THE WORLD AS SEEN, READ ABOUT, LISTENED TO, AND INTERPRETED
Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University,
Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Time is a mystery. Alan Burdick speculates on a definition of time in “Why Time Flies”. In some respects, Burdick’s story is enlightening; in others, time escapes his and an audience’s understanding.
Time appears to be a construct of mind and consciousness, both of which are equally mysterious. No one really knows what mind and consciousness are but recent experiments suggest they are a state of being that offers versions of reality; i.e. not objective truth but subjective understanding. Experiments show that the mind deconstructs what we see and reassembles it to have meaning in an individual’s consciousness.
Burdick shows, through recounted experiments, that time does not slow down when we experience traumatic events like a car crash or a bungee jump. What our mind does is reconstruct an accident or bungee jump through a consciousness that makes it seem time slows down. Our consciousness remembers or manufactures events as though they occurred in slow motion; i.e. we remember seeing our car flipping over, the top being crushed, and our effort to use a seat belt to steady our movements. All of this happens within a minute but we remember it in detail as though a slow-motion camera records the accident.
Burdick notes that time only flows in one direction. As common experience tells us, we cannot un-break an egg. Life begins young and grows older. Through manipulation of images, we can reverse time but we know it is an illusion.
Various experiments show that time can be slowed down as speculated by Einstein, and later proved by others. The slowing of time is due to the speed of objects in relation to the unchanging and constant speed of light. Because a human in space is traveling at a faster speed ( in relation to the unchanging speed of light), he/she ages less than a person on earth. But even in Einstein’s theory, time is never shown to go backward. That is why time travel to the past is considered impossible.
Burdick notes that time is always now. It has no past. It has no future. Time is “in the moment”. Burdick’s recognition is not helpful in understanding time. Time is never clearly identifiable because it is either becoming a history or a future. How does one define a moment? It seems to be something between history and future but what is time’s physical marker? Maybe its consciousness but no one knows what consciousness is and every person’s consciousness is personal and subjective; not universal.
At best, Burdick’s story only deepens the mystery of time.
Tana French shows that evidence is the fundamental proof of guilt or innocence. French’s “The Trespasser” offers a glimpse of what it must be like to be a woman in a man’s world. To be a female detective on a murder squad is a perfect venue for exploring the perfidy of men in power positions.
French’s story shows how power distorts the relationship between the sexes. In a culture that reinforces male dominance, women use the same tools as men to acquire power; however, with a substantive difference. Intellect, sex, and prejudice demean women while men reap reward and praise for the same qualities.
In modern times, the currency of society’s male domination is apparent in the trial of Bill Cosby. Regardless of the accuracy of Cosby’s only eligible accuser, 40 other women have independently accused him of sexual impropriety. Though testimony of these 40 women is not admissible as evidence, their testimony strongly smells of Cosby’s guilt. If guilty, Cosby represents the guilt of society. An innocent verdict is no absolution for Cosby but it is a measure of American society’s acceptance of a President’s locker room talk on a bus and behavior in a women’s dressing room.
French creates a mystery solved by Detective Antoinette Conway with the help of her partner, Stephen Moran. Conway presumes every male in her squad, and at one point even Moran, plot against her success. This presumption is reinforced by Conway’s experience as a police officer and detective. Her gathered prejudice against all men (or at least those in her squad) nearly derails her dogged search for the murderer of a young woman. French reveals how Conway overcomes her personal prejudice by accepting the truth that men and women are equally good and bad.
A father abandons his wife and daughter. The abandoned wife seeks answers to the whereabouts of her husband. The Missing-Persons’ department of the police is asked to investigate. The father is reported as having died, after living many years with another woman. The mother dies. The daughter is obsessed with the investigating officer of the Missing Persons’ department because of his ambiguous relationship with her mother. The daughter plans an elaborate ruse to meet the investigating officer and find out more about her father. The daughter becomes entangled in a web of relationships; i.e. the Missing-Persons’ officer (who is now the head of a murder department), a close female friend, and a possible new boyfriend. The daughter is murdered. Conway’s task is to find the murderer.
In French’s story, the search for suspects, and resolution of the case, are introduced to Conway’s investigation of the murder. The substance of the story shows women as intellectually strong, and mentally tough as men. Of course, history, as well as this fictional story, shows many women are as intellectually strong and mentally tough as men; e.g. Cleopatra, Sojourner Truth, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Malala Yousafzai, and others.
