George RR Martin just reminded us of the horrors of war and our role in them.

Episode 5 of the final season of Game of Thrones showed us a vengeful fallen angle, Daenerys Targaryen, after whom thousands of children in the real world have been named. Even though her enemies had been defeated and surrendered, she nevertheless used her massive weapon, a fire-spewing dragon, to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. We get to experience this from the point of view of the victims who are incinerated: men, women, and children.

I see this episode as the crowning moment of George Martin’s career. He wrote the books and scenarios on which the tv-series is based. He has shown us and told us about the cruel side of humanity time and time again, but many of us did not take this personally. To worm his way into our minds, he gave us a heroine who overcame sexual abuse and umpteenth set-backs to become a powerful ruler who did many good things.

Daenerys liberated the slaves of an entire region. She helped defeat an army of ice zombies who otherwise would have killed everyone on the continent of Westeros and turned it into a zombie wasteland, thus saving all the generations to come. She hence saved hundreds of millions of lives, losing many of her best friends and allies in the process, risks she knowingly took. Those are good deeds of the highest order. She was and to some extent will remain, on balance, a heroine.

But throughout her on-screen struggles these last 10 years she was ruthless, not blinking an eye when her brother was killed by having molten gold poured over him, crucifying hundreds of ‘slave masters’ as punishment for their actions. The noble side of her character was fanned by adulation of freed slaves and warm relationships with her closest friends, Melisandre and Jorah. Their influence tempered her continuous preparedness to use her children, three fully grown fire-spewing dragons, to lay waste to the bastions of her enemies.

When her closest friends died, two of her dragons were killed, and her role in saving the whole of humanity on Westeros did not bring her the adulation and love she so desired, Daenerys did exactly what she had promised to do and was foretold to do in all previous seasons. She broke the game of power in Westeros and turned its biggest city to ashes. She did it partly out of revenge, partly in order to instill fear and thus loyalty, and partly out of a ruthless bloodlust that ran in her family and in herself.

Letting us, the audience, get so close to Daenerys and all her emotional ups and downs throughout the years, has made many of us feel we have partly done all the good things she did. George RR Martin trapped us in her story by letting us see her develop and gain what we also crave: connection, appreciation, redemption, love, lust, and, above all, power. Many of us excused her excesses and coldness, ignoring all the warnings and prophesies, not because we did not recognise this potential in her or even ourselves, but because she was the symbol of how we want to see ourselves. We were made to trust that she would never give in to seeing everyone as expendable in her drive to rule.

Now George RR Martin has sprung his trap and confronted us with what I think he believes is the truth about humanity: in our desire for power we are prepared to do anything to anyone. All the rationalisations and moralising about who we are and why we do things ultimately will make way for our drive to power when the opportunity for power comes. Power blinds us and, particularly when the drive to it costs us emotionally, it estranges us from others and makes us do things we initially never imagine we would be capable of.

It is this shattering of the image of ourselves that is so unsettling. We are made to realise who was always behind the mirror.

There has been mass disappointment among fans. In their bewilderment at being told that this is not merely how their hero is, but how they themselves all are, they go through the phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining.

The disappointment of the fans shows you how successful George has been in springing his trap (and in the amazing ability of HBO to have kept it a secret so long). The fans latch on to accusations of how the tv-makers have cheated them by rushing the story, not flagging enough that this was coming, betraying the essential character, or something else. The reason for this denial and rationalisation is obvious: they wanted to be allowed to distance themselves from Daenerys and hence not experience what they have just experienced – the momentary realisation that what she did is in all of us. The horror of war is the horror of what we are all prepared to do to others in our lust for power. We suffer when others do this to us and we inflict the suffering when we do it. Just for a moment George RR Martin has truly managed to drive home the message he has told us ever since the first episode some 10 years ago: power blinds all of us and corrupts most of us, except a few fools who get themselves and others killed by their naivete (Ned and John).

Well done George, you have spent your artistic life well. You have managed to engender a realisation amongst millions, however temporary, that humans in modern societies have not often had and that they quickly forget after their brief glimpses of it.

