The Bum's Dime

Earlier today I was reading Thay's Peace is Every Step and it inspired me to write a little regarding television. For years now I have been preaching against television. It is not that the medium itself is all that terrible, in fact it is an extremely powerful way to communicate. Abbie Hoffman, in several of his books, identifies it as a tool that can transfix and communicate beyond all other forms of media, but he also identifies it as a dangerous and mind altering weapon. I fear that it has become the frontline of the propaganda and advertising (they are one in the same really war waged on all of our minds). This box that sits so inconspicuously in our living rooms broadcasts imformation that becomes imbedded in our minds, and sometimes this information has little to know value or worse yet it has a brainwashing effect. Television has the power to take a person from where they are sitting and place them in no existent social situations. It is constantly transmitting the cutting edge of culture, what is cool, and most of all, what is 'normal'. No one wants to be the dope that does not know what is going on in the world and popular culture. It is always trying to sell something, whether overtly or in a more subtle manner. There is an endless stream of commercials that bombard us between every program with no exceptions (I recently watched a documentary on Youtube regarding the Weather Underground and every 15 minutes the program was stopped to play a commercial, excuse my french, but for FUCKS! sake, even radical revolutionary movements are subject to commercials).Thay comments that many times it is embedding violence and anger into our heads with its sensational and entertaining programs. Even though I have preached these thoughts many, many, many times and to countless people, I have been guilty of mindlessly sitting in front of it for hours. It seems to have a stranlge hold on our culture, many people can not even be in a room for too long without it turned on. I find myself often sucked into its programming even the commercials. In the past year however I have taken the steps to reduce its influence on my mind. First I removed it from my bedroom, then I carefully chose what I would watch and how much, but neither of these proved to be enough. About 6 months ago I rid myself completely of cable, and since then I have found much more peace at home and in my spare time. I still occassionally watch programs at frineds houses that I enjoy (there are very few, mainly It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and South Park; we all have vices right?), but I no longer feel glued to it when I watch it. I take everything that I see on it in a skeptical manner (really I take everything I see and or hear in a skeptical manner) beacuse I feel that almost everything that is on it has a agenda that I do not agree with. I can not help feeling as though I am on a soapbox while writing this but I felt that it is something that is pertinent to how I have choosen to live my life.
I remember reading Walden in highschool, but I did not have as much appreciation for it as I do now. It is not that I did not appreciate nature, as I have always found sanctuary in the woods, but rather I did not appreciate the connection between man and nature. I attribute this new found appreciation for man in and among nature to a shift in my thoughts and ideas. The funny thing is, now I never have a chance to spend countless hours romping through the majesty that is the woods. I would like to change that. Things happen in the woods, glorious things. I remember a time when I was walking down the banks of a small stream and as I turned the corner there was a large white crane, standing solidliy on one foot. The light spilled through the cover above as though to illuminate this peaceful and powerful animal. The moment was beautiful. 

I think the raw charm of nature has been lost. In the past 10 years, with the chances of drastic global climate change increasing, people have begun to value nature differently. They have begun to see nature as something that is needed; it is part of the existence, the planet, and our lives. The problem though, is that people still distance themselves from nature. We appreciate the need for action in these times (look at how fashionable the green movement has become) but we do it from our cozy living rooms while watching national geographic or discovery channel. In the section of Walden entitled 'Ponds', he states that those who have purchased huckleberries or grown them for profit never capture their true flavor. I think this it similar to how we view nature today. We can experience it through television, books, the internet, but there is a lack of first hand experience of natures wonderous theatre. I can only hope that in the future people will begin not only to be 'green' to save their own asses from climate change but to do it for an appreciation of what is all around us.

