Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Plato

Sacred power: the written words; (August 10, 2009)

For an illiterate person, what is written is in effect a secret method to see without eyes and to hear without ears; these two characteristics can easily be partially compared to the power of a God: religious clerics proffer to the written Books as emanating from their Gods; the Books are the silent residence of Truth. 

An illiterate individual is readier than the literate persons to accepting any opinion or idea once he is told that they are set in writing.  Regardless of how writing was discovered and initially used among societies, its ultimate function was to control and empower the elite classes who could afford to teach their offspring and provide them with the administrative and political functions necessary for running a City or a State. As Claude Levi-Strauss hypothesized, the only tangible and consistent correlations with the creation of writing were the formation of cities and empires in order to administer the citizens by this secret and sacred weapon.

Actually, deciphering the codes (a special writing in itself) of the enemies was always a fundamental function of the elite class; those elites who could master the coding system were the higher-ups in the hierarchical echelon of governance.  Plato had criticized the inconvenience of relying on the written documents because first, the memory lose of its capacity, and second people who can read tends to believe that they should force an opinion and to pretend that they have good judgment even in subjects that they ignore completely, and third, because writing resembles painting which does not offer answers and it is not possible to argument on it: when we write we forget our target audience and communication is deficient.  However, when we rely on oral transmission then we have to rely on what we really know and which was inscribed in our mind.

Nothing has changed much.  The rate of practical illiterates around the world has not increased for five thousand years.  Languages are used as codes for all the professional disciplines; religious or secular.  A professional may submit hundreds of articles in professional publishing mediums and read his head off in professional conferences but that does not make him a literate person in other domains; actually, he may not be capable of transmitting his knowledge to the common people or disseminating his ideas verbally.  True scientists are those who tried their hands at simplifying their writing for people outside the circles of elites: that is the way of investigating the range of his true knowledge, how knowledge changed him, and how he contributed to humanity.

Laws are written in coded forms; medical manuscripts are written in coded forms; nomenclature and classifications are written in an amalgam of ancient Greek and Latin; everything is basically written in foreign languages and we are wondering why the spirit of the democratic systems are not applied by people.  We are wondering why people yearn for dictators and one State political party.

The rate of practical illiterates has actually increased from five thousands years ago.  Audio-visual languages are supplanting the written languages; people have to add faces (smiling, angry, or sad) to what they are writing; effectively meaning “Listen, I cannot articulate my feelings; if you cannot understand what I wrote to you then never mind. Just capture my state of emotions.”  Very few have their cortex still developing; most of us are wallowing in our limbic brain.

Cicero was the first educated Roman to write in the vulgar Latin while the Greek language was reserved for the Roman elites.  Galileo wrote his scientific observations in the vulgar Italian which had the potential to transmitting his revolutionary discovery (that it is earth that rotates around the sun) more widely; making this fact accessible to the common people forced the Catholic Inquisition to prosecute Galileo and his ideas viewed contrary to the Church dogma. The Emperor Charles V ordered Erasmus to translate Aristotle to German; Martin Luther who translated the Scriptures into German because the Bible should be written in a living language that does not require the interpretation of the priests and the bishops which facilitated the Protestant religious upheaval against the central Papal power.

There are basically two approaches in political philosophy.  First, either you consider the governance of a State as a unity (usually compared to the human body) and thus the function of the government is to unite the divergences of the citizens by alternative means, mostly strong arms tactics by spreading fear and humiliation.  This approach inevitably is concreted simply in a theocracy because the dictator, monarch, or Prince is referred only to a God to control his responsibilities and obligations.  Second, you admit divergences and try means to unite on common denominators, this approach in political philosophy realizes that this process cannot  function unless the elected representatives, for limited duration in governance, give turns to the opposition groups to correct errors and show the effectiveness of their alternative ideas.

