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Category Archives: Dialectics

Do we need Stereotypes? Do they have value?

by April 12, 2021

It was just last week my husband and I went out for a nice French meal to celebrate our anniversary. Sitting outside on a quaint corner in “Palermo Soho”, we couldn’t help but notice the couple next to us. Clad in a tight black shirt, cigarette causally in hand, the young, good looking man reached over and passionately kissed his girlfriend, also dressed head to toe in black. He ordered more wine, while she lit up yet another cigarette, and then they commenced into a no-doubt deep and romantic conversation.
My husband and I smiled at each other. We didn’t have to say it, as we knew the other was thinking…. So French.
To pretend stereotypes just don’t exist is naive at best and perhaps willfully ignorant… and to be perfectly honest, it’s always just a little satisfying when these historic boilerplates for cultures materialize in front of our eyes.

Typical Socrates… selling Drinks in Rio

For instance, once while we were living in Taiwan we went for a hike in the mountains and, I kid you not, as we crossed over a beautiful glittering stream there was an elderly gentleman, complete with one long hair protruding from a mole on his chin, catching dragonflies with chopsticks.
Our first time to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we foolishly brought our books to the beach. Who possibly could read with such excellent people watching? Gloriously confident with every sort of body type, the women paraded in thongs while ripped lads in tight swimwear demonstrated their skills at footvolley.
Driving through the plains of Tanzania on our way to the Ngorongoro crater, we spotted the Maasai warriors, clad in their famous red cloth, trusty stick at hand, jump majestically in the air surrounded by their lifegiving cattle.

Should we ‘jump’ to conclusion? Your editor trying to keep ‘up’ in Tanzania…

You may be thinking that these little vignettes merely illustrate outdated cliches… and indeed, what does ‘French’ look like today? Or Taiwanese? Brazilian or Tanzanian?
And obviously, we can’t ignore the negative impacts of ‘bad’ stereotypes. Minorities, the world over, are often categorized as loud or crass. It’s been attributed to Jewish folks, Italians, Mexicans, Russians, Cantonese and quite often, Americans abroad… but speaking as one of those (and perhaps loudly at that), it’s usually the case that people just hear more obviously when someone is speaking another language.
But nowadays there is a lot of talk about the damage that even ‘good’ stereotypes can do… which is what brings us to our line of inquiry.
The truth of the matter is that people do like to categorize other folks. No doubt this occurred in the ancient world as well. One can’t imagine Aristotle, with his extensive list making, not grouping groups according to general characteristics.
The Spartans… well, they do love their blood gruel and they are superior warriors.. but aren’t their women pushy! Clearly too independent.
While those Carthaginians – such Demeter worshippers, excellent food though, and fancy clothes…love shopping there.
And don’t get me started on the Thebans! Mother lovers… I still can’t believe they sided with the Persians.

Can you imagine the stereotypical Theban??

Whether good or bad, these oversimplified versions of people exist, have existed and most likely will always exist.
But just because we know there are stereotypes, doesn’t determine their value. And so we have to ask…
Can stereotypes be helpful? Harmful? Do we need them or should we try to erase them, if that’s possible at all?
As always you can write me directly at [email protected] or Comment below.
P.S. At the end of the night, we did get talking to the French speaking couple next to us… turns out he was Belgian and she was Argentine! But the owner who also joined at the end, was the most French Frenchman of all…

Is SACRIFICE Inherently Good?

by April 5, 2021

This last weekend almost one third* of the world’s population celebrated Christ’s offering of himself on the crucifixion, as well as his subsequent resurrection. No doubt a moment of deep reflection on the meaning and purpose of sacrifice.

*Not including orthodox Christians, simply because they celebrate according to the Julian calendar rather than Gregorian calendar… and so they haven’t had Easter yet!

Of course, a great deal of the approximately 3.2 billion Christians commemorate this moveable feast via extensive pagan cultural appropriation… because let’s be honest, even children can see there really isn’t any correlation between being condemned to death on a cross and chocolate bunnies.
The more devout however, of which there are plenty down here in South America, flood to the churches, knees on pews, to contemplate what is considered in their religion the greatest sacrifice in history; the Abrahamic God in heaven giving up his only son.
This being a critical point in the religion’s history and theology isn’t very surprising. After all, the concept of sacrifice, both personally and societally, runs deep within our various collective cultures. Whether it’s the killing of a lamb, a virgin, or maybe just offering some yummy food, ancient folks from around the globe consider ‘doing without’ or ‘giving up’ a preferred form of worship.
Wall painting sacrifice

An ancient Fourth-Pompeian-Style Roman wall painting depicting a scene of sacrifice in honor of the goddess Diana; she is seen here accompanied by a deer. The fresco was discovered in the triclinium of House of the Vettii in Pompeii, Italy.

