Archive for August, 2013

In a previous blog I raised the question about the validity of a ‘clean’ reading of history (The Book of Geuzen by Louis Paul Boon). On a similar note, feminist historians have pointed out how the history in our textbooks is very limited. Both the selection of facts and the structure of time based on these facts are androcentric. By taking a look at how we perceive the past, we get an insight in our contemporary believes.

The history of history as a source of information about today.

In the discussion of Boon’s book I asked whether it’s okay to add a bit of fantasy. Can fantasy bring us closer to the historical reality? This time, I and feminist historians take the scope of the historian into question. Joan Kelly discusses the Renaissance and our common views on this period. In her views, common opinions about humanism, progress and equality are in fact only true for the male population. Instead of an increasing equality, the practical consequences of the Renaissance’s ideals were an increased influence of male tutors and family upon women. The selection of topics studied by women was made feminine and there roles were diminished inside the court. This resulted in a decline of power in the political sphere and growing inequality between the sexes.

Suitably, the article was titled: Did Women Have A Renaissance?

Are the core ideas connected by every high school student with the Renaissance really part of the Renaissance as whole? Or only to the male part? Or worse, only to an elite group within the penis-group of humanity?

Feminists have studied the role of women in history and the androcentric view on history for decades. Nevertheless, the lessons we take should go much further. Every individual or group has a certain power during a specific period of time. The power of an individual or a group is equal to the network they are in, the size of the network and the position they take in it. Influencing our view on the past is not simply a vile act of distorting history. It’s an inevitable consequence of having power. It’s the unstoppable creativity of power. In this case, history is in the making.

All we can do is stay alert and try to find our own weaknesses and those of others in looking at the past. The way we look at the past unveils our view on society.

Three helpful questions:
– Who wrote the sources that inform us about the past?
– Who are our historians?
– What power do groups have and lack in our current society?

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is for Eva the source of her timidity towards her own nudity. The nudity is only an example of the kind of changes in Eva’s behaviour. The situation of nearly ultimate freedom (except for this one tree) changes drastically. What has really changed in the world after this event?

Humans became moral beings.

I don’t read this as a story about a woman breaking the law and bringing down Gods fury. Instead, it’s a mythical genealogy of morality. In the story, humans as a part of nature change to a separate being in the world. As the beings created in the image of God, they already had a special place in the hierarchy of existence. Their transformations created a gap between humans and non-humans. The a-moral nature of harmony is left for uncertainty and hard work. Both uncertainty and hard work are the result of this introduction of morality. Unfortunately for us, the Tree didn’t give humans any rules about what is good and bad, it only created the ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Even though both extreme concepts are perfectly fine parts of His creation, he predicted the problematic situations that would result from combining these moral concepts with humanity. Simply put: taking a bite of the apple brought morality into humanity. Now we are stuck with it!

The uncertainty and hard work creates the need for a constant search for the right rules to follow and actions to take. God didn’t only condemn us to hard work on the land, but, more importantly in this case, to work hard in searching for the good.

This reading does seem to give an extra option to a millennia old paradox. Socrates asked: “Is something good because God commands it or did God command it because it is good?” Both options will bring you in serious trouble. But according to the God of the Old Testament, God didn’t want any morality in humanity at all! Good and evil were safely confined in the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. God knew these concepts would unnecessarily problematize life*.

This is not to say that we should all try to be a-moral today. Morality is part of what we are. Whether you believe in the existence of God and/or the literally meaning of the Bible, the story does show that humanity is blessed with a curse called “morality.” The story gives us a mythical history to show us what morality is. In addition, it makes us aware of the need to constantly re-think our moral beliefs. Morality is unavoidably an eternal work for all of us.

* Another possible response is to see God as a platonic idea(l) of the Good.

Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, … Belgium has a lot of interesting cities. The amount of tourists visiting all these cities show their popularity. All those cities spent the past years a huge amount of money on renovation. The city centers all look like we have never left the Late Middle Ages or Renaissance behind. I obviously applaud this respect for our historical heritage. But the respect for Flander’s 14th – 17th century architecture shows a remarkable contrast with the disdain towards modernist architecture. An unconscious prejudice about historical importance or a marketing move for economical purposes?

It isn’t fake, but it ain’t that Medieval either. All over Europe, 19th century romanticism has deeply influenced the architecture in our cities. Influenced by the romantic ideal of knights and princesses, heavily damaged Medieval buildings got renovated and made more Medieval. Towers and merlons were added and are still present. One of the most extreme examples that come to mind is Het Gravensteen in Ghent. The distorted links with the past doesn’t make Ghent less beautiful (personally, I suggest a visit to Ghent instead of Bruges!). But it does nibble away the argument in favor of huge investments in medieval architecture for the preservation of historical important buildings.

Het Gravensteen.

Het Gravensteen.

Do renovations in Renaissance architecture have a higher return on investment rate? If you would like to see a modernist house in Belgium, you will probably need to google it first to find one. In my direct environment I know two modernist houses. One of them has been completely renovated a few years ago and has lost nearly everything of its original design. In general, Belgian families never build that many modernist houses. Modernism, while it had some popularity, has always been the architecture of the government. Then again, I’m pretty sure castles wasn’t the house of the average peasant family in the Middel Ages! Nevertheless, Belgians prefer their farms and the idyllic past.

You can walk through Times Square and only pass tourists. No need to cross the ocean,  the Grand Place in Brussels will give you the same experience! We have a great deal of tourists from the Far East and the USA. It’s quite understandable that they prefer seeing buildings that aren’t available in their countries. Their preference goes  to the little streets and houses with inscriptions like “1584.”

