Category Archives: Dialectics
We were ‘outside’ all of five minutes, at best… and I use inverted commas because we still hadn’t left the building.
You see, our comfortable little apartment, while nestled in a beautiful old french building, has only an internal courtyard view. ‘No noisy traffic sounds!’, we had initially rejoiced… but then we noticed we didn’t get any direct sunlight either.
This is not usually a problem, since we live near parks and cafes and often spend time walking between them… ah, those were the days.
And so yesterday I brought my young daughter to the direct light, to get a good dose of vitamin D, when the doorwoman approached.
“You have to go upstairs. Now.”
I protested. I pleaded, “We need a little sunlight, after all…” “come on,…She’s only 4!”
But her stern look and the hand reaching for the phone told me to stop… and to return upstairs.
Here in Argentina they are not taking this COVID-19 pandemic lightly. Helicopters circle overhead. Police roam the streets. The city of 15 million has come to a complete standstill.
Likewise, other countries the world over are starting to enact extreme policies. Maybe it started with a closed beach or a canceled event, but in some places it now involves a covered vehicle removing anyone who ‘fails’ the test.
There’s an adjective that some may be tempted to employ for just this situation: Draconian.
It was around 621 BC when the first democratic legislator, Draco, was commissioned to devise a constitution; a written law code placed in a central location enabling any literate person the ability to review it.
Before this, laws were conveyed orally, which meant they could be easily manipulated by the Aristocracy.
Essentially, Draco’s code or the Draconian constitution, was an early manifestation of Athenian democracy.
So far, so good! So why do we cringe a little at hearing the word Draconian? Well, it’s because his punishment for many offenses, even small ones, was death.
Perhaps it’s for that reason that when we think of Athens, we like to conjure Pericles instead of Draco… but in the end, we all know which one died in the plague.
Returning to the ever evolving and complicated situation in front us today, we have to ask you, fellow moral philosophers among us:
Are the current policies indeed Draconian? And… is that what we need?
As always, you can comment below with your thoughts…
Issac Newton was a student at Cambridge when the Great Plague of London hit. His university canceled classes and just like many of us today, he was forced to stay at home. Fortunately for us all, he used that time wisely. It was during his self-quarantine that he developed the foundations for calculus, optics and gravity.
So, too can we make good use of this time, if we are willing and able, to learn, to read, to philosophize.. . And we here at Classical Wisdom want to contribute in any way possible, to do our part to help.
Whether it’s a way to stay sane in insane times or just continue the pursuit of knowledge, we are offering our Essential Greeks Course completely Free to everyone staying in. From the comfort and safety of your own home, you can sign up and begin classes this Sunday – including 40 videos covering the most important Greeks from Homer to Aristotle, original texts, e-books, biographies and quizzes.
The Essential Greeks course will begin Sunday March 22nd, but you will have full access to the materials as soon as you sign up.
So, sign yourself up or any friend or family member you think would enjoy the journey or would like a welcome and educational distraction.
After all, It is at times of crisis when we need the classics the most, for the perspective and wisdom they can provide… Stay safe and wash your hands.
People think we are a little crazy. After all, there are currently only 30 COVID-19 cases in the whole country of almost 45 million, so surely we are a little ‘paranoid’ to choose self-quarantine…everyone is out and about without a care in the world… Why should we act any differently?
Why Stay at Home?
Our reasons are numerous. There has just been an influx of returning holiday-makers from Europe in time for the new southern hemisphere school year, we have plans to see a friend next week who, while very healthy, is still in his 70s, and of course, the Argentines are very much like Italians… and we all know how tragic the situation is there.
But more than anything else, it’s simply because we can.
I know this is a luxury. Many have to venture outside to attend to various jobs – both medical and otherwise – that maintain and continue our modern existence. It is these people I salute and wish to help! It’s our little way of trying to ‘flatten the curve’, decrease the potential exposure, however small, so we can all get through this. We can stay in when others can not…and so we should. In other words, we’re helping out, by opting out.