Just after World War I was another such moment. We knew that Great War was due to human stupidity. It was recognised as being a stupidity that belonged to all of us, not merely the elites who decided. We knew the leaders were stupid in sleepwalking into that war. We knew the soldiers were stupid for enthusiastically walking to their deaths and empowering their leaders by their obedience. We knew whole populations were stupid for being so full of themselves and so hell-bent in imposing their collective will on other people that they cheered on both leaders and soldiers, giving neither of them a choice but to follow-up on the collective stupidity. Power lust blinded whole populations and lead them to gas, bomb, maim, and shoot each other in unimaginable orgies of destruction. For a brief moment afterwards, surrounded by cripples and widows, we knew. In that moment, we vowed never to forget.

Yet, we forgot quickly. The truth was replaced by parades of glorious soldiers professing how noble their cause was, organised by elites that wanted the population to keep empowering and obeying them, egged on by populations that wanted to believe in their collective glory and infallibility. The window for truth was short because humans in modern societies are trained to be blind to their own powerlust. That blindness is part and parcel of a society where we are nicer to others within our society than we need to be prepared to be towards enemies outside that society. That duality is solved by having most people believe they would not be violent and ruthless unless it is for a just cause. The lie that we are all fluffy bunnies to some degree ceases to be a lie when it comes to our behaviour inside our group. Yet, we normally do not really look closely at whether the cause is just when we murder the enemies outside. We behave like feral beasts to outsiders, but we try not to know.

Yet, our power lust remains undiminished. We are not fluffy bunnies. Our desire for power is what makes us cheer on and identify with powerful rulers on screen, no matter what they do. When we see films about him, we forgive Alexander the Great his great cruelty, which included the burning and rape of entire cities, because we imagine ourselves to be him and have that power. We fawn over stories of Henry VIII with his many wives because we revel in the idea that we are also so powerful and adulated, conveniently blotting out the fact that he was a genocidal murderer on whose orders the North of England was pillaged. We cheer on ‘our leaders’ when we look at war films, choosing not to remember things like the bombing of Cambodia or the genocide of the Khoisan. We cheer on butchers because, in the end, the power attracts us more than the butchering repels us. That doesn’t make us evil, it is just who we are. It is the job of artists to remind us. It is the job of those who devise the institutions of society to keep that truth in the front of their minds.

George Martin for a moment shattered our collective illusions. Thank you to George and to the thousands who helped him spring his trap. You reminded us of who we really are and of the human costs of what the game of power does to us. Lest we forget.

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25 Responses to George RR Martin just reminded us of the horrors of war and our role in them.

  1. Alan says:

    Martin has hinted his disapproval of this season quite strongly, as have most of the cast. The surrender bells were perhaps the most ridiculous of many ridiculous plot devices this season.

    Hey guys, if they ring the bells it means they’ve surrendered even though Cersei is known for breaking her word and trapping people whenever she can

    ranks equally with

    Hey guys, lets pull this big wooden horse inside our walls

    as a strategy.

    • paul frijters says:

      I Hope you’ll forgive me if I see this as an attempt to try at creating distance from the story.

      The viewing figures of season 8 (about 43 million per episode, not counting lots of illegal and spin-off viewing which make it the most watched show on earth by a mile) are 10 million up from the previous season. Episode 5 was, I understand, the most viewed episode ever and the last episode is sure to break the records. So the idea that this is a less popular season than the previous season holds no water.

      Also, the cinematography and acting this season has been amazingly good, particularly this last episode 5. It was fantastic television that is undoubtedly going to get lots of prizes. Its fantasy and television, with lots of convenient impossibilities. Dragons, ice walkers, unlimited fire-spewing, a naive lord (Ned), warging, visions, super-speed travel, etc. To moan about some new addition in season 8 to the huge lists of weird stuff that helps the story along is just moaning.

      The actors themselves reportedly cried when reading after season 7 how things were going to end in season 8, with Amelia Clarke (who plays Daenerys) saying the last episodes messed her up a bit because she had to confront what Daenerys had been all along. The actors have had to deal with seeing the truth for longer than us, the viewers, and of course they are even more invested than us. Kudos to all of them for keeping the secret. An amazing achievement in various dimensions.

