The Charlotte News

Tuesday, March 29, 1938



Site Ed. Note: The name of a Twentieth Century philosopher and professor emeritus comes to mind from the editorial below, "Back to the Greeks". His name is E. M. Adams. You can read his philosophy in Religion and Cultural Freedom, 1993, Temple Univ.Press, and Metaphysics of Self and World: Toward a Humanistic Philosophy, 1991, Temple Univ. Press.

During his years as a professor at the University of North Carolina, he did not "teach" philosophy. Instead, he imparted a philosophy, or rather a manner of structuring one's thoughts, a world view which bears great mention in our modern times. And it is a world view which appears self-evident. Essentially, it is that man has become alienated in the industrial age from his self, that is the whole of his being and identity. This self-alienation is largely the result of reductionism, the notion that science may explain all down to the infinitesimal make-up of man--first the organs, the cell, the molecule, the atom, the proton, neutron, and electron, to the sub-atomic particles, ever flowing downward into the microscope, partitioning further the knowledge of time and space, to attempt thereby to achieve resolution of all man's ills as well as explaining existence and life itself.

The professor's notion is that the remedy to this flaw in man's reductionist and concomitantly self-alienated outlook in the Twentieth Century--and now carrying over in force to the present one--is to combine the approaches to understanding in the humanities and social sciences, embracing literature, music, religion, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology and the like, with those of empirical science, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, etc. And by so doing, achieve an holistic approach to man's understanding of himself, to put the genie of the modern age back in the bottle so to speak, understanding the genie's limits and then extending those limits, utilizing as it were the scientific method of rational thinking, hypothesis-test-result, in fields comprising the humanities and social sciences as well as utilizing the intuitive and the poetic in science. In so doing, we come to a notion of application whereby, rather than parsing our education into nice little compartments, applying scientific principles to problems of science, and the more strictly intuitive mode of thinking to exploration of fields such as literature, music, religion and philosophy, we utilize instead our whole self, our whole identity, our whole education at once, to explore all problems confronting us generally.

Einstein was onto something of this nature when he died in 1955. Anyone who actually reads his Theory of Relativity and his further work on a unified field theory, with a literary view toward metaphor and symbol firmly in mind, not to mention the time and circumstances in the world, particularly in his native Germany, when he wrote, will come away with, if nothing more, this notion of an holistic approach to understanding physical principles, even if the particular mathematical and physical symbols and equations he put forth are not fully fathomed in the instant of putting eyes to paper and "reading" it.

And, of course, we would be remiss if we did not at least point out the obvious to the thorough reader of this site--that Cash was employing this same holistic principle in his understanding of the South and the broader world about him when he perished in 1941.

As our own primer for the application of the principle, we offer Socratically these ten questions: Is it possible for the individual to have sensate knowledge and actual memory of the moment of his or her creation, knowledge and memory so subject to validation that it is provable through scientific method? If not, then can we as a race of humans ever possibly truly know the origins of our collective creation, anthropologically, biologically or otherwise? Are we not then bound in reason to find some symbolic, poetic explanation for our creation, different though it may be from the Other's, or otherwise be confined to the dotage of irrationality, that is, one without ultimate identity? Anent that, is the sum of two zeroes more than nothing? What was the prime mover of thought, that first original thought millenia ago, as distinct from feeling? Was it, as we might posit, the development of symbolic language, (as distinct from mere grunts and groans to express feeling), to better structure, organize and understand our emotions? Was the inertia toward language the result of memory of unpleasant experience, that our emotions and instincts alone did not protect the frail human shell from the physically more powerful wild beasts of the jungle, physically stronger humans, or the ravages of nature itself? If the survival complex in a hostile world is the only explanation for the development of symbolic language and hence conscious thought, then why does the ant not speak? Is there some actuating force extrinsic to our material world, and without which, there would be none? If that actuating force is nothing more than the collective of living consciousness, then what was the prime actuating force of initial conscious thought?

The Real Danger

They call it the entering wedge for fascism--the bitter opponents of the reorganization bill passed yesterday by the Senate. But at its best that argument seems to us to be somewhat hysterical, and at its worst a good deal less than ingenuous.

As a matter-of-fact, it is impossible to know how else any genuine reorganization can ever be brought about than through a blanket mandate to the President. There is not a single one of the vast host of bureaus and agencies which a considerable group of Congressmen does not have pressing reason to desire to see perpetuated--either in the interest of their constituencies or patronage. Indeed, the abolition of any agency at all, the elimination of a single job, means that for every Congressman the opportunities to solidify his position through patronage is by that much reduced. Hence, to expect that Congress could ever actually work out of detailed scheme of reorganization is to expect what the whole record of Congress shows to be impossible.

The great danger here is not that too much will be done, but that too little will be done. President Roosevelt has been proclaiming his belief in reorganization of departments already in his power--in the placing of the great body of the employees of these departments under civil service--for five years now, but he has done exactly nothing about it.

Ludlowism in France

The French Chamber of Deputies has passed a measure which would require all members of that body and the Senate under 40 to serve as active soldiers in any war they declared. They would be required to resign their seats in the Parliament and serve the national defense in one arm or another.

