Saturday, November 11, 2006

Swiss get into spirit of ancient winter rites

Masked revellers take part in the traditional Tschaggata carnival in Kippel, Switzerland, in 2003. During this pagan celebration, larger-than-life figures wearing fantastically carved demonic masks and animal skins trudge

LOETSCHENTAL, Switzerland (AFP) - Demon masks intricately carved to frighten off evil spirits, village bonfires and figures dressed as horned animals are a common sight throughout the winter in Switzerland.

Despite their position in one of the most modern and advanced countries at the heart of Europe, Swiss rural communities have clung on to remnants of their pagan origins more tightly than in many neighboring countries.

A visit to any of the hundreds of ancient carnival festivities that take place from Appenzell in the north, to Loetschental in the southern Alps and throughout central Switzerland makes this clear.

Larger-than-life figures wearing fantastically carved demonic masks and animal skins trudge through the snowy streets, making a terrible din ringing cow bells and banging on doors to ward off evil spirits.

"Some of our festivals go back to before Roman times, others to the Middle Ages," said Christophe Gros, of Geneva's Museum of Ethnology.

"Many were transformed during the 19th century when there was an effort by the (Roman Catholic) Church to stamp out pagan superstitions."

The dates of Swiss winter festivals are as varied as the celebrations themselves, reflecting the fluctuations of the old Julien calendar and the isolation of the villages, also perhaps a reason why the rituals have survived so long in Switzerland.

The first winter festival is the Feast of St Martin, or Rabeliechtli, held in early November in some Swiss German cantons.

It marks the end of the grape harvest with a custom of handing out gifts to children and wearing masks, a sort of blending of today's Christmas and Halloween customs.

Halloween has not caught on in Switzerland despite an effort a few years back to introduce commercial jack-o-lanterns and Trick-or-Treat ideas from the United States.

The Swiss prefer their own diverse ways of observing All Saint's Day and the Day of the Dead on November 1 and 2.

According to Irene Ritter, of the central city of Lucerne, who has written and lectured on the subject of winter festivities: "Efforts by the Catholic Church to abolish these pagan rites were in vain and they were ultimately incorporated into Christian rituals.

"Ultimately the Church in Switzerland was reasonable," she said, "allowing believers to have their fun and games just before Lent and Easter with the result that Fasnacht, a purely secular festival, is the favorite celebration in Lucerne."

As recently as the 1950s, with tourism on the increase, hoteliers in Loetschental tried to discourage the wild, masked Tschaggata festival as being too backward and pagan.

But instead there was a rush by tourists for the elaborately carved wooden masks.

Masked festivals like the Tschaggata, Lucerne's Fasnacht or the carnival in Kuessnacht in central Switzerland are replete with pre-Christian symbolism.

Many December fests feature huge bonfires, perhaps a Yule log and many variations on Father Christmas and the Three Wise Men.

The Feast of St Sylvester, named after a Byzantine pope, is commemorated on December 31 in many parts of the country.

Sometimes St Nicholas wears a long, hooded robe, perhaps black, more often white or red. He may be accompanied by a donkey laden with gifts or else by elves who distribute presents to the deserving.

Santa has many names and guises: Sylvesterklaus, Shone Klaus and even Naturklaus, a figure covered in pine branches, straw or wood shavings.

Marius Risi, a sociologist from Engleberg near Basel said: "Winter festivals underwent a transformation in the 19th century when the bourgeoisie began creating the elaborate costumed and colorful carnival processions seen today in the larger Swiss towns.

"They almost invented Swiss folklore as it is practiced today," he said, "transmitting it through children's books, songs and poems."

A favorite, sung by all Swiss children and adults around winter bonfires, is about Hom Strom (Strawman) who represents the Boogg (Bogeyman), the symbol of evil or the demon Satan, known by many names in Switzerland: Blatz, Poutratze, Chluri, Schnorri and Pagat, from the Latin word pagamus (pagan).

One of the oldest traditions in Europe, pre-dating the Middle Ages, takes place between January 13 and 27 in the northern city of Basel.

Figures parade through the town, one dressed as a lion, another as a mythological griffon.

They accompany the 'Wild Man', who is covered in fir branches and bearing an elaborate headdress.

Legend says that a young woman tall enough, and hence old enough, to pick an apple off the Wild Man's headdress will soon become pregnant, a reenactment of an ancient fertility rite.

"Switzerland has suffered no break with her past," said Ritter.

"Folk ways are still a part of life and belief in rural areas, especially for the mountain farmer. How each community deals with its evil and other spirits is the flash of color in the kaleidoscope of some five thousand rituals in the Swiss folklore calendar."


Friday, November 10, 2006

Ancients’ holy site revealed


An archaeologist surveying Northmoor has accidentally discovered a sacred landscape' created in the Bronze Age.

Robin Brunner-Ellis was amazed when he stumbled upon a pattern of features in the landscape made by ancient people to communicate with their gods.

He is now hoping to launch a sacred landscape heritage trail to enable people and walkers to discover how and why the landscape was formed.

He said: "From near the Rose Revived pub across the meadows and across the river up to Cumnor Hill there are a series of ditches people in the Bronze Age dug as a form of ritual to communicate with the gods.

"These ditches were laid out to capture burial mounds in which their own ancestors had buried their dead 1,000 years before the ditch builders.

"The ditches connect those ancestral remains with natural elements in the landscape in such a way that they could draw down the sacred power of the rising full moon that occurred only once every 18 years. The rivers were equally important for prehistoric people as living forces running through their landscape.

"So the ditches are aligned with the River Windrush where it meets the Thames at Newbridge, cuts across a long loop of the Thames before crossing it and heading over Hurst and Cumnor Hills. It ends up at the point where the River Cherwell meets the Thames on Christchurch Meadows."

He also found stone preaching crosses from Medieval times.

On October 6, Mr Brunner-Ellis visited the site with his eight-year-old son Tom to see the Autumn equinox moon at its fullest and its closest to Earth in 18 years.