      It basically doesn’t matter what George says or does in relation to this show anymore. This was his grand arc and will be his legacy, though I can imagine he is baffled and slightly afraid at seeing how well it worked. The US is not a forgiving place and I can imagine he fears a backlash, as might some actors too. I am afraid it is the price of confronting a powerful people with a story they don’t want to see or hear. Julian Assange is paying it too and he has not been keen to be a martyr either.

      It reminds me of the story of the cinematographer Eisenstein (he of the Potemkin) who made three films about Ivan the Terrible, essentially likening Ivan to Stalin. In the first two films Ivan was a hero. In the third, the hero turned ruthless and terrible dictator. The story goes that Stalin saw the first viewing of that third film in his private cinema and realised he had been fooled. The third film was never publicly released and was destroyed, with only fragments remaining! I can imagine George Martin knows the story well. However, its too late now.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Eisenstein

      • Alan says:

        Episode 5 received the lowest aggregate critical and audience reaction of any episode in the series at Rotten Tomatoes. The season as a whole is also the lowest rating of all eight seasons.

        You can not describe GRR Martin as the author in one post and then declare him irrelevant in the next post. If Martin ever finishes the books, he may well write Daenerys as mad, even though no female Targaryen has ever shown the trait before, but he will not do it with jejune plot devices like everyone should trust Cersei, laser-guided ballistas, Tyrion suddenly becoming the stupidest man in Westeros, or putting the non-combatants in a crypt full of dead people to protect them from a necromancer. Presumably Daenerys paid Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum to download a computer virus into the ballistas between episodes 4 and 5.

        The actual authors of this bungled mishmash, Weiss and Benioff, explained away the computer controlled ballistas in episode 4 with ‘Dany kinda forgot about the Iron Fleet’. That’s quite strange because she had talked about the Iron Fleet in the immediate preceding scene. It’s also slightly strange that the ballista software was so good that Rhaegal could be struck in the neck by bolts from opposite directions that were fired from the same spot.

        The season has been played purely for visual spectacle and bugger any character who gets in the way.

        • Alan says:

          Hit the button before I had completely finished my late night rant.

          I enjoyed the first and second episodes a lot. I enjoyed the visuals of the third episode until about halfway through, and then suddenly realised the episode made no sense at all.

          Light cavalry don’t charge massed infantry. Trebuchets are useless in a field battle because they take too long to load and cannot be moved. Artillery in the front line is simply absurd as is firing one shot and then ceasing fire because an idiot cavalry charge has got in the way. The repeated scenes where Character X finds themself entry surrounded by enemies, then there’s a cutaway and a couple of scenes later they are alive and kicking with barely a scratch. The less said about Arya using a convenient teleporter to appear from nowhere and off the Night King the better.

          The fourth and fifth episodes were simply ridiculous. Battles continued to make no sense. Characters acted in ways completely contrary to their previous trajectories. Cersei has Daenerys, Dragon, Grey Worm and Tyrion within ballista range and acts honourably by not nuking the lot of them. Or perhaps the Smith/Goldblum virus had already been delivered.

          There is much, much more but Ill leave it until the morning.

        • paul frijters says:

          yes, the episode is rated the lowest, with a huge drop between episode 4 and 5. I see that sudden drop as a triumph of storytelling. George Martin’s trap worked. His basic story actually got through to people, probably to his own amazement.

          Sure, people moan, but they keep watching in ever larger numbers, so the moaning doesn’t ring true.

          It has been George’s story arc that was followed and for that I salute him. When I say what he says or does from now on about that arc is irrelevant, I say that in terms of the impact of the arc he let loose. Nothing he says can undo what he did, even if he radically changes stuff in the coming books. All that will happen then is that he loses respect for him as a person, partly because then the HBO show-runners will be forced into a George-told-us-so position, partly because his existing books foreshadow this exact outcome almost to the letter, and partly because the damage is done. It is like letting a new song, a new poem, a new weapon, or a new theory loose upon the world. Once it is out there and in general circulation, it belongs to the world and no longer to the originator. The genie has left the bottle. George released it. He cant put it back in.

