On Human Nature

Noam Chomsky was born in December 1928. It took me decades to realize, as an adult, the importance of human nature, guided by Noam’s work. So, I have been searching inside and outside of me to understand human nature during the ensuing decades. By the way, it was natural that Noam would help me in that, as he is older than me by … a few months. Of course, as a Greek I was taught atschool that my ancestors used to say “know thyself”, etc, but on us, teenagers, it had the same effect as, say, that of logarithms.

Shirley Temple was born in April 1928. She died two days ago on February 12, 2014. Her life is an interesting case in the search to understand the human nature.

Shirley’s mother, when Shirley was 3 years old, “made a calculated decision” to lead her to become a professional dancer, according to Shirley’s autobiography. By 1934, at the age of six, she was a great movie star. From 1935 to 1939 she was literally the most famous person in the world, ahead of Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president of the US.

The Athens neighborhood I was born in, has a very interesting way of naming streets. All the streets are named after the islands of the Aegean Sea. So, there is a swarm of parallel streets each named after an island.

– The street of my paternal house was named after the island of “Anafi”. [“Anafi” is just a huge rock in the sea on the east and close to the island of Santorini, the de rigueur tourist destination for US tourists. In almost its entire history Anafi has been a place for exile. In recent times the exiled were leftists. Its population, through the millennia, has numbered just one or two hundred souls.]

– The third parallel [street] was named after the island of “Lesbos”. [This is the island that gave complete freedom to the female of the human species almost 3 thousand years ago as expressed, at that time, by Sappho, one of the greatest poetesses in History. It took more than two thousand years for humanity to reach the point of freedom of Sapphos’s Lesbos through the revolt of the US youth movement of the 1960s and 1970s.]

– The fifth parallel was named after the Island of “Cyprus”. [In chemistry the symbol for copper is Cu. These are the first two letters of the Latin word cuprum, a corrupted form of the word cyprium, which comes from the Roman expression aes cyprium. meaning “metal of Cyprus”. About 125 years ago, a US company from Los Angeles – Cyprus Mines Corporation(CYM) – started to exploit the copper deposits of Cyprus. By 1976 CYM was 249th in the Fortune-500 and its economic strength was comparable to that of Cyprus. There is no more copper on Cyprus. Which is “bearable”. In June 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) proposed a plan for the partition of Cyprus between the Greeks and the Turks. Alecos Matsas, the Greek Ambassador, told LBJ that “the Greek constitution does not allow a Greek government to give away a Greek island. To which LBJ answered: “Then listen to me Mr.Ambassador, fuck your Parliament and your Constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If those two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may be whacked by the elephant’s trunk, whacked good.” (Philip Dean, “I should Have Died”, London Hamish Hamilton, 1976, pp 114-15). By the way last week, a lady in the Government of Obama used the same energetic “f…” expression in Switzerland in a diplomatic discussion or something. Of course, there are doubts about the ‘mechanics” in the practical field, even if the lady’s roots could originate from … Lesbos. Both illustrious individuals, LBJ and Hilary’s woman (if I am right), are interesting cases for the study of human nature, however the hubris is unbearable.]

– The sixth parallel was named after the island of “Lemnos”. [ Lemnos island at the north-eastern part of the Aegean Sea is composed mostly of volcanic rock. And naturally had a lot to do with Hephaestus the God of fire, who also was a divine smith and patron of craftsmen. Which confirms the words of another [dirty Greek], Xenophanes who lived around five centuries before the birth of Christ. He said: “Oxen, lions, and horses if they had hands wherewith to grave images, would fashion gods after their own shapes and make them bodies like their own.” In Lemnos a fiery volcano giave birth to the God of fire, or borrowed it from a neighbor in Asia Minor, the Turkey of today.]

In the 1930s, at the end of Lemnos Street stood the 26th Elementary School of Athens. It was enclosed by a thick masonry wall about 8 feet high and the school proper, composed of three classrooms, was built, also, with thick masonry walls, both structures ensuring that during an unusual Greek quake no child would be left alive. By the way, in the news I see the equivalent British masonry structures yielding to water and wind, this time. The school yard was of hard soil interspersed with the occasional pea-sized pieces of stone, that also ensured that a hard fall will end with bloody knees.

In my mind there is a really vivid scene during a recess on a sunny morning, in 1938, at the age of eight. I and a couple of my schoolmates in the school yard were talking about how to get our hands on “Shirley Temple” candy (resembling in texture Ronald Reagan’s precious jelly-beans), but more importantly, we were talking about how we could get our hands on those glossy colored “Shirley Temple” cards. Of course in Sunday School we were given, free, Icon-cards with the picture of Jesus, etc, of the same size as Shirley’s, but they were not glossy and not so interesting.

