The current struggle against uncommon sense


The purpose of knowledge, in my book, is that it be shared and the primary school teacher in my soul is always wanting to reduce difficult concepts to simplistic terms which denies those such as me a place at the intellectual’s table.

Therefore, Deogolwulf’s rejoinder, in answer to the question of one of my commenters: “How do you find the time to research all this?” was, “Evidently by not bothering to read Aristotle,” which brought a smile to the face and a tear to the eye.

He was partly right, whilst his own views, to me, seem to have more of the Platonic than the Aristotelian. Allow me to explain.

Plato’s aristocracy is misunderstood if one thinks of it as a hereditary monarchy, a self-perpetuating group of oligarchs. The whole point of Plato’s aristocracy is meritocracy, which in itself is a flawed system because of the difficulty of defining merit and yet it is a better run society if it can be achieved.

As long as it’s not exclusive, in the sense of there being the possibility of upward mobility due to learning, for example, in a trade or a particular skill, then it has merit. The master, journeyman and apprentice fall under this umbrella.

In timocracy, the less gifted descendants are inducted into the gifted class without legitimacy but are welcomed mainly because of nepotism. This then degenerates into an oligarchical tradition and the divine right to rule overcomes the right to be there on merit alone.

Oligarchy itself has been covered in the Venetian post.

Oligarchy has the all-consuming task of constructing traditions, laws and given truths in order to retain power in lieu of merit. Therefore Platonic precepts have no place but the Aristotelian rigid separation of action from production, his justification of the subservience of slaves and others to the virtue, the reduction of human knowledge to the crudest sense-certainty and perception of “facts” and his formalism as a means of killing human creativity is well liked by oligarchs of a particuar bent.

The city state [he did not use State in the sense it is used by the totalitarians today] was greater than the family and the family was greater than the individual. Deogolwulf’s criticism is equally applicable to all who have used Aristotle as justification for despotic precepts, e.g. the immobility of the social classes and Aristotle needs to be seen today, not in terms of all he said [and he said much] but in terms of how he’s been interpreted and reinvented – even Nietzsche was enamoured.

Plato’s next circle closer to hell on earth comprises democracy and this is the bete-noir of Deogolwulf. The desire for freedom actually leads to slavery in another way and discipline gives way to chaos and to enforced egalitarianism [see my education post earlier today]. The yahoos and the loonies reign and the prostitute is the new goddess [e.g. Paris Hilton].

Power exists to be fought over and usurped [see the current Albion Alliance campaign against this] and merit at the top is non-existent [the Jim Hacker syndrome]. Westminster politics has itinerant ministers going to any portfolio, irrespective of merit and giving real power to the permanent head of the bureaucracy, outside the supposed democratic process and heavily dependent on patronage.

Unnecessary desires – those Man doesn’t really need and could resist with inner strength, e.g. for money and goods – become far more important than necessary desires – food, shelter and family, for example – and the result is a more bestialized and unhappy person who always wishes for more and who is led by buffoons in the legislature.

In the power vacuum where everyone is wrestling for it, the brute will win and will then weave about him an entourage – his one goal is to institutionalize his power and pass it down to posterity to someone lesser who could not threaten him during his ascendancy.

Welcome to the tyrant.

If he is strong enough, he is a despot. If not, then he exists up there as part of an oligarchy. Always he seeks legitimacy, e.g. the EU referenda where a likely yes vote was on the cards and through the farce of Westminster and Washington politics.

What he attempts to project is that even though he came to power illegitimately or legitimately through stratagems, he now wishes to be seen as one of Plato’s aristocracy, as Nero wished to be seen as cultured and Ernst Stavro Blofeld wished to confirm his ancient bloodline.

The truth is that he is an uncultured brute, no matter how many paintings he acquires and speaks about authoritatively and his behaviour gives him away. And where is the real aristocracy, the merited?

Dead of course. As Goering supposedly said, “I reach for the safety catch on my Browning.”

There are one or two basic principles. All men are not born equal. The best society can do is give equality of opportunity but that is a far cry from “all must have prizes”. I am from humble beginnings but I was given a fine education by my parents, a very general, liberal arts education, including Latin, before I specialized.

If I’d had the aptitude, then when my chance came for a career in IT, I might have gone far. But I didn’t have the brain for it and when I see my friend’s IT brain find a solution to a logical or technical puzzle just like that and I’m all at sea, I understand that I have many limitations.

Part of the Christian message is to accept those things and to do the best you can within your limitations and constraints. Where I disagree is when the fire and brimstone set say that that means no one should have the opportunity to improve himself. Of course he should have the chance but if he doesn’t manage it, then don’t give him laurels because it cheapens the laurel.