He said: "What we saw was amazing. It took my breath away. The huge pale disk of the harvest moon rose between Hurst Hill and Cumnor Hill on the eastern horizon exactly in line with the orientation of the Northmoor linear ditches.

"And at precisely the same moment as the moons appearance, the autumn sun disappeared over the western horizon exactly over the point where the Windrush and Thames rivers meet at the opposite end of the Northmoor linear ditches.

"It was astonishing. We got an extraordinary insight into the ingenuity of people we imagine were quite primitive."

Zetica, a Witney based research company, is to carry out a geophysical survey of the whole parish and Mr Brunner-Ellis hopes the astronomy department at Oxford University will also get involved in the research.

He also hopes a leaflet about the heritage trail will be produced.


Thursday, November 09, 2006


Αλχέρα σημαίνει πίστη σε μια δημιουργική περίοδο των ονείρων ως μια γενική μυθολογία στην οποία στηρίζει όλη η φυλή την παράδοσή της. Συγγενής είναι και ο όρος Τζουρτζούκα, σημαίνοντας τα έργα του καθενός εντός της ζωντανής μυθολογίας των Αβοριγίνων, ως το ατομικό συνειδητό που τους επιτρέπει να δρουν μετέχοντας στην διαρκή μυθοπλασία της φυλής τους.

Αλχέρα-Τζουρτζούκα λοιπόν, είναι οι μύθοι στους οποίους οι Αβοριγίνοι βασίζουν τις παραδόσεις τους. Η συνεχόμενη μυθοπλασία που ξεκίνησε την «Δημιουργική Περίοδο» κατά το Ιερό Παρελθόν και συνεχίζεται ως σήμερα μέσω της «Ιεράς Παραδόσεως» στην «Εποχή των Ονείρων». Η «Εποχή των Ονείρων» είναι μια ζωντανή μυθολογία, έτσι ο καθένας συμμετέχει στην εξέλιξη της Φύσεως και του Σύμπαντος «ονειρευόμενος», γνωρίζοντας με αυτό τον τρόπο τα ήθη, έθιμα και τους νόμους.

Η εποχή των ονείρων

Η Κοσμολογία των αυτοχθόνων κατοίκων της Αυστραλίας αφηγείται πως αρκετούς αιώνες πριν οι ιεροί πρόγονοί τους ταξίδευαν περιπλανώμενοι σε ένα «Άδειο Κενό». Στους τόπους ξεκούρασής τους, δημιουργούσαν τον ουρανό και τ΄αστέρια, στο πέρασμά τους έφτιαχναν τα ποτάμια, τα βουνά, τους νερόλακκους, και μαζί μ΄αυτά τα φυσικά φαινόμενα, άφηναν πίσω τους και πνεύματα ανθρώπων, φυτών και ζώων. Ένας από αυτούς τους δημιουργούς, οι Αβοριγίνοι πιστεύουν ότι είναι και το «Φίδι του Ουράνιου Τόξου», το οποίο περνώντας πάνω από την άϋλη Αυστραλία σχημάτισε με την τεράστια ουρά του τις κοιλάδες της Μεγάλης Ηπείρου.

Οι πρόγονοι-θεότητες ήσαν άνδρες και γυναίκες της αρχαιότητας, οι οποίοι πολλές φορές έπαιρναν τις μορφές ζώων και έδιναν στους Αβοριγίνους τους Νόμους της ειρηνικής συνύπαρξης, και τις τιμωρίες για όσους δεν τους σέβονταν. Απ΄αυτούς οι φυλές έμαθαν να φτιάχνουν δόρατα, μαχαίρια και άλλα όπλα, τους δίδαξαν πως να κυνηγούν, τους δώρισαν τις διάφορες γλώσσες, και τα ονόματα που είχε η κάθε οικογένεια-φυλή.

Μετά το πέρας της περιόδου δημιουργίας, όλ' αυτά τα ιερά όντα αποτραβήχτηκαν και άφησαν τη θέση τους σε θεότητες-δημιουργούς που σε ορισμένες περιοχές παίρνουν τη μορφή μιας πληθώρας θεοτήτων δίνοντας έμφαση σ΄έναν ύπατο θεό, ενώ σε άλλες αφήνουν τον Κόσμο να δρα στηριζόμενο σε προγονικά πνεύματα ανδρών και γυναικών. Με αυτό τον τρόπο η κάθε φυλή γνώριζε μέχρι ποιο γεωγραφικό σημείο ήταν υπό την προστασία του θεού της φυλής, και δεν εισέβαλλε στην περιοχή κάποιας άλλης φυλής, διότι κανείς δεν ήθελε να βρεθεί σε περιοχές όπου κατοικούσαν και προστατεύονταν από ξένες θεότητες. Η περιοχή κάθε οικογένειας-φυλής είχε ορισθεί από την «Εποχή των Ονείρων» και κανείς δεν είχε το δικαίωμα να την παραβιάσει, έτσι σπανίως γίνονταν πόλεμοι.

Ο Ιερός Βράχος Ουλουρού

Και όταν κάποια στιγμή εμφανίστηκε κατά την «Εποχή των Ονείρων» η αιμοδιψής φυλή των Κούνγια, τα προγονικά πνεύματα τους απολίθωσαν στον Ιερό Βράχο Ουλουρού. Για την Φυλή Πιτγανδιάρα της κεντρικής Αυστραλίας αυτός ο βράχος είναι ένας Ιερός Τόπος. Η παράδοσή τους λέει ότι στον Ιερό αυτό Βράχο μπορεί να διακρίνει κανείς τα χαρακτηριστικά από τη σύγκρουση τους με τους Κούνγια, δυο χαραμάδες είναι στο ίδιο σημείο εκεί όπου ένας πολεμιστής έκοψε με το δόρυ του το πόδι ενός εχθρού. Οι σπηλιές του βράχου συμβολίζουν τα ανοικτά στόματα των πολεμιστών που πεθαίνουν φωνάζοντας και βρίζοντας. Μια μεγάλη σπηλιά είναι το στόμα μιας θρηνούσας μητέρας που είδε το παιδί της να το σκοτώνουν μπροστά της, η εκδίκησή της ήρθε χτυπώντας το φονιά του υιού της με ένα ξύλο. Το ανοιγμένο κεφάλι και η μύτη του είναι χαραγμένα για πάντα σε πέτρα, μαζί με τις τέσσερις τρύπες εκεί που κάποτε ήσαν τα μάτια του και τα ρουθούνια του.

