A Discourse on Inequality

Well, to start off, I think that A Discourse on Inequality has been one of my favourite reads for ArtsOne so far. I found that many of my personal opinions regarding humanity and society rather closely matched the opinions of Rousseau, and in general, I found the work to be one whose theories closely match the actuality of society.

In comparison to pessimistic Hobbes, Rousseau had a far more positive view on human nature. I completely agree with his opinions regarding the nature of the first man. I personally think that the first man was no different from the animals that surrounded him, except in the fact of his higher levels of thinking. I doubt that the first man was all too concerned with greed and power, due to the burning necessity of survival. Whereas Hobbes would state that this desire to live sparked savage nature, I rather agree with Rousseau that the fear of pain ignited compassion within humans, not beastliness. Maybe I’m a bit of an idealist, but it pains me not to agree with Rousseau’s theory of compassion.

What I found most interesting about the work was the section on language. Language has always been one of those aspects of human society that I can never wrap my tiny brain around. How did we go from an entirely speechless language to one filled with so many complex methods for expressing thoughts? I found that Rousseau’s theory concurs with the majority of theories out there, that we started simply and worked our way up, but this is something that still baffles me. The entire prospect of the origin of language is something I find so fascinating, and so intriguing that I can barely comprehend it. Although Rousseau’s theories aided slightly, I still am amazed at the origins of speech.

I do agree mostly with Rousseau’s theory of society corrupting the individual, but I still find it slightly hard to swallow. This is because where did these feelings of greed, pride, and everything negative that Rousseau states is an outcome of society stem from? There must be a portion of the human being that is naturally predisposed to these feelings. Society is merely a concept, it could not have implemented ideas in our heads from the very beginning, and thus there must be some aspect of humans that possesses these negative attributes. The way society is structured simply draws them out.

Leviathan

Well, to say the least, this text was boring. Albeit, it had its moments of interesting-ness, but for the most part, it was the perfect lullaby.

With the exception of its dullness, I was rather intrigued by Hobbes’ argument for our perceptions of good and evil. To think of everything we crave, or consider good, to be mere appetite and everything else aversion slots perfectly into our way of being. Our want to do well on a test, for example, derives from a simple want to feel pride and be acknowledged for our hard work, and to avoid feelings of shame and disappointment. In truth, all of our actions are purely selfish, no matter how selfless they appear. We are always trying to stimulate the appetizing feelings, such as those we receive by helping others.

I really don’t agree with Hobbes’ perspective on religion. His statements that religion simply derides out of fear. and that only those who do not understand science and philosophy need it truly irked me. Science constantly tries to disprove the value of religion, deeming it as “opium for the masses,” as Karl Marx said. However, science itself cannot prove everything and anything, just as there are many unanswered questions in religion. To deem it as for the weak-minded truly demonstrates an ignorant viewpoint, like some Bible Belt Americans who cannot accept simple scientific truths, such as evolution.

The juxtaposition between nature ordering peace amongst humans and the natural desire for power was very intriguing as well, but proves indefinitely true. As Acton said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and not only possessing power, but the desire for it leads to mass chaos. Even when we examine the totalitarian reign of Gaddafi, his war against his people was completely out of a selfish want for power, even though he should have been trying to maintain the peace needed. This is why communism and Plato’s Kalipolis look so perfect on paper, but when put into effect, lead to horrendous results. Humans will simply never be able to displace this lust for power, ruling idealist societies impossible.

 

Robinson Crusoe

After the disappointment of The Tempest, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe. I’ve always been fascinated by this adventurous tales of survival, contemplating my actions if I were in the same situation. However, I found Crusoe to be almost too perfect a character, the author almost trying to make his one flaw that of his religious ineptitude. Whilst I appreciate the significance of religion at the time, and now, Crusoe’s life upon the island appeared really to have no qualms for the first twenty-five years, with the exception of his divine epiphany. Continuing along this line of his lack of flaws, when compared to many other tales of survival, such as Castaway with Tom Hanks, there was always a certain amount of mental degredation, the protagonist gradually losing his civility and becoming more and more animalistic in nature. I feel that this aspect presents a far more real version of a castaway. Crusoe does remark that he longs for human companionship at a point, but aside from merely mentioning it, the concept does not really present itself. Humans do possess a basic need for interaction, thus explaining the certain level of lunacy or madness that possesses many upon being locked in solitary confinement. Crusoe’s character just seemed unrealistic.

