The Cost of Being Great

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The Cost of Being Great

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Sun Mar 19, 2017 8:12 pm

We've been hearing so much about making America great again, that I have begun to wonder: How will we know if the effort has succeeded? What does it mean for an individual or a nation to be great? So, I'm hoping people will contribute their ideas as to what that means. For me, an individual or nation is great if it achieves laudable goals. To make greatness itself the goal appears to me to be a vicious circle. I append herewith the examples of France and Napoleon, as seen in literature.

General de Gaulle wrote:...in my mind, France cannot be France without greatness.


Général de Gaulle, Mémoires de guerre, p. 5

Just a brief comment: France's attempt to regain its "grandeur" after World War II, led to ten years of bloody war in Viet Nam, during which (November 23, 1946, to be exact), the French navy, using American-supplied weaponry, killed 6000 Vietnamese civilians in Haiphong in a single day. In the end, the flower of the French army was decimated by the Viet Minh, and France retired in 1954, leaving the place to the tender care of the Americans, who didn't fare any better over the next two decades.

Victor Hugo wrote: For his father, the emperor had been no more than the beloved military leader whom people admired and to whom they were devoted; for Marius, he was something more. He was the predestined founder of the French Empire that succeeded the Roman Empire in ruling the world. He was the stupendous architect of the collapse of a regime, the successor to Charlemagne, Louis XI, Henri IV, Richelieu, Louis XIV, and the Committee of Public Safety, having of course his blemishes, his faults, and even his crime, that is to say, being human; but he was dignified in his faults, spectacular in his blemishes, and mighty in his crime. He was the man of destiny who had compelled all nations to say: the great nation. He was yet more; he was the very personification of France, conquering Europe by the sword that he held and the world by the splendor that he radiated. Marius saw in Bonaparte the dazzling vision that will always appear on the horizon to possess the future. He was a despot, but also a dictator; a despot who arose from a republic and consolidated a revolution. For him, Napoleon became the incarnation of humanity, just as Jesus is the incarnation of God.


Victor Hugo, Les misérables, Part 3, Book 3

Victor Hugo wrote: ...to cause galaxies of victories to burst forth continually at the summit of the ages, to present the French Empire as the successor to the Roman Empire, to be the great nation and to create la grande armée, to send his legions soaring over all the world, as a mountain sends out its eagles in all directions, to conquer, to dominate, to devastate, to be in Europe a people gilded with glory, to sound down the corridors of history a fanfare of titans, to conquer the world twice, by force of arms and by splendor, that is sublime; what could be greater?


Victor Hugo, Les misérables, Part 3, Book 4 (speech by Marius Pontmorency)

So much for the French point of view. For a point of view opposed to that of the great French novelist, we turn to a great Russian novelist, whose country looked at Napoleon from the other side.

Leo Tolstoy wrote:Then, when it becomes no longer possible to stretch such elastic threads of historical reasoning any farther, when an action becomes manifestly opposed to that which all humanity regards as virtue and even justice, the saving concept of greatness arises among the historians. Greatness seems to exclude the possibility of any standard of right and wrong. For a great man, there is nothing evil. There is no enormity that could ever be charged against a man who is great.

"C'est grand!" say the historians, and then there is no longer right and wrong, only great and not great. Great is right; not-great is wrong. Great[ness] is, in their view, a property possessed by particular beings whom they call heroes. And Napoleon, wearing a warm overcoat and fleeing homeward away from the dying men who were not only his comrades but whom (as he thought) he had led to that place, had a sense of "que c'est grand," and there was peace in his soul.

"From the sublime (he sees something sublime in himself) to the ridiculous is but a single step," he says. And for 50 years, the whole world will be repeating, "Sublime! Great! Napoleon the Great!" From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a single step.

And it will never occur to anyone that to take greatness, which cannot be measured, as the standard of right and wrong is only a confession of one's own insignificance and wretched meanness.

For us, with the standard of right and wrong given to us by Christ, there is nothing that cannot be measured. And there is no greatness where there is no simplicity, virtue, and truth.


L.N. Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book IV, Part III, Chapter XVII

Donald Trump wrote:MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN


Slogan of the Donald Trump campaign in 2016, sewn into caps made in China, Bangladesh, and Viet Nam.


I repeat my question in this new context: What would greatness mean in an America led by Donald Trump?

Shall we look at the price paid by others for Napoleon's greatness? If we count only the dead bodies, ignoring the poverty and misery caused to the living by the selfless devotion of certain people to a man utterly unworthy of it, we can figure that, in the course of a few dozen famous battles, well over a million people had their lives violently cut short ad maiorem Napoleonis gloriam. It is probable that the same number were maimed for life in the same cause, all for nationalistic glory, for the pleasure of devastating other nations, as Victor Hugo so tactfully phrases it.