Plato described democracy as theocracy because the politicians have to act up before the voters a game that we all learn to perform since childhood at various degrees of convincing effects. It is the responsibility of the people to teach their political officials to act as responsible delegates. The people need to read and write in a language they can comprehend; the coded languages have to be translated to layman languages and in real-time.  Democracy is not feasible before the language is not owned by the common people at large.

 

Reactions to “Why the Arab World is not free?” (July 10, 2009)

I decided to post a reply to my book review “Why the Arab World is not free?” by Moustapha Safouan

“I am the son of two civilizations that have formed a happy marriage. The first civilization is 7 thousand years old of Pharaonic Egypt; the second is Islamic of one thousand four hundred years old.  One day the great Pyramids will disappear but Truth and Justice will remain for as long as Mankind has a reflective mind and a living conscience.

A Moslim Caliph returned prisoners of war to the Byzantium Empire in exchange of ancient Greek manuscripts in philosophy, medicine and mathematics. This is a testimony of value for the human spirit in its demand for knowledge; the believer in One God demanded the fruits of a pagan civilization.

It was my fate to be born in the lap of these two civilizations and to feed on their literature and art. The truth of the matter is that Evil is a loud and boisterous debaucherer, and that Man remembers what hurts more than what gives pleasure. Our great poet Abul-‘Alaa’ Ma’ari was right when he said: “A grief at the hour of death is more than a hundred-fold Joy at the hour of birth.”

When the Moslem’s Armies extended their territories from Spain to current Pakistan, they took possession of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Archimedes, and other Greek thinkers.

One of the prime reasons attributed to Moslims’ intellectual enhancement in the Middle Ages is the considerable influence of Greek philosophy to a rational new religion.

Up to the nineth century Muslim intellectuals valued reason in their interpretation of the Koran and Hadith.  Our present day Moslem heroes associate with the rational past.

In early Islam there was a philosophical debate that started with al-Ghazali and resumed by Ibn Rushd that led the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (1451-1481), the conqueror of the Capital Byzantium, to order two of the Empire’ scholars to compile books to summarize the debate between Ghazali and Ibn Rushd.

The philosophy of al-Ghazali was attacking the ideas of Avicenna or Ibn Sina (980-1037) and Farabi who were inspired by Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus.

Avicenna is known as al-Sheikh Rais (Leader among the wise men); in the west, he is also known as the “Prince of Physicians” for his famous medical text Qanun “Canon”. In Latin translations, his works influenced many Christian philosophers, most notably Thomas Aquinas.

The spread of Hellenistic philosophy in the Moslim world was expounded by the first Arabic philosopher Kindi (800-865) who wrote many works on Greek science and philosophy. As a mathematician Kindi realized the importance of Aristotelian logic. Farabi’s ideal rulers would be chosen for their intelligence and educated in science, philosophy, and religion.

According to Farabi, the best ruler for this Muslim state would be a “philosopher-king“, a concept described in Plato’s Republic. One of the most important contributions of Farabi, beyond his political views and scientific philosophies, was to make the study of logic easier by dividing it into two categories – Takhayyul (idea) and Thubut (proof). He wrote several sociological books, including his famous work – Al-Madina al-Fadila (The Model City). 

In Andalusia (Spain) Ibn Rushd commented on Al Ghazali, argument by argument, defending the power of rational and investigative thinking; his work became the foundation for Europe Renaissance in understanding Aristotle.

This part of history needs to be written; there are no takers yet. Orthodoxy in Islam rarely allows the treatise of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037), Kindi (800-865) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) to become the syllabus of mainstream thought process.  A Moslem student might revere Avicenna and Averroes but he is not offered the opportunity to read their works.

If Avicenna and Averroes’s thinking were part of the dialogue within Islam then the sun of the golden era would have never set. We cannot cite Khayyam as an example of a great poet and completely forget the message he gave. We may disagree with Khayyam, but introducing his thinking will help us to determine what pluralism is all about.

The works of our thinkers need to be revisited and their books should form an integral part of our academia. Khayyam is described as an atheist, philosopher, and naturalist.

