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Constitutional Happiness and the Cinema Industry During the 1930s

A bizarre event happened in North Carolina in 1932: namely,  a group of unemployed people invaded a cinema hall  pretending to watch the movie without paying  any entrance fee.  This episode shows how it was very difficult for many Americans who were affected both by the world recession and economic crisis to renounce in what they considered their major pastime.  For many unemployed people the cinema was the only way they knew to spend their spare time, and movie-theater chains were spreading throughout the United States during this period. Carlisle   assumed that the real reason why 100 million Americans went to movies in the early years of the Great Depression was to escape from their present conditions, plunging them completely   into the world of imagination (1).

But, strange to say,   one of the most respected and unwritten rules of the popular cinema were brought into question in the American cinema of the early 1930s : namely, the topical happy ending.   Gold Diggers of 1933 was one of the first Hollywood musicals in which the famous choreographer Busby Berkeley played a major role, and we are surprised by the ending. By breaking radically with the traditional happy ending, this movie left viewers with a bitter note.

But, what a movie like Gold Diggers of 1933  had to do with the Great Depression?

The film begins with a beautiful ballet, emphasizing prosperity and money (Ginger Rogers sang We’re in the Money), interrupted by a police officer arrived to confiscate everything. At this point Barney Hopkins [the producer] has an idea. Indeed, he will not enact the prosperity and money, but the economic misery. But Immediately after having declared this intent, the trajectory of the film seems to forget it, and rather than represent the queues of jobless, it tells a funny Comedy of Errors,  or a Viennese operetta.  The film ends with a triple wedding between   three couples, but the focal points of it are given by two ballets devised by Berkeley’s volcanic mind.  The first and last ballet had a strong relationship with the economic depression gripping America. In her first dance performance Ginger Rogers, leading a chorus of showgirls dressed in costumes of glittering coins, sang  We’re in the money;  but the  idyllic scene ends abruptly when a police officer takes away everything .

In the famous ballet of the Forgotten man the dancers wear costumes that clearly indicate that they are beggars, singing against the difficulties of the Great Depression, with an emphasis on the failure of promises made to the soldiers who fought in World War I.  The film closes with this visual metaphor which tries to represent how the Great Depression has reduced to beggary the American people.  “Still, the Forgotten man sequence provides one of the central examples of the occasional attempts by  Hollywood (especially in the Warner Brothers ‘social problems’  films) in the 1930s to comment on problems associated with the Depression, in carefully packaged way and without suggesting radical solutions, ” M. Keith Booker stated (2).

In fact, the film does not suggest radical solutions,  but only particular politic solutions,  in perfect agreement with President  Roosevelt’s policy :

“It was no secret that the liberal Warner Brothers were enthusiastic supporters of President-elect F. Roosevelt, ” Jeffrey Spivak said (3).   And the Forgotten man sequence echoed Roosevelt’s  words:

“These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon […] the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”  (Roosevelt’ speech,  1932).

On the other hand,  Berkeley showed  evident  sympathy  for  the New Deal, stating  that  “I wanted to make people happy, if only for an hour.” (4)   So, while most Hollywood film producers were politically conservative and fiercely hostile to the New Deal,   Warner  Brothers  studios were ordered by Harry Warner to support  Roosevelt. For,  an optimistic approach to the Great Depression  appeared  in  Gold Diggers of 1933, which was placed on the market in June of 1933, and

“Its release thus [coincided] with the height of expectation leading up to the first legislation  of the new Congress, and both the anxieties and expectations of this period are refracted in it, ” Babington stated (5).

So Berkeley became a staunch supporter of Roosevelt’s policies, and  dance, choreography and pro-Government policy were  the ingredients that have marked his life and work. Buzz Berkeley attracted the attention  not only of professional choreographers,  but also of  cultural sociologists. Elisabeth Bronfen just  said that “One  of  the  most  frivolous  enactments  of  money  Hollywood  ever  had  to  offer can be found in Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1933 […] where the showgirls perform a surplus of money, which gestures towards the pursuit of happiness  the  constitution  declares  to  be  the  right  of  every  American.” (6).

 

Notes

1)      Carlisle R.P.,  The Great Depression and World War II, New York, Infobase Publishing, 2009, pp. 27-28.

2)      Booker  M.K., The Post-utopian Imagination: American Culture in the Long 1950s, London,  Greenwood Press, p. 27.

3)      Spivak J. 2011. Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley,  The University Press of Kentucky, 2011, p. 72.

4)      Ivi, p. VII.

5)      Babington B. & Evans P.W.,  Blue Skies and Silver Linings: Aspects of the Hollywood Musical,  Manchester. Manchester University Press, 1985, p. 48.

