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Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Achilles Question

In a previous post, I talked about flag change and John Key's interest in his historical legacy. It's something that is almost certainly very big for him. No politician whose politics is as intrinsically linked with their personality and personal reputation can't be. That's probably something that people won't puzzle over. What they might question is the label I used to describe this idea: Achilles Question.

John Key and David Cunliffe?
Achilles is much like John Key. Seemingly invincible and nigh invulnerable. Where failing to be able to hammer in a nail and an incident with a pony-tail have troubled Teflon John, Achilles, famously, had a vulnerable heal. However, the Achilles question is broader than this and actually stems to before Troy. Really, it's all about why Achilles was at Troy in the first place. John Key is, thus, a distraction. Anyway:
Mother tells me,
the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,
that two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
my pride, my glory dies. . . 

That's from Spark Notes, who, helpfully, have an explanation:
 Achilles also fears the consequences in store for him if he remains in Troy. His mother, Thetis, has told him that fate has given him two options—either live a short but glorious life in Troy or return to Phthia and live on in old age but obscurity. As he confronts this choice, the promise of gifts and plunder—cattle, fat sheep, stallions—doesn’t interest him at all. Such material gifts can be traded back and forth, or even taken away, as his prize Briseis was. In contrast, the truly precious things in the world are those that cannot be bought, sold, seized, or commodified in any way. These include glory and life itself.
The point that I take from this episode also ties in with the idea of the three deaths (which, I believe, is a Mexican tradition). Anyway, it follows:
The first death is the death of the body. The second death occurs with consignment to the earth. The third death is when your name ceases to be spoken.
The version that one of my local politicians quoted at our local ANZAC Day memorial was better, though. But, back to the point.

What does all the above mean? Well, the Achilles Question in the Illiad basically relates to whether or not one would prefer to me remembered at the cost of a shorter life or enjoy a longer but obscure life. I take this more generally to mean: glory or obscurity. Furthermore, in my philosophy (such as it exists*), the existence of the legacy is very important. My answer to the Achilles Question is, in some sense, eternal memory please. Although, as death means nothingness, I'd much rather be alive and content in knowing that there will be memory of me later on. In some sense, this is a case of never dying: the only possible sense of immortality lies in being remembered.

In the case of myself, this also relates to the idea that one is one's works. In general this means that what you have done, that blog that you started four years ago and wrote one post on, that poorly maintained Twitter account, all those trollish posts in Facebook arguments and your insane forays in Youtube comments are, in a very meaningful way, who you are. In other words, one's memory depends on what one has done. That is, in the context of the Achilles Question, what you do is how you get remembered. This is pretty obvious.

I have no issues with what I see as John Key's interest in his memory. I commend him for having at least some concern for day n+1 (which National politicians, as a rule, do not have: which is disastrous socially, economically and environmentally). As I made clear in the previous post, I do have issues with the approach.

It is worth bearing in mind, though, that the Achilles Question is made interesting by its cost. My generalised view takes away that interest: the bite. Once you have to start making tradeoffs, you get something quite different. Although, arguably, just as suitable for the 1am blogger.

*Like most people (everyone has a philosophy) it is pretty much unspoken.

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