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Should We Own Stuff?
The Wealth and Gold of Ancient Georgia
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
“The wealth of the regions about Colchis, which is derived from the mines of gold, silver, iron and copper, suggests a reasonable motive for the expedition of Jason” - Strabo Geography 1.2.39
We may have come here for the food (and man is it good!)... but Jason of the Argonaut fame was motivated by all that glimmers.
You see, gold mining in Georgia began in the 4th - 3rd millennia B.C. and with it brilliant gold-smithery. Like most of history, this ability rose and fell and rose again, peaking with the Trialeti Culture in the 2nd millennium BC, as evident by this beautiful goblet:
It fell again until a new stage of development in goldsmithery began in the 8th-6th century BC. This is the era of the “Colchian Bronze Culture”, immortalized in ancient Greek Hero mythology by the cruel King Aeetes and his beautiful brilliant daughter, Medea (whose good name was certainly besmirched by Euripides). The archeological finds in Sirkhe, Vani and others attest to this wealth and skill:
As such, it may be no surprise that the Colchis was referred to as ‘rich in gold’ in Classical literature. Even the ancients explained the why such a thing as a Golden Fleece existed:
“Many streams issue from Caucasus bearing gold-dust so fine as to be visible. The inhabitants put sheepshims with shaggy fleece into the stream and thus collect the floating particles: and perhaps the golden fleeces of Aeetes was of this kind”
— Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165), The Mithridatic Wars.
But as per the Strabo quote above, you can imagine the motive was more than just one fleece... but to fleece a wealthy region. These stunning objects are no doubt a mere fraction of what the ancient Colchian nobles once owned…
Which brings me to today’s question... on whether or not we should own stuff, whether it be stunning gold turtle necklaces or flat screen TVs, in the first place?
For most of my life, I’ve owned almost nothing. I’ve never had a car or a house... when we moved back to Buenos Aires four years ago, our family’s full belongings fit into six suitcases. (That’s excluding 10 boxes of books which we stored in a friend’s attic... but books are in a different category). I’ve always been on the move, you see, so being able to stash a few suitcases in a closet somewhere and hit the road has been a huge benefit.
Of course the ancient philosophers had opinions on the subject. Epictetus would remind us that wealth consists not in having a lot of possessions, but in few wants.
While Seneca in his Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium claims:
“At last, then, away with all these treacherous goods! They look better to those who hope for them than to those who have attained them.”
And yet... didn’t Seneca accrue quite a considerable booty himself? Should we be following his words... or his actions?
It sounds all nice and good, not owning stuff...but now that I’m getting older, though perhaps not wiser, I’m beginning to wonder: Should I not be investing in future things? Can they bring comfort and utility? Protection in uncertain times? And what about leaving something behind for the future... a goblet of my own?
Essentially: Should we own STUFF? How much is too much? How much is not enough?
As always, you can write to me at email@example.com or reply to this email.
As for today’s responses, we have - once more - the full gauntlet of replies to our last question: Can we be offended on behalf of someone else?
Fascinating, thought-provoking musings by your fellow Classics lovers, below.
All the best,
Founder and Director
Classical Wisdom and Classical Wisdom Kids
P.S. Tomorrow is our Roundtable Discussion! It promises to be a lively one... we have sent out the original texts to prepare and I’m already receiving emails with ideas to debate.
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Of course it is possible to be offended on behalf of someone else. While we can never fully put on someone else’s shoes, the entire effort of humanity toward decent relations with others depends on developing the power of imagination enough to be able to feel nearly what another feels. That is sympathy, and, as Adam Smith tells us in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, all human benevolence is based on sympathy. Hence the necessity for effective liberal education, which trains not only the minds, but also the affections of students. Schiller’s Letters on Aesthetic Education is the best single work on this topic.
I had the privilege of spending over eight months in Kazakhstan over several trips back in 1997, and travelled from Almaty, to Astana, to Petropavlovsk and the northern regions especially throughout the Northern regions.
This huge country is so changing as you travel, from the mountains and lakes around Almaty to the Chinese border, and the forests (Taiga) between Petropavlovsk and Semipalatinsk, the steppes in between when travelling by road.
But most of all the wonderful, friendly, hospitable, and fantastic people.
NOT to forget the various foods that I enjoyed. The Beshparmak (Five fingers) and so much more.
To me, people like Borat etc. are ignorant clowns to be ignored.
Best of luck, and thanks for jogging fond memories.
