Pindar and The End of History

I have been reading (and re-reading) a very important and brilliant book by Bruno Snell entitled The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought (1953). But unless you are familiar already with Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin — or equally Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Origin of Speech — the real value and importance of Snell’s book might not appear as self-evident as it does to me.

There’s a real kicker in Chapter 4, “Pindar’s Hymn to Zeus”. Here, Snell describes how the Greek lyrical poet Pindar (522-443 B.C.) composed a hymn praising “the final state of beauty and order” of the world brought about by Zeus and the Olympian gods after generations of struggle. As Snell puts it, “Zeus asks: Is anything still missing in this beautiful world? And the gods reply: Divine creatures who will praise its beauty”.

Those who are familiar with the former neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama’s 1990 screed The End of History and the Last Man might recognise the same sentimentality. We are at the end of history after generations of struggle. The dialectic of reason and history is now suspended. There is nothing more to be accomplished in perfecting the existing socio-political order. Thus, Mr. Fukuyama fulfills and finalises the conservative goal as expressed by William F. Buckley Jr. — to stand athwart the railroad tracks of history yelling “Stop!”

The proud, triumphalist moment after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was already similarly expressed by the Greek lyrical poet Pindar some 2,500 years ago — the perfection and fulfillment of history thanks to the gods. And yet, this proud Greek civilisation was gone within a century of Pindar’s triumphalist boast in his own time about the end of history. It seems to be the rule that men mistake their own times for what they are not; for after the maturity of the fruit begins the rot.

The irony is, I hope, clear. Francis Fukuyama claimed to be writing “history” based on reason (or ideology), and not mythology. Yet 2,500 years before him Pindar, writing mythology, claimed that in his own time the final perfection of the world had been achieved by the grace of the gods.

Such is the present state of consciousness that “reason” and scholarship, in its current decayed state at our own ‘end of history’, has far more in common with Pindar’s mythology than it does with a truth-seeking “science” or a “fact-respecting” scholarship. And that is a worrisome state of affairs. In the post-modern condition, philosophy has decayed and ossified into ideology, while reason has decayed into mere rationalisation.

And the deluded Late Modern mind considers this a “triumph” over history, as Pindar did in his own time as well, when the the grand mythological themes of Homeric epic had decayed into mere tropes and props for the lyrical poets. Yet, within three or four generations came the twilight of the gods, and the “Golden Age” of Greece was no more than a ruin.

(For a timeline for the rise and fall of Greek civilisation and Pindar’s place in the historical context, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_ancient_Greece )

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19 responses to “Pindar and The End of History”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I might add to the above, that even the Canadian public broadcaster (running scared from the present reactionary regime in Ottawa, it seems) today even feels obliged to give “equal” air time to every half-wit moron with some meagre credentials as a pundit who somehow considers himself qualified (by what criteria I don’t know) to comment on current affairs, but without the slightest consciousness of reality — all in the name of ideological “balance”, which it definitely is not. It’s unbalanced, demented, and deranged.

    Such is the prevailing state of affairs at our ‘end of history’.

  2. Alex Jay says :

    Hi Scott, Sorry been away for a long time (since my last post), but to add an anecdotal perspective on “the end of history”, this is a recent e-mail from Greece to someone’s web site that I occasionally visit. Maybe it will give your readers and idea of what’s in store for our fast approaching end-game (just waiting to come to your neighbourhood). To somewhat corroborate, a friend returned yesterday from the island of Kos (Greece), and while things are quite rosy in the 4 star hotel he stayed and patronised mostly by German clientelle (talk about a mea culpa – or “takin’ the piss”) it seemed to him that, unlike the mainstream presstitude media concensus, the locals he met wanted out of this EU bureucratic centralised control grid. This is sad:

    Received via email from Mano 6th June

    The daily life is still the same.

    Things keep going because some divine hand still help us.

    You wake up in the morning having no mood at all. And it’s this heat which destroys your brain cells. Today, it’s 34 degrees Celsius.

    I’ve kept a small amount of around 250 euros, to buy some final provisions. Mostly meat cans, vitamins, and dried bread. I will store them to my parents’ basement, in order to have alternative escape plans.

    The rumor about a power shortage is more and more been discussed around people, and alternative media.

    It’s being said that the Power Company is no longer having the money to purchase coal and diesel.

