Muthos and Logos: Art as Origin

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece
The Parthenon, Athens, Greece

The role of myth in Classical Greece was an attempt to describe, in its explorations, the nature of reality, both physical and psychological, and while myth in drama and in story-telling, by the nature of its transmission, was a form of escapism for its audience, the use of myths by the time of Plato gained a moral force at odds with any such desire to escape from life itself. In this piece I wish to explore the symbiotic relationship between muthos and logos by examining three areas where myth and reason mixed: in origins, with authority, and in theories of the afterlife.

The Origin according to Art

Martin Heidegger, in an essay titled ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’, explained ‘truth’ has come down to us today from the Greek, alētheia, meaning ‘unconclealment’, he also said that ‘To be a work [of art] means to set up a world.’ What does he mean? He is saying that we know the ‘real world’ through art. Logos means word and words are the poet’s fundamental tool. In the hands of one ancient artist, Hesiod, we learn of the birth of the universe and earth herself, where the gods reside on Mount Olympus:

‘In truth, first of all came Expanse [chaos], and then
wide-bosomed Earth, seat ever safe of all
the immortals………

From Expanse came Darkness and black Night;
and from Night came Ether and Day
whom she conceived and bore after joining with Darkness in
love.’
(Hesiod, Theogony)
(trans. Barnes, 2001, pp.3-4)

In this truncated excerpt we come across what philosophers call a first principal, the coming into being of something from chaos. Further on in the Theogony Hesiod does something interesting: he personified natural and psychological phenomena with the gods themselves, for example, Oceanus for water, or Aphrodite for love. The beginnings of cosmology held a debt to the theological myths of the gods, this ursprung of reason came not from isolation but from the varied oral culture of mythology that allowed thinking itself to develop.

If one was to accept the eminent classical scholar, W.K.C. Guthrie’s claim that with the pre-Socratics Greece was to abandon the search for alētheia by the use of myth and to continue on using only rational thought (whatever that is) then we would be left with a sterile, if not entirely correct, vision of the past. Yet the Ionian philosophers, in the guise of Thales and Anaximander, took much from Hesiod’s style and combined their ‘rational thought’ with the need to explain or describe things. What did the function of myths have to do with this? In the first place myths explain, they give an aetiology, to describe the causation of things, and it was this cosmogony that Thales appropriated when he said that all things were of water (that is: water is the origin), we know this from Aristotle who said that Thales came to this way of thinking through looking at nature and seeing the preponderance of water, using the empirical method, possibly for the first time. It is not a long shot from that to think of the Oceanus myth. Anaximander, as Thales’ pupil, continued with his own arche, moving away from his teacher by claiming that it is the ‘boundless’, or apeiron, that is first principal, not something physical but, rather, metaphysical. With these two thinkers we are presented with the beginnings of scientific thought, bringing in the empirical method, the idea of substance, and the surprisingly liberating concept of metaphysics, and yet this ‘world of proto-science still seems imbued with the language of myth’. Far from trying to ‘escape’ reality the classical Greeks, like Heidegger’s artists, were making reality.

Fantastical myth still played a strong role in myths of origin, but in particular in the origins of mankind’s achievements thanks to Prometheus (see image below). We know that this god, cousin of Zeus, created man and brought fire to man, and that he was the protector of man, usually from Zeus’ wrath, according to Hesiod. While his battles with Zeus are interesting for their own sake, there is something else of more significance that is told in Prometheus’ myth, and Ovid lets us in on it: ‘Where other animals walk on all fours and look to the ground, man was given a towering head and commanded to stand erect….’. One can easily extrapolate a nascent evolutionary theory from this myth, especially the theory that the discovery of fire allowed humans to leave the trees and to kill and eat cooked meat, enabling the brain to grow and man to become more intelligent. Here we have a perfect example of myth preceding scientific theory.