Philosophy In Action
War, famine, and, yes, disease have always existed. To expect that we would never know any of these extreme human experiences during our lifetime is hubristic at worst and naive at best. So, knowing that events like this will occur and that their presence is completely out of our control, what can we do? How should we act? These are the sort of questions we should be asking, just as the great philosophers of the ancient world would have done.
And we know what they would say. They would tell us that it is in moments like this that we define our character, improve our moral and philosophical comprehension, and understand our roles as individuals in a greater society… if we choose to do so, of course.
So, how do we attend to ourselves and to our community? To make the best out of a bad lot?
How to Self-quarantine… and Enjoy It
My original idea was to put it off as long as possible, to try to keep everything normal and routine. But while we were hoping for the best, we were also quietly planning for the worst. Once we stocked up enough goods for a quiet retreat, we made the choice…time for a ‘Staycation’.
No more school. No more activities. No more social gatherings. Just me, my husband, and my 4 year old daughter in our modestly sized apartment. All. Day. Long.
At first, the thought terrified me. It seemed like we would go crazy, filled with cabin fever…how would we cope?
The strange thing though, is that it’s been absolutely lovely.
First off, since making the decision, we have a lot of peace of mind. The stresses.. And viruses… of the world stay outside our walls. We immediately relaxed.
And with no outside distractions, we’ve focused on what really matters…each other. We spend our days practicing writing, art, and music with our little girl. We take time to make all our meals together and sit down properly at the table. We go for rides in the courtyard (double plus as her hands are only touching her bike and nothing else!) We all manage to get our work (or play) done.
And of course, there is lots and lots of reading…
In fact, it is at times like this that I’m very grateful for my own copy of the Essential Classics, so I can indulge in the greatest lessons, stories, and inspirations from the ancient world… Surrounded by my books, I figure I’ve already got a lifetime of reading to keep me busy and stimulated.
it’s really a opportunity to read as much as I like! And what a wonderful way to pass the time…
We’ve also got a slew of movies and shows to catch up on. Can you believe I’ve never watched the BBC’s I, Claudius? Well, there’s no time like the present…
The Antidote to Fear
Fortunately the philosophies and histories from the ancient world can provide great relief in fearful times. We can appreciate Stoicism, for instance, like never before… to realise what is in our control and what is not.
This is a chance to try to live like many of the greatest minds from the classical world. To read and wonder with our feet on the ground and our loved ones close by. It is at times of crisis when we need the classics the most, for the perspective and wisdom they can provide.
And so dear reader, I will conclude by saying I sincerely hope this whole event passes quickly and that you and your family are well. In the meantime, I wish the classics can bring comfort to us all… oh, and wash your hands.
Stay safe readers!
Founder and Director
I never take public transport. Well, almost never. In the last ten years in this country, I’ve probably gone on a train and/or bus -combined- 8 times? So it was a bit out of the ordinary that I took the Subte on Tuesday ‘for fun’ to the hospital to pick up some routine check up results.
That was my first mistake.
I got to the entrance of the building and there are cameras everywhere. I assumed some Argentine celebrity that I don’t know had just checked in for rehab or something, so I didn’t pay it any attention and I went in.
That was my second mistake.
I was in the lift when I checked my ‘whatsapp’ messages. A group of other moms were typing away:
“First confirmed Coronavirus in Argentina”
“Oh no! Really?”
“Yeah, 43 year old man, flew in from Milan”
“He’s in the hospital now”
“Santa Fe and Pueyrredon, Swiss Medical”
“I’m here now”
The panic started to set in. I looked around the crowded waiting room and politely asked for my results… and could I use the hand sanitizer?
“Sorry Señora… your results aren’t here. You had to pick them up last week, but don’t worry, your doctor can see them online.”
