Are people still reading the classics? Are the great thoughts of humankind that have endured for thousands of years still relevant? Antigone is a play written by Sophocles in 441 BCE, or 2,463 years ago. I read it a couple decades ago, and never forgot its core message.

I find it odd that there is such great thought before the birth of Christ. This is just a byproduct of my passive education via the media and dominant culture, whereby I generally think of the Greeks, and the great philosopher Socrates (who died in 399 BC), as having more advanced ideas, and as coming later. While I did manage to earn an “A” in my college level year of history, I found the instruction deadly boring, and mostly rote memorized facts that I promptly forgot the day after whichever exam. Fortunately, I greatly appreciated literature, and learned a thing or two from the classics.

Let me tell you about Antigone, in a nutshell. Antigone was the daughter of the king of Thebes, Oedipus Rex (and his mother, but that’s another play). After his death, her two brothers Eteocles and Polynices came to jointly rule Thebes, but quarreled, and Eteocles expelled Polynices from the city, refusing to share the throne. Polynices in turn amassed an army and launched an attack on Thebes. Both brothers died in the ensuing battle. The new king, Creon, who was their uncle, hosted an elaborate funeral service for Eteocles, but declared that because Polynices had attacked Thebes, and was hence a traitor, his body should not be buried, he should not be mourned, and violation of this ordinance would result in death by stoning. This was the law of the land.

Antigone, having her wits about her and a solid kernel of wisdom, rejected the law, appealed to a higher authority — “divine law” — and secretly buried her brother.

The story illustrates that law can just be a rule which is not necessarily just or ethical at all. Antigone was able to see through it, ascertain for herself that leaving her brother’s body to rot unattended was a greater crime against what it is to be human than was not following the edict set down by her uncle. This is a great lesson. What is morally or ethically right should triumph over laws which present themselves as enforcing morality, when in actuality they are the antithesis.

I find today that truth-tellers, whether they are whistleblowers or just people who feel compelled to set the record straight on an issue with which they are familiar, are no longer heroes, but villains. Compliance is becoming increasingly mandatory, and human populaces are easier to monitor than ever before. Video cameras in the street recognize faces, phones track our whereabouts, we can be denied travel based on our politics, and our bank accounts can be frozen. If anyone wanted to use technology in order to enforce authoritarianism, better tools never existed, or even were imaginable merely a decade ago.

Antigone is no longer our hero or role model. Rather, it is King Creon, because rich and powerful. Thousands of years later, and we are no longer good if we appeal to a greater morality [which need not be divine, but only better argued, and with better examples and evidence]. Today, to be good is to not rock the boat, and to know our place. It is to espouse the beliefs we are spoon fed, and do as we are told. This is what bosses expect of temp workers, and generals of privates in the military. We are to do our job and follow orders.

It is an entirely subordinate position for the vast majority of humankind. We must defer to the powerful, as a good child obeys their parents. Like the grunt on the front line of battle, rushing into the roaring slaughter, our lives must be sacrificed for the benefit of the powerful. But when you’ve been an adult for a couple decades (if not much sooner), these powerful people fart and burp and have unsightly moles, bad breath, and otherwise are just other flawed humans, and if anything highly prone to the weakness of corruption. We may find that we don’t respect the intellects of some our superiors. They can become to us no different than another child when we were in kindergarten. What separates them from us is power and station, and not inherent superiority. Sometimes, the blind lead the seeing.

When I first read Antigone, it seemed like an individual could fight for a cause they believed in, and even win by appealing to a more elevated, sound, and convincing understanding. That has quickly eroded. Truth, honesty, decency? These are the enemies of the edifice propping up a bankrupt ruling elite. We might see today that the crime of telling the truth is a greater offense than murder. You may have noticed on social media that we are certainly more outraged by people saying the wrong thing than we are about violent crimes. Violent crime doesn’t threaten the powerful. Challenging its right to rule, or they way it rules, does. We are required to believe what we are told to believe.

