Fragments of Frank, 10.6.10 (con)
Maybe the problem is that we’ve never studied history.
Just before you leave I wanted to recommend something to everybody. I’ve spent just as much time as you reading this for this class. But last night, at 9 o’clock, I watched a two-hour documentary on Daniel Ellsberg. I recommend that you watch this documentary. It was put on PBS. It’s probably on the web. It was amazing to have Herodotus and Thucydides in your mind when you’re listening to Daniel Ellsberg. He was the guy who released the pentagon papers. Basically: the Pentagon papers were 7,000 pages of research done by the Rand Corporation, historically, about Vietnam. From World War II to that present moment. They describe how every president from Harry Truman on dealt with it, and what the realities were. What Ellsberg reveals, and this is common knowledge now, is that every president lied through their teeth in an effort to characterize that situation and mobilize more people to become the heroes of their families. You can see the amazing continuities between it and the Thucydidean analysis, particularly when he begins to talk about the hypocrisy, and the way that, if a thing is one thing, it’s described as its opposite. Remember that riff that Thucydides does in Book III, 81-83, about how everything is “reversed.” I challenge you to read that and watch this documentary and tell me that anything is different. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s no reason to study history. I mean, maybe that is the reason to study history. Maybe the problem is that we’ve never studied history.
A reason, regardless of the mayhem, to live
…Remember when we talked about Prometheus Bound, that little passage about blind hope? And how the difference between humanity—somehow at the time before—and somehow that time on, or some more recent time passed on—the difference was that we no longer could see the future, but because we can no longer see the future what we have now is blind hope? The way we decide to instrument our hope, whether it’s through religion or whatever it happens to be, one of the ways the Greeks thought they could realize the possibilities of that hope was through the use of reason. So whether you are a Sophist or a philosopher or a historian or a dramatist, the motivation to create these powerful lenses on their own worlds, to look at themselves, implies that belief that there still is a reason, regardless of the mayhem, to live. And that humanity still has possibilities. We don’t need to live with the vision of that earlier time when all we could imagine was our own demise. Probably because we had absolutely no control over the physical environment in the years before we have history qua history, even archeological history. So I would think no matter how compelling the depravity in Thucydides, in the description, still: the fact that he chose to write this, it talks about a kind of essential faith that he has in something that is quintessentially Ancient Greek. It has to do with rationality against power. Even though he talks about all its twisted manifestations.
Idyllic Democracy and Imperial Endeavor
One of the questions we want don’t want to bag, and we’re not going to answer it tonight, is: Was Athens a democracy in the ideal sense that we tend to use it, as a way of creating an ideal type of democracy, or was it a local reflection of the way in which they functioned externally? Remember: they put Socrates to death. Remember: Aristocrats created revolutions in the fifth century. Remember: did you read the Orestes? When the Orestes was performed, Euripides was already ostracized from Athens. He was living on some island someplace. He wasn’t allowed back into the city. This was very common. Themistocles was ostracized. And many other people within that community. So the idyllic nature of democracy in comparison with their imperial endeavor may be a constant. You could create a contrast between those two things, but if you do a closer study of the history there’s less of a contrast there but more of an extension externally of what’s going on internally. And maybe that’s the same thing that’s happening in the United States. So you watch that documentary about Daniel Ellsberg. If there’s anyone that represents moral activity it’s him. His attourney was a friend of mine. He really is what he seems to be, if you’re willing to listen to the story.