THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2021
...but also, with sound advice: To what extent does western literature begin with The Iliad?
To the extent that it does, it starts with an epic poem about a tribal / quasi-national / ethnographic war. The Argives have mounted a war against the Trojans over a perceived sexual / marital / gender-political slight.
Three thousand years later, reasons for this ten-year war may sound sadly familiar. So too with the reasons for the quarrels which ensue within one of the two warring tribes.
Three thousand years later, we humans are still strongly inclined to engage in tribal wars, though perhaps in less overt forms. This impulse lies at the heart of the epic poem which announces the dawn of the West.
Within that poem, one scene offers a valuable lesson for today. It's the scene in Book IX which ends with Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, saying this to the Argives in a tribal council:
“Tonight's the night that rips our ranks to shreds or pulls us through.”
For us, Nestor's words were called to mind by the headline on David Brooks' most recent column. Here's what that headline said:
Here’s the Mind-Set That’s Tearing Us Apart
In his column, Brooks said a certain mindset is tearing our nation apart. In the scene which that headline recalled, Nestor's wisdom saves the Argives from having their ranks ripped to shreds.
The Argives were an ethnographic grouping conducting war against a different people. Today, our world is organized around the existence of "nation states."
In Brooks' view, the ranks of our own (very large) nation state are being torn apart by a certain unhelpful mindset. In Brooks' rendering, these are the days which will rip our nation's ranks to shreds or will perhaps pull us through.
For ourselves, we have a hard time seeing a way out of our current mess. Increasingly, our very large nation state is dividing into arrays of warring tribes.
We have the red tribe and the blue tribe, but we also have an expanding array of different "identity" groups. Various parties now stress division more than cohesion—difference more than sameness. These are some of the factors which may be ripping our ranks to shreds, which may make it hard to pull through.
In our view, various types of "silent secession" have already occurred. Last night, Our Own Rhodes Scholar kept encouraging our tribe, as she constantly does, in the belief that the fault all lies Over There, with The Others.
She pounds that message night after night. Our human brains are wired that way, major top scholars have said.
Many writers are now suggesting that our democracy is in immediate peril. Our Own Rhodes Scholar spoke with one such observer last night.
In spite of these warnings, Our Own Rhodes Scholar continued to entertain us last night, displaying her wonderful comedy stylings right at the start of her program. We're often amazed by the failure of multimillionaire TV stars to come to terms with the seriousness of what seems to be at stake.
At this site, we don't see an obvious way out of our current peril. Tomorrow, we'll detail two things our own blue tribe might do to improve chances for the nation's survival.
“Tonight's the night that rips our ranks to shreds or pulls us through?" That's what Nestor wisely said, speaking to all the Argives. Earlier, responding to an angry declaration by the headstrong Diomedes, Nestor had scrambled to his feet to tell the Argives this:
All the Achaeans shouted their assent,
stirred by the stallion-breaking Diomedes' challenge.
But Nestor the old driver rose and spoke at once.
“Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,
and in council you excel all men your age
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,
my youngest-born at that, though you urge our kings
with cool clear sense: what you've said is right.
But it's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
And no one will heap contempt on what I say,
not even mighty Agamemnon. Lost to the clan,
lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for the horror of war with his own people.”
All over "cable news," red and blue, multimillionaire corporate stars currently lust for the horror of war with their own people. We viewers reward them with high ratings. According to an array of experts, we're wired to function that way.
This kind of division within the ranks is now extremely big business. In part for that reason, it's hard to see a way out of this mess.
Will these be the years which pull us through? Tomorrow, two basic suggestions, though Cassandra keeps insisting that it's already too late.
Tomorrow: Readers respond to Brooks' column. Also, pundits respond to Shor