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‘A Defining Trait of Humanity’
Paideia and Colonization by Thomas McEvilly from The Shape of Ancient Thought


2002, Allworth press, NY, pages XXV-XXXII

McEvilly’s subject is comparative philosophy and colonization and the nature and depth of philosophical exchange between ancient Greece and Indian, with the modern British colonization of Indian used as a counterpoint. The British used the excuse that their invasion of Indian was a selfless educational mission and that their mother tongue’s linguistic relationship with Sanskrit, the oldest surviving Indo-European language, justified this intervention as a kind of an intellectual revitalization from without. Of course, the Brits were not interested in bestowing boons, let alone achieving an even rate of exchange. They were mercantilist plunderers who came and went.

The ancient Hellenes, on the other hand, actually planted intact colonies of retired soldiers who married local women and practiced a form of long-term dual acculturation. They did not seek to impose, nor did they wish to assimilate, but actually share from the shelter of a cohesive Hellenic community. The British, possessed of a merely materialistic culture over-laid with distinguishing affectations, were forever panicked about their men “going native” and they did, because British culture, like the American and Greater European consciousness of or time, had been negated by its own rampant materialism. Whereas now, 175 years after the Raj put down the Sepoy Mutiny [1857] we see Great Britain itself becoming Muslim, its men permitting their daughters to be taken and gang raped, the center of the empire upon which the sun once did not set a generation away from genetic obliteration, Hellenic colonies lasted for up to 700 years and remained—along with the cultural center of Athens—a foci of intellectual life to the end of the succeeding Roman and Asoka empires.

Rather than importing the values that “made money” and projected maximum force, as the British would later do, the Hellenes imported the ideal of Arete, [the excellence of a warrior] along with an adventurous spirit of exploration, internally and externally. The idea that it was a duty—a duty of and for the self—to spread knowledge and art was the axis of the Hellenic process of colonization. There are whispers of it through the modern era—mostly suffering from ham-fisted application—but the ideal did not die, a testament to its value.

McEvilly gives a concise explanation of the democratic ideal of education represented by paedeia, an ideal that survived and was protected, by many a tyrant. His concept of modern colonization as merely a racist power play is a bit crude—but the man is an academic. Although his crude Leftist understanding of the modern racial question is unfortunate, McEvilly does note one distinguishing characteristic of the ancient world, an absence of gross racial consciousness.

The modern reader who has not read hundreds of ancient books—none of which differentiate people by race, but rather by clan, tribe and allegiance to a culture—may scoff at this, but it is true. Why then has the question of race risen so monstrously to engulf humanity in this obsession above all else from the beginning of the modern era, to its twilight?

My quick answer is, materialism. It was not until mankind gave up notions of tribalism, with English, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish all becoming merely British, like a blended scotch—all sold as slaves into the belly of the mercantile system—that the European, stripped of his functional, detailed, ethnic identity, grasped for the only defining thing he had left, his pale skin, a genetic abstraction which made more men his brothers than he could ever tolerate as his equal, and most men his enemies, an enemy by nature inferior.

Where the ancient Greek was able to strive against an admirable Persian and Indian foe and be restored at the well of honor, the modern European was left with a choice of murdering his racial brothers for the enrichment of his social betters and likewise exterminating sub-humans in the cause of spreading a lack of specific identity that was somehow supposed to endure. The military machines responded with attempts to preserve vestiges of tribalism in unit loyalty, but that solution proved thin, with most men never permitted entry and those who entered cast-out in 4 to 20 years. Ever since the mercantile shackles went on the world, men have looked for honor in the rituals of sport and exploration, with a soldier of WWII inclined to see his hero in the boxing ring or on the baseball field rather than on the battlefield.

Now, at the end of this process of cultural negation, exploration is virtually an extinct activity and athletics have become the sterile field of celebrity, with the only opportunities for honor remaining in the concept encompassed by Arete, warrior excellence, a pursuit that was once considered a multi-faceted engagement with the wider world, but is now an attempt to resist erasure by what that world has become.

In such a world as this, authors of heroic fantasy and science-fiction—keepers of the ancient myths—such as Herman Melville, Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Ernst Junger and Gene Wolfe provide examples of the quest inward to survive The Machine, the last battlefield remaining to us on which to practice our besieged heroic heritage. For this is a world that does not test honor, but seeks to erase it at every level.

