Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Human Nature

Conner Lewis                                                                                                    1/25/15
Thoughts and Reflections on: The Plague and The Civil War in Corcyra
Author: Thucydides

The Mind of Man
Human nature is what a person, man or woman, will do without the existence of laws and regulations or in dire situations. It is the primal needs, emotions, and thoughts which humans will feel and think without any intervention. It is also what a human will do when they believe that their life is threatened, and when their mind resorts to its basic primitive mind set to find a way to survive. It is the part of the mind that has developed and grown as
humans lived in the wild during the Era of Foragers, and which developed in order for humans to survive in a lawless land which cared little for that person’s thoughts or needs. This causes human nature to often be selfish and self-centered, as it was developed as each individual of humanity attempts to continue its own existence and survival.
In Thucydides’ discussion on the civil war in Corcyra, Thucydides says that,” war is a stern teacher; in depriving them of the power of easily satisfying their daily wants, it brings most people’s minds down to the level of their actual circumstances,”(Thucydides 242). Thucydides states that peoples’ minds elevate their position and true nature when they have all of their needs, and they grow posh on their own power and their belief that their ability to treat all of their needs make them better than what their true, and animal like minds really are. They think that the prosperity they have in normal times mean that they are better than the beasts of the wild. War, however, deprives them of these resources, and their prosperity can go back to an equivalent of what they would have in the wild. Their lack of resources reminds them and in a way reactivates their nature which is designed to gain and maintain at least enough wealth to survive. In war and desperation the primitive nature which resides in all humans shows itself as they each try to scratch out their own existence.
In his commentaries on the situation in Corcyra, Thucydides also says that,” a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member”(242). Thucydides is stating that when the primitive mindset overtook that of the posh and proud form of thought the Greeks used to have, their opinions towards actions and ways of retaining wealth changed as well. As people’s minds began to expose their true nature, they began to applaud those who did acts according to their new mindset. People who were swift and quickly felled their foes in a way others would usually see as ruthless and brutal were applauded, because they were acting by the same nature and in the same way as the other desperate citizens did. The people who took up this new society the fastest were to become the leaders and most successful in it.
Thucydides also talks about how,” Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man,”(242). Thucydides is saying that as humans accepted their more selfish and natural ways, they could no longer accept the timid. This is because the timid were the first to question the brutality of the times, and the first to falter in the face of the chaos and deceit that was occurring in the city, and soon in all of Greece. Human nature was cultivated during the early stages of humanity, and was cultivated to be particularly quick and decisive, because mankind had to be before societies and peoples formed to band together in order to make life better. In a time when fight or flight was an extremely valuable and common response to danger, faltering could be the difference between life or death. This means that those seen as timid in these times were those who others thought would be picked off early, and that the fanatical and zealous were the ones quickest to act, and more likely to win as they struck first.
Thucydides mentions how.”and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self defense,”(242). Thucydides is saying that as humanity turned itself to its more selfish and greedy ways, the rules of conduct Greece normally abode by were discarded for more ruthless, deceitful, and treacherous ways. This is because during this time people’s actions were dictated by human nature, and human nature’s main goal is self preservation, which is the goal which all humans abide by. While one’s loyalties may lie with their party, city, or family, it will always first apply to one’s self. Because of this, to eliminate current threats or people who may become threats was one of the top priorities for all Greek citizens, so plotting to murder someone in ways that would previously be considered brutal and dishonorable was seen as legitimate and even intelligent.
In Thucydides’ commentary on the plague of Athens, he also states that,” the catastrophe was so overwhelming that men, not knowing what would happen next to them, became indifferent to every rule of religion or of law,”(155). Thucydides is stating that war is not the only thing that can bring humanity to levels which previously would have horrified and disgusted them. He is stating that any level of desperation, catastrophe, or lack of wealth would lead to the utter disregard of both the state and the church. As previously
stated, every man and woman’s first loyalty is to themselves, and neither the government nor the clergy will shake this. When man is pushed to the brink of desperation, and has a high possibility for death, it will cease to think of what others have set for them to do, and will take matters into its own hands. It will disregard the laws placed by others, as they do not know what is best for the individual in despair, or at least that’s what the desperate think. Any catastrophe will cause man’s human nature to question the current authority, and will cause them to attempt to go alone and make their own decisions. In times of peace and tranquility, it is acceptable to follow another person’s orders, as it will most likely not affect an individuals life in such a way that they cannot continue in a healthy and prosperous lifestyle. In times of war and strife, however, any wrong decision could be harmful, and relying on others is unthinkable.
Thucydides also states that during the plague, “people now began openly to venture on acts of self-indulgence which before then they used to keep in the dark,”(155). People in Athens during the plague began to be indifferent to the thoughts and cares of others. Their actions were dictated by human nature, and because human nature is primarily based on self preservation, as well as improving one’s standard of living and increasing their happiness, they only thought of what could make their own life happier and better. Because of this, people attempted to gain more of what made them happy, and what they desired, so they disregarded what others thought because in several days they or the other individual could be dead. The nature they were living by dictated that they should attempt to make themselves happy, whatever the cost, so the thoughts of others was irrelevant, only acquiring what they sought and used to increase their own pleasure was important.
During the plague, Thucydides states that,”As for what is called honor, no one showed himself willing to abide by its laws, so doubtful was it whether one would survive to enjoy the name for it,”(155). The codes and laws which people used to hold in high regard were quite unimportant to everyone when they were lowered to their true level, and their nature showed just how desperate their situation had become. When honor dictated helping the sick when one was themselves healthy, and when this usually meant death, then one’s desire for self preservation advised strongly against it. Those who were able to overcome the difficult task of defying one’s own nature quickly died to the plague, setting an example which deterred others from performing the same task. People chose to ensure their own happiness in the present than possibly bask in the glory of being noble and righteous decades down the line. Thucydides is showing how human nature dictates one will always attempt to make life better now in any means possible, brutal or otherwise, rather than attempt to justify one’s own actions and ensure that others will remember their legacy in a good way.