    We don’t have a generator for home use, so in case of a failure, we must consume all refrigerator food first.

    My wife bought two big camping gas devices, with many spare bottles of gas. We can cook all meat and veggies, and then share them with the rest of the family.

    My shotgun is full and well equipped. I hope i don’t need to use it.

    My car had a small steering wheel failure last Friday, and i had to fix immediately. I don’t know if we have to leave the town in a rush.

    I tried to find a small hut in the property but nobody sells at all.

    Prices are so low, that they don’t want to sell their properties for nothing. I’m considering to buy a caravan and put it in the biggest olive-field. A small one with 2 beds, light enough to be dragged by my car, costs around 5.000 euros.

    Today the stock market is going upwards, but soon enough the final collapse will occur. Spain is going down rapidly.

    I’ll keep posting as long as I can. Don’t worry, I’m fully equipped and prepared.

    Just take care of yourselves and families.

    When the things reach to your neighborhood, you will have to fight.

    Your fellow citizens are still living in their utopia. When they realize the danger, they will turn into ruthless beasts.

    I pray for you all.

    God Bless you

    We wish our friend Manos the very best, as his family and countrymen are

    • Alex Jay says :

      WTF … What’s up with your blogging service provider? It won’t let me carry on. Or is it my service provider??? Shame you’re not back to your DAB format, which I thought was great. Anyhow, just to finish (before I run out of my allotted characters) on this “Mad Max”, “Hunger Games”, “bath salt” zombies eating peoples faces (all the rage in America at the mo) vampire culture – how symbolic with Matt Taibi’s neologism of “the giant vampire squid” referring to Goldman Sachs 🙂 – how much longer will it take for this decadent breed of zombified moron’s to smell the coffee Or are we all destined like Archimedes to be so self-absorbed drawing circles in the sand while the Roman legionaire sticks a dagger through our heart – because we weren’t paying attention? Better stop before my space allocation runs out …

      • Scott Preston says :

        I’m thinking of migrating to another service provider, as this one has some limitations. The old one which hosted TDAB is defunct, now.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It’s unfortunate that your friend’s response is a kind of US-style survivalism. That response is seldom effective. It is one thing to survive individually, but another to survive together. The attitude of every man for himself is only the logical continuation of the policies of market self-interest that precipitated the crisis in the first place, and bound to lead to further social atomisation and disintegration.

      I see Canada’s own PM, the cold-blooded reptile called Stephen Harper, is presently in Europe counselling governments to stay the austerity course, a welcome message in London, not so welcome in Paris where Hollande is promoting a growth agenda. The interesting thing is that neither “austerity” nor “growth” address the real underlying issue, which is the spectacular failure of the global market liberalisation formula and ideology. Austerity or growth are perceived as being the only two options, consequently. This is diversionary, designed to deflect attention away from the failure of ideology and policy framed in terms of that underlying ideology. Unfortunately, no one wants anyone to look more deeply into the nature of the crisis because, as we have all been instructed since Thatcher, “there is no alternative”.

      But, of course, there is the alternative: Heidegger’s “only a god can save us now” or Marx’s anticipation that the capitalist system would collapse from the stress and breakdown its own internal contradictions. And, actually, both may be true in an ironic way, because Heidegger’s “god” isn’t far off from Gebser’s “irruption” of the integral consciousness (like Athena leaping forth from the head of Zeus) in the midst of what he considers the imminence of a “global catastrophe” which we seem to be in the process of now preparing for ourselves. So, yes, the integral consciousness will be necessary in order for us to outrun the decay of the mental-rational consciousness structure and the catastrophe it has precipitated as the end result of its own logical dynamic now become “reversal of fortune”. Few seem to actually recognise that those things which were anticipated or promised as the fruits of global market liberalisation have not only not materialised, to any great degree, but in many ways the exact opposite has resulted than predicted by the ideology and its “faith-based” models (about how “a rising tide will lift all boats”, about “the race to the top” and all its corollary slogans). In fact, now we are being counseled to accept “diminished expectations” and “austerity”. Above all, the ideology must be defended and conserved, even if it is a manifest failure, for the reasons given. “Diminished expectations” and “austerity” is, in fact, a race to the bottom, as the critics of neo-liberal globalisation rightly foresaw.

