On Pythagorean readings …

I can see the beginning of what I think of as the stoic viewpoint in statements like those made in some of the fragments of ethical writings by Archytas in Guthrie’s Pythagorean Library.

“The good man, in my opinion, is he who knows how to act properly in serious circumstances and occasions. he will therefore know how to support good and bad fortune; in brilliance and glorious condition, he will show himself worthy of it, and if fortune happens to change, he will also know how to accept properly his actual fate.”

Archytas in The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, Guthrie, ed.

Of course, that’s a lot like being stoic and accepting what’s handed down the pike. The stoics, to me, stink of the same kind of degenerated ethical elitism as in the philosophy of people like Ayn Rand, who in my opinion has become nothing more than an excuse for individual hedonism, if her work was ever anything more at all. It’s all an excuse for not taking any responsibility for the state of things, or at least some kind of ethereal detachment from reality.

Anyhow, the exhortation to handle fortune’s favours in proportion to them, makes sense to me. I’m not sure it’s very profound, however. There was a point when I wanted to behave in a particularily human fashion. I don’t mean “human” as in falible, but human as in not to behave like a primate. I’m not sure that I figured out exactly what that meant, but I do remember that I’d determined that one of the traits of primates was to turn the head when looking at things. This then is a form of what stereotypical tourists do, gawking and craning their necks around. In particular, since large apes like the Gorilla, cannot really crane their necks around at all, I’d figured it a simple continuum to restricting movement to the eyes only as much as possible. I still find myself attempting to not use more than the movement of my eyes to gaze at the things around me.

I’ve been accused many times of being hard to read, or at least on some level, very opaque when it comes to what my thinking is on subjects. I certainly don’t think of myself as stoic, but definitely guarded. I’m sure that’s an example of not being quick to passion, but I think it leads to behavior that appears to come out of nowhere, when I finally express emotive content.

Now, Archytas holds that the difference between the good man and the happy man is that the good man is good due to virtue and the happy man is happy due to being fortunate. Whereas fortune is subject to uncontrolable fluctuations, the virtue of a good man is not. He also appears to claim that the good man is inherently also a happy one. [Guthrie] I find it hard to believe that proof, as the good man, full of virtue becomes the welcome mat of the individual hedonists and of less ethical people. That’s happiness? Philosophies that advocate acceptance of circumstance seem to be excuses for failure or at least convenient for the winners of any contest to have opponents with such views. However, even at that, there’s something to it all, not necessarily to meet adversity with meek acceptance, but to meet adversity and fortune as in should be met, appropriate to the circumstances. That’s not being meek, but reacting in proportion to the act.

Reminds me of the question I had at times about the idea of “moderation in all things.” Simply put, does that mean moderation in all things, or rather moderation in all things? I tend to think it’s the former, and that the latter is the kind of trap I think was laid by Alester Crowley in “Do what thou wilt.” It seems to me that most people in reading Crowley, end up decyphering his work as saying that one should do whatever one feels like doing or whatever one wants to do, which is tantamount to the same kind of pathetic hedonism of most followers of Any Rand. However, the trick is, I think, Crowley meant to trap people wishing to take to easy way out, but there’s a deeper understanding to be had if one realizes that by saying “wilt” he means that one would do what one’s Will commands, being the higher self. So, in this view, the statement “Do what thou wilt” means to follow one’s true vocation. Understanding that makes it unecessary to bother with the wiccan prefix of “And it harm none …”

The thing I think Archytas is talking about is not to be emotionless nor to be a bending reed in the wind, but rather to meet fortune with right action, by following one’s vocation. I mean, basically, that’s the middle path between Mercy and Severity toward self improvement in the fashion of bringing more light to the world.

Pythagorean backlash

While reading a book about Pythagoras, I came across a surprise. It seems that the Pythagoreans were the victims of a smear campaign that ended in the mobilization of violent citizens. This resulted in many deaths and also the diaspora of the Pythagoreans.

“Pythagoras and his associates were long held in such admiration in Italy that many cities invited them to undertake their administration. At last, however, they incurred envy, and a conspiracy was form against them …”

– The Life of Pythagoras, by Porphyry, trans. Guthrie.

What’s more interesting is that this all appears to have been due to the rejection of a powerful individual by Pythagoras himself. Further, this individual was able to play upon the fears and prejudices of the citizens. Those fears and prejudices revolved around the Pythagoreans being insular, exclusive mixed with that they were also often times politically, becoming the writers of law and becoming the politicians also.

This seems like a pattern I’ve heard about before. Primarily this made me remember some things I’d learned about the anti-masonic movements, and that Freemasonry not only resembled the descriptions of the Pythagoreans in my mind, but also that there are similar events in the history of Freemasonry in my country.

This link bewteen an exclusive, mystic tradition with active political clout very closly mirrors the position and character of Freemasonry during the the late 1800’s in the US. One source, a video program I remember, discussed how the orderly and debate oriented culture in the Masonic lodge became a training ground for political duty, and in fact that much of the polictical power in the early US was in the hands of men involved with Freemasonry.

An address by Fred P. Corson, President of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., was printed in the Congressional Record on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution. President Corson was talking about the stability of our government. He said: “America owes its governmental stability and her success as a democracy to her spiritual foundation. Prior to 1787 the work of laying this foundation was by the Church and by the Masonic Fraternity. It was no coincidence that of the six men who produced the Constitution, at least half were members of the craft.”
Whys & Wherefores by George Peter MPS

The link to the wave of anti-masonic feeling in the late 1800’s revolved around a flashpoint, the William Morris affair. This triggered, or was the fulcrum for the rise of one of the only effective third political parties in the history of the US, the Anti-Masonic Party. (See also “Whys & Wherefores” ibid.)

So, this pattern then, of an exclusive, private group which is founded on the ideas of an elite improving and bettering the world, sounds like a constant refrain. While both the Freemasons and the Pythagoreans, depending on whom you ask, are focused on creating more good in the world, other examples of this pattern might even be broadened to include disasterously evil things like the Fascist movements and splinter religious groups like the Branch Davidians, whom we all know from the siege in Waco, TX. Both of these latter groups were the targets of massive, violent backlashes.

Perhaps, this even relates to the severe backlash against groups like the Wobblies during the golden era of militant labor.

Obviously, there a gut level reaction to being an outsider, that creates resentment and fear. I wonder how much of this is the cause of the backlashes as opposed to the more likely scenario where the backlash was created using that resentment and fear as a way to mobilize the violent, to the agenda of a more machiavellian purpose.

Clearly a much repeated pattern reflects some core lessons for any such movement as these. Lessons about exclusion and elitism being the source for violent opposition should be clear enough, but what other lessons might there be?

Perhaps it is not so easy to tell the difference between the truly beneficial and the diabolical when secrecy provides such a blank slate on which to write one’s fears and prejudices, but that’s almost too easy. There’s something more fundimental here or at least more interesting.

There’s a fundimental resistance to change in the character of history. Revolutions seldom bring about such serious changes, after the dust settles, that you can tell the difference between the new and previous regimes. So, this mechanism is a way for history to push back against the revolutionaries, and the more revolutionary the more push back there is.

So the secret society is probably both a defense mechanism against this push back, an attempt to fly under the radar, and also a cause of the push back.

Clearly, a Sisyphean task this social evolutionary work …