Thucydides also described the situation at Athens by stating that “it seemed to be the same thing whether one worshipped [the gods] or not, when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately,”(155). As previously stated, human nature’s first loyalty is to itself, and to the preservation of an individual’s well being. While it may be argued that if the gods could truly bless and keep an individual safe, it would be in that individual’s own self interest to pray and appease the gods, one must also remember that the plague was relentless, and was indifferent to the righteous and the unholy. Because of this, another example was set which showed the already desperate population that not even the gods could help them, and that the only person which would look out for them was themselves. This caused human nature to sink into each individual even more, so that each man and woman would only care about themselves and their own needs.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Athens: The Pearl of the Hellenes

Conner Lewis, World History 4                                                                                      1/14/15
Thoughts and Reflections On: The Funeral of Oration
Book by Thucydides
Athens: The Pearl of the Hellenes

          Athens and Sparta are often compared when historians and professors talk about Classical Greece, often being described as opposites who chose different approaches to similar situations. Sparta developed a great infantry army, with an oligarchy run by a ruling class of Spartan warriors and land lords. The Athenians, however, developed a navy unmatched by any nation at that time, with a limited democracy lacking class. There is often debate about which nation was greater, however it is very obvious, Athens was superior to Sparta and any other Greek city-state. 
          One main reason that Athens was such a great nation was its government. Athens' government was a limited democracy, and often considered the earliest form of democracy. It is considered limited because women could not vote or run for election. Although this government was bias towards women, it was substantially better than any other government at the time. It allowed for the people,  the men at least, to choose who they thought could best led their nation in the way they wanted it to be led. This also got rid of the problem many hereditary systems encounter, in that there was a much lower chance of the government being led by an incompetent ruler who just happened to be the son of the previous ruler, as it would be likely that he would not be elected. In this sense the people have control over the nations path and success.
          The Athenian government was also very strong, and unlike Sparta, could survive during peace and war. The state was stable, allowing for it to focus its eyes outward towards advancement and growth. They did not have to focus on just maintaining the state and the people, but could instead allow for the people, economy, and culture of Athens to grow. Unlike the Spartans, who were so afraid to leave their nation for they thought they might lose it all, the Athenians could afford to allow their armies to disband, to some extent, and allow the people to perform civil activities. The people were not bred for service so that the state could remain, but were instead bred to help Athens as a state, as well as pursue their own desires.
          Another reason that Athens was so great, and a reason which was also tied into the government of Athens, was that there was no class. While there was discrimination between genders, there were no classes to be born into. This meant that all people had an equal chance to be elected for government, meaning that genius' and brilliant people born into poverty could still run and support the city of Athens. The ability for all people to have equal chances meant that no talent went to wasted due to the talented individual being born into a position in which he could not use his ability. The egalitarian rule also lead to more people accepting Athenian rule after being conquered, as they often gained rights which were previously held from them.
          Athenian people were also more open-minded and forward thinking than most other peoples. They were content to allow each person search for his or her own happiness. This is reflected in their belief that people should seize and savor life, as they are stating that the main goal in life is to find what makes one happy, and to hold on and savor this thing as much as one can. This meant that they were more open-minded towards new ideas, new fashions, new beliefs. They believed that if this new thing could make someone happy, and as long as it respected the law, then it should be embraced and integrated into society. This meant that Athens was often ahead of its time, because any entertainment could be integrated and become a pivotal part of society.
          The Athenians were also great because each citizen upheld the laws by which their city remained so strong and stable. Each Athenian citizen who did his duty knew of politics, was interested in them, and could speak about them in conversation and in court. The Athenian's limited
