"It's Complicated..." Well, No It's Really Not

I think we all like to talk about how complicated our lives get. Some academics do the same with history. And while we can certainly see the complicated and tangled under-brush to history, often we simply have to look up from the tangles and focus on the forest itself. Seen from a distance, there is usually a clear uncomplicated character and outline to much of history. In other words, lessons to be learned.

For instance, take the time-line running from Aristotle through Urban to Voltaire to Elvis Presley!

Aristotle and those insightful ancient Greeks brought the world logic & reason about 2500 years ago. Centuries later, In their place, Christianity under Medieval popes like Urban VIII changed Western thinking from emotionless logic & reason to highly emotional faith & belief. Then by the 18th C folks had re-discovered those Greeks via French philosophers like Voltaire, one of the heroes of the largely emotionless Age of Enlightenment.

Now here’s where you and I and Elvis come in during the 20th C.

Logic & reason are a potent elixir, but emotionally flat. Suddenly — right smack in the middle of the staid Eisenhower years of the Fifties — enters Elvis and his hips. Pretty soon the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Marlon Brando and the whole Age of Rock. Nothing staid about these artists, and nothing complicated about the way they helped a new generation get back in touch with their emotions. It’s like comparing an evening at a sophisticated Paris salon with one at a free-for-all Rolling Stones concert. Some call this latest shift in Western history post-modernism.

Whatever you call it, there is something pre-ancient-Greek primitive about it. Tribal feelings & passions often trump scholarly logic & reason. Authors have hurried to dissect this shift, like Johns Hopkins’s Charles Lamb whose research suggests our prefrontol lobes [aka, logic & reason] can sometimes get in the way of creative & innovative thought.

I imagine Aristotle grumphing at that. He might answer that knowledge is what makes us free. Mick Jagger might not have a scholarly answer to that. But, for right or for wrong, most audiences today will rock to Mick more enthusiastically than rhyme with Aristotle. At least until history’s next shift.

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