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Archive for the ‘000s BC’ Category

Wite-OutI read a post by Wildflower that got me to thinking: “Is It Neutral and Normal Because It’s White?”

White Americans as a whole do not have a neutral point of view. They do not see the world in a fair, open-minded way like they think.

This should be as plain as day, it should go without saying. Not so.

I will go further: most whites have a dishonest, self-serving, closed-minded, narrow way of looking at the world that is far from neutral, far from fair, far from objective. They are more interested in maintaining a false image of themselves as a kind and good and just people than, say, the truth.

White Americans are born with perfectly good minds, just as good as anyone else’s. Most have at least 14 years of schooling. America is a remarkably open society – it was before the Internet came and now it is even more so. There is every reason to expect them to be the most open-minded, knowledgeable people in all of history.

The trouble comes because of their power:

  1. It makes them believe they have all the answers – so why listen to others? Why care what goes on in other countries? Why take people of colour or other cultures seriously? Why even take voices from their own past seriously?
  2. It fills the world with their own voice – with television shows, news, Hollywood films, magazines, blogs, etc. They can barely hear anyone else but themselves.
  3. It makes them morally blind – they turn a blind eye to the evil done in their name.
  4. It makes them think the world is juster and less screwed up than it is – not just because they are morally blind but also because in their corner of the world things are fine. Most seem to believe in just world doctrine, which is hardly the way the world works.
  5. It separates them from other people – most live in an all-white world and rarely hear forthright, honest opinions seriously defended that are far from their own except of a narrow political sort. It also makes them blind to their own skin colour so that they think they are raceless, that their race does not affect how they see things.
  6. It allows them to write their own history – and fill it with lies and half-truths, putting themselves at the centre, making themselves its heroes, making themselves what all of history was leading up to!

In short, there is little to keep them honest. They believe what they want to believe. Not just in regard to history, race or foreign affairs, but even personal morals. In 1900, for example, abortion, divorce, illegitimacy and same-sex marriage were all beyond the pale and had been for at least 1500 years. But now?

Most do not seek out other voices from other times and other places, not even from people of colour from their own time and place. And so in spite of all their money and power they live in a very narrow world that does not extend much beyond the white middle-class English-speaking world of the last 30 years.

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written: -45
read: 2007

After Julius Caesar was killed, Cicero retired to his estate in the country to write. There he wrote “On Divination”. It records a discussion he had at the time with his brother Quintus about whether divination is true: do the gods tell us about the future through oracles, visions, astrology, prophets, the flight of birds and so on?

Quintus argues the Stoic position: divination works.

Cicero argues the opposite: it does not work. Diviners are right only through mere chance, not through any true knowledge.

His arguments sound like what someone today would say, yet Cicero still believes in the old Roman gods. He makes that plain. He just does not think that the gods would tell us things in such a roundabout way. In art and science we already have all that we need to know to live in this world.

Quintus says that if the gods exist, then they would tell us about the future. As it happens, they do: through divination. Therefore the gods do exist.

Quintus points out that men in all times and countries have believed in divination. Not only that, but it somehow works, though Quintus himself has no idea how. He gives many striking examples from history and even quotes Cicero’s own words in support.

Quintus’s argument takes up the first half of the book. It all sounds good. But then in the second half Cicero shows all the holes in it:

  • Just because most men believe something does not make it true. As philosophers we must argue from reason, not from the opinions of shopkeepers.
  • You give examples of where divination works, but not where divination fails, as it does most of the time.
  • All men believe in divination, but they do not at all
    agree on what this or that sign means. There is no body of proven knowledge common to all nations.
  • You say divination is built up by observations down through the ages. Is that so? Where is the proof of that? When observation leads to provable knowledge it becomes part of an art or science. It is no longer left to divination.

He uses the two twins argument against astrology. And on it goes.

Though most present-day readers will agree with him, Cicero’s own argument is also weak. Quintus gives in and never argues against it. I will have to fill in for him:

The holes in Cicero’s argument:

  • Cicero doubts divination because Quintus does not know how it happens. Should I doubt Cicero can think because he does not know how the mind works?
  • Cicero does a lot of supposing about how gods act and think and uses this to show that divination is unlikely. Yet he assumes that the gods think just like man. In fact, just like one man: Cicero!

This last argument, the-gods-agree-with-me argument, is still being used against religion 2000 years later.

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The Library of Alexandria (-295 to +646) was the largest library of ancient times. It stood for almost a thousand years. In 2002 a new Library of Alexandria was opened.

The ancient library had about 490,000 scrolls. That comes to about 100,000 of our books or, on a computer, 64 gigabytes. For us that would be a small-city library. In its time only the Library of Pergamum (the library that invented parchment) came close. In our time, the Library of Congress, now the largest, did not pass that size till the late 1800s.

The Library was conceived as a universal library: to have a copy of every book ever written. At 490,000 scrolls it probably came close that for Greek books.

It was not a free-standing, public library. It was part of the Museum of Alexandria, which in turn was part of the king’s estate. It was not a museum as we think of it but something like a research institute, which brought together some of the greatest minds of the age. It had labs, an observatory, a botanical garden and a zoo with a polar bear.

The Museum and Library gave us, among other things:

  • putting things in alphabetical order,
  • dividing a work into “books” (= separate scrolls),
  • the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament),
  • the works of Homer as we know them,
  • grammar books in the form we are used to seeing them,
  • punctuation,
  • the first good measurement of how big the earth is,
  • latitude and longitude,
  • heliocentrism.

The Library had a branch in the temple of Serapis. It was about a tenth the size but seems to have been opened to the public.

Ships that came to Alexandria were searched for books. Those that were found were copied: the owner got the copy, the Library kept the original! The Library sent buyers abroad to find the oldest copies of books. The older the better. If it had several old copies of the same book, it would work out what the original must have been. That is how the Library came to have the most trustworthy copies in the world.

It had the stolen originals of the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and books from the libraries of Aristotle and Theophrastus..

Languages: it had books in at least Greek, Egyptian, Aramaic (Babylonian) and Hebrew..

The Library was (partly) destroyed in:

  • -48 under Julius Caesar, who may have taken some of its books to Rome;
  • 272 under Aurelian to put down an uprising in Alexandria;
  • 295 under Diocletian to put down yet another uprising;
  • 391 under Theodosius when the Serapis branch was destroyed as a temple to idols;
  • 646 when Arabs destroyed what remained.

Of its books, 99% are lost forever. But if it were not for the Library, we would not have much of what do have, through copying and recopying, like the works of Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Thucydides and Herodotus.

Of the physical remains of the actual books that once sat in the Library, all we have are some torn pages.

– Abagond, 2006, 2015.

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