"Are not the majority of men disappointed with their lot, languishing in quiet desperation in their chains? *
A recurring subject in literature for centuries, with echoes of Karl Marx. Epicurus would shrug off such sentiments. He would urge us to be positive, be thankful for our blessings and enjoy food, drink and good company, without the fear that bedevils the modern world.
* Quote from Man Booker prizewinning novel The Sea, by John Banville.
I have just returned from a visit to Syria, about which more later. One of the images I am returning with is an incident in the Sayedah Zeinab Mosque, the shrine of Mohammed’s sister and one of the main pilgrimage sites for Shia pilgrims, an astonishing place of gold and mirror glass and simply hordes of people from Syria, Iraq and Iran . (Incidentally, the very fact that we were allowed, with smiles and encouragement, to enter this place tells you something about the people, who let me to touch and look, something that non-believers are not supposed to do).
In any case, a man approached me and told me that he was a Shia who lived in London but originally came from Southern Lebanon. He was very cheerful and friendly, and , as with everyone we met in Syria, there wasn’t a trace of personal resentment against individual Americans or British people that we could detect. I said I hoped that his family had not been too badly affected by the war against Lebanon last year. He replied that in the first Israeli attack his house (empty) had been completely demolished, and that in the second attack his best friend from childhood, a man with a wife and ten children had been killed outright. " I’ve never been political," he said, "but enough is enough. Now the gloves are off. No hostages from now on. I am thinking seriously of going to Iraq to join the resistance to the occupation." Not surprisingly, he did not distinguish between Israel and the United States. He spoke quietly and conversationally. It was particularly disturbing, coming as it did from a prosperous, middle class and respectable man, who lives in London and cannot be involved in terrorism.
How can followers of Epicurus be indifferent to a tragedy such as this?
Americans are reading less and their reading proficiency is declining at troubling rates, reports the National Endowment for the Arts*. This is especially true of children aged 9 and upwards. The percentage of 17 year olds reading every day for fun dropped from 32 in 1984 to 22 in 2004, with average reading scores showing steady decline. The percentage of college graduates who tested as â€œproficient in reading proseâ€ declined from 40 to 31 per cent between 1992 and 2003. Good reading skills correlate with higher earnings and more job opportunities. Important though the internet is, it â€œdoes not seem to nourish the sustained, linear attentionâ€ that reading books etc do, according to Professor Mathew Kirschenbaum of University of Maryland.Â
A less informed and civilized population does nothing to enhance ataraxia.Â Epicurus would be concerned.Â The key component of a good life is the ability to think for oneself and not to conform or to lazily accept what you have been told in school or church.Â Â Â Reading is an important aid to thinking for oneself.Â Â A conformist nation is cannot be a civilized nation.
Report entitled â€œTo read or not to readâ€ November 2007
According to reports* (is this a spoof?) Catholic priests are so over-worked in Europe and have to take so many communion services that they are tipsy a good part of the time and unfit to drive between their country parish churches.
Epicurus would approve. It is better to have them tipsy and merry than to have them preach sober.
* Guardian news report from Northern Ireland 11/16/07
Â The public donâ€™t know this: since 2003 Iraq has set a world record in suicide bombings.
The 1000 suicide attacks are more than double the number of similar attacks carried out by members of Hamas in Israel, Hizbollah in LebanonÂ and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka put together.Â Â Â There were no known suicide attacks before the invasion and no connection between 9/11 and Iraq.*
Epicurus would not be surprised.Â He would expect that where a government had effective control of information the citizens would be poorly informed.Â Â Â He would then go into the garden and dig potatoes.
â€œ*The Strategy of Martyrdom, by Mohammed M. Hafez, US Institute of Peace.
The British eat 97 % of the worldâ€™s baked beans (fact).
Baked beans are very Epicurean. They should be eaten at dead of night by torchlight under the blankets in boarding school dormitories. Eaten at breakfast time they are the wrong color and are boring.
Epicurus himself would have been a baked bean lover.Â This is because he was so cerebral and pre-preoccupied with thought that opening a can would have been convenient toÂ him.Â Other people in his Garden might have contented themselves with some of his olives.
(P.S This post is weird, and is only posted to attract attention.Â Any attempt to infer a sense of humor by the reader must mean that the wrong people are coming on to this blog)
If it is true that gentlemen prefer bimbos to educated career women with brains, how is it that there seem to be no extra bimbos being born into this world?
And another thing – - if men tend to marry the pretty girls and not the plain ones, how is that………
On a more serious note, however, Epicurus notoriously lived in an era where women were expected to breed and men have their fun with beautiful boys. The fact that Epicurus admitted women into his Garden and was arguably less sexist and more truly democratic than many of his contemporaries, is important but not relevant to this post. My point is that the culture at the time was totally different to that of the modern world, and the attitude to sex is just one pointer. While being indifferent to what happens between adults behind closed doors, we do not these days agree with anyone suborning young boys who know no better.
The objective of this blog is to ponder the question “What would Epicurus think about our modern issues.” Epicurus, being a really smart fellow with a high intelligence and a big brain, could were he alive today adapt to modern ways of thinking – - and those ways of thinking need not, by any stretch of the imagination, be influenced by Ayn Rand or the Libertarians.
Tasers are supposed to disable people without causing long-term harm. In the US during the last 12 months there have been 260 deaths apparently attributed to Tasers.
The attitude of some is, “You shouldn’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tough.” Alternatively, others seem to think, “You must have done something wrong if you have one of those things pointed at you.” (This is the line Germans took when the Nazis carted off their neighbors to rot in concentration camps, but perhaps I am being a bit emotional about it?). Yet another point of view is that if Tasers did not exist many more people would have died in shoot-outs, and these gadgets are a relatively humane improvement over traditional policing methods.
What would Epicurus have made of Tasers, and what do you think?