.  So in a sense, Hobbes ideas of consolidating state power are in a sense justified.

The problem with these states are that nobody, at least from our ethnocentric view would want to live in them.  We’d hate living in a state where our rights were hindered, where women’s rights are non-existent.  But if we were born and raised in those states, would we care?  I mean, we’re safe, from sudden violent death as Hobbes points out so everything SEEMS fine and dandy.  Even in our modern states we have very limited powers.  The citizen can vote, but the power is always in the state, it dictates us, prevents us from fighting each other, forces us along certain paths and stops us from drinking underage.  Whether we’d like it or not, our states are actually quite Hobbesian for the power basically rests in those in the government.  The average citizen… the great majority, is at the mercy of the government!  So don’t think Hitler’s Germany is distant, we’re actually in not such a great situation ourselves.

So we’re in a Hobbesian kind of state where we’d like it or not!  Not one where power is completley utterly restricted to the government, but where much of the power is in the government.  Aside from the fact a measly 1% of us can possibly get into the government, the other 99% is pretty much at their whim.  So looking at Hobbes as a mosnter and saying that our own governments are angels can be rather silly, for really, we are living in states that fulfil very Hobbesian ideals.

Robinson Crusoe: Master of the Island

Master of the Island.  That is what Robinson Crusoe became at the end of his adventure.  In a sense, Dafoe has created in Crusoe, the perfect colonist.  I’ve read Robinson Crusoe once (abridged version) and kind of enjoyed it, though it tended to bore me at points.  Though I have to say that I found the first novel written in the English language rather tedious to read at times, I still have to say that it is a masterpiece adventure, with some interesting themes.

Crusoe, is a very complex character with a personality and a set of skills to match.  Its how he survives on the island.  He has a unique set of abilities to match his own unique flaws.  He does tend to be impulsive, building his house on the first fortifiable ground as opposed to the fertile plain and the incident with the canoe shows that nature.  Yet, Crusoe can at times, be very resourceful, able to find a way to make clay pots, grow his own food, tame his own animals.  These make him able to master the nature and environment on his island.  Crusoe can also be very paranoid, but this aids him, for when he faces the savages, he is ready and waiting.   That’s not all about Crusoe, but that’s what springs out to me.

The other thing that I noticed about Robinson Crusoe was it’s similarity to The Tempests, something without a doubt most of us have noticed.  One of the main things was the master-servant relationship.  Like Prospero, Robinson Crusoe has servants, nature and man.  Unlike Prospero, Crusoe seems to manage his servants better.  If Caliban represents the island’s natives, let the animals represent Crusoe’s Caliban.  Prospero doesn’t manage Caliban very well, letting him turn against him.  Crusoe tames the island’s animals under him and in the end, rules over them.  Like Prospero though, Crusoe has his own form of magic, that aids him in securing a faithful servant.  If Prospero had magic to free Ariel, Crusoe had firearms.  But the similarities end there, in my opinion Crusoe and Friday share a much better relationship than Prospero and Ariel.   Ariel constantly tries to rebel against Prospero, but Friday doesn’t.  Crusoe rewards Friday, (his form of reward), by converting him, teaching him some of his ‘magic’ (the use of firearms) and in return, is kept company.  There are times, when Crusoe has to assert his authority, but it’s quite clear he cares deeply for his servant.  If anything, I’d describe Crusoe and Friday’s relationship as a perfect master-servant relationship, Dafoe’s ideal.

The novel is scattered with contextual references and is heavily influenced by british views.  The idea of the master-servant relationship, the european mastering the savage and the savage island.  The book is primarily, a boy’s or man’s adventure.  There are no important developed female characters, which all do to reflect the times.  It does not detract on the novel, but it makes one wonder, that if the first novel contained so much views influenced by English government, how much of the first novel has trickled into our modern novels?

Sincerely,

Vincent

Tempest, on Monsters, Heroes and what is known and not.

