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Old 12-17-2002, 03:34 AM   #1
lindil
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Sting J.R.R. Tolkien -- enemy of progress ?

The following link has an article called

J.R.R. Tolkien -- enemy of progress

by David Brin
http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/200...olkien_brin/?x

I confess I read only around half before a swarm of events pulled me away but I thought I would post the link for possible
discussion as the bit I read produced in me that paradoxical sense of annoyance and my ego'sguarded agreement whilst what little of my 'higher nature' there may be looked on and felt Mr Brin missed the boat to eressea.

anyway...what think ye ?

[ December 17, 2002: Message edited by: lindil ]
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Old 12-17-2002, 06:32 AM   #2
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Sting

a bit of statement - progress is usually considered to mean "improvement, change for the better". In case the progress in one particular field causes worsening in other fileds and has a possibility to destroy the whole medium in which it operates, the guy who;s first to say 'hey dudes, we have to stop this "progress" or else we'll end **** up' is one really progressive (in the sense given above)
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Old 12-17-2002, 09:27 AM   #3
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Quote:
Long before Aristotle became a tool of the establishment, his rediscovery during the High Middle Ages offered some relief from dour anti-intellectualism. Then Renaissance humanism offered a philosophical basis for valuing the individual human being as worthy in its own right. The Reformation freed sanctity and morality from control by a narrow, self-chosen club; it also legitimized self-betterment through hard work in this world, not the next. Then Galileo and Newton showed that creation's clockwork can be understood, even appreciated in its elegance, not just endured.
[img]smilies/mad.gif[/img] [img]smilies/mad.gif[/img] [img]smilies/mad.gif[/img] [img]smilies/mad.gif[/img] [img]smilies/mad.gif[/img] [img]smilies/mad.gif[/img]

Rare indeed is the opportunity to see such a trite and superfluous summation based on 19th century arrogance and 20th century reconstructionism. One who would characterize scholasticism as dour anti-intellectualism is one who can not read it because they are simply too stupid to figure it out.

After this paragraph I should have stopped reading, but you all know me better than that. I couldn’t resist. He’s right in placing Tolkien squarely with “Keats and Shelley, Sir Walter Scott, Henry James and many European-trained philosophers in spurning the modern emphasis on pragmatic experimentation, production, universal literacy, progress, cooperative enterprise, democracy, city life and flattened social orders.” Though I wonder what Keats would think of being considered a subjectivist. The author’s point is that such a view is wrong-headed:

Quote:
Romanticism has come full circle, now unctuously praising the very same lords -- the über-men -- that it started out bravely opposing.
Despite the fact that this is a **** poor evaluation of the Romantic movement, it is a good example that a cursory reading of a history of philosophy text book is NOT a thorough philosophical education. Still, our author attempts to temper his over generalizations with a nod toward the “necessity for illogical tales.” (I hate to tell him but, Heideger, Hegel, and Fichte are much more logical than he.) Mr. Brin, however, can not help but fall back upon his unstudied prejudice:

Quote:
Still, scientific/progressive society has been known to listen to its critics, and not just now and then. Name one feudal society whose leaders did that.
In other words, Romanticism (to include pre-Renaissance thought, and post-Enlightenment philosophy) = feudalism. This notion is even more wrong-headed than he is making the Romantic movement out to be. How does Mr. Brin account for the feudal model being alive and well in corporate America, a child of capitalism and republicanism? Anyway, can an economic and governing paradigm be used to sufficiently explain all the many societies in which it has played a role?

What is really at work with Mr. Brin? He sees the dichotomy between Romanticism (to use his phrase, even though, what he includes in the category is rather general and vague) and scientific progress as irreconcilable. This is, however, a common fallacy in our modern day. We see an insurmountable gulf between the physical and the spiritual, between the seen and unseen realities that we experience everyday. What Keats, Rossosue, Liebniz, Lonergan, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Gilson, and, yes, even Tolkien, attempted to do was bridge the gap, to give us a language to speak meaningfully about these unseen realities. The “romantic” philosophical movement attempted to lift modern philosophy from sterile etymology. If one sees their efforts as opposed to the efforts of the scientist, one completely misses what those people were trying to say. Since Mr. Brin misses the point altogether, he assumes that what these thinkers and artists are trying to do is resurrect feudalism (an economic and governing paradigm completely peripheral to the matter, in the first place). How does Mr. Brin account for the conspicuous absence of feudalism in Middle-Earth, I wonder. NAY, Mr. Brin! Far from attempting to “replace” the fruits of scientific enlightenment, the “Romantics” as you insist on calling them, attempted to see scientific enlightenment as a grand accomplishment given meaning by the dignity, fecundity, and the divination of what is truly human: the rational, loving soul.

I really don’t blame him for his obtuse sophistry, its obvious where his brain was when he should have been reading some primary sources:

Quote:
For the life of me, I cannot picture more than one truly optimistic portrayal of future society in all of TV or film sci-fi.
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Old 12-17-2002, 07:33 PM   #4
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Tolkien

Unfortunately we may have to endure alot more of this with the attention the movies are generating. It would take a long post to pick apart this piece but rest assured it could be done.

Like all pseudointellectualism, with its penchant for elitism, this piece looks down on "the great-grandchildren of illiterate peasants" and "kowtowing vassals." I assure you that my great-grandfathers were quite literate and kowtowed to no one.

First of all, Brin's piece presents an inaccurate world view. The "guardians of wisdom" still keep their wonders locked up in "high wizard towers" and "gangs of large men" still retain power, as it is the nature of Nature that it be so. And they still ensure that their sons will inherit everything. Society is still shaped with "a few well-armed bullies at the top."

And comparing George Lucas to Tolkien to me is like comparing Teletubbies to Templars.

To deny all this is the real fantasy.

But to refute the main argument of the piece...

Brin's argument is back asswards. Tolkiens work is essentially one of "Enlightenment" and not one opposed to it. "Forward" in his work is the path worth taking. Forward toward the Light, forward toward Valinor (and not this foolishness about leaving India,) forward toward Purity. Not remaining in some "preferred past."

