First a definition of terms:
In “The Ruby Tablet of Set”, a comprehensive examination of the origin of western philosophy, Michael Aquino informs us of the meaning of the term epanastasis:
From his academy at Crotona, Magna Græciacia, Pythagoras advised students (both male and female) and political clients to strive to eliminate sources of friction and cultivate homonoia ("good relations among the citizenry"). He suggested that mankind was subject to hybris (diverse and chaotic animal emotions). Acceptance of a master principle or "threatening eminence" called epanastasis is necessary to ensure homonoia in human relations.
The contemplation of divine things, thought the Pythagoreans, instructed by Pythagoras himself, was useful for mankind. The reason was that we need a master, some ruling principle against which we do not dare to rise in rebellion, and this is provided by the divinity. Our animal nature, he argued, is subject to hybris and is diverse and chaotic, subject to control by a variety of impulses, desires, and passions. There must be a power which by its superiority and its "threatening eminence”, epanastasis, will introduce prudence and order into chaos.
Most people who have been through school know who Pythagoras is from your math class. He is the guy who gave us the formula for calculating the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle, A^2 + B^2 = C^2.
But it turns out that Pythagoras was more than just a clever mathematician, he was also a political adviser to the rich and powerful and had a following of disciples who raised him to guru status. Let it be known, Pythagoras knew how to work a crowd.
The use of a “threatening eminence” is still a primary political tool that is in place today. The menace can take any of many different forms, and as long as it is threatening to a large group of people the effect will always work: unify the people behind a common enemy.
A quick peek at American history reveals that the Germans played this role in WW1 and WW2, then the Soviets played the role for decades. But then when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1990 with the fall of the Berlin wall, this left America as the world’s only superpower. The narrative shifted, the military-industrial complex aimed itself at the middle east, starting with Operation Desert Storm, which had retaliatory consequences which culminated in a series of bombings of the USS Cole, the first failed attempt on the WTC, and then the second successful attempt on 9/11. Terrorism has now taken on the mantle of epanastasis in today’s political climate.
Epanastasis used as a political weapon seems banal, abstract, and inert, but it is the political tool of choice for declaring war on another group or nation. In order to rally support for the cause, the people need to be behind the move because it is the public that pays in both money and blood for the war effort.
Like all tools, epanastasis lacks inherent morality. It can be used to stop dictators like Hitler, or it can be used for the basis of invading another country, like in the case of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While the efficacy of epanastasis is well documented throughout history, it is rather dated. Do we lack the creativity, passion, and inspiration to create new ways to generate homonoia?
Pythagoras was correct, we are subject to hybris, we have divergent and chaotic emotions and ideas about how to approach life. I don’t think I’m smart enough to solve all of humanity's problems, but I do think we all have more in common than we all realize. We can use these common points of overlap and unify around them. Look how much effort we pour into fighting and destroying one another, if we invested 10% of that effort in just getting along with one another, what would happen? Have we ever invested that kind of effort into lasting peace? Do we even care about peace and prosperity, or do we prefer to kill each other?
Humans made governments because we needed a “ghost parent” to keep us in check, but now we need to grow as a species, to evolve beyond our current point. We need to reach for the next level. We can’t get rid of government, but we can collectively outgrow it, as a child might outgrow a car seat.
All we need is a universal idea that we can all get behind. As humans we all have a common desire to live in peace, to work and trade fairly in the marketplace, to raise the next generation of children to be happy, healthy, and educated. I think all but the most jaded of us can firmly agree to this. When we can learn to share the world, and work and live alongside one another, we grow wealthy and we raise happy children to whom we can gift a world worth giving.
Perhaps a healthy, more mature perspective for humanity to adopt is the idea of Ubuntu, as described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“Ubuntu [...] speaks of the very essence of being human. [We] say [...] "Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu." Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." We belong in a bundle of life. We say, "A person is a person through other persons."
[...] A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”
I believe a future is possible where we as global citizens can live and trade with one another on a global scale, that we can inherently recognize the humanity in other another and to learn to respect differences and coexist in imperfect peace.
I dream of a future in which we can share the world with one another and be a unique part of a diverse global community of fellow citizens. I dream of a future where we are stewards of better world of pristine wildernesses, sustainable industries, a world where irritating differences are tolerated rather than being a source of warfare.
So I raise my glass in salute to all of you, my fellow humans, we are in this together, whether or not we like it. The experience can be a paradise on earth, or a ravaged dystopian hell. It is our collective choice. We've tried the dystopian hell over the last century. I know change is scary, but isn’t it time we tried something else, something different, something new? I don't pretend to be perfect or have answers, but can't we work out our differences and find ways to all move forward?
I might be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.