As well, I also noted that Crusoe’s seemingly savage state of being appeared far more civilized than his beloved European society. Although his island lacks modern technology, and all the fancy gadgets, Crusoe’s lifestyle was worlds away from his homeland. In the so-called “Modern” society, his human counterparts acted far more savagely than Crusoe during his quest for survival. The greed and selfishness that corrupts our world, through pointless means, such as gold or paper, really have no significance in life, yet we spend a majority of our lives devoted to it. Crusoe’s simplistic lifestyle presented a far more rational one than this world of his and ours, where we all allow ourselves to be slaves to the almighty profit.

Finally, it irritated me how Crusoe exerted kingly status upon himself over his island. It was just such a supremacist viewpoint. How on Earth does he know that he is the first to inhabit this island? The natives probably have been utilizing it for far longer than Crusoe’s entire lifespan, just not continuously inhabiting it. As well, why must he declare himself Lord over all those he saves? It really appeared a far more Prospero-like option, finding everyone indebted to him. The only reason I can possibly think of lies in a want for Defoe to express the nature of European explorers during this time, claiming any land and exerting authority where there was no right for authority to be given.

The Tempest

Okay, first things first… I hate Shakespeare… With a passion. He’s so overdone, so pretentious, with plots stolen for nearly all his works, and a boring predictability for all his plays, and I simply cannot stand the man’s work.

That being said, The Tempest less than thrilled me. However, I was fascinated by the concept of reality versus a dream. The whole play contained a very dream-like, fantasized nature. The allusions to mythical faeries and beasts, as well as the actual magic performed by Prospero create an airy, dreamy image. This idea of false realities does not end with a literal dream-like state, but continues when Prospero mentions this idea as well, whereupon he realizes that he has in turn become lost in the state of things, losing sight of what really matters. He states that, “… our little life is rounded with a sleep,” (4.1, ll 157-58). This portrays humanity as living within this idealized, dreamy world, blocking ourselves away from the hardships and important aspects of life, that is, until they jolt us from this sleep and thrust us into reality. The whole work delves into this idea of whether or not our reality is merely a dream. The drunkenness of the men also portrays this idea, as intoxication, especially with this seemingly enchanted drink, allows us to live in a world without the norms of reality. Their drunkenness takes them farther into the already dream-like state of the island, believing butlers to be kings. In a way, we are always in this state of drunkenness, as we are unable to perceive the true nature of man or life, believing evil to be good, and vice versa.

The idea of deception was also very prominent. Wherever one turns, someone always finds himself in the thick of visual deceit. Be it the invisibility of Ariel, lying to and deceiving Stephano, Caliban, and Trunuculo, or the masques Ariel wears to disguise himself as Ceres, someone is constantly being lied to. This whole deception thing sort of ties in with that fantasy element as well, in that we don’t actually know if our reality is the truth or merely a distorted image of it.

So, after suffering through this play, I finally reached the most dissatisfying end of any work I have ever read. Instead of actually exacting revenge, or doing something significant, such as in other Shakespearean plays, Prospero just decides to FORGIVE everyone??? After he’s been stuck on this god-forsaken island for twelve years, Antonio has stolen his dukedom and the King of Naples helped him out, and he just brushes it aside? So I just forced myself to read this play, just to find out that at the end everything is marvelous????? Normally, I don’t condone violence, but if I’m going to sit through a Shakespeare play, I expect something meaningful to happen that will leave an impression on my mind. All in all,  The Tempest furthered my disdain…

Machiavelli’s “The Prince”

Since it seems a tad inevitable that we’ll end up discussing it in class, I figure I might start with a blurb on genre. Machiavelli’s The Prince is a rather interesting piece of literature. It fits into a sort of strange genre, in that it’s a gift to the Florentine Ambassador to the Pope.  I see this political work as the form of a letter and theory combined.