6)      Bronfen E. “The Violence of Money”, in  Comunicação & Cultura, 2008,  n. 6, p. 53.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Solon’s Smart Strategy: an Erudite Sage in Ancient Athens

The ancient sources about Solon are handed down to us both by Herodotus and Plutarch, but also by some fragments of the same Solon. Another source equally important was Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians. The great philosopher, despite having lived a couple of centuries later than Solon, gave us important information regarding the Athenian State. As we know from the sources mentioned above, Solon was of noble birth, and apparently, according to the legend, his father’s side derived his lineage from King Codrus.

Solon was a man of extreme erudition, but he not despised the public life, and he chose to give himself the trouble of saving Athens from a political decay that, according to his own poems, would be derived from injustice and oppression perpetrated at the instance of aristocrats on the rural populations of the city and its territory, and that had reduced a large part of peasants to slavery. In Solon’s opinion, the Athenian aristocracy was dragging the city to ruin, fomenting civil wars.

Aristotle all in all confirmed Solon’s statements, underlining the fact that Athens had ended up in the hands of a few aristocrats, while the peasants were sold into slavery along with their wives and children if they could not pay rent, and Solon “was the first to appear as a leader of the people”:

“After this event there was contention for a long time between the upper classes and the populace. Not only was the constitution at this time oligarchical in every respect, but the poorer classes, men, women, and children, were the serfs of the rich. They were known as Pelatae  and also as Hectemori,  because they cultivated the lands of the rich at the rent of a sixth part of the produce. The whole country was in the hands of a few persons, and if the tenants failed to pay their rent they were liable to be haled into slavery, and their children with them. All loans were secured upon the debtor’s person,  a custom which prevailed until the time of Solon, who was the first to appear as a leader of the people.” (1).

Since it is unthinkable that Solon wanted to implement a slightest revolution from below to unseat the aristocracy, he based his Athenian reform agenda on the only possible criterion known in the ancient world, i.e. focusing it on the concept of justice, and being able to impose a total reform project, so avoiding potential civil war between the classes that would have annihilated Athens:

“To the common people I have given such a measure of privilege as sufficed them, neither robbing them of the rights they had, nor holding out the hope of greater ones ; and I have taken equal thought for those who were possessed of power and who were looked up to on account of their wealth, careful that they too should suffer no indignity. I have taken a stand which enables me to hold a stout shield over both groups, and 1 have allowed neither to triumph unjustly over the other.”  (2).

Around the 594 BC, the Areopagus had  therefore the illumination of  granting  to  Solon full powers for one year. The choice of the aristocracy was both very intelligent and prudent, in the sense that the civil war was imminent because of rural population was near economic collapse. Solon showed extreme intelligence, tackling the big problem of the peasants who have become slaves for debts, and arranging their immediate freedom, also providing substantial support from the Treasury of the State. He also added that the debts imposed on free peasants had to be annulled.

Obviously, the great landowners lost a lot of money, but at least the Athenian  State of aristocratic origin  was saved. In short, the so-called seisàchtheia, or shaking off the weights (from séiō (shake), and  áchthos  (weight) was a brilliant idea of Solon. The subsequent division into classes (Knights, Zeugitae, Pentacosiomedimni and Thetis) was also of exceptional importance, but, as we said, what that literally saved Athenian economy from total collapse was the abolition of debts, which did not solve all the problems of Athens, but at least halted the breakup of the city-state due to inevitable civil wars that would had been erupted inevitably because of deep and widespread   social discontent in Athenian society.

Solon was also included among the Seven Sages of the Ancient World:

“Like most of the sages of those times,  he cultivated chiefly that part of philosophy which treats of civil obligations. His physics were of a very simple and ancient cast, as appears from the following lines:

 

From cloudy vapours falls the treasured snow,

And the fierce hail: from lightning’s rapid

blaze

Springs the loud thunder, winds disturb the

deep

Than whose unruffled breast, no smoother

scene

In all the works of nature

Upon the whole, Thales seems to have been the only philosopher who then carried his speculations beyond things in common use while, the rest of the wise men maintained their character by rules for social life.” (3).

Solon finally had handed down to us a moral sentence that he cared very much, because it kept him out of scrapes when he ruled Athens:

‘‘ Obey the magistrates whether their commands be just or unjust.”

Solon was a man truly wise, and also very smart.

 

Notes

1)      Aristotle on the Athenian Constitution, Translated with Introduction and notes by F.G. Kenyon, London, G. Bells & Sons, 1912, p. 2.

2)      This fragment of Solon was translated by Ivan M. Linforth, Solon the Athenian, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1919, p.73.

3)      Plutarch’s Lives of Illustrious Men : Translated from the Original Greek by J. Langhorne & W. Langhorne, London, 1853, Vol. I,  p. 92-93.

