“Mercury, Argos and Io” by Abraham Bloemaert, circa 1592. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Argos Panoptes, the many-eyed giant of Greek mythology, is invoked by Josiah Ober to warn a slumbering citizenry of the danger of tyranny. “Vigilance and readiness to respond,” Ober warns, are the duties of a participating citizenry if they wish to preserve their democracy from the ever-present risk of elite capture. Argos “was bewitched into slumber and then killed in his sleep by the trickster-god Hermes at the behest of tyrannical Zeus.” A vigilant citizenry, Ober cautions, “must not be lulled into sleepy inattention by rhetorical incantations.”[i]
In times of crisis, paternalistic demagogues promise salvation in the name of the people. Mercury—Rome’s patron god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, and trickery—stands in for Hermes in many depictions of Argos’ slumber and demise.
What happens when the delegated authority of elected representatives—delegation being a necessity of a large and complex modern state—is captured by elites to legislate in their own interests and against the common interests of the people? What happens when the sovereignty of the people is co-opted and democracy is corrupted? (more…)
The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates. Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520). (Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.)
It is difficult to see beyond the reality of war. It is easy to believe that war is natural, destined, inescapable—a matter of fate. There is some question of whether in Greek mythology even Zeus could command the three Moirai, or fates, that spun the thread of life (Clotho), determined our lot in life (Lachesis), and chose the manner of our death (Atropos). The Moirai personified a harsh reality, an uncompromising truth, a grim inevitability.
That ancient cosmology is an example of what evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) called a “meme”—a self-perpetuating cultural belief, symbol, or practice that persists through ritual regardless of the harm it does. Another such meme “that can infect any society,” observes John Horgan, is “militarism—the culture of war” (The End of War, p. 102). (more…)
Portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrea, 1750.
Weary of the litany of yet another clownish politician invoking the Founding Fathers of the country without acknowledging Founding Mothers, I wrote down the following list of exceptional women who should be given no less credit for the formation of the soul and character of the nation.
The list parts from two premises: 1) following Mark Twain, the belief that political institutions are only a small part of the life of a country; and 2) that unless you are the goddess Athena, sprung motherless from Zeus’ brow, all human beings and activities can trace their origins back not only to fathers, but also mothers.
Borges once said that all lists immediately compel the memory of names and things that are left out of the list. He implied that the true purpose of lists is precisely to highlight the names of people and things that have been left out. In that spirit, and with no conviction of being complete or exclusive, the following personal minimal list is offered: (more…)
Perseus with the Head of Medusa; bronze statue by Benvenuto Cellini.
Drones in the insect world are fast flying male bees with big eyes but no stinger. Hatched from haploid eggs, they make sperm cells instead of honey. They drift about to find a virgin queen and fertilize her with explosive force, which results in their own death. The drones of ant and wasp colonies serve a similar purpose.
Mechanical drones are robots with stingers. They are programmed and guided by humans instead of by instinct. Unmanned aerial vehicles come in various sizes and configurations, although they are usually downsized fighting machines. They have evolved over a century and a half from bomb-laden balloons, pilotless aerial torpedoes, and remotely controlled airplanes.
Armed drones are used today by the U.S. military overtly and the CIA covertly to smite terrorists. They are named Predator and Reaper. They carry Hellfire missiles and are equipped with the optics of a Gorgon Stare. Unarmed Ravens are small enough to maneuver through city streets by night or day to spot and target terrorists lying in ambush.