So, if America is going to be great again, I want to know what the greatness will consist of, and mainly what it will cost.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby TJrandom » Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:47 am

I don`t know about the `again`..., but for great, I`d be looking for the various satisfaction surveys, covering... happiness (Lance just posted), health, longevity, GDP/PPP, the political process, the press, etc. Plus the national investment in infrastructure (roads & bridges, airports, electrical grid, etc.), parks, etc.

It actually should cost nothing - taxes to the rescue and driving improvements which will boost the economy and those all-important taxes to make it pay for itself.

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby scrmbldggs » Tue Mar 21, 2017 4:38 am

Upton_O_Goode wrote:What would greatness mean in an America led by Donald Trump?


Spoiler:
ImageImage
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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:31 am

TJrandom wrote:I don`t know about the `again`..., but for great, I`d be looking for the various satisfaction surveys, covering... happiness (Lance just posted), health, longevity, GDP/PPP, the political process, the press, etc. Plus the national investment in infrastructure (roads & bridges, airports, electrical grid, etc.), parks, etc.

It actually should cost nothing - taxes to the rescue and driving improvements which will boost the economy and those all-important taxes to make it pay for itself.



I've seen such surveys. So maybe, without realizing it, Trump has a point, as Denmark seems to be the "greatest" country by those measures, closely followed by two or three other Scandinavian countries. The US, as I recall, is far down the list in such things as maternal survival rates. But no doubt Paul Ryan's bill will fix that. Nothing improves maternal survival better than another tax cut for the wealthy. :mrgreen:
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:32 am

scrmbldggs wrote:
Upton_O_Goode wrote:What would greatness mean in an America led by Donald Trump?


Spoiler:
ImageImage


Then we're already great here where I live. My wife and I have been growing (some, maybe 10%) of our own vegetables for 40 years. How about that! Already great, and we didn't even know it. As a Molière character said about speaking prose.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby scrmbldggs » Wed Mar 22, 2017 12:38 am

Upton_O_Goode wrote:Already great, and we didn't even know it.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg: We're not mindful enough of 'what makes America great'
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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Lance Kennedy » Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:16 am

The word 'great' as applied to political entities is ghastly.

We have numerous political leaders called "great", like Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, Napoleon the Great etc. What they all have in common is the large number of people killed by their 'great' activities. The last thing this world needs is a political leader in the USA trying to be 'great'. Personally, I think we should replace the word 'great' with the words 'mass murderer.'

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Poodle » Sun Mar 26, 2017 7:41 am

Upton_O_Goode wrote:My wife and I have been growing (some, maybe 10%) of our own vegetables for 40 years. How about that! Already great, and we didn't even know it. As a Molière character said about speaking prose.


I grow 100% of my chillis and live in Great Britain. And I'm having a great time since I retired. I must be amongst the greatest of the great. Oh - as I type this there is a Greater Spotted Woodpecker on the feeder. Absolute confirmation!

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby TJrandom » Sun Mar 26, 2017 8:16 am

Greatest of the great,,, pfffft....

We grow maybe 20% or so - with some given away to relatives and some `traded` with neighbours and acquaintances for things we do not grow - like fish, shellfish, eggs, soba, tofu... Some of what we grow we freeze, or dry, and then some we further mill to reconstitute or add as powder to soups and drinks. Next up for harvest – long onions, fava beans, and elephant garlic....

I have already started acorn squash in pots under plastic domes for transplant in a few weeks` time. The golden kiwi starts I planted last autumn have started to bud, and our many plum trees already have plums now the size of peas. I guess that makes us plum great, or maybe pea great....

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Poodle » Sun Mar 26, 2017 10:42 am

Tell that ter yooth o' terdair - ther'll never believe yer.

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Sun Mar 26, 2017 2:09 pm

Lance Kennedy wrote:The word 'great' as applied to political entities is ghastly.

We have numerous political leaders called "great", like Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, Napoleon the Great etc. What they all have in common is the large number of people killed by their 'great' activities. The last thing this world needs is a political leader in the USA trying to be 'great'. Personally, I think we should replace the word 'great' with the words 'mass murderer.'



And I think you have nailed it perfectly. That was Tolstoy's point in the OP here: Great = Amoral. Somewhere, Isaac Asimov quotes a Greek or Chinese historian dismissing one king from history because after his first successful military operation, he undertook no more and instead tried to promote domestic prosperity. Asimov commented quite acidly that the historian was not going to waste any space or time on somebody who did nothing but make people's lives better. To get yourself into the history books, you've got to get a lot of people killed. And you have to "win" when you do it.
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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Poodle » Sun Mar 26, 2017 3:05 pm

Oh - I'm not sure about that. How about "Not so Great"?
As far as the UK goes, we could have ...
Alfred the Great
Richard the Turd
Henry the Ape
Charles the Silly
Charles the Waste of {!#%@} Time and, of course ...
Edward the Iffy
Edward the Not So Great (in fact, a bit of a bastard, really).