Tolkien's work is essentially spiritual and thus as Lindil said, Brin misses the boat to Eressea.
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Old 12-17-2002, 08:13 PM   #5
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Quote:
And comparing George Lucas to Tolkien to me is like comparing Teletubbies to Templars.
I pity you. I really do.

Now i'm not saying that Lucas is as good as Tolkien, it's just sorta like comparing....I don't know....

Damn. Can't think of a good analogy that would be universally accepted. Let's just say, while Star Wars isn't the best, it's pretty good in itself.

As for the columnist, I think he's on crack (ha! how about that for political correctness!). Not just because of this article, but because of other ones he's written...don't even ask.
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Old 12-17-2002, 08:40 PM   #6
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I pity you. I really do.

Save your pity. It was alliteration.
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Old 12-18-2002, 06:47 AM   #7
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Sting

I won't bite at Mr. Brins poor historical perception, still more Bill Ferny was far more efficient than I can dream of, but I would not mind a bit of biting in other parts of this article

Quote:
Of course there is much more to this work than mere fantasy escapism
and

Quote:
Nonetheless, I deem Tolkien's trilogy to be one of the finest works of literary universe-building ever, with a lovingly textured internal consistency
not so bad for a start, really, many a thanks for that, but than:

Quote:
Let me avow upfront that I share the more recent, upstart belief in universities, democratic accountability, science and human improvability -- one that questions the fated persistence of "eternal" stupidities...

...Anyway, people with my view had better be right. Because if humanity is as obstinate as the cynics and Romantics believe, we shall surely go extinct quite soon.
We shall, but not because of reasons author gives. And note the notion - "better be right" not because it is true, but because it happens to conform to Mr. Brin's and all "progressive" people's liking, who try to persuade us we will "extinct soon" if we won't be "progressive". Now is not it the same propaganda and persuasion of "lower" classes to "let the big bullies stay on top" as he accuses "bards and Kings" of committing?

Quote:
Above all, any "golden age" lies in our future. It has to. Or what are we striving for?
Why? In choice between Future and Past, I choose Present (and Tolkien, as I beleive, chose the same, see below) But even if only future and past were given to make a choice between, I would vote for the Past. If there is anything Golden in the Future as Mr. Brin describes it, it is haze at best, not Era with capita e. Mr. Brin now argues about Tolkien being placing all his treasures in the past. I can understand why, but have a nasty suspicion Mr. Brin is either blind or pretends not to notice the obvious: All so called (by Mr.Brin) romantic heroes work in present, not crushing on past or future overmuch, though with an eye on good things in the past and hope to improve the future. (cf. Gandalf's words in the Last Debate - "Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule" - the most sound statement for life philosophy I ever heard of)

Mr. Brin also votes for the rights for goblins (hum...)(if he were to appear, I would have been glad to advise him to read this at least, to know the basics and judge Tolkien and orkish fate)
Quote:
Were any orcs or "dark men" offered coalition positions in King Aragorn's cabinet, at the end of the War of the Ring? Was Mordor given a benign Marshall Plan?
"Well, they are just orcs" - quote with a sarcasm in it. But by this sarcasm Mr. Bring achives nothing but to advertise his ignorance in the thing he's criticizing -orcs indeed are just orcs, more or less equivalent of automata. I should advise him to read with more care. Dunlendings are taken captive and not killed altogether, and men from Khand which surrender are given freedom by Aragorn, but yes, orcs are just orcs.

Quote:
But by any metric, these dark warning tales have been far more useful than all those sword and sorcery flicks that try to teach us about good and evil by portraying the former as always pretty and the latter, always, with red, glowing eyes
now this is simply (or intentionally?) unjust. As well as the following:

Quote:
an ideal society ought to be ruled by secretive-mystical elites, unaccountable and self-chosen based on inherent qualities of blood. The only good knowledge is old knowledge.
On the contrary, the human era comes in ME. It may be sad form an elf's point of view, but Tolkien's motto is seen trough nevertheless (not for Mr. Brin. though). To give Tolkien's own words: "things might have been different, but they could not have been better"

Quote:
Allied propagandists did not have to make up any of it.

But things were different in kingdoms of old, where one official party line was promulgated and alternative sources of information got routinely squelched. And that's in every kingdom, mind you. Go ahead, name one where it didn't happen. (Note how the Norman propagandists went to work on poor old King Harold, even as his body was cooling after the Battle of Hastings.)
True yes, but things are the same in modern republics of present, and even worse, official lines are promulgated with more subtlety, (note how western propagandists work on every one not conforming to their ideals) Only "happy progressivists" of Mr Brin's kind fail to notice those, since they are preoccupied with the sweet dreams of happy future. He accuses Tolkien of "elitarianism" (excuse coining a word for it), but future as Mr. Brin pictures it is also elite club, the thing only "progressive" chaps are supposed to get into. And if we recall the quote by Gandalf given above, it's Tolkien who has sound picture of it, not Mr. Brin, for future is the thing everybody naturally gets into without much fussing about it.

Quote:
So how do we know that Sauron really did have red glowing eyes?

Isn't some of that over-the-top description just the sort of thing that royal families used to promote, casting exaggerated aspersions on their vanquished foes and despoiling their monuments, reinforcing their own divine right to rule?
Than how do we know Saddam Husein is really so bad, and the real cause of the fuss is not the petrol to be found in Iraq? How do we know Taliban was worse than current goverment of Afganistan? Isn't some of that over-the-top description just the sort of thing that modern 'democratic' goverments use to describe their enemies?

Mr. Brin fails to see that problem is in the man, not the system, and any system after some time will have bullies on top, be it King, or Parliament or whatever...

