Political trials are always vain formalities; for the very passions that produce the accusation also lead to the condemnation. Such is the terrible logic of revolutions.
~Alexandre Dumas, Twenty Years After
Political trials are always vain formalities; for the very passions that produce the accusation also lead to the condemnation. Such is the terrible logic of revolutions.
~Alexandre Dumas, Twenty Years After
When looking for case studies of free market societies throughout history Singapore, a polity built from scratch in 1965, is an oft-cited example of how enlightened political leadership can stand back and let the market build a prosperous community for all. But was Singapore really guided by free market thinking at the executive political level? And should the free market in Singapore get the praise (or the blame) for subsequent economic developments? In consulting the autobiography of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first and longest-serving executive politician, an autobiography which covers the life and career of both Lee and the modern country of Singapore itself, the answer seems to carry a bit of nuance.
Chapter 1 Going It Alone
Singapore was a former British colony and military base/trading depot. It had no “hinterland” economy. It was dependent upon British military subsidies, the bases on the island costing nearly GBP$100M and losing these subsidies early on was a major fear of Lee’s.
Lee’s Top 3 Concerns after independence:
Chapter 2 Building An Army from Scratch
Rebuilding the military was a jobs program and an opportunity to create loyal party adherents and factional interest groups. Utilized conscription to build national unity and, modeled on Israeli military, be able to field a large fighting force in a short amount of time.
One official lamented that, “The Spartan approach to life does not come about naturally in a community that lives by buying and selling.” [The need for a military was to protect the political system from foreign dominance, not the commercial system.] “we were building up our defense forces to protect our fledging state.”
“Those who enlisted in the SAF as a full-time career would be guaranteed hobs in the government, statutory boards, or the private sector when they left full-time service to go into the reserves.”
Perceived and actual political threats from Malaysia and Indonesia and a desire to racially and ideologically unify the Singaporean citizenry and re-educate Chinese cultural norms led LKY to build SAF w/ Israeli training and partnerships with “Western democracies” for practice
Chapter 3 Britain Pulls Out
Contribution of British bases to the economy of Singapore in 1966, 20% of GDP.
LKY referred to by a British official “as good a left-wing and democratic socialist as any in this room” and “the government of Singapore… is the only democratic socialist government… in Southeast Asia” and “his housing programme… defies challenge in anything that has been done in the most advanced social democratic communities.”
Later, LKY “attended a Socialist International conference in Stockholm to keep in touch with British and European socialist party leaders.”
Singaporean government lost lots of money on the devaluation of the British pound, in which many of their reserves were held, and feared the departure of British troops in mainland Asia would shake investor confidence, particularly investors in Hong Kong, resulting in a desire to have an arms buildup for credible defense.
Chapter 4 Surviving Without a Hinterland
Recommendations of Dutch economist Dr. Albert Winsemius in 1965:
Sent trade delegation to Africa to try to drum up business but failed. Fears of unemployment since 1959 led to desire to industrialize. Formed Singapore Tourist Promotion Board to try to address unemployment.
To promote industrialization, “we protected locally assembled cars, refrigerators, air conditioners, radios, television sets and tape-recorders, in the hope that they would later be partly manufactured locally. We encouraged our own businesspeople who set up small factories to manufacture vegetable oils, cosmetics, mosquito coils, hair cream, joss paper and even mothballs!
Spent “vast sums” on infrastructure only to find the “Jurong industrial estate” mostly empty. Formed an Economic Development Board which got into JVs to recycle paper products with a businessman with no manufacturing experience, as well as ceramics without technical know-how. Also JVed with a Japanese shipbuilder but it did not prove profitable versus ship-repair, which was labor intensive.
“I was convinced our people must never have an aid-dependent mentality” yet formed the Bases Economic Conversion Department whose job was “to retrain and redeploy redundant workers, take possession of land and other assets the British were vacating, put them to the best use, and negotiate mitigatory aid.” Resulted in 1968 agreement for GBP$50M aid package to be spent on British goods and services, 25% being grants and 75% being loans.
Generated S$4-5M in annual USN ship repair business for the Singaporean government. The Singaporean government formed private entities to manage shipyards which later transformed into public companies.
Sought to “leapfrog” regional economies to become trading partner with developed world (America, Europe, Japan) to attract manufacturers to export to developed countries.
Formed Development Bank of Singapore, “DBS helped finance our entrepreneurs who needed venture capital because our established banks had no experience outside trade financing and were too conservative and reluctant to lend to would-be manufacturers”, ie, subsidized a top-down manufacturing-centric policy.
Keng Swee, first chairman of the Economic Development Board, “every time he drove by a school and saw hundreds of children streaming out, he felt downhearted, wondering how to find jobs for them when they left school.”