A Salieri is a Salieri and a Mozart is a Mozart.

Let him try something else if he must. If people were to accept that and still have a fair chance to improve, then society would be far more stable. I wish to see three august medicos in charge of medical policy, I wish to see three computer programmers and managers in charge of the electronics field and so on. I do not wish to see a politician in charge of trade.

I wish to see experienced pilots flying the plane I’m on, not someone who is there for egalitarian reasons.

You can call this view elitist but I call it uncommon sense.

9 comments for “The current struggle against uncommon sense

  1. dearieme
    January 12, 2010 at 13:53

    “As Goering supposedly said, “I reach for the safety catch on my Browning.””

    It’s from a play, so if Goering said it he was quoting. Moreover, the safety catch bit is an intrusion; observe that “I reach for my Browning” is a play on words. Goering, alas, was an intelligent chap, quite capable of seeing a joke.

  2. January 12, 2010 at 14:47

    Do you remember Johst’s play, Dearieme?

  3. MadPiper
    January 12, 2010 at 15:02

    I agree with your uncommon sense. If common sense was so common, why don’t we see more of it?

  4. January 12, 2010 at 21:23

    Not sure about what Plato would have made of representative democracy- remember that his democracy was that of Athens. I disagree with what you write about Aristotle and oligarchy- Aristotle’s actual thought was much more complicated, in politics he argues for a polity which is a virtuous democracy but he also tends to say that there is no such thing as the best regime- in that sense Aristotle is the true conservative whereas Plato, more radically, is as Popper described him the forefather of Stalinism. Plato’s vision is totalitarian- in teh Republic he wants to abolish marriage and nationalise sex not to mention not telling any child who its father and mother are- he wants the state to control every part of your life as well. Popper’s comparison to Stalin etc is wrong but it is just as wrong to make Plato into a conservative Christian gentleman- he wasn’t one.

  5. January 12, 2010 at 21:41

    There are one or two basic principles. All men are not born equal. The best society can do is give equality of opportunity but that is a far cry from “all must have prizes”.

    That is the truth of the matter and it is a pity more people don’t understand that.

    As for my education. I was starting secondary school just as they rehashed all the schools and turned them into comprehensives, which (in my opinion) was the start of the current problems in education. My ‘formal’ education was missing a lot of the things that I would call valuable.

    It is not elitist at all for people to use their skills to the best of their ability, as far as I am concerned that is the most sensible thing to do rather than strive to do something that is simply out their capability.

    AS to this comment:

    the primary school teacher in my soul is always wanting to reduce difficult concepts to simplistic terms which denies those such as me a place at the intellectual’s table.

    With all due respect James, you are putting yourself down with that remark. Talking to people on different intellectual levels so that they understand what you are talking about that is a very valuable skill to have and would not preclude you from the intellectual table (quite the opposite).

  6. January 13, 2010 at 00:49

    I beg your pardon for my tear-jerking manner.

    “the Aristotelian rigid separation of action from production, his justification of the subservience of slaves and others to the virtue, the reduction of human knowledge to the crudest sense-certainty and perception of “facts” and his formalism as a means of killing human creativity is well liked by oligarchs of a particular bent.”

    I must say that your source on Aristotle is not a good one. What is this “rigid separation of action from production”? What is this “formalism” which is used as a means of killing human creativity? If you mean that some of his ideas about cosmology and physics were false but long believed, and that the authority of his genius made deviation from these ideas difficult to effect, such that new ideas could not grow, then you have a case; but that is simply what often comes with the shadow of genius. One can say much the same about Newton, Einstein, Darwin, and others, except that the shadow of Aristotle’s genius lasted for millennia rather than centuries or decades. I am not sure what you mean by “his justification of the subservience of slaves and others to the virtue”. It sounds better than subservience to vice! As for his defence of slavery, you would be hard pushed to find an opponent of the institution until fairly recently. Most importantly, however, is how you, or your source, got the idea that Aristotle reduced, or sought to reduce, human knowledge to “the crudest sense-certainty and perception of ‘facts’”. It is hard to think of anything less Aristotelian. You may read him criticising his predecessors for just such a crudity:

    “If there is nothing apart from individuals, there will be no object of thought, but all things will be objects of sense, and there will not be knowledge of anything, unless we say that sensation is knowledge.” (Metaphysica, 999b)

    “And in general it is because these thinkers suppose knowledge to be sensation, and this to be a physical alteration, that they say that what appears to our senses must be true; for it is for these reasons that both Empedocles and Democritus and, one may almost say, all the others have fallen victims to opinions of this sort.” (Metaphysica, 1009b)