Creation of humanity by Prometheus as Athena looks on (Roman-era relief, 3rd century AD)
Creation of humanity by Prometheus as Athena looks on (Roman-era relief, 3rd century AD)

Reaffirmation of Authority in Art

In the later Roman period we learnt that myth was used by authority for control and elevation. Preceding this in classical Athens through the character of Socrates and the words of Plato we are confronted with a questioning of, not just the myths and gods, but also of the nature of knowledge itself. We know that Socrates commits suicide by hemlock after being found guilty of ‘corrupting the youth’, and that the greatest knowledge he had was that he knew nothing at all – well, actually Plato never ascribes these last words to Socrates – but in the dialectical method (also known as the Socratic method) we learn that not everyone knows why they claim to know something, an activity that was seen as very threatening to authority: powerful people cannot bear to be ridiculed, or worse, to be seen as not wise. In the Apologia Plato sets out the case against Socrates and a defence of him, in the former that he denied the gods and was only interested in ‘what is beneath the earth and in the sky’, and in the latter that he did not deny the gods, he preformed religious practices, and claimed that any advice he gave was ‘at the prompting of the divine’. His bone of contention was that he found it hard to believe the stories people tell of the gods, not the existence of said divinities, but the power of mythology was so great that even the possibility of creating new gods was akin to declaring war on the established powers.

Socrates wasn’t beyond being ridiculed himself, Aristophanes’ Clouds made fun of the charge against Socrates that he was interested in what was in the sky: for Aristophanes Socrates walked on air.

Death’s Representation

If myths had an aetiological function then nothing needed explanation more than death and the afterlife. In book 11 of the Odyssey Homer tells us about the underworld and what happens to the dead. We are presented with ‘an ill-assorted lot’ containing all people in one place (Hades) including those who are being punished: we see Sisyphus rolling his rock, and Tantalus being tantalised, all the while Hades and Persephone preside over this world, seemingly unaffectedly (seen in an Apulian krator below). There is no judgement in this version of the afterlife, Minos as ruler of the Underworld adjudicates as one would on earth, except he is acting on behalf of disembodied spirits who ‘while alive, drift aimlessly and joylessly in the gloom; the light and hope and vigour of the upper world are gone.’

The Underworld, Apulian red-figure krater, Ca. 320 B.C.

It was the amoral nature of Homer’s representation of the Underworld that annoyed Plato, not that myths existed but that they were put to bad use, and ironically (considering Plato’s Apologia) corrupted the young and impressionable. While it could be argued that Homer’s amoral world-view is an attempt to ‘escape’ the world as we know it, with Plato we are at the dawn of morality, that ‘doing good’ is good for its own sake and is reward enough. Plato’s Republic is a dialogue on the ‘just’ state, on justice and ultimately on morality itself, but it is also about the way to this just state by the education of the populace. Following on from Socrates’ scepticism of the tales of the gods iterated above (though not of the gods), in the Republic we come to understand Plato’s dislike of Homer’s tales of the gods: that it shows them in a bad light, that even if it is true that the gods fought amongst themselves, it should not be common knowledge. The multiplicity of the myths and the chameleon nature of the gods (think of Zeus changing into an eagle to abduct Ganymede) did not fit with the stability that Plato wished for: his ‘theory of the forms’ was not just a metaphysical concept it was a contrast to the attempts by the artists to represent reality through their copies of nature. Only the Ideal, through philosophy, represented truth, the non-philosopher sees the real as though they had spent all of their time in a cave and were suddenly dragged out to face nature but were blinded by the sun (the sun represented the absolute Form), distorting what was seen.

It wasn’t telling myths that was wrong for Plato but what was told that was wrong. A Just state needed it’s citizens to fear the consequences of being bad, but equally to expect reward for being good: the Homeric Underworld gave no such guarantees, apart from lack of passion, everyone seemed as they were above ground. As such Plato created a myth of his own, The Myth of Er, to show how a myth can be utilised for the ‘good’ of the republic. These beginnings of morality can be seen in the contrast between the use of fate in mythology and Plato’s new conception of ‘choice’: man is not helpless before the gods but are responsible for their own actions. First of all the afterlife required judgement, the just directed down one path, the unjust to take another. Hades was split into two: a heaven and a hell, tyrants, no matter their outward appearance, would be judged as tyrants and would not ‘pass through’. While there is much more to this myth than I have presented here, the moral for Plato was that each person was to ‘find the man who will give us the knowledge and the ability to tell a good life from a bad one and always choose the better course so far as we can’. I can’t help feeling, though, that Plato was a philistine, a condition that defines those who moralise too much.