Corruption and the temptation of abusing authority come hand in hand with power, and especially excess power. Technology now affords people in positions of authority formerly unimaginable power: the ability to easily monitor, silence and punish its critics. While this is painfully obvious to us when we think of some other countries and cultures than our own, we like to think that we, and our own, are well above that. This is not proving to be the case. On the contrary, the leaders of more egalitarian systems are now taking clues from the more oppressive ones because those systems benefit those in power infinitely above the mass of second class citizens toiling below.

We’ve lost equal footing. A person is no longer fundamentally equal to another, regardless of rank, wealth, or station, even in theory. A “good” person is no longer a strong, independent, responsible, intelligent, free-thinking, reasoning, and self-directed individual. That person is a threat. Today, the good person is someone who follows the latest rules, believes and shares what they are instructed, and does what they are told. We are grateful for table scraps, and will not object if we don’t get enough, for fear of getting less.

It’s no coincidence that when Pol Pot launched his revolutionary overthrow of Cambodia, he declared that it was the year zero, and had artists, intellectuals, the educated, and people who merely wore glasses killed. History provides great rejoinders to bogus arguments, and the intelligent and competent are the most difficult to brainwash into believing a new and spurious account of reality.

An intelligent adult today will probably admit to themselves that they have to “choose their battles”, and will go along with various violations of justice or the common good because there are far too many of them, there’s little or nothing much we can do, and there may be serious repercussions if we stick our necks out. We can only try to carve out a space for ourselves and loved ones where we can have as much dignity and independence as possible, while being lorded over by others, and as the walls are closing in. Do you feel this way to some significant degree?

I can confidently say that I do not feel pressured to ascend Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” to attain self-realization.

I feel the need to be careful what I say, to be obedient, docile, and fulfill the role that is dictated to me from above.

I read Antigone at a time when I wholeheartedly believed that the reason to go to college was to expand my horizons, to gain knowledge and wisdom, to be cultured, to be inspired, and to consequently have a more meaningful and productive life. Now people go to college to make money.

Socrates said, thousands of years ago, that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. And THAT is another zinger I never forgot. Is there anything more tragic then to be on your death bed and have to admit, “Well, life is over, and I missed the point”? At the very end, does anyone say, “My only regret is that I didn’t amass more money”?

Is there any reason to presume that you or I understand more about reality — get the picture of human existence — than did Sophocles, who died in 405/6 BC, at the age of 90-92? Sure, we know facts that he didn’t, but where does that mountain of facts lead, and what vision does it coalesce into? It may even be that the inverse is true, that the more technology provides a buffer of comfort between ourselves and existence, the less we get the big picture. I think we could all agree that we don’t get as much from the experience of flying a passenger jet to the other side of the Earth than people who spent months at sea in a sailing ship to cover the same distance. We’ve learned how to drive cars, but forgot how to ride horses. We watch more films streaming on Netflix, but we read less classic novels, if we read any at all.

At present, we may be losing the understanding and appreciation of what an adult, ethical, strong and independent human being is, which Sophocles clearly defined 2,463 years ago. The least we can do is even remember why people used to go to college, and entertain the abstract concept of what it might mean to be self-actualized, while we swipe our digital identification cards, and try to blend in as good, non-questioning, moderately hard working consumers: cattle who will be milked for all we are worth and go to slaughter without kicking up a fuss.