A Well of Heroes

https://www.amazon.com/Well-Heroes-Literary-Impressions-Robert/dp/1534808256/ref=sr_1_6/180-6301626-9959864?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467037854&sr=1-6&keywords=james+lafond

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BaruchKFebruary 21, 2017 2:13 PM UTC

>This didn't happen to Greece, the exported culture and took some in without ending up with a Rajput as mayor of Athens in A.D. 16.

Well, because Athens was a Roman theme park by then. If Alexander's empire had lasted instead of falling apart, the metropolis would have been colonized by the periphery, which happened to Rome (all the Eastern religions, for instance.)

What you usually see with empires is that the center lives on tribute from the periphery, becomes a population sink and is colonized by the conquered. The Athenians were well on the way before the Spartans and Persians ended their little gig.

>Materially, as you say, the Brits did a huge job. He did not discuss infrastructure, it was purely philosophical.

I'm not very familiar with the thinking of Indians. From reading Nirad Chaudhuri's book, I got the impression that the Brits left a huge impression there, if only surface deep. It's impossible for me to imagine, for instance, a Gandhi in any sort of context not involving British upper crust progressives-the Moguls and Rajputs would have shot him out of a cannon or had an elephant pancake him (which would have been better for all involved, to be honest.)
responds:February 21, 2017 4:05 PM UTC

What the author was really comparing as his core argument, which I failed to develop in my branching from his point, was that Alexandria bloomed as the ideal of Greek colonization, were he gave a positive nod to the Indus Valley outposts for surpassing British longevity, although they didn't accomplish the level of change in Indian that the Brits did, but lasted longer as the furthest flung of their kind. Greek Alexandria compared to British India was his major thrust and it had as much to do with sharing and its effect on long-term interchange as having an physical, political impact.

The British certainly did well with their school system in Indian, which, ironically, has resulted in American help desks being replaced by Indian help desks. My take on the difference is at this juncture, how powerful on a material scale the British [modern] method is and how it fractures societies, particularly those wielding them, encouraging a loss of tradition, especially in the contemplative sphere.

I am intrigued you bring up Ghandi, as Evola, in his Metaphysics of War counts him and an Indian artist of his period as examples of spiritual degradation brought about by contact with British-imported modernity.

Thanks, Baruch, for making me rethink this. I'll use these comments as a guide to rephrasing two paragraphs and retain some as a footnote.
nealFebruary 20, 2017 6:55 PM UTC

I do not know who lives or dies. I know the ones that break the world and are broken by the knowing.

That just is the weather. Or the sundance.

Of course those entanglements would be some kind of parlay with a really long term haunting.

I think sometimes no one remembers why the world of power and metal did not progress to this world back in the day. Lots of antimatter and plasma discharge discourages easy science. Pretty much war in heaven.

Material handling without honor or virtue gets stuff blown up.

Happens all the time. Mostly ends up in the troposphere. Alive but not exactly up or down. Sometimes the probes land and carry that old stuff down to the ground. Like high altitude stuff that lands in the middle of nowhere in particular.

There is DNA up there still wondering if being from a long time ago and being corrupted by constant irradiation seems like a strange way to live.
BaruchKFebruary 20, 2017 1:34 PM UTC

>Of course, the Brits were not interested in bestowing boons, let alone achieving an even rate of exchange. They were mercantilist plunderers who came and went.

That's not true. The Brits built Hong Kong, Singapore, Calcutta and many other booming cities from what were, at best, villages. They built many institutions like the University of Calcutta, and staffed them with some of their best minds, like Sir Henry Sumner Maine (highly recommended.) They built Indian infrastructure, like the railroads which still power India, and before that were the ones who made it safe to travel across India for the first time in many centuries by eliminating the Thugs. There's a good reason that English is an official language in India to this day.

>The ancient Hellenes, on the other hand, actually planted intact colonies of retired soldiers who married local women and practiced a form of long-term dual acculturation.

The Brits did all that and more.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Indian

Unlike the Indo-Greek kingdoms, which did not last very long and constantly squabbled, the Brits left a mostly unified subcontinent (except for the whole Pakistan and Bangladesh debacles.) I'm talking in terms of common culture, but also national institutions which they built.
responds:February 21, 2017 8:40 AM UTC

I was agreeing to his point on India. The Brits were in and out in time for the cold war. More importantly, on the thread I went off on, the Brits are going to be swamped by the descendants of their former colonial subjects, just like the French. This didn't happen to Greece, the exported culture and took some in without ending up with a Rajput as mayor of Athens in A.D. 16.

Materially, as you say, the Brits did a huge job. He did not discuss infrastructure, it was purely philosophical.