Far from trying to ‘escape’ from the realities of the world, muthos and logos are inextricably linked, the first gave space to the other, and they each could not exist alone. In myths of origin we confront the need to explain what is before us, the phenomena we experience enabled us to create our own world. And this creativity of logos led to the ability to question established norms, and incorporated new dialectics that were still influenced by the old way of telling stories. And the finality of death demanded description, both old and new, yet the language of myth still pervades, even to this day.

Sources

Aristotle, The Metaphysics, 1998, Hugh Lawson-Tancred (tr), Penguin Classics

Plato, The Republic, 1987, Desmond Lee (tr), Penguin Classics

Early Greek Philosophy, 2001, Jonathan Barnes (tr), Penguin Classics

Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2004, in Feeney, D (Intro) & Raeburn, D (tr) (eds), Penguin

Morford, M P O & Lenardon, R J, 2011, Classical Mythology (International 9th edn), Oxford University Press

Grimal, P: Kershaw, S (ed.) & Maxwell-Hyslop, A (tr) (eds), 1991, The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology, London: Penguin

Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings, David Farrell Krell (ed), 2004, Routledge

W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy: I The earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans, 1997, Cambridge University Press

The Cambridge Companion to Socrates, Donald R. Morrison (ed), 2011, Cambridge University Press

Misunderstanding Austerity

No austerity and no cuts means no capitailsm
Does the Left misunderstand austerity’s origins?

There is a lot of talk about austerity, about having less austerity, more or even none. For those on the right this is a legitimate activity, but for those on the left who continually use the rhetoric of austerity, that they want less or even no austerity, they are making a serious category error, particularly because they do not question why we have austerity in the first place: capitalism. There are many on the left who only talk of less austerity, it must be assumed that they are not questioning the supreme place that neo-liberal capitalist economy holds in contemporary Western culture. For those on the left who want to see the end of austerity and do not question austerity’s origin in capitalism, it appears that they are misunderstanding austerity.

Capitalism Is The Ideology Not Austerity

A fundamental misunderstanding of austerity is in thinking that it is an ideology. It isn’t the ideology, it is capitalism, and in these times, neo-liberal capitalism that is the ideology. Those on the right and those who are economic libertarians, have capitalist economy as their own particular ideology and (specifically as it rarely affects them) they accept austerity as a positive within this economy that requires its downturns. Capitalist economy accords with their world view, a view that sees no value in the human being in anything other than monetary and as a piece of equipment for use in the workplace.

That certain sections of the left, if not most, collude in this ideology is unfortunate. It is also self-defeating. One aspect of austerity that leads to this misunderstanding is the way austerity is used by those on the right, as evidenced by the 2010-15 government and the current Conservative administration. Austerity is used as a tool by these administrations in order to effect a particular ideology, that of decimating the State’s provisions for its citizens. So, currently, every council in England are making massive cuts to its operational budgets leaving vital services for the disabled, sport and leisure, environment, education and many other unseen provisions, being cut or got rid of completely. Or being privatised which is death by a thousand cuts (pun intended). Nationally we are seeing this happen by the proposed £12billion cuts to welfare and the perilous situation the NHS finds itself in. Witnessing all of this the confused left have concluded that austerity is ideological instead of a tool of ideology. This misunderstanding is further compounded by its rhetorical use by all parties of the left, because in arguing for less austerity or even no austerity they fail to comprehend that they should be arguing for an end to neo-liberal capitalist economy if they want to end austerity. The Chancellor, George Osborne, knows this and is making hay with this knowledge. How? Because no one is seriously disagreeing with him on the need for austerity, only on the minutia, offering sticking plasters thinking this will revive a corpse.