Actually, I think we may have something here. History teaching made simple. Yep.

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Anomaly » Sun Mar 26, 2017 4:45 pm

Upton_O_Goode wrote:To get yourself into the history books, you've got to get a lot of people killed. And you have to "win" when you do it.


I think it is more about the impact a person have, rather than simply killing a lot of people. Alexander the Great was more than just your average mass murderer.

I guess "Great" relates to when the US had a strong and stabilizing working class. Optimism and shared visions of a better future.

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Poodle » Sun Mar 26, 2017 4:58 pm

Anomaly wrote:... Alexander the Great was more than just your average mass murderer.


But still killed an inordinate amount of people. Let's not allow cleverness to get in the way of facts.

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Anomaly » Sun Mar 26, 2017 5:11 pm

Poodle wrote:But still killed an inordinate amount of people. Let's not allow cleverness to get in the way of facts.


To say Alexander the Great was more than just your average mass murderer is not allowing cleverness to get in the way of facts. It is the opposite.

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Sun Mar 26, 2017 5:18 pm

Anomaly wrote:
Upton_O_Goode wrote:To get yourself into the history books, you've got to get a lot of people killed. And you have to "win" when you do it.


I think it is more about the impact a person have, rather than simply killing a lot of people. Alexander the Great was more than just your average mass murderer.

I guess "Great" relates to when the US had a strong and stabilizing working class. Optimism and shared visions of a better future.


I don't deny that both Alexander and Napoleon had ambitious plans for governing people. But their way of going about it was counterproductive and didn't survive the Great Leaders themselves. Instead of Alexander, we got three rival despotisms. Instead of Napoleon, we got a restored and decadent monarchy and a Europe determined to maintain the current regimes against all the assaults of modernity.

I agree totally with your view of when the US was great. Alas, it's in the past and probably won't come again. And certainly Trump isn't leading us in that direction.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Anomaly » Sun Mar 26, 2017 5:51 pm

Upton_O_Goode wrote:I don't deny that both Alexander and Napoleon had ambitious plans for governing people. But their way of going about it was counterproductive and didn't survive the Great Leaders themselves. Instead of Alexander, we got three rival despotisms. Instead of Napoleon, we got a restored and decadent monarchy and a Europe determined to maintain the current regimes against all the assaults of modernity.


Well.. Alexander changed the "world". Napoleon on the other hand was perhaps just making a name for himself. I could say Yay Egyptology. But I understand that history and the figures portrayed in it often stands on mountains of bodies. Yet, for the present to be, the past was a necessity.

I just don`t like to compress history into a framework of good vs evil. It is usually more complicated.

Upton_O_Goode wrote:I agree totally with your view of when the US was great. Alas, it's in the past and probably won't come again. And certainly Trump isn't leading us in that direction.


I too believe the the US will slowly decline and become a divided and troubled "house". I doubt Trump will lead America back to the "great" past it had. When saying America and great in the same sentence is seen as repulsive by Americans themselves, You more or less know it is over.

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Sun Mar 26, 2017 8:30 pm

Anomaly wrote:
Upton_O_Goode wrote:I don't deny that both Alexander and Napoleon had ambitious plans for governing people. But their way of going about it was counterproductive and didn't survive the Great Leaders themselves. Instead of Alexander, we got three rival despotisms. Instead of Napoleon, we got a restored and decadent monarchy and a Europe determined to maintain the current regimes against all the assaults of modernity.


Well.. Alexander changed the "world". Napoleon on the other hand was perhaps just making a name for himself. I could say Yay Egyptology. But I understand that history and the figures portrayed in it often stands on mountains of bodies. Yet, for the present to be, the past was a necessity.

I just don`t like to compress history into a framework of good vs evil. It is usually more complicated.

Upton_O_Goode wrote:I agree totally with your view of when the US was great. Alas, it's in the past and probably won't come again. And certainly Trump isn't leading us in that direction.


I too believe the the US will slowly decline and become a divided and troubled "house". I doubt Trump will lead America back to the "great" past it had. When saying America and great in the same sentence is seen as repulsive by Americans themselves, You more or less know it is over.