French’s story brings the inequality of human life into the day-to-day life of today’s women. Conway is characterized as an intelligent, determined, and independent murder detective. Conway is not perfect. She carries her own prejudices, but she focuses on evidence to prove her murder cases.
Jack Holland (Irish writer, Born 1947, Died 2004.)
Undoubtedly, sexual depredation began before recorded time, but misogyny became institutionalized with the written word.
The mystery is what has taken so long for American misogyny to be recognized. The mystery is explained in Jack Holland’s “Misogyny, The World’s Oldest Prejudice”. Misogyny appears when history is first recorded. Misogyny is perpetuated by religion, society, and government.
From men who are Presidents to business moguls to famous newscasters, misogyny grows like a cancer.
(Past accusers of President Trump.)
E. Jean Carroll–Latest accuser of President Trump’s past behavior.
A woman’s rights have been a moving target since the beginning of time; or at least since the beginning of recorded “history”. Jack Holland tracks “The World’s Oldest Prejudice”, misogyny.
Holland’s conflation of Nazism with societal misogyny seems misplaced except in comparison to Nazism’s institutionalization of discrimination. The evidence and truth of women’s domination, abuse, and murder by men is solid. Holland recounts government practices, religious doctrines, philosophical treatises, science errors, and corroborated historical events that confirm institutionalization of misogyny.
Misogyny is in the news today with accusations against Presidents, several newscasters, aspiring and existing politicians, film producers, and business leaders.
As far back as the oldest laws of government written by a Sumerian King in 2,050 BC, women have been singled out with human rights’ violations. An example is the King’s law that particularly applies to women who speak insolently. They are to have their mouths scoured with salt; i.e. a law applying only to women slaves. Of course the law begs the question of why women are slaves.
All major religions are patriarchal. Each has a history of misogyny that lives through to today.
Beginning with the book of Genesis in the Christian Bible, women come from man; not as a singular human being but as an adjunct of man, a mere rib. In Genesis 3:16, women are burdened and subservient to men from the beginning. “Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”.
In the Ten Commandments, wives are treated as property to men. Holland cites Apostle Paul as a harbinger of doom for women. His doctrinal preaching perpetuates misogyny. Apostle Paul implies women are seductresses because of men’s earthly desires.
Men are advised to focus on the spiritual to avoid sin and assure their passage to heaven. By separating humanity and spirituality, Holland argues Apostle Paul implies women and bodily pleasure are a principal source of sin. Female genital mutilation is condoned in this view of human sin.
Holland notes that in the Torah (Jewish doctrine), women are unclean twice as long for birthing daughters rather than sons. Further, the Torah explains that women who are raped in the city should be stoned to death, and if raped in the country, required to marry their rapist. The fault for being raped is assigned to women rather than men. Some conservative Jewish sects pray to God that they are not given daughters; additionally, they thank God for not being born a woman.
(Exodus 21:3-4 Says that if a male slave is given a wife by his master (regardless of how long they are wed, how much they love each other or if they have kids) he can not leave servanthood with his wife or children. The woman and children are merely property of the master and their personal happiness or sanctity of family doesn’t matter.)
In the Qur’an (Islam’s holy book), women are less valuable and inferior to men. In paragraph 4:34 “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other.” In Islam’s Sharia law, women are generally guilty of their own rape and are to be stoned to death or immolated. There are exceptions but proof is an onerous exercise in futility. As witnesses to rape, Holland notes a victim must find 4 men to corroborate a woman’s testimony or she is considered untruthful, guilty, and subject to punishment or death.
Holland argues that Sharia law denies women the right to an education. (Islamic scholars disagree.) If true, just as the American south feared education of slaves, the Islamic religion fears the education of women. With education, women are bound to seek a better life with more freedom and less domination.
Holland reaches back to ancient Greek philosophers to note that both Plato and Aristotle believe women are afflicted with natural defectiveness. To Plato, that defect is implied in “The Republic” when children are to be taken from their mothers to be educated by the state; independent of a mother’s influence. To Aristotle, women’s defect is in his concept of forms. Women either have no soul or essence that allows for perfect form. Women are mere vessels for the birth of children that come from an essence provided by the sperm of men. Aristotle argues women are subject to men and are, at best, “deformed males”.