Neo-Liberal Capitalism, Debt And Globalisation

At the time of the latest financial collapse in 2008 the combined debt of advanced capitalist economies went into trillions of dollars. As money is the foundation of all economies, and as debt is the machination used by fiscal economy to fund said economy, it is no surprise that the downturns in capital occur frequently. The severity of the 2008 crash has been exacerbated by three factors: 1. The criminality of the banking sector, particularly in the UK but also generally; 2. The neo-liberal version of capitalism that is in vogue today which requires lax control of the financial markets, a dismantling of government laws and services along with a bigger emphasis on debt as a tool to finance the activities of business and governments. The third, and most pernicious, of the factors that is integral to this latest crash of capital markets is globalisation which is a particularly neo-liberal phenomenon. But the phenomenon of globalisation, as William Greider presciently foretold in One World, Ready Or Not, published in 1997, would swing back at the main players (or those they govern) of globalisation, those who deal in the ‘abstract’ of trading in finance and resources. The logic of globalisation will inevitably lead to reduced living standards of all but the top-tier of society by discarding “old political commitments to social equity and reduce benefit systems for pensions, health care, income support and various forms of ameliorative aid.” (Page, 285) We are clearly in the midst of this scenario now.

Those in the higher echelons of society should feel no comfort by their seeming detachment from the problems the rest of society now faces. By accepting, if not participating in the laissez-faire nature of trading in capital, they have unwittingly set in train the demise of the traditional tools of trade: industrialisation and manufacturing. So there is a trade deficit between exports (the real value of a country’s GDP) and imports (which is usually paid for though debt). Added to this are the mass unemployment caused by jobs moving to cheaper locations and the rise of technology that takes jobs away from humans. As if this was not bad enough the next catastrophe, due to the increasing toll on the planet by burning fossil fuels and by an unsustainable acquisition of resources, is climate change leading to drought, a collapse of vital resources, mass population movements, and, ultimately, unending wars. This ‘perfect storm’ of events will ensure that the elite will become engulfed just like the rest of us, though maybe not as quickly.

The Left Failure To Tackle Capitalism As The Real Cause

The left understands all of this, they have many organisations that deal with each issue above independently. The problem is that taking any issue in society, political or cultural, individually usually means missing the bigger picture. Austerity, as the left have dealt with it, is a case in point. Yes the left would like to see no cuts to vital services, especially for the weak, poor and sick; yes they would like to see no austerity; yes to real employment with good employment rights; yes for the environment to be protected and for an investment in renewable energy technology. The one thing that causes austerity, that causes societal collapse of vital services, that causes environmental degradation, is the capitalist economy. And now, due to the economic orthodoxy of neo-liberalism, contemporary capitalism is refusing to invest in the new manufacturing of renewable energy which could help ameliorate the effects of climate change and unemployment. Capitalism is eating itself and us with it.

None of the left questions the establishment of capital economy, and yet they protest against the effects of this capitalism. Labour said before the 2015 election that they agree with the Tory’s economic plan and when it comes to austerity they would cut only slightly less than the coalition government. The Greens, while being more radical than Labour, do not question the legitimacy of the capitalist economy though they do question the growth principle that is so hard to shake from contemporary economics. Other left groups, like the TUSC and Left Unity, while being specific about having full public ownership of the major utilities, transport infrastructure and vital societal services, fail to mention capitalism and certainly fail to say outright that it is the capitalist economy which is causing all of the problems mentioned above.

Maybe it’s because the left fear how the populace would respond to such a stark message, that it would be electoral suicide. Yet, in Labour’s case, sitting on the same spectrum as the Conservatives, is also electoral suicide. The Tories know this and use it to their advantage knowing that Labour have already agreed with their economic policy. But worse than that is what this acquiescence to the capitalist economy and the subsequent misunderstanding of austerity will lead to. Globalisation is the end game of neo-liberal capitalism and, soon, irrespective of State boundaries, there will be no impediment to the flow of capital and people, all for the benefit of society’s top-tier and their wish to reduce civil society. Added to this is the spectre of the trade deal, TTIP, that will end a government’s right to govern over its own people because it is in complete hock to the Company. Private wealth kills social autonomy. This is the ideology of the right, it should not be an ideology that the left accepts. Can the left find the courage of its convictions to say no to capitalism and, thereby, say no to austerity authentically and with promise? To understand austerity and its fundamental role within capitalism, one has to question capitalism itself.