Shakespeare’s tempest is a generally happy play.  There are some dark moments, highlighted by monstrous figures, but the play maintains an overall feel of comedy and lightheartedness.  The characters, Prospero, Ariel and Caliban are of most interest to me as their contrasting differences and interactions make for very interesting reading.

Prospero, is a good man, but similar to Odysseus, he is a bit of a trickster and can be quite cunning.  After all, he uses his magic to ground his brother onto his island and scatter them (though I admit, he did have good reason).  His conversation on servitude with Ariel at the beginning also shows that he can be very firm on some topics and is not afraid of using veiled threats or manipulating feelings of debt.  There are many times, when I think his cunning and magic are used very well.  Such as when he is spying on his daughter… which is a breach of the modern definition of privacy, but I interpreted it as necessary to see if his daughter was in danger.  Prospero has a good and an ugly side to him as well.  He punishes Caliban frequently to keep him in line.  Importantly though, most of this is justified as Caliban is definitely not an innocent creature, but I’ll get to that later.  At the same time, Prospero tends to be kind and forgiving.  He lets his daughter have the man she wants (something unheard of at Shakespeare’s time) and he does spare his brother.  The character that he may be most similar to is Joseph from Genesis, both essentially good characters, with some flaws and a bit of a nasty side.

Caliban… as I mentioned before, he’s not innocent, but he’s not exactly a scary monster.  He is most certainly a monster that should be looked down upon as he tries to violate Prospero’s daughter Miranda against her will, whose a very innocent girl that makes the audience look down upon Caliban even more.  At the same time, Caliban can articulate himself… to a degree unlike Grendel whose monstrosity comes from his lack of ability to communicate.  Caliban’s ability to communicate, makes him look more monstrous, because not only does he try to defend himself against Prospero’s valid accusations, it makes us able to get a better picture of his maliciousness.  But for a monster whose mind is so evil… he’s comedically pathetic and there is a sense of pity for him, not a lot, but there is.  His attempts, rather malicious attempts to oust Prospero   turn to nothing because he can’t get the right people to help him.  Also, Prospero’s killing of his mother does evoke some pity, for he’s essentially lost all that he could cal his identity.  How Shakespeare was able to turn such an evil minded creature into such a comedic character… is beyond my comprehension.

Ariel, is by the far the most interesting character of this play.  He’s not human… not monstrous… but he’s not exactly well… good.  Extraordinarily mischievous, yet mostly loyal at the same time, Prospero’s description of him as a spirit, is the most accurate.  He’s unknown, a lot like Grendel, but what we do know of him and his affiliation to Prospero makes us like him more than Caliban who we know more about, making the Tempest definition of monster different from Grendel and Grendel’s mother.

That’s all for now.

Vincent

Machiavelli’s The Prince

I heard of the term Machiavellian villain many times and thus, when I read The Prince, I expected to see some villains and monsters.  However, what Machiavelli seems to have described is not a villain, but a way of ruling people and principalities during that time period.  Even in today, I think a lot of his theories and assertions can be applied.  Still, some of his arguments seem disturbing to my moral code, making me question if what Machiavelli is suggesting is monstrous and if it isn’t… what is?

Machiavelli’s arguments follow very pragmatic and yet ruthless lines.  He suggests very well reasoned out directions on how a ruler should react in certain situations.  Killing all your opponents before you gain power, or attacking boldly and not staying neutral.  I found myself agreeing with many of Machiavelli’s suggestions.  Having played strategy games such as Civilization V, the best way to win and to become powerful is to be decisive, to not hesitate.  Sometimes, ruthlessness is required or else one’s city will rebel and being neutral can lead to everybody else turning upon you in diplomatic relations.  The examples of history that Machiavelli offered only served to convince me.