When both Belgians and foreigners prefer the historical buildings, it does seem like a good investment to renovate those buildings. Yet, I do wish for more respect for the modernist buildings of the mid 20th century. In a few years we might look around and realise we took them all down.

John Waple – “Excuse me sir, there seems to be a bit of poo on your face.”

“Really? … Oh, you’re right. Haha, this happens nearly every time I go to the lavatory!” – Richard Carrier.

John – “Haha, haven’t we all been there?”

Both – “HAHAHAHAHAlavatoryHAHAHApooHAAAAAAAAAA…AH…OH…gnaahhhh…uhhhhhhh…been there…”

Unfortunately, this everyday event ends with the death of Richard Carrier. The combination of wiping off the feces with his right hand while laughing his ass off created a semiotical deathlock. As a result he defecated his intestines.

This blog post is dedicated to Richard.

We will miss you.

Yolo 😥

The “USA” is a concept functioning as a fake ideal with no existence of its own.

Based on reason and science.[1]

As critical world citizens, we often have to rethink our beliefs. Following the common sense opinions isn’t a guarantee for success. After the earth moved out of the center of the universe and God appeared to be death, I’m convinced that the next change will be the existence of the so-called United States of America. A myth, created by Europeans to push out poor people into the ocean. Today it’s still used as a tool to push forward specific political ideas. I know that it sounds strange, but follow my arguments and let the mist disappear.

Remember: An open mind is needed. Firm believers are often very difficult to convince with evidence and rational arguments.

FACT: I’ve never in my life seen any scientific study about the existence of the USA.

If the USA would exist, it would in principle be open to scientific investigation.[2] You might claim the USA aren’t empirically noticeable. They are a metaphysical object, out of the scope of scientists. In this case, you should create a rationalistic reasoning on the possible existence. But if the world makes perfectly sense without it, why should we even want to presume its existence?

FACT: I’ve only seen the USA on tv and the internet. It’s not a coincidence that these are the exact same sources of information about Mordor and Potter Town. Who is willing to believe in the power of the ring? … Exactly, I didn’t think so.

If we accept that the USA is a myth, we only need this one rule to explain everything. While when you believe the existence of whatever you see on tv, you either have to believe everything or you have to make a decision on what is true and what isn’t. In the latter you very quickly fall into what the philosophers Maarten Boudry and Johan Braeckman call the “illusion of objectivity.”[3]. You might give an ad hoc solution for every specific problem you encounter, but won’t be able to give a general rule like mine. This makes Willem of Ockham [4] very unhappy!

I think that the USA can be understood as a system of institutional facts created by socinianism that continue to exist because their claims are accepted within the European community, and which that community confuses with verifiable natural facts about the vicissitudes of the human mind.

2009-usa-flag-graphics

[1] Will Treab, Contemporary Myths: Pokemon, Dracula, the USA and Free Candy, 2009, University of Braadmege Press, Braadmege, pp. 396.
[2]  Boudry M, Blancke S and Braeckman J, How Not to Attack the Existence of the USA: Philosophical Misconceptions About Methodological Naturalism, p. 5.
[3] Boudry M and Braeckman J, How Convenient! – The Epistemic Rationale of Self-validating Belief Systems, p. 6.
[4] Willem of Ockham, Summa Logicae, 1323 (reprinted 2002), Cambridge University, p. 59.

To be original is to do something that hasn’t been done before. Future.

Past. To go back to the origin is to do what has already been done before.

The change in the meaning of the word is connected by historian Reinhart Koselleck with the change in views on time during the 16th – 17th century. There came a new focus on the idea of progress through a singular and straight path of time.

It’s quite interesting to see how the Renaissance, the re-birth of the Antiques, is the starting point of a shift in the meaning of a word that literally used to mean almost the same as “renaissance.”

As a recently graduated student with an MA in history, I can’t be to picky when it comes to jobs. The book Finding a Job – for Dummies teached me that there is nothing worse than the arrogant student who wants to jump to the top of the ladder and demands a pile of cash from day one. I took this advise by heart and applied for a variety of jobs, including a job at an assembly line.

It seemed like a last-resort job. I thought, If I really can’t find anything else, I can always get this one. No skills or knowledge needed, just packing cookies. A job even a historian can handle! A few days later I received the reply: “After a thorough screening of your profile, we decided not to include you in our further selection procedure.” I wonder on what this screening is based. You don’t have to know anything at all. So is the selection based on age? I’m in my mid 20s! Or geographically? I live 7km from the factory! Could my degree actually hold me back in this case?

I never believed in the idea of being over-educated. Yes, I have some knowledge about the history/sociology/philosophy of science. Big deal. It doesn’t decrease my cookie-packing-skills! Pay me what the Highschool dropout makes next to me. I don’t mind. The only reason that I can imagine is their fear that I might leave the company soon and they will have to look for another employee. Fair enough.

Yesterday evening I talked with a friend about this situation. The ultimate question seemed: How many job opportunities have I gained and lost by getting this degree? The answer is a bit complicated. For example, The jobs in medium or higher administration will require a more thorough job interview and tests in which you’ll have to beat contenders. Being new in all this, I might be in a disadvanted position. Also, those jobs often require relevant working experience. My student jobs usually aren’t considered relevant experience. On the other hand, when I do get such a job, I’ll get paid better than the assembly line job. But unemployment is obviously still paid the worst of all…

Maybe I’m a bit too negative. At the moment I actually do have a job. Unfortunately it’s only for a very short period of time.

Anyway, getting rejected for an assembly line job, that’s an unexpected experience!

Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin and his clash with the modern factory.