Category Archives: Dialectics
It’s hard to accept. We don’t live in a risk free world. Not now, not ever.
How risk averse we are, however, differs wildly.
In many places the world over, children pile up on or in the back of bikes, trucks, and taxis with nary a care in the world.
Seatbelts? What are those? Heads sticking out the window? Sure! Just hold on dear while we thread this insane traffic.
At the exact same moment, speeding down the concrete spaghetti bowls found in first world locales, kids are safely ensconced under buckles, straps, and 5 point harness systems.
And then again, many of you reading this will no doubt recall fond memories of flat backed station wagons filled with girl scouts, boy scouts or some such caper, packed in and giggling at tight turns as we all crushed into each other.
Clearly, our risk aversion not only varies from country to country and between generations or epochs, but also throughout our own individual lives.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know exactly what I’m talking about.
How many of us happily waited in line for thrilling, albeit questionable, roller coasters in our youth? Got in cars with speeding drivers? Jumped carefree into lakes or rivers without once thinking what lived in the murky waters? I won’t even wade into the less legal aspects of adolescence.
And then we grow older, more careful, more conservative. We think about our children or hospital bills or simply… consequences.
We change our perspective on risk, but does that mean the risk has increased?
The problem lies in avoiding so much risk that we do not live our lives. This can be compared to Epicurus’ philosophies on death, and how it should not concern us.
Indeed, if we spend all our time focusing on our fear of death that we become anxious, then we aren’t really living our best lives. If we can somehow free ourselves from this universal burden, then we can redirect our attention to pleasure, happiness and virtue… and that’s the end goal, right?
Easier said than done! I hear you cry.
Well, yes, that’s correct. And perhaps it’s naive to say we can forgo risk in the same way we can the thought of death… after all, it is an evolutionary advantage to be able to perceive it, to anticipate it, and therefore to mitigate it.
Which brings us to today’s mailbag discussion.
Obviously right now for so many of you, this very inquiry is coming to the fore. Shops are opening up, services are resuming, and yet the fear of contagion is still there. Living with the presence of COVID’s shadow, we have to ask these difficult questions:
How can we assess risk? How can we navigate the potential threats in order to live a happy life? And knowing the emotion and fear involved, can we be objective?
The anger! The fury! The wrath!
I shouldn’t have let it get to me. After all, the rule in the newsletter biz is that if you don’t get a little bit of hate mail from time to time, you aren’t doing it right.
No ruffled feathers means you are playing it too safe. Ostensibly this means that we have to stick out our necks a little to make sure folks are paying attention. Are we questioning the status quo? Are we making people think? Or are we just pissing them off?
It may be the latter…
The reader mail poured in.
“You lost me by recirculating letters praising Trump as a great leader vs the globalist agenda etc… that’s not history, it’s criminal collusion. Therefore, I must unsubscribe.”
“Is this the real philosophy of this publication? Trump is going to save us from dictatorship? The man who has professed his love and admiration for them over and over?”
“Please. One more look at crap like this, and I’m through with you. I am thoroughly insulted and disgusted.”
Excellent, I thought. Clearly, readers are engaged! Participating! But it did get under my skin a little… I took the bait. I responded.
First, I had to remind them that reader mail has never reflected the views of the publication. The entire point is to show a wide diversity of opinions, including those that will be opposing to some readers (and of course, vice versa).
We don’t believe in censorship nor publishing according to our own biases. Instead, the idea is to encourage thoughtful debate and provoke conversation. It’s also to show that the love of history, philosophy and the classics doesn’t follow partisan politics.
I then proposed the following:
“If you are thoroughly insulted and disgusted, I highly suggest you respond to the reader. Take the content of their ideas (and I request the conversation to steer away from ad hominem attacks which are never fruitful nor valuable), and address the points that you disagree with in a clear and compelling fashion.”
Only one responded.
It’s clear hearing opinions that you don’t share, or even like, causes one pain and frustration. I get that. I don’t love it either…
In fact, one of the readers asked the very question: What good is it to read these opinions? Can we find truth in disagreement?
This is an excellent question – and one I promised I’d bring to the crowd – but I also think it is part of an even larger debate…that of controversy itself.
Ancient history is replete with examples. Socrates, no doubt, being the first to come to mind. Of course, we love that he asked difficult questions and forced a new level of philosophical inquiry… but let’s be honest, he also went out of his way to piss people off. A LOT. He clearly took his job as Athen’s gadfly very seriously.
Other philosophers did the same. Our recent article on Xenophanes, for instance, illustrates man with ‘irreverent’ thoughts, who even went so far as to diss Homer and Hesiod! The nerve!
And there is always the crazy, controversial, but hugely influential Pythagoras, who was run out of town, wore trousers like a Persian, and made his cult followers abstain from Beans, among other things..
They all claimed to be seeking the truth – and perhaps they were (that’s not the point at this moment) – but either way, they certainly made sure to annoy everyone in the process.
This brings us to this week’s mailbag question:
Do we need controversy??? Does it have any value? Does it depend on the content of the ideas… or can the process, in and of itself, be constructive?
As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].
“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” as Mark Twain is reputed to have said. This nifty aphorism neatly explains why there’s often a compelling urge to compare whatever we are going through with ancient examples…. For better or for worse.
Wait a minute, I hear you cry… isn’t this Classical Wisdom? Your whole schtick is to illustrate just how relevant the ancient world is, how much it can teach us about our today.
Well, yes, you are right, dear reader. But that doesn’t mean that at times making historical comparisons, attempting to overlay past actions on current events, is not only not helpful, but possibly even harmful.
