Friday, January 27, 2006

Tonight's thesis

So I've been forbidden from writing anymore about Behavioral econ, which suits me just fine. Even though I was going to write about how there's a theory that the ultimatum game and the dictator game, two tenets of Behavioral economics that are used as prime examples of it, might actually turn out to be extremely rational. Well whatever, I was pretty much going to plagiarize from a bunch of Economist articles anyway.

Otherwise I've got nothing much to write about. Except about how I have no imagination, which I of course blame on my society. I think we're going through a period now that, although everyone keeps touting as revolutionary and unprecedented, will be remembered as extremely uninventive. The easiest example is looking at contemporary movies. Some recent box office hits have been King Kong, Chronicles of Narnia, Pride and Prejudice. These are obviously remakes of older books and/or movies. This seems to be a trend currently, with very few exceptions, especially compared to other times, such as the end of the 19th century, with works of art such as those by Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, that guy who wrote Treasure Island, Tolkien, etc. Great. That took me nowhere.

Actually, as most of you know, my subsitute for Morandi's here is reading history books, a majority of which are of the middle ages. So here's my thesis for tonight: in my opinion we're going through another form of Middle Ages. That period of history also known as the Dark Ages, where everything seemed to be at a standstill. The first piece of evidence for this is our subconscious obsession with the middle ages: the infatuation with LOTR, Harry Potter, Narnia and other Medieval-style stories. Star Wars movies needs scenes of grand armies approaching and fighting each other on huge scales over vast terrains; just as tear-jerkers use the concept of love as a feeling that can destroy as much as it rebuilds, which first came about in the middle ages.

Right away I guess people will say that nowadays we are advancing at an extremely rapid pace and are having new inventions so quickly that it is hard to keep up. This is true, but tell this to someone who grew up expectantly in the 60's, and has not yet been able to see the promised colonies on the moon, or the flying cars. Instead we have Ipods and telephony. It's true that we are advancing rapidly as, they did for that matter, during the middle ages, but I think it will take a new Renaissance for us to find real revolutionary uses for these advances.

During the Middle Ages everyone was very religious, and now we aren't, right? Well the ones who are most religious (as in, fanatical, such as Bible-belters and Islamists) are not the ones bringing improvements to life. But that's the wrong way to see it. Fundamental islamists are like the Circoncellians, giving one final push to promote their way of life, as the Bible-belters could be the Cathars, offering a religion that is “Born again” to people who can accept it. And on the other side we find left-wing “anti-religionists” who, like the old “populist” clergy, is quick to denounce the new Cathars for their moral absolutes, but when confronted with racism, the environment and (of course) globalization, will only accept absolute truths, displaying the puritan mentality so prominent in the United States yet so denied by these same Americans.
So the absolutes will go both ways, as contradas, towns and fiefdoms refused to accept the values of their neighbors 1000 years ago. Certain groups will say religion is the biggest difference between these two ages, while opposing groups will say it is the moral degradation, as Dominicans and Franciscans argued in the past. On the other hand, what is the difference between Joan of Arc and Che Guevara; both rallying populaces against evil occupiers and dying in the process? And pop singers and movie stars are the new saints: the non-elite who achieve power through their efforts (usually of charisma) and become our models of behavior.

We observe these models not by reading about what they think, but through visualization. Our movies and special effects are mediums that reach the population as bright, colorful paintings and stained glass did in the middle ages. Both have messages to convey and lessons to teach, and both will denounce the feudal lords. These lords own great palaces, which common people can enter and admire, but where the top and more inaccessible quarters are reserved for the lords themselves. Whether we mean the Sforzesco Castle or Trump tower makes no difference.

The middle ages were a time when people were more likely to visit Jerusalem than the villages in an adjacent valley. As more New Yorkers today will visit Paris than Poughkeepsie.

Monasteries used to be closed-off communities, surrounded by barbarous alien people, and in which monks used to spend their days shut off from the real world, with their noses in their books, trying to achieve some sort of Utopia. Academic institutions of modern times perform the same function, and the neo-marxist utopia being sought today remains just as elusive as Thomas More's. Judging by history, in that case, while some ideas of the new rebirth will take place within these walls, the vast majority will only take hold within the least expected corners of society, among people trying merely to carry on with their own lives. From these areas, therefore, we must expect the new renaissance.