Peter E.- now in London
I have noted how often nowadays people are offended on behalf of others. It has caused us to live in a world where we are scared to open our mouths in case we are attacked by the correctness brigade. If we offend, then we should be told so by those we have offended - NOT by someone not actually connected with them in any way.
This is an interesting subject to me, so let me start by disseminating these words.
You say "Most people don’t know anything about Kazakhstan." From my experience, most people don't know much about anything, especially geography and culture. An example is a few years ago I was talking to some people at an airport who came back from Europe, I think. They said Austria was beautiful, or was it Australia? They were not very sure of where they were, but I am sure they had pictures of smiling faces. However, one can understand people knowing little about Kazakhstan as it is a small country hidden in the old Soviet Union and there is a bit of wealth there, and it is a magnet for Russians leaving their country to live. Now, you say: "I had my first kiss in Kazakhstan." If you were to say this at many social gatherings, it would be looked at as a joke, but if you would say that your first kiss was in Paris, people would be jealous of such a romantic experience.
People of developed countries often say offensive remarks regarding those from smaller, developing countries, so much so that we enter the realm of self defacement and this has become a culture in itself, with self-sabotage words regarding African-Americans by African-Americans or by Jews regarding Jews, et al. We love the anti-hero as it is an identity to make ourselves feel better, and such a negative identity is often welcomed by that culture of which it is about, showing the Master/Slave dialectic: a (non)communication that is always with us in some way. In other words, the people of Kazakhstan will accept their superiors downing them in the name of fun, and this is dangerous as well as sad. It is always good to laugh at oneself but never to degrade the culture and make it a joke; it is not healthy to discard the beauty of the people who are under-represented and make them a joke, as is the movie "Borat."
Herman. H San Francisco
[Anya’s Note: I feel compelled to mention that Kazakhstan is actually the 9th largest country in the world! It just doesn’t look so big next to Russia and China...granted it’s 63 in population :) ]
As a disabled person, I would like to say a big YES, you can be offended on behalf of someone else. I'm not referring to people who say and do things unintentionally. People often do not know how to approach or speak to a disabled person, and that is more to do with the lack of information and education given around disabilities.
No, I am talking about the ignoramuses, those who think anyone with a disability is beneath them and deserves nothing. For example, I get offended when people take up Blue Badge parking spaces when they are not entitled to, even when I have a space for myself. I feel so offended on behalf of other disabled people who may come looking for a space but cannot get one because some lazy, ignorant person has decided all parking spaces are up for grabs.
Then there are those who push past wheelchairs and mobility scooters, thumping into them and walking away without an apology. Or, even worse, staring at you as if it was your fault and you have no right to be in his/her way. When I see it happening to someone else I get offended for that person, because I know what it feels like. Disabled people are often fighting their own battles within themselves regarding where they fit into society, without being made to feel like something that's been scraped off the bottom of a shoe.
And finally, I get very offended for every disabled person out there when I hear the likes of Boris Johnston, or Donald Trump, or any of that 'silver-spoon' society who seem to think that all disabled people are just lazy money-grabbers who have fancy cars and several holidays a year. And believe me when I say, each of the above examples happens, not just occasionally, but on a daily basis. So I do find myself getting offended on behalf of other people very, very often, even those with disabilities I don't have or don't understand myself.
Therefore, in answer to your three questions, 1. "Is it possible to be offended for someone else?" 2. "How can we really claim to understand someone else’s point of view?" and 3. "Can we control being offended in the very first place?", here are my answers based on my experiences. 1. Yes, absolutely. I doubt you would be human if you never were. 2. We cannot unless we have been through the same thing ourselves. We can be closer to understanding if we know of someone who has been through something similar, and closer still with better information and education, i.e. getting rid of the stigmas around things like disability, suicides, mental health and so on. 3. Yes, by carefully and calmly challenging those we get offended by, and pointing out why you are offended. If they then take umbrage with you for daring to challenge them, just do what I do; let them rant and rave and call you all the names under the sun because, at the end of the day, you and all the people you have felt offended on behalf of, are much better examples of human beings than they are.
BA (Honours) Classical Studies
BA (Honours) Humanities with Music
The first point I would make is no one can make another offended. It's a choice the person in question, assuming they are of sound mind, makes of their own accord. One can feel annoyance or anger perhaps, but the way in which we react to those feelings is our own. That being said, there is a very big difference between someone trying to purposefully annoy someone or make them angry in the hopes they will choose to take offense.
I think someone can feel anger or annoyance on behalf of others to an extent. This is more true if you are close to the person or culture or simply admire it. But the same thing holds true: reacting to the annoyance or anger, taking offense, is a personal choice, assuming the person is of sound mind, and one that a person does not need to make. There is a certain degree of maturity to it and we all possess it to a greater or lesser extent depending on the topic or person in question. At the end of the day though when we take offense at something, it's our own choice.