Quote:
Sauron's army was the one that included every species and race on Middle Earth, including all the despised colors of humanity, and all the lower classes.
So what? The statement sounds like if the mere fact of belonging to "despised colours of humanity" makes one better than those on the other side. Now let me ask him - is not it the self-same racism (though some strange pevertion of it) of which he accuses Tolkien?

Quote:
... Sauron...vanquished but still revered by the innumerable poor and oppressed who sit in their squalid huts, wary of the royal secret police with their magical spy-eyes, yet continuing to whisper stories, secretly dreaming and hoping that someday he will return ... bringing more rings
Mr. Bring accused vassals (i.e. mortal characters of LoTR) of kowtowing to their Lords (i.e immortal elves), but look at the contradiction in terms he omitts here - Sauron, who would all be slaves, not merely 'kowtowing vassals', claiming to be the God, is the romantic hero of his!
Or whence comes this hierarchy? why lords, who vassals? Did he actually ever read the books?

[quoote] you are heirs of the world's first true civilization, arising out of the first true revolution. Take some pride in it. [/quote]

emphasis mine. That's what the whole thing is about. Proud Brin can not stand modest Tolkien.

That's what it is, begging your pardon, Sir, if you follow my meaning...

[ December 18, 2002: Message edited by: HerenIstarion ]

[ December 19, 2002: Message edited by: HerenIstarion ]
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Old 12-18-2002, 06:59 AM   #8
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Sting

I have mailed Mr. Brin and invited him to visit this thread. Hope he appears...
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Old 12-19-2002, 01:17 AM   #9
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Sting

I was a bit harsh in my previous post. I’m rephrasing the thing in more appropriate form now

Me (or maybe even “we”?) and Mr. Brin seem to disagree in the core of things concerning Tolkien. I honestly hold an opinion we all live in Present, as well as believe Tolkien shared this opinion. As a back up of an argument:

"Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule"

quote by Gandalf in the Last Debate chapter. All [good] characters are conforming to this motto, performing their great and small duties now,whatever consequences, whatever personal benefit/loss for themselves. The pinpoint is made on Frodo, who knows he will fail and die, but goes on
nevertheless. (The happy ending is quite another thing and can not be perceived form Frodo's viewpoint, even if the reader may guess that hobbits will be saved. The rescue is to represent the thing Tolkien called
"Eucatastrophe", and is humbly meant to parallel the real Eucatasrophe -Christ's birth into this World

The stress falls on a simple truth - time is not created by us, and can not belong to us. The only thing we have a faint claim of possesion on is a present moment, slipping through our fingers so we have no pportunity to grasp it. In this light that Golden Future of Mr. Brin's (no sarcasm intended,
English is not my mothertongue, so perhaps some of my expressions fall short of my intentions, alas) is as much a Romaticism and Escapism as Mr. Brin imposes on Tolkien. Or, to use C.S.Lewis' Screwtape's quote:

"We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain-not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is"

Another point:

Mr.Brin mentions equal rights for orks. But orks are soulless - automata, perverted beasts dominated and controlled by remnants of Morgoth's will in Middle Earth. Some may be/may be not tortured elves, and small numbers are cross-breedings with men. The majority however is of beast origin. Killing of a beast-ork (technical term) is not a crime. Killing of human/elf-ork (another technical term) may be considered as a release of its fea (soul) of bonds imposed by tortured and perverted hroa(body). So there by definition may not be coalition goverments with ork participants (in case Mr. Brin is interested, he can check out my research on orks (not yet finished, I hope to post it in here as well once it is completed) following
the link:
All about Orks

Sauron can not be shown as an active hero/villain since Tolkien is a Christian. Official Christianity holds as proved truth that evil is not a self consisted entity, but merely lack, absence of Good, i.e. God (Boethius for the Western, Pseudo Dionisis Areopagitus for the Eastern Churches).
Though supernatural being, Sauron is less of a person than any even of his servants, since he went the longer way down form the light. Though his Ring is in some aspect just asking to be seen as a symbol of technology, it is not quite so - it represents also another (though unofficial, but very firm as a tradition) Christian pensee - that however technically impersonal, evil sometimes has it's own face, is an active force and should be fought (for there were some followers of the former who preached some "neutral position"
for Christians, since "it all will settle by itself" The truth is somewhere in between (I believe) - Evil is nothing, but not to withstand it is a deriliction of one's duty.

Though in any case Mr. Brin is free to stick to his opinions (those being respected) I nevertheless believe Mr. Brin’s perception of Tolkien's world is erroneous. He sees a mere allegory in LoTR, but there is much more to Tolkien than allegories of Nazis, Nuclear Weapons, WWII, whatever...

[ December 19, 2002: Message edited by: HerenIstarion ]
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Old 12-27-2002, 06:16 AM   #10
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Sting

Luckily, there is not only negative criticism over the net

Check An Interview with Tom Shippey out
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Old 12-27-2002, 08:12 AM   #11
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Let me now praise the virtues of Downers.

And draw deserved attention to one of the defining features of discussion on the Barrow Downs message board. No, wait. "message board" is misleading. This is a discussion board, where thoughtful analysis merges with imagination and wit.

To that end, lindil, I thank you for your wit,
Quote:
Mr Brin missed the boat to eressea.
Bill Ferny, a rhetorical delight:
Quote:
I really don't blame him for his obtuse sophistry, its obvious where his brain was ...
thorondil, indeed!
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Save your pity; it was alliteration.
HerenIstarion, the irrepressible:
Quote:
Mr. Brin also votes for the rights for goblins
Such writing makes reading a delight. Good sirs, I thank you.

Bethberry

PS. My own take on the hapless Mr Brin is that, like many a postmodern engagé, he fails to apply his scepticism to his own position. Thus do dogmatists bark.
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Old 12-27-2002, 08:53 AM   #12
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Sting

um...er...yes...

well, Bb, thank you very much, I'm really flattered... [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Old 12-27-2002, 03:13 PM   #13
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Sting

And allow me to include you Bethberry in your own list for this gem...
Quote:
he fails to apply his scepticism to his own position. Thus do dogmatists bark.
The downs is indeed a treasure of the heart and mind a veritable or I should say virtual Imladris in these dark and troubled days.