Holland notes later philosophers like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche carry misogyny forward. Schopenhauer argues that women have meager reasoning ability. To Schopenhauer, women’s lack of reason and abundant sensuality cause chaos and disruption. Nietzsche has a similar view of women. Nietzsche views women as vixens that need to be controlled; not helpmates, independent humans, or equals to men.
Science luminaries also feed the misogynist credo. Darwin suggests women are not as fully evolved as men. Freud creates myths of penis envy and mental dysfunction from normal female physiological conditions. Holland also addresses the misconception of the “blank slate” in science as noted by Stephen Pinker, a modern-day psychologist.
As Pinker notes, fifty percent of who we are, male or female, is determined by genetics. We are not blank slates. There are common genetic inheritances that interact with the environment as we mature. However, each human reacts to incidents in the world in their own unique way. Human beings, whether male or female, react differently to the same incidents based, in part, on their genetic inheritance.
Women and men are different but equal based on a combination of nature and nurture. A truth in science is that the energy producers of life (mitochondrial DNA) come solely from mothers, not fathers. This is quite a contrast to Aristotle’s theory of women as mere vessels of birth. It is a surprise that there are not more misandrists than misogynists.
Holland recounts several horrific misogynistic events from history and modern times. A major event in the 15th to 18th century were the witch trials. Tens of thousands of accused witches were tortured and burned at the stake in Europe. The most famous in America were the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. An estimated 80 women were tried in New England with 20 executed and 5 who die in prison.
Though witch trials and executions are in the past, modern-day Middle East and Eastern countries have trials for women that are raped, tortured, and mutilated for failing to follow religious and cultural norms established by male dominated governments.
Holland delves into the rise of Nazism and suggests the idea of the super race are contributors to misogynist beliefs. To some extent that may be true but Hitler’s primary objective is to create a straw man for the ills of Germany. The straw man became the Jews; i.e. the alleged source of all that is wrong with the world. Nazism had much less to do with belief that women are the inferior of men. As Holland points out, Hitler was widely supported by German women.
Hitler’s asexual revolution had little to do with the degradation of women but more to do with the myth of the “other” that is meant to roil and consolidate the masses in defense of a new order. Sexual allure and male domination of women is the least of Hitler’s interests. Experiments on women in concentration camps is a predilection of demented interests of Nazi doctors; not because of belief in misogyny, but belief in a final solution that will create a super race.
Hitler’s relevance to the subject of misogyny is in the creation of an “other”. To a misogynist, the “other” is women for men who succumb to the fiction of male superiority. To the misogynist, women become the source of men’s problems rather than their helpmates or equals.
Misogyny is a cancer in the world’s body politic. Regulated freedom and equal opportunity are its cure. The diversity of human life demands equal opportunity for all. This does not mean everyone is equal but that each should be able to achieve what they are capable of achieving. Regulated freedom is a necessity because all human beings are motivated by money, power, and prestige; each of which can lead to greed, corruption, and hubris. All human beings are subject to the same vices. All men and women should have an equal right to say yes or no to greed, corruption, and hubris. Holland’s point is that women do not have the same rights as men because of centuries of cultural bias.
John A. Farell (Author, former White House correspondent and Washington editor for The Boston Globe.).
“So different and so alike” is what comes to mind in listening to John Farrell’s biography of Richard Nixon. President Nixon is characterized as thin-skinned, vindictive, and dissembling; a description echoed by today’s President. Both make comments reflecting ethnic racism with reprehensible private comments. Both attack news publishers; particularly the Washington Post and New York Times.
Nixon and Trump appear both misogynistic, and anti-intellectual. Both viscerally react to perceived slights. Both have morally corrupt views of society.
One uses the FBI and former CIA spies to discredit political’ opposition; the other demands loyalty more than truth from national security agencies.
However, Farrell shows Nixon to be clearly unlike Trump. Nixon understands political reality while Trump clings to a skewed personal reality.
Nixon avoids unfavorable publicity while Trump manufactures it. Nixon exemplifies international, geo-political, and professional foreign policy while Trump follows an amateurish parochial isolationist foreign policy. Nixon is surreptitiously thuggish, while Trump is outwardly thuggish. Nixon operates from a perspective of power-hungry self-interest, while Trump operates from a “monied” self-interest.
Farrell recounts Nixon’s early years of overt and benign support of McCarthyism. Nixon justifies his penchant for exposing communist sympathizers with his successful prosecution of Alger Hiss. (Ironically, Hiss is convicted for a cover-up rather than espionage; just as Nixon is impeached for a cover-up rather than a burglary.)