          As to your point that the plot is full of believability holes, sure. I can point out lots more if you want, and not just the cup of starbucks in episode 4 that was much higher rated than episode 5. The plot-stunts are irrelevant in terms of the grand arc that has been there all along, so its a diversion to moan about it. Moreover, the plot in each season has been full of convenient devices that made no real sense, and lots of basic aspects of the show are full of holes, such as how magic works, the nature and limits of visions, and the nature and limitations of time-travel. Its fantasy and both George and the tv-runners are using elements because it helps them tell a story, not bothering to truly explain them or let them make sense. That’s the nature of beast, nothing new about that in Season 8. The appeal of the show was always the humanity of the stories. Thousands of parents did not name their daughter Khaleesi because they found the idea of a nomadic people that could manage to survive with hundreds of thousands of horses in deserts without growing their own food realistic.

          I think all the complaining is evidence of how devastatingly good the show is and how amazing it is that they had the sheer guts to tell a story like this in the way they did. Truly magnificent. Like all great art that gets through to people though, there is a potential price to pay for playing with other people’s emotions. True artists accept that possibility. Eisenstein did. We will see how George and the GOT crew handle it.

        • paul frijters says:

          btw, like you, I was also on my high horse in this season. After the battle of winterfell I wrote an 8-page piece about how (and where) I would have fought that battle if I had been commanding it. I worked out what my strategy would have been after victory against the dead (which would have started with burning the Iron Bank, as part of an economic blockade of the enemy). Etc.

          Then I realised that my own reaction it really only showed the brilliance of Season 8. Its slow story telling in the build-up episodes to the battles drew me in emotionally even more. I was committed to the story and the characters more than before, eagerly awaiting the next episodes, as if I owned what would happen next. Nearing the end, the show-runners have managed to ramp up our connection to it, thereby also the degree to which we identify with the characters and their choices.

          So sure, one can point to how weird it is that Cercei abided by the conventions of parley. But she also abided by those conventions in Season 7, at least as weird because she was then in a far more hopeless position with betrayal of that parley even more of a possible advantage to her than in Season 8. Etc. I can raise every instance you want to mention about Season 8 being unrealistic, with a counter-example of the previous Seasons. By and large, the main actors have stayed true to their natures, which Season after Season is the thing that has gotten them into trouble. For instance, John Snow never learned that his naivite was killing people and making matters worse, necessitating his commander to bail him out in Season 2-3, his sister to bail him out in Season 6, his lover to bail him out (at huge cost to humanity) in Season 7, and his sister again in Season 8. So the one thing you can bet on in the last episode is that he will be just as stupid as he has been throughout and not do something dishonorable even though of course he should. Indeed, my sneaking suspicion is that in the last episode he will be super-honerable and turn himself into a Night King in order to give humanity a common enemy to keep the peace to some degree. However, that merely shows how many hours I have felt compelled to spend on the show.

          So when you reveal all the ways you have analysed this show, you show how you have reacted in exactly the same way as I have. I have come to see that reaction as part of what makes the show so good, particularly Season 8. That is also what makes the trap sprung on us so effective. We don’t feel betrayed because characters behave out of character, but precisely because they behave according to the character they have consistently been in the show, without us previously fully realising just what that character was because we didn’t want to see it. We are, for a brief moment, appalled by the image staring back at us that was really always there and that we feel forced to recognise. To have that effect on people is genius, sheer genius.

          • Alan says:

            First lets introduce the ghastly figure of Mary Sue, who is infinitely more terrifying than the Night King. Mary Sue reached her apotheosis in the fanfic Nine Men and a Little Lady where the Mary Sue is not only prettier than Legolas, and more powerful than Gandalf, etc etc, but she can wear the One Ring without any adverse effects. Mary Sue is often satirised as teenage girls inserting themselves into a story so they can hump Kirk or Legolas, but Mary Sue can be an antihero as well. She is still wiser than Galadriel and a better fighter than Aragorn, but she takes the Ring and becomes empress of Middle Earth, rather like the anti-Galadriel who appears briefly when Frodo offers her the Ring. But prettier. Lots prettier.