[ December 27, 2002: Message edited by: lindil ]
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Old 12-28-2002, 04:50 PM   #14
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Tolkien

Well that article is written to be an article.

Obviousily Tolkien is romantic in many ways, but he's not part of the romanticism of Faust, Beothoven or Wagner. But he is definitely inspired by the legendary world that he studied, and if you read some of his scholarly work it is amazing how scientifically analytical he is. But that was his profession, and he understood the basis and reality of those legends as well as any one ever did.

Did he assume that the Kings and Knights that really inhabited the world of those legends were anywhere near as noble as natural nobles like Tuor, Elendil or Aragorn, of course not. In that regard, Middle-Earth is very different from this World, but that doesn't mean we can't be inspired by such depictions of how things should be.

I see nothing in Tolkien's work that is anti-progress or anti-modern in terms of politics or of social change. The setting of his stories was simply patterned on a mythical world long past. Early Middle Ages or even Iron Age, but with many differences in terms of the nature of things and people.

I should say this, with respect to the fact that JRRT was born over one hundred ten years ago, and was perhaps merely old-fashioned in some ways even for his generation.

On a technological/industrial level, he was of course something of a Luddite, and he longed for the idylic, rustic world of the past, and in some ways he may have admitted some nievete in such regards, but his sentiments are not uncommon, and he came by them honestly, having known that world and also its drawbacks, as he had lost both parents to illnesses that would have been better treated only decades later, as well as other hardships made easier by progress. But still we have lost much, but his was a personal choice. He didn't want people ever forced by a new Dark Power one way or another, even if begun with the intent to do good.
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Old 12-30-2002, 12:48 PM   #15
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Silmaril

Oh, and another thing, since I seem to be a topic killer.

When I said Faust, I meant Goethe, of course. Silly me.

But also I think that article writer waxes a little too much about modern "democracy" and the like. Humans being what they are, it may be the worse political system, besides all of the rest, but that's the best that can be said. There is no egalitarian meritocracy that I've ever heard of, and attempts to compel such things end in disaster. Lets face it, a large part of what people can do is determined by when and to whom their born, even here in the good 'ole US of A. In Tolkien's world, many such people live up to the expectations of nobility by a certain grace. In the real world of ancient monachies and aristocracies (to use the favorable Aristolean terms) they didn't always, but the stability and certainty of such systems were, in the past, indispensable. In fact, democracy is a cause and effect of technology, education and relative social justice, not anything about which we shouldn't quite modest respective of our forebears and the romantic idealisms of JRRT.
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Old 12-31-2002, 09:32 AM   #16
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MotW,

It is nearly impossible to disagree with your position in the last post. But for Mr. Brin its not so much a matter of the scientific/democratic age doing away with a non-egalitarian culture and replacing it with a completely egalitarian model, but a model more egalitarian. It’s a matter of degree. And if left to its own, science and democracy will eventually conquer all the vestiges of Medievalism.

The problem with Mr. Brin’s way of thinking is that he has replaced one golden cow with another. He sees scientific progress and democracy as the save all, so in reality he puts the technocrats into the role of the sovereign, and he places the politician into the role of the moralist. Sure it does away with the old the kings and priests, but sets up a whole new gang of kings and priests, except now these new kings and priests have all the wondrous inventions of science and cultural progress, like nuclear bombs, biological and chemical weapons, mass production industry, advertising, and mass (free?) media

But, he would say to that argument, these new kings and priests are open to criticism from a free press. How many kings and priests of ages of old were open to criticism? Of course, there is some truth to this statement. However, the new media is a condition, a manipulative condition, that can and is used to serve the new kings and priests, especially when one considers the fact that the technocrats are the drivers of the new media. (Do gallop polls gauge or shape public opinion?)

Mr. Brin laments Tolkien, because he knows, deep down inside, that romantics exist because of the many failures of the Enlightenment’s golden cow.

MotW,

In regard to your first post, I still think Tolkien was a Romantic in the spirit of Sir Walter Scott. There are things in the world, the fruits of “progress,” that disturbed Tolkien. An ideal that is inherent was that unquestioned progress is wrong, it is the kind of progress that leads to domination and tyranny of an order that far surpasses any domination or tyranny known before. He, like so many other “Romantics,” questioned Mr. Brin’s golden cow (the Tower of Babel, perhaps?), and so for Mr. Brin, Tolkien is most certainly an enemy of progress, the kind of progress that Mr. Brin holds dear.

Like Sir Walter Scott’s nostalgic past, it is rather doubtful that the time Tolkien was nostalgic for ever really existed. However, the values and ideals that they sought did exist as an alternative to modernism, and no doubt still persist in the world today, despite the technocrats and political moralists who rage against them.
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Old 12-31-2002, 07:38 PM   #17
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But by any metric, these dark warning tales have been far more useful than all those sword and sorcery flicks that try to teach us about good and evil by portraying the former as always pretty and the latter, always, with red, glowing eyes
This is a common and somewhat ridiculous mistake for any but the very young (and not just in years). The evil are not evil because they are hideous, they are hideous because they are evil. The beautiful are not good because of their beauty, they are beautiful because they are good. We know a thing by its fruit. Think “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.

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Proud Brin can not stand modest Tolkien.
Well said. That seems to be what it boils down to.
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Old 12-31-2002, 09:36 PM   #18
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Quote: "Then again as Ents flatten even more goblin grunts at Saruman's citadel, taking no prisoners, never sparing a thought for all the orphaned orclings and grieving widorcs"

Sorry, ( holds back laugh) I counldn't get any farther then this. At this point I was absolutly sure the guy had no idea what he was talking about.
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Old 12-31-2002, 10:26 PM   #19
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Well to Mr. Bill Ferny, you obviously read the article and a great deal more very, closely.

