Ben Douglass is an old grumpy white guy who writes poems, novels, reviews, essays, and short fictions, for his own amusement and the amusement of others.
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Being an observer of human nature and society-at-large, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that humankind has the innate inability to learn from history. Even though history does not repeat itself, as is the prevailing common myth, it has echo's and shadows that modern humans latch onto in a most negative and self-destructive manner.
In today's America of 2020, people have latched onto some of the ugliest echo's and shadows of the past. The cause of this reality is a multiplicity of events and fears leading to a perfect storm: COVID-19 pandemic; permanent job loss on a massive scale; historic wild fires caused by a climate crisis; social-political-religious divisions fueled by the irresponsible rhetoric of the President of the United States; and social media driven conspiracy theories fed to the public twenty-four-seven. We are at war with one another and the outcome does not look good.
Looking back to Corfu of 427 B.C., we can note a comparison of civil strife and unrest leading to death and destruction, not unlike today. The historian, Thucydides, in his The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, book 3, section 81-85, edited by Jeremy Mynott, he says:
So it was that every kind of wickedness took root in Greece as a result of these civil conflicts. Simplicity of spirit, which is such an important part of true nobility, was laughed to scorn and vanished, while people were largely divided into opposite and mutually suspicious camps. No words were binding enough, no oath terrible enough, to reconcile them; all those who were sufficiently strong calculated that it was hopeless to expect any security and preferred to protect themselves against injury rather than rely on trust. And the less intelligent were the ones who most often came out on top. They were afraid that because of their own shortcomings and their opponents' cleverness they might be defeated in any battle of words and be caught unawares by plots devised by their quick-witted opponents. They therefore committed themselves boldly to action. Those, on the other hand, who disdainfully assumed that they would foresee things well in advance and that there was no need to secure by action what would come to them by power of intellect - they were instead taken off-guard and perished.
Thucydides goes on to say further, specifically about Corfu:
It was in Corcyra (Corfu), then, that most of these outrages were first perpetuated. there were all the acts of retaliation you might expect men to commit when they see an opportunity for revenge on rulers who have shown them more arrogance than moderation. There were the deliberate crimes of those who were prepared to break the law to escape their familiar treadmill of poverty and who as a result of their hardships cast especially covetous eyes on their neighbours' property. And there were acts of savage and pitiless aggression by people who were not in this case motivated by personal gain but who turned particularly on their equals in a frenzy of uncontrollable passion. At this crisis in the breakdown of civic life human nature, which is in any case conditioned to defy the laws in doing wrong, now triumphed over them and revelled in showing itself powerless against passion, too strong for justice and hostile to anything superior. No one would otherwise have put revenge before reverence and profit before the avoidance of wrongdoing, but for the pernicious power of envy. As for the common laws about such things, from which everyone derives hopes of their own salvation when facing disaster, men see fit to abolish them in advance when they are inflicting revenge on others, instead of leaving them in place against some time of danger when they might need their protection.
In conclusion, I don't have any real solutions for our American civilization today, other than one: the reading and analysis of history from youth, continuing into adulthood. And hopefully, by doing so, we can make a little bit of progress towards an enlightened future for our children and grandchildren.
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