Thursday, October 29, 2015
Thomas Pakenham's The Boer War is the history of the twentieth century's first war. In this remote corner of Africa, the set-piece battle of the imperial period gave way to methods of the guerrilla, to the tactics of the trench. The British shipped-off to Natal, the Transvaal, the Cape Colony, and the Free State, unprepared for what they would encounter. It was to be a "walk-over." "Christmas in Pretoria," they said. Yet, out on the veld, British troops were ill-prepared for the costs the Boers would hazard. Only by subjugating women and children, and, yes, even the land, could the British steamroller achieve victory.
Pakenham can rightly be criticized for his marginalization of the native population. Too often armies and commandos march and slip across the landscape; invisible are the inhabitants whose very lives and livelihoods hung in the balance of the conflict. Yet, this oversight is all the more apparent because the fighting feels so fresh, so present. The Boers and the British ushered in a new age of destruction, to be fully realized at Verdun and the Somme.
Though the British would prove victorious, the Boer War marked the end of the colonial period in South Africa. The peace brokered set the stage for the country's independence, a few years later. Pakenham's story, sometimes too often of military might and back-room politics, recounts the first hints that a global order was in retreat. Similarly, this account can be read as a somewhat bygone mode of history. Nevertheless, the humanity and savagery of the Boers and the British, and the lessons which Pakenham draws from it, resonate still.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Prisig's answer to the modern feeling of alienation requires that we turn that feeling upon itself; in essence both using this pre-intellectual awareness as an entry point and holding it up for interrogation. Alienation is born from the awareness that our lived context - the social world we inhabit - is somehow unsatisfactory. Yet, our thought context does not readily provide us with the tools to interrogate and voice such dissatisfaction. This was the germ for the counter-cultural movement, for consciousness-expanding practices and narcotics, for the draw of charismatic religions and religious figures; each taps into a subtle but pervasive discontent with acceptable expressions of how our minds relate to the social world we inhabit. Like a muscle, a particular perspective on the world is strengthened or weakened by use. If we do not ignore the pre-intellectual awareness of discontent, if it serves as the foundation to build modes of thought unrecognized in narrow rationality, then people might learn to see differently.
But the sense of alienation cannot simply be overcome by the imposition of a new thought program. The psychic relationship between care and thought context must recognize that care is related to thought. Expressed in the world, care is the flip-side of Pirsig's Quality. Care in thought and action is both reinforced by Quality and helps to generate Quality in the world. The relationship between thought context and care is, for Pirsig, primarily defined in regards to its treatment of Quality - as it exists within the individual, within the world, and within the relationship between the two. Right thought comes from right attitudes Its having the right attitudes that is hard.
"Don't worry... Keep going!"