HENRY KISSINGER (FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & NAT. SECURITY ADVISER FOR NIXON AND FORD, WINNER OF THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE)
Nixon and Trump have little respect for experts. Nixon demeans Henry Kissinger, a Harvard educated intellectual, who became Nixon’s Secretary of State and a principal in the negotiation for the first SALT agreement with Russia and the opening of Communist China.
Nixon fires a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate burglary. Trump, according to the Mueller report, orders the same action regarding Robert Mueller.
The only difference appears to have been–members of Trump’s administration refuse to follow orders.
Trump demeans the scientific community by denying global warming and removing America from the Paris Climate Accord.
Trump bullies the President of Montenegro who, despite Russian objection, becomes a part of the NATO alliance.
On balance, Nixon is shown by Farrell to be much more presidential than Trump but the perspective of history weighs heavily on that assessment.
Ending Vietnam at the expense of South Vietnamese is a mixed blessing but Nixon stopped the carnage. Opening China to the world is a great American accomplishment which history fairly attributes to Nixon and Kissinger.
Nixon, like all human beings, is flawed. He is not the first President to lie. He is not the first President to kill innocents. Only time will tell if Trump is more than what he seems.
Nathan Hill models the mythology of tricksters in his latest novel, “The Nix”. In Hill’s story, “The Nix” is everyone’s companion; sometimes acknowledged—sometimes not, but always there. It plagues life with uncertainty. As an amoral spirit and seer, it carries the experience of generations. It carries the past; interferes with the present, and manipulates the future.
The purpose of “The Nix” in one’s life is to manipulate the future. “The Nix” plays with human lives that hurt those who are closest to them. Hill pictures “The Nix” as a ghost that follows a Norwegian immigrant to America. The Norwegian marries, finds work at a napalm producing corporation, and parents a daughter who becomes the Nix’s new human plaything. The Norwegian father loves his daughter but fails to express his love constructively. He is hyper-critical of his daughter’s accomplishments.
The father frightens his daughter with a story of “The Nix” who lived with him in Norway, traveled with him to America, and now lives in the basement of their mid-west home. He explains how one may inadvertently anger “The Nix” by spilling water that trickles down into the basement.
The daughter constantly struggles to impress her father. She fails to live up to her own expectations. She becomes psychologically paralyzed by concern for what her father thinks. To add to her woes, she presumes she has offended “The Nix”. She acquires a melancholy and romantic view of life that ruins her future marriage and scars her only son.
Hill captures the trials of three generations; i.e. millennials, the “Greatest Generation”, and the “baby-boom generation”. Hill describes interests, obsessions, and consequences of living in the age of technology, WWII, and Vietnam. He ties each generation to the luck and circumstance of life with the presence of everyone’s “…Nix”. He shows how history does not repeat but shows how it rhymes (as Mark Twain noted). We become like our parents because we carry their genetic markers and habits; sometimes we inherit a trickster, a ghostly companion called “The Nix”.
Hill’s story begins with an abandoned eleven-year-old boy and his father. A young mother and wife leaves her young son and husband to re-invent herself. She is a part of the “baby boom” generation. Though she loves her son, she feels driven to return to the most tumultuous time of her life. It is the time of the Democratic Convention in Chicago; i.e. when Hubert Humphrey is nominated by the Democrats for President of the United States. She becomes embroiled in the youth movement that disrupts the nominating convention in Chicago with marches against America’s role in Vietnam.
Her experience in Chicago illustrates the presence of “The Nix” in her life. She is arrested by a troubled and angry police officer. She is thrown into jail. She prays to her God to release her from her predicament. In her dreams, she is visited by “The Nix”. She makes a bargain with “The Nix” to return to her father’s home in the Midwest, and marry her hometown boyfriend if she is released from jail. “The Nix” bargains with her in a way that determines her future; i.e. the abandonment of her son and husband, and a search for her father’s past in Norway.
Her deliverance from jail comes from a fellow protestor. She falls in lust, if not love, with the protester. The trauma of police brutality, and her bargain with “The Nix” compel this mother-to-be to return to her mid-western roots; but, with a romantic remembrance that stays with her; even when she marries a man she thinks she does not love. Though her future husband is not aware of her pregnancy, the proximate time of her marriage makes the boy’s birth seem like her hometown boyfriend’s offspring.