Ο Χρόνος της «Ιεράς Παραδόσεως»

Μετά από την περίοδο της αρχέγονης δημιουργίας ήρθε η περίοδος της «Ιεράς Παραδόσεως», σε τούτη την περίοδο δίνεται έμφαση στη διατήρηση της Δημιουργίας και την αρμονική συνύπαρξη με όλα τα όντα. Τα δημιουργικά έργα των προγόνων και η συνεχής αόρατη συνέχεια κάποιων απ΄αυτούς με τους απόγονούς τους είναι το θεμέλιο της «Ιεράς Παραδόσεως». Η συγγένεια μεταξύ ανθρώπων και προγονικών πνευμάτων είναι δοσμένη από τους προγονικούς δημιουργούς: Οι Αβοριγίνοι πιστεύουν ότι οι Ιεροί πρόγονοι δημιούργησαν τα πνεύματα-παιδιά και τα πνεύματα-ζώα τα οποία μπαίνουν στην κοιλιά των εγκύων γυναικών και ζώων αντίστοιχα κατά την ώρα του τοκετού. Την «Ιερά Παράδοση» και την ιστορία της πατρίδος τους συνεχίζουν να διδάσκονται ακόμη τα παιδιά της ερήμου, ακούγοντας τα τραγούδια και τις διηγήσεις από τους γεροντότερους όταν βραδιάσει.

Χαμένη Γεννεά

Η εξαφάνιση των Ιερών Όντων δεν σημαίνει ότι η «Εποχή των Ονείρων» τελείωσε, αλλά συνεχίζεται μέσω των Ιερών Χορών (Κορρόμπορι) και των τελετών. Ο κάθε Αβοριγίνος πιστεύει ότι έχει ένα προσωπικό πνεύμα το οποίο ταξιδεύει ενώ αυτός κοιμάται, και επισκέπτεται τους συγγενείς του και τους τόπους διαμονής τους. Πόσες χιλιάδες μανάδες είδαν μ΄αυτό τον τρόπο τα ταλαιπωρημένα παιδάκια τους «της κλεμμένης γεννεάς» να βασανίζονται στα «ορφανοτροφεία» των πόλεων;

Για τους αυτόχθονες Αυστραλούς η κάθε γεννεά πρέπει να ζει με τον ίδιο τρόπο που ζούσαν και οι πρόγονοί τους. Αυτή η επιλογή τους, οδήγησε τους Χριστιανούς προσηλυτιστές να θεωρήσουν τους Αβοριγίνους «αποκτηνωμένους», «άγριους» και «κανίβαλους». Από την αρχή του αιώνα, μέχρι τα τέλη της δεκαετίας του ΄60 οι Βαπτιστές Χριστιανοί έκλεβαν τα παιδιά των Αβοριγίνων με σκοπό να τα εκχριστιανίσουν και να τα αποκόψουν από την παραδοσιακή τους θρησκεία. Το παιδομάζωμα αριθμεί περίπου τριάντα χιλιάδες παιδιά θύματα της χριστιανικής απαγωγής. Με συστηματική πλύση εγκεφάλου, ξυλοδαρμούς, μαστιγώσεις και βιασμούς, οι Χριστιανοί «σωτήρες» οδηγούσαν τα παιδιά της «κλεμμένης γεννεάς» στο δρόμο του «Κυρίου».

Αυτό που ζητούν τώρα οι αυτόχθονες Αβοριγίνοι από την αυστραλιανή κυβέρνηση είναι η δημιουργία πρεσβείας ως έμπρακτη συγνώμη για την ανελέητη εθνοκτονία που υποστήκανε από την εποχή που «ανακαλύφθηκε» η αυστραλιανή ήπειρος.

Άγγελος Γιαννακουρέας


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Turkish Archaeologist Prosecuted Over Linking Muslim Practices With Pagan Rites!

Turkey court clears archaeologist

A court in the Turkish city of Istanbul has acquitted a 92-year-old academic of charges of insulting Muslim women and inciting religious hatred.

Archaeologist Muazzez Ilmiye Cig was prosecuted over a book in which she linked the wearing of headscarves with ancient Sumerian sexual rites.

The judge ruled at the first hearing of her trial that her actions did not constitute a crime.

Dr Cig's publisher was also cleared in a trial lasting less than half an hour.

The archaeologist was applauded by supporters as she left the courtroom.

Intellectuals prosecuted

This trial is the latest in a series of prosecutions of Turkish intellectuals, including 2006 Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and novelist Elif Shafak.

Charges were brought against her by a Turkish lawyer who took offence at her 2005 book "My Reactions as a Citizen".

In the book Dr Cig said that headscarves were first worn more than 5,000 years ago by Sumerian priestesses who initiated young men into sex.

Dr Cig is an expert in the ancient Sumerian civilisation which emerged in Mesopotamia in the third millennia BC.

The issue of headscarves has polarised Turkey in recent years.

Although predominantly Muslim, Turkey is a secular state and headscarves are banned in government offices and universities.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, which has roots in political Islam, has unsuccessfully tried to lift the headscarf ban.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"Bring Back the Greeks!"

Interview with Professor Bruce S. Thornton of the University of California at Fresno.

