For the moment, envision the high values and virtues – wisdom, truth, justice, beauty, passion, love, honor, strength, courage, etc. – as upon high; imagine they are personified, represented by gods and goddesses. Athena of course would symbolize wisdom; courage might be Apollo; Woden is strength, and so on. This idea was exemplified to great effect by Ancius Boethius. What he was thinking popped into my head when I looked at a picture of the anti-Christ, Donald Trump. Let me tell you about philosophy and Boethius. In his The Consolation of Philosophy he spoke reverently of the word, and use the pronoun she to refer to wisdom and philosophy. He believed she watched over him, guided him, and could save him from his fate as a prisoner. I have hope that Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us from here to where we as individuals, communities and especially as a nation, we need to be.
Boethius was a Roman senator, consul, magister officiorum, and philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born four years after Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor and declared himself King of Italy, and entered public service under Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great, who later imprisoned and executed him in 524 on charges of conspiracy to overthrow him. While jailed, Boethius composed his Consolation of Philosophy, a philosophical treatise on fortune, death, and other issues, which became one of the most popular and influential works of the Middle Ages. This is how Wikipedia begins to describe this amazing man.
“Some people are suffering from lack of work, some from lack of water, many more from lack of wisdom.” ~
So, the unique thing about Boethius during his imprisonment was that he felt he was going to be put to death. He turned not to the God of the Christians, but to philosophy. At his lowest, here are some of the words he penned (and I’m so happy his book survived the catastrophe):
With my thoughts recollected I turned to examine the face of my physician. I turned my eyes and fixed my gaze upon her, and I saw that it was my nurse in whose house I had been cared for since my youth —Philosophy.
This is hardly the first time wisdom has been threatened with danger by the forces of evil. In olden times, too, before the time of my servant Plato, I fought many a great battle against the reckless forces of folly. And then, in Plato’s own lifetime, his master Socrates was unjustly put to death—a victorious death won with me by his side.
The tongue that first has tasted bitter food finds honey that the bees have won more sweet, and stars shine out more pleasing to the eye when from the South the rain-winged wind has dropped.
Most amazing was this passage. You can surely imagine Philosophy as a white-robed goddess with a kind nature and a gentle demeanor, yet possessing great potency:
I recognized my nurse, Philosophy, in whose chambers I had spent my life from earliest manhood. And I asked her, “Wherefore have you, mistress of all virtues, come down from heaven above to visit my lonely place of banishment? Is it that you, as well as I, may be harried, the victim of false charges? “Should I,” said she, “desert you, my nursling? Should I not share and bear my part of the burden which has been laid upon you from spite against my name? Surely Philosophy never allowed herself to let the innocent go upon their journey un-befriended.”
Much of what he does in the manuscript is to point to the “false gods” in which many (most?) men are in thrall. In this quote, he decries Fortune (yes, he capitalizes it):
I know the many disguises of that monster, Fortune, and the extent to which she seduces with friendship the very people she is striving to cheat, until she overwhelms them with unbearable grief at the suddenness of her desertion. If you can recall to mind her character, her methods, and the kind of favor she proffers, you will see that in her you did not have and did not lose anything of value.
He wisely, tragically, further reflects: “Isn’t this what tragedy commemorates with its tears and tumult—the overthrow of happy realms by the random strokes of Fortune? When you were a little boy you must have heard Homer’s story of the two jars standing in God’s house, the one full of evil and the other of good.”
If happiness is the highest good of rational nature and anything that can be taken away is not the highest good—since it is surpassed by what can’t be taken away. Fortune, by her very mutability, can’t hope to lead to happiness.
It is my hope, as I think about the mess we in America have made for ourselves, that Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us from here to where we as individuals, communities and especially as a nation, we need to be.
There is so much lack of wisdom and wise thinking these days. Our country is rife with rampant individualism, corruption, and foolishness. The proud eagle is more like a crow, screeching a complaint at the sky.
The potential for wisdom to assist us as individuals and as a people is clear to see if one really looks. “Those who are virtuous are wise; those who are wise are good; and those who are good are happy,” is how Boethius put it.
If there is one characteristic of Trump that seems inarguable, it is that he is unwise. He acts impetuously, out of anger and impatience and retribution; people who have worked closest with him decry his pettiness, arrogance, ignorance, and lack of insight. Many psychologists and pastors have publically noted he seems narcissistic, histrionic, prideful, and hopelessly fallen. This is not just a reality TV show in which no one is hurt, though. There is a very real danger. Those who supported Trump would be wise to admit that they were afraid of Hilary Clinton and were scared into voting for the man. They might have been eager to see liberals get some comeuppance or immigrants shown the door or pacifists asked to leave at virtual gunpoint. But now the shit has gotten real, as they say. There are no lifeboats; no one will come and save us; we have no guarantee that the good guys always win.