Hill cleverly reaches back and forth in history to show the son growing into an adult; becoming a college professor, and by luck and circumstance, becoming re-acquainted with his mother after her thirty-year absence. In this re-acquaintance, the theme of Hill’s story is crystallized. Along the way, listener/readers are introduced to the millennial generation. One is struck by the millennial generation’s grasp of technology and what becomes a perception of the moral and ethical behavior of this new generation. Obsession with gaming, self-imposed isolation, and entitlement are characterized as endemic characteristics of this new population cohort.
A mystery surrounds the abandoning mother’s father and what he did when he lived in Norway. His life experience is a reflection on the “Greatest Generation”; i.e. those who lived through WWII. The secrets of his life in Norway are revealed toward the end of Hill’s story. It speaks to what some of the “Greatest Generation” did not do to give them such an exalted title and reputation.
This is a story that exposes weaknesses in every generation. There is plenty of immoral and unethical behavior to go around. Hill implies it is because of the presence of “The Nix” in everyone’s life. Good and evil are two faces of “The Nix”. It inhabits everyone’s life. Humans have free will which can turn to either good and/or evil (as noted in Kierkegaard’s “Either, Or”).
With some criticism of the author’s use of too many clichés, “The Nix” is a clever and thoughtful reflection on mythology, history, and human behavior. One of Hill’s clever analogies about “History” is the example of the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968. He describes the historical event as a drip of water, in a bucket of water, dropped into Lake Michigan. The 1968 convention is like every event in history. One historical event is a part of a vast picture so big it cannot be seen whole; let alone, understood. The context of history is too big for any human being to understand. The idea of the “…Nix” encompasses a much larger picture than one historical event. “The Nix” implies every historical event is subjective. In other words, history never repeats, but it does rhyme.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Written by: Trevor Noah
Narrated by: Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” is no joke.
Remembering when Trevor Noah took over the “Daily Show”, thoughts of a South African replacing an American, places one in two minds. One mind thinks how could a person not born in America understand the politics and culture of a country satirized by a TV show? Another mind thinks the “Daily Show” will become more culturally relevant with a commentator that satirizes more than just American culture. The answer to the first mind’s question is answered by the second mind’s conclusion. Personally, it is sad to have witnessed the loss of John Stewart’s insightful American commentary. However, Noah offers a perspective that is equally insightful; admittedly cringe worthy at times, but more universal. “Born a Crime” is testament to Noah’s cultural diversity and universal insight.
When Noah is born, he is “Born a Crime” because South African Apartheid made mixed conjugal relations a criminal offence. Noah’s father is a white Swiss entrepreneur and his mother is a black South African. They choose to have a son, though they never marry. Noah’s mother names her son Trevor because the name gives him the distinction of being neither African black, nor white but a citizen of the world.
Noah’s story is a tribute to his mother. She inspires a listener to understand the importance of family, respect, love, and faith. Noah is a challenging son. He shows himself to be a hyperactive, non-violent, trouble-maker in his youth. He is born into poverty but raised by a mother who believes in a moral code of unshakable faith. In his youth, Noah defies most of his mother’s inner direction and strict, sometimes physically punishing, discipline. Retrospectively, Noah acknowledges how much his mother loved him, and how her fortitude presumably made him mentally tough, independent, and irreverently objective.
As a youth, Noah steals, becomes a black-market maven, and juvenile delinquent. His intelligence is used to organize a group of delinquents to make a living in a South African ghetto. He rationalizes his thievery as a game to outwit the local police and fellow miscreants in a dysfunctional culture born of the remnants of apartheid. He broadens rationalization of criminality by believing there is no harm; no foul for theft because of insurance company reimbursement of societies’ wealthy, the unfairness of Apartheid, and the reality of poverty and hunger.
Noah explains how black-markets develop and how it is difficult for poor people to escape its allure. It is the same circumstance that feeds drug cartels. Theft, like drugs, is a way of making a living in the ghetto. Both industries recruit the unemployed by offering jobs, potential wealth, and identity. Noah notes that ghetto gangs are more in touch, supportive, and caring of the poor than the government. Gangs take care of their neighborhoods by being more involved, more considerate, and helpful when it comes to the needs of the poor. However, Noah fails to fully assess how the poor are victimized by gangs that prey on the same people they purportedly help. It is a blindness repeated in a vignette about a boy named Hitler.