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From the Bone of the Ape to the Technological Man

From Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey we can infer significant and interesting inferences about the world we live in. In Kubrick’s film some apes appear, intended to be read allegorically as our ancestors. But I don’t want to go into vague and useless Darwinian dissertations, but only give a speech of a more general nature.  Returning to the apes,  a mysterious bone appears at some point, whereby one of these apes has a sudden brainwave: namely, the idea of using the bone as a tool  both for hunting, and as a weapon technologically advanced against  other tribes of primitive apes, subjugating them to him thanks to the new technology.

And finally we have evoked the magic word: technology, which helps us to demonstrate how,  as well as symbolically,  the bone of the ape can be foreshadowed as a tool  aimed to impose a certain way of thinking the world, and to perform an ideology which might be a source of immense utility to someone.  It is said somewhere that the ideologies  would now definitely worn off, but, from my point of view (and not only), things could be very different. For example, in Herbert Marcuse’s opinion, we are very far from  the end of ideology. Indeed, advanced industrial societies are  more ideological than in the past, Herbert Marcuse said.

Herbert Marcuse, at least apparently, has nothing to do with Stanley Kubrick and his apes; but that mysterious bone identified by the ape smarter than others, who knew how to exploit the bone for his own ends could be assimilated to the Marcuse’s thought about the man  having only one dimension. Symbolically,  the bone is equal to the dominant thinking promoted by powerful “makers of politics” to subjugate the others. By using incessant advertising campaign, they force people to believe both in their ideology and hypnotic definitions.

So, for example, under hypnosis, the masses  would have been brought to believe those and only those ideas proposed by certain institutions working in the countries of the so-called Free World; while every other form of freedom is equivalent to anarchy or communism or  propaganda, creating a world in which “nature, mind and body are kept in a state of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe.”

“In a state of permanent mobilization!” And what does this mean?

The conceptual tangle is explained by the same Professor Marcuse, who assures us that our minds and bodies are kept in a state of permanent mobilization simply “for the defense of this same universe.” Read: this particular universe of ideas. The bone of the apes was surely a primitive tool of domination, but it operates as a brilliant and modern technological device.

In fact, the bone handed down us by the ape of Stanley Kubrick corresponds symbolically to the  contemporary suasive techniques virtually immune to all kind of counter-attack.  But, I say, there is always time and an intergalactic space, like that proposed to us many years ago by Stanley Kubrick, before we should have dared to toe the mark.

Note

Herbert Marcuse,  One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. With a New Introduction by Douglas Kellner, Boston, Beacon Press, 1991, p. 11, 14, 18.

 

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Speculators in Ancient Rome and Deceitful appearances

The Roman Emperor Diocletian issued  the edict known as Diocletian’s Price Edict  (Edictum de Pretiis) in 301 AD to keep prices down, and asserting that they were strongly affected by speculative pressures.

No ancient, modern, medieval and contemporary economist believed him.

The reason why no one believe a word of what he said  was grounded  in the fact that, according to many of them,  it was impossible that price increase was due to speculation, because at that time field crops were plentiful, and  the market abounded with all products. For these reasons, the Emperor Diocletian was considered to be a liar.

By from all accounts, the obvious reason of the price increase was due to the depreciation of the currency, which was begun under Emperor Nero, and persisted for a long time under Septimius Severus and Caracalla. The denarius argenteus (silver coin), which before the time of Nero had contained 980 thousandths fine, it contained barely only half of pure silver under Emperor Caracalla, while the percentage of lead increased at about  9%.

All These facts accelerated the depreciation of the denarius argenteus and the rise in prices, in part because of this phenomenon was accompanied by counterfeit coins produced by private individuals in many Provinces of the Roman Empire such as France, England, and Austria. However, we have irrefutable evidence that counterfeit coins were minted in some factories found in the Roman Provinces mentioned above by several Provincial Governors to provide funds for challenging military expeditions.

 

Therefore, according to all economists, the most important cause of rising prices was the depreciation of the denarius argenteus. But Emperor Diocletian insisted that speculators were the real cause, because, despite the abundance of products (copia rerum),  severe famine occurred in the Roman Empire.

Repeated Diocletian’s observations convinced several economists that maybe there was some truth in his words, because it is difficult, if not impossible, that he invented so implausible excuses, losing both prestige and credibility among the Roman citizens. So starting from the irrefutable fact that Diocletian around 290 AD also coined a new denarius argenteus, going back to the time of Nero, Professor G. Arias reconsidered the words of Diocletian on a new basis.

Diocletian’s assertion seemed completely unfounded, but G. Arias considered the fact that the demand for different products continually increased under Diocletian, due to impressive troop movements over large areas of the vast Roman Empire. It is at this point that speculation began to manifest itself in the Roman Empire. Hoarding goods, many bulk buyers sold them to the Roman army in a monopoly system. Therefore, the Emperor Diocletian cannot be blamed if speculators were continuously accused by him of being the primary cause of inflation, trying to curb it with the famous edict of 301 AD.