That being said, I found myself at a crossroads when trying to see the monsters in Machiavelli.  Is he a monster?  I am not sure.  Popular opinion who know Machiavelli from the definition of a Machiavellian villain would say he is, but I disagree.  The Italian scholar promotes moderation of ruthlessness.  While he did say it was better to be feared than love, he also devoted a section of his argument to saying that if it is possible, a ruler should be feared AND loved.  His warnings on generosity are mostly directed to if a ruler is too generous.  Most of the examples he brings up are men of great stature and are still admired today.  Yes, Machiavelli is ruthless, but this is in a very pragmatic sense.  He’s suggesting the best way to rule a state, to seize and to hold onto power and these suggestions are very well thought out and in my opinion, would be extraordinarily effective if put into practice.  If Machiavelli is a monster, his silver-tongue would mark him to be completely unlike the inarticulate and unknown Grendel.

In reading Machiavelli, I began to understand the problems of kings and rulers, and also was opened to the idea that sometimes the most pragmatic decision may sometimes be monstrous.

Sincerely,

Vincent

Captain’s Log. Stardate 1492 Location: Atlantic Ocean

Well… one thing I can say for certain about Columbus…. his log entries are boring… I think the captain’s log entries in Star Trek were far more interesting.  I have to admit though, my expectations were set too high for this particular reading.  I expected something rather fun, dynamic, full of history and information.  What I got was a well… a log, and a few letters of a controversial figure, all of which was historical, but required much interpretation and not a lot of dynamic.  There were some parts of it that were fun to read though, (surprisingly).

The first part of the 4 Voyages that I had to read through was the digest of the captain’s log.  This account by an unknown member of Columbus’s crew was written from a surprisingly aloof 3rd party perspective.  Admittedly, he tended to side with Columbus, but the way he explained things from a more neutral point of view allowed me to accept the information without much hassle and bother of questioning every word he was writing.  As I began reading the digest, there was quite a bit of information, that gave the appearance of mundane, but wasn’t so mundane after all.  Soon I found myself noticing every symbol of land, every threat of mutiny, while I knew they would get there, I couldn’t help but wonder what was life like on that fateful voyage across the seas, clinging on mere hopes.  It’s no wonder Columbus, when he finally sighted land, was overjoyed.  I was also taken aback by the scale of what Columbus was describing.  Latin America for the first time and yet, he seemed or tried to keep an open view, not calling the natives barbarians (which was what I expected him to do) and although he later descended into slavery, his first foray into the caribbean was almost like a child wandering through a lush forest.

Then came the denial… when he began to realize and wonder if he had made it to Asia.  This I found rather hilarious thanks to my hindsight information, but then again, I had to pity Columbus.  He sailed all the way across the Atlantic, hoping to find a route to Asia and make it big with Castille, only to find he had stumbled across something entirely new.  If only he had a satellite and GPS!

The letters for me, were the hardest.  Everything that Columbus wrote about how he conducted himself and about he situation, I was forced to think and doubt.  After all, the letters were defending his position.  He sounded quite convincing and it wasn’t easy.  In the end, I managed to take everything at face value, yet still manage to understand Columbus’s defense.

In the end, I didn’t enjoy reading the 4 voyages as a whole.  My ideal explorer is something more like the characters in Star Trek.  But there were some fun tidbits and juicy information that I learnt about this interesting early explorer and the challenges he faced on his voyage.

Signing out

Vincent

 

Beowulf

Wow, after the tragedy of Oedipus and the hell that was Plato, this was awesome.   On several occasions, I wanted to go put on my mail shirt, get my pattern-welded sword, holster my linden-wood shield and step right into my dragon boat.  Unfortunately I don’t have any of those items so all I could do was read onward.  I found Beowulf to be a really entertaining read, although there were some things that stood out to me in particular.

My expectations of Beowulf greatly influenced my reaction to it.  So the elements of religion in Beowulf poked out at me many times.  It contrasted greatly to what I knew about Viking mythology.  Before reading Beowulf I assumed that Beowulf was a Viking saga, and thus expected gods such as Thor or Odin.  However, what I saw instead were references to the Christian god.  This surprised me greatly and threw me off at occasions when I expected a reference to the god of war THor, instead I got a reference to God or Lord.