Professor Thornton's book, Greek Ways. How the Greeks Created Western Civilization, has recently been published, and is considered to be the sequel to the late [great] Edith Hamilton's famous book, The Greek Way. In her book, Edith Hamilton showed, with brilliant style & wit, just how much we all owe to the ancient Greeks. Professor Thornton's book continues this exposition, and shows how all-encompassing was the role of this remarkable, millenniums-old culture in shaping what we now refer to as "Western Civilization." Our conceptions of what it means to be a human being, and of what the "good" [to kalon] is, have come from the Greeks. During periods of decline and decay, they continue to be the sturdiest and most reliable guideposts we have for helping us find our way back to an authentically civilized and humane existence. As such, and according to Professor Thornton, they are more needed today than ever, for "the road that the Greeks have cleared is likeliest to be the only one that can lead to the greatest degree of satisfaction for humanity." [Professor Thornton is also a co-author, with John Heath and Victor Davis Hanson of the recently published book, Bonfire of the Humanities. Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age.]
Professor Thornton gave this interview to Davlos correspondent, Nancy Biska.

Multiculturalism and Postmodernism: two parts of a "childish [intellectual] fashion."

Q. Would you comment please upon the two trends currently influencing American Academia today, that is, "Postmodernism" and "Multiculturalism."
A. Postmodernism is a childish and puerile construct, whose intellectual fallacies and inconsistencies are easily discernable. In its essence, postmodernism denies the existence of immutable truths, having to do with cognition, reality, etc., but paradoxically asserts that its own ideology is replete with knowledge and truth. It reminds me of that famous ancient saying that went: "All Cretans are liars," and this was said by a Cretan! Postmodernism is nothing new. Its ancestors were the radical and reactionary Sophists of the second half of the 5th century B.C. Multiculturalism is the ideological heir of the romantic nationalism which was so prominent in the 19th century, and whose monstrous descendant includes modern-day fascism. The idea that human beings are to be defined and acquire worth based on the chance happenstance of their birth into an ethnic category -- which is ostensibly possessed of mysterious and unique attributes -- is totally irreconcilable with the ideals of a free and democratic society. Multiculturalism, therefore, by its nature, enhances and increases the "politics of identity," the effort to insure preferences, rights, etc., for whole categories of people. Ultimately these categories, in the U.S., have come to rely upon their former unjust "persecution" as an instrument of power. They deserve to be officially validated, they say, as victims of persecution and exclusion. As a result, multiculturalism actually legitimizes categories as being inferior, by virtue of their being victims incapable of standing up to their victimizers.

The intellectual capabilities of most American intellectuals is "pitifully inadequate."

Q. Why, in your opinion, were these trends created and adopted by so many "distinguished" scholars, and how did the American academic community come to accept such obviously false ideas into their universities and colleges?

A. 1) American scholars, and more specifically those found mostly in the humanities departments of U.S. universities, are woefully inadequate intellectually, thereby making them vulnerable to the fashions and foibles of the age. Additionally, the hiring, promotions, obtaining of grants and subsidies, are dependent upon how much the scholar in question has managed to publish; this holds true even if he's had nothing new or important to say. Plus, the theories of postmodernism and posts-structuralism provide unintelligible phraseology and a plethora of sugar-coated but essentially meaningless syntax that allows for the self-delusion of innovation and ground-breaking scholarship.
2) Postmodernism, and its disparagement of the principle of self-reliance, which has had such a corrosive effect upon western intellectuals for the greater part of this century, thereby causing the greater majority to lose confidence in their own capabilities and ideals, has also played its part by undermining the principles of rationality and democratic tolerance. The fact that these individuals are enjoying the fruits and benefits of these principles, both intellectually and materially, puts the onus of hypocrisy upon their intellectual inadequacies.
3) Multiculturalism, I believe, constitutes the results of the validation of a method of scholarship, whereby the creative abilities are marshaled to further the "politics of identity," rather than the accumulation of knowledge and the pre-eminence of scholarly discipline. The charge of "the white man's guilt" is helpful to this process. These academics, guilt-ridden because of the advantages they enjoy, in order to feel better about themselves, endorse the concept of diversity with which they, while not practicing it in their own personal lives, are forced to live with every day.

How the East slanders the West.

Q. Why are the contributions to Western Civilization by the ancient Greeks being played down and even denied by so many contemporary academics?

A. Multiculturalism is founded upon the principle that teaches that the West is dysfunctional, and is inherently criminal; and since the Greeks constituted the main inspiration and source of Western Civilization, it therefore follows that they are responsible and guilty of the same crimes. It is senseless and superfluous to comment further on such an unhistorical and pernicious falsehood.

Hellenism is the only solution to the dilemma confronting the world.

Q. Do you believe that the ideals of Hellenism remain viable today, and if yes, how might they contribute to contemporary society?

A. Hellenic ideals, let's see: Individual freedom, representative government, rationalism and the right to define oneself and live according to one's conscience, are not only "viable," they are the very concepts which have triumphed to such a degree as to preclude any other alternatives. Even oppressive religious cultures such as Islam depend upon the science of the West to keep ideas like individual freedom from gaining a foothold among their adherents. That is why these ideals, and the sources from which they spring (Hellenism), must be taught, studied, and respected.

Individual freedom or Theocracy and folklore?

Q. Where is globalization leading us? How do you envision this phenomenon?

A. An optimist might endorse the idea that globalism will lead to the diffusion of these Western values to every individual on the planet, which would mean material progress and individual freedom for all. On the other hand, a pessimist might believe that the price that we must pay for all of these benefits will be enormous: the marginalization of religion, the loss of traditional cultures, etc. We must also keep in mind that even now studies are being conducted to see whether the environment can support such massive development, and also, whether such development is even feasible in the third world.
It seems to come down to the fact that we are being confronted with some very hard choices indeed: Do we continue to enjoy the comforts our economic advantages bring; good health, nutrition, freedoms, etc., knowing that the price we must pay is the loss of our traditional cultures? Or do we continue living with our old ways, and have to endure hunger, political oppression, etc. Argument can be made on both sides of this issue, but the vast numbers who migrate out of the third world in order to come to the West, would seem to prove that most people will choose economic security and individual freedom even at the cost of losing their cultural heritage. We here in America have been living with the dilemma of having to make that choice for many years.

The Socratic Ideal and "let the chips fall where they may."

