Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sweating to the Oldies

Like Kanye West I'm a proud non-reader of books, maybe too proud. In fact... almost certainly too proud. But I have my workaround - and that workaround is called Audiobooks. I actually am a member of Audible.com and receive a credit every month in exchange for $$$. But though it may be a workaround, I still have so little interest in books that I'm now in the habit of allowing my credits accumulate until they can no longer be rolled over before I'll actually put any thought or effort into acquiring new books to listen to.

And it's hard in a world where there is often more to be learned about the world we live in by watching back episodes of cooking reality contests than there is listening to *respectable* news. Scarily listening to fake-news might actually become more informative. 

Anyway, in the month that followed the US election, there was a huge gaping behemoth sized whole in my life which was where to get information from. Currently I'm plugging that hole with the Roman Empire. Specifically Marcus Aurelius and his merry meditations. 

I tried googling for the exact quote and it didn't come up and I can't be bothered digging up my copy of 'The Bed of Procrustes' and finding where in it the aphorism I had in mind came from but it goes something like 'to get a true sense of progress consider that in 2000 years we've gone from Cicero to Sarah Palin in our standard of politicians. If you really want to scare yourself, extrapolate that trend out into the future.' and as a matter of interest this was written while President Trump was a completely unforeseen future.

Now I was told (via book, by I think Peter Drucker) that the entire administration of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt fit in one building (probably the west wing) where as it has to be acknowledged, that there are just a fuckload more politicians and bueracrats and what not now than the entirety of everyone to serve in the senate of the Roman Republic/Empire. There's enough politicians in the world that we have politicians that smoke crack. So to some extent you'd just expect that the present day will always produce worse politicians than history ever did because the probabilities always increase that an unlikely candidate will come into office somewhere and get our attention through some act of stupidity.

But, I notice, we are also not living in an era that seems to routinely produce the best politicians history has ever seen, even though in the sheer numbers game - the best leaders in the world have more avenue than ever to get into public service. One explanation could be that that the private sector is in fact the fragmented but real world power and that's the darwinian jungle people worth their mettle go into, rather than public service. 

Whatever, the world is very complicated, and that complicated world is largely complicated noise. So after watching Trump get elected, and concluding that I really didn't know anything about the world even though I had more warning than others on top of global trends that should have made the result much less surprising than it was to stupid old me. I decided to go listen to some old dudes.

And the first old dude was Marcus Aurelius. And from listening to it, here is what I have to say. The world has changed very little in 2000 years. Case in point, the first book of meditations is a long list of people Marcus feels he has learned virtues from like "Of Alexander the Platonic, not often nor without great necessity to say, or to write to any man in a letter, 'I am not at leisure'; nor in this manner still to put off those duties, which we owe to our friends and acquaintances (to every one in his kind) under pretence of urgent affairs." which is to say, his friend Alexander is great because he isn't one of those cunts that constantly tells people 'I'm busy' and puts off meaningful interaction. That's advice well suited to my social environment in every direction, yet this was clearly an excuse people used in 160 BC. The unfairness of the comparison from now to then being that far more people in 160 BC probably had to work to actually survive. And I don't mean pay the bills or mortgage but literally had to work the fields in order to live through the winter and shit. Very few people are required to produce food for themselves and everyone else these days.

This is a digression though, consider this, if you were to acquire two nuclear warheads, as portable and independently/self-sufficiently launching warheads and a time machine and went back and handed one warhead to the Romans and one to the Visegoths or Egyptians or Persians or whoever who cares, you would probably see the two newly minted nuclear world powers basically handling their policy and diplomacy in the exact same way that modern minds have. 

I feel a good place to start looking at how government and governance works then it's Machiavelli's 'The Prince' but I read that a long time ago. After reading the degustation of governance that is Niccilo's menu, I'm now of the mind (clearly) that you want to walk upstream, get the story from the horses mouth and listen to the successful rulers of history.

There's huge advantages to doing so - firstly, history has judged these rulers now. Probably thousands of times over. There consensus to say, this person drove good policy, people's welfare increased, the state became more secure blah blah blah. And in the case of the '5 good emperor's' much fewer of them tended to be stabbed to death by the disaffected. The 5 good emperor's didn't really even use security to protect them from assassination. 

So they got to sit down and write books or letters being 'this is how I think it should be done'. Obviously they are going to be as prone as any other successful person as downplaying the role of luck in their lives. But they are not, like modern day leaders going to wildly speculate as to the role of social media and how it's changed politics.

So I have Marcy Marcus' meditations to finish, then about 30 hours of Seneca to get through. I'm looking forward to some stoic drawing sessions ahead. Let me know how reading progressive blogs about the alt-right phenomena works out for you.

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