Despite the edict, Diocletian’s attempt to freeze prices and speculation failed.  It is because speculative interests and pressures were very strong in Roman society, which, according to Diocletian, was driven by the immoderate desire of wealth and profit (effrenata libido).  Times change, and the Roman Empire existed two millennia ago, but unhealthy speculation is still very much alive in our contemporary world, because of the “insatiability of the human wants, ” Regenia Gagnier wrote.

 

Sources:

  1. Arias, “Principi di economia commerciale (L’Editto di Diocleziano)”, in Economia e Storia, ottobre-dicembre 1975, 4, pp. 621-625. In Latin: Edictum Diocletiani et Collegarum de pretiis rerum venalium.

Regenia Gagnier, “Is Market Society the ‘Fin’ of History?”, in  The Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society, Chicago & London, The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

 

 

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A Humorous Womanizer of the 18th Century: Laurence Sterne

Sterne  owed  his fame to an original work titled The Life and Opinions of Tristam  Shandy, Gentleman which  was published around  1760. The story  is composed of a series of episodes with many  digressions and cunning comments written both  in a very personal style and  syntax distortions. Sterne’s work   knew  a great  success for its good and stylistic eccentricities, which satirized  the classic sensibility of his time, and beyond, because also  Romantic literary criticism did negative judgments on Sterne’s  work.

But we can admit that The Life and Opinions of Tristam  Shandy, Gentleman   was followed by several writers both in France and in  Italy. Sterne died in London after he had attempt  to recover his health in sunnier countries. Sterne satirized the  prejudices, shaping the characteristic mentality of the middles classes. Laurence Stern was born in Ireland, the son of an army officer.  Graduated at Cambridge, he  took orders,  becoming Vicar of Sutton-in-the-Forest, Yorkshire,  about the end of the 18th century. Then  he married Elizabeth Lumley , but he wrecked  his marriage because of he was a remarkable womanizer, despite his orders .

The Life and Opinions of Tristam  Shandy, Gentleman  is seasoned with a sly humor,  and with a good deal of sentimental sensibility, and  it contains  some fun sketches of manners and characters. While  Tristam Shandy soon disappears,  the other characters form a group of humorous figures  such as  Walter Shandy, Tristam’s father; Uncle Toby,  whose hobby  was  the science of besieging fortresses; Corporal Trim, and the careless Parson Yorick. Uncle Toby is certainly one of the most humorous characters made by Stern. He was scarcely convinced that men would overcome life’s difficulties with their solely forces; on the contrary, he believed that human troubles are defeated thanks to “the assistance of the best of Beings.”

“When I reflect, brother Toby,  upon Man;  and take a view that dark side of him which represents his life as open to so causes of trouble; – when I consider,  brother Toby,  how we eat the bread of affliction,  and that we are born to it, as the portion of our inheritance, – I was born to nothing,  quoth uncle Toby interrupting my father, – but my commission Zooks! said my father,  did not my uncle leave you a hundred and twenty pounds a year? – What could I have done without it? replied my uncle Toby. –  That’s another concern, said my father testily,  but I say, Toby,  when one runs over the catalogue of all the cross reckonings and sorrowful  ‘items’  with which the heart of man is overcharged;  it is wonderful by what hidden resources the mind is enabled to stand it out, and bear itself up as it does against the impositions laid upon our nature. It is by the assistance of Almighty God,  cried my uncle Toby,  looking up,  and pressing the palms of his hands close together;  it is not from our own strength,  brother Shandy; – a sentinel in a wooden sentry-box might as well pretend to stand it out against a detachment of fifty men. We are upheld by the grace and the assistance of the best of Beings.” (1).

“Shut the door!”

is the poetic expression related to a long speech on the Homunculus,  a matter of hot  debate in psychology that continues even today. In short, the homunculus would be a little man ( Latin homunculus) inside the human brain and devoted to the self-identity concept.  Listen to what Sterne was saying:

“Let me tell you. Sir, it was a very unseasonable question at least, — because it scattered and dispersed the animal spirits, whose business it was to have escorted and gone hand in hand with the Homunculus, and conducted him safe to the place destined fat his reception.”

“The Homunculus, Sir, in however low and ludicrous  light he may appear, in this age of levity, to the eye of folly or prejudice; — to the eye of reason in scientific research, he stands confess’d — ; a Being guarded and circumscribed with rights. The minutest philosophers, who, by the bye, have the most enlarged understandings, (their souls being inversely as their enquiries) shew us incontestably, that the Homunculus is created by the same hand, — engender’d in the same course of nature, — endow’d with the same loco-motive powers and faculties with us : — That he consists as we do, of skin, hair, fat, flesh, veins, arteries, nerves, cartilages, bones, marrow, brains, glands, genitals,  humours, and articulations; is a Being of as much activity, — and, in all sense of the word, as much and as truly our fellow-creature, as my Lord Chancellor of England.”

