Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Ancient Hidden Sources of the Best Self-Help Books of All Time.

The best self-helps books are obviously the ones which have lasted the test of time. But in many ways, great self-help books are just like families. They conceal a common ancestor under various new names and faces, but the hidden sources remain evident to the well-read reader.

All the best self-help books form a "family tree" of lineage. That is, families of books radiate from single ancestor books. And just as there are central lines of transmission, so also there are black sheep and rebels, those who react against the family storyline. So it is far from clear cut. However, by following the lines of influence backwards, we can discover the best and the deepest influences.

Let's look at a pair of books to illustrate this idea of families of books: Norman Vincent Peale's "The Power of Positive Thinking" and Charles Schwartz's "The Power of Thinking Big". Clearly written in opposition to one another, these two books are remarkable because they give the exact same message is the exact opposite way. 

Whereas Normal Vincent Peale acknowledges the source, Charles Schwartz conceals it. Both men cloak their words with the imprimatur of authority: they claim to both be doctors, and often quote verbal evidence of completely unknown men. But Dr Peale quotes professionals and Dr Schwartz quotes ordinary folk.

And what is the source of their ideas? Both books come directly from the Bible. As such, Peale acknowledges this directly, while Schwartz conceals it. This pattern of concealment and exposure of the source of teachings continues through the entire field. Schwartz is the rebel, hiding his books' origins behind a pragmatic facade. Peale is the conservative, simply stating what works and why and where it comes from with little interest in creating controversy about religion.

This gives us our first core self-help text:

The Bible, specifically the New Testament and Proverbs.

Other books draw on pagan philosophy. The three great schools of the ancients were and are Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Platonism. Among the stoics we have M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled, derived from Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius in an effort to conceal its Christian sources. Among the epicurean we have Anthony Robbins' Awaken the Giant Within. The platonic path has always been the richest lode of literature, and this trail follows up through many and great forebears:

Marsilius Ficino, a pioneer psychiatrist.
Emerson, a public speaker.
Thoreau, a backwoodsman, loner, and apologist for antisocial sentiment.
Wallace Wattles, a loner.
James Allen, a loner.
Kahlil Gibran a sybarite.

Of these few are read today in any depth, because the message has not changed substantially in 26 centuries. Yes, we realize, ideas DO create reality. Duh. So the tendency is to admire the old platonic books from afar and read the new. Which accounts for the endless profileration of books of platonic idealism.

Platonism today manifests in various trite forms of idealism, more or less anchored in practical reality, from the Law of Attraction crowd to the sunny good cheer of the Dale Carnegie "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Many interesting attempts to conceal Christian sentiment do so by taking on a platonic facade: for example, Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" is pure Platonism in tone and diction, while remaining in content purely New Testament character-building. It is a successful modern cross-insemination of Platonism and Christianity. When an early review of Covey's book fawns over Covey himself by calling him "a modern Socrates", the reviewer has clearly over-rated this modern Plato, Stephen Covey, by confusing Plato with his teacher Socrates.

Plato's influence is also evident in the fable books, such as Who Stole My Cheese, The Richest Man in Babylon, and The One Minute Manager. Whilst they aspire to have biblical (or, worse, messianic) resonance, they end up having ironic platonic complexity, and sound far more like Plato's fables than Jesus' parables.

Aristotelian self-help begins and ends with Napoleon Hill. He analytically breaks down the categories of success into 17 master principles. Hill's astonishing analytic genius allows others to synthesis new knowledge based on his original insights. When someone says that a self-help book is a rewritten form of Napoleon Hill, they usually underestimate the cognitive flexibility and power of Hill's original analyses. 

Why is that? Because, like Aristotle, Hill lays the foundations for entirely new fields of knowledge. The PMA/Positive Mental Attitude later philosophy evolved out of Hill's "Think And Grow Rich" as a derivative (or perhaps a falling-away) from the original vision. W Clement Stone's "Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude" begins the trend, which focuses on causes and imagines that by producing causes thereby effects are also created. For example, smile and you will feel happy may be true sometimes, but not all the time, because sometimes you smile and feel miserable because a smile is an effect, not a cause. 