My assumptions on Beowulf’s Viking background made me think of a ruthless warrior and fighter.  Instead, what I saw was a loyal man, courteous and fair, who tends to rely on his own hands to get the job done.  Albeit, he seems to lack in strategy or cunning like Odysseus, but he makes up for it, by sheer unbreakable will and courage.  In a sense, I found him to be basically the earliest form of an archetypal hero.  In that sense, he is much different from Homer’s hero of Odysseus, who is a cunning hero, ruthless and a sly tongue.  Beowulf is from a much older stock of hero, more similar to the heroes of the pre-Homeric times and yet different.  Unlike a pre-Homeric hero who relies on Arete or prowess in Battle, part of what makes me think Beowulf as a great hero is his loyalty to his people and his comrades.

That being said, Beowulf is kind of a Gary Stu.  Which is a phrase used to describe overly perfect characters created by authors.  Not only is Beowulf somehow in possession of inhuman prowess in strength and combat, with all the fame that goes to his head and the sudden turn of events that led him to become king, it is shockingly surprising that he doesn’t become a corrupt ruler.  Either Hrothgar’s discourse on the dangers of power, were more shocking than I interpreted it, or Beowulf is seriously so hero-like that when the dragon comes along, he goes right out to meet it instead of sending someone else to kill it.

That’s my thoughts on Beowulf

Vincent

A combination of “Doomed from the start” and “Ignorance is bliss”

Oedipus Rex… was quite the tragedy.  Extraordinarily depressing, next to the blank word document that was my Plato Essay. Having read Antigone, I knew some of the background to Oedipus Rex, but reading the actual tragedy made me wonder… what do you do when the universe has already condemned you?

Oedipus was basically doomed from the start.   The prophet’s prophecy… basically led to Oedipus running from his fate for his entire lie.  An unenviable fate indeed, but one as he found out the hard way, he could not escape.  Of course, this brings up the question of whether his actions created his fate, or whether fate was predetermined for Oedipus.  To my opinion, it’s seems to vary from situation to situation within the text.  Oedipus killing his father… SEEMED like an accident.  It was Laius who struck out against Oedipus who chanced upon running into the king, but if Oedipus hadn’t run away in the first place, he might have never met Laius.  To me though, it seems that the gods and fate are more to blame than Oedipus’s actions.  If he hadn’t known and everything the prophecy predicted happened to him, then the answer would have been obvious, but Sophocles has written the play in such a way that in a sense, Oedipus’s attempt to know his destiny, led to his downfall.

Ignorance and whether ignorance is bliss is also a key factor in the play.  Oedipus, despite his mother/wife Jocasta’s warnings and pleadings, was determined to seek out the shepherd.  This eventually led to her killing herself, which can be seen as Oedipus driving his mother to death, though I’m more inclined to see Jocasta as being primarily responsible.  If Oedipus just ignored his urge to find out the truth of his heritage… that could have changed things greatly, but then again, given the strange nature of fate within the text, it may not have changed anything.  However, to my eyes, Oedipus’s confronting of the truth, eventually led to his downfall of blinding himself.  So in a sense, Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex warns us that the truth, may cause more harm than good and it also make s a commentary on the nature of fate and destiny.

Plato Continued

Continuing to read Plato, was an interesting experience.  For one, his arguments are very well-founded and hard to refute.  So on some occasions I agreed with him and when I firmly disagreed with him, I couldn’t really argue with his logic.

There are a number of ideas and suggestions that Plato makes that I firmly agree with.  The idea of women ruling with men being one of them.  It may be one of the more redeeming qualities of Plato that he sees no difference between men and women.  However, the concept which I find myself most intrigued by is the allegory in the cave, in which humans are the ones continuously grasping at the shadows to try and seek the truth, when they can’t.  I wouldn’t say Plato has found the truth in his representation of the perfect kalliopis, but I have to say that his allegory of a cave is a very accurate representation of how we are striving to identify the shadows which seem to change and flicker.