The constant themes of Khayyam’s poetry are the certainty of death, the pointlessness of asking unanswerable questions, the mysteriousness of the universe, and the necessity of living joyfully the present. This is clearly reflected in the verses taken from Rubaiyat: “…How much more of the mosque, of prayer and fasting? Better go drunk and begging round the taverns. Khayyam, drinks wine, for soon this clay of yours will make a cup, bowl, one day a jar….”

The Iranian Shirin Ebadi (Abadi) is another Nobel laureate suffering at the hands of the radicals. Shirin Abadi, Islam’s most famous civil rights activists and a Nobel Prize winner, said in her acceptance speech:

“Allow me to say a little about my country, region, culture and faith. I am an Iranian. A descendent of Cyrus The Great. The Charter of Cyrus the Great is one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights. I am a Muslim. In the Koran the Prophet of Islam has been cited as saying: “Thou shalt believe in thine faith and I in my religion”. That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam, Iran’s civilization and culture has become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and compromise and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war. The luminaries of Iranian literature, in particular our Gnostic literature, from Hafiz, Mowlavi [better known in the West as Rumi] and Attar to Saadi, Sanaei, Naser Khosrow and Nezami, are emissaries of this humanitarian culture.”

The dark ages within any civilization is characterized with dogmatic extremism that denies civil liberties, including freedom of religion and justice or the right to a fair trial. ‘Golden age’ on the other hand should be about the freedom of expression and availability of justice for the downtrodden. A society is judged not by its standards of the richest but by the way the under privileged and the poorest live.

A minor renaissance within the regions under the influence of Islam can be traced, but the conditions that help ‘seeds of reason’ to take roots that are essential for freethinking were just not allowed to be nurtured.

Unfortunately, in the current Arab world, the true values are rarely ever discussed freely. During the ‘Golden Age’ periods there was particularly strong tradition of rationalism known as the Mu3tazalah. They stressed that man is inherently free and were skeptic on the predestination concept that everything was foreordained. The Mutazilites carefully cultivated an ‘enlightened moderation’ and allowed for the growth of knowledge and actively promulgated the Sciences as a part of the religion doctrine.

Muslim countries supply 70% of the world’s energy requirements and 40% of its raw material exports. With all of their oil wealth, two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in Muslim countries.

This state of misery is unparalleled; Islam’s inability to translate its economic prowess into general good has baffled the intelligentsia of the world. In the last 20 years over one million people died in conflicts involving intra Muslim wars.

Why are democracy and the rule of law nonexistent in most Moslim states?

Why are most of the worst acts of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam?

Whenever wicked fundamentalists have taken over reins of affairs they have gone for the jugular. Extremists have a single point agenda whereby ‘worldly decadence’ needs to be abolished for blessings and rewards in the after world.

No devotion can gratify the extremists; every strain of deviancy over times has its own brand of virtuous approach; these anarchists at one point have inflicted devastation on embryonic societies of Islam.

            Renaissance cannot be tainted with colour of ideology, it cannot be ‘Islamic or Christian,’ it is collective effort of minds to seek freedom from dogma and seek answers to complex questions of purpose of existence on this planet. Free thinking, logic and rationalism have to be the corner stone of any serious attempt to induce renaissance in the Islamic world. Pluralism of ideas and the prosperity of any land are intertwined. Freedom of minds and skill to ‘think the unthinkable’ is how humanity has progressed; when minds are incarcerated nothing endures.

Renaissance within all three monolithic religions was built around norms of free mind; Renaissance was about literature, architecture, arts and chiseling of marble to exquisite forms. The statue of David could only be created by the love of the free labor of Michelangelo: an enslaved mind could never be an artist or a creator. Physically enslaved men with free minds led revolutions and changed the world: they were ready to accept death instead of compromise with totalitarian or dogmatic despotism.

The first and foremost challenge that Islam has to face is freedom of intellectual enquiry, ability to ask the unthinkable and still be able to live in peace within a society.