When Hill expresses the truth that "thoughts are things" he is not kidding around. He means they are things as in tools for producing effects. For Hill, a thought is a screwdriver. But when platonist interpreters, who idealistically suppose that everything is a thought, use Hill's philosophy, they immediately overlook Hill's ideas of cause and effect, and lose some of their scientific flexibility and strength. Because this idealistic, platonic oversimplification of Hill's philosophy is so predominant, and often mistaken for Hill's philosophy itself, it has paradoxically created a valuable market for Hill's books for many decades, because Hill's actual books do not oversimplify the matter. Hill retains the natural Aristotelian complexity of his ideas only in his early books and lectures.

From Napoleon Hill's Aristotelian sophistication we get many amazing books: Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, the stream of "art of living" books by Brian Tracey, Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield books on the various dispositions of success. What distinguishes these authors and books as Aristotelian is their emphasis on discovering the elements, energies, and realistic, (scientifically knowable insofar as ethical and metaphysical matters can be known as delineated by Aristotle) true nature of things. They are Aristotelian scientists, in the same way Francis Bacon was attempting to create in his own times and Aristotelian vision of the world. They are significant sources of clarification and power, but not of consolation. For consolation we must turn to the Christian and platonic revelations.

So far we have a significant list of Pagan and Christian influences. Let us attempt to discover the basic source list:

Saint Paul of Tarsus and the other New Testament authors.
The authors of the Psalms and Proverbs.

The forthright Dr Peale acknowledges his philosophical sources as Thoreau, Emerson, and William James, two platonists and a skeptic. In the "Power of Positive Thinking" Peale writes:

"It may be said that three men vitally affected the thought processes of Americans - Emerson, Thoreau, and William James. Analyse the American mind even to this late date and it is evident that the teachings of these three philosophers combined to create that particular genius of the American who is not defeated by obstacles and who accomplishes 'impossibles' with amazing efficiency.

"A fundamental doctrine of Emerson is that the human personality can be touched by Divine power and thus greatness can be released from it. William James pointed out that the greatest factor in any undertaking is one's belief about it. Thoreau told us that the secret of achievement is to hold a picture of a successful outcome in mind."

- Power of Positive Thinking, Chapter 8 page 147.

Brian Tracy tells in his famous 1000 per cent formula of a young man who complained to him that he had stopped achieving and growing. Brian asked him what he had done differently, and they discovered he had stopped listening to and reading success literature. All he had to do, Tracy implies, is to start doing that again in order to have success.

Similarly, Dr Schwartz points out that Coca-Cola re-sells us on coke every generation and every summer, because otherwise we would cool on Coke and lose interest in it; so also we must re-sell ourselves on ourselves, discovering new enthusiasm and interest as we go along. So perhaps self-help books market our interest in ourselves, and refresh and renew our enthusiasm.

One long paean to the fun of self-help is Dale Dauten's "The Max Strategy", which presents experimentation and creativity as essential human functions of work, thereby effectively seeking to integrate work and leisure. Here is Dauten's daring view:

"' could do with a thirty percent increase in your productivity and your income, right?'

"I gave the expected answer.

"'Well, change all you can. Change enough so that people notice that you're changing. Arouse curiosity. Get a reputation for being an experimenter and people will bring their ideas to you.'"

- page 79, The Max Strategy, Dale Dauten.

The entire book celebrates how much fun it is to piddle around with our lives. On pages 79-80 he points out that the wellspring of ideas is to continually inventory problems, mistakes, and every daily custom. He says if you're going to change everything, start with problems, mistakes and customary actions. Change them first.

And isn't that what self-help books encourage us to do: change stuff around and see how it works? 

Dauten suggests a three-fold inventory process: the List of Problems, the List of Duties, and the List of Mistakes. Essential we're dealing with resentments, fears, and guilt here, it seems, since problems can irritate people, duties can cause fear they might not be fulfilled, and mistakes can cause guilt. Dauten suggests inventorying old material for solutions and recombining it in new ways to come up with solutions for the problems list. For the duties, he suggests using analogy: that is, how is this like something else? And for mistakes, finally, he suggests we befriend our problems, and go into them and through them and out the other side. Mistakes, failure, catastrophe, can be openings to new things too.