“— He may be benefited, — he may be injured, — he may obtain redress ; — in a word,  has all the claims and rights of humanity, which Tully, Puffendorf, or the best ethic writers allow to arise out of that state and relation. Now, dear Sir, what if any accident had befallen his way alone! — or that, through terror of it, natural to so young a traveller, my little Gentleman had got to his journey’s end miserably  spent  — his muscular  strength and virility worn down to a thread ; — animal spirits ruffled beyond description, — and this sad disordered state of nerves, he had lain prey to sudden starts, or a series of melancholy dreams and fancies, for nine long, long months together. — I tremble to think what a foundation had been laid for a thousand weaknesses both of body chapter; for I declare before-hand, ’tis wrote only for the curious and inquisitive.”

—Shut the door.— (2).

A very noble being, with lofty thoughts and distinguished and refined manners. Sterne was a genius and a real Gentleman.

 

Notes

1)      The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman,  by the Rev. Laurence Sterne, Leipzig, 1849,  p. 213.

2)      The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman,  Edited by George Saintbury, London, B.M. Dent & Co., 1894, vol. I, pp. 6-10.

 

 

 

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The Wisdom of Publilius Syrus, a Slave by Manifold Names

According to an erroneous belief, Publilius Syrus (1st century BC), in ancient times was called also Publius. Publilius’ real name was finally established by Woelfflin:

“Until the beginning of the sixteenth century the Sentences  were attributed to the philosopher Seneca, from whose credit to that of Publilius they were transferred by Desiderius Erasmus. It was, moreover, only quite recently at the hands of Sillig the editor of Pliny, that the name of Publilius was substituted for the monstrosum nomen [monstrous name] (so E. Woelfflin calls it) of Publius, although the latter form was preserved in manuscripts of Cicero, the Senecas, Gellius, Macrobius and Jerome. Woelfflin, supported by Ritschl, definitely established the name Publilius, which has been accepted by such authorities as Baehr and Teuffel.” (Bickford Smith).

Besides, Publilius was also surnamed Syrus because he was a native of Antioch, Syria. Indeed,  his full name had a rough path. As Bickford Smith  wrote, Publilius was named also Lochium, because Pliny the Elder in his Natural History would call him  Publilius Lochium, so that, “Both O. Jahn and Woelfflin have conjectured that the name should be Antiochium, which seems not unlikely, as we find his cousin called Antiochus. Woelfflin points out a similar error in the Medicean manuscripts of Tacitus (13. 7) where Lochium is found for Antiochum. This of course agrees very well with the cognomen of Syrus, which is usually given him, probably out of Macrobius.”

Publilius Syrus was a libertus (=freedman), and  one of the most famous mimes in  the age of Caesar. He was a slave, but his ability as a mime  gained  him manumission, and he became so popular that under Julius Caesar he was called to Rome where there were public games (“per Caesaris ludos” [games]) [ Macrobius’ Saturnalia, 2, 7, 7-8). The ancient writers did not say in what year Publilius Syrus died, but the famous Latin writer Petronius Arbiter said that Publilius made his career under the Emperor Nero, and  that he died at  a good old age.

Publilius Syrus was the most successful writer of mimes. The mime was of Greek origin,  providing both a very strong form of realism, and using a trivial and scurrilous language. Despite Publilius Syrus had been both the leading mime-writer and actor in Rome, almost nothing of his writings remains, except four doubtful  fragments. On the contrary, there are about 700 proverbs or Sententiae still very well-known.

Publilius Syrus, despite the messy business of his name,  owned a fair amount of  wisdom; and, for example,  for those familiar with the business, he wrote a collection of  moral sentences worthy of mention:

Avarus animus nullo satiatur lucro (No amount of gain satisfies Avarice); or  Effugere cupiditatem, regnum est vincere (Avoid cupidity, and you conquer a kingdom). Bona, imperante animo, siet pecunia, (Money is worth something when good sense disburses it).

Other well-known sentences related to money are :

“A small loan makes a debtor, a great one, an enemy.”

“Bitter for a free man is the bondage of debt.”

“When reason rules, money is a blessing.”

“Money does not sate Avarice, but stimulates it.”

“The guilty man deserves to lose the money with which he would bribe the judge.”

“The gain acquired at the expense of reputation, should be counted a loss.”

“When utility is our aim, a little delay is advisable.”

Not too bed for a man who was not only under slavery, but who suffered also a millenary identity crisis.

 

Notes

 

The Sentences were translated by D. Lyman, Publilius Syrus, a Roman Slave, Cleveland, O., L.E. Bernard & Company, 1856, pp. 3, 14, 16, 17-18, 25,  27.