And while this historic form of sacrifice may not seem so … relatable to us, there are plenty of instances where our modern and ancient versions coincide. No doubt the vision of Sparta’s 300 (not including the Thespians and the Thebans) laying down their lives to stop the Persian invasion from taking over the entire Greek peninsula, resonates with us to this day. We can understand the sacrifice of soldiers for their country as something noble… at least when they are on our side.
But what about the self sacrifice of others, whether kamikaze pilots, cave dwelling terrorists or any other type of asymmetrical warfare? Is it still moral then?
So we come to today’s mailbag question, dear reader, on the nature of sacrifice.
Aztec Sacrifice

Aztec human sacrifice, from Codex Mendoza, 16th century (Bodleian Library, Oxford).

Is Sacrifice inherently good? Is it a virtuous act? Or is the opposite also true? Is there a possibility the very concept is simply outdated?

As always, you can write me directly at [email protected] or comment below.

What Controls What? The Mind-Body Problem

by March 29, 2021

Last week’s discussion on ‘where does Evil come from?’ started off simple enough… or at least I thought so. But before I knew it, we were knee deep into an ancient philosophical issue.
One I had not anticipated wading into… but perhaps with hindsight was impossible to avoid.
I’m talking about the old mind-body problem.
For those wanting a recap, it’s a debate concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness in the human mind, and the brain as part of the physical body.
Now, a few important points to clarify before we begin.
This is separate from understanding how mind and body function chemically and physiologically…because that presupposes interactionist dualism.

René Descartes’ illustration of mind/body dualism. Descartes believed inputs were passed on by the sensory organs to the epiphysis in the brain and from there to the immaterial spirit.

No, this discussion needs to consider the mind and body as distinct, fundamentally different in nature.
While many philosophy lovers may be quick to quip Descartes’ famous lines on the issue, the conversation really goes back thousands of years.

Indeed, we can journey back to the fourth century BC and visit Plato (429–347 B.C.E.) explaining his forms. From within his metaphorical cave, we can see his explanation of the mind-body problem. The mind, or soul, comes from the world of the forms. Meanwhile, the body is empty; it can not access the abstract reality of the world and can only experience shadows. This is determined by Plato’s essentially rationalistic epistemology.
Aristotle (384–322 BC), however, contended that the mind is a faculty of the soul. His view was much simpler… basically, the mind fits into the body as a child’s block slots into the toy.
Aristotle by Francesco

Aristotle by Francesco Hayez. Oil on canvas, 1811

In his — De Anima ( ii 1, 412b6–9), he states:
“It is not necessary to ask whether soul and body are one, just as it is not necessary to ask whether the wax and its shape are one, nor generally whether the matter of each thing and that of which it is the matter are one. For even if one and being are spoken of in several ways, what is properly so spoken of is the actuality.”
Thanks Aristotle for making it so obvious….
This issue on how to connect the body and mind continues into the medieval and renaissance era, with great brains like Thomas Aquinas, René Descartes and Kant throwing their ideas into the pot.
So knowing the prestige of the question at hand, it’s time to doff our seriously philosophical caps, dear reader, and delve into one of the most fundamental concepts of metaphysics and epistemology…
How do the mind and body connect? What controls what? How can we contribute to the continuous conversation regarding the mind-body problem?
As always, you can write to me directly at [email protected] or comment below.

Does Evil Exist?

by March 22, 2021

South Africa’s most famous serial killer hunter – and former Classical Wisdom webinar speaker – Micki Pistorius has spent a lot of time with murderers. Not people who have caused accidental deaths or impassioned manslaughter, but some of the most horrible men -and women- alive. She has been face to face with individuals who have infamously earned monikers such as the “Phoenix strangler”, the “ABC killer”, and the “station strangler”.

Surely these serial killers, accounting for hundreds of innocent deaths, epitomize the very concept of evil itself.
And yet, Micki, South Africa’s former Chief Investigative Psychologist, is fervent in that they are “not monsters; they are human beings with tortured souls. I will never condone what they do, but I can understand them.”

She goes on to explain in her book “Catch me a Killer”, that “Serial killers are not born evil, they develop into killers as a consequence of what happens to them during their childhood years. The tragedy of serial killers lies in the dichotomy that they feel compelled to kill innocent strangers in order to express their own pain and anger. It is an existential manifestation to them.”
And this comes straight from the mouth of one of the world’s foremost psychological profilers! Who among us can pretend even for a second that we would know more about a mass murderer than Micki?

