Friday, May 22, 2009

Later than now

I'm reading a scholarly recreation of the mind of Thomas Jefferson. The author essentially uses historical documentation and a really flimsy, seemingly biased folk psychology to recreate the framework of what and how Jefferson might have thought about the events and actions of his life. He's clearly got the Jefferson scholarship done and done, but the lack of an academic or clinical background in psychology makes his use of them very thin. One of the problems is trying to get in Jefferson's head without taking up his perspective.

There is a psychological explanation for pscyho or sociopathic behavior, whatever you care to call it. Violent behavior has an explanation. It's not always seen as valid from the social perspective, but given enough information, especially if that information is selected to exclude the most contentious time of a person's life, you can get any amount of vicious or vituperative behavior to seem rational. Not that Jefferson was a sociopath, but he sure did, said, and wrote some tough stuff to swallow. Some things that echo through the hallways of time and also the Bush/Cheney presidency, most obviously but among other things as well.
Say that time during the early days of you're national government, when you were on the verge of treason, or that time when you turned on one of your closest friends, and tacitly authorized media tactics that would make Fox News Blush. Being one of the founding fathers, people might immitate you (and recreate those bad habits [if not properly seen and identified]).

So that's the problem with that. But it's still useful and full of interesting information and Herculian psychological hoops to jump through to validate the man's clear disregard for the practical outcomes of his radical ideals (I was gonna use the word fanatic, but I somehow feel radical is a better, more ambivalent word).

Good read. American Sphinx. That's the title. Also almost half-way into Weber's essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Dense, early sociology. Very much a kind of philosophic history about the connection between the Reformation and the rise of Capitalism. Amazingly presentient even now almost a hundred years later. And fascinating for its ideas and sociological proofs about how capitalism came to replace feudalism and the nascent mercantilism. It gained a religious undertone. One that Weber admits has mostly washed away (by 1909ish [when he wrote the book]). Kinda scary, huh?


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