Aristotle would HATE Lizzo, Jordan Peterson and Kate Moss
Why do we worship extremes.... And what happened to the Golden Mean?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
Poor Icarus. He learned the lesson the hard way... go too low and you crash into the sea. Fly too high and your wings of wax will melt. Moderation, said dear old dad Daedalus before his silly son crashed and burned, is key.
It was a wisdom often repeated in the ancient world. The temple of Apollo at Delphi bore the inscription Meden Agan (μηδὲν ἄγαν):
“Nothing in Excess”
Meanwhile Socrates taught that a man must know, "how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible." We shouldn’t spend all our time at the gym... or exclusively devoted to music... you don’t want to be too hard or too soft, his logic continued. Instead, we should aim for harmony.
It was discussed in Plato's Philebus as well as in the Republic... and even referenced in the Laws.
But perhaps Aristotle is the one who captured the idea best. Listing moderation as one of the moral virtues, Aristotle also defined virtue itself as the desirable middle ground between two extremes, the Golden Mean.
Analyzed in the Nicomachean Ethics Book II as well as in the Eudemian Ethics, Aristotle argued that this golden mean or the golden middle way is the virtue of character. The takeaway is that moderation plays a vital role in all forms of moral excellence... and it was to be seen in all manners by all sorts of philosophers.
According to the historian and sociologist of science Steven Shapin:
From the pre-Socratics through the Hippocratic and Galenic corpus, and in the writings of such Stoic philosophers as Epictetus and Seneca, health was seen to flow from observing moderation – in exercise, in study, and in diet.
But it’s not just in Ancient Greece and Rome, this concept of moderation can be found in just about every wisdom of the ages:
Buddha summarized the Golden Mean as the Middle Way, a moderate path between extreme self-denial and sensual, materialistic self-indulgence.
Moderation is considered a key part of one's personal development in Chinese Taoist philosophy and religion and is one of the three jewels of Taoist thought.
Tiruvalluvar (the celebrated Tamil poet and philosopher from the 2nd century BC) wrote of the middle state, which is to preserve equity, in his Tirukkural.
Wasat, also called wasatiyyah, is called the Middle Way in Islam, because it emphasizes moderation rather than rigid monasticism or its extreme opposites, greed and acquisitiveness.
Confucius in The Analects (c. 479 BC – 221 BC), taught excess is similar to deficiency.
Many Hindu texts emphasize the middle path and in the Gita warrior Arjuna is told by Sri Krishna that, "Yoga is not for one who eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.”
And of course the idea makes an appearance in the Bible: “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.” – Ecclesiastes 7:18.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Catholic philosopher and theologian, in his Summa Theologiae, continued this point, arguing that Christian morality is consistent with the mean:
"Evil consists in discordance from their rule or measure. Now this may happen either by their exceeding the measure or by their falling short of it[.] ... Therefore it is evident that moral virtue observes the mean."
Okay, enough already! I hear you cry. We get the point. Moderation... duh!
And yet, the evidence of our culture points to an obsession of extremes....
In our super niche world, we connote genius status on those who are fanatically good at one thing. We worship the morbidly obese and strung out carnivores. We celebrate rock stars with expensive addictions and hold up high idiot savants and Silicon superminds. We watch caricatures of humans on TVs and movies and flip magazines showing absurd homes of the 1%. We obsess over serial killers and quickly cancel anyone who makes a mistake.
Aristotle would surely be turning in his grave.... And so, I have to ask, dear reader:
Why do we worship extremes.... And what happened to the Golden Mean? And how can we get back to it?
As always, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this email.
As for this week’s mailbag, we have some excellent and some extreme (!) responses to voting, art and last week’s music video, below.
Also, if you missed our message on finding the sublime, do take a moment to learn more about the Search for Ancient Wisdom here.