Anya Leonard and
Micki Pistorius discuss relationships and ancient warriors in March’s webinar

It goes to show then, that even at the most extreme tail end of humanity, far, far away from the bell curve’s apex – inside the mind of a serial killer – we are still forced to question if there is actually evidence of evil.
So where does this leave us, dear reader? Does evil exist? And if so, where does it come from? And why is it here?
As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].

Should we glorify Caesar? And those like him?

by March 15, 2021

Beware the Ides of March! Today is always a big day in the world of ancient history lovers, because traditionally it marks the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general, Consul, statesman, and notable author of Latin prose. He was both a conquering hero… and a dictator.
He played an essential role in the history of Ancient Rome, acting out pivotal parts in events that led to the demise of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. He invaded Britain, he changed the calendar, he wrote extensive histories, just name a few of his accolades.
Julius Caesar

Bust of Caesar

He also managed to piss enough people off to get himself seriously stabbed in the back. It’s this latter point that folks seem to forget. Not the fact that he was assassinated (pretty sure no one forgets that), but that he was so unpopular as to warrant assassination in the first place.
In fact, a recent article we posted on Caesar’s potential contemporary parallel seemed to bring out everyone’s ire, no matter where they stood on the political spectrum. It really was only when this point was made by a reader, illustrating how divisive the man really was, that the conversation calmed down.
And so it is to this end I’d like to ask you, dear reader. Today we remember Caesar, but should we praise him?
We have a tendency to romanticize and glorify these bigger than life historical characters, whether they are Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great or Pericles… but we also know that they wouldn’t last a moment in our current culture.

“Alexander and Diogenes” by Caspar de Crayer. Diogenes once asked Alexander the Great to stand out his light.

They accomplished ‘Great’ things, but often at the expense of others… and when I say ‘expense,’ I mean that literally. Even if we don’t try to hold them up to our modern sensibilities, their praiseworthy attributes are still in question. We can’t forget that they were also feared and despised by many in their own time period.
Enough even to get murdered by a best friend!!!
Death of Caesar

Assassination of Caesar by William Holmes Sullivan, c. 1888, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

So this Ides of March, I ask:
Should we glorify Caesar? And those like him?
As always, you can write to me directly at [email protected] or comment below.

Are the Classics Under Attack?

by March 1, 2021

Those who immerse themselves in the ancient world are often faced with a number of ‘-cides’. All offensive and forbidden, you can’t get through a myth or a history book without encountering suicide, homicide, infanticide, matricide, fratricide, regicide… to name a few.
But perhaps, in our modern era of 2021, there may be a new ‘cide’ in town…Could we be facing a case of Homercide?
Calliope Mourning Homer, by Jacques Louis David

Calliope Mourning Homer, by Jacques Louis David

Perhaps it is the result of these so many ‘cides’, as well as their equally unthinkable taboos such as incest, human slavery, and rape, that cause such a kerfuffle. Apparently, these elements of the ancient world aren’t acceptable to read or talk about anymore (though ironically their ubiquitous presence elsewhere is deemed less problematic?)
Or at least, that’s the impression I get. A few recent articles doing the rounds seems to confirm this. The well read article regarding Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta in the New York times seemed to shoot a hypothetical arrow across the bow. Others, such as Andrew Sullivan, responded to the accusations either very well or not at all, depending on the side you are on.
This increasingly political issue was echoed on a series of calls I had just the other day. It seemed like everyone up north I spoke to wanted to speak about the matter, to voice their opinions and ask me my own.

The Acropolis Museum

Now, don’t get me wrong… I have a lot of opinions on this issue. A lot. It would be impossible to not have a few thoughts on the issue and also own a company called “Classical Wisdom”…
What I’m not sure about is the validity of the situation… Is it just something whipped up by the media and spurred on by a few vocal twitterers? Or… is this an existential issue? A piece of history threatened to be removed?
Outside Academia and America both, it’s easy to underestimate the situation… or at least not be privy to the nuisance of our current cultural milieu. Thus, I’m left with many more questions than answers… and hence I’d like to ask your opinion on the matter.

Is that the classics on that shard of pottery?

Are professors being canceled? Are the great books being burned? Or are they being subjected to a 2021 facelift? An upgrade to accommodate our modern values? Or is all this completely blown out of proportion and we can get back to our dusty translations undisturbed?
Essentially, what is actually happening? Are the Classics under attack? And if so, what should we – the classics lovers of the world- do about it?
As always, you can write me directly at [email protected] or comment below.