February 11, 2008


Baruch Spinoza, courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero recently took the plunge into the serene but bracing waters of one of history's greatest philosophers, Baruch aka Benedict Spinoza, who lived from 1632 to 1677.

Despite having lived over 300 years ago, his thought is strikingly modern. His view of the universe influenced Einstein and many other scientists and thinkers and is in some respects very similar to Buddhism. He has been called both an atheist and a "God-intoxicated man." (Official Goat Rope verdict: he was definitely the latter.)

Spinoza descended from a Jewish family forced to flee the persecutions of Inquisition in the Spain or Portugal. He was born in Amsterdam at a time when Holland was a relative bastion of religious freedom and a haven of safety for Jews.

He attended the Rabbinical School and studied the Hebrew Bible and Talmud as well as the works of Jewish and Arab medieval philosophers who were influenced by Aristotle, Plato and the neo-Platonists. Spinoza learned Latin in order to read the philosophical, scientific and mathematical works of Renee Descartes, who was widely considered to be the founder of modern philosophy.

His rabbinical teachers were disturbed by his lack of interest in traditional studies as well as his embrace of unorthodox ideas and his rational treatment of the supernaturnal stories of the Bible. In all probability, they were also concerned about testing the limits of Christian tolerance--which has often been an oxymoron--in one of the few places tolerant of Jews. After repeated warnings, he was excommunicated from the Jewish community.

And what an excommunication it was. Here's a sample:

By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation, and in front of these holy scrolls with the 613 precepts which are written therein; cursing him with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho and with the curse which Elisha cursed the boys and with all the castigations which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law. But you that cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day.

In other words, they were kind of upset with him.

The excommunication also included the following warning to the faithful:

That no one should communicate with him neither in writing nor accord him any favor nor stay with him under the same roof nor within four cubits in his vicinity; nor shall he read any treatise composed or written by him.

After that, Spinoza lived an austere life of reclusive scholarship, supporting himself by grinding lenses until his death by consumption at the age of 45. Some of his main works were not published until after his death.'

More about his thought next time around.

WE'RE ALL KEYNESIANS NOW from the near consensus on the need for some kind of economic stimulus. But as this item from the UK Guardian argues, we're leaving out the main part of the great economist John Maynard Keynes' ideas: the need for shared prosperity.

A MISSING PIECE in the debate about dealing with recession and stimulus is the role of debt. Harvard law professor and debt expert Elizabeth Warren points out here that never has a recession occurred in American when so many people were so much in debt. Factoid: in 2006, credit card companies collected $90 billion in fees, interest and late charges from American families.

STATING THE OBVIOUS. An AP poll shows most Americans think the best way to stimulate the economy is to get out of the Iraq war.

HARD TIMES FOR VETERANS. From the Chicago Tribune:

Strained by war, recently discharged veterans are having a harder time finding civilian jobs and are more likely to earn lower wages for years due partly to employer concerns about their mental health and overall skills, a government study says.

The Veterans Affairs Department report, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, points to continuing problems with the Bush administration's efforts to help 4.4 million troops who have been discharged from active duty since 1990.

The 2007 study by the consulting firm Abt Associates Inc. found that 18 percent of the veterans were unemployed within one to three years of discharge, while one out of four who did find jobs earned less than $21,840 a year. Many had taken advantage of government programs such as the GI Bill to boost job prospects, but there was little evidence that education benefits yielded higher pay or better advancement.

There's more to the article.

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE OF THE LEDGER, it looks like two baby Komodo dragons were born without male fertilization.



Jay said...

Curse him in a box.
Curse him with a fox.
Curse him in a house.
Curse him with a mouse.
Curse him here or there.
Curse him anywhere.
Curse him with green eggs and ham.
I do not like him, Sam-I-am.

El Cabrero said...

And we will curse him in a boat
And we will curse him with a goat

So that's where Dr. Seuss got it from!