Q. Many of your colleagues would call you a "conservative."

A. American academics have been using the term "conservative" as a stigma, so as to avoid having to substantiate their positions with logical and fact-based argument. I am conservative in some of my beliefs and liberal in others. I believe in the Socratic Ideal, which I will paraphrase thusly: "I question everything, I seek the truth, and I let the political chips fall where they may."

American mass media aggravates the situation.

Q. Why is it that, in spite of the availability of and access to knowledge and information on a scale unprecedented in history, most people seem more and more inclined toward giving credibility to specious and wrong-headed ideas and positions?

A. The American Educational System is so bad, that we've developed a population that is for the most part incapable of telling the difference between what is blatantly false and what is true. American mass media aggravates this problem by projecting a steady stream of deceptive but pleasant imagery, and continuously bombards our society with such deceptions designed to appeal only to the emotions.

Q. Is this projection of pleasant and emotional imagery, based as it is on distortions and untruths, dangerous? Especially since we are now going through a very critical period of history. If yes, why?

A. Using the mass media, it is possible today to project destructive ideas immediately and worldwide in such a way as to create an atmosphere not conducive to the development of critical analysis

Q. What, then, would you say is the therapeutic antidote to the spiritual toxins of our age?

A. Bring back the Greeks! Study their dazzling literature, because they were the ones who developed the critical thinking with which they defined the principle problems of humanity; the very same problems we are confronting today.

Q. Do you believe that the U.S. can continue as the dominant nation on the planet in the light of this all-encompassing tolerance she's shown in the fields of education, culture, and the mass media?

A. So long as the physical sciences resist these movements, the essential work in the military, economic, and research spheres will go on: this will ensure the continuance of American dominance. However, I'm more concerned with the degeneracy of values and character that has afflicted us. Should we ever have to confront a real crisis, and the American armed forces were called upon to engage in a war which resulted in large numbers of casualties for America, I really don't know what the reaction would be. I'm really not sure of what would transpire were Americans called upon to suffer the kinds of casualties that occurred in the Second World War, for instance. Both Americans and Europeans have become "soft" as a result of the material abundance they've enjoyed in recent years: this has given rise to higher expectations as to what constitutes human happiness. We've forgotten the tragic wisdom of the ancient Greeks, who knew that human aspirations and expectations were subject to the whims of fate. They taught that hardship and disappointment were the means by which we could grow in character and become better human beings.

We must guard against dogmatism and theocratic tyranny.

Q. At this vitally important juncture for the world and for humanity, which path should America choose: that of freedom of thought, of speech, of rationality, or that of the mysticism of theocratic tyranny and dogmatism?

A. There is but one answer: our civil society must be distrustful [of authority] and ever vigilant [against the usurpation of our freedoms by government]. Euripides, in his Bacchae, demonstrates for us the dangers inherent in mysticism, as does Thucydides, in his account of the civil war in Corcyra [Kerkyra]. And we, especially, must guard against every form of mysticism, theocratic tyranny, and dogmatism, because these invariably restrict freedom of thought, of conscience, and [the freedom to acquire] knowledge. These values have, in the past, been systematically sacrificed on the altar of utopian dogmatism.

Source. Davlos. No. 238


Monday, November 06, 2006

"Hellenism will never die. It is the first and last hope for Mankind."

Classics scholars John Heath and Victor Hanson are interviewed by Davlos correspondent Nancy Biska about their book, Who Killed Homer?, and about the almost total ignorance of the American people concerning the priceless heritage of Western Civilization bequeathed to them by the Greeks.

N. B. What do you believe are the ingredients required for a "healthy" globalism? Or, put another way, which are those factors that unite humanity and which are those that divide it?
V. H. Globalism in reality represents the Western way of ordering society carried to the highest power. That is, free markets, freedom of expression, freedom to rid oneself of local prejudices, progress in science and technology without interference from cultural or religious institutions, and the like.
What we in the West must remind the rest of the world about is the fact that there have always been opposing concepts (to unhindered market forces and economic rationalism): concepts that are not antithetical but are of vital importance to our civilization, such as indigenous religions, patriotism, pride in one's language and country, etc. That these concepts are compatible to our Western way of thought, and that they must be made to fit in with the dizzying rate of change we are experiencing. There must also be honesty on the part of our western intellectuals who all too often -- and with a worrying arbitrariness -- reject globalism, while at the same time routinely fly in jet planes, enjoy cheap electronic appliances, and accept funding in the form of grants from multinational corporations.
So that intellectuals and scholars must not be hypocritical in their "boutique" criticism of globalism, but should work hard in order to find a balance between globalism and the very real damage that it causes to local cultures: something not in the least bit desired.

J. H. Globalism is a slippery "sugar-coated" concept. If we mean by that term that humanity will share some specific values, then we are heading in that direction at a very fast pace indeed. And these values are most assuredly western in essence: democracy, free markets, freedom of speech, the right to self-determination, etc. But this process contains the risk of reducing all of us to the lowest common denominator; to creating a "mall-mentality," a consumer paradise where what we will be sharing will be mass-produced "designer" clothing , hamburgers, and soft drinks.

All civilizations are not equal

N. B. Which are the influences that the United States credits for her culture, her progress, and her position as the world's leading power?

V. H. We [Americans] are Westerners in our institutions, which means that our values have come to us from ancient Greece and Rome via the English Enlightenment. The United States adopted the classical Greek concept of Freedom -- both in its culture and in its economics -- pushing this concept to its theoretical limits to a degree that Europe had imagined but had never accomplished. This has given us a level of dynamism akin to perpetual motion -- occasionally expressing itself brutally and thoughtlessly -- unique in the annals of Western history.

J. H. The United States owes its current position of world dominance to the fact that she created the kind of an environment where the dynamism inherent in human nature was set free. This dynamism has two sides, as the ancient Greeks well knew. Communism, fascism, and even free-wheeling democracy make the mistake of trying to "reinvent" human nature. When a society is allowed to progress with a minimum of outside interference, the highest levels of progress in the technological and economic fields are achieved. Of course, there is always a price that must be paid for such progress, as, for instance, in the impact it may have on the environment.

