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How Should We Treat Our Enemies?
And how does it reflect on us?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
“Love thine enemies because they are the instruments of your destiny.” — Joseph Campbell
If modern readers were to pick an epithet for Achilles, I highly doubt “swift footed” would top the list. “Whiny”, “tantrum-throwing”, “Vicious slaughterer”, “Disrespecter of the dead”, or “Polluter of Rivers” might come to mind... I mean, didn’t he even care about the environmental impact of his slaughter on the local waterways?
It’s clear Homer’s depiction of Thetis’ son is one that... well, doesn’t exactly win the reader over.
On the other hand, “bright-helmeted” Hector is portrayed so heroically, so valiant and yet still humane. Those who aren’t moved by his touching farewell to his wife and his child should seek psychological help and empathy.
Indeed, it is a curious thing that the mythical telling of the Trojan War is such that almost no one nominates the actual protagonist as their favorite... but rather his enemy.
It is certainly something that makes one wonder...
Since the dawn of civilization men (and women) have had enemies. Wars have been fought over resources, territories, women and reputations. It’s nothing new, sadly.
What has changed drastically, however, is our type of warfare.
Our ancestors would have seen the face of their enemy. They would have looked them in the eye as they battled and either won or died (most likely the former, since we exist now). But how does witnessing your foe’s final moments change your perspective? How does it alter the relationship between life, death, victor and victim?
Many a fight in the Iliad begins with a declaration of hierarchy, a formal introduction and an awareness of the other’s standing. Sure, they proceeded to viciously slay each other... but at least they know who they were slaying!
And even then, if their opponent had fought with valor and bravery, the conqueror would pay their due respects. One only has to think of the story of Penthesilea, the Amazonian queen who distinguished herself greatly while battling the swift footed Achilles. So much so, that he agreed to return her body unharmed to the Trojans for proper burial. (Something he famously did not do for the great Hector).
Achilles and Penthesilea by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1751–1829)
So, to respect your enemy, do you have to look them in the eye?
Then consider the alternative. Even in the ancient world archers drew a raised eyebrow and suspicious bearing...can you imagine how they would view drones, F-22, and long range missiles?
Now, this is just an idea of course... Being neither warrior, military strategist nor psychologist, my thoughts on the matter are not grounded in anything other than theorizing and thinking out loud.
Famed author and folklorist, the man renowned for his thoughts on the journey of the archetypal hero, Joseph Campbell, had a very different claim for the reasons why he felt the perception of the enemy had changed so dramatically.
It was the move from Paganism to Monotheism that did it. When society’s mirror in the sky involved bickering gods rather than a sole owner of right and wrong, fighters on the ground could relate more to those on the other side of their sword.
But what do you think, dear reader? Is this the case at all? Have we as society truly changed the way we see our opponents? Either in modern warfare... or in politics and social interactions?
What is the cause of this change... and perhaps more to the root of the issue: How should we view our enemies? And how does it reflect on us?
As always, you can write to me directly at email@example.com or reply to this email.
Now, onto today’s mailbag responses on the very serious topic: Have we become anti-human? below... You may not be surprised to learn that the replies to the question varied HUGELY. Scroll on and see for yourself who you agree...or don’t agree with.
All the best,
Founder and Director
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A few thoughts immediately come to mind:
In the past child mortality was very high; thus the emphasis on fertility.
Even in the animal kingdom, fertility drops when the population faces certain stressors—and often rises again when conditions improve. Many people today experience a lot of stress in their lives and difficulty making ends meet.
There are many more chemicals in the world today, such as endocrine disruptors which negatively impact people’s health and fertility.
Many people take drugs of all sorts— and are encouraged to do so by ads and doctors—the goal appears to be getting as many people as possible on life-long drugs, regardless of their ages. All drugs have side effects but may not even have healing properties.
Many people have poor diets today, relying on fast, highly processed, and sugary foods. They spend a lot of time driving rather than exercising. This all negatively impacts their health and well being.
Yes, you could say we have become anti-human for these reasons—not because many choose not to have children under such constraints.
Isn’t it really an economic problem? It is terribly costly to raise even one child, let alone 2.1 or more. With reliable contraception available nearly worldwide, women are able to give thought to whether they can afford to feed, clothe, house and educate more children. And I cannot consider that a bad thing. Even at the reduced rate of fertility too many children are hungry and unhoused, abused and neglected.
Very interesting question; one simple analogy can help clarify the value of life in the USA.
When we go to a national park in the USA, there are signs that say ‘do not feed wild animals’. The reason behind it is relatively simple, the animals may grow dependent upon the handouts and refuse to seek their own means of survival. Why is the government (We the People?) concerned about the animals becoming dependent, but “WE” have no concern whatsoever when tax dollars are paid to keep a person dependent ?
Why does the government care more about the animals than the people ?
Just imagine if the government cared about people the same way they care about animals.
As a dad to 8, I felt the need to write. Each one a Blessing, why wouldn’t I want more? Keep Loving, worry about the side effects later.
The old Prom Queen and Quarterback, happy high school mates for life. Young mothers are the best. 10 years for a PHD, I don't need a man, miserable and single at 40. Frank Sinatra sang Love and Marriage...You can't have one without the other!
