10 Februar 2013

Greek Gifts I

Harold experienced a blast of insight, his 'Eureka!' moment. Something big had just burst forth from inside him. His eyes went wide. He felt an intense and instantaneous burst of ectasy. Yes, that's it! His mind leaped across some uncharted void and integrated his thinking in a new way. He knew in an instant that he had solved his problem, that he had a theme for his paper, before he could even really say what the solution was. Patterns that had not fit together suddenly felt as if they did. It was a sensation more than a thought, a feeling of almost religious contact. As Robert Burton wrote in his On Being Certain, 'Feelings of knowing, correctness, conviction and certainty aren't deliberat conclusions and conscious choices. They are mental sensations that happen to us.'  
His core insight involved motivation. Why did Achilles risk his life? Why did the men at Thermophylae lay down theirs? What did Pericles seek for himself and for Athens? What does Harold seek for himself at school? Why does he want his team to win state championships?  
The answer to all these questions is a Greek word he had come across in his reading: thumos. All his life Harold had been surrounded by people with a set of socially approved motivations: to make money, to get good grades, to get into a good college. But none of these really explained why Harold did what he did, or why the Greek heroes did what they did. 
The ancient Greeks had a different motivational structure. Thumos was the desire for recognition, the desire to have people recognize your existence, not only now but for all time. Thumos included the desire of eternal fame - to attract admiration and to be worthy of admiration in a way that was deeper than mere celebrity. Harold's culture didn't really have a word for that desire, but this Greek work helped explain Harold to himself.
All his life, he had been playing games in his imagination. He had imagined himself as a boy winning the World series, throwing the perfect pass, saving his favorite teachers from mortal peril. And in each fantasy, his triumph had been deliriously witnessed by family, friends, and the world around him. This fantasizing, in its childish way, was the product of thumos, the desire for recognition and union, which underlay the other drives for money and success.  
The thymotic world was a more heroic world than the bourgeois, careerist one Harold saw all around him. In the modern world in which he lived, the common assumption is that all human beings are attached at the earliest and lowest level. All human beings are descended from common ancestors and share certain primitive traits. But the Greeks tended to assume the opposite, that human beings were united at the highest level: There are certain ideal essences, and the closer one is to taking possession of the eternal existence, the closer one is to this common humanity. Thumos is the drive to rise up to those heights. It is the dream of the perfect success, when all that is best within oneself blends with all that is eternal in the universe in perfect synchronicity.
David Brooks, The Social Animal 

Trailer (in guter Bildqualität)

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