      New and more appropriate models for the Planetary Era will arise from a new consciousness — holistic, ecological, integral, quantum, etc. Presently, we have three-dimensional minds trying to force a four dimensional universe to serve itself, rather than to rise to the occasion. It happened before, when the two-dimensional mind of the medieval mythico-religious consciousness failed to navigate safely into the three-dimensional reality disclosed in the Renaissance. We know what the outcome of that was, don’t we? All the same symptoms are re-appearing today — Inquisition, persecution, witch-hunt, and the manias and hysterias of the crowd. Such is our post-modern, post-Enlightenment, post-Democratic situation.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    I’ve made a note of those references. With my rate of reading “From Dawn to Decadence”, and “False Dawn” though, it will be the year 2032 by the time I can finally get to these ones 🙂

    • Scott Preston says :

      Stay the course… both those books are worthwhile, especially Gray’s False Dawn, which was probably the best critique of neo-liberalism I have read, and particularly more relevant since 2008. I should re-read it myself.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    I do indeed wish I had more time to unravel some of the peculiarities of the Late Modern mind and the strange days we are now living through. The old Inquisition has now come to Canada under the present reactionary government of Stephen Harper and “his” Conservative Party. Despite the necessity of “austerity” and cut backs of social programmes, Mr. Harper’s government has found plenty of money for guns (but not butter), and managed to find 8 million dollars to organise a witch-hunt against his opponents and critics, especially environmental organisations critical of the government’s environmental policies. Those will be “audited” to ensure that they aren’t using their charitable status to organise opposition to Mr. Harper’s pro-business, pro-oil lobby policies.

    If it has the appearance of fascism, that’s not far off the mark. But the more appropriate precedent was the Inquisition organised by a reactionary and dogmatic Church in the decadence of the Late Middle Ages, which it largely precipitated itself. Mr. Harper has made his views known that the “democratic deficit” is less important than the economic one, and he’s subsequently traded off democratic rights, values, and traditions for economic calculation and ideology. It’s a very sorry state of affairs.

  5. abdulmonem othman says :

    I am sorry, but no amount of brainiacal cogitation will save us from this fate, unless we change course but although changing course is open to all ,but not everyone is ready or willing to change course, and even those who are aware of the rot want to run alone forgetting it is a collective endeavour. Sorry again dear Scott but all social structures that are built on the basis of flawed assumptions about the nature of reality will surely shudder asunder, take the economic structure which is built on usury, the forebidden fruit,no wonder Charles of the reality sandwich heralded the end of the usury age.On the epistimologal level and the fallacy the human is the originator of knowledge denying God as the source. Ibn Arabi talked about the double sides of god , the visible and the invisible the first and the last ,the vengeful and the merciful. he said nature is the visible side of god and the unseen running of the universe is the invisible.In the books we read that god is the prime energy that runs everything. Uncreated that is why the created can not grasp me, that is why i said no one can comprehend my essence ,and that is why i ask of human to understand my visible side in order to reach for the other noncomparable ,invisible side.I appreciate every thing you are doing in the way of change ,but separation is a must, this is the historical stories of all that past, the only thing we can do is to perfect our stories Peace!

    • Scott Preston says :

      Sorry again dear Scott but all social structures that are built on the basis of flawed assumptions about the nature of reality will surely shudder asunder,…

      Of course, Abdulmonem, it goes without saying. That is why it is necessary to trace the beginnings of the mental-rational or intellectual structure of consciousness. Upon what foundations (assumptions about ourselves, about reality) was it erected? This is a necessary part of the process of self-inquiry — “know thyself!” If we are, as Gebser states, suffering a breakdown of the mental-rational structure (which is surely true, even in the most evident terms of rampant mental distress in society today requiring treatment or medication) how is this unravelling coming about? How does it manifest? What is its origin? Before one can even begin to answer such questions, we have to understand the architecture of the mental-rational consciousness, how it arose, why it arose when it did, and hopefully come to insight about its fatal flaw.

      There are, of course, certain signs of its incipient breakdown: the foremost being, it seems to me, that thesis and anti-thesis now come to coincide, and are identical. The most telling one is how the “rational pursuit of self-interest” becomes indistinguishable from the irrational pursuit of self-destruction. The question then becomes, when did this coincidence of contraries or oppositions occur? And, of course, why? Then there are other signs of decaying architecture of the mental-rational or intellect — philosophy deteriorates into ideology; reason deteriorates into rationalisation; history deteriorates into mythology; all value decays into price. Surely, these are the instances of Nietzsche’s definition of nihillism: “All higher values devalue themselves”, including reason devalued as rationalisation.