It felt like Machiavelli lacked complete faith in humanity. He seemed to believe in the corruption of the people, stating ideas such as our inevitable greed and desires to seek our own well-being. While these are true to an extent, it seems a little radical to apply them to every member of society. However, now that I think about it, it is fairly true. In terms of government, we all desire the ruler that watches out for our best interests, and belittle those that have other motives in mind. This is also seen in the case of President Obama and the healthcare reform, seeing as many people are opposing him due to his effort to ameliorate life for all individuals. The wealthier, upper classes are in opposition to him as Obama is trying to better life for the lower classes who cannot afford healthcare, rather than acting in their wealthier interest. You really can’t make everybody happy. I also found it ironic that in the beginning, Machiavelli states that only a member of the lower class can evaluate the ruler, and only the ruler can evaluate the lower class. While Machiavelli admits himself to being a part of the lower class, and offers valuable observations of the rulers, he also observes his own kind. He directly contradicts himself in offering advice on the nature of his own class. In a way, it’s a little unavoidable in order to explain why the rulers need to act in such a way, but it was still strange.

I surprisingly found myself agreeing with a lot of what Machiavelli had to say, especially regarding the nature of rulers. His idea that rulers need to only appear to have the desirable traits of rulers, and being able to adapt into a more ruthless nature was very poignant and true. Rulers who only possess one side will either be loved and crushed, or hated and successful, but face the possibility of rebellion. As well, his cliched statement of “It is better to be feared than loved,” actually made sense. I remember all of the times I had heard this, and refuted the point blatantly, but upon actually reading the work, it made far more sense. This is because of human nature. We tend to love those who aid and please us, only until they cannot aid us anymore, or do something out of our best interest. If a ruler is feared, there is less of a likelihood of this drastic change from love to hate.

Christopher Columbus

So, I’m not the world’s biggest history buff. When reading a text, my mind is automatically drawn to the symbolic, figurative aspects of the work, and I rarely regard the reality of it. However, with The Four Voyages, I found that I needed to break free of this quest for metaphor, and adopt a more practical way of looking at the work. I can’t argue the alliteration or allegory, as Columbus did not intend for these letters and logs to be read in such a manner. This aspect challenged me.

However, I actually enjoyed reading this work. I was immediately drawn to Columbus’ irony. He keeps talking about how every one of these places he visits is more beautiful than the last, due to their native, unaltered state. However, that’s exactly what he wants to change. He wants to alter not only the landscape, but the lives of the peoples. Yes, he does believe that bringing Christianity to the natives will save them from damnation, but in reality, his whole quest is to abuse and reap the benefits of their homeland. No wonder he ended up becoming so hated.

Secondly, he was so damn whiny. In one particular letter, all he said was just how terrible his lot in life was. Well, unfortunately for him, it’s a direct correlation between fate and his treatment of other individuals. However, it is necessary to view things from his perspective. Maybe he really wasn’t trying to play the victim, and firmly thought that his ordeal was unjust.

Finally, the obsession with gold. It’s rather astonishing to see just how enthralled society is with this shiny substance. This love of the metallic extends even into our modern society, but is rather seen as capitalist profit. Humans love to put such immense value on ridiculously pointless things. Does gold actually help society in anyway? No, it cannot save lives or provide any necessity, just as money itself is completely pointless. This correlation between Columbus’ society and our modern one was very fascinating, as it demonstrates a certain characteristic of humanity. We place so much value on the intangible, but for what? In my opinion, its merely a matter of pride. Nowadays, it is a necessity, but I believe that it originates from a want to possess beauty (in the beauty of gold) that later developed into a means of survival via currency.

