Thursday, March 31, 2011

Great New Ways to View My Blog

Blogger has just introduced some great new ways to view blogs, for those of you that would like a little variety.

All you have to do is append the following at the end of the URL /view/displaytype#!/

The displaytypes are flipcard, mosaic, sidebar, snapshot, and timeslide.

Try these:!/!/!/!/!/

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Barbaric Modern Age


Which people were more inhumane and barbaric: a) the Soviet Union and Nazis during World War II or b) the Romans during the time of the Empire?

Easy answer: a.

I just completed The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Anthony Beevor which shocked me and convinced me the Romans have nothing over the modern age as far as inhumane treatment of human beings.

Actually, I’d put the Soviets a step ahead of the Nazis if you really want to know.

Perhaps you know the history. Hitler rose to power when the German people were forced to choose between the Nazi party and the Communist Party (some choice!). In Hitler’s schizophrenic paranoid mind, the future of Germany depended on resisting all those who would suppress German nationalism. In order to fire up the German people to his purpose, Hitler blamed all Germany’s problems on the Communists and Jews as the agents who were working toward Germany’s destruction. Hitler vowed that it was Germany’s right and responsibility to resist and destroy the communist menace.

Once Western Europe was beaten, Hitler turned his attention to attacking the Soviet Union. He believed that as long as the Slavs remained powerful, they could come to the aid of Western Europe. With Russia destroyed, America and Britain would be isolated and Germany could retain her hold over Europe.

On June 22, 1941 Germany launched its attack on the Soviet Union. Once it had moved forward by several hundred miles, an occupation political apparatus, intent on exploitation of the Soviet people, was put into place. Thousands of Soviet citizens were murdered in an attempt to remove all leaders who could organize resistance against the Germans. Before the war ended, twelve to fourteen million Russian civilians had been killed in addition to nine million military deaths.

Of course, the German occupation would not hold thanks to Mother Russia’s size and climate. Hitler had made the same foolish mistake as those before him thinking that Russia could be physically conquered. After the Germans failed to take Stalingrad in 1943, the tide turned and they were forced to retreat. By January 1945, the Russians were advancing into German annexed Poland, killing everyone in their path. The Nazi genocide had been based on the German notion of race superiority. Russian genocide was pure revenge. Towns were wiped out, every woman raped, and every child killed. The Russians even killed their own people who had been captured by the Germans at the beginning of the war, assuming they had become disloyal. By the end of the war, the Germans suffered two million civilian deaths in addition to five million military deaths.

With the outcome of the war a certainty, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met in Yalta February 4-11 1945 to decide how Europe should be rebuilt in the post war period. Roosevelt, with two months to live, appeared weak to the others. Churchill considered Stalin a “devil-like tyrant” who couldn’t be trusted but Roosevelt insisted on being the one to negotiate directly with him, based on a na├»ve notion that he understood Stalin’s motives and could control him. Roosevelt should have applied a rule learned in antiquity – never trust the tyrant. Instead he allowed his desire to get Stalin to declare war on Japan and join the United Nations to cloud his judgment. Stalin agreed to attack Japan ninety days after a German defeat, which turned out to be only seven days before Japan surrendered. With respect to the United Nations, Stalin had secretly negotiated a veto power format designed to protect his interests, unknown to Roosevelt, so his resistance to joining was in fact a ruse.

So we have the arguably the two worst human beings of the twentieth century destroying each other without any consideration for the lives of innocent people. Why has man not progressed morally in two thousand years? Because man is man and when he is a part of a group, his behavior often takes on an evil character freed from responsibility.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Education and Its Roots in Antiquity II

We ended the last post on this subject in the middle of the fifth century B.C. At that point, the Persian Wars were thirty years in the past and the Golden Age of the Athenian Polis was underway. Without classical schooling, however, the likes of Pericles, Sophocles, and Phidias had to bring the Athenian culture forward on the back of their own limited grade school education. There was no “modern” school in existence to teach them philosophy and science like there would be later.

This is an excellent example of the time lag that always exists between culture and education. Culture is driven by experimentation and the spontaneous output of new outlooks, while education is a more conservative process of defining those advances in the form of a routine.

The first schools in the Aegean provided training in medicine, but these were not new models for learning like the schools of philosophy. Philosophers as far back as Anaximander had recorded their lecture material for the benefit of students. Later Xenophanes wrote in verse, critical of the immorality of Homer, and defined his own version of wisdom. Pythagorism became widespread when it became one of the schools created to teach philosophy.

