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Posts Tagged ‘Will and Ariel Durant’

BIOLOGY AND HISTORY
So the first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. competition is not only the life of trade, it is the trade of life — peaceful when food abounds, violent when the mouths outrun the food.  Animals eat one another without qualm; civilize men consume one another by due process of law.
War is a nation’s way of eating.  It promotes co-operation because it is the ultimate form of competition.  Until our states become members of a large and effectively protective group they will continue to act like individuals and families in the hunting stage.
The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection.  In the competition for food or mates or power some organisms succeed and some fail.  In the struggle for existence some individuals are better equipped than others to meet the tests of survival.
Nature loves difference as the necessary material of selection and evolution; identical twins differ in a hundred ways, and no two peas are alike.
Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization.  Hereditary inequalities breed social and artificial inequalities; every invention or discovery is made or seized by the exceptional individual, and makes the strong stronger, the weak relatively weaker, than before.  Economic development specializes functions, differentiates abilities, and makes me unequally valuable to their group.  If we knew our fellow men thoroughly we could select thirty percent of them whose combined ability would equal that of all the rest.  Life and history do precisely that, wit a sublime injustice reminiscent of Calvin’s God.
Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias.  For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.  Leave men free and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically…
Even when repressed, inequality grows; only the man who is below the average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desire freedom; and in the end superior ability has its way.  Utopias of equality are biologically doomed, and the best that the amiable philosopher can hope for is an approximate equality of legal justice and educational opportunity.  A society in which all potential abilities are allowed to develop and function will have a survival advantage in the competition of groups.  This competition becomes more severe as the destruction of distance intensifies the confrontation of states.
The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed.  Nature has no use for organisms, variations, or groups that cannot reproduce abundantly.  She has a passion for quantity as prerequisite to the selection of quality; she likes large litters, and relishes the struggle that picks the surviving few; doubtless she looks on approvingly at the upstream race of a thousand sperms to fertilize one ovum.  She is more interested in the species than in the individual, and makes little difference between civilization and barbarism.  She does not care that a high birth rate has usually accompanied a culturally low civilization, and a low birth rate a civilization culturally high; and she (here meaning Nature as the process of birth, variation, competition, selection, and survival) sees to it that a nation with a low birth rate shall be periodically chastened by some more virile and fertile group.
If the human brood is too numerous for the food supply, Nature has three agents for restoring the balance: famine, pestilence, and war.
But much of what we call intelligence is the result of individual education, opportunity, and experience; and there is no evidence that such intellectual acquirements are transmitted in the genes.  Even the children of Ph.D.s must be educated and go through their adolescent measles of errors, dogmas, and isms; nor can we say how much potential ability and genius lurk in the chromosomes of the harassed and handicapped poor.  Biologically, physical vitality may be, at birth, of greater value than intellectual pedigree; Nietzsche thought that the best blood in Germany was in peasant veins; philosophers are not the fittest material from which to breed the race.
In the United States the lower birth rate of the Anglo-Saxons has lessened their economic and political power; and the higher birth rate of Roman Catholic families suggests that by the year 2000 the Roman Catholic Church will be the dominant force in national as well as in municipal or state governments.
    —     Will and Ariel Durant
From their book: “The Lessons Of History, Chap.III
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Is it possible that, after all, “history has no sense,” that it teaches us nothing, and that the immense past was only the weary rehearsal of the mistakes that the future is destined to make on a larger stage and scale?
   —    Will and Ariel Durant
From their book:  “The Lessons Of History
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Since man is a moment in astronomic time, a transient guest of the earth, a spore of his species, a scion of his race, a composite of body, character, and mind, a member of a family and a community, a believer or doubter of a faith, a unit in an economy, perhaps a citizen in a state or a soldier in an army, we may ask under the corresponding heads — astronomy, geology, geography, biology, ethnology, psychology, morality, religion, economics, politics, and war — what history has to say about the nature, conduct, and prospects of man.  It is a precarious enterprise, and only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions.  We proceed.
   —   Will and Ariel Durant
From their book:   “The Lessons Of History
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The Lessons Of History”  (1968©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for a summation / distillation book written by Will and Ariel Durant (a married couple) which culminates a series of eleven volumes popularly titled: “The Story of Civilization“.  This book (“Lessons“) actually was written and published between volumes 10 and 11 of that main work.  The book attempts to provide extremely brief points about twelve topics: geography, biology, race, character, morals, religion, economics, socialism, government, war, growth / decay, and progress.  There is also a preface and a first chapter detailing the authors “hesitations” in presenting such a précis.  The book is barely 117 pages while the typical main volume is 900-1100 pages (over 10,000 pages in total).  Obviously, their task was daunting and, generally speaking, they only compare / contrast the two main tensions (positions) for each topic (i.e. religion vs secularism) in this slim book.  This book, like the main series, is an attempt to bring “history” to the masses (in simple, if flowery, language).
If you are a lover of words, you will enjoy the authors’ writing style.  I found the imagery almost poetic at many points.  If, however, you are a person grounded in ideas, you may be less taken by this work.  The chapters tend to be limited to the “compare and contrast” formula of only two main concepts each per topic.  Another issue: the book is dealing with racism and culture, character and morals, etc., and many times we see these topics through the prism of our modern perspective, while the authors view them over the course of human history.  Racism and slavery, for example, seem almost excused because that’s the way it (humanity) has been for the vast majority of the last 5,000 years.  It is NOT excused (by the authors), but it is detailed and in most sections comes across as “the white-man’s destiny”, until suddenly – sometimes in only a single brief paragraph, it isn’t.  And the “suddenly” paragraph represents the last 150 years which some of us have lived through a fair chunk of – in my case 65 of them, anyway.  I am not trying to be critical of the couple’s monumental work (over five decades in the writing for the main series), however, this book seems to suffer from the same European / Northern Mediterranean perspective (i.e. bias) which the main series is always criticized for.  I did not personally find this overly objectionable, but then I am a “melting-pot” American (product of the 1960’s).
Is this a good book?  Is it thought provoking?  Is it entertaining?  Yes.  Yes.  And, yes.  There is a well known expression that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  The authors opine this is not necessarily as true as is the subtle appearance of time, leadership, government and civilization being caught up in great interweaving cycles – like a pendulum we swing back and forth between anarchy and tyranny with only brief periods of democratic liberties and freedoms.  And, they attempt to illustrate this series of cycles for each of the twelve chapters opposing extremes.  Please note:  the authors imagery is circular.  Mine is the pendulum.
Final recommendation: highly recommended!  I bought the full twelve volumes several years ago and promised myself I’d read them “eventually”.  I’m glad I’ve finally dipped my toe in the ocean.  I guess the next step is to begin the real swim…
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