Previously I had been firmly in the ‘do not worry’ camp. Spouting out theories of immanentizing the eschaton to anyone who would listen, I was confident, smugly cocooned in the “0 cases in the country” category.
How easy it is to be logical, to be calm, in such a summery situation! How quickly one’s feelings can change…
Once the first case came, and the numbers started to rise rapidly (a culture of sharing kisses with strangers and passing around the national drink mate makes for a virus’ wet dream), I started to think about the danger, the panic, the fears that surround this -or any- pandemic.
Of course, the ancients would have had plenty to say on the subject.
Epicurus would promptly chime in, stating we should not fear death, that this worry was meaningless. Thucydides would probably reference the Athenian Plague, illustrating that the greatest tragedy was the descent of morals and decency in the mob. Marcus Aurelius would certainly point out that we should accept such things as out of our control, and instead focus on that which we have power.
This all sounds fine and good… but is that the whole story? Is it applicable now? As we (the collective, including myself) ride the rollercoaster of popular fear, I have to ask:
Should we panic? What value does worrying have? And how should we stay calm, as so often directed?
***As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected] with your thoughts.
“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
I find myself quoting Pericles quite often these days… Not only because the above sentence is so repeatedly (and tragically) apt, but it also goes to show that many elements of human nature haven’t changed at all.
Those who want power are usually the ones who should not have it. Alternatively, the very ownership of power changes the individual. As Lord Acton once famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
One only has to consider momentarily the likes of many emperors, from Caligula to Caesar…
Indeed, our recent article was on the emperor Tiberius, a Roman emperor considered both accomplished and a monster. Our associate editor, Alex Barrientos, then asked what makes a good statesman… so I’d like to take that thought one step further… and ask after a specific requirement, essentially:
Do you need to be Good to be a Good leader? And is it really necessary to be a “paragon of virtue” to lead a country?
As always, you can write me directly at [email protected]. We’ll be reading out responses in our new Podcast, Classical Wisdom Speaks! (Coming out soon).
Et tu, Brute?
Whether or not Caesar once uttered those dramatic words, he probably did think it. After all, it was a literal backstabbing moment; Brutus was Caesar’s friend and protege. Of all the 23 knives that plunged into his flesh, that one would have hurt the most.
But Shakespeare’s famous line about the ancient world, “Et Tu, Brute”, also neatly encapsulates an ancient issue, that of personal sacrifice for the good of the nation. Brutus believed he was doing a virtuous thing by murdering his mentor. He was saving the Republic! Right!??
In the words of the Philosopher-Emperor Marcus Aurelius, “What is not good for the beehive, cannot be good for the bees”.
This is a thought echoed by a Philosopher-President and famous classicist, Thomas Jefferson, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Indeed, there have been many incidents since that famous backstabbing when men (and women!) put the health of the ‘Republic’ ahead of friendship, party loyalties and even family lines.
Great! We’re all agreed then… It’s super easy. Murdering tyrants is a patriotic act. Brutus was a patriot, not a traitor.
But… Is it really that simple?
Who decides when it’s time to kill a tyrant? Or if the leader is a tyrant in the first place?
And is putting the State before personal relationships always moral?
And what happens, as was the case with the assassination of Caesar***, when it completely backfires and ends up destroying the very system they were fighting to save?
As always, you can reply to this email or write me directly at [email protected].
***Now, you may be asking why am I writing about Caesar and his death now. After all, the date of his assassination is famously etched into our collective consciousness as the Ides of March, almost three weeks from today.
Well, we have another exciting announcement here at Classical Wisdom. We’ll be launching our brand new free podcast, “Classical Wisdom Speaks” on the Ides of March, which will include a discussion between myself and our associate editor, Alex, on today’s monday mailbag’s topic.
In fact, we’ll read out a few of the responses you send in on the air! So make sure to write in your thoughts on whether Brutus was a patriot or a traitor… whether it’s moral to betray someone for the good of the state…and when it is time to kill a tyrant?