An example of a “cringe worthy” observation by Noah is his explanation of his lead dancer in one of his schemes to make money in the ghetto. His little group of non-violent delinquents are hired to provide entertainment at a Jewish school in South Africa. Noah is the disc jockey. His star dance performer is a young black African named Hitler.
Noah implies that he is ignorant of Hitler’s atrocities in WWII. This is somewhat incredulous considering Noah’s intelligence. In any case, Noah’s music heightens the excitement of his audience and he calls on Hitler to dance to the music; with a dance that includes a Hitlerian salute. Naturally, the room goes silent.
Noah gets into an argument with the person who hired his group. Noah suggests his ignorance led to a misunderstanding. He writes that when one considers the millions of black people murdered through Apartheid and slavery, Hitler is just a name given to the dancer by his mother. Black genocide and slavery is an ugly “cringe-worthy” excuse to justify Hitler’s murderous antisemitism. Putting the Hitler vignette aside, Noah’s story is a condemnation of discrimination in all forms.
Noah returns to the subject of his mother’s life with an explanation of her marriage to a black South African (Abel Shingange) who Noah describes as unconventionally handsome with a penchant for violence. He marries Noah’s mother and they have two children together. Noah is in grade school. Their life as a family lasts for over 17 tumultuous years.
The story of Noah’s mother reflects on global discrimination against women. His stepfather is shown to have been raised in a patriarchal family that emphasizes the superiority of men over women. Women, in his stepfather’s house, are expected to bear children, be silent, cook and clean house, be dependent on their husbands, and respect males in all circumstances of life. Noah’s stepfather insists on that relationship in his newly formed family.
Noah’s mother comes from a completely different perspective. She is an independent soul who chose to have a child “Born a Crime” and who believed the only God is God and not man. Noah’s stepfather interprets her opinion and attitude as disrespect for his role as husband.
Noah’s mother is shot three times by his stepfather. Noah’s stepfather fired a bullet in her buttocks, her leg, and the back of her head. The government, presumably run by men, decides that the needs of two boys who remain in the home need the support of their father. Ironically, Noah notes that his stepfather rarely supported the children or family, and drank the profits of his labor. His mother had been the primary financial support of the family.
Noah’s stepfather is walking the streets of South Africa as a free man today. Surprisingly, Noah’s mother is alive. Through a miracle of circumstance or God, the bullet to the back of her head missed her brain.
Noah knows what it is to be poor. Undoubtedly, Noah now knows what is like to be rich. More importantly, it seems Noah has adopted his mother’s independence and, from his life experience, a superior perception of reality. “Born a Crime” is no joke.
Sadly, we no longer get the “Comedy Central” channel but Noah is certainly a worthy replacement for John Stewart.
God is not dead in Professor Daniel N. Robinson’s erudite and entertaining survey of “The Great Ideas of Philosophy”. Robinson’s choice and interpretation of philosophical ideas infers there is no contradiction of science in religion except in ignorant interpretation of one or the other.
In Robinson’s “Great Courses”, science and religion represent a marriage of necessity. Atheists, religious scholars, skeptics, and scientists may be appalled but Robinson implies nothing in religion or science contradicts creation, evolution, free will, or an omniscient and omnipresent God. Robinson concludes that it is beyond the ken of the human mind to approach an experimentally provable explanation of a prime mover; i.e. a source from which something came from nothing.
Robinson reviews the course of philosophy from the ancient Greeks to selected present-day philosophical ideas. He argues that science and religion explicate and complement knowledge of existence. Early heroes of philosophy range from Homer to Hippocrates to Aristotle. With storytelling and explanations of Stoic and Epicurean ideological movements, Robinson lays the foundation for philosophy’s growth.
Robinson recounts Homer’s tragic and triumphant stories of ancient wars, the medical philosophy of Hippocrates, and the testaments of Plato’s politics and Aristotle’s science. He credibly and creatively builds the foundation of philosophy. These great intellects pursue explanations for the unknown origin and nature of things and beings. Each pillar rising from the foundation reveals more questions than answers but inevitably point toward life’s purpose and understanding. Robinson argues that Aristotle is the first to develop a concept of scientific investigation through experimentation.
Aristotle owes some of the idea of science to Plato’s conceptualization of human nature in an idealization of a perfect city-state, or polis. One of “The Great Ideas of Philosophy” begins with Plato’s “Republic”. The scientific principle of Plato’s “Republic” is in investigating something bigger (the polis in this instance) to understand the nature of individual beings. It is a method of science for understanding the details of nature’s order by investigating a singular life within a social framework of something bigger. A city-state, the polis, is defined and idealized in Plato’s book.