democracy meant that every citizen had a part to play in the government, so they all knew and cared about it. Each Athenian was ready to report wrong doings and criminal activity. The Athenians thought it their duty to uphold the laws because it was the only way for them to keep Athens as the best Hellenic city. The Athenian laws were based around equality, with each citizen being affected by the same laws. This meant that all the Athenians felt as if they were treated fairly. The Athenians also upheld the laws by attending court cases as juries of hundreds. This system was a simple majority, and meant that the rulings of these cases were not contested and usually based on general opinion. It also meant that citizens were being judged by people like them, who cared about the law and wanted true justice to be done.
          The Athenians were also great because, while they spent large amounts of time investing themselves in politics and personal matters, each citizen had the time to perform any recreation that they wanted. The Athenian city was different than Sparta, as they allowed time for the pursuit of personal happiness, without the intervention of the state in these matters. The Athenians were able to do what they wanted, allowing for great politicians to also be talented poets, philosophers, or writers. This meant that many more cultural works came from Athens than any other Hellenistic state. This meant that even while they were growing in territory or fighting to defend it, there were always great works being produced, meaning that Athens was always growing in influence and culture.
          Athens was also great because of the kindness and integrity of its people. The Athenians believed not in creating friends by receiving favors, but by making friends by doing them. They believed that to truly create a friend and be a good person, one must commit himself to performing good towards them. They must act with a kindness which they expect to receive from their friends as well. This meant that the Athenians were more philanthropic than any other people. They believed that kindness was one of the best attributes which one could be labelled as having. This meant that the integrity of their people was greater than any other. This philanthropy carried over into their attitude towards poverty and oppression. They believed that to not attempt to fix poverty if they had the chance was wrong, and that oppression was one of the worst crimes a government or people could commit against a people, and this ideology is reflected in their government.
          The Athenian people were also extremely brave and honorable, without being bred to do this
for the state. The Spartans were bred from birth for a single purpose, and although they performed this very well, the Athenians were the truly brave people. They were bred to pursue their own happiness, and to forge their own path through the world. However each person in the army saw the greatness of Athens, and the desire to protect and maintain this greatness led them to do things which weaker peoples could only dream of. They were so honorable that they were ready to voluntarily die for their nation, instead of running to live another day. They did not need mothers and family members telling them to never surrender as the Spartans did, for they could never forgive themselves for letting down their great nation if they came back with their tail between their legs. They were brave due to their own spirit and loyalty, not the loyalty created by the state to control and breed warriors. In this way the Athenians are the truly brave warriors, as they were ready to lay their life on the line with no outside pressure or influence.
          The Athenian army was also superior to Sparta and the rest of the Hellenistic world due to their size, discipline, and loyalty. The Athenian army was vast, as was their navy. Not only was their military large, but it was all voluntary. This meant that the people in the military wanted to be there, and were ready and willing to die. They did not need the state to press them into service, as the Spartans did, so their troops were more loyal than the Spartans, as they willingly chose to face the horrors of the world. The Athenians had such a great army that they were not afraid to show its strengths, weakness', and abilities to their enemies. They were so confident in its strength that it didn't matter if the enemy was ready, because the Athenians would win all the same.
          The Athenians were the greatest city-state in all of Greece, and the reasons why are nearly innumerable, with this list only scratching the surface of their legacy. The Athenians had a better government, people, and military than any other state. The Spartans were an oppressive culture, who slaughtered others and did not contribute to Hellenistic culture at all. The Athenians were the spearhead of what Classical Greece represents, and this is why they shall always be remembered.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Thucydides: The First Historian