Conclusion: present day success literature is the result of recombination of previous success literature with modern practices. As a result, experiments are born. By reading the success literature, one accesses this stream of experimentation and becomes inspired and encouraged to experiment oneself.

The best books, then, will be the source books read in conjunction with the modern classics. So here they are with their modern interpreters:

1. Epictetus, Enchiridion and Dialogs. 
--> Peck, The Road Less Travelled. All the thought-changing-by-willpower advocates, from the extreme stoicism of Albert Ellis and David Burns to the milquetoast stoicism of Richard Carlson ("Don't Sweat the Small Stuff"). W Clement Stone's "Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude" and other PMA material.

2. Plato, all. 
--> Carnegie "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Covey "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." Fable books: Who Stole My Cheese, The Richest Man in Babylon, and The One Minute Manager, The Max Strategy, etc.

3. Aristotle, Metaphysics book I, Nichomachean Ethics book I and II, and Rhetoric book I. 
--> Napoleon Hill, all; Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics; the "art of living" books by Brian Tracey, Mark Victor Hansen, Jack Canfield books; Julie Morgenstein; David Allen, Getting Things Done.

4. Epicurus - any anthology of his sayings. Lucretius' poem, De Rerum Natura, is the best single-source gloss of his ideas. 
--> Robbins Awaken the Giant Within. Martha Beck. Robert Kiyosaki. A lot of coaching has epicurean qualities to it, with the focus on quality-of-life issues.

5. Psalms, Proverbs, and all the New Testament. 
--> Peale: "The Power of Positive Thinking"; Schwartz "The Power of Thinking Big"; Dennis Waitley. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

On the Falsehood of Hannah Arendt's Critique of Homer's Illiad.

My first thought when I woke was of the Illiad. I had been up until 1.30am reading it to the end. When the story finished, I closed it and rocked back and forth on my rocking chair saying to myself "Well that story will obviously have its full resonance later on, because the ending wasn't that flash."

Sure enough, as I woke the ending began to unfold. 

The key issue for critics through the centuries has been the ethics of warfare, culminating in the previous century is what I consider the sophistry of Hannah Arendt's apology for human brutality. Arendt's views long discouraged me from reading the Illiad, since through her lens of the book all I could expect is a futile catalogue of unending bloodlettings. Fagles and Knox quote her in their present-day translation, as a kind of a bowing to conventional opinion.

I am happy to report that Homer's poem disproves Ms Arendt's views of human violence. 

Homer teaches the essential (not the only) issue with the ethics of warfare is integrity. 

Ms Arendt seems to prove the endless futile horror of war by showing the waste en masse of both the Dardan and Argive societies. But she is using sophistry to show this, and her view is a grave misreading (almost a dis-reading!) of the Illiad.

To attempt to find some moral meaning from the mass of actions of men and their motives involves her first inventing a hypothetical entity called an army, which is in fact a mass of individual men with individual choices to make, circumscribed somewhat by their individual situations and characters. Only individuals can have integrity, not armies. Armies can have order, but not integrity or lack thereof. So Ms Arendt's argument must then ride on the individuals concerned.

The individual story evidenly belongs to Achilles. And the miracle of the Illiad is that Achilles, who is a dog of a man, can rise from anger straight through vainglory and into integrity by the appearence of Priam in his tent in the 24th and last book of the epic. I had at first supposed Achilles was acting thus from vanity, but this is simply not so. Achilles has attained integrity, and by a means I have witnessed in real life.

Often in my life, I see people in pairings, combinations which should not be occurring. One half of the pair will have integrity, the other half will lack integrity. They ought not to be friends or partners, spouses or workmates. And yet they are, and on closer investigation the lovingness of the integrous half will prove to be the binding mechanism. 

The friendship between those with and those without integrity proves to be an educational contrast, a necessary tension, a double bind that can only escaped by some unwished-for and even desperate resolution. Thus I have seen honest men die for love of dishonest women, and the women become honest. I have seen dishonest workplaces succeed in extracting the integrity from an honest worker and thus show him where and where not to place trust. 