N. B. How do we counter the Asiatic "irrationalism" -- theocracy, fanaticism, mysticism -- that is being presented as an alternative to the Western way of life?

V. H. We have to use the "gift of Hellenism," with logic and critical exactness, in combination with the free and unrestricted exchange of ideas, in order to counter this challenge with validity in the global arena. All cultures may have an innate importance, but this does not mean that all cultures are equal. Theocracy and fanaticism mean nothing but misery and sorrow for humanity; and we must have the courage to espouse this view categorically. In any case, I would also like to see closer ties and a more general atmosphere of good will among the western nations, and hope that they will value the priceless Hellenic heritage we all share.
We often "quarrel" among ourselves without ever considering or appreciating the fact that our freedoms, our religious tolerance, and our open societies do not, in reality, constitute the "norm" in today's world; as recent events [of September 11] have clearly shown us.

J. H. It's true that we in the West have an element that might be categorized as "fanatical."... The difference being that in our societies we define these elements as "extremist," and that they constitute a very small, albeit odious, minority. On the other hand, the irrationalism we encounter, and which is so prominent in the East, seems to be inextricably interwoven with religious irreconcilability. Theocracy as a conviction is not open to dialogue. It's a "matter of culture." The classical Greeks defined a framework within which there was a separation between the state and religion, as well as between the armed forces and religion. Which, by the way, is the main reason the West has been so successful militarily. Unfortunately, the only way to defeat the hatred toward anything that is "different" -- a hatred that led directly to the events of September 11 -- is to "root it out and destroy it."

The Emperor has no clothes

N. B. Please comment upon the two trends of "postmodernism" and "multiculturalism," which seem to have so influenced scholarly initiative in the United States.

V. H. Postmodernism is currently in a state of disrepute, just as it was held in disrepute by the intellectuals of ancient Greece, so it is held today by the intellectuals of our generation. The idea that what passes for reality is simply the result of social constructs set up to serve the interests of an elite establishment, and that no idea is inherently true, has only one "truth," which is: it is not true! Postmodernism is attractive to the semi-educated in America, because their nihilism can always be shown to be -- in a superficial way -- rhetorically "charismatic" when confronted by the challenge of real learning. Unfortunately, we've bred a generation of conjecturers who have not an inkling of knowledge about Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Sophocles, and who avoid like the plague the hard work of real study and research. They simply mimic the meaningless sophistries of a Foucault or a Derrida. There is nothing so infuriating as the marriage of ignorance and arrogance, which seems to characterize this generation of American academics, especially in the area of the Humanities. It's a sad fact that most of these "scholars" have determined that "the emperor has no clothes," and so we are witnessing a "disorderly retreat" away from the postmodernism of the 80s and the 90s. For all that, those were critical years, during which lives were "lost" in the scramble to accommodate a fashionable mental disorder disguised as pseudo-science.
Multiculturalism is something having a totally different approach from that of postmodernism, and is hypocritical and singularly unpersuasive in its appeal. Very few people in the U. S .would really prefer the political system of China, or would tolerate a Taliban-like treatment for women, or a Saudi Arabian form of "religious tolerance." It took centuries to create a symbiotic culture which satisfies the yearnings of various races under one mutually acceptable Western prototype. The Hellenic ideals of culture and civilization have given humanity the one and only hope for freedom and dignity. [Consequently] it is an act of arson to destroy such a laborious and difficult effort, placing us instead in a hodge-podge of racial categories, in order to present us as "victims" of various forms of oppression. Multiculturalism, in reality, has a very horrific and dangerous "rap-sheet" [astinomiko mitroou] in the 20th century. In its current form, multiculturalism manifests itself mainly as a rhetorical and political phenomenon; as a result, it has very few real adherents in the West. At least I haven't seen anyone in California demanding that we adopt the Chinese view of individual freedom, or Saudi Arabian surgical procedures, or the Algerian political system. In the main, multiculturalism is a cynical way of obtaining governmental or private grants for guilt-ridden -- but basically naïve -- colleges and institutions.

J. H. Postmodernism is simply a poorly-done rehashing of ancient sophistry. It is a game played by the arrivè academicians in the Sociological Sciences and the Liberal Arts. A plethora of books and articles have been written showing its contradictions; for example, the postmodernists tell us that language determines our apprehension of the world, and that language is so inconstant and changeable (if it is any of these things) that it is impossible to determine anything at all with any certitude. The "truth" (always in quotes for the postmodernists), relative to History, Literature, and even Physics, is determined by the "ego." Naturally, they don't believe any of this, otherwise they would not go through so much trouble to find arguments to "prove" that this method is the best way to examine phenomena (according to them, there is no better way). No one outside of the world of Academia believes these postmodern axioms. Actually, very few people are even aware of their existence.
Multiculturalism, on the other hand, is a framework of belief that tells us that we must all "feel good about ourselves." This is the prevalent ethos not only in the university, but it is also the overriding ethos of the guilt-ridden liberals in America. This peculiar vision of reality is the hideous offshoot of Identity Politics: the judging of individuals based solely upon their ethnicity and upon the history of their race. This is arrant racism and completely totalitarian in its application.
Multiculturalism teaches that your are that which you were born and that you must either be punished or rewarded accordingly. Nowadays, we see a new form of multiculturalism which endeavors to convince us that it simply endorses tolerance towards those who are different. But of course tolerance is an absolute value and the multiculturalists should practice what they preach by tolerating those who are "intolerant" in order to be consistent. The most important thing is that the multiculturalists in America don't mean what they advocate. They don't want to see differing cultural values. They espouse the glories of "difference," while showing a distinct preference for democracy, free markets, separation of church and state, etc. All cultures are not really equal, and the multiculturalists show us by their preference for our Western way of life that they do not differ from this assessment; if they've ever thought about these contradictions at all, which I seriously doubt.

