Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What It's About

In his introduction to Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes asks the question, "why may we not say, that all Automata ... have an artificiall(sic) life? For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the Joynts(sic), but so many Wheeles(sic), giving motion to the whole Body..."

In his 1967 book, The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer wrote that "all through the millenia of man's existence the vying with God has been a leading motif of his strivings and efforts." The Hebrew creation mythos reveals a notion of God not only as creator, but as automator, breathing life into His creations.

The Classical legend of cruel Phalaris, and his brazen bull, becomes a metaphor for industrialized America, a place where mortal men have failed to achieve the holy grail of automation. Our machines yet lack souls of their own; thus we meld flesh and blood with iron and steam "to make the Bull of Phalaris Roar."

In the end, our machines remain machines, but our lives become artificial ones. We lie down each night with bodies well-fed and malnourished souls. There are those among us who are artists misplaced, greasing the wheels of global economy:

We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple...we will organize children...and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.1

As Eric Hoffer said, "Up to now in this country we are warned not to waste our time but are brought up to waste our lives."

Surviving Phalaris is about returning to sane principles by exploring the premises of modern American culture and understanding.

Here also is a repository of my half-baked thoughts on social and philosophical issues; a private soliloquy overheard by few.

1. From the mission statement of Rockefeller's General Education Board, "Occasional Letter Number One," quoted in "An Angry Look at Modern Schooling," The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto.


Unknown said...

I pumped my fist in rage on more than one occasion reading Gatto's masterwork, "The Underground History of American Education"

You should have told me you were embarking on a new blog, Peter! I look forward to reading all of your recent thoughts!

Peter McCombs said...

It was a new experience for me to read Gatto. I think it was the first time that I was actually literate enough to realize that I had encountered great ideas. Gatto laid out a picture of how things are that was very enlightening, and I haven't been able to stop trying to see bigger pictures ever since.

I read all of the great works now; I can't get enough of them.