Prof. Ahmad Zewail‘s use of the fast laser technique can be likened to Galilei’s use of his telescope that he directed towards everything that lit up the vault of heaven. Zewail tried his femtosecond laser on literally everything that moved in the world of molecules. He turned his telescope towards the frontiers of science. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry because he was the first to conduct experiments that clearly show the decisive moments in the life of a molecule – the breaking and formation of chemical bonds. He has been able to see the reality behind Arrhenius’ theory.

Prof. Ahmad Zewail acceptance speech, like Ebadi’s, referred to his richness of twin civilisations that of Islam and Egypt. He said:

Let me begin with a reflection on a personal story, that of a voyage through time. The medal I received from his Majesty this evening was designed by Erik Lindberg in 1902 to represent Nature in the form of the Goddess Isis – or eesis – the Egyptian Goddess of Motherhood. She emerges from the clouds, holding a cornucopia in her arms and the veil which covers her cold and austere face is held up by the Genius of Science. Indeed, it is the genius of science which pushed forward the race against time, from the beginning of astronomical calendars six millennia ago in the land of Isis to the femtosecond regime honoured tonight for the ultimate achievement in the microcosmos. I began life and education in the same Land of Isis, Egypt, made the scientific unveiling in America, and tonight, I receive this honor in Sweden, with a Nobel Medal which takes me right back to the beginning. This internationalization by the Genius of Science is precisely what Mr. Nobel wished for more than a century ago.”

Professor Ahmed H. Zewail, the only Arab to ever win a Nobel Prize for science and, since the death of the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam, the only one among the 1.2 billion Muslims with that honor.

Dr. Taha Hussein in his Nobel acceptance speech said: “The end will begin when seekers of knowledge become satisfied with their own achievements.

Unfortunately the embryonic renaissance in the late 700’s to 1300 of Islam was not extinguished by the satisfaction of its scientist’s queries; rather it was killed on the altar of dogma.

Abdus Salam once wrote:

“The Holy Koran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.”

Sad and tragic is the reality that this scion of Pakistan was not allowed to be buried in his homeland; an orphaned son of a nation thanked the luminaries on behalf of a nation who had disowned him. In his acceptance speech Abdus Salam said: “… I thank the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Academy of Sciences for the great honor and the courtesies extended to us, including the courtesy to me of being addressed in my language Urdu. Pakistan is deeply indebted to you for this. The creation of Physics is the shared heritage of all mankind. East and West, North and South have equally participated in it.

In the Holy Book of Islam, Allah says: ‘Thou seest not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze, Comes back to thee dazzled and aweary.”

On the global stage, it is these “heretical” scientists who are disowned by the Moslem orthodox clergy who have earned the greatest respect for Islam. Historically, we have distorted our real heroes into heretics, and the witch-hunt still continues. Dr. Abdus Salam is not the only one treated as heretic; we have the modern rationalist, Naguib Mahfouz – Nobel laureate in literature. Citation of his work, ‘Awlad Haratina,’ in the Swedish Academy’s declaration of award of the Nobel Prize to Mahfouz in 1988 greatly angered the Islamicists.

His novel appeared in English under the title, “The Children of Gebelawi.” Shortly after the eruption of the Rushdie affair, the leading fundamentalist, Omar Abd al-Rahman currently imprisoned in the US for his role in the attack on the World Trade Centre—declared that if they had killed Mahfouz in 1959 for writing ‘The Children of Our Alley,’ Rushdie would never have dared write his novel. This was taken as a fresh fatwa to kill Mahfouz.

In 1994 a failed attempt on his life leaft Mahfouz paralysed in his right arm. The crime of association of present day heroes of Islam with their past intellectual ancestors has marginalised them. It was the same Mahfouz who presented the case of his twin civilisations so adequately in the forum of ‘Swedish academy of sciences’ and quoted the great Muslim rationalist poet Abul-‘Alaa’ Ma’ari who asserted everywhere “the rights of reason against the claims of custom, tradition and authority.”