Hellenism answers the human need for knowledge

N. B. Why, in your opinion, have these trends developed, and why have they been embraced by supposedly knowledgeable professors? How could the academic community in the U. S. tolerate this "scholarly nonsense" -- especially since it is supported by such pseudo-scientific argument?

V. H. That is a very good question, which, unfortunately, may cause us some concern. We've created a well-funded, self-contented, and permanent "professorate," which has become accustomed to enjoying a high level of independence, lots of personal free time, and the acquisition of material goods unheard of in any university or college system in history. A system, in other words, ripe for abuse; a "professorate" responsible for its own progress which has perhaps discovered that its unconventional and "dangerous" ideas have never really had any serious negative affect on its lifestyle. On the other hand, this "professorate" may see the university as an easy way to sooth its guilt and to mitigate the disappointments which stem from the real-life problems which it either doesn't want or hasn't the ability to confront by actually working next to those who labor for their daily bread, or by teaching in the ghetto.
These acts require real work and a courageous determination to break free from the rhetoric of the salon which predominates nowadays in the colleges of America. This "professorate" has become the "court jesters" who wear the multicolored costumes and the bells and whistles of our age.

J. H. I would not want to oversimplify so vexing and complicated a problem, but the answer to your question is obvious: it pays! The professors who play the game of postmodernism do so for the conventions they are invited to attend, the articles they write that would not otherwise be published, the peer validation, and for the insignificant esteem bestowed upon them by the university. Most practicing U. S. professors don't really believe in postmodernism, but the colleges and universities they work for are hotbeds of insecurity and timidity. Heaven forbid that they should deviate from the politically correct party line. Remember, the very same professors who support the idea that the science of Physics is nothing more than a "phrasal construct," and that a White male is a western farce who persecutes others as a matter of routine, is the very same individual who exploits and enjoys this "western farce" each time he hurries to the airport in order to board a flight on a jet plane which will take him to the next convention. The fiction of David Lodgels [who writes about these things] has not been as appreciated as it should be.

N. B. Why is it that now that access to education is so much more widespread, we have this surprising dichotomy of more and more "educated" people willing to accept these obviously untrue and wrongheaded arguments and theories?

V. H. We seem to have become more of a "therapeutic" rather than a "tragic" civilization. Without the proper Paideia, these kinds of false gods of "knowledge" slip by -- silently and without protest -- while telling us that every kind of -ism and -ology presents us with another form of therapy; that there does not exist anything real such as evil, that even death can be mitigated; that perpetual peace is possible. The "illegitimate" sons of the enlightenment, Marx and Freud, have convinced us that either the state or we ourselves can actually change human nature -- albeit with enough of the necessary force and slaughter during the process. Thucydides, on the other hand, teaches us something different about the tragic immutability and consequently heroic nature of Mankind.

J. H. First, you've hit the "nail on the head";this is one of the really serious problems: In spite of the fact that educational opportunities are on the rise and are more available to more people than ever before, is the quality of this education keeping pace or is it in decline? Anyone who has been teaching at the college level in America over the past 20 years, will tell you that our freshmen students have been totally unprepared for any serious learning.
Actually, in the U. S., our students come to college without the slightest inclination or desire to seek the truth. On top of which, they find a "professorate" ready to teach them that there are no truths, or that there are other, better, ways of thinking and living [than caring about what is true and what is false]. As a result, with little or no education in critical thinking, and with few, if any, prototypes (in academia or in public life) to inspire them to choose a life dedicated to the disciplined search for knowledge in whatever field of endeavor, most students simply "pass through" the system never actually having "touched" the world of ideas.
Second, we are living in an age fraught with some very real problems which have to be faced with courage. However, there are many wrongheaded ideas and contentions that have found currency, and which "permit" some to avoid having to think. These include some of the newer religions which are growing in popularity -- whether they are dogmatic (they provide the answers one seeks), or "new wave" (spirituality based) where one finds the reassurance one needs.

N. B. Is the dissemination of these false ideas and contentions dangerous?

V. H. Yes, because the logical results stemming from the actual application of such ideas leads inexorably to the murder of innocents, as we can attest by considering the 80 million souls annihilated by Mao and Stalin in pursuit of their utopian "worker's paradise"; or the slaughters committed by Hitler; or the millions of shattered lives provoked by the social programs in the U. S.; and the even more millions of unlettered victims of the failed American educational system, which has become a therapeutic rather than an educational system that really educates.
Ideas have consequences, and the tragic events of the 20th century all started with the "authority" of one or another phenomenal "cure-all," which was appealing to those of little learning. Cases in point are the distortion of German philosophy by Hitler, or the twisted and self-serving hermeneutics of the works of Aristotle and Plato by Marx, which led directly to the Gulag.

Fundamentalist Islam stands in total opposition to Hellenism

N. B. Do you believe that America has a future in light of the widespread dissemination of these dogmatisms via the media, the popular culture, and academia?

V. H. Well now, all is not lost in America! There are millions of us who are resisting these purveyors of falsehood and ignorance, and we've come to understand that our silence in the past has led us to the pathological situation in which we now find ourselves. So all-pervasive has this climate of relativism and anti-enlightenment orthodoxy in the universities become, that the point has now been reached where our students are being taught that what we have learned from the Greeks is only "somewhat" more important than the cultural heritage bequeathed to us by the Zulus and the Aztecs.
The crisis we are currently undergoing [September 11, 2001] may finally "ring a bell" and remind Americans that Islamic fundamentalism does not simply represent another equally valid culture, but is, in fact, something completely different, something really vile, something that stands in total opposition to everything we've ever learned from the Greeks.

N. B. We are standing at the doorstep of an epoch which will be of monumental importance for humanity. Shouldn't America -- which is leading the world into this new age -- prefer freedom of thought, speech, and conscience instead of irrationality, mysticism, theocracy, and dogmatism?