Of course, the label "romantic" fits Tolkien's works, although that label has many applications. It's what he wanted to write about. I'm not sure to whom he compares. Likely, he'd have been flattered to be compared with giants such as Goethe or Beethoven, but I don't really see his works in the Sturm und Drang tradition, which is what romanticism usually means to me, much less Wagnerian excess, despite the Teutonic commonalities.

As for democracy, free press, and all the rest, I consider those in many ways gifts of the modern world, which if far from perfect, may be the best of all possible worlds right now. So then, I agree Mr. Brin's pitfall is to raise these gifts to dogma, for which any glorifications of past orders is somehow apostasy.

Whatever the merits of Mr. Brin's philosophy, I think he really misses the boat in that there is nothing political about JRRT's work. I'm not even certain if he was much of Monarchist for Britain. He took as his context ancient legendary traditions, for which a somewhat idealized model of early middle-ages (or earlier) societies is simply taken for granted, including noble/dynastic lineage, gender-determined roles, and so forth. It is a setting, not a recommendation.

He wanted to write about High Romance to fill what he saw as a void in the truly "English" heritage of England. He ended up identifying with and loving most his Hobbit creation, and that was perhaps the only society that he thought worth emulating, and not for its politics, social customs, or the obvious inequality between many common hobbits and the more well-to-do families such as the Baggins, Tooks, Brandybucks, but rather he preferred it for its simplicity, closeness to nature and all that, about which he may have been overly romantic, as well.

His points were really about moral choices and ethics, and other things in which he attempted, I feel, to find common ground between Christian values and pre-Christian, Northern European virtues.

But here I have been dismissing Mr. Brin. To take him head on, it is worth noting that Tolkien's countries are not really advanced feudalistic societies, the populations are miniscule by even 11th century standards, there is no apparent slavery of any kind in the good areas, and much of the production seems to account for decent living, fair if unequal distribution and even a level of communalism. Not too bad in my book, even as a hard-core capitalist.
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Old 01-01-2003, 10:57 AM   #20
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MotW,

You hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph of your post, I think. One of the biggest problems, perhaps, with Mr. Brin’s article is two fold: First, he reduces monarchy to feudalism and vise versa; second, he assumes that Middle-Earth is ripe with feudalism because it has monarchies. However, monarchy is very different from feudalism, and in fact, true feudalism can only exist with a weak centralized government. Historically, monarchies long outlived western medieval feudalism. At the same time, you would be hard pressed to find feudalism, the western medieval variety, in Middle-Earth, especially in The Shire (which as you say is perhaps one of the few societies worth emulating). (I am currently working on an essay juxtaposing Tolkien’s description of The Shire with notions of Catholic community and social teachings, and once completed I may make available in part on this forum.)

I would find it hard to compare Tolkien’s work with Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s work as well, but there is one notable parallel between Goethe and Tolkien. When Goethe stayed in Strasbourg (I think around 1770) he was greatly impacted by the Strasbourg Cathedral, and he was impressed by the Gothic style and considered it distinctively German (in my mind a rather fallacious conclusion). He was also, through Johann Gottfried Herder, exposed to the folk-stylish musings of Johann Georg Hamann, James MacPherson, Laurence Sterne, and Oliver Goldsmith. Because of these influences he took part in the Sturm und Drang movement that aimed at establishing a distinctively German cultural and literary alternative to the French neoclassical tradition predominate in Germany at the time. The fuel of the movement was in part (and it can be argued is the larger part) was the past, the primordial Teutonic roots of the German people. That kind of nostalgic searching seems to be at work in Tolkien, albeit in a very different cultural and historical context.

You are right though, the Sturm und Drang movement remained a nationalism, pure and simple (though ironically a very eclectic one). Tolkien, while starting from the search for a distinctively English mythology, transcends mere nationalism as is evidenced by so many people of so many different historical and cultural backgrounds being able to identify with his creation. From a Catholic’s perspective, Tolkien’s strong personal faith that allows Truth to be manifested in cultural diversity, may account for this transcendence.

So lumping Tolkien with the Sturm und Drang, movement, or vise versa, is a huge mistake on the part of Mr. Brin. Or lumping all “romantics” into a single category is a bit foolish, but like so many other things in his article, he is apt to sweeping generalizations and sociological inaccuracies to push his point. All the while he only proves he hasn’t an “inkling” of what he’s talking about.
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Old 01-12-2003, 03:20 PM   #21
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Yes, quite Bill.

Unwittingly to some extent, Catholicism blatantly animated and inspired JRRT's characters and images.

Also, while I would differentiate him from Goethe, Hegel and others of the German giants of thought, it is not at all an unfair comparison it in terms of literature, source material and greatness.

As for history, I would be loathe to excuse Monarchy by reference to its post-feudal incidences in Europe. While that period saw the end of serfdom and so forth, more free holdings, the Elightenment and all that, it was also a period of centralized tyranny and other unfortunate trends.

No, I think one must first recognized fuedalism as social scientist's model. In practice, in many ways it could have produced very humane results, and the high-medieval period whatever the downtroddeness of certain classes, in places, at times, saw tremendous growth and properity. And much of what one reads between the lines in LoTR would suggest fuedalistic elements of liegence, fiefs, and so forth.

However, this does not seem to revolve around the labor-value of land, but rather that of honor and true service by the leaders to their people, all of whom had military responsibilities. Again, one distinction here is demographics.

But really, JRRT was operating in a pre-Chalemagne period where the feudalistic code was less developed, without the lingering elements of Roman society in some respects.

Oddly, in terms technology, foodstuffs and so forth, LoTR at least is operating in the 17th Century, if not the 18th or 19th, with the notable exceptions and absence of movable-type printing and firearms.