Sources

One World, Ready Or Not: The Manic Logic Of Global Capitalism, William Greider, Penguin Books, 1997

Web Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_crisis_of_2007%E2%80%9308#Increased_debt_burden_or_overleveraging

https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/manifesto/Green_Party_2015_General_Election_Manifesto_Searchable.pdf

http://www.tusc.org.uk/pdfs/TUSCmanifesto.pdf

http://leftunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/manifesto2015.pdf

https://stop-ttip.org/

What must our democracy look like to other people?

What must our democracy look like to other people? You know, the others who hold no responsibility for our democracy but yet are affected by our democracy, through wars and the parasitical invasion of their own land, and the emotional, financial and military support of despotic rulers for the control of the resources that belong to the people under such despotic rule – or for that most abused notion: ‘security’.

Strength, Power and the Mind

Panathenaic prize amphora showing three runners. Athens, 333-332 BC
Panathenaic prize amphora showing three runners. Athens, 333-332 BC

We know today’s analogy: Obsession with the body results in a small mind (and other things!). Based on this assumption it explains the phenomenon of “stupid sports people”. It is also a bastardisation of the original ideal at the origin of Western civilisation: healthy body and mind: the ancient Greeks believed passionately about this and many of their first philosophers were fit and active in body as well as in mind. But this process didn’t arrive at once, the faculties of the mind and body have to be nurtured and developed, body first, as that supports the brain, then, with sufficient physical development, the mind. Many of the ancient philosophers lived to old age, which, considering the times they were in and the equivalent state of technology they had, was a great testament to their ‘healthy body and mind’ lifestyles. Of course, the philosophy we know of theirs today was mostly recorded in their older years, and this is due to the natural progression of life, not by premeditation on their behalf.

Of course, not all sports people are stupid, that would be ridiculous, but is it the case that all politicians at the higher echelons of power are stupid? Let’s face it, the real reason for a state’s success or failure depends on the amount of power it has through its ‘physical’ attributes: this ability to ‘take things’ (or give things) is economic too. So it seems that the closer you get to this kind of power the more stupid you become – in a way similar to how difficult it is to think clearly while recovering from a vigorous bout of exercise, (well that’s my experience), today’s ‘leaders’ are increasingly showing this mental exhaustion as power approaches. I’m sure it’s always been the case in political (and business) circles – it was just easier to hide the delusion of competence back then.

Political Crimes: The Law as Accessory

Only a simpleton would believe what comes from the mouth of a British politician today (indeed from any ‘official’ in British public life) and it has always been so, but the denials coming from the squalid person of David Miliband really is difficult to stomach. This war criminal’s musings did have one effect on me: it got me thinking that these denials are the first step in a program of legitimising crimes, an attempted fait accompli whereby laws will be created that will de-criminalise past crimes and, indeed, will make future crimes not crimes.The denial is two-fold at least. They (is it ‘we’ too?) deny the actual act of torture, but they also deny that they knew of any acts of torture if torture did happen. But they did know, they even shaped policy around this known fact. And here’s the link between a past crime and the new crimes of the present: Most people probably think Britain’s colonial past is long gone, this isn’t necessarily true as the UK still has a few overseas territories, including Diego Garcia. Not only is the story of the appropriation of these small islands in the Indian Ocean an example of shaping law to bypass a crime, but the current use of these ‘dependent territories’ is also an act of complicity in another’s crime. This is surely beyond a ‘knowing and doing nothing’ stance towards a complete partnership in crime. Of course the US government under the Bush administration are much more naked in their attempt to create a legal foundation for their crimes.

