Ankara: Chapter 10: Macro and Micro
Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
154Trip End Sep 11, 2009
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Of Large and Small
I've come to Turkey for two reasons: 1) to engage in my hobby of reading history--particularly of the origins and development of what we call Western Civilization, which has its origins here, while living in this region, which continues to bear so much upon our western world in the on-going interface with the ways of the east; and 2) to, I guess, review my own personal relationship with a society in flux between the East and the West--and one particular citizen (and her son) of this country and its culture.
It is interesting to find myself taken up in what I thought was something called the "pathetic fallacy." But I was mistaken. Upon checking I find that the "pathetic fallacy" was a term from my college literary studies. It has to do with attributing human qualities to inanimate objects, as the "happy sun." But what I am doing (whatever fallacy it is) is to identify my personal situation with historical theories.
For instance, there is the quote from a new book, the review I was just reading in the on-line edition of the NYTimes. I'll cite the book at the end of this piece. But there was this extended
quote that led me to this little essay:
"If nothing else, the struggle between East and West has a distinguished pedigree. In Worlds at War the British historian Anthony Pagden traces the seemingly endless series of misunderstandings and armed conflicts between 'an ever-shifting West and equally amorphous East' to the time of myth, when Paris abducted Helen, provoking the Trojan War. With the passage of centuries, boundaries shifted, tribes and peoples replaced one another, new religions appeared, empires rose and fell. Yet a remarkably constant theme asserted itself: the irreconcilable differences between two competing views of the world, memorably expressed by Herodotus in his history of the struggles between the Greeks and the Persians, which pivoted not on politics but on 'an understanding of what it was to be and to live like a human being.' [ I added the emphasis, JG]
The Greeks subscribed, broadly, to 'an individualistic view of humanity. The Persians displayed courage and ferocity on the battlefield but as a society, Mr. Pagden writes, paraphrasing Herodotus, they were 'craven, slavish, reverential and parochial, incapable of individual initiative, a horde rather than a people. 'The Western mission, defined by Alexander the Great, was to civilize the known world through conquest, a project later taken up by Rome, by the Crusaders, by Napoleon, by the imperial powers in the 19th century and, some might argue, by the United States in the 21st century.
'The society of Islam is ultimately based not upon human volition or upon contract but upon divine decree,' Mr. Pagden writes. 'In the societies of the West, by contrast, every aspect of life has been conceived as a question of human choice. 'Never the twain shall meet.'
Thus from the book review. Now, I don't see myself as Alexander the Great-like, nor Napoleon-like, and certainly not George Bush-like. But I have been trying to modify the behavior of an adolescent boy of limited intelligence, who has been raised under perhaps more influence of the eastern mode of thinking than of the west. A fool's mission, perhaps.
Well, I didn't conceive of it as a mission. But it's hard for me to see a soul going to waste when it seems to me that he is capable of achieving a measure of human choice. I should perhaps say wise choice. For the choices he is allowed now are self-limiting and ultimately self-destructive. Yes, says I.
Well, my point is, that I read history to try and understand origins and on-going active processes. It's the old Santayana quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." So, I read history books (and reviews, etc.), and see my personal circumstance in terms of historical currents.
Anyway, this latest book:
WORLDS AT WAR The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West
By Anthony Pagden
Illustrated. 625 pages. Random House. $35.
Related First Chapter: ‘Worlds at War’ (March 26, 2008) `Worlds at War,` by Anthony Pagden: Divided and Conquered (March 23, 2008)