All in all, Columbus’ writings were a definite change from the classic idea of literature that we’ve been engrossed with, and proved an interesting and eye-opening reading.

Beowulf

Prior to this course, I had never read Beowulf.  In all honesty, I had no idea what it was even about, and my only perceptions of it came from my friends’ reviews of the terrible animated picture (which I never saw) and my mother’s distaste for the work. Needless to say, I was not excited.

However, upon reading the tale, I noticed just how religious of a work it was. From my past recollections, I would never have guessed that there would be so many references to Christianity, especially as during this time, there was still widespread pagan belief. The descriptions of Grendel coming from the sin of Cain was very strange, considering the context of the time. I feel as if latter individuals added in the Christian descriptions in order to fit their religious beliefs.

When Beowulf asks to see the dragon’s gold at the end, as well as the curse upon the objects, I found that this held religious connotations as well. It signifies not only the importance of selflessness, but also reflected the idea of Heaven. Heaven does not necessarily mean Christianity, as Germanic pagans believed in the afterlife as well. By having only those who have no desire to possess the riches have the ability to hold them signifies the “exclusivity” of the afterlife. This idea reflects the Christian ideology, however, as only those following in the path of Christ can be saved. This Christian ideology reflects not only religious beliefs, but also the idea that those with pure intentions will hold the riches in life.

Near the end, I was surprised at how the death of Beowulf was not only the death of a hero, but also symbolized the death of a civilization. As the Geats are left defenseless, and the onslaught of the Swedes coming, it demonstrated the demise of greatness. This greatness is not only left to a particular society, but in general. Just as life inevitably ends, all good things eventually perish as well.

To be frank, Beowulf    was nothing like I expected. The amount of symbolism and references, combined with such a beast of a protagonist, shockingly gave me a very pleasurable and enjoyable reading experience. In the end,  Beowulf    symbolizes not only the fallibility of life, but also the merit that each individual must find within himself.

Oedipus the King (Julianna)

When I finished reading Oedipus the King, I was consumed with sadness. The terrible misfortunes of Oedipus and Jocasta left me with a real sense of pity for both. To realize that one’s entire reign and marriage has been born out of wretchedness would inevitably drive even the most joyous of individual’s to horror.

That being said…

I found it quite interesting that Oedipus was such a narcissist. Literally, he believed that he could do no wrong, that he was the gods’ gift to mankind or something. He even calls himself the son of Chance, which produces only good things. This sheer egocentricity, though, was vitally important, as it becomes utterly destroyed once Oedipus learns the truth about his life. This complete devastation and switch from excessive pride to utter self-loathing depicted not only the effect of grief, but also how quickly the joy in life vanishes. It was mentioned in the play by Oedipus that joy is merely a vision, and I found this best exemplified through his complete change in self-perception.

Another aspect that I remarked on was that the work makes it seem like humans have a hand in their own destiny. In many other Greek works, it appears that our power in changing our fates is minuscule. In this work, however, I got more of a sense of the humans influencing destiny. One section in particular describes those who act cruelly as providing themselves with a crueler fate.

Blindness was a recurring theme as well. Initially, Oedipus mocks the blind seer, Tiresias, for his inability to see, but gouges out his own eyes demonstrates an ironic realization. Tiresias may see the divine, the prophesized, but is saved from having to experience and see the horrors of the world. Oedipus does not realize this initially, but only at the end of the work does he clearly understand that oblivion results in happiness sometimes.

Finally, I noticed near the very end the focus on Oedipus’ love for his daughters, Antigone and Ismene. When talking to Creon, Oedipus states that his sons will be fine, able to go out into the world and fend for themselves. However, with his daughters, Oedipus showed genuine paternal emotion, crying out for his daughters to remain with him, demonstrating a high amount of fatherly love. This veers away from the traditional Greek view where the sons hold more value than the daughters.

 

Plato’s Republic Continued

After finishing Plato’s Republic, I still was left unconvinced as to the benefits of the philosopher’s utopia.

