"Those who apply themselves too closely to little things often become incapable of great things." Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reflections of a Humanistic Deflation

"Liberty is illusory when behaviors take the same forms and seek to conform to the same images."- Tzvetan Todorov, The Imperfect Garden

“There is comfort in consensus; those in the majority gain confidence from their very number.” - Seth Klarman, Margin of Safety

The Renaissance humanistic movement, gave liberty to the principal that man himself is the cause of both his misfortunes and fortunes.  Virtu was the name given to this principle that was the precursor to American self-reliance.  Contra virtu was fortuna, or arbitrary fate; the whimsical earthly forces.  Leon Battista Alberti, the classic Renaissance man, reasoned that virtu was synonymous with humanitas:

     "...a humane, prudent, wise and virtuous form of behavior, which, thoughtfully 
      planned, can be adjusted by subtle intuition to fit into the play of all earthly forces..."

Leon Battista Alberti

Humanitas, or as we know it today humanities ultimately seeks to understand the human condition through the a historic, speculative, multicultural and self-detached look at modes and methods of societies.  The importance of such understanding is the development of a maturity in reasoning, that allows us to self-direct our lives, and achieve the highest degree of self-autonomy through mutually evolving inter-dependence.  

Such an understanding is not a secondary recreational charm.  The basic understanding of civilized existence is fundamental to the use of science, to the policy of governments, to the trends in popular culture, and to the progressive collaboration of human cultures.  Humanities gives us the answers and the questions that seek noble intentions, and helps us define what noble intentions consist of.

Most of us fight an internal battle between subjective longings and inflexible roots of inherited beliefs.  The battle is one we must all have.  The humanistic body of knowledge allows us to speculate, critique, and perhaps reform beliefs that no longer lead us to where and how we choose to live.  

When in modern times our choices seem few...When the vast majority of thought goes either left or right into ancient buckets dogma...When we simply choose a team and follow the herd chanting and repeating the hand-me-down cheers of a group...their is reason for fear.  Their is reason to believe that the humanities are needed more than ever, and that without them we will blindly lead ourselves into decadence.

Their is also reason for hope.  Their is reason for hope, but a need for courage.  Courage pollinates itself in many ways.  The seeds of it can be laid at any moment.  Only courage and its compatriot boldness can lead us towards pastures of green.  They can lead us to personal fulfillment and collective progress.

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