Publilii Syri Sententiae, Edited by R.A.H Bickford Smith, M.A., London, C.J. Clay & Sons,  Cambridge University Press, 1895, Introduction, p. I.

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Human Behavior, Konrad Lorenz and Subliminal Advertising

Many years ago a very interesting scientific discussion raised, which saw protagonists Konrad Lorenz,  Skinner, Fromm, and  Wolfgang Wieser. The matter was human and animal behavior. According to Lorenz, inheritance constitutes the unchanging basis of human behavior. For Lorenz it is strictly linked to the hereditary gene pool of the species, and it unleashes a sequence of reactions when specific circumstances arise.

According to Lorenz, all human behaviors are governed by the sole connection of cause and effect. But as we will see, Lorenz never neglected the responsibility of the contemporary society.  On the contrary, for Skinner and others, both human and animal behavior is connected to the interaction of different elements, such as education and society. In this dual context, Wolfgang Wiser proposed a new model about human and animal behavior that, in his opinion, is not governed solely by instincts but also by programs.  In this sense, it would be really interesting to know what programs are running when some aberrant behaviors occur, such as aggression and violence, strongly “encouraged” in all contemporary societies. But, as far as I know, the Cybernetics applied both to biology and behavior is a methodology that is still awaited.

In the absence of straight answers, it seems that there is nothing else we can do but rely on good luck, because, in Lorenz’s opinion, the behavior of contemporary men, especially of young generations seems literally unmodifiable. They have broken away from tradition, saying: “What is for? It is useless.” Hedonism is their creed, and money the sole object of desire, because money opens doors, and makes the world go round. In essence, it seems that the same morality is what we like.

But hedonism, the son of skepticism, can result a dangerous philosophy when applied to organized societies. I can’t make history of skepticism, but coming to the heart of the skeptical philosophy, it basically states that we do not know absolutely nothing about the true nature of things, and therefore we can’t say anything of positive or negative about them.  All vanishes into the world of opinions: what we look is real, and it must be true, and vice versa.

Therefore, “If nothing is true, everything is possible.” But what would happen if we apply this principle to the education of young people? It could mean that “every behavior is possible.” The consequence is that young people behave like the ancient skeptics, so they do what they like. The social consequences are just as serious, because Western societies are becoming increasingly chaotic, where, as the ancient skeptics, everyone tends to do as they please. Lorenz, in his “Studies in Animal and Human Behavior”, asked himself what does more damage to the mind of the modern man: his greed or excessive haste. He stated that no psychological analysis of these reasons was made, but, in his view, it is highly likely that, apart from greed and desire for higher social rank, fear plays an essential role — fear of being overtaken in the race, fear of poverty, fear of making wrong decisions. Anxiety undermines modern man’s health, causing hypertension, renal atrophy, heart attack and other diseases, Lorenz concluded.

Lorenz took a dim of advertising for its “harmful effects” on the people.   “Consumers are stupid, ” he said, and “nobody rebels against the fact that with every tube of toothpaste, with every razor blade, he is forced to buy a package that serves only the ends of advertisement.” I can’t blame him, but, all thing considered, advertising would be the key to solving the problem of convincing people to change behavior for the better. This idea might look like a quibble, but, failing anything better, it may be the last resort for changing human behavior. So we should throve ourselves on persuasive communication that is typical of advertising discourse, with arguments whose objective is to produce a specific kind of behavior in human beings. Persuasive communication speaks about their irrational beliefs, unconscious desires, feelings, and emotions. Subliminal advertising seems to be the last chance for changing human behavior.

Persuasive communication and subliminal advertising offer to us a “scientific approach” that perhaps would be effective. Marshall McLuhan, who coined the famous term “Global Village,” studied how the media affect men, exercising often unconscious conditioning to the level both of their mind and actions. But we should not get carried away with excessive enthusiasm for advertising, because we need to find money to achieve this heroic undertaking.

What’s going to come out of this mess?

The devil has had a hand in this, and so we are probably doomed to living in this Global Village all our lives. We’ll need a thousand years at least to change things.

Notes

Wolfang Wieser, Konrad Lorenz e I suoi critici, Roma, Armando, 1977. (Original Title: Konrad Lorenz und seine Kritiker, Piper &Co., Verlag, Munchen, 1976).

Konrad Lorenz, Civilized Man’s Eight Deadly Sins, R. Piper & Co. Verlag, 1973, p. 27 and p. 30.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Human Mysteries and Behavior Therapy in Ancient Greece

One day someone asked Chilon of Sparta which were the hardest things of life. He replied without any hesitation:

“The possibility of keeping a secret.”

Yet there were those who knew how to keep secrets, such as the followers of particular religious rites that were well-known as the Eleusinian mysteries. The word mystery derives from the Greek verb miein, meaning

“Keep your mouth hermetically sealed.”

