Monday, October 30, 2017

Blame Theopompus for Herostratus!

The National Geographic History magazine always provides engaging perspective, as in The Temple Of Wonder by Francisco Javier Murcia (Nov/Dec/'17), which relates that the legendary Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in Asia Minor), one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, was burned to the ground in 356 B.C., not by an enemy religion or empire, but by one man named Herostratus.  Murcia writes that Herostratus "confessed under torture that he had only started the fire because he wanted his name to be known across the world for having destroyed this most famous of buildings."

Herostratus is a familiar type today: a man (they are mostly men) so desperate to be noticed that all other considerations - such as the grief and pain of others- are dismissed.  

The need to be noticed, however, is not the motive we look for in today's mass vandals and killers.  The motive we look for is hatred. That is why we have been unable to figure out, for instance, the motive of the man who killed 58 people in Las Vegas on October 1. There were no online hate rantings in his internet record, no obvious incidents in his life that expressed particular types of rage.  It might be that rage was not the dominant motivator for this man.  Could his motive have been the same as Herostratus'? Did he anticipate a posthumous world in which his name would be broadcast to humanity for weeks and weeks, then recorded with his deed for posterity?

The Ephesians recognized the problem and, unsuccessfully, attempted a solution:

The Ephesians tried to punish [Herostratus] by publishing a decree that his name be wiped from all records.  But their efforts were in vain. Theopompus, a historian of the time, wrote down the story of Herostratus and helped preserve his name to this day.

Theopompus should be the patron saint of journalism.  In its pursuit of ratings, the media gives today's Herostratus's exactly what they want. No one is too undeserving to be transformed into a notorious icon. Consider the pastor of a small church in Florida, who in 2010 burned a Koran.  His action was filmed by reporters (whom he had summoned) and broadcast to every country in the world, repeatedly, for weeks- a grossly disproportionate response to the event, considering the discord it generated.

At this point I must apologize to the reader for an abrupt change of tone, following a visit from my companion Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster (his show-name) who trudged into my study a few minutes ago and started a telepathic conversation:

Harry, I think you should extend your discussion of media induced violence to include manipulation from third parties who want to start wars.  The media didn't promote the Koran burner just to bump ratings.

Robert, you were reading my thoughts outside my house before you came in. You know I don't like that.

Sorry, I can't help it.  Gilas consider it impolite to bar other gilas from their thoughts.

Don't you have any secrets?

What kind of question is that?  I'm supposed to say we have no secrets?  If I had a secret, I certainly wouldn't tell you.

Robert can be exhausting, but I felt he had a point about my thesis. Media portrayal of international relations is critical for every nation's foreign policy.  We should be as sensitive to third party influence on media as we are to elected officials taking bribes. 

I had an idea.

Robert, in the interest of cross-species understanding, I'm inviting you to collaborate with me on the ending of this piece.  Do you think I have enough supporting evidence for my thesis, which is that media promotes mass murder by making the perpetrators famous?

I thought the thesis was that every time someone builds a temple, someone else wants to tear it down.

That's a related thesis.

Must every element in the piece relate to one thesis?


The human race has OCD!

Robert, I'm just asking you how you think I should end this piece.

End it?  You've boxed yourself in with typical human juvenilia like "thesis," "beginning, middle and end," and all that.  Why must a collection of thoughts end,
and why must it stay focused on one "thesis"? What a waste.  In gila communication, every segment of thought is its own thesis. Every thesis relates to every other thesis. Maybe I'd understand your way if gilas communicated in writing, but we're not interested in it.  We find your writing, and in fact your human language, unnecessarily complex and circuitous.  

That's really nice, Robert.  I'm happy for you and all the wise gilas.  I am writing in human style though, so I'm not just going to conclude with some random idea.

That's another thing, continued Robert, tenacious as ever, Why does your concept of "random" have a negative connotation?  Every event is random. The universe is random.  What's the point of the concept?

Ok, ok, we'll try it your way!  As a trans-conscious experiment, I will end on a gila inspired random note.  How about a quotation?

Go for it.  

I thought for a while, googled on my computer, then found what I thought was a suitably random quote from French novelist Michel Houellebecq:  

Good binds while evil unravels. Separation is another word for evil; it is also another word for deceit.

I gave Robert a look.

Is that random enough for you, Robert?

You're getting there, he conceded.

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