The world cannot remain hostage to medieval concepts; this modern fight has to be seen in its intellectual, historical and geographical context.  The Islamic world today is trying to re-ignite its lost “renaissance” but is led by demented people with medieval minds; they are supposed to cure our ills but are out in the open to slaughter and maim thousands. Respect of life is the first sign of an educated mind.

The Arabic language was synonymous with learning and science for 500 hundred years; a golden age that can count among its credits the precursors to modern universities, algebra, and the names of the stars and even the notion of science as an empirical inquiry. Science flourished in the Golden Age of Islam because there was within Islam a strong rational tradition of inquiry.

This tradition stressed human free will.  Under the Mut3azalah (enlightened moderation) knowledge grew. Moslim conventional Puritanism, led by Ghazali, reawakened in the twelfth century.  The Moslem puritans championed revelation over reason, predestination over free will. The Imam Ghazali described mathematics and medicine as (Fard-E-Kefaya) placing these knowledge secondary to religious knowledge.

A few Islamic clergies are trying to introduce elements of bigotry and fanaticism in mainstream Islamic thought. Our modern day laureates depict equally a sense of great connectivity to the rich past and that has to become a standard. Most likely the Islamic Renaissance that was about to be born 1000 years ago did not. We shall never know the extent of the harm that some celebrated religious zealots caused to mankind and civilization.

We are once again at the crossroads; the only ways forward is to connect with the world and help make ours a true charitable society, the only way prosperity of mind can be ensured is through pluralism of ideas.

Did you Day Dream a Utopian Project? (May 19, 2009)

 

Have you day dreamt of a utopian project?  I have so many times day dreamt of projects that were to be ideal in profitability, organization, equitability, fairness, encouraging and promoting individual creativities, and leaving plenty of free time for individual accomplishment and continuing education.  There are moments in any one of these projects where the more utopian you strive for the more variables you have to contend with.  Every detail generates its down set of variability and quickly the interactions are too many for the mind to coordinate and analyze.  Suddenly, you end it as abruptly as in happy movies.  Yes, it is complicated but everybody should be living happily ever after. 

Then you are carried by curiosity: you want to take the dreamt up project further to its ultimate glory.  The more you resolve complicated interactions among people the more your solutions revert to totalitarian solutions and the more your answers smack of a one party regime reactions to diversities.  Then I realize that, fundamentally, I am not better than any dictator who managed to amass enough power to exercise coercions at will. Utopias are dangerous exercises of the mind and they sting potently the trust in our potentials to fairness and equitability.  The only utility to dreaming up utopia is to vent up the bottled up anger of helplessness to act and change.  Utopias are far more dangerous when a restricted and select caste of elites assemble to apply and enforce their sick view of an ideal society.  Utopias are not the solution and never will improve human conditions.  Read any samples of Utopias from Plato, to Tomas Moore, and to the Zionist ideology and you will realize that the end product is a subdivision of society by caste systems where people rule and the lower strata produce and serve; the end product is a huge set of rules and regulations that can put to shame the gigantic daily constraints of the Jewish Pharisee sect. 

Study the Utopias of those who managed to horde power from Napoleon, to Bismarck, to Hitler, to Mussolini, to Lenin, to Stalin, to Mao Tse Tong, and finally to Bush/Cheney and the end product was destruction, utter humiliation of the people, hate crimes, and genocides.

There are other kinds of utopias.  You have those forecasting the future, fifty years from now, in all sorts of topics such as political systems, emergence of new superpowers, technological breakthrough, social conditions, trends of how fast people will die of famine, and the increase in social divides among the wealthy and the dregs. Sure, those forecasters inevitably claim that they are analyzing current trends if all conditions remain controlled, though they have no idea what are those conditions and how they are controlled.  Forecasting the future is another way of thinking aloud individual utopia because no one is forecasting without strong biases as to his present mind set.