If you pray, pray that Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans wake up wiser.
Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us from here to where we as individuals, communities and especially as a nation, we need to be. I have to believe that. Perhaps Trump is beyond redemption, but can not his advisors, and can not we the citizens transcend this ugliness? The hour is late, but we still appear to have time.
“Wise people live their daily lives in accord with wise perspectives and wise values. As a result, their actions make the world around them a better place. They help others to grow. They live compassionately. They resolve conflicts and in other ways maximize harmony and general well-being.”
Let us look to Wisdom to save us. Whereas our leaders have led us here, and God is silent even during the Holocaust, we need to rely on ourselves. On oneself. On each other. Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us if we only will seek her counsel.
Wisdom can care for us, love us, and guide us. But we are in the prison cell. She cannot unlock those iron bars. If we ever get free, let us think, contemplate, act, and behave wisely so as to avoid further denigration. We can stop hurting other peoples and the Earth itself, and we can preserve the country bequeathed to us by those wise men in the powdered wigs and the knickers, our Founding Fathers.
Let us not be tempted to give form to low values and obvious vices such as partisanship, tribalism, and greed. We have tried the American way for too many decades, and the road we have walked is strewn with the corpses we accidentally or fully volitionally created. Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us from here if we only pay her heed. I think that is what John McCain wanted most for his beloved country – that we get our act together before we get where we’re going.
Fortune, dominance, “America First”, greed, hatred, divisiveness, disinformation, self-service, and power have been the Sirens who have beckoned us toward the jagged rocks. Philosophy is a surer path. Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us from here if we will only look to her. The hour is late, but we still have hope.
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.” ~ John McCain
HERE you will find another blog about wisdom.
Some quotes about wisdom to consider:
There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.
…A positive aspiration and effort for an ethical-moral configuration of our common life is of overriding importance. Here no science can save us. I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude, often directed solely to the practical and factual, in our education, has led directly to the impairment of ethical values.
Our leaders are bogged down, trying to cope with our faltering institutions. They are so enmeshed in crisis management that they have no time to exercise genuinely creative leadership. We could keep waiting for someone else (to save us). The message of this book is that there is no one else. You are it. We are it.
“Humanity attempts to solve its myriad problems with factual knowledge alone, when what is needed is the integration of facts and wisdom. Wisdom is not about facts per se; it is about the meaning of facts. It is about the significance of facts and their implications. Wisdom is a kind of meta-knowledge that helps us apply our factual knowledge in appropriate ways. Wisdom does this 1) by relating our ordinary everyday knowledge to a variety of contexts, 2) by viewing it from various illuminating perspectives, and 3) by bringing into the decision-making process a set of values that seeks the good of the whole and well-being writ large. The world’s people desperately need greater wisdom and the benefits it can convey. We need to put the spotlight on this neglected subject, and help people develop and apply it.”
True emancipation begins neither at the polls nor in courts. It begins in woman’s soul.
The only thing that can save us as a species is seeing how we’re not thinking about future generations in the way we live. What’s lacking is generativity, a generativity that will promote positive values in the lives of the next generation. Unfortunately, we set the example of greed, wanting a bigger and better everything, with no thought of what will make it a better world for our great-grandchildren.
We are not free unless the men who frame and execute the laws represent the interests of the lives of the people and no other interest. The ballot does not make a free man out of a wage slave.
“The doors of wisdom are never shut.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
It is understandable to be mired in hopelessness and anger about the starvation, pollution, and treachery that we sow and reap daily. But it will be your and my better angels, in the form of courage and wisdom, that allow our potential to rise to heights that Martin Luther King, Ann Frank, and Harriet Tubman have dreamt would someday become reality.
If the truth doesn’t save us, what does that say about us?
What do I do when pessimism strikes? I get together with other people. I’m encouraged when I get together with other people who feel the way I do about things, and I realize I’m not alone. Or I’ll turn to the arts. The great poets and the writers were almost always progressive people who saw beyond the politics. So I’ll read Mark Twain and Helen Keller and Upton Sinclair and Tolstoy and Thoreau. I’ll read things that are encouraging and uplifting.
“Mankind has to learn some new lessons of which the necessity is due to increase of skill without increase of wisdom….If the world is to emerge, it requires both clear thinking and kindly feeling. It may be that neither will be learned except through utmost disaster. I hope this is not the case. I hope that something less painful can teach wisdom.”
Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us if we only ask.