A mediated reality

Lippmann re: society being too large for anyone to know everything that goes on in it. [(public-opinion, citation-needed)]

On the variety of human experience in small states

The world no longer crosses an author’s path. He must go out of his way and discover it indirectly and laboriously from encyclopaedias and monographs, or from the writings of other hard-working students. If he can afford it, he keeps a staff of researchers who do the learning and experiencing for him without knowing what all their work is for, while he himself does nothing but act as the mechanical computer of the figures which are fed into his system and whose results are as much of a surprise to him as to anybody.

breakdown-of-nationsp. 122

tl;dr: Philosophers in small states—ancient Greeks, ancient Chinese—had so much wisdom to dispense because they interacted directly and regularly with all aspects of lived reality in their societies.

A small state has the same governmental problems as the most monumental power on earth, ever, as a small circle has the same number of degrees as a large one. But what in the latter cannot be discerned by an army of statisticians and specialized interpreters, could be perceived by every leisurely stroller in ancient Athens. As a result, if we really want to go to the bottom of things, we have even today no other recourse after having tried Harvard and Oxford than to take down from their dusty shelves Plato or Aristotle. Indeed, the worth of Harvard and Oxford lies largely in the fact that they keep on their shelves the great men of little states.

Yet these were no supermen. The secret of their wisdom was that they lived in a small society that displayed all the secrets of life before everybody’s eyes. They saw each problem not as a giant part of an unsurveyable tableau, but as a fraction of the composite picture to which it belonged. Philosophers, as also poets and artists, were by nature universal geniuses because they always saw the totality of life in its full richness, variety, and harmony without having to rely on secondhand information or to resort to superhuman efforts. Without going out of their way or making a special job of it, they could witness in a day’s passing jealousy, murder, rape, magnanimity, and bliss. Their life was a constant participation in human and political passions. It was not spent in modern one-dimensional incestuous intercourse with individuals sharing one’s own interests, but in daily contact with everybody ranging from peasant wenches to rulers. As a result, they could write as competently on the subtleties of political doctrines as on the nature of the universe or the tribulations of love. And the characters they created in marble or in verse were not synthetic carriers of mass issues but human beings so full, true, and earthly that their unsurpassable veracity still captivates our imagination.

breakdown-of-nationsp. 124

<> Axial Age philosophers (at a time when the military-coinage-industrial complex kicked into full swing) in debt?

What have the Romans ever done for us?

[The Romans] had administrators, strategists, road builders, and amassers of stones in giant structures whose forms could be designed by every two-year-old playing in the sand. They had great law-givers and masters of government, but so had the Huns.

breakdown-of-nationsp. 125

As far as true culture was concerned, they obtained what they did from Greeks, Jews, or other members of small, disunited, and quarrelsome tribes whom they bought on the slave markets like chattels and who lectured and mastered them like the barbarians they were.

breakdown-of-nationsp. 125


debt Graeber, David. 2014. Debt, Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years. Melville House. ↩︎ 1

breakdown-of-nations Kohr, Leopold. 1978. The Breakdown of Nations. Dutton. ↩︎ 1 2 3 4