This was something I discussed with Professor Barry Strauss on the end of the Roman empire and its parallels to the United States. It also came up in my interview with novelist Stephen Dando-Collins, who is regularly asked if Trump is the new Caligula. Johanna Hanink, Brown University Classics Professor, also referenced this issue with regards to the Thucydides’ trap in yet another of our podcasts…
***The podcasts with Stephen Dando-Collins and Johanna Hanink are available to all Classical Wisdom Members. If you would like to become a member to enjoy our Podcasts with Professors, as well as many more exciting Classical Wisdom resources, check out our membership options in our Shop.***
It’s a hard thing for a history lover to ask… but that probably means that it’s even more necessary:
Can we make comparisons from History? How relevant/helpful are ancient analogies?
As always, you can write to me directly at [email protected] or comment below. Please make the subject line HISTORY so I can catch it in my overzealous spam filter.
It looked like we were on a popular game show… but then again, it was a surprise birthday pub quiz zoom party… so I guess we sort of were?
After your editor won for all intents and purposes (my only real rival wrote one round of questions), the conversation, like all others happening the globe over, turned to Covid.
Our Brady Bunch set up allowed us a personal view into living rooms across the British Isles and Italy. One couple relayed their new norms from Tuscany, another from central London, while a few others were reporting from Scotland and Ireland…
A solid THIRD of the boxes revealed that they either already had had the big C or currently were suffering from it…and no, I’m not talking about cancer. None of them had been tested properly, of course, but that’s the same story all around the world.
I was shocked. I mean, I read the various papers, I see the numbers like everyone else… but it’s also so hard to know what’s happening unless you are literally staring at them in a zoom pub quiz.
How many people have it? What are they really dying of? Is it dangerous for children? Should we stay in or go out? As the weeks go on, the information – and therefore the conclusions – somehow is getting more diverse and less consistent.
In Norway they are going back to school today, in Australia they never stopped, and here in Argentina they can’t return until… September.
Doctors report of blood clotting and the silent killer of pneumonia… others will say wearing masks hurts our natural immunity – that healthy people should be out… One paper says we need everyone to get together and download a tractable app… another says we should open up the stores… still more shout to stay inside.
At what point do our heads just… explode?
Now, I’m not against changing one’s opinion, especially as we have more knowledge. In the words of Aristotle, “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” But that still relies on being able to trust the information in the first place.
Okay, you may say, let’s just look at who is saying it to prove its validity. However, that doesn’t necessarily work either; just because a source is not reliable, doesn’t necessarily make it untrue. After all, a broken clock can still tell the time twice a day.
The problem, as I see it, is that we have more news written by the likes of Herodotus than Thucydides. With everyone having skin in the game, and reporting from Twitter and other hearsay social media channels, how are we to know what is right? What information isn’t being posted online without the heavy filters of politics? Or the constant pressure of Clickbait headlines and the drive for increased numbers?
Where are our exiled historians telling it from the outside in? (Perhaps your self-exiled editor excluded…)
Somewhere, somehow, the truth exists independent of elections, authoritarianism and hero worship… but how do we find it?
In a nutshell, how do we know what is true? And further, is unbiased news even possible?
I know, I know… I’ve asked a lot of questions today, dear reader. Please feel free to write your thoughts and musings below or emailing me directly at [email protected]
We’ll also be taking responses for our newly launched free podcast: Classical Wisdom Speaks
Yup, if you haven’t checked it out already (and you may even be referenced in our first episode!), please have a listen on any of these popular platforms:
We are very happy to announce that after many months, we have finally launched our new FREE Podcast: Classical Wisdom Speaks!
Dedicated to bringing ancient wisdom to modern minds, Classical Wisdom Speaks covers our ‘Monday Mailbag’ topics, including reader responses, as well as interviews with professors, authors, and philosophers.
The first three episodes are up! Including:
- A conversation between Founder Anya Leonard and Senior Editor, Alex Barrientos, on the topic of “Should we Kill a tyrant? The morality of Brutus”
- James S. Romm, Bard College Professor and author of Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero, and
- Barry Strauss, Classics Professor at Cornell University and author of Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine.
You can also find Classical Wisdom Speaks on all your favorite platforms, including:
I would love to start this story by relaying a conversation that occurred over lunch or dinner at some local cafe or parrilla. I wish I could say the discussion began after clinking a nice Malbec among friends… and finished with a stroll in the park, taking the newly autumn air.
But obviously I can’t…
Instead, I have to admit that, just like everyone else reading these humble pages, the dialogue was done digitally, rather than the now so seemingly distant analog way.
Our friend was explaining his sense of grief over Facetime. With tears welling up and not the opportunity to give a comforting hug, I listened carefully as he described his feelings. Of course, I understood. This roller coaster experience has many dips…
There is, for many of us, a huge sense of loss. It may be the loss of a loved one, or a loved one’s touch. It may be the loss of income or employment and financial security. It may also simply be the loss of normalcy, and all the comfort that entails.
So, too, with loss there are many forms of grief. From the terrifying present to the anticipatory feelings of anxiety and worry, we collectively must figure a way to both understand these emotions as well as navigate them so as to not be overwhelmed by them.
And so, to this end, I ask you dear reader for wisdom.
Whether it be from the words and thoughts of the ancients, or practical techniques for these troubling times, what advice would you give? What philosophies should we have in our toolbox for dealing with the loss? What histories should we relate to give perspective?
In a nutshell, how should we handle this grief?
As always, you can email me directly at [email protected] or comment below…