Anti-human behavior may be linked to overpopulation.
We are also now in the 6th earth extinction cycle, the Holocene, linked to the presence of humans about 75,000 years ago and man's progressive destruction of natural habitats, eradication of wildlife by overhunting and overfishing and river and ocean pollution.
There might come a day when there is nothing left to eat on this planet and global starvation.
To be facetious, that might be a time when the only thing left to eat is your dog, you might in fact have to eat your next door neighbor.
Alan D. MD/FACC/MMM
Dear Mr. Anya Leonard,
You are addressing a relevant and interesting subject as usual. I studied theology and human sciences and worked as a social mediator.
The lack of desire for children has several causes and they can vary depending on the context of life and social class. This could be the subject of a book.
But there are some broad outlines that I can highlight here:
-In prehistory the relationship with Nature was sacred (shamanism); the woman carrying life was sacred, having many children was a question of tribal survival. The transition to polytheism therefore gave rise to goddesses of fertility, culture, the earth, etc. and gods to fertilize them.
-Monotheism has sanctified the dominant male to the detriment of the woman who becomes an object of pleasure and/or a tool of reproduction. At the origin of this change: the appearance of private property (the woman becomes property, part of the garden) of scribes (notaries) who register properties, villages grow, city-states appear, etc.
-Finally our era sees the first revolutions and the first desecrations, women understand that they can have a social place equal to that of the men they replaced in the factories during the wars etc. The woman emancipates herself and the desire for a child becomes the key to reproduction, her body becomes sacred again and consequently reproduction, her choice. It is more complicated in countries where dictatorships operate.
-In poor countries the tribal reflex for survival has remained important, which can explain African demography, for example, in the face of significant and multifactorial mortality.
In Western Europe, climatic disasters have the opposite effect: we don't want children because the future is too uncertain. A good level of education allows us to think about the future.
In conclusion: anti-humanity was/is rather the result of religious fanaticism and/or political fanaticism, or recently technological fanaticism, but the currents of emancipation and return to Nature show that humanists in search of the Sacred are always there: all life becomes sacred again, animal and plant. Mother Nature is angry and necessity is law, the sense of humanity will regain all its value and the Sacred will take its place.
Best regards, your fellow,
Hope the return to Buenos Aires went well, and that you all had a rewarding trip around ancient lands!
I was moved by this blog post on declining birth rates. Your observations about the stark contrast between ancient values of fertility and today's demographic trends resonated with me.
I read somewhere that in the UK, there are more babies born to women over 40 than to women under 20. Any human of any past generation, going back to the first homo sapiens, would have been baffled by this!
I can't help but feel a sense of sadness about the future of my home country Greece—a nation that has contributed immeasurably to the tapestry of human civilization. The thought of such a nation, such an idea, facing extinction within a few generations is...regretful.
Of course, humanity has faced and overcome much worse. But a scenario of peak humanity and eventual decline is definitely in the cards.
I don't think we're anti-human, but I believe a lot of young people are looking at the world around them and deciding it isn't one they want to bring children into, or can't afford to bring children into, or even that the earth can't sustain the existing population for too long, so perhaps they're thinking more along the lines of keeping the planet habitable for longer. I certainly would be if I were still young enough to ponder having babies.
Thank you for your work. I find it important and enjoyable.
I do not want to sound smart-aleck, but I have always interpreted those "things," not as dripping testicles, but as breasts capable of dispensing abundant milk, much sustenance.
With all my best,
[Anya’s Note: I should clarify that the picture I used in last week’s mailing was a much, much later representation that did reinterpret the original statue to be much more suggestive of breasts than testicles. Above is a statue from the 1st AD, which I think shows the original concept a bit more clearly.]
According to Jacob Klein, the natural should not be contrasted with the conventional, as is the custom. The fitting contrast with the natural is the monstrous.
As always, well thought out and written - Truly appreciate.
As the earth overpopulates and disengages from producing babies, we will make, no matter how difficult, the necessary adjustments.
Unless there is a catastrophe, we humans are great survivalists.
Thanks for being there, doing what you do.
You are a voice that ought to be heard.
The world population is at 7.889 Billion! The world is overheating from too many carbon users! How can you bemoan a reduction in population?
Areas of the world are becoming untenable. Refugees are fleeing from these areas and trying to find a place to live.
What are you thinking? That it is sad there are so few babies? Where are these babies to live?
Will we become like the experiment with the rats who start in an environment where they have plenty of space and food but they keep breeding and breeding until some are starving, some are suicidal, and some sit comatose?
Let us try to reduce the burden on earth and the other creatures that live on it!
Have you noticed the earthquakes killing people positioned around the middle of the earth?
As the ice has melted from the poles that weight has been removed and the poles are rising, the equator is shrinking and plate tectonics is adjusting and earthquakes have become more prevalent.
I am 76 and may not live long enough to see the very worst but we have passed a tipping point that I think possibly science can not reverse...So worry about babies, I worry about loss of civilization and the loss of knowledge that has taken millennia to accumulate. Worry about that and who might be left to ponder the science, philosophy, and lives of the 2020's, 2000's, the 1900's, or the 300's BCE as you do.
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