Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Montaigne For President

The headlines these past couple weeks have left many of us feeling captivated and concerned by what may happen next. Even those who don’t typically lend an ear to current events have been gripped by the stories of turmoil in Japan and the Middle East. A 9.0 earthquake triggering a 10-meter high tsunami traveling at jet speeds is not something you hear everyday. The last time the earth shook like that was in the 18th century. What about civil war? With rebel groups rising in Libya, the Middle East and North Africa region just got a little hotter, and it’s causing the rest of the world to sweat.

You see, the world is flat now. Everything is connected. Not just by technology, but advances in environmental sciences have raised awareness that our human actions effect the entire world. You can’t just go around spraying DDT in the atmosphere any longer. With that we’re more aware of each other, even across hemispheres. There’s been the growing fear of the rising radiation levels coming from the tidal wave battered nuclear reactors in Japan. All we can do is continue to read the news, hoping we’re not next on nature’s list…

There’s perhaps a better way to grasp these things we cannot control. Look back.

History is the greatest tool in seeing into the future. As the centuries have passed, people have been through the most devastating hardships and disasters one can imagine- yet still we’re here. Just as many people do in these difficult times, past generations made rash decisions out of fear of the unknown. People are naturally afraid of change, therefore when it happens they abandon their reason. Not all did this, though. French philosopher Michel de Montainge was a voice of sensibility in an otherwise shaken world.

Writing his essays during the 16th century, Montaigne was living in a world of war, disease, and polarizing religious reform. Many people were predicting the end times, but Montaigne kept his cool. He sat in his study and thought about the problems the world saw, and he came up with logical responses. Driven by “Stoicism,” based on rational principles, he writes his essays in an enjoyable and often funny way. While reading, one can see into the Renaissance with no disdain for its “age.”

He would’ve made an excellent blogger.

It’s true though, that too many abandon their calm and resort to methods that are out of control. If we all had a little bit of Montaigne in us we would have self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-control. We would also learn a lot about how much he loves books and the company of beautiful women, but that’s a different story.

-Eric Hawkinson

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