~ Ends

21 replies on “Runaway Rant: The New Definition of the “Good” is “Obsequiousness”

  1. One need look no further than the way virtually all the populations of the “free world” unquestioningly and often willingly submitted to lockdown; even once it transpired that Covid was not in fact the new Great Plague, and despite the long-lasting, catastrophic damage to our societies; and the way those few of us who questioned the policy were vilified as heretics, to see the voracity of your argument.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That certainly appears to be the case in China at this very moment. There have been several major instances in recent years where people were persecuted for challenging an official story. Now that the truth is slowly starting to be revealed, those people are somehow not forgiven or respected. I tried to avoid politics, and especially partisan politics, but just between you and I, a certain laptop is now considered to be authentic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Eric. The job of living is to ascend Maslow’s hierarchy. People in power may not see it as in their interest that people do this – after all, these seekers see truth more clearly. And modern technology gives frightening tools to force complance. The defence of open societies and individual freedom is never-ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers, Barry! “The defense of open societies and individual freedom is never-ending.” I think you nailed it, there. Also in the idea that self-actualization is a threat to abuse of power, because more realized people will see the truth more clearly, and care about it more.

      And thanks so much for re-blogging!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on I can't believe it! and commented:
    Eric Wayne’s runaway rant is very thought-provoking on the state of the world today. He shows the neverending need to protect open societies and individual freedoms from the predations of the powerful and of governments seeking to force particular narratives on their populations.
    And the purpose of that freedom is not a life of watching Netflix, pleasant as that may be. It is the becoming of better human beings, along the lines of Maslow’s hierarchy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As one of them spouted off the other day, “We actually have the technology today to make it a reality” (an authoritarion government). What’s funny is few see it coming. And despite facial recognition and tracking of our movements through our phones, there could still have been a sliver of freedom if not for the “digital dollar”. They will have us by the short hairs and they want it by 2024. Once they have that its over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right. In the wrong hands all this technology can be used to increase the power of the few vastly over that of the rest of us. AI can play a role in this, predicting people’s behavior, and flagging those that might pose a threat to the political status quo and their continued reign.

      We are already talking about implanting devices, perhaps for “public safety”, but which will always show our location with pinpoint accuracy.

      And that digital currency may only work if one is online, in which case one can’t even buy food without being monitored and profiled. All one’s transactions then become recorded.

      Even in the most trustworthy hands this kind of power is too dangerous. We could easily find ourselves crossing lines of privacy, or fairness, in the name of the ostensible good, and thus get on the slippery slope to the egregiously bad.

      I don’t know what the solutions are. I can only have some hope and faith that humanity gets its priorities straight, and chooses to grant people freedom rather than to crush it for personal, temporary gain.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Back to amend my earlier comment. MANY people suck and too many of them are very good at it. Your powerful post hit me at a bad time, left me crackling with frustration. I used to aspire to climbing that pyramid, did a decent job of it, too, until everything changed. Societal fault lines? Technology’s lurches toward cyber dominance? Physical deterioration? Economic blight? Infestation of humanity by dizzying greed? Weltschmerz? Probably a combination, over time. Now I struggle – every day – to maintain a hold on “Safety.” That’s the best I can do; Maslow and I are done. HOWEVER: I won’t – can’t – stop fighting to remain the perversely ferocious proponent of hope that I’ve always been. There’s no freedom without it, and freedom’s the only reason to breathe.

    OK, now I have to go back to work pushing pixels around so I can pay my water bill. 🙃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always enjoy your comments, Robin, If for no other reason than the humor and poetry of your writing. Thanks for introducing me to the word, “Weltschmerz”. What a concept. For anyone reading this who isn’t German, or hasn’t encountered this word, here’s a definition:

      “a literary concept describing the feeling experienced by an individual who believes that reality can never satisfy the expectations of the mind, resulting in “a mood of weariness or sadness about life arising from the acute awareness of evil and suffering”

      That’s quite a concept.

      Hope? I suppose one can’t persist without it. If all is hopeless, there’s no reason to act. As creative individuals, we will try to find something else that will enable us to grow, or free ourselves, or make ends meet, etc. This is part of why I’ve developed so many artistic styles (Oops. I’m slipping into another article).

      Hope your are having a productive time pushing around those pixels!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ::runs back:: Wow! I just learned a humdinger of a word: “furibund.” It’s not a mix of “cummerbund” + “furbelow.” And it shouldn’t be confused with one of my all time favorite words, “furshlugginer.” 😂👋

        Like

  6. I read “Antigone” in a classics class led by a feminist professor. Her take was, “This is what happens when you live in a patriarchy.”