            Part of my argument is that the plot holes in this season are so big that every character becomes an anti-Mary Sue who does exactly and only what D&D, formerly known as Dan and Dave, now known to some unkind people as Dumb and Dumber, need to drive forward what you call a grand arc and what I call absurd and unconvincing storytelling where the authors have lost control of their own material.

            Arguably Tolstoy does this (although not by populating his story with anti-Mary Sues) in War and Peace, where many people have argued that the books would be stronger if they ended without the happy-ever-after marriages of Natasha and Pierre and Maria and Nikolai, and the economic recovery of Nikolai’s wasted estates with a little help from borrowing Maria’s money.

            It’s not unknown for authors to lose control of their material. especially when they are trying to make a point. Tolkien’s family and publishers were desperate for him to write another epic, even providing full-time shorthand experts on the basis that he could dictate his story and they would then help him make it publishable, but all they ever got was more genealogies and more grammatical notes on Sindarin. Even within the existing books, the writing goes dramatically downhill in the closing 2 books of the series, with quite a lot of paragraphs introduced by unfortunate turns of phrase like ‘Behold!’. Martin has given us no notes on Westerosi grammar, but his audience would certainly much prefer the last 2 books of his series to his history of the Targaryen dynasty.

            I say there are two major bungles in this season which feed on each other. The first was trying to persuade us that killing Death Himself, after 5 books and 7 seasons and a bit telling us that the Night King is the true enemy and that who sits on the Iron Throne is a distraction, becomes a minor plot while the major plot is dealing with a pregnant alcoholic without political support and her grinning pirate who want to keep the Iron Throne.

            A far more persuasive arc would have been to take King’s Landing, with or without a massacre, and then march north with the combined armies of the Seven Kingdoms. There could even have been much harder choices in this arc. Perhaps Daenerys besieges King’s Landing, but the people of the city rise against Cersei and attempt to open the gates. Should they be left to their fate or should Drogon save them by obliterating the Red Keep? Can Drogon be sent in without massive numbers dying? If Daenerys sends in the Dothraki how will they behave as conquerors of a fallen city? Daenerys could take 6 episodes doubting herself and wondering if she’d done the right thing as a prelude to going mad with guilt and grief.

            That would have disposed of Cersei in episode 3 and left the Night King for the finale. It would have maintained the background that the Night King (background that is, incredibly, still repeated in episodes 1 and 2 of this season) is the greatest threat, and suggested that the way to deal with him is by unifying the realm against him. Instead of that we get feeble pap along the lines of Hey guys let’s kill Satan so we can argue over who gets to be prime minister.

            The Night King has an invincible army that he can expand at will by raising the dead. Cersei has intermittently computer controlled ballistas and the somewhat less than intimidating superpower of smirking.

            They could even have made their rather shallow point that war leads to bad outcomes and given Daenerys 6 episodes instead of five minutes to go insane. HBO were ready to fund more seasons. Martin has said publicly he gave D&D enough material for 18 seasons. We got this truncated season because D&D want to move on to bigger and better things and were prepared to put ballista bolts through the integrity of the story.

            To get to this unhappy result they made Daenerys, Sansa and Arya into escapees from Mean Girls. Bran could be replaced with a simple text crawl at the bottom of the screen. And Sansa clearly stole half of Tyrion’s brain, three-quarters of Daenerys’, and all of Varys’. Varys is quite familiar with kings who have no interest in the welfare of the realm from the reigns of Robert and Joffrey. Persuading himself another king who does not want to rule is ‘tempered and measured’ is the most idiotic utterance in fantasy since the Lord of the Nazgûl declared ‘No man can kill me’. Or Tyrion told Cersei she’s not a monster. These are not believability holes. They are arrant nonsense.

            Why is Tyrion not the Mad Dwarf? At the battle of the Blackwater Tyrion killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands with wildfire. I don’t think D&D were ever very good at thinking like Westerosis. They abandoned the effort completely in this season.