Let us not forget that that was 1938. There was no Internet, no television, no jet airplanes, no satellites, yet at that elementary school in Greece (a “flea” according to LBJ) Shirley Temple was not only known but was a cultural “must”, or to be more precise was a tool for the US culture to be printed in the minds of 8-year-old kids. But why? The explanation was given by another American President, Harry S. Truman, who a few years after that 1938 Athenian sunny morning, said that in order to dominate the world the US should make the people of the rest of the world “look like us”.

[Note: What did Truman mean by us? Did he mean the ordinary Americans, that is the 2/3 of normal people that happened to be born in that part of the earth? Or did he mean people like the Dulles brothers? Or, even, construction workers who beat up students in Manhattan because the students were protesting against the Vietnam war? What in human nature makes a not so “rich” construction worker team-up with the very rich? Is there something innate or is the family, the elementary school, the Sunday school, etc. responsible for that sad phenomenon?]

Shirley Temple made $3 million by the time she was a teenager. So, why her mother “made a calculated decision” to push a child into a rather “risky” path? Was that innate on her part, a tendency that she had acquired biologically from her mother or was it the $3 million? Was it possible that the 3-year-old Shirley could be a witting accomplice?

It seems that Shirley Temple-Black was a serious person, as she retained a 55-year-long comradeship with her husband, Charles Black. However, how come that she accepted to become a delegate in the United Nations? A position that was given to persons with the “qualities” of John Bolton or ConDolcezza Rice? People who one might say suffer from the Ariel Sharon syndrome; people who are born hating every living organism on the planet, even their own self? Or, how come that it came to pass that people like Kissy [a.k.a Henry or Heinz Kissinger] praised Shirley?

Whatever her reasons for getting involved with people suffering from multiple sclerosis, the fact that she tried to make life better for these people is a plus for her as a human. However, that she supported the Vietnam War and the “Agent Orange” crime against humanity cannot be explained by saying that she was a conservative Republican. Of course, the “scientific” explanation is that the human nature is extremely complex. But the fact is that, as, again, Noam says, it is very important to take into account the human nature when people try to change a rotten social system, as that of today by having a vision for a future one. My opinion is that the vision for a participatory society is not only compatible with human nature, at least the part we can understand, but, morally, it is above anything proposed up to now. 

When Shirley Temple left Hollywood or whatever that was and quit the movie business, she said that she had “enough of pretend”. That was a very accurate way of describing the work of modern actors. In human history. The Theater of Dionysos, at the foot of the Acropolis, visited by millions each year, can be considered as the place that human nature started to be “analyzed” by the Greeks of yore [and of “flea” fame], through the drama and the comedy that they created. Here might be an answer to Shirley Temple’s word “pretend”. The actors in the Dionysos theater did not show their faces. They wore masks. My estimate is that that was to psychologically protect them from the stress and strain of “pretending”.

[Religious Note: Dionysos was the Greek God for wine. So, in the dictionaries we meet the adjective Dionysian as “being of frenzied or orgiastic character.” I think that Dionysos was a much more keen observer of humanity than an aficionado of wine. Aristophanes, that universal expert on human nature, in his play The Frogs (probably played in the Theater of Dionysos around 405 B.C.) made Dionysos say of Hermes and Hermes’s father, that “performing resurrections was a family profession”. We should not forget that Hermes was the Greek God for commerce, eloquence, invention, travel and theft. Also, we should not forget that Aristophanes and Dionysos were talking about pre-Christian resurrections.

“Now, if New York is a ‘Dionysian’ city, it is only proper that the site where the twin towers stood should be the place to build a new Dionysos Theater, where the music played could be that of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Handel and the folk music of Ireland, the Andes, Crete, Russia, Israel, Palestine, Italy, Serbia, France, Scotland, and so on. But most importantly, it could be ‘a meeting place for a popular assembly’, not only for the people of New York and of America, but also for all the peoples of the world.” This was an excerpt from the ZNet Commentary of July 25, 2002, with the title “Rebuilding the Twin Towers”. End of Note.]

“Lemnos Street” at the end of which stood my old Elementary School is not named “Lemnos Street” anymore, to honor the island in the Aegean. It is named “Lela Karagianni Street” in memory of a mother of seven children who was executed in 1944 by the Nazis of Hitler, less than thirty days before they left Greece. The house of Lela Karagianni, who was part of the Greek Resistance against the Nazis, was (and is) at the beginning of “Lemnos Street”, eight blocks away of the Elementary School.

Both Shirley Temple and Lela Karayianni were endowed with the same human nature, yet they spent their lives in different “universes”. Hence they differed.


Bulletin from Athens

– Who is financing, today, the Greek Nazis to provoke the Greek people, 60 years after the German Nazis left Athens?

– Who is trying to buy the houses of the Greek middle class for 1/10 the price they paid for those houses?

– Who is trying to dismantle the Greek health system to the point of having a great part of the population in a very dangerous situation.

– Who is trying to make farming in Greece almost impossible?

– Who is trying to force the Greek fishermen to not fish in the Aegean Sea? 

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