Americans, especially but not exclusively, wear offense jumpsuits. What is that? It’s a mantra, a badge of inclusivity, a protection against personal responsibility and individuality. They caste their own faults and sensitivities onto their imagined feelings of others. It’s both a barrier and a signal of virtue.
They’ve resigned themselves to a place of weakness. I’d feel sorry for them, but how can I really know what another feels?
I’m just wandering over this minefield hoping not to step on anything, or anyone…
I had to look up the definition of offend to make sure I know a little of what I am talking about. Webster says it is about making others feel displeasure or hurt feelings. If we are offended, then, it simply means we are displeased or our feelings are hurt. So of course we can be offended on behalf of someone else, especially if it is someone we are close to. We can be offended on behalf of a group, as you were too. Is it a good thing to be offended? I would say we should be aware of negative feelings, unless they can lead us to good actions, but feelings being what they are, we can't always control them. And we have to learn the facts as much as we can before we draw conclusions. Though we may not be able to control our feelings, we can control our actions, if we want to.
On your question regarding whether we understand someone else's point of view, I think it is possible if we have a long conversation with the person in question, and keep our mind open. But we shouldn't just try to guess what it might be. And for categories of people, there is a problem. I would bet that there were at least a few Kazakhs who would have been offended as you were by Borat, but maybe not the majority. So drawing conclusions is difficult.
In short, I think we need to know the facts of the case, and that includes knowing both the offender and the person or people likely to feel offended. Starting with ourselves (as Socrates would say).
Can you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? The famous thought from To Kill a Mockingbird.
The measure of a good person, according to some. But is it possible? And, if it is, is it possible, practically speaking, for everyone?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, neuroscientists began to discover something new about primate brains that neither Atticus Finch nor the Attic philosophers could have imagined.
Mirror neurons. The neurological capacity to be empathic. Physically proved. However, also physically proved, that this capacity exists in primates (including humans) on that ever-elusive and ever-frustrating sliding scale. Some of us have more mirror neurons, some less. Some...none.
So, can you feel offended on behalf of someone else, Anya? You bet your mankini, you can...provided you have enough mirror neurons.
...to you and the family.
Please don't think people associate Borat and the real Kazakhstan. I enjoy his ridiculous movies but realize they do not represent the people or nation of Kazakhstan.
The first sentence question is self-evident. The world is full of Jezebels, Karens and emasculated men full of offense at most anything in life. It is a non sequitur and intellectually dishonest to equate offense with understanding. Steven Covey wrote seek first to understand then be understood. Resorting to offense ends that opportunity.
Natural born citizens endowed with certain inalienable rights inherently bristle at the mention of control especially when it comes to communication and speech. That the movie was offensive may be true but so what. Free speech is precisely that. If it is impinged by a subjective standard of offense then free speech ceases to exist. You have the right to be offended. You do not have the right to use personal offense to censor another. My and your free speech is not subject to our respective subjective view of offense. Get over it and act like the proverbial adult in the room.
I’ve thought about this question a lot, and it makes sense to analyse it from a stoic perspective. We live in a society at the moment that gives first prize to those who take the greatest offence in other people's affairs. Now although we have always been offended by those who appear as heretics to us, the number of heresies appears to have expanded to the point where political correctness is quite an imposing behemoth on our ability to think, speak, and most obviously, our ability to laugh.
From a stoic perspective, nothing people say has the capacity to hurt our mind- which we have complete dominion over- rather it is our wholly own perceptions of other people and things that upset us. I think therefore that the current ‘age of offence’ is driven by one major reinforcing factor, a dissipating trust between fellow beings in the societies we live in.
I would spin this the other way as well and say that if we feel uncomfortable mocking a particular audience, it is because we do not trust them enough to understand our jokes as being jokes, and offended audiences often have a prepared hostility, or are given ‘protection‘ from jokes by paternalist figures in the media, both of which enforce each other to erode trust, which is between individuals and cannot be mediated by a third party. Humour that mocks and degrades is built on one pillar, that of trust. We understand that jokes are jokes because of the tacit accord between comedian and audience prevents any remark from being misconstrued as a deliberate insult. This trust allows us to say and respond to things we might have found offensive if that trust had been lost- thus nowadays, people will not only listen to news that reaffirms their opinions, but only laugh at comedians that we trust to reaffirm our opinions.
In good humour, Nick.
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