The idea here seems to be the same naive idea that actuated our own proposed Ludlow Amendment, which would require a popular referendum before any declaration of war--i.e., the idea that it will serve to prevent war. But it is immensely unlikely that either measure would work out so in practice. Declarations of war amount to little nowadays, and the President, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy (a power he obviously must retain), can create a de facto state of war at will. And there is no reason whatever to believe that the French deputies and senators are cowards whose concern for their own skins would halt a declaration of war when they honestly felt it necessary.

On the other hand, both measures undoubtedly give the dictators a false idea of the weakness of the democracies, and so really make war more likely. And, moreover, the French measure would call for a complete new government--made up mainly of raw and inexperienced hands--at a moment of the greatest crisis.

Power of Suggestion

Only five of the states electrified more farm homes during the past year than North Carolina. It is true that North Carolina had and still has by far more farm homes lacking electricity than the average of the states; nevertheless, it is going energetically about the business of catching up and now excels all other Southern states in the percentage of the farm homes which are electrified.

And the remarkable part of it is that most of the new lines have been built by the power companies rather than at the expense of the taxpayers. The Rural Electrification Administration in Washington has administered the money for little more than a tenth of the construction, and municipalities have strung a few hundred miles. But the great bulk of the work has been undertaken by the power companies, at their own expense, in the hope, we take it, of profit for themselves.

And--ah!--when you hitch the stimulus of governmental precept to the force of the profit motive, you have a combination that gets things done painlessly, for cash, and not necessarily by altering the economic system under which this country has grown great. It's a formula that ought to be patented.

The Dangerous Game

Despite the assurances of Ambassador Kennedy and company, the prospect of the ultimate avoidance of the general war in Europe seems pretty poor. For consider--

Last week, Mussolini, through his chief stooge newspapers, warned France to stay out of Spain under threat of precisely that general war. The French Government hasn't a single soldier in Spain. There are Frenchmen there, certainly, but they are as genuinely volunteers as the Americans with the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. On the other hand, Italy has somewhere around 100,000 soldiers there--representing regular detachments of the Italian army, and sent there, with full equipment, at Mussolini's direct order.

In short, Mussolini claims for himself the right which he denies to another first-rate power. France can destroy Franco within a week if she chooses. And she has every reason to believe that Mussolini's determination to take over the unhappy Peninsula constitutes a very grave threat to her national safety. But Mussolini bets on the hunch that she is so anxious to avoid war that she will not fight. Perhaps not, just yet. But the appetite of the dictators is necessarily insatiable. After Spain there will be an endless succession of other Spains. Soon or late France and Britain will have to choose between accepting the status of second-rate powers or calling their bluff. Soon or late, they will certainly call it. And when they do, the dictators will have no choice but war. For to back down would simply mean their destruction at home.

Back to the Greeks

Albert Einstein is out with a new book in which he suggests that physicists are about ready to abandon the notion of "matter" as the fundamental reality of nature. Rather, he is tempted to believe, there may be "a connection between the world of phenomena and the world of ideas." And the great final reality is probably the electro-magnetic field. The earth is only a particularly intense electro-magnetic field, and perhaps even we ourselves are only dense, perambulating "fields" too.

All of which would undoubtedly delight various Greek gentlemen whose bones have been whitening for 2,500 years. For, apparently, this is the same notion of which Anaximander, of Miletus, and Democritus, of Abdera, had some dim inkling.

But perhaps it is a bit over-rash to be sure even yet of discovering the "ultimate reality of nature." Having built and destroyed a dozen explanations of the phenomenal universe, we have at length got our speculations pretty well back to the Greeks. But beyond the monad and the solid atom, there always lay, as Goethe thought, a residue of ineluctable mystery. And perhaps it will still lie beyond "the field," as well. Democritus, to us, in addition to his atomic notions, had another notion, also. Our senses give us knowledge of phenomena, he said, only insofar as they affect us, and so it may be that we shall never "know" the "true" shape of things at all. And when you look at it, it does not seem the least plausible notion the Greeks had.

A Gentle Hand

Dr. Roosevelt probably never has soliloquized about the times being out of joint and the cursed spite that saw him born to set them right. He is supposed to thrive on crisis; and the theory is not illogical, for he has precipitated many a one. Sometimes we think that if he had remained content merely to dispose of those that materialized, it would have been better for all hands.

There is no disputing that his administration's conduct of foreign affairs in a sorely troubled period has been admirable. There has been a certain deftness, a knowing how, an assurance which appear, at any rate, to have been lacking in the conduct of domestic affairs. This Mexican business, the expropriation of oil properties, is a case in point.

It is a situation which under the inept heavy-handedness of the old dollar diplomacy could have had its grave complications. But does Dr. Roosevelt order out the marines and dispatch ultimatums to Cardenas? He does not. He simply whispers to Henry Morgenthau to let the price of silver, which is important to Mexico's economy, drop a few pennies as an alarming foretaste of what might happen, and then sits back in the expectation that Mexico will come a-running to propose on its own initiative some appropriate payment for the oil steal.

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