            We are to believe that Jon rejects Daenerys because she is his aunt and his culture is Northern rather than Targaryen. Sadly for that theory, the Stark family tree includes multiple cases of first cousin marriages and avunculate marriages. Jon’s own grandmother, Lyarra Stark was the daughter of her husband’s great uncle and Robyn Arryn, son of Sansa’s mother’s sister, is considered a likely husband for Sansa at one point. The North has no tradition of disapproving marriages which we would regard as incestuous. Oddly enough, avunculate marriage is legal in Australia, Canada and a number of other countries. And if madness is the issue we can make a very good case for Tyrion as the Mad Dwarf, Jaime certainly makes it as the Mad Little Brother, Euron is the Mad Pirate and Sansa is a very good candidate for the Mad Teen Drama Star who wants to overthrow the reigning Cheerleader, mad or not. We are to believe that Daenerys makes a dangerous ruler because she is a Targaryen who will go mad, but Jon is not a dangerous ruler because he is a Targaryen who will go mad. No female Targaryen has ever gone mad. A small number of male Targaryens have gone mad. This is not character driven story. It is faffing about for shock value and pretty screenshots.

  2. Tony Tea says:

    It’s not as if the histories of the real world are not chock full of losers being smashed by the winners. And this is HBO. They are no fans of pat endings.

  3. Hi Paul
    I haven’t followed the series however , hero with a fatal flaw and so on is not a new idea when it comes to tragedies and therefore the next move of the game-plot seems be fairly predictable ; she will be undone in one way or another.

  4. Kien Choong says:

    I often think that Jesus died early in his career to drive home one of his core messages, which is that the good must voluntarily suffer for the sake of a better world. Unfortunately, the Christian emphasis on atonement dilutes this basic teaching. In effect, Jesus paid the price, and the rest of us have nothing to learn from that sacrifice in terms of how we ought to live our lives.

    So today, “Christian America” thinks her role is to impose Western values on the rest of the world, and the West has nothing to learn from the Muslims, the Chinese, the Hindus. Worse, the West misunderstands the East, and cannot imagine that the East genuinely wants to rise peacefully.

    Western analysts preach the clash of civilisations, the end of history, and the Thudiclies trap. It all ends with conflict or triumph. The idea that our values can change through dialogue does not even enter the Western mind. American diplomats see their role as speaking up for American values; nothing to learn from others.

    • paul frijters says:

      you say “the West …. cannot imagine that the East genuinely wants to rise peacefully”.

      I do not see the possibility that power is any less corrupting in the East than in the West. Humans in the East are just as human as people in the West. Their history is just as bloody, with no help from the West needed to make it bloody. Your protestations of a peaceful East versus a belligerent West ring untrue to me.

      Perhaps a bit more Game of Thrones? :-)

      • Paul
        Confucius would agree with you in buckets.
        Kien
        “The idea that our values can change through dialogue does not even enter the Western mind.”
        Youeither don’t speak in good faith or simply have no idea.

        • Kien Choong says:

          Hi, on reflection, I am guilty of generalising and apologise. The idea about generalising the difference between East vs West came from listening to a podcast interview with the philosopher Michael Sandel, who had been talking to Chinese students about philosophy. Professor Sandel said that someone commented that the West is a “teaching civilisation”, whereas the East is a “learning civilisation”. I don’t know how true it is, but China has historically been open to influences from outside China, eg, Buddhism and Jesuit influence in Chinese courts.

          Also, I understand some Western philosophers even question whether there is such thing as philosophy in China, which perhaps betrays a degree of parochialism?

          Anyway, I din’t want to over stress the distinction between Rast and West. I think the world as a whole would be better if we were more open to re-examining our own values. The Qimg government made a mistake to try to keep out Western influence, and I often think that is a lesson that today’s Chinese government hasninternalised – ie, trying to shut out the world is a bad idea!

          Apologies for the offence I seem to have given. I have benefited greatly from Western ideas, and I know there is a lot I still need to learn!

          • paul frijters says:

            Dear Kien,

            apology accepted, very generous of you. I was not offended because generalising is part of what we need to do to get a grasp on reality. I just disagreed with your generalisation as a reasonable description. My whole post is full of generalisations that are not meant to be taken 100% accurate (for instance: witness the shifting perspectives implicit in the use of the word ‘we’).