None of these early schools had the same impact as the Sophists, who began teaching in the middle of the fifth century. Their purpose initially was to produce capable statesmen, based on the new dimensions in Athenian politics. When tyranny fell, Athenian political life became free from its dependence on the aristocratic classes. Valor had moved from an attribute of the hero soldier to an attribute of the politician. But the Sophists were not in business to train all, at least not initially. They sought out the old aristocratic families who would more than others appreciate their contribution. Those families could also afford the tuition.

The Sophists were not political and did not favor democracy over any alternative political system. Moreover, they did not fit easily into any intellectual category. They were clearly not philosophers in the typical sense, but more correctly bringers of ideas -- some their own and some borrowed from others. Sophists were teachers above anything else. They did not open any new schools but instead employed a method of collective tutoring. Each student was engaged for three or four years his entire education under the control of the teacher. The price? Protagoras supposedly charged 10,000 drachmas (the average worker earned one drachma per day). He also complained that his rates were being “low balled” by some quacks who would charge 300-400 drachmas for the same training.

The Sophists obtained new students by giving free “lectures” in public. These talks were pure marketing – attempts to convince any parent listening that his child could benefit from a Sophist education.

Regarding content,  they concentrated on three different areas: politics, dialectics, and rhetoric. In the case of the former, Sophist teaching is often referred to has relativistic humanism as expressed in the saying “man is the measure of all  things”. The intent was to apply education to real life, acquire knowledge of how to live a political society, and avoid discourse about things that couldn’t be understood, such as the nature of the gods.

Dialectics is the ability to argue both sides of a proposition -- a skill needed by politicians who wanted to convince others to support their positions. Protagoras brought dialectics to its classic form when he invented “eristics“, a debating method designed to confuse an opponent by taking points he had already conceded. Marrou calls this a combination of brazen cynical pragmatism and astonishing practical effectiveness.

The historical significance of dialectics is hard to overstate given its influence on the whole of Greek philosophy, science, and culture.

The third area of influence of the Sophists was rhetoric, the art of speech. In Greece, unlike today, the spoken word reigned supreme over the written word, so rhetoric was seen as essential to politics and performance in the law courts. They not only developed the forms of speech but also a branch of rhetoric known as “inventions” designed to foster original thoughts and ideas.

Of course, the skills outlined above are only a part of the universal education desired by the Sophists. One could not apply rhetoric and dialectics adequately without a broad education encompassing all areas of study. They decried overspecialization as corrupting, claiming that if a young mind is made a slave to the sciences, it becomes narrow and short-sighted. The opposite point of view, that of over generalization, was also to be avoided because it leads to superficiality. The happy medium between these has not been found, even today.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Antiquities at the Getty Villa

J. Paul Getty was an eccentric Oil baron who loved art and had a special interest in antiquity. When his art collection was small, he displayed it for friends visiting his home. Later, when the collection got too large and had to be relocated he build a museum wing on to his house. Later when the collection outgrew the addition, he decided to build an exact replica of a Roman villa that had been uncovered during the excavations of Herculaneum. Oddly, Getty was living in London when the construction started and died before he ever saw the finished product.

The property was given to the Getty Trust which open the villa in 1976 and the associated Getty Center in 1997. The Villa property houses antiquities and the Center the rest of Getty’s art collection.

Visiting the villa is quite an experience if you allow yourself to be drawn back in time to the first century A.D. The Villa is enormous with a very large garden pool to the west of it. To me, the structure looks a bit out of context because it stands alone as a style dissimilar to its surroundings.

Still, the collection is wonderful: both sculpture and pottery. The pottery is first rate with some four thousand year old pieces.

The Link below will take you to my photo album of the Villa.

Getty Villa Photo Album

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blog Format Change

This weekend I made structural changes to the Blog to divide its content by sub-discipline where appropriate.

It is my firm belief that studying history takes a multidisciplinary approach encompassing Anthropology, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and possibly other subjects as well. Without these companion disciplines history is just data about what happened a long time ago. With them, it gains depth and a reality reflecting the totality of knowledge related to it.

There is now a box under the “about me” section called Related Mike Anderson Blogs. This section will grow and eventually contain content from the various disciplines listed above.

Content that is mainly about the history will remain on the main blog. Content that is developed out of one of the disciplines will go into that “sub-blog”. I am in the process of taking previously written content relating to the disciplines and copying it into the appropriate sub-blog. An original copy will also remain on the main blog. Going forward, articles will appear either in one place or the other.

