GREEK RESILIENCE: SPARTAN AND ATHENIAN STRATEGIES
A while back, at the prompting of Dan Abbott
, I picked up Howard Bloom's
excellent Global Brain:The Evolution of Mass Mind From the Big Bang To The 21st Century
. The book lived up to the billing Dan gave it and I was as impressed with Bloom as I have been with such eminent scholars as Robert Conquest, E.O. Wilson
or Jacques Barzun
. Which is to say, that Global Mind
is a work of a rare intellectual caliber.
This however, my opening paragraph to the contrary, is not a review of Global Mind
. Instead, I would like to draw attention to a section where Bloom has, correctly in my view, pointed to a dichotomy of paradigms that describe two espistemological -cultural meta-strategies for civilizational resilience
:" ...But the subcultural struggles retarding science's advance are minor maladies of mass mind compared to a set of twenty-first century clashes in which Sparta and Athens remain vigorously alive.Today's cyber-era Spartans are bone crushers of conformity. they are the fundamentalists of both the left and the right. Some are godly, some are secular. Religious extreminsts, ultranationalists, ethnic liberationists and fascists fall on the fundamentalist side of the line. Brooking no tolerance of those who disagree, they invoke a golden past and a higher power, both which demand submission to authority. The worst shoot, burn and bomb to get their way. Their opposites are Athenian, Socratic, Aristotelian, diversity-generating, pluralistic and democratic....these champions of human rghts use the word 'freedom' to liberate he individual, not hammer the triumph of a chosen collectivity."
Count me as an Athenian.
Nevertheless, while I find the people who are Bloom's Spartans or Eric Hoffer's
True Believers to be anything from misguided to dangerous, I am aware that both the Spartan as well as the Athenian approaches to life represent resilience
strategies. Each with particular advantages and dangers.
Spartans are resilient in the face of ideological and often physical attack. They react with moral certainty and outrage toward threats to deeply cherished beliefs. They have the solidarity of moral cohesion
and rigidly disciplined unity and the heightened attention, even paranoia, of a people under siege. Hallowed traditions and unifying themes become banners of war, metaphorically or literally. This is a response of vigilance appropriate for an existential threat or similar grave emergency.
Athenians are resilient in the face of shifting conditions of the environment. They react with debate, analysis, multiple perspectives, insight and experimentation. They have the creativity of competent, self-confident, individuals and do not fear to hazard risks. Hallowed traditions that no longer serve are quickly discarded in favor of efficiency and effectiveness that force Rule Set resets
. This is the response of adaptive evolution, even revolutionary change, appropriate for epochal shifts and long term adversity.
Each has their flaws. Spartans stubbornly corner themselves in mental cul-de-sacs built from self-imposed blindness, Athenians bicker over the existence of a threat at all even as the enemy is at the gates -or even after he has breached the walls. Of the two, though, I will place my bet on the Athenians. They can correct errors more readily.
Creative resilience deals with the unknown unknowns over the long haul as they emerge in a way that the most violent and reflexively vigilant response cannot.