Thursday, September 23, 2010

Questioning Success: Learning From Aristotle

            .                         ?                       .
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan criticizes
Aristotle quite severely even though they are both
peripatetic thinkers, but on one point they agree:
Success* can be difficult to measure or even recognize.

Taleb talks about banks which make ungodly profits in
a very short term and pay their directors huge bonuses,
even though a slightly more distant perspective would
soon show those profits to actually be not only losses,
but also  the destruction of jobs and pensions and 
reasonable prosperity. 

Aristotle asks a question which startles any reader with
a pulse:  how do we know that the Greek Kings who
went to war with Troy were more successful than Priam,
the King of Troy who not only saw his city destroyed,
but all his sons killed, his wife, daughters, non-warrior
population and grandchildren enslaved in defeat?

Of the Greek Kings, the only one who could have even
understood the question was Odysseus.  (Plato had him
choosing a quiet life away from fame and away from
even the question of success when he went to choose
his next life.  He chose last, but taking the soul no
one else wanted, said "I would have taken this quiet
artisan, even if I had chosen first.")  The other kings...

Well, the best emblem for the other kings may  be
Agamemnon sailing home, confident that he
had done what it took to succeed,  proud of himself
for sacrificing even what was closest to his heart,
his only daughter to obtain success; and thus secure in
his feeling of success, he sailed home to be murdered
in his bath by his still angry wife and her lover.

As he died, looking at his own blood dripping in the
bath, did Agamemnon compare his own fate with Priam's
and wonder whether it was he, the victorious warrior,
or was it Priam, the defeated one whose city was destroyed
and who had lost all his sons but who died still loved by 
his wife, which was the more succesful? 

_ -  __ ---___ ----   _______  ------ 

* When an Ancient Greek philosopher such as Aristotle
talks about happiness, the closest concept we have in
America today is success.  

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