In fact, those who took part in the Mysteries were forbidden to reveal what they had seen and heard. The most famous of all mystery rites were celebrated in honor of the goddess Demeter and of the God Dionysus, also known as  Iaccus or Jacco (Bacchus) at Eleusis, a small town of Attica, near Athens. The celebration of the Mysteries took place from mid-September to the beginning of October. A large crowd of 25 or 30 thousand people flocked there. The gathering of the faithful took place in Athens, because already some days before the statue of Jacco had been brought from Eleusis.  Those who had committed some crime were not allowed to participate in the ceremony, if they didn’t want to incur the wrath of the god Jacco.

The next day, the crowd of faithful walked on the beach to cleanse themselves in the sea water. After bathing, during the next two days the crowd recited prayers together, making obeisance to Iacchus and other acts of devotion.  The morning of the third day, they went to Eleusis to accompany the statue of Iacchus. During the pilgrimage, everyone must walk, pausing at roadside shrines and chapels, so toward evening they came to Eleusis. When they stopped, they lit fires, dancing all around them, still singing hymns; then they rest in preparation for the ceremonies of the next day.  They were just the secret ceremonies of the Mysteries that were held during three consecutive nights in the temple of Demeter. Only initiates would be allowed to attend the secret rites, because initiation was reserved for those who had been engaged in acts of purification and those who were worthy (M. Griffith).

The Mysteries began with the celebration of religious services, during which some paintings representing the life of the Hades were visible to the spectators. The paintings showed the places where the good guys enjoyed their bliss and other places where the bad guys had their penises. After these performances, speeches were made by some priests to invite the faithful to think honestly, to practice all the virtues, to love and to help their fellow men, suggesting the most important criteria for honoring the gods.

The problem is that what we know about the Eleusinian Mysteries is based on external appearance, because, really, the prohibition of divulging the secrets of the Mysteries was always scrupulously respected by all the initiates. We only know a “mysterious formula” with which it is believed that the rites were concluded. It has been handed down to us by Hesychios, and it says:

Pax, konks, epifònema tois tetelesménois.” George Emmanuel Mylonas did an act of charity, writing that

“The meaning of the first two words is uncertain.”  But “it is suggested that they mean enough finished.”  No one has ever understood anything, so the Eleusinian mysteries remain a mystery. Chilon of Sparta would have been very pleased with this. On the other hand, a mystery that is not a mystery is a contradiction in terms.

Notes

George Emmanuel Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1961 [Paperback Edition 1969], p. 279.

Mark Griffith, Aristophanes Frogs, in particular the Chapter titled, Initiation and the Eleusinian Mysteries, New York, Oxford University Press, 2013.

 

 

 

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The “Triangular Relations” among China, Russia and United States

Superpowers in Comparison to Themselves

 

The United States have no absolute control over the international scenario, as had happened after the World War II until the demise of the Soviet Union. It is also true that, as has been rightly pointed out by Zygmunt Bauman, we now live in a liquid modern world  where today’s superpowers are more streamlined than in the past by the raise of new powers  like China, India,  Brazil & others (1). Now everything is boiling, or does not seem to have secure horizons. However, experience shows that what is liquid turns usually into solid, and that sooner or later (that is to say, over the next ten or twenty years) the international political situation will have much more defined contours. A first step of the future world politics trend and solidification is the renewed presence of Russia on the international chessboard. President Putin really gives rise to a new scenario, where Russia is accommodated within the center of a new strategic alliance that inevitably one day will collide with that of the United States:

“Russia has regained its role as a major world power and thus showed that it [Russia] is not a negligible party in international affairs, but that it will have to be reckoned with in the future […] Today the […] US influence in Central Asia is associated again with Russia, China and Iran, three different countries, yet forming a real community of interests which represents 1.5 billion people, ” Alain de Benoist  wrote (2).

Besides, he added that Americans are perfectly aware of the development of this particular scenario. In fact, since the early 1940s they knew and appreciated the geopolitical writings of Nicholas Spykman who pointed out that,

“The United States must recognize once again, and permanently, that the power constellation in Europe and Asia is of everlasting concern to her, both in time of war and in time of peace.” And Adam Garfinkle  observed that “Spykman’s views were universally known and widely appreciated” in the United States (3).  In this connection, Alain de Benoist firmly stressed:

 

“Who controls Eurasia, controls the world, Brzezinski said.”