Plato explains some citizens are born as warriors, as builders, as merchants, as slaves, and a few as philosopher Kings; each contributes to the well-being of a city-state. The whole is greater than its parts but each part is benefited by the whole. Every individual in a city-state, like every organ in the body, has a purpose based on what he/she does best. Plato’s “Republic” categorizes members of the Polis into functional groups based on virtue. Virtue is defined as being the best at what one does in their category of birth.
Robinson notes that the Socratic method of investigation comes from stories written by Plato. These stories are a precursor to Stoic philosophical development. Plato’s story of Socrates’ choice of death and his idealization of government in “The Republic” remove passion from decision-making. Virtue comes from dispassionately assessing the human condition and responding with a wisdom based on belief in justice, rule-of-law, and temperance. Aristotle expands on these ideas in the “Nicomachean Ethics”.
Plato’s parable of the cave in which humankind is chained; facing a wall and seeing only shadows of reality, exemplifies the difficulty of clearly knowing the truth of nature. Only in removing those chains can one begin to see and understand reality. As Plato’s story goes, those who see the truth are unable to convince those who remain in the cave. It is a story that is repeated in history as science progresses with fits and starts because of resistance from those who remain chained. Science progresses as experimental proof removes the doubts of the cave dwellers. However, Robinson notes that even when the truth is experimentally proven, doubt remains. He notes Karl Popper’s observation that infinite experimentation is impossible; therefore truth, at best, is a probability; not a certainty.
Robinson explains that the Stoic movement provides a bridge for religion to enter the secular life of the Roman Empire. The principles of Christianity provide a foundation for law within the Roman Empire. In offering a philosophical basis for dispassionate adjudication, Christianity becomes an essential part of Roman hegemonic influence.
The discipline of religion and law leads to the creation of the university, a citadel of teaching. The great religions of the world gravitate to this form of political and educational influence. Inquiring minds are stimulated in this environment. The principles of scientific investigation reappear with a stoic influence that moves humanity to a more secular view of life and its purpose. Soon, the so-called Renaissance displaces the so-called Dark Ages. Robinson takes issue with these categories of history because he finds growth of human understanding in both eras. He also finds violation of human rights in both eras.
The Frankish Emperor Charlemagne is noted as a prominent leader during the “Dark Ages”. He sets the stage for a modern Europe. The Magna Carta is created to reduce the monopolistic power of European monarchs. Robinson suggests the seeds for Enlightenment are sewn during the “Dark Ages”. Influential monks like Benedict of Nursia became a model for most Western monasteries that dictated the lives of congregations. Giant strides in science and math were made in the Islamic world during the “Dark Ages”. Art and literature flourish during the rule of Charlemagne. The Agricultural Age and the development of community settlements is born in the “Dark Ages”.
The brutality of the “Dark Ages” does not disappear in the Renaissance. Though the Renaissance is characterized by great leaps in knowledge from men like Francis Bacon, Machiavelli, Galileo, Bruno, Montaigne, Hobbes, and others; witches were burned at the stake for being agents of the devil.
Witch hunting and condemnation aside, these early Renaissance men set the stage for Descartes, Newton, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Thomas Reid and others. Many of these Renaissance men are deeply religious; however, they explain the world and human nature in scientific terms. The mysteries of life explained by religious fiat are systematically replaced by “I Think; Therefor I Am”, “We build too many walls and not enough bridges”, “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom”, or “There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.”
Robinson suggests that the American Constitution is a document created from the progress of Philosophy that began with the Greeks, and evolved through social experimentation; founded on religion and science. He particularly refers to the Federalist Papers and the participation of Madison, Hamilton, and to a lesser extent, Jay in writing the Papers to convince the American public of the need for democratic government. Washington’s and Jefferson’s contribution to the establishment of an American government is founded on the tenants of religion and science. Religion inculcated morality and ethics for equality and justice for all. Science inculcated past social experiments to create a government of checks and balances.
Robinson offers more contemporary philosophical change wrought by Kant, Hegel, William James, Wittgenstein, and Turing but all revolve around two essential philosophical ideas. One, know thyself, and two, recognize we are chained to a cave wall; with little hope of finding truth accepted by all.
These lectures are biased toward western civilization but they offer insightful commentary on where western progress came from; what it is, who shaped it, and where it may go.