Time and again, there seems to be a silent contract between those with and those without integrity that brings all things back into order. It is as if they are drawn together.

It is the same with the Illiad. When Achilles loses his flashy vainglorious friend Patroclus, with whom he used to sit aside from everyone else and scheme together, he loses that aspect of himself that schemed for advantage, the brutal human animal. All that remains of Achilles then is the brutal killer, and it is with that aspect of himself he goes up against the paragon of integrity in the story, Hector. That Hector has integrity is proven beyond doubt by his concern not simply for his family but for the welfare of his father's civilization. He and his father Priam are one in their values, which are the leading values of Troy. 

Achilles kills Hector and the brutal animal in Achilles is satisfied and becomes quiet. After killing Hector Achilles becomes conscious of the shame of his lack of integrity; and after the death of Patroclus he feels only the grief of the loss of his old self. Only shame and grief - no wonder Achilles is receptive to Priams valour when Priam appears! Achilles is the walking dead spiritually speaking when Priam finds him.

And notice for a moment Priams motives. Priam is motivated by valour, not merely by a soldier's courage but by the willingness to lay down his life for what he sees as right. Proper burial of Hector's body is not simply a personal matter, it is rather Priam's entire willingness to die for Troy, if he must do so in order to preserve his integrity. Priam is willing to go to any lengths for what he knows is right and good. This is not simple honor, but something of a totally other dimension. This is spiritual in nature. So it is little wonder Priam's integrity transforms Achilles.

The real pairing of the story is not Achilles and Patroclus, but Hector and Achilles. Hector has integrity, and Achilles has only the glamour of machismo. In killing Hector, Achilles attracts to himself to conditions whereby he transcends his own trashy macho persona and becomes a man.

The integrous values that manifested as the Dardan civilisation had clearly reached its full flower, and couldn't blossom any higher. And just as clearly it was time for that which the Hellenes were to manifest, reason, to enjoy a brief time as civilization. The transition had to be made; what were they to do, shake hands and transfer ownership of civilization with a notary's signature! And so they fought.

The thought when I woke was of the astonishing nature of Achilles coming-to-integrity. The morning passed as I discovered through phone calls that my dearest friend at present that he was not going well. Our friendship, I discovered, was not going well. I wrote about my concerns, and while clarifying them, it became evident things were not going to work out well for our friendship. This strong doubt drove me to ring him and resolve things to my satisfaction.

I should add here that the Illiad is the best and most excellent source of clarity about the nature of masculinity I have ever read. No other single book shows masculinity with such exceptional variety and power. I had the good fortune to read Hemingway's 'Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber' while reading the Illiad, and Hemingway's work in the modern world brilliantly corroborates what Homer teaches about manhood. These men bring to light issues with men in my life in stark clarity.

So I rang my friend and spoke to him. Sure enough, he had sold out on integrity. I tried to dissuade him as best I could. When I got off the phone, aware that I had most likely lost my best friend, and that he had indeed sold out, I was wracked with grief. I wept hot tears for many minutes, then fell onto the bed to rest.

It was there, grieving, that the falsehood of Hannah Arendt's view of Homer shone out. Arendt's view has defined modern criticism of Homer's Illiad, and I have never ceased to see it as somehow 'off'. I felt something in error, but could not put my finger on it. Now I can.

War is not futile. Achilles rose to integrity because of war. Priam rose to spiritual valour because of war. Greece rose briefly to reason because of war. And not simply any war, but the war of the Illiad, historical or not, the Trojan War. There was nothing futile about it: integrity won the Trojan war, a war which sophists like Hannah Arendt, using their own nature as a measuring stick, could only have lost.

Huizinga on the Evolution of Law Enforcement out of Chivalry

Huizinga on Law Enforcement, The Ideal of Chivalry, (Waning, page 68 par 2) writes:

"The passionate desire to find himself praised by his contemporaries or by posterity was the source of virtue with the courtly knight of the twelfth century and the rude captain of the fourteenth, no less than the beaux-esprits of the quattrocento."

