Today In Fact, 15 July

Today two thinkers were born, one in Italy in 1848 and the other in Ireland in 1919.

The first was Vilfredo Pareto, a seminal thinker in economics and sociology whose work was used by Mussolini and the fascists as the basis for their policies. Pareto introduced the notion of elites and how they remain a stable force in society despite cycles of revolution and change. His famous 80/20 law found that 80 % of land in Italy was owned by 20% of its citizens and that this was always so. This day though does not belong entirely to proto-fascists but also is the birthday of Iris Murdoch, perhaps one of philosophy’s subtlest minds. Murdoch based much of her writings on a parable of an imagined relationship between a mother-in-law, “M” with her daughter-in-law, “D”.

The inner life of this relationship makes many demands upon the mother-in-law as she finds ways to support her son and daughter-in-law. Murdoch’s meditations upon the inner life of this relationship touch aspects of philosophy and ethics that critique the logico-positivists as well as the existentialists such as Sartre and the work of Witgenstein.

Murdoch was also very sympathetic to communism and the left and would not have agreed with Pareto’s approach to thinking which involved statistics and proportions.

There is perhaps a synergy that we might find that is neither left nor right but is able to use statistics as well as reflections on the inner journey of the soul.

This synergy might be found in the use we must make of words, narrative and discourse. How we might find words that are able to index many meanings across a spectrum of ideas and stances. A pangolin.

Mary Douglas, an anthropologist talks of the pangolin, the scaly anteater and the roe it plays in traditional Lele society. The pangolin is the totem of the Lele and this scaly anteater does not fit securely in to the animal category: it only gives birth to one offspring at a time, it does not run away when attacked. Although it is a land animal, it has the body and tail of a fish.

The pangolin is an animal that allows the Lele, perhaps us, to mediate between conceptual polarities as it fails to fit any category.

Today it might serve us well to consider what ideas, words or phrases allow us to slip between polarities and concepts which we usually hold in tension opposing each other?

Oh and it also happens to be that master of light and dark, Rembrandt’s birthday.

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (serendipiday.blogspot.com)