There is a lot of disingenuous behaviour over this issue of torture, murder and war crimes. Democracies, the naive say, can only be good. This is the typical response from a democratic citizen in a consumer economy, they are too bloated and consumed by credit worries that they cannot see the truth straight in front of them: democracy is no foil against tyranny, quite often it supports tyranny. Examples are the support Britain gives to Saudi Arabia, and many other middle-eastern oil producer despots (who help keep the consumer ideology going) and historically the British state supported the Pinochet dictatorship. Now, as then, our British democracy also creates political crimes as well as fostering them: the Iraq war and the subsequent tortures, abductions, murders and false imprisonments all fall foul of various UN mandates that the British state are signatures of (In particular Articles 5, 8, 9 and 30). It seems that politics is gangsterism.

Democracy or Not?

If you had everything you need and were happy would you care whether you lived under a democratic system or not? Obviously the question already implies that a non-democratic system can provide for your needs and well-being, let’s go with that for a moment. Is it the case that all totalitarian societies now and in the past only provided for a privileged few? What if you were one of the privileged few, would you care about the starving masses, if there were any? What I am proposing is that as long as certain things are in place it doesn’t matter if the form of government is democratic or not.

Does a certain standard of living negate ‘ideology’ and/or lesson a certain ‘psychology’? That is, the psychology to believe in a better way or maybe this psychological urge is diminished by an all-rounded satiation? It was clear that in the former Soviet Union this all-rounded satiation did not exist, but what if it had? One thing I notice is that a consumer society is prerequisite for that same society to ossify, bloat and for complacency to set in. This is the ‘bread and circuses’ that keep the populace from rioting. Yet this certain standard of living that consumer societies get also breeds an acceptance of fascism, whether acceptance through ignorance or because people really are fascists once they ‘own’ a few things like children and property, I don’t know, they are both involved, probably.

Why am I asking these questions? Well it may not surprise some of you that I am not convinced by our modern-day democracy, indeed I’m not convinced that we have ‘democracy’ at all even though we are allowed to vote. Obviously I’m happier to sit here in Britain typing this out for my blog and not be somewhere like the former Soviet Union scrabbling for my daily bread, but I’m not sure that this relative consumer comfort I/we have is a result of ‘democracy’, after all Saudi Arabia has shopping malls and it is far from a democratic state (and for those who live in Saudi Arabia who can take advantage of the shopping malls, does it matter if others can’t?). No, it is my belief that there is something rotten in our democratic system today. Most Western states are governed by Representative democracy, that means we delegate the running of the state to professional politicians, voting for them every few years or so. Today in Britain rarely does a local or general election garner more than 50% turn out, why is this? Personally my vote is wasted because of the constituency I live in: the only choice is for one of the three main political parties of which only the same one will win every time. None of these parties represent even a little of what I believe in, I am effectively disenfranchised. I’m sure this is the case for many people, but another reason given for such low turn outs is that people are happy with the way things are. For some this is true, but this proposition highlights a far more interesting phenomenon: the soporific nature of our consumer culture. Why bother to vote when you can shop. Like Pak-man munching pills we are addicted to our way of life, we can’t participate in democratic life other than by voting every now and then because we are too busy working in order to participate in the consumer merry-go-round (not the building of societies), and the cycle starts again like Sisyphus rolling his rock, on and on. The professional politicians are rubbing their hands with glee at this status-quo, giving themselves pay rises and riding the gravy train to the promise land (wherever the next G8 summit is to be held!).

The main stream media, in Anglo-Saxon states at least, is shockingly appalling. To say that, rather than being an essential organ that uncovers the truth about our governing system, the media are complicit enablers in the status-quo, colluding to disfigure events and, ultimately, the truth, is not over the top in any way. Over time the media has become a font of public relations for those in power, and since we delegate the responsibility of running the state to professional politicians we need the media to report truthfully and with no hidden agendas more than ever, but rarely are there questions about Iraq or the erosion of civil liberties that is now taking place in Britain (for example), instead we get ‘statements’ from the principal agents involved with the running of things: we are told alright! Of course there are exceptions in the media, sometimes you come across articles by journalists that do ask uncomfortable questions. A recent article by Phil Hall in the Guardian (scary name for a paper that, what are they guarding, for who and from whom?) titled ‘Is Britain on the slippery slope to dictatorship? The democracy-loving British public would never put up with dictatorship – or would they?’ asked whether Britain is slipping into a form of dictatorship (elective dictatorship: the root of all fascism?) and presented a list of warning signs that are recognised in other dictatorships. I reprint these warning signs here for your delectation:

  • Inconvenient elections are avoided in the name of getting on with the job.
  • Leaders of the opposition are character-assassinated by the state media.
  • Institutions like the legislature begin to lose their independence and traditional role.
  • Citizens are increasingly afraid to speak openly on certain issues.
  • Citizens are observed and monitored on cameras and the government can tap into their conversations at will.
  • Governments can snatch anyone from their homes or off the street and detain them without trial on charges of treason or terrorism.
  • Ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted and are made into scapegoats.
  • The state increasingly intervenes in family and community life in an attempt to control citizens’ behaviour.
  • The focus of discussion moves away from the issues and into a narrative of political rivalries and gossip spreads.
  • Governments use bread and circuses to shut people up and distract attention away from their increasing political impotence.
  • Public spaces for demonstrations are closed down and restricted.
  • Large and ridiculous monuments are built to impress the citizens.
  • Individuals have to carry ID with them at all times and the government holds large amounts of information on every citizen.

Do any of you believe that these events are happening now? Do you care even if they are? Do you wish them realised if they are not happening now? Are you who Pastor Martin Niemöller was writing about? (There is more than a kernel of truth in his poem, there’s a whole Big Bang in it.) It seems to me that democracy has no problems with the above warning signs, if the people want them, then that’s democratic, right?

To wrap up these thoughts I would like to discuss Nietzsche’s Reality principal. In Twilight of the Idols there is a section called ‘How the ‘real world’ at last Became a Myth’. The long and the short of it is that power determines and defines what is real, this is ‘reality’. Before looking at this section it would be instructive to read a few words from the Nietzsche scholar Pierre Klossowsky. In Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle he explains Nietzsche’s Reality principal and the two sides of its determination:

“Either Nietzsche was delirious from the outset in even wanting to attack these authorities; or else he was clear-sighted in attacking the very notion of lucidity [or the notion of the noumenon itself, my note] directly. This is why, at every step, Nietzsche’s thought found itself circumscribed:

on the inside:
by the principal of identity on which language (the code of everyday signs) [or semiotics] depends, in accordance with the reality principal;

on the outside:
by competent institutional authorities (the historians of philosophy), but also and above all by the psychiatrists, the surveyors of the unconscious who, for this very reason, control the more or less variable range of the reality principal, to which the person who thinks or acts would bear witness;
on both sides, by science and its experimentations, which sometimes separates and sometimes brings the two together, thus displacing the boundaries and ‘adjusting’ the demarcations between the inside and the outside.” (Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, Pierre Klossowsky, Athlone, 1997. P. xvii-xviii.)

It is the outside bit that I find relevant to this discussion: for ‘psychiatrists, the surveyors of the unconscious’ read modern day politicians and the media-military-industrial complex who, because they have the power, can dictate not only what is ‘real’ but also the attainment of ‘the real’: thus we vote when the system tells us to. So in Twilight of the Idols Nietzsche writes: The real world, unattainable for the moment, but promised to the wise, the pious, the virtuous man……… [I interpret this as being the unquestioning democratic citizen] and later: The real world – unattainable? Unattained, at any rate. And if unattained also unknown. Consequently also no consolation, no redemption, no duty: how could we have a duty towards something unknown?

Indeed, only power can define what this ‘duty’ is, only power determines the various ‘duties’ we are allowed to vote for every few years. We may believe that democracy gives its supporters freedom but it doesn’t, it only allows us certain actions and even these are circumscribed: not everyone can shop in shopping malls or fly in planes or acquire the latest gadget developed from science and technology. Surely a democracy needs to be populated by individuals who are all fully informed and politically involved, not populated by spoilt kids at the candy store?