In terms of social/political organization it is a mixture of Iron-Age and Dark-Age Europe.
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Old 03-01-2003, 04:52 PM   #22
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In practice, in many ways it could have produced very humane results, and the high-medieval period whatever the downtroddeness of certain classes, in places, at times, saw tremendous growth and properity.
An excellent observation! However, from my study of European Medieval culture and society, I would take this a step further. Below is a portion of an article I recently wrote, much abridged and edited for the purposes of this thread, that touch on the modern prejudice against Medieval European culture and society:

______________________________

In more ways than one would expect, medieval society was more humane than modern society. Part of the problem is a misunderstanding on the part of modern historians regarding the medieval world view. Moderns take for granted that self-government (democracy, or in our failed attempts at democracy, representative republic), individualism and equality are necessary for a humane society. This, though, comes from two centuries of indoctrination. The merits of self-government and human equality (though I believe there is little if any merit to modern individualism), is not the scope of this essay, but we moderns must come to terms with the fact that in many regards our societies often fail in regard to these two sanctimonious virtues. Perhaps human nature, itself, is the reason. Regardless, self-government, individualism, and equality were notions absent from Medieval Europe, but in no wise were humane societies absent. A fitting description of the medieval world view was penned by Georges Duby, in his book William Marshal; The Flower of Chivalry (132):

Quote:
This society, as we know, was conceived by thinking men at the end of the twelfth century as they conceived the whole of the visible and invisible universe: cemented by what the clerks called caritas and the language of the courts amitíe, sustained by “faith,” another key word evoking a combination of confidence and fidelity. On this affective relation, generating certain rights and duties, rested the coherence of a hierarchical structure consisting of super-imposed layers; everything was in order, according to God’s intentions, when men established at a certain level lived together in harmony, served faithfully, loyally, those who were their immediate superiors, and received suitable service from those who were their immediate inferiors. Order thus appeared based on the intermingled notion of inequality, service, and loyalty… These different systems of dependence often intersected, their arrangements were sometimes contradictory, but always the friendship that obliged mutual service, counsel, and assistance was deployed on two perpendicular axes: horizontally, it maintained peace among peers; veritcally, it compelled reverence above oneself, benevolence below.
(Emphasis in bold was added by me.) The later is an absolutely crucial point that moderns should take care to note. Medieval feudal society depended not only on upward reverence, but downward benevolence. Even the most lowly of villeins on the feudal manor were regarded as indispensable assets to the livelihood of the land holding baron. Their welfare directly affected the baron’s welfare. A starving villein was not fit for tilling the ground; a mistreated free-man craftsman was apt to neglect his work, or worse rebel; a cheated merchant would become a baron’s worst nightmare, and the baron may find himself banned by a entire guild or even an entire commune.

Rightly, much has been written about the warrior society of Medieval Europe. However, an over-emphasis of this facet of medieval life can be incredibly misconstruing. The bravado the medieval baron, who was principally a warrior, demonstrated was indeed real. Mixed with the medieval religious emphasis on pilgrimage and physical sanctity, it helped to produce the Crusades in all its many manifestations. On the other hand, in a world dominated by land economy, the barons were apt to demonstrate a large degree of common sense that is completely missed by over-emphasizing their warrior role in society. The baron knew that his ability to maintain and increase his wealth hinged not primarily on his martial efforts, but on his husbandry of the land. This fact is clearly evident in Magna Carta, which demonstrates that most barons were rather reluctant to go off and fight foreign wars for their king. This husbandry consisted in efficient and personal administration on the part of the baron, which included to seeing to the welfare of not only his crops and production, but to the welfare of the laborers responsible for the productivity of his land.

As a result, destitution was absent from the typical fief, barring the occasional natural disaster, in which case everyone, including more often than not the baron and his household, shared the burden. Beggars were common in cities, but are absent from the rural fiefs. Even the beggars in the cities benefited from an established system of largesse, the medieval version of philanthropy. In the service of the typical baron’s chancellor was the almoner whose principle responsibility was seeing to the distribution of offerings to the poor. This 13th century manual (translated by H.T. Turner, in Manners and Household Expenses of England in the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centures ,123) explains the duties of the king’s almoner:

Quote:
He ought visit for charity’s sake the sick, the lepers, the captives, the poor, the widows and others in want and the wanderers in the countryside, and to receive discarded horses, clothing, money and other gifts, bestowed in alms, and to distribute them faithfully. He ought also by frequent exhortations to spur the king to liberal almsgiving, especially on saint’s days, and to implore him not to bestow his robes, which are of great price, upon players, flatterers, fawners, talebearers, or minstrels, but to command them to be used to augment his almsgiving.
The Medieval world did not have the United Way, but every family, not only the wealthy, but even modest burghers took almsgiving very seriously. To be sure there were varying degrees of generosity, but generosity, itself, was a defining virtue of medieval life that is becoming more and more a lost virtue in the modern world. Generosity was not just a custom, a tax break, or a random act of kindness, but was underpinned by serious religious beliefs, thus taking a central place in the everyday life of medieval people.

Poverty is a rather relative term. In the medieval world poverty among the villeins was not something that belonged to individuals, but to communities, and was caused, not by a lack of benevolence from above, but more often than not from natural causes such as plague, fire, flood or famine. In the rural fiefs, villeins met at intervals in assemblies called bylaws, in which they discussed means to overcome problems, to identify those who needed assistance, and ways in which to make life together more commodious by assigning labor and responsibilities. Bylaws were not governed by the manor lord or any of his household staff, but by the villeins, themselves, according to long standing custom and common sense. Matters were not decided by vote, but by unanimous consent. Individual nay-sayers swallowed their arguments for the sake of the community. In this there is more democracy than any modern representative republic! Commenting on the sixteenth century emergence of capitalist farming in England, the changing of the villeins into wage laborers, historian R.H. Tawney observes: “Villeinage ceases but the Poor Laws begin.”