I was reading Montaigne's Of Cannibals today, and I began to ask myself a question: Are we better off in our modern society, or have we been corrupted by it? This question has always bugged me because my gut reaction it to say that society is harmful to people. What struck me in Montaignes's writing is how he questions whether the people of his time and place are any better than those that they call savages. He seems to answer no, that it is relative and no one is better. These ideas come from people being biased towards their own practices and an imfamiliarity with other cultures. It does seem though  that Montaigne praises those that live by 'natural law'. I find this very interesting beacuse I have a similar view, that people in modern society have a complicated life, and there is something appealing about a less complicated and more natural way of living. It seems many of the problems society faces today are a product of society in general and If society could be eliminated, then these problems would vanish. It is however impractical and impossible to do away with society, so how then does one who feels something is wrong with society to operate in that society? I can not say because I find myself constantly asking the question over and over again, many times coming to different conclusions. It does not seem practical or wise to severe all ties with society, and it seems painful to ignore the fact that something seems 'wrong'. I have developed and appreciation for philosophy partly because it has given me the chance to explore these sentiments and to expand my mind beyond what I am told by society.
Whenever I read Machiavelli’s The Prince I have to ask myself who the intended audience would be. It is not a simple question as books may often have more than one intended audience. The obvious audience for The Prince would be people who are about to take the reins of control. The book details many different situations which a new ruler might face and how he should think about such situations. Though this may be the intended audience, the book itself would be read for a far larger audience. What is the lay person supposed to make of a text like this (or for that matter of Nietzsche’s Genealogy)? One interpretation of The Prince is that it was a kind of light into the mind of a would be ruler at the time, sort of a snapshot. Those who are not would be princes would be able to use the text as a way of understanding the actions, or would be actions, of a prince. It is thought that Machiavelli was an ardent supporter of Republics, so what then is he doing advising absolute rulers? Again, it might have to do with the mind of a would be prince. Some have suggested that he wrote the piece so as to give supporters of republics a glimpse as to how other kingdoms they might face are run. Others have suggested that The Prince is a piece trying to evoke pity from the ruling family, the Medici’s, in Florence at the time. This would account for the letter at the beginning of the text. Others have offered an explanation that would place The Prince in the category of a satire, poking fun at the actions of the day. To me, this explanation seems the most radical, and I have yet to find much evidence for it in the text. My most recent reading of the text reminded me of articles in comparative politics, where case studies are taken from several different places, compared and then some kind of prediction or rule is developed. Of course Machiavelli was probably not trying to develop a new branch of a discipline that won’t truly be established for several more centuries, but none the less, the qualities are there.

                I have recently become familiar with some writing’s of Leo Strauss (primarily from my current treatment of Rousseau) which have lead me to try and examine Machiavelli’s text in a different way.  Strauss treats Machiavelli in a book he wrote called, Thoughts on Machiavelli. I have not read this particular text in its entirety (just the section on The Prince), but it seems that Strauss applies his conception of Esoteric and Exoteric readings of a work to two of Machiavelli’s works. I think that The Prince lends itself to this kind of interpretation because it is hard to tell who the audience really is. It is easy to pull an “exoteric” reading out of The Prince. There is however something that is hard to put a finger on, something that is hidden. Most of what Strauss recognizes in ‘esoteric’ readings is hidden atheistic messages, but the wording of The Prince  presents God as basically, non existent. He cannot punish individuals, you only have your senses around you, you cannot understand the mind of God, and so on. From what I understand, Strauss sees Machiavelli as employing a message in regards to human nature, that humans make their own human nature, that they are not subject to it. Though I may have interpreted this wrong, as I have only read a small portion of the text, I find Strauss’s ideas interesting in these regards. 

 Absolute justice does not exist. There are only mutual agreements among men, made at various times and places, not to inflict nor allow harm.
 -Principle Doctrines, 33
Flip on the news and one might see headlines of human rights violations in places like Rwanda, Darfur, and Tibet. Almost everyone sees human rights as something natural, or as something 'inalienable'. This notion that we have the 'right' to live our lives without interference and harm from others or the state has come to dominate the way we think about human interactions. This however is groundless. Nature does not have a set of rights, and when one of our human rights is violated, the Universe is silent. This can be illustrated by the violent balance of life found in the wild. The water Buffalo have no 'right to life', if they land in the cross hairs of a large cat they must fight for their existence. When a prey animal dies, it is not a tragedy, it is the ugly truth of existence. Human rights do not exist, they have come to us through the development of
institutions, through convention, and through governance. When a human right is violated, it is not a tragedy, but a violation of an agremment among men that is often times implicit.


    Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.


    August 2009



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