I found the metaphor of the three beds to be particularly interesting. With regards to the truth, it truly shed light upon the Plato’s idea of uniformity. Throughout the work, Plato makes it well known that there may only be one form of reality, and that all others are mere imitations. These replicas arise out of ignorance and opinion, and have no real basis in intelligent thinking. To an extent, I agree with this belief, as there are no other means by which certain components of the universe operate, such as with regards to the Earth’s spherical shape. Although I agree, though, I also have strong opinions concerning the matter as well. When Plato dismissed art as being completely insignificant, and a mere lie about reality, I almost wanted to slap him. To be so confident and unmoving in one’s own belief of truth to completely ignore the other perceptions of life presented through art demonstrates a lack of knowledge. The entire point of art is that it provides various other means and perspectives by which we experience and see the world. Simply because it opposes or questions the idea of a uniform truth does not mean that it must be thrown out the window. When an artist paints a blacksmith, he does not claim to be fully knowledgeable about the subject’s worth, but rather presents it through another lens. Art may offer different opinions and perspectives on truth, but that does not by any means signify that it possesses no realities about life.

Aside from my rant on Plato and art, I found the idea of tyranny restricting the soul to be very intriguing. Normally, I would agree with those who say that the tyrannical are completely content in their reign, but to see Plato’s opinion changed my perspective slightly. When the philosopher describes the tyrant as needing to constantly be in control, and is perpetual in fear of losing it, it definitely painted the picture of a man trapped by his own greed. In trying to obtain liberation to control a society where all one’s whims are obeyed, the individual truly loses sight of humanity and becomes a slave to desire.

Although I was not the biggest fan of Plato’s work, upon completing it I have become slightly persuaded by a few of his ideas, but not many.

Julianna’s Thoughts on Plato’s Republic, Part 1

To say the least, The Republic has not been the simplest of works to tackle. However, despite difficulties and confusion, it offers interesting notions on  society, as well as the importance of justice and virtue.

One aspect that I found interesting was simply how overly idealized the city of The Republic is. I understand that it is meant to be a theoretical model, but Plato factors in virtually no aspects of human nature. He completely negates human greed or selfishness, assuming that humanity will work for the good of the city, and be unconcerned with their own desires. I find this difficult to swallow, almost, as it is so removed from reality. His depictions of children being removed from their families and each indiviudal sticking to his or her own trade, longing and understanding that he will always be stuck in the same aspect of life, all to better the city, brought about thoughts of Marxist ideals. My opinions of Marx are almost the same as with Plato, in that both forgot to factor in human emotion.

However, instead of a utopia, as Marx intended, Plato’s world reminded me of a glorified dictatorship. His ideas of the guardians protecting and being all-knowing in a sense, whilst everyone must abide by their rule, appeared to be strickingly similar to the Nazi regime. As well, the business of removing children from their family seemed horrifically Spartan in nature. It seemed that Plato was far more concerned in a nation of mindless, law-abiding automatons than with a realistic working of the cities.

The narcissism of Plato towards philosophers invoked a chuckle. Plato, who seemingly appears to create Kallipolis in order to demonstrate the ideal city, holds only those who have studied philosophy to be worthy of protecting the city. This assumption that all other humans are beneath the great knowledge of the philosopher was slightly appalling. It is understandable that he believes that only those who understand the nature of man should rule, but Plato refers to the average man as if his intelligence were comparable to a dog. I found this praise of the philosopher to be a blatant attempt at demonstrating self-righteousness.

Finally, I do agree with Plato in his beliefs regarding justice. One particular section discussed the fear that the unjust have as they reach old age regarding death. I agree that despite the early pay-off of being unfair or deceitful, the just will always prevail, be it in the afterlife or later in the present.

All in all, I cannot say that Plato has dramatically altered my perspective on society, but rather introduced me to a dictatorial, overly idealized city, which, in a sense, foreshadowed latter dystopias, such as communism and Nazi Germany.