Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spectator or Participant

A new skate park was completed in Fawkner, Melbourne, and a skate event  - a 'skate jam' - was scheduled to take place there as an unofficial opening of the park. Raph schlepped me along. The event took place in the evening so several battery powered flood lights were used to light up the park. As it was drizzling, the crowd was quite small, perhaps fifty in total. The bowl was too wet and slippery to skate. Unperturbed, the skaters searched their cars for towels, t-shirts and pieces of cloth in order to dry at least a small section of the bowl. They managed to dry one small patch containing a 'volcano' - a five foot tall, mostly vertical, oblong shaped hump (visible in the footage below) - and the best skaters took turns performing tricks on it. Everyone else watched from nearby. 


Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, mystic, and mathematician, notorious for his fascination with triangles, saw the different types of people attending the Olympic games as depicting distinct levels of human endeavour. There are the hawkers and sellers of food and paraphernalia, the competing athletes, and the spectators. In his view, the three types of attendees form a hierarchy based on their motives in attending the games:

The sellers, in pursuit of material gain, are at the bottom of the hierarchy;
the athletes, who desire the emotional exhilaration of triumph, fame, and glory are higher;
while the spectators who observe the competitions are the highest since - in Pythagoras's view - enriching their intellect is their primary focus.

Pythagoras held that emotion is more spiritual and thus superior to the corporeal body, and the intellect, the capacity most ethereal, abstract, and detached from materiality, is the highest and the purest. Hence philosophers, mathematicians, and theorists, who maintain distance from the world by perceiving it through the intellect are most refined, while individuals concerned with the gratification of material needs are the most crass.               

From the vantage point of Kabbalah, Pythagoras was somewhat off the mark. Kabblah compares the strata of the human psyche - body, emotion, and intellect - to rows of bricks making up a wall. The purpose in life is to raise the entire wall. If one was to insert a lever beneath the top row of bricks, only the top row would be raised, and the others would be left below. Only by inserting the lever under the bottom row is the entire structure raised. Analogously, in refining one's intellect, one's emotions and body/behaviour may remain undeveloped and base - as was evident in the decadence of ancient Greece. Only when one raises his behaviour and activities by injecting them with meaning and spirituality does he raise his entire being.

This suggest that there are two levels of intellect. One level motivates one to think and philosophize for the sake of thinking itself. This often causes individuals to become so preoccupied with thinking that they cease participating in social and vocational life, observing and analyzing it from a distance. A higher level of intellect, however, allows a deep thinking person to apply his theories and observations in the social and vocational arenas, imbuing them with wisdom and depth. Such individuals do not cease participating in life; on the contrary, they bring the deepest ideas and theories to life, uplifting all rungs of human endeavour.                       

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