Conner Lewis, World History 4                                                                                      1/12/15
Thoughts and Reflections On: History of the Peloponnessian War
Book by Thucydides
Thucydides: The First Historian

         Thucydides' method of recording history was to only use information which he had confirmed through either his own account, or through talking to the first hand account of another person. he would then use several people's accounts, especially from different perspectives and plausibility, and then use the accounts to figure out what most likely occurred. He would attempt to get the most accurate accounts possible, so that his descriptions of wars and events would be as close to reality as he could make it. He also wrote without romance or embellishment so that the readers would have the most accurate account of what actually occurred. In this way he was very different than Herodotus, who was more of an entertainer than a true historian. Thucydides also tried to remove his own bias from his writing.
Thucydides did not write for the people of his time, as Herodotus did, but instead for all future generations. He did this in the hope that lessons could be discerned from what happened, and so that the next generations would not make the same mistakes and could possibly avoid the same events that would have otherwise repeated themselves.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sparta and Athens: Polar Opposites

Conner Lewis, World History 4                                                                                      1/5/15
Thoughts and Reflections On: The Human Story: Our History, from the Stone Age to Today
Book by James C. Davis
Published by: Perfect Bound
Published: 2004
Sparta and Athens: Polar Opposites
         The fundamental differences between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta lie in their governments and both city’s social structure. The autocratic government of Sparta, in which the warriors and landlords, who were also almost exclusively Spartans, held a tight grip on its people using military might. The fact that a very small minority ruled over large amounts of different cultures meant that in order to maintain order and maintain Spartan’s position in their society, they
had to force the other cultures to become part of a social cast, the surfs, which were not the same as but similar to slaves. The fact that a majority of people were surfs meant civil unrest in the Spartan nation was common, leading to the need to develop a culture which bred natural born leaders and fighters. This is also expressed in the government of Sparta, because this need is the reason that the two kings of Sparta would also act as military commanders, and would generally be great warriors or tactical military leaders, as that would be the most useful skill to have whilst leading a nation such as Sparta. This need is what lead to the creation of the harsh regime of the Spartan males and females, as this allowed the Spartan nation to have a steady supply of able bodied and well trained soldiers that allowed the Spartans to maintain a large nation. This warrior nation is fundamentally different to the culturally rich city-state of Athens. Athens’ government, at least the government which both lasted the longest and had the largest impact, was an early form of a democratic-republic. After Cleisthenes took power and enacted many of the reforms he promised, the city of Athens became extremely egalitarian, at least compared to Sparta. In Athens, all males were citizens who could vote, be on jury, and be elected for office. This equality lead to a more stable society, allowing Athens to focus on cultural advances instead of maintaining order. The fundamental difference is equality, as Sparta, with its low equality for most of the population, lead to Sparta having to abandon its culture almost
entirely and focus solely on its military. Athens however, did not have to worry about order on the home front, so those who would have been soldiers could focus upon other areas of study. It can also be said that the Athenian style was better because it remained true to its original ideals until the end, even after being sacked. The warrior culture of Sparta, which revered honor and courage, fell apart after Sparta grew, as the nation became more and more corrupt. The greatest accomplishment of the Greeks was the development of one of the most egalitarian governments seen throughout history since humans settled down for more agrarian ways. This development has led to changes overtime in the ideals of the common man, who have decided to see the world as a place where he could be equal to the leader of a country in opportunity and social caste. This government type only came around due to advances in philosophy in how fellow humans should be treated, which has led to the modern concept of equality which most nations strive towards today. Another great accomplishment of the Greeks were the development of the basis of philosophy that Western Civilization would follow for the rest of time. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle's ideas and beliefs were the basis of how western philosophers thought, because Plato and Aristotle, and to some extent Socrates, were some of the earliest known philosophers, and by far the most influential, with written records from the Ancient Era. Aristotle also contributed greatly to science, being the first known person to study in the science of formal logic and metaphysics, as well as more natural sciences such as taxonomy, anatomy, reproduction, and biology. Many of his theories and beliefs would continue to be considered correct and factual science even into the Renaissance  until the arrival of scientists such as Isaac Newton. The most important part of Ancient Greek legacy comes from the Athenians, which says a lot about how effective peace is over tyranny and suppression. This legacy is that of the modern ideals of equality, that all men and women should have equal rights, privileges, and opportunity. This is a key concept in many nations, such as the United States of America. The other part of the Greek legacy is that of democracy as a valid form of government, or more specifically a democratic-republic. The French revolution was based off of people whose belief was that the Athenian’s idea of government and equality was right, and since that time and the Era of Enlightenment, many nations have adopted this government and philosophy. Modern philosophy is also based off of the ground-work laid by the Classical Greek philosophers, while much of science has been influenced by Aristotle's theories.