V. H. Yes, of course. We in the West don't need to be taught that there is a discernable dichotomy between the Word and the inexplicable. This was delineated many centuries ago by the Greeks, and this is why their tragedies -- especially those of Sophocles and Euripides -- provide an area within which logic attempts to explain that which cannot be explained by the mysteries of life and death; it is into this area that religious fanaticism stealthily intrudes itself. Religion must only be involved where logic and reason cannot satisfy man's thirst for knowledge, while at the same time limiting and defining the actual parameters of its spiritual bailiwick. Up till now, we in the U. S. have managed to do just that with relative success. There is no other country that is so critical of its zealots as ours is. Remember, we put Timothy McVeigh to death -- in spite of the many pleas for clemency emanating from Europe -- precisely because of his crime of dogmatism. [?] I hope that the Muslim world will condemn Osama bin Ladin the same way that we condemned the American fascism of McVeigh, and that they punish him in the same way. So that here again the West's response to its own extremism has always been more decisive because it is governed by values seldom encountered elsewhere.

J. H. Naturally. Fortunately our Founding Fathers created a system which makes the possibility of "straying" from the road they charted for us extremely difficult. But the problem of maintaining our confidence in a system which does not seem capable of educating our fellow Americans is a real one, and must be faced.

Hellenism will never die

N. B. Western societies have been mainly influenced by two ideologies: the Hebrew and the Ancient Greek. These are on opposite philosophical poles in the following way: The Hebrews (via Judaism and Judeo-Christianity) espouse the concept of "unquestioning belief": in other words, dogmatism and theocracy. Hellenism, on the other hand, seeks to promulgate the concepts of theorization, of scientific proofs, of research and dialogue, which lead to science and democracy. We live under the influence of these two dominant currents of thought. How can the essentially Hellenic ideals I mentioned contribute to the solution of the problems faced by mankind today?

V. H. Hellenism will never die! It is the first and last hope for Mankind. It responds to the human need for knowledge, and does not require us to "believe and submit" through imposition and force. It respects and encourages differences of opinion, and is amenable and hospitable to both conservative and moderate convictions.
We are so fortunate that those 'relatively poor' Greeks of the 8th to the 4th centuries B.C. developed such a brilliant and indestructible civilization. Our mission is to keep reminding our immigrants that Hellenism is the one and only institution in the world under which we can all unite while adhering to the principles and values of the West that they bequeathed to us.
We are all Greeks now, whether we want it or not!"

J. H. Important question. The Jews were really a questioning race, even about themselves. And naturally, as their Old Testament dictates, there was one question that was seminal -- concerning God's existence and his choice of their race as being chosen -- which the Old Testament does not allow them to ask. But I understand how you pose your question.
The ideas of Hellenism flourished within a Western framework: political self-determination, separation of Church and State, political control over the armed forces, etc. We are especially Western in our belief in the importance of airing our differences, of questioning everything; our society, our government, even ourselves. Within this framework, we in the West have progressed beyond imagining. There are cultures and religions which terrorize those who would seek self-knowledge. As a result, there are those who struggle to come to the West, or who fight to change their system so that it is more like ours.

N. B. Why is it that so many academicians today seek to minimize or deny the contributions to Western Civilization made by the Ancient Greeks? Is there perhaps some hidden agenda which is being served?

V. H. We in the United States are becoming more of a multiracial society day by day. This time of demographic flux gives the opportunity to demagogues, racists, and opportunists to exploit the fears and superstitions of many by stating that there is no uniting culture that can bind us all, thereby fostering their belief in "multiculturalism." However, every big lie which has been spun in the history of America -- from the "right" to own slaves, to sympathy for fascism and communism -- has "crashed" under the weight of logic and freedom. I am certain that the current academic intransigence and despotism will fall as well, and for the same reasons.

J. H. Contemporary academicians are prospering under a modern and very hypocritical anti-Western miasma (an ultra-Greek word!). To consider the Greeks as the founders of Western Civilization is (according to them): 1) an over-simplification, 2) an error, or 3) re-enforcement of oppressive Western "hegemonic arrogance" (such are the overblown phraseologies of these "scholars"). These three categories spring from the three gods that direct and control these modern-day academicians:

A) Education: To be able to show that the Greeks were the creators, to a large degree, of
Western Civilization requires serious thought, and such academicians are terrorized at
the thought of serious contemplation. And, generally speaking, the idea of opposing their
fellow "birds of a feather" is never even considered out of fear that their own wings might
be "clipped" as a result.

B) Social Sciences: Today's academicians have been taught to write endless commentaries
about the marginal differences between cultures as being of vital interest and importance.
Of course, the Greeks differed from today's West in many ways (e.g., we don't sacrifice animals
nowadays), but this contemporary fixation in the academy with these unimportant differences
causes them to lose sight of the bigger, more important, picture. As a result, a foolish
theory such as that posited by the author of Black Athena can find currency and legitimacy
precisely because so few scholars are willing [or able] to challenge it.

C) Criticizing the West: To deconstruct and criticize the West means you are paying a dividend to
your college or university. The current war being waged against the Taliban is a perfect example.
We see professors shaking hands with each other while blaming America for the horrific deaths
of their fellow Americans by terrorists.

Concluding this interview, Victor Hanson requested that he be allowed to make the following plea:

Allow me to express my sincere hope that we Greeks and Americans renew and reinvigorate our historic friendship through our common heritage and our common struggles during the last century against German Fascism and Soviet Communism. We were both on the same side in those conflicts. In spite of the errors and misunderstandings that characterized our relationship during the decades of the 60s and 70s, I pray that we will renew our former close ties of friendship, and that during these challenging times we will rediscover that we are essentially "one people." We are the same.
It is the responsibility of every true "Hellene" -- here in America or in Hellas -- to do all that his talents and position allow, to encourage a new era of mutual good will based upon our timeless, eons-old, common heritage.
I have dedicated a significant part of my life to the teaching of young Americans -- who are all too often naïve and inexperienced --about their Western heritage, and to dispelling some of the unhistorical distortions pertaining to the history of Greece, both ancient and modern, that are purposely being disseminated today. I sincerely hope that our Greek friends will participate in this undertaking. Thank you.

"Davlos" magazine. Number 240. December 2001