Yes and no. Huizinga is seeking to revise Burkhardt here, but was he fails to see is that what we mean by human nature when we speak of the twelfth and fourteenth century man is a different nature not in kind but in quality.

Contrary to the surface impression, the condittore of the 14th century may in fact be more honest than the courtly knight of the 12th. Why is that? Because there is less need to idealize the brutal function of enforcing law and order in the 14th than in the 12th. 

Look at it this way: reality was too much with the man of the 12th century; he had to dress his policeman up in shining armour. By the time we get to the 14th century the glamor of the warrior was no longer part of policing.

When you look at the history of policing (a fascinating issue which I studied in the Great Ideas Today yearbook for 1972), you see immediately that in the age where policing was instituted it was simply a matter of pragmatism. One cannot have police and idealise the rule of law at the same time; police are just the visible expression of the widespread pragmatism of our society today. The rule of law in the ancients needed symbolic power, and in the moderns only the investiture of force is required for the rule of law. The change occurs sometime between the 12th and 14th century.

Likewise, by looking at how the ancients enforce their laws, we see their failure to even imagine the abstract rule of constitutionalism. The human of the twelfth century required a courtly knight to personify the rule of law. By contrast, the sophisticated men of the fourteenth century recognise the rule of law as an instrument in facilitating personal gain, hence their law enforcers are men seeking the most crude advantages of greed and ambition. We cannot have the abstract rule of law without also having cynical, hypocritical, and callow enforcers of the same laws.

Compare today: we see law as the expression of liberty under God, hence our law enforcers facilitate the abstract and impersonal expression of principle in a no-nonsense, pragmatic way. If the legal system seems careless or cold, then, it is also unsentimental and realistic. And if our legal system occasionally falls into cynical or negative or bureaucratic excesses, at least it does not slide the opposite way into idealistic, ideological, and heroic savagery.

Put another way, Huizinga's central insight here is that chivalry idealized the rule of law, because men in the 12th century could not see beyond their own passions to even understand an abstract idea. The courtly knight was a stand-in, a living symbol, for the abstraction of legal and moral right.

On the Federalist Papers

I am reading the Federalist essays. They are fascinating reading. I can just imagine being a Pensylvannian or Virginian and being pursuaded, step by logical step, by these words to the firmer union of the states.

And to a classicist the pleasure is heightened by the diction of Hamilton and Jay. Jay reminds me of simpler Suetonius, and Hamilton of a less vigorous Plutarch. Yet the resonance of the Roman authors is indisputably there in the text! They are a pleasure to read.

Here's Hamilton in Federalist 8:

"The history of war, in that quarter of the globe [Europe], is no longer a history of nations subdued and empires overturned; but of towns taken and re-taken; of battles that decide nothing, of retreats more beneficial than victories; of much effort and little acquisition. In this country the scene would be altogether reversed."

Isn't that marvellous? No emotional rant about the misery an American war would bring could have conveyed so simply the contrast. And for we moderns, few words can so well prophecy the bloodshed that characterised the Great War or the Civil War.

I think the Federalist papers are perhaps a fine place to start learning how to pursuade. I will be bringing home a paper copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica next week, and I look eagerly forward to reading the articles on the history of this period of the formation of the United States.

One more thing about the experience of reading these classics that will have been overlooked by the students of politics or rhetoric: the experience of reading the Federalist essays can best be compared to the experience of reading Shakespeare's Sonnets. 

Both are comprehended in a single mental grasp; both are short, adhere to a strict internal structure, relate to universal themes, and furnish with image and idea the most elegant and direct way to express the point. 

Finally, both can be read in a sequence or one to a sitting; but to read many Shakespearean Sonnets or Federalist essays invites fatigue, because they are unexpectedly powerful in their entirety; no single reading of the Sonnets or the Federalist Papers can capture their subtle, earthy, sophisticated flavor. So I can read only a few at a time, despite my eagerness to learn, and often must read aloud as I have read the Sonnets of Shakespeare (a recital of the sonnets over many days is in my opinion is the only way to access directly the authentic, anonymous voice of Will Shakespeare himself.)  The Federalists and the Sonnets must be digested slowly, and chewed over at leisure.

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