 

So Russia’s  pragmatic President, Vladimir Putin, is called on to measure himself against Donald Trump, an equally pragmatic man  who (at least it seems to me)  is perhaps more helpful than others in dealing with the issue of a new division of the liquid world in favor of both America and Russia.  In Alexandros Petersen & Katinka Barysch’s work, the problems of the triangular relations among China, Russia and United States are posed as follows:

“From an energy perspective, the relationship between Russia and China should be straightforward. Russia is the world’s biggest hydrocarbon producer. China one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing energy market […] A long-term strategic energy relationship between the two looks not only commercially viable but almost inevitable.” (4)

Then Petersen and  Barysch added:

“In the immediate post-Cold War period China took a passive approach to Central Asia, staying on the sidelines of the Russia-American struggle for influence in the region. More recently, however, with economic and energy considerations rising into to the fore and China more self-confident in its foreign policy, this has changed dramatically.”

Thus, both Russia and America will divide equally Central Asia among them for making their business, but China will play gooseberry. So, the Russia and the United States need to have a cordial   relationship for effectively opposing the Chinese presence in Central Asia.  But the problem is obviously open to many different interpretations and implications, while the issue has got confused in the light of the latest developments (the so called Trade War between China and the United States).

 

Notes

1)      Zygmunt Bauman,  44 Letters From the Liquid Modern World. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2011, p. 1.

2)      Alain de Banjoist, The End of the Present World: The Post-American Century and Beyond Conference. Speech. London, October 12, 2013.

3)      Francis S. Sempa,  “The Geopolitical Realism of Nicholas Spykman,” in  Spykman, Nicholas J. America’s Strategy in World Politics. Brunswick, Transaction Publisher, 2008, pp.  XXVIII, XXXII, and footnote 69

4)      Katinka Barysch – Alexandros Petersen,   Russia, China and the geopolitics of energy in Central Asia,  London,  The Centre for European Reform (CER), 2011, pp.  2, 39, 32,  42.

 

 

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The Mystery of Trade relations between China and U.S.

In these days there are a lot of discussion about the so-called Trade War between the United States and China.  Drinking coffee and reading the New York Times, I have found an article by Ana Swanson (July 5, 2018):

“A trade war between the world’s two largest economies officially began on Friday morning as the Trump administration followed through with its threat to impose tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese products, a significant escalation of a fight that could hurt companies and consumers in both the United States and China.”

Then she added:

“China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement that the United States ‘has launched the biggest trade war in economic history so far.’”

The allusion of China’s Ministry of Commerce to history casts my mind to history of trade relations between the United States and China, and when they began. Going backwards, I find that the American discovery of China took place after the American War of Independence (1775-1782) . Some attempts were performed in 1783 by several Boston merchants, but unsuccessful. The first American ship that landed in a China port sailed on February 22, 1784, under the command of Samuel Show, who later became aide of camp to General Henry Knox (1750-1806). The first American ship to reach a Chinese port put into Canton in late August, and Show and his crew found unexpected supports among both English and French merchants, who were eager to forget the recent wars. The Americans loaded their ship with a large amount of goods, particularly ginseng and then they sailed with a precious cargo of tea and arrived in New York harbor in May, 1785.

The discovery of China was an event which attracted national attention, and Commander Samuel Show received congratulations by the Congress and, at the same time, the task of establishing lasting trade relations with China.  American newspapers spoke at length of Captain Show’s eventful journey. After the success obtained by Show, other Americans began trading with China. In 1787 Thomas Reid sailed from Philadelphia returning in 1788 with a cargo that moved a business volume of half a million dollars. After T. Reid, Captain Dennison departed in December 1787 and returned in 1789. The United States began stable trade relations with China since 1790, when went to China several ships, such as the Asia, the Canton, and the Astrea, under the command of James Magee and T.H. Perkins.

In that time Canton was not regulated by a market authority and, generally speaking, more profitable business was made thanks to the opportunism of the Chinese customs officers.  On the other hand, we need to take into account that physical safety of foreign traders was not provided by any bilateral relationship with the Chinese Government and it depended entirely from the benevolence of Chinese customs officers responsible for monitoring trading practices in Canton.  Moreover, it is important to bear in mind that apartment houses reserved for foreigners were assembled in limited and subsidiaries areas, and the Chinese officers always filtered the relations between the Americans and the Chinese merchants.

During the next years, there was found a strong Chinese demand for sandal wood, and for other products of the South Seas.  These classes of merchandise gave rise to the modern economic relations that in spite of every difficulty have continued to exert a significant key role up until contemporary times.

But todays it seems that trade relations between the United States and China are not idyllic.

The tricks of fate, but they seemed to be made for each other. On the other hand, God moves in a mysterious way.

Notes

 

  1. S. Latourette, The History of Early Relations between the United States and China 1784-1844. New Haven. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1917, p. 29 and pp. 13-20.
  2. Askari, Case Studies of US Economic Sanctions, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, pp. 15 ff.

Image, Perception, and the Making of U.S.-China Relations, edited by Hongshan Li-Zhaohui Hong, University Press of America, 1998, p. 18 ff.

 

 

 

 

 

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