The burghers of the medieval city also commanded a larger degree of humane treatment to the surprise of the modern observer. City charters, often hard won from the barons, none-the-less insured a surprising degree of liberty for the craftsman and laborer without them having any degree of self-government. Communes established liberties whereby craftsmen and merchants could band together in guilds to protect both the integrity of their trade, prices, and their personal well being. Upward mobility, long thought to be the sole prerogative of latter centuries, was not only present, but common in the medieval world. A simple hod carrier could rise through the ranks of the masons to become a master cathedral builder; skilled masons often lived more comfortable lives than many landed barons in the countryside; a glass blower could become a sought out artist to provide stained glass for cathedrals, castles, wealthy homes, or palaces; cobblers, tanners and (more commonly) wool merchants by the merits of their skill and financial savvy alone could become wealthy enough to purchase land and title (and by virtue of title, knighthood) of their own, thus achieving a higher social status. As in all times and places, personal achievement in the medieval world was dictated by an individual’s skill, energy and commitment. All in all, upward mobility in modern societies may seem more achievable in comparison, but in reality it is no more or less common in the medieval world as it is in our own.

Medieval education often takes the brunt of modern ridicule. While the ridicule is unfair (for there were many scientific theories in the 19th century that are laughable in comparison to 20th century knowledge), education was, typically, rigid and uncompromising, conforming to the trivium and quadrivium with little room for formal innovation. However, in stark contrast to formal education, medieval philosophy and theology rightfully earned the moniker “the medieval synthesis.”

Medieval thinkers, Christian and non-Christian alike, were, above all, practical and “wholistic” thinkers, who not only considered the mind or soul or body in isolation, but the whole man, and this man as an integral part of a greater whole. In this they are the true heirs of the classical tradition of Greece, because for both the Medievals and the Greeks, philosophy was above all a practical guide for right living. Its starting point was the material world, and its ending point was the way in which men and women live in the material world, or in other words, ethics. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics does not stand as an appendix or gloss to his Physics, it is rather the logical conclusion and synthesis of his entire philosophical system. In the same way Plato’s Republic is the synthesis, the practical conclusions drawn from his whole system, and it is not just the conclusion, it is the willed direction to which his thinking was ordered from the beginning. Practicality is the starting and ending point of both Classical and medieval philosophy.

The Greeks and the Medievals stand in stark contrast to the philosophical traditions that had their birth in the so called Enlightenment. While the later is a collection of subjective humanisms, as closed off to the real world as Parmenides, the former is a collection of objective humanisms whose systems deal with the practical experiences and activities of everyday people. Did modern science spring from philosophies that close human beings in a dark closet, from men who spent their time asking themselves what if a tree fell in the woods with no one to hear it fall, would it make a sound? Such questions are the epitome of the impractical and irrelevant. How can people who take such questions seriously scoff at the belief that the Scholastics argued over how many angels could dance on the head of a pen? Or did modern science really spring from the inquisitive spirit of the medieval realists who wondered at the real world around them? Aren’t the scientists of the modern age, its physicists, biologists, mathematicians, chemists, medical doctors, and technicians the sons and daughters of the medieval philosophical tradition? Perhaps the greatest testament to the irrelevance of Sartre and Camus, and the rest of the traditions that had their birth with a generation that arrogant and ignorant predecessors called the Enlightenment, is the advancement of science and technology despite their assertions that nothing is real or knowable or worth knowing beyond the sensing person.
________________________

The point in posting this abridged article is in response to Mr. Brin’s ignorant views regarding Medieval Europe, its culture and society. What is posted above is rather brief and vague on some issues, but because I’ve been at the editing process for a few hours already, and I don’t want to bore you, I’ve left out much material dealing with specific medieval thinkers such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, Avicenna, Saint Bonaventure, medieval technology, a brief discussion on the treatment of women (which is very surprising) and Jews.

In short, I think the medieval world, as it actually existed, would greatly surprise Mr. Brin. There are many things inherent in medieval culture, society and feudalism that is both relevant and constructive for our modern world. To ignore them, ridicule them, or use the word “medieval” as an insult or negative criticism of Tolkien or any other “romantic,” is the height of ignorance.

I'm far from contending that the medieval world was a Utopia. However, it was just as much a Utopia as our modern world is. Mr. Brin's blind ignorance concerning the medieval roots of modern technology, and his use of the word as an insult is unfortunate. There is much in the medieval world that we moderns can use to improve our own world. Tolkien's romanticism if it does laud the medieval mentality, does so in order that we might benefit.

[ March 01, 2003: Message edited by: Bill Ferny ]
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Old 03-03-2003, 06:10 PM   #23
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From the article:
Quote:
Why not look at things through the Dark Lord's eye for a change?
An utterly annoying article-this guy has just become the dark lord's messenger.

Quote:
So lumping Tolkien with the Sturm und Drang, movement, or vise versa, is a huge mistake on the part of Mr. Brin. Or lumping all “romantics” into a single category is a bit foolish, but like so many other things in his article, he is apt to sweeping generalizations and sociological inaccuracies to push his point. All the while he only proves he hasn’t an “inkling” of what he’s talking about.
I quite agree with your point.

I shall have to get back to this thread...
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Old 03-04-2003, 05:12 AM   #24
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I haven't had time to read everything carefully, but it seems to me that Mr. Brin (an award-winning science fiction author) has brought up and simplified a lot of points that I find rather obvious and undenyably present in Tolkien. Many have been discussed over and over, I'm sure. We who study Tolkien can easily dispute Mr. Brin's facts about orcs, but if you look just at the LotR, Hobbit and even Silmarillion, his points are somewhat valid--for a modern reading of the work. And I don't think the work is at all modern, and so a lot of his analysis is mis-directed. In LotR, Bad-guys are Evil, good-guys are Good, and that's the fact of the matter. Sauron is Evil, and thoug maybe the "Eternal Rebel" tag is appropriate, it's not a just rebellion when he wants to enslave ME (Mr. Brin ignores this). I just think analysing Tolkien's characters through a modern lens is unrevealing. And I don't want to get into the literature or philosophy or even history discussion, because I don't have time to do it right...