            I studied the Chinese social system and economy for a few years. I think the ‘West’ has learned a lot from China over the centuries. In particular, its idea of a meritocratic civil service that one joins after doing exams open to everyone, is a key component of the Western nation state that to some extent appears to have been important from China. That is a truly big thing to have adopted in terms of institutions and the philosophy that comes with it.

            As a whole and in general, the West is monotheistic, ie there is but one true god. Just precisely what that one true god is differs from village to village, but there is almost invariably just one and he (yes, its still a ‘he’) demands total obedience and the rejection of all other gods. So on the religious front, a degree of intolerance has been baked in for a long time. That has also had its effect on how scientists relate to ‘truth’ or institutional builders to ‘the national interest’.

            Etc. The Chinese were amongst the first settlers in Australia, something not well-recognised. Etc. Etc.

            Lots more to say, but topics for another day.

            • Paul
              :-
              Do wish you’d drop the old bloke reclining on a cloud, demanding… whatever .

              That image was a renaissance invention – in fact mostly a Florentine Roman invention: Venice largely continued with a more eastern image of, luminescence.

              • paul frijters says:

                I believe the first commandment, which forbids anyone from holding another god but the one true one, precedes the renaissance by quite a bit. :-)

                I dont mind that you have a completely different image in your mind as to what Christianity means than what I do. Yet, I am afraid I have a different view as to what typifies most of Christianity, and I do not believe I am merely echoing post-renaissance views. Burning heretics who refuse to bow to the one true interpretation goes back a long way. Sorry.

                • Infinite unknowable and unnameable,
                  is much older than all that.
                  Can you really be that sure about something that you have no personal knowledge off??
                  As for burning nonconformists, that is what defines all clubs for sound thinking chaps, no?

                  • paul frijters says:

                    :-) you will just have to allow me my beliefs John, as I allow you yours. I was not mentioning the monotheism bit to deliberately rile you up, but simply to show Kien that I see some truth in what I think he was trying to say.

            • Kien Choong says:

              I see the rise of monotheistic religions like Christianity and Islam as a social innovation that allowed human societies to develop that transcend ethnic and tribal loyalties. Unfortunately the religious identities themselves became a force for exclusion. Humanity’s story is about the forces of inclusion vs exclusion. I like to think that the forces of inclusion grow ever stronger over multiple generations, as we engage in reasoned exchange. However, there are times when the forces of exclusion grow stronger.

              I think even today, having a “God’s Eye” view helps us look at the world impartially. It’s like Adam Smith’s impartial spectator. It’s like Jesus’ idea of the Heavenly Father, who sends rain to the righteous and unrighteousness alike. That said, men have done terrible things in God’s name.

          • Kien
            Peace be with you.
            Sorry I was a bit cranky.
            My eyebrows went up at the proposition that changing values through, dialogue , was alien to the Western Mind : Socrates ?

            As for China it still shocks me just how ignorant most are of the amazing inventiveness and richness of China’s long culture.

            • Kien Choong says:

              Hi, the thought about the West not reflecting on its values came about because I hear Western (or maybe just American) ambassadors keep saying their job is to assert American values, especially in the context of human rights, as if American values are some kind of transcendental standard by which other people are judged. I don’t want to fall into the trap that everything is relative. But I do think it is rare that there is also a single correct view.

              I often think that politics and democracy in Australia, the US and elsewhere seems to have deteriorated into a contest of values (eg, socialist vs capitalist) whereas democracy would work far better if it is seen primarily as a way to engage in public reasoning, including reasoned reflection on our values.

              I would like to see more reasoned discussion at the global level versus the West always asserting that there is some transcendental global liberal order that everyone must support.

              If this generalisation unfairly misrepresents the West, let me know! Democracy works best through reasoned discussion, even if (or especially when) global elections are not feasible.

              • Kien
                Thanks.
                This would need a lot of ‘teasing out’
                for example re the term Western; do you include or exclude societies such as Japan and Singapore and their mix of European and Asian approaches as western or not?

  5. Paul
    Peace be with you
    :-)
    BTW
    in Church I only have to say we are ‘Eastern’ and ….

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