My thoughts on Plato’s suggestions of a bad city state were mixed.  They were all… bad, but historical examples made me question Plato’s argument.  If one looks at the Roman Empire/Republic… there is a parallel to Plato’s argument in there.  There was a republic, that descended into a tyranny.  Yet, if one looks again at the Roman empire, some of the most successful inventions were during the Tyranny.  So… what Plato suggested is that the Roman Empire was a bad city-state… in a sense, it was, but in a sense it wasn’t since it did last for such a long period of time.  Still, I had to admire how Plato described the decay of the city-states as they were later proven by historical examples.

As for the philosopher kings, the auxiliaries and their training?  Well… In theory, they seemed to make sense.  In all practicality… humans don’t obey logic and have desires.  Plato knows that and he tries to address that ‘problem’ with censorship, conditioning and creating a societal role that would make it difficult, for the desires.  However, while I cannot say he’s wrong, I think that Plato is only trying to at the most, set aside the problem of human desire and not addressing the source.  All his limits, censorship and role-molding that he forces upon the philosopher kings would work… but without any sort of true passion for their jobs, the philospher kings would be in effect, screwed because their job is rather thankless.

Still, Plato’s attempt to grasp at the truth of a perfect government, is an attempt and a good attempt at trying to define the shadow of perfect government.

Signed,

Vincent Yam

 

 

Republic Part 1 Oh the Irony

I have never read Plato’s work personally, though I have heard of him and my IB Theory of Knowledge class did go over his Allegory of the Cave by discussion and by watching ‘The Matrix’ (Only the first one). So going into The Republic, I was rather unprepared for the amount of processing my poor brain had to do.  At this point though, I am enjoying the Republic, though I am becoming steadily uneasy at the content being presented within the dialogue as it does not conform to my views on government (not that I could possibly give a good judgement on).

Having been in IB Theory of Knowledge, we briefly went over Plato and Socrates in discussion, which I am quite used to.  However, the rhetoric and logic presented within The Republic astounded me and yet made sense.  The reasoning was sound and I found myself agreeing with what Socrates/Plato was arguing about.

As Book 1 ended though and Book 2 began, my interest only grew.  I mean, creating a perfect city in which to test their theory of justice and injustice would do that to your interest.  However, as the book began to progress, my eyes went O_O and a crinkle appeared on my brow.  I agreed with the points of a good polis or city such as it should not be so luxurious.  As roles began to be addressed, I still agreed with what they were suggesting.

It was when they reached what the Guardians should learn and not learn that I began to become increasingly worried.  I admit, my modern perspective is not allowing me to understand Plato’s view, but in my opinion, censorship of certain aspects is never a good thing.  The very reason I am able to write good essays was because my parents encouraged me and exposed me to a variety of works and a variety of views.  The training of the guardians, just reminded me of the Hitler Youth.  Basically training dogs of the state.   I also disagreed that the state would work because it was so logical.  My view (though unproven) is that humans do not always think logically and therefore, they do not always do logical things.  The city Plato is suggesting would work provided everybody was logical enough to understand his/her role, but humans who do not think logically would not be able to stand this city.  The only way this city would possibly work, is if the humans were replaced by Star Trek’s Vulcans who are supposed to always think logically.  Thus my admiration for Plato turned sour.

Yet, I also understood some of Plato’s points about the Guardians.  In real life, during the time of the Roman Empire, their was an Emperor called Marcus Aurelius (You may have heard of him in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator in which Maximus (Russell Crowe) announces himself as a general of Marcus Aurelius).  He was in fact, as most historians describe him, philosopher turned king and was one of the most successful Roman emperors.  Reading Plato actually made me realize that Marcus Aurelius’s reasons for suppressing the Christians may have possibly been the same reason why Plato is arguing for the suppression of Homeric texts (mega speculation here and going on a wild limb).  The populace, or the guardians should not get ahold of the wrong information and it must be censored or in the Christians case, wiped out.

For people wondering why I said Oh the Irony in my title.  Here is why.  For a piece of work to be called Republic, implying a government made up from elected members of a populace, Plato’s polis, is extraordinarily totalitarian and NOT a republic, and yet this work is called Plato’s Republic.  Oh the irony.

So all in all I found Plato’s Republic a very interesting read, though the content that was suggested furrowed my brow for a couple of hours.