But, I still feel his title is right. I wonder what kind of science is okay in Tokien. The only real scientists we see are Saruman and Sauron, Maiar who try to create new things like orcs or gunpowder--and these are evil things. The rest of ME is stuck in the dark ages--except where some ancient learning is still remembered, and so the wise ones on the good side are those who recall these discoveries of earlier ages. And what do they amount too? Mostly things that are better explained by magic than any real science. The world is hardly paradise, but not too many people seem capable of hauling themselves out of it. I can understand if the elves don't need science much, since they are immortal and can afford to live the idyllic, natural life and craft things over time without worrying about disease. The Hobbits seem to live in a very peaceful and relatively advanced way (much less dark ages than Rohan, for example, more like the 18th or 19th C.), and they have a few clever inventions like pocket-hankerchiefs and other civilised adaptations that the big folk don't seem to care for. Dwarves, well, they craft good things, but don't seem to invent anything new over three ages. And men, well, we know that Numenor was their high-point of learning, but again the major achievements seem to be magical devices like the seeying-stones. Orcs, in the Hobbit, are actually credited with being very inventive, at least with weapons and cruel things. Of course, the industrial revolution was a thousand years after the dark ages, and most science was evident in astronomy or biology (and much of it was wrong) which we don't hear about in Tolkien (Do they know that ME is round? Is it even round?). So, even though Tolkien is against the industrial revolution as he sees it (with a major result being the horros of the first really industrial war, WWI, followed by even worse inventions for the second) it's unfair to say he's against all science, because if we use a historical model (which isn't very accurate to such a fantastic setting) it would be hundreds more years before men would invent even the printing-press. So, on further examination, Mr. Brin is over-simplifying again (I guess he doesn't have a point after all...and I was trying to help).

Overall, I was quite disappointed by such a shallow article by a well-known writer.Personally, though, I suppose as a scientist myself that it's a shame that science only seems to have negative associations. I do sometimes think physics is magical, though, so maybe we are on the good side after all...
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Old 03-04-2003, 09:35 AM   #25
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Just when he was about to get the benefit of the doubt...Dain I've been wondering about Science-and if Tolkien agress with it too. Surely not anything to do with the "machine", it's very interesting.

It's amazing how great writers can get so shallow. I hope I don't turn out to be one.

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Old 03-05-2003, 10:23 PM   #26
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Dain, aren't you forgetting that sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology?
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Old 03-07-2003, 07:36 AM   #27
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And, of course, vice-versa.

Actually I don't see Tolkien as anti-progress. Rather I think that he was opposed to blind surgings forward (often called "progress" by those leading the headlong rush), and to technology that mars and defaces nature. I don't think that he minded technological and scientific progress unless it interfered with the beauty of the world.

Similarly I don't think that Tolkien disliked democracy, rather that he preferred a laissez-faire form of monarchy. Since our elected leaders are apt to behave like kings and emperors anyway that system seems more honest to me.
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Old 03-07-2003, 10:50 AM   #28
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ME's nations as democracies, or republics, wouldn't quite seem to fit:

"Hail Elessar, Prime Minister of Gondor!"
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Old 03-13-2003, 12:27 AM   #29
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Since our elected leaders are apt to behave like kings and emperors anyway that system seems more honest to me.
The most challenging task while I was briefly a HS Western Civ teacher was combating the constant recourse my students had to democracy and equality. They simply couldn’t understand why “the people” would allow themselves to be lorded over by aristocracy and monarchs. Egalitarianism and democracy are so ingrained in our culture that HS freshman can hardly think beyond these social constructs, usually blinding them to the fact that modern republics and economies are far from the democratic or egalitarian ideals.
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Old 03-13-2003, 03:52 AM   #30
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let the man speak for himself than:

Letter 52:

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My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the an and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to 'King George's council, Winston and his gang', it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity. And at least it is done only to a small group of men who know who their master is. The mediævals were only too right in taking nolo efiscopari1 as the best reason a man could give to others for making him a bishop. Give me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you care to call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers. And so on down the line. But, of course, the fatal weakness of all that – after all only the fatal weakness of all good natural things in a bad corrupt unnatural world – is that it works and has worked only when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way. The quarrelsome, conceited Greeks managed to pull it off against Xerxes; but the abominable chemists and engineers have put such a power into Xerxes' hands, and all ant-communities, that decent folk don't seem to have a chance. We are all trying to do the Alexander-touch – and, as history teaches, that orientalized Alexander and all his generals. The poor boob fancied (or liked people to fancy) he was the son of Dionysus, and died of drink. The Greece that was worth saving from Persia perished anyway; and became a kind of Vichy-Hellas, or Fighting-Hellas (which did not fight), talking about Hellenic honour and culture and thriving on the sale of the early equivalent of dirty postcards. But the special horror of the present world is that the whole damned thing is in one bag. There is nowhere to fly to. Even the unlucky little Samoyedes, I suspect, have tinned food and the village loudspeaker telling Stalin's bed-time stories about Democracy and the wicked Fascists who eat babies and steal sledge-dogs. There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as 'patriotism', may remain a habit! But it won't do any good, if it is not universal.
more or less close to the subject.

As for Palantiri mentioned above as magical, the principle of their functioning is not given. (remember Sam asking for magic, and Galadriel stating she's confused by the term?) The principle of functioning of my TV set is equally obscure to me, so I may label my TV set magical as well, if I bother to follow the notion. Both are devices, and ignorant always tend to name the thing not understood to be magical, miraculous etc.
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Old 03-13-2003, 07:20 AM   #31
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still more, as I come to think about it, both words, palantir and televisor, mean the same - "the thing looking from afar"
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Old 03-13-2003, 07:41 AM   #32
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Thanks Heren for posting that letter. I haven’t a copy of the letters, and its always great when they are posted here on the forum. Its nice to see that ranting isn’t the sole prerogative of those who post on internet forums.

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There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as 'patriotism', may remain a habit! But it won't do any good, if it is not universal.
Whoa, now Professor, slow down! Maybe to some extent Tolkien was anti- technological and industrial progress. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]
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