Digital Scrapbook Entry #6 - China

Author: NPR Staff
Author: Stephanie Jeffery L. Watkins

Change in Management

          Many governments have grown and fallen since the start of the Agrarian Era, each with their own backgrounds and process. Governments can fall due to internal crisis', external pressures, or simply through social evolution. Governments can be overthrown peacefully through non-violent protests and demonstrations, or violently through revolutionary conflicts and guerrilla tactics. The overthrowing of governments is a way for people to attempt to make their own life better by replacing one existing institution with another, in the hopes that the new system will be better and more beneficial. Revolution can also be a tactic to remove one's enemies through ridding them of their power or status. Revolution and the toppling of governments is a topic which can occur in a number of ways, and cannot be tied to a single reason, nor does it occur in the same way two times. Many people seek to explain revolutions, stating that the social movement of a revolution can spark others in different nations, often citing the French and American revolutions as examples. Usually these "waves" of revolutions can be tied to a concept or ideal which has grabbed hold of its people at the time. The French and American revolutions were both revolutions attempting to create democracies which could replace the current monarchies and grant more rights to the common people. Several other parts of the world have attempted to explain series of revolutions as well.
          One example of a series of revolutions, and possibly the first example of an attempt to explain why revolutions occur, is the idea in Chinese history of the Mandate of Heaven and the Dynastic Cycle. The Mandate of Heaven is a concept which was brought to China by the Zhou dynasty, who overthrew the Shang dynasty, and which is at the center of the Dynastic Cycle and Chinese history. The Zhou, who were a noble family under the Shang, violently overthrew the Shang dynasty, who were currently ruling the Chinese people, and took control of most of Central China. In order to justify their revolution to the people and especially the nobles of China, the Zhou introduced the idea of the Mandate of Heaven. The Mandate of Heaven was the notion that a ruler governed by divine right, a right which was given to them by Tian, or Heaven, who was a god introduced by the Zhou. It also stated that losing to a rebellion proved a ruler had lost their Mandate of Heaven by ruling poorly or displeasing Tian and the gods. The Zhou used this concept to both justify their rebellion while at the same time solidify the legitimacy of current and future rulers. The concept of the Mandate of Heaven took hold in Chinese culture after this, even long after the Zhou dynasty and the worship of Tian. The Mandate of Heaven formed the center stone of the idea of the Dynastic Cycle. The Dynastic Cycle is a concept which the Chinese people used to explain, justify, and increase stability during and after rebellions. The cycle follows three stages, the first, is the stage during which a new dynasty takes over China. This stage is probably the best time in the cycle, as it is characterized by the fact that the new dynasty brings peace, builds infrastructure, grants lands to peasants, and protects the people. This new dynasty has the Mandate of Heaven, after having taken it from the previous dynasty, and so they are blessed by divine rule and peace. The next stage of the cycle occurs several generations after the new dynasty arrives, and is marked by the new dynasty becoming an old dynasty. This old dynasty raises taxes, can't protect its people, doesn't rebuild infrastructure, and is usually marked by extreme class distinctions and social inequality. After this, the dynasty loses the Mandate of Heaven, causing the nation to no longer have divine protection. This is when the problems start, as there are more natural disasters, revolutions, invaders, and bandits than any other point in the cycle. All of this strife leads to unrest and eventually rebellion, which ends in a new dynasty taking control of China and the restart of the cycle. The Mandate of Heaven is a key part to this cycle, and the most likely reason that this concept survived is that later rebellions needed the concept to justify their own rule, causing it to become more and more ingrained into Chinese culture until it became simply a justification for any and all revolutions. This concept and cycle is interesting as it allows for both unhappy peasants to justify their revolutions, and new rulers to keep the peace. In this way, this concept did not develop after the fact as a way for historians to explain revolts, but as a way for current populations to understand and accept revolutions. This idea of a concept being used during revolutions to justify multiple, successive revolutions has continued to the Modern Era.