    (I found out recently that she is long retired, and the university where I got my BA–in modern history, not classics–shut down the classics department several years ago “for lack of enrollment.” Universities have a reckoning coming up as demographics show the number of people in the 18-24 age group will fall precipitously in the next ten years, all over the world.)

    Seriously, I saw an interesting point by a tech writer who noted that we’re in a “lathe of heaven” moment, referring to the Ursula Le Guin story about a man whose dreams literally change reality and his psychiatrist who tries to use this power to change the world for good, only…it doesn’t. The writer observed that we now have a small group of billionaires who are trying to change reality to fit their utopian (or dystopian, depending on your opinion) view of how the world should operate. Some of them use technology, others prefer using the brute force of money. Whether they’re successful in the end is yet to be determined: but it appears for now that even gobsmacking amounts of money can’t create a tech company that operates solely on the whim of one person, or (for now, anyway) run a government without people skilled in their particular professions. The writer didn’t offer any solutions to our shifting-reality moment, except to continue the active support of democracy, and to put less faith in “technology is the solution” to everything.

    I do have a small midden of hope, as I still meet and work with young people who realize there is something wrong with the internet-technology-based world but don’t know yet how to grapple with it. Maybe with the collapse of social media companies, light will come through. (Before you say “unlikely!” I just drove through San Francisco, and the place is like a ghost town, with streets lined with the tents of the homeless. It always looks that way after a tech crash, but this time around things look a lot more eerie.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting points. I was disappointed when I got to the bottom and your comment ended. I wanted more.

      Just a note on your feminist professor’s take on Antigone. A few hundred years BC is inevitably going to be a much more patriarchal society. One could highlight that aspect of the subject, however, “Antigone” was written by a man who was obviously critical of the system, in which case we could see the play as already challenging the patriarchy, thousands of years ago. Sounds, however, like your teacher was so caught up in “feminism” that she saw everything through that lens, which means missing the actual point of the story. I think there’s really a lot of that going on, and I certainly got primarily that kind of agenda-driven art education myself. Everything was seen via the lens of identity politics, Post Modernism, and “critical theory”. All that stuff drives me bonkers. I don’t mind it in a sociology class (where I also got it), but I don’t like when art is seen primarily through a sociopolitical lens.

      Ah, yes, the tech companies are starting to have problems. Those big companies made a killing during covid, but as the middle class dwindles, and all the money is filtering up, there’s fewer left who can afford to buy the products.

      The best example of this for me is the army of robots Elon Musk is designing to perform virtually any human task. Each one he sells that puts a human out of business, there’s at least one less person who can afford to buy one.

      Tech companies may be figuring out that you can’t have unlimited growth, and a perpetually widening customer base, while also putting people out of work on a massive scale. There needs to be a balance.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you’d like to read the “lathe of heaven” post yourself, here’s the link.
        https://ez.substack.com/i/87417465/reality-bites

        It deals roughly with the same things you discuss in your post, but through the lens of someone who’s involved in the tech industry. I find most tech people interesting, but because so many of them are engineers with little to no background in the humanities, they have virtually no familiarity with literature, the arts, history, and philosophy (well, unless it’s a discussion about cognition and the definition of humanity, i.e. AI). Ed Zitron is one of those rare techies who actually reads books and thinks about them in a broader context (outside of technology and libertarian economics), and doesn’t believe he is smarter than the author.

