Would you rather have lived in the Roman society you described in you last blog entry?
The bathing culture, the corporeal and intellectual luxuriousness in the of the Epicureans, the international and cosmopolitan global culture, the bilingualism (you had to be able to speak both Greek and Latin), even the polytheism with its arcane Mysteries and cult rituals, impress me deeply; some of that would be worth emulating even today.
On the other hand the city was full of noise, violence, and filth, even when the latrine-service and systems for delivering fresh- or removing waste-water were well-managed. Yet the everyday violence confronting the citizens, not only in the streets but also in the Circus and entertainments of the theater, was overpowering. Likewise the authoritarian political system and the imperialistic politics of conquest would not have received my vote. Aside from that, I’m far more likely to have been a Greek slave sent to Rome, than as a member of the wealthy aristocracy.
Why do you concern yourself with this world and its society?
Because in my mind, much of the world of my present—of our present—is the same. Because questions are posed and answered that are still valid today. Here is a great luxuriousness, an irresponsible profligacy in resources and abilities. There is the slave’s existence of prisoners of war and the lower classes, mercilessly given over to the whims of their rulers. Here is war and trauma, complains the historian Tacitus in the 1st century CE, there the baths and restaurants.
Aside from that we find a disorientation of worldviews, a general confusion concerning thought and the image of happiness, truth, wisdom, or love: exactly as in our present. Likewise the most extreme subjugation to economic thinking and material compulsions, or the fallen state of pleasure, desire, enjoyment, and distraction, repeat themselves.
Even the subject of love and sexuality should, in this context, be rethought. Love not in the sense of the Christian caritas, caring—that will remain in my view as a necessity in all societal forms of the future. Rather, love in the sense of the difference of the sexes. What is a man, what is a woman? Or expressed in the manner of the Taoist: how much of a man, how much of a woman, am I? Can I be?
What does the difference between the sexes mean, exactly? Is there such a thing at all? I’m certain of it. Even if there are only robots and bred—or cloned—life-forms still around us. Man and woman and something in between will, perhaps as a model, survive.
The Classical sexual mores were in any case wholly different from ours. Not so determinate on separation and dogmatic fixation, but rather a sort of pan-sexuality in the Freudian sense. Sexuality was mostly a very self-centered, egotistical men’s affair, only in the sense of desiring lust for its own sake and, perhaps, to sire children. Women of the Roman upper class were quite emancipated and secure. All other women, however, were mostly pure childbearing-machines or lust-objects.
I don’t mean to say that I find this situation good or exemplary. But we should consider how we should—and how we eventually will—deal with the questions of compulsory homosexuality or compulsory heterosexuality, with the subject of lust/alienation/animals (mostly positively conceived, as a symbol of nature versus machines), and human beings: when is a human being human? What does it mean to be human, communicate as a human, survive as human?
Likewise the whence, whither, muss wherefore be reexamined. These questions are permanently suppressed in our present happy and quotidian delirium of affluence, dissipation, or lust. Possibly because they can’t be answered and thus necessitate discussion and debate. They are already rejected by certain philosophical quarters or groups of particular convictions as frivolous or impermissible, indeed even sick and pathological.
We are speaking, to be clear, of finding a common way forward in planning for the future; with which words, questions, sentences should such old and timeless problems be reconsidered? What is Truth and Justice? To which god(s) do I offer sacrifice, upon which altar?—There in the office, at the stock exchange, in the peep-show, as mother, politician, sexist, bowling partner, soldier?—All of this was also a subject of Classical culture, and the philosophical schools provided answers that are wholly worthy of debate in the present age. Even the extreme positions and conceptions of the Cynics.
The hundred-year-old signposts of Marxism or some timeless religion have turned out to be fruitless for many people, perhaps even as politically inhumane.
So what now?
Are the full refrigerators, all these life-forms ready any moment for fun, joy, or sex, all these exciting promises of adventure of the computer and film industries, these beautiful romantic nights and falling-in-love with divine princes and princesses, are they enough?
Just now I’m discussing with my wife just such a heavenly pairing, of which we have just heard. And we think about all the heavenly children, that must result from just such a heavenly pairing.