All the best,
Founder and Director
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On Turning the Corner to Find the Sublime:
You are so right about the art. I have been saying that about the other two Leonardo paintings right nearby for decades. I call most museum goers “literati” not because they are educated but because they litter museums without ever knowing or caring to know what they are seeing.
I visited the Louvre to see Mona Lisa, and then looked around for the other works exhibited. But I don’t think most people would go to see them if it wasn’t for Mona Lisa.
She is the attraction.
People looking to turn a corner often find themselves in a silo.
On How to Vote: Should We Head for the Idea? Or Deal with the Practical?:
On the matter of how to vote, here's a speech I wrote for a Braver Angels debate, where the resolution was: 'Vote the party, not the person.' Surely there are classical sources which bear on my choice of person, not party?
The founders did not envision political parties as part of the operating system of democracy. They were intensely concerned with the character of the persons in office. In the first of the Federalist papers, Alexander Hamilton warned of “those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right, in any controversy… nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterised political parties For, in politics as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution,” he said:
“A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude, that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations, and by the bitterness of their invectives.”
He has described exactly the situation we have today, has he not? The political system is swamped by shouted denunciation, malevolent posturing, accusations of idiocy or smug self-congratulation.
In this environment, we have no choice but to try to judge the character of the candidate, by taking his actions into account, his history, as well as the way he or she speaks to us. Even if we prefer exclusively the policies of one party, we are judging how a real person will implement them: whether s/he is honest, well-versed in complexity and unintended consequences, whether s/he is experienced enough in government to manage its responsibilities—including that of making personal relations with members of the other party, to establish the common ground without which compromise—and governance—is impossible.
We must vote on person-- not slogan, not platform, not party.
Very topical question, especially as it seems that your American parties are becoming more and more exclusivist and partisan. I think practical political thinking has aided this disaster, not helped. Most telling in America is that Democrat voters have largely left the evangelical church, while republicans have increasingly left their more mainline liberal denominations to join hardline fundamentalist churches. Political alignment appears to have become even more sacred than spiritual belief. But, I must remind you Americans that there are other countries in the world.
In Australia, in our last election we had what we called a ‘teal wave’, (blue (liberal)-green politicians) where a whole bunch of independent (theoretically non-partisan) candidates swept traditional liberal-voting (Conservative party) strongholds. No one expected this result, but local communities voted for their ideals, not the practical.
Ideals can work, only when they have enough adherents and clear goals. In this case, it was solely for anti-corruption and climate action policies, no messy partisan tricks that the big parties like to pull off. Broad, unspecific ideals; but in politics it is the simple rather than the complex that always seems to triumph. With too much cynicism and focus on practicalities, we can have our philosophies and values decided by our political choices, rather than the other way around, which it should always be. If you only subscribe to the idea that voting for third parties or independents is useless, aren’t you really just doing Goebbels’ work for the big parties?
Voting is almost always a waste of time especially in a so-called democracy. Majority rule means minority tyrannized. The candidates are selected, baked and anointed before being put on the ballot by privately owned parties that dictate who runs and how. The only difference between the UK and America today and Russia pre 1989 is the latter had an exclusive party and the former had two parties. An echo, not a choice. Different flavors, same ice cream. So it is a complete waste to worry about practical vs ideal. You need only look at the global contrived freak show if you have any doubt. I don't.
On the included video by Silverchair, Anthem for the Year 2000:
Could not listen to “song” beyond opening gyrations, attacking instruments, and lyrics. Not music, just hollering. Amazing to think it valid but educational since I am an art critic (including music). Just saying. . .
It’s certainly from a specific ‘period’ of teenage angst... Another reader also commented on the video... which I will admit was added as a mere side note, but certainly has a fearful element in it:
I found the video both disturbing and a revelation into what has happened to a world without a conscience. Young minds are malleable like clay. Pour in despair and rejection of truth and values and you reap hopelessness and violence.
We indoctrinate our young people rather than educate them. We convince them that the past and the people in it were terrible at best.