So far, the only valid forecasting time line is of six months; it is adopted by the analysts of market and fashion trends of the adapters in the age category of 20 to 30 years.  There is no doubt in my mind that promotional tactics biase people in believing that they are setting the trend by surfing the internet and disseminating their interests; but that how democracy should be at work.  Democratic systems should expose programs and disseminate them and then evaluate what people selected after a period of six months of diffusion among the active population.

Part 1. “The Ideological Analysis of Christianism in reply to  Nietzsche’s position”, by Aida Ghoussoub (April 5, 2009)

 

Note: Aida Ghoussoub wrote this French Doctorate thesis in 1984 at the Sorbonne. I found it well thought out to summarize her thesis and discuss it as an extension to my six articles on Nietzsche’s Philosopher of Life.  The first part is about the author and why she worked on Nietzsche; the second part will deal with the analysis proper.

 

            Aida Ghoussoub was a nun of the Christian Maronite sect before the civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975; she had a bright mind too.  As the war dragged on, her religious institution took side in the conflict and showed its ugly face of intolerance and barbarism.  Aida repudiated her formal oath of blind obedience to the institution in order to follow her conscience and the true message of Jesus.  Aida was studying at the French faculty in Lebanon when the French government decided to temporarily close down the university; she immigrated to Paris and resumed her study in philosophy.

            Initially, the author contemplated a comparative study between Nietzsche’s ascetic ideal and the corresponding Maronite ascetic ideal.  (The Maronite constituted since the 6th century a structured social and religious institution oriented mostly toward ascetic life).  This project was out the window because the author had no access to Maronite manuscripts stored in monasteries during the war.  Christianism is an important topic in the author’s life and she admits that Christianity, even in secular societies, is permanently pervasive at all levels in the social fabrics from government, political decisions, education, and moral values; thus, Christianism is an ideology. Nietzsche has sensed the “bad taste” attitude of the sacerdotal caste to always view any opinion or position as an attack at its theology. It turned out that Nietzsche didn’t directly criticize Christianism from an ideological perspective, a void that the author considered worth investigating.

            But why study Nietzsche?  The author had to read Plato, Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer, but Nietzsche was an aggressive and affirmative philosopher, an active philosopher who wanted to change. He wrote: “A snake has to change its skin to survive.  The same goes to spirits: if free expression of opinions is usurped, then spirits die. Thinking in the active is to think against time, on the time, and in favor of the future time.” It is in the nature of man to be spiritual and to endeavor in the constant process of re-invention of the self.

  

Nietzsche interrogated on the every day realities of existence, and how man struggle with life day in, day out. Nietzsche wrote “Would you like to deal with fundamental problems on the salvation of humanity, God, immortality, and destiny after death? That is fine and dandy, commendable, and merit due reflection. As you are dealing with these abstract notions, I have a few questions to ask: How do you live with your body? What do you drink in the morning? How do you nourish your body? How do you relax? What are you work patterns? Are you aware of the climate that most suits you?  Don’t you think that all these little details turn out to be, in fact, more important to you? Are not these little details more exigent in rigor and of immediate nature than far-fetched concepts?”

            It must have been a lonely, silent, and daunting project for Aida, grappling with conditions of earning a living in Paris and constantly worried about the consequences of the civil war raging in her country.  However, the author took the warning of Nietzsche at heart: “Philosophy demands of its admirer to step aside, take time, learn silence, becoming slow in reading, profoundly, cautiously looking behind, ahead of oneself, with after thoughts, and eyes wide open.  That is why philosophy is more necessary today than at any other periods, because the kinds of work-habit and the frenzy required to finish with a task or a job is totally indecent in its demands”   

            The author was challenged in tackling Nietzsche’s train of thoughts: Nietzsche is the type who meditates, ruminates at great length, continuously transcribes his reflections and intentions, and answers his own and other philosophers’ queries. Nietzsche steps back from polemics and anticipate the future. It is difficult to interpret his mood swings, the situations that drive his aggressiveness and then his conciliating moments.

Note: I published “Is religion bunk? Case of Byzantium Empire” as a continuation of my review of Aida Ghoussoub’s thesis.


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