I hope that my readers will find value in having the content organized in this new way. Anyone who chooses to look at antiquity from the point of view of one of the disciplines can just go there, review the content, and think about history through the lens of that discipline. Everyone who wants to examine the history by itself can see it all on the main blog.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Take a Look at the Voices of the Past Website

I want to present the Voices of the Past website which offers an interesting forum for sharing information about history.

The site has the following as a purpose document:

The purpose of the Voices of the Past netcast, podcast and accompanying website is to help people use the social web to effectively advocate for heritage resources. We produce a video netcast and audio podcast called “Voices of the Past.” These shows feature the folks who are actively using social media to talk about heritage. You are currently on our “shownotes” website and blog that incorporates news from online sources along with our multimedia content.

Social media at its most effective is rooted in bringing together people of like interests and values to better one another and the societies in which they live, regardless of their location in the world. Instant, unfiltered access to information is its hallmark as is interactivity and freedom of expression. This effort is independently run by you, the heritage community. There are no political agendas and nobody gets paid for this endeavor. Our only agenda is to inspire connections to heritage values (worldwide!) through new media.

The site covers all human heritage including ancient and there are quite a few articles on archaeology.

I was featured on their “Meet the Blogger” section for February.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Education and its Roots in Antiquity

The education of man has taken a long and winding road since its beginning during the first millennium B.C. Previous to that time, man’s education amounted to little more than learning how to survive, but after urbanization created free time, man began to think about the world around him. Then with the advent of written language, he began to create documents to retain their knowledge. Eventually, formal systems of education evolved when the old aristocratic systems were replaced by modern schools.

How did the Greek educational system evolved and how did it change over time? What influence did the Greeks have on the modern educational systems of today?

Contemporary educational systems are certainly not the best in the history of mankind, but rather stand as an ideal degraded -- torn down from what it was or could have been. There is no incentive to make the teachers or the students perform so our schools are full of fancy teaching techniques that don’t teach, political correctness the avoids reality, and poor performance by teachers and students. Universities, for their part, are more interested in collecting money than applying educational rigor. What other reason is there to explain how the four year degree has become a six year degree and the bell shaped curve of grades has been compressed into A-C.

But let us not rail against current problems. Instead, we’ll go back in time to see what we can learn. In Greece we start with Homer because he is the first model for the education of Greeks after the Dark Ages.

The Odyssey and the Iliad were the first textbooks of Greek education and every child was familiar with them. These hero legends described a society of kings and knights with the knights ordained as the nobility – honored by the king and serving as his warrior class. The education of the knights had two components: technical and moral. Technically, they trained for sport and for war. Athletic games were a way to excel and be recognized when there was no war.

Morally, the knights were trained to be chivalrous, honest, and loyal. Achilles is the classic example – honorable and a lover of glory. Warriors did not expect a long life because they were destined for battle and had to be ready with courage and determination to sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose. Courage is a high purpose as Athena tells Telemachus, “Stop playing about and act your age. Think of the fame of Orestes when he avenged his father and killed cunning Aegisthus.”

As the Polis grew and the Dark Ages faded, Athenian education was transformed from a warrior culture to a scribe culture. We can point to the middle of the sixth century as the beginning of this trend -- the point when the military character of Athenian education was de-emphasized. For the next one hundred years, until the time of the Sophists, a new system evolved slowly. We call this period the democratization of education, as it moved from school for the gentlemen to school for all. The broadening of educational opportunities showed itself first in sport, which became the substitute for battle. Here, every child was given the chance to complete whether he was destined for the military or not.

Ultimately, as more children became eligible for education, schools came into existence out of necessity, because of the impracticality of having one teacher for each student.

Education also became the center of a philosophical argument about whether courage and virtue could be taught. Traditionalists asserted that either ancestry or entrance into the class of nobility was a pre-requisite. Pindar stated that education could only have value if given to a nobleman who has already become what he is. More broadly, there existed a contempt for the self-educated who had knowledge only because they had gone to school.

Still, the schools evolved and the complaints against them, like the resistance to the lower classes serving in the Athenian government, began to die away. The new schools embraced sports and physical education initially, but music, poetry, and literature followed along in due time. The result was a mature first stage of Athenian educational development embracing a goal of Kalokagathia, which we translate as “being a man who is both beautiful and good”.