        I’m flattered you found my comment interesting! I realize your posts get a lot of feedback, which must be enjoyable (mostly), and I try to avoid the usual piling on of outrage, contempt, and whatever else gets encouraged by social media. The humanities were a rough and tumble place back in the late 70’s-early 80s: I think many of my classmates and I decided to get out of academia altogether because we couldn’t stand the infighting and backbiting that characterized the discourse at the time. Poststructuralism and Marxist theory “scaffolded” by feminism (‘scaffold’ was used a lot in grad school) were fashionable when I was getting my BA; neither of them stuck the way postmodernism has in contemporary art criticism, but this is a road I don’t want to start down. (And I still wonder what happened to the classmate who blew up in early 19th century US history class when the professor said Andrew Jackson practiced genocide against Native Americans—“Andrew Jackson was one of the greatest American presidents!” Someone claimed to have seen him on Facebook wearing a red MAGA cap, but I find everything on Facebook is apocryphal these days.) It’s too bad, because the discussion of ideas is still important, but the current political landscape has made it impossible to do without setting off a minefield of rage. Nobody needs more of it, since it seems to permeate the air now. I don’t even write personal reviews of books on Goodreads anymore, after a group of teenagers got angry over my criticism of “Twilight.” Copies of which you can’t even sell in the used bookstores, since no one wants to read them anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hello, again, Hangaku. I read the “lathe of heaven” post, and what most struck me was just that he was coming at the subject from an angle I’m not familiar with. I haven’t given that much thought to the rising billionaire class in relation to their projects to mold society to their own visions [and serving their own selfish self-interest, of course]. Once it’s pointed out, it’s rather obvious. That said, I don’t find Musk as objectionable as he does, yet. I’m more disturbed by the invisible billionaires who deliberately scheme to make astronomical gains via patent immorality. Ex., heads of businesses deliberately fleece, exploit, and endanger the public.

        As regards Andrew Jackson, “genocide” and ” one of the greatest American presidents!”, my personal guess is that the reality is more in the middle. Extreme views, easy explanations, and easier answers could be a mark of clarity and cutting through the BS, or they could be radical oversimplifications made to serve whichever agenda.

        When you talk about the “minefield of rage” you encounter when politics are broached on FB, I think the greatest factor contributing to this is quite simply that people in different camps don’t just have different beliefs and conclusions, but they are exposed to very different information. New media is overwhelmingly politically partisan, and so if the news is left or right, it will share stories, facts, and opinions that bolster its own side (which is very much about who is elected, and who has power), and bury those that undermine it.

        Decades ago news at least strove to be impartial, unless it was an “editorial”. Now everything is an editorial, or thinly-veiled propaganda. And if one wants to get one’s candidate elected, and that candidate really isn’t that great, then a successful tactic is to villainize the opposition and its supporters. This latter tactic alone explains why people see those on the other side of the political spectrum as evil, morons, etc. This is the danger of “confirmation bias echo chambers” as well. And then, this is also to a degree an “illusion of difference”, and no matter which side takes power, somehow theoretical “democracy” keeps sliding ever further into “oligarchy” in action.

        On that happy note, I think I need more coffee. Thanks so much for reading an commenting. Hope you are having a nice day.

        Like

  7. Your rant is very refreshing especially for me now. I am currently fighting an eviction in court by the powerful land owner of the mobile home park I live in. The land owner decided me out but used lies and tactics to fool the arbitrator. The judicial review I launched is however limited by its scope i.e. I must now prove the arbitrator was faulty in his decision. He was, but it is a higher hurdle than prove I was right. The powerful always has a bigger hand.
    Btw, ironically, I am being evicted for repairing my mobile home while the landlord say I did not complete some parts of repairs. The photos and video the landlord used showed the parts completed but he wrote they were not. The arbitrator chose to take the word of the landlord as evidence instead of mine and was blind to the photos and video. Mind boggling!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good luck not getting evicted, Serge. Thanks for reading and commenting. Gotta’ love people ignoring actual evidence in favor of a statement by someone with more power in the situation. I’ve always struggled with the fact that the job of a lawyer is to win a case for their client, guilty or innocent. It is not to do what is right, and a good lawyer will destroy the lives of innocent people as a matter of course is their clients are actually in the wrong.

      Like

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