Yeah, and in fact it is pointless and facile to judge people in the past by present standards. Slavery existed for millennia, and only in the liberal-religious milieu of early modern Europe did anyone see it as an evil. It was taken for granted by the writers of the New Testament, and neither St. Paul nor Jesus ever condemned it. Paul even told slaves not to bother trying to get their freedom (probably because he thought the world was coming to an end very soon and it wouldn't be worth the trouble---they needed to focus on being "rapture-ready"). And Jesus actually used slavery in many of his parables. He neglected to tell his followers that slavery was wrong, but he was unequivocal in saying that divorce was wrong. Shows how the value systems of the gospel writers differ from those of the modern Westerner.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby ElectricMonk » Mon Mar 27, 2017 9:52 am

Percieved Greatness is mostly a question of future expectations.
I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
Spoiler:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
- Douglas Adams

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Mon Mar 27, 2017 12:39 pm

ElectricMonk wrote:Percieved Greatness is mostly a question of future expectations.



That doesn't account for the names historians have given to Alexander the Great, Gregory the Great, Alfred the Great, Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, and so on. Most of these names were conferred after the people involved were dead. I will say that Gregory is an exception. He was a skilled politician and administrator, but, as Pope, a man of peace, and a bright light during the Dark Ages. Perhaps the only "Great" in all of history who DIDN'T get a lot of people killed.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

James Lackington, Memoirs of the First Forty-five Years of the Life of James Lackington, the Present Bookseller

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby ElectricMonk » Mon Mar 27, 2017 6:40 pm

Historical greatness is strongly coupled with what we value today: in many countries, Hitler is still seen as a brilliant leader.

I think that we admire figures like the ones you mentioned for their ability to unity a number of peoples in one country/empire, when nowadays we mostly see the balkanization into smaller and smaller nations. At other times, many of these were primarily considered to be ruthless despots.

The Pax Americana will also be judged differently at various times in the future, just like the fall of the Soviet Union went from being seen as a blessing to being thought of as greatest tragedy of the 20th century, according to Putin.
I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
Spoiler:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
- Douglas Adams

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Lance Kennedy » Mon Mar 27, 2017 7:21 pm

Even though I am non religious (indeed, contemptuous of most religion), there are a few bits and pieces I admire. Among them is the comment Jesus made about being great. He said "Let he who would be greatest be servant of all."

In other words, true greatness comes from helping other people. Now, how many people think that Trump is some kind of great Christian who will set out to make American great by helping people?

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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Matthew Ellard » Tue Mar 28, 2017 12:30 am

Lance Kennedy wrote:In other words, true greatness comes from helping other people.


It goes back to the Romans. Pompey "Magnus" or "Pompey the Great" was magnanimous and awarded the name Magnus .

"magnanimous" adjective
generous or forgiving, especially towards a rival or less powerful person.


We still use Pompey's first name in celebration of his over the top triumphal shows as modern "Pomp & ceremony" :D
Pompey.jpg
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Re: The Cost of Being Great

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:15 am

Lance Kennedy wrote:Even though I am non religious (indeed, contemptuous of most religion), there are a few bits and pieces I admire. Among them is the comment Jesus made about being great. He said "Let he who would be greatest be servant of all."

In other words, true greatness comes from helping other people. Now, how many people think that Trump is some kind of great Christian who will set out to make American great by helping people?



That verse has often come to mind when I contemplate the current philosophy of the Christian Dominion people. According to them, God cares about nations more than people, and he judges nations according to how Christian they are. This is, as you point out, a travesty of everything that has made Christianity a force for good in the world.

I'm not forgetting the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the 16th-17th century Wars of Religion, which so many Christians are eager to put behind them. But on balance, Christianity has done what Electric Monk said: unified people. And it has inspired a great deal of self-sacrificial work for others (and so has humanism, which many right-wing Christians will not admit). And after dividing them over sectarian issues for some centuries, it is doing that again, wherever the Christian Dominion people are not.

That being said, I think much of the Sermon on the Mount consists of very bad advice, such as "take no thought for the morrow" and "if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out". Quite a bit of the time, Jesus was dispensing a useless Counsel of Perfection. It's one thing to renounce revenge and forgive one's enemies. Every civilized person needs to do that for the sake of an orderly society. It's quite another thing to "turn the other cheek" when someone slaps you. There's no need to do that. Even forgiveness can be overdone, to one's own psychological damage. "Moving on" and putting an insult behind you is healthy. Trying to love the person who insulted you is not (in my view) healthy. Understand them, maybe, but we need to face the fact that some people are just plain MEAN.

And Trump is the perfect example, a man of raging egomania, an amoral playboy that the Christian right embraced because he said something nice about the Bible. (Which shows he wants to appeal to Protestants mostly. Catholics don't use the Bible as an oracle.)

Well, I begin to ramble. Thanks to all for posting on this topic. I'm finding it very interesting reading.
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James Lackington, Memoirs of the First Forty-five Years of the Life of James Lackington, the Present Bookseller


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