    He held that we arrive at knowledge of universals through an examination of particulars. Sensation receives the perceptible form and reason the intelligible form. The latter is the essence or definition of a thing by which we know it to be what it is. Unlike Plato, he understood forms to be immanent in phenomena, and he did not spurn to examine the empirical world around him, and indeed was the first systematic researcher thereof. No crime in that, I’d say, and no mean feat either. He also stands as the pre-eminent philosopher of commonsense as regards sensation.
    I am not sure why you keep choosing Aristotle as the philosopher of choice for “oligarchs”. If it is totalitarians you have in mind, then Plato’s Republic has been much more to their tastes. Neither Aristotle or Plato, of course, were admirers of the Athenian democracy.

  7. January 13, 2010 at 00:52

    Ahem, “nor”.

  8. January 13, 2010 at 10:32

    Deogolwulf and Tiberius – it’s getting onto a sticky wicket to argue Forms too strictly, as the Milesians did because ultimately, it is unnecessary to speculate too far down that path.

    And yet, if one does, then one comes to Metephysica VII 6:

    If, then, there is a constant cycle, something must always remain, acting in the same way. And if there is to be generation and destruction, there must be something else which is always acting in different ways. This must, then, act in one way in virtue of itself, and in another in virtue of something else-either of a third agent, therefore, or of the first. Now it must be in virtue of the first. For otherwise this again causes the motion both of the second agent and of the third. Therefore it is better to say ‘the first’.

    You can see where I’m headed here. This forces me into admitting what I have kept back until now. That the Venetian oligarchs who are the focus of my attention and who pinned their colours to the ancients may be said to have done as you originally suggested and not read their Aristotle but this is not actually so.

    The oligarchs didn’t read except to skim, they were advised in the form of court debate and though they put forward a notion of society of immutable roles – the rulers and the ruled [which is why you say Plato would be preferable to them], there are yet two factors which have not been mentioned:

    1. The notion of deity is not excluded by Aristotle, dpending on how he is interpreted;

    2. This deity was not the one the Christians suppose nor was it pantheistic – that was a whitewash for they had a different deity who was not one but claimed it to be so and whose influence has been felt down the centuries.

    Therefore, in a late mediaeaval world with the Pope so close at hand, they stepped carefully and since the nature of that “deity” is lies and self-delusion in its extreme form, this framed both the language of the debate and the debate itself. Even today, reference to the Great Architect does not refer to the Christian deity but to one altogether different.

    What is not immediately apparent is that when the Enlightenment thinkers go forth with their ideas, it’s not without a political and social agenda and it is based on ideas which have been misappropriated from the classical scholars for particular purposes. Such is gnosis as well.

    The sum total of this approach to Aristotle is to pick this or that but to ignore the other, e.g. On the Soul.

    You say, “I am not sure why you keep choosing Aristotle as the philosopher of choice for “oligarchs.” Minor point – I don’t choose him. They choose him and the reason is that parts of what he wrote can be selected and construed as they wish. For example:

    “Even if the end is the same for an individual and for a city-state, that of the city-state seems at any rate greater and more complete to attain and preserve. For although it is worthy to attain it for only an individual, it is nobler and more divine to do so for a nation or city-state.”

    When the Venetians moved north and west to Europe and beyond, they necessarily had to modify the notion of city-state but as they were already living a lie, this was not a difficult transition to make.

    The most important task for the politician is, in the role of(nomothetês), to frame the appropriate constitution for the city-state. This involves enduring laws, customs, and institutions (including a system of moral education) for the citizens. Once the constitution is in place, the politician needs to take the appropriate measures to maintain it, to introduce reforms when he finds them necessary, and to prevent developments which might subvert the political system.

    It matters not if that city-state is one thing or the other – there is a science called political science and the politicians are the lawgivers in it.

    That is precisely the tone of the replies to Albion Alliance, particularly from the Labour side – that they are the lawgivers and we are the law receivers. Now, you and I know that the parliament does have the power to enact laws so the question then is “on whose authority”.

    The reason the Venetian oligarchs like Aristotle is because of that ability to be interpreted or modified: “We’re all reasonable people and can see that Aristotle is outdated,” they say, “and therefore needs to be updated.” Slides are nothing new to those I term the Venetians but who are the Them of my other posts.

    Plato politically, on the other hand has The Republic and that is not so equivocal. His ideas are fairly clear on the oligarchs and most know at least a smattering of Plato but who, as you said, knows his Aristotle?

    Plato is not a useful source to the Venetians, even though, in pure terms, his ideas are better able to support the Venetian stance, the same stance taken by Charles I.

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