  6. abdulmonem othman says :

    Having not we finished from identifying the ills. Self -accountability toward truth is the road,but our world is made up of liars, truth-teller and hypocrit.we can not chang the structure. but we can do is not let the first and the last govern.Truthful words have the inherent capacity to transform, otherwise all our talk will be fruitless.Liars and hypo are afraid of truth as you know.Keep the good job thank you.

  7. alex jay says :

    You must be busy due to the time-lapse of your last post (of course, it’s summer and agrarian considerations rule), still, touching on Pindar, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on some other ancient sources that have never escaped, thought obscured by degradation into maya, our collective consciousness. I find it interesting simply because much of what I will share with you not only embelishes many of the themes you explored in TDAB, but in some more fundamental ways articulates them in making a “hell out more sense” to me than just about anything all my years of “brainwashing/manipulating” has been able to do.

    So, if you’ve heard this astrotheological interpretation from Manly P. Hall, I’m teaching grandma how to suck eggs. On the other hand, if you haven’t it might fill in a lot of the missing links to completing the psychic puzzle that we’re grappling with.

    I’ll start you off with part 4 (1 hour 40 minutes-ish), but if you haven’t heard it before, I’d also check out all the other 4 parts (10 hours in total) as it is probably one of the most informative lectures I’ve ever heard on the roots of philosophy and religion.

  8. Orwin O'Dowd says :

    I am working on a critique of consciousness, and here’s my take on the situation:
    *Hunting wild boar was dangerous and required hemp (!!) nets.
    *So warlords took over hunting => the divine right of kings.
    *The monopoly slowly killed a whole branch of the economy.
    *leaving the Gypies stranded – they used to service hunting lodges.

    Seriously, in South Africs today, venison is cheeper than beef – the poroduction cost is lower! So the butchers reduced their portions of regular meat, people eat less of ir and that lowers the cancer hazzard and health-care overhead!

  9. Miles Trevelyan-Johnson says :

    Hi Scott,

    Hope to hear from you further on this blog…..if you’ve moved, please let me know where you have shifted your writings to.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Hi Miles. I actually haven’t paid attention to the blog at all since I returned from Vancouver in early June. The last four months has been a time for taking stock, for a re-think of some basics, and for paying more attention to other neglected things for a while. In one way, I was writing myself into a hole I didn’t quite know how I (or we) were to climb out of finally.

      It was also a hiatus in which I attempted to identify hopeful signs for the Earth. But I’m sorry to say that I’ve identified none that I consider persuasive or convincing about the prospects for our planet.

      I spent some time reorganising my study with an eye to getting down and really mapping out a definitive guide to Jean Gebser’s “deficient rationality” as being the factor presently constituting the supreme threat to our earth’s (and life’s) continuity. I arranged my desk-side bookcase so that I would have all the most pertinent books on the topic of this “deficient rationality” at hand. There’s about 200 staring me in the face, some of which are old familiars, many of which are new arrivals that haven’t had their spines cracked yet. It’s a formidable armada to attempt to conquer. For a lark, the first book in the top row is “The Concise Guide to First Aid & Lifesaving Techniques”. I put it there just to remind me why I’m tackling this subject in the first place. I sometimes need to remind myself. (Always thought it would also make a great, humourous title for a musical album of some kind).

      I’ve also taken up backpacking again with something akin to mania. But the winter’s coming, and that may draw me back to the blog again. But the question that obsesses me presently is: “what is deficient rationality”? And the only sure answer to that is to know its contrary thoroughly. And the contrary of “deficient rationality” is, of course, sanity. How can “deficient rationality” have any other meaning but insanity? But the tension between the sane and the insane — that’s not a simple territory to negotiate.

      And come to think of it, maybe that’s why “I” decided to resume backpacking (?).

      • Miles Trevelyan-Johnson says :

        Hi Scott,

        Thanks for the personal response and very happy to see you’ve started writing again!! I found your writings and the work of Adam Curtis to be most helpful in shedding light on the times we’re living in.

        Many thanks

        Miles

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