For a very long time during the history of man on this planet, philosophers, scholars and a great many intelligent lay persons have tried to answer an extremely puzzling question, how are we to live together, since humans are social creatures, gregarious by nature, their lives are inescapably intertwined with those of other people, some of them we know well, others we know only vaguely, but the vast majority we shall never know at all, so we must pay attention to the need to live with those others, and this is the core of politics. Politics is the art and science of governing, of guiding or influencing governmental policy, it is the profession which conducts the matters of society, and because of all that it matters to all of us, because a class or a clique which has gained the power to govern should not oppress us, its laws should be fair, which respects our rights and make absolutely clear the responsibilities we have towards one another, and history is replete with tyrannical regimes which have littered the world with examples of the terrible consequences of getting politics wrong , of not finding ways of living together and in harmony with the others.
Politics is the art and science which organizes our societies, both the way we actually do it, and the way we might do it better, the key concepts of politics are freedom, equality justice, and rights and so on, but the challenge is to understand what these terms really mean, and how we are going to work together. But living together was not a very easy thing to do, Plato said, if men were simple, a radical collectivism would suffice, but he passes quietly to another question, which is, why is it that such a simple paradise, the one he described in his famous work, the Republic, never came, so he hastens to answer his own question, it was he said because of greed and avarice. Men are on the average, not content with a simple life, they are acquisitive, ambitious, competitive and jealous, they soon tire with what they have and long for what they don’t have, the result is the encroachment of one group upon the territory of the others, and then war, so, because of that calamity, humanity had to devise a strategy to allow men to live together and that was done by creating a central power, power naturally converges to a center, it is ineffective when divided, diluted and spread, but again, because man has always been unduly curious and inquisitive he was never happy with one single invention, and so during the last few thousands of years of his existence on this planet, he tried several, a monarchical government, a theocratic government, a dictatorship and others, and then a democratic government, but all of them had difficulties and snags including democratic governments, Churchill said, politics is the best of a collection of bad options. But one has to remember that during this period there was a panorama of nations, morals, religions all of them rising and falling responding to life’s changes and demands and continuing to search for progress.
What is surely and clearly very unique about man is not only is unique and very special characteristics, but what he can do with them, history shows that man has always had a cumulative ability to create change such as no other species has ever been able to match, but they were so small in the beginning that it is impossible to pick out the first step which took him away from the determinism of nature, which for all intents and purpose actually began when his inherited genetics and his acquired behavior which have until then provided him with his only means of survival were first broken by conscious choice. And once he was able to break free in however a small degree from the influences of nature a huge difference has been done, and once progress began it did not stop and always moved in an upward direction, and from that point on, human culture was progressing, it was increasingly built upon by deliberate selection from within it, as well as by accident and natural processes, by accumulation of a capital of experience and by exploiting it, but this has always been a very slow process , but it was never linear , and sometimes faltering and even weakening, but always rebounding , until humanity reached its extant the state.
But let us have a better look at what had happened, man in a relatively short time, ten thousand years ago, was able when the great sheets of snow which has covered the northern part of the globe were receding leaving behind them area which encouraged man to settle down in big numbers, which allowed him to invent agriculture, domesticate animals, and built large cities, the most recent phase of his toils which we call civilization. But these civilizations went into a very regular cycles of birth maturation and decline but before they left their scene completely, their accomplishments and achievements were picked up by another group of people in a different land, who preserved them and built on them and so on, a process which has been repeated few dozen times in the history of mankind, searching for process. But what is progress.
The simplest way to define progress, is the increasing control of the environment by man, but now, we have a problem, which is has man been really able to increase his ability to make change, so let’s try to take a long range view and compare our modern existence, precarious, chaotic and murderous as it is, with the ignorance, superstition, violence and diseases of primitive people, and at the end of our search we certainly come out the winners of that race in spite of the fact that the lowliest strata in civilized states may still differ only slightly from barbarians, but above those levels thousands, millions have reached mental levels rarely found among primitive men. But under the strains of extant city life we sometimes take imaginative refuge in the simplicity of pre-civilized ways, but in our less romantic moments we know that this is a flight from reaction from our actual tasks, and that the idolizing of savages like many other romantic moods is nothing but an impatient expression of adolescent maladaptation of conscious ability not yet matured an comfortably placed
In the debate between ancients and moderns, there is no doubt that the former are eligible for the prize, the moderns have been able to eliminate famine in modern states, they have reached very high levels in science that has so diminished superstition, obscurantism and religious intolerance in many parts of the world and so on and so forth. All of which has created a great heritage that we can now transmit much richer than before. Progress is absolutely real, and this is not because we are born any healthier better, or wiser than infants were in the past, but because we are born to a richer heritage, born on a higher level of that foundation which the accumulation of knowledge and art raises. The heritage rises and man rises in proportion as he receives it.
History, is the creation and recording of the human heritage, progress is its increasing abundance, preservation, transmission and use. To those of us who study history not merely as a warning of man’s follies but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors, it becomes a heavenly city a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing. The historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning in human existence except that which man puts into it, let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death, if man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmits it to his children,. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our long-lasting life.
Saturday, December, 7, 2013