The truth is they were, for the most part, human beings searching for the freedom to live in peace as they chose without interference from the government. They were products of the society and time in which they were born. Slavery has been practiced since time began by every race and nation because the strong dominate the weak by force. In some parts of our world, they still do.
Our young people have been led to believe that only white men are guilty of this crime. The truth is that only the Christian Culture brought an end to slavery and many thousands of white men who did not own slaves gave their lives for that ideal, but you won't find that fact in today's history books. This and many other facts have been changed or erased for modern classrooms.
If we want the truth, and search for it with an open mind we will find it. We may disagree with the truth we find, but that is another issue. Like history, we may disagree with it, but we don't have the right to change it.
Ah me. Your video assures me that politics (basically the art of who gets what) is too important to leave to immature self centered youth. Until one has traveled and experienced other cultures and governments, it is difficult to judge your own. What do you compare it to, Utopia? Perhaps for now one should consider the practical basics, food, shelter, clothing. The ability to pursue these things involves defense of our/your country/land, education/training to obtain/produce goods/services. Only then can one/we survive and reproduce.
For this we need organizations that support these efforts. This is where we are divided. Taking into consideration that “…men are not angels, one may wish to consider a system that limits central power or disperses it to avoid tyranny. Personal experiences and knowing the history of different countries/governments serve as a very good guide. I suspect voting for a political system with a proven track record benefiting the citizens, supersedes choosing a charismatic individual or current popular agenda.
Back to Voting, there were many strong opinions:
Regarding "gobsmacked", you would be so if you actually desire to [first] learn and [then] participate in fomenting the answers AND rational constructive [voters] actions that already exist.
Of course these existing actions and solutions are wholly discredited by professional career "Politics-as-Usual" (P/U) IF [and very rarely so] are even noticed, or accounted for, lest such disparaging attention provides a semblance of creditable existence to them. P/U thus ignores, and thus demeans, what should be social media attention and fortification of "New Ideas need Friends" (New ideas need financial support that then attracts 'friends'). My 25+ years pragmatic experience in U.S. and international elections infrastructure, I can competently elaborate on the quintessential demarcations that will likely gobsmack your inquisitive mind.
Every alternate political candidate is an entrepreneur, yet not every entrepreneur is an alternate political candidate, yet ALL entrepreneurs are personally (and their C.C. risk) are ALL inspired visionaries.
Not all business visionaries found and propelled a major business success (an Amazon or Intel or Boeing)... yet All political entrepreneurs are inspired and inspiring social advocates that the professional career politicians are always looking to purloin for their own aggrandizement.
Cimon won the Persian war and was banished by Pericles. Just another politician. Same thing happened to Patton.
Dems will find out that “democracy” and CRT and other topics close to intellectuals like you and me do not move voters with an uneasy economy. I am upset as a true blue college professor that Barack and Joe are using such ideals in campaigning!
AG R, PhD
Voting is like public transportation. You figure out which one gets you closest to where you want to be, and then you get on board.
...Voting in the US these days is like three wolves and seven sheep voting on what's for dinner, only some of the sheep only vote when they really love one of the options, which they often don't, and the wolves watch the black sheep voting extra closely and lick their lips a lot when they allow black sheep to vote at all, and we only have the wolves' word for it that they'll abide by the results. Well. Some of the wolves. See also January 6.
Thank you for your insightful view of history. I look forward to your communiques.
I am writing a book about the Followers – those that just go about their business with whatever or whomever the government is. Most all of us are Followers and are subject to whatever the rulers decide. History can speak for that. I happen to think that what is happening to America and its decline will eventually cause it to disappear and you can write about its history. This has happened to many civilizations over time. We, the Followers are just a by-product of that. I don’t pretend to offer solutions, although I have my notions.
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Why would Aristotle hate Jordan Peterson? I’m reading his book and he seems to agree with Aristotle, nothing in excess, a middle path, using much of the same as example i thought.
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