          A region which has experienced large amount of turmoil during the Modern Era is the Middle East and northern Africa. The nations of these regions are relatively young in their current state, as many of them were created during the Cold War, and in the years directly following WWII. The regimes of these young nations started out as either democratic-republics or parliamentary republics, however over time, due to different factors in each nation, many became equivalent to dictatorships who had characteristics similar to those found during the old dynasty stage of the Dynastic Cycle. The causes for these revolutions have been described as similar across the Arab Spring, as it is called,
stating that most of the protests and rebellions have been against absolute monarchies and dictatorships, as well as violation of human rights and censorship of media. The Arab Spring has been described as a movement that has a goal to install fair and free democratic governments in nations currently ran by unfair dictators. The methods of the participants have varied greatly from nation to nation, from minor protests to full blown civil wars. In this way each revolution in the Arab Spring is different, as they each have different ideas and limits as to how far they will go in order to achieve their goals. Government response to these movements have differed from nation to nation as well. Some nations, such as Bahrain, have experienced police brutality towards non-violent protesters, while others such as Syria have been extremely aggressive. In Syria, the movement started as peaceful protests about freedom and the release of political prisoners. The Syrian regime at that time however, started to crack down on protesters, moving in the military to arrest and break up protests. This situation escalated until reaching the point of being a full civil war.
          The Arab Spring is a broad term for different movements in an attempt to explain and categorize the revolutions happening at around the same time in that area. It is, however, not a justification for these revolutions, unlike the Mandate of Heaven and the Dynastic Cycle. This is what makes the Mandate of Heaven so unique, is that it isn't an attempt to just explain the revolutions, but instead a tool and spark for the revolutions. The Arab Spring and Dynastic Cycle differ in several other ways as well. The Arab Spring is an attempt to change the form of government within the nations that the movement is occurring, while the Dynastic Cycle is a cycle which creates a government system that is more or less the same as before, just with different rulers and possibly different philosophies. The Dynastic Cycle is a cycle for this reason, because inevitably a hereditary system will create a poor leader who will cause the populous and nobles to revolt. The Arab Spring, on the other hand, wishes to create a new system which will cause their to be no need for future revolutions. The Arab Spring is also a term which is used for different types of protests and movements, as there have been peaceful and violent revolutions. The Dynastic Cycle, however, is a cycle specifically built around the idea that out of the ashes of a violent civil war, the winner shall have proven their possession of the Mandate of Heaven, and their divine right to rule all of China. The Dynastic Cycle is also centered around religion, as the Mandate of Heaven is a concept based around divine rule, while the Arab Spring is a concept based around freedom and human rights. The differences between these two attempts to explain revolutions shows historians can and will attempt to explain revolutions, as well as the people who live during them, however inevitably revolutions differ from each nation. There is no universal explanation for all revolution, and in order to understand the social complications behind a revolution, the unique situation and facts must be analyzed. This is an important fact for current leaders to realize, as they cannot fix civil unrest and prevent a revolution with a fix-all solution, and that they must attempt to find the background to their specific issues.