“The government played a key role in attracting foreign investments; we built the infrastructure and provided well-planned industrial estates, equity participation in industries, fiscal incentives and export promotion. We established good labor relations and sound macroeconomic policies, the fundamentals that enable private enterprise to operate successfully.”
Also, by end of 1970 had “issued 390 pioneer certificates giving investors tax-free status for up to five years, extended to 10 years for those issued after 1975”
“During this period, China was in the mad throes of Mao’s Culturual Revolution. Most investors thought Taiwan and Hong Kong too close to China and headed for Singapore.”
“By the late 1970s we had left our old problems of unemployment and lack of investments behind us. The new problem was how to improve the quality of the new investments and with it the education and skill levels of our workers.”
“After several years the EDB finally convinced Rollei, the German camera manufactuer, to relocate in Singapore. High German wages had made them uncompetitive.”
“We left most of the picking of winners to the MNCs that brought them to Singapore. A few, such as ship-repairing, oil-refining and petro-chemicals, and banking and finance, were picked by the EDB or Sui Sen, our minister of finance, or myself personally. Our ministry of trade and industry believed there could be breakthroughs in biotechnology, computer products, specialty chemicals and telecommunications equipment and services. When we were unsure how new research and development would turn out, we spread out bets.”
“Our job was to plan the broad economic objectives and the target periods within which to achieve them.”
“We did not have a group of ready-made entrepreneurs such as Hong Kong gained in the Chinese industrialists and bankers who came fleeing from Shanghai, Canton and other cities when the Communists took over. Had we waited for our traders to learn to be industrialists we would have starved.”
“The government took the lead by starting new industries such as steel mills (National Iron and Steel Mills) and service industries such as a shipping line, Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), and an airline, Singapore Airlines (SIA).”
Development Bank of Singapore, Insurance Corporation of Singapore, Singapore Petroleum Company; Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS), a mint and a factory for small ammunition. Pg 67, conversion of “successful” public monopolies into private companies.
With economic consultation from a Dutch academic, Singapore embarked on economic experimentation which involved at various times a combination of tariffs and no tariffs, tax concessions for new MNCs, extensive investment in infrastructure and at times direct government investment in “from scratch” national industries, which despite being successful and profitable were mysteriously privatized at points. The Singaporean government benefitted from political tailwinds created by economic chaos in other parts of the world, but also attracted FDI by pledging not to interfere in business affairs for those relocating to Singapore (1973 oil crisis being a good example).
Chapter 5 Creating a Financial Center
To become a world financial center, Singapore’s government realized it needed to lift foreign exchange control restrictions on all currency transactions between Singapore and territories outside the sterling area.
“I had decided in 1965… that Singapore should not have a central bank that could issue currency and create money. We were determined not to allow our currency to lose its value against the strong currencies of the big nations… so we retained our currency board which issued Singapore dollars only when backed by its equivalent value in foreign exhcange. The MAS has all the powers of a central bank except the authority to issue currency notes.”
Why did Singapore need its own currency if it had no plans to expand its issuance?
“We attracted international financial institutions by abolishing withholding tax on interest income earned by nonresident depositors. All Asian dollar deposits were exempted from statutory liquidity and reserve requirements.”
“The foundations for our financial center were the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and a stable, competent and honest government that pursued sound macroeconomic policies, with budget surpluses almost every year. This led to a strong and stable Singapore dollar, with exchange rates that dampened imported inflation.”
“To meet the competition from international banks, the MAS encouraged the four largest local banks (known as the “Big Four”) to acquire and merge with the smaller local banks to become bigger and stronger.”
1985 “The SES [Stock Exchange of Singapore] was closed for three days while MAS officials… worked around the clock with the Big Four banks to arrange an emergency “lifeboat” fund of S$180 million to rescue the stockbrokers.”
Government of Singapore Investment Corporation formed to manage the Central Provident Fund, Singapore’s pension scheme.
“For over three decades, I had supported Koh Beng Seng on restricting the access of foreign banks to the local market. Now I believed the time had come for the tough international players to force our Big Four to upgrade their services or lose market share… the MAS liberalized access to the domestic banking sector by allowing qualifying foreign full banks to open more branches and ATMs. It lifted limits on foreign ownership of local bank shares.”
Singapore sought to be a global financial center, becoming a key chronological link in the chain between markets in SF, Tokyo and Zurich. Singapore went without a central bank but did establish a “monetary authority” and currency board similar to HK. Special rules and taxes were established to attract foreign financial capital, but a primary attractor was stability in an unstable region. The government managed a pension scheme and sovereign wealth fund which somehow earned above market returns with a conservative stance. The banking sector was partially deregulated and globalized after a period of productive controls.
Chapter 6 Winning Over the Unions
“I started my political life fighting for the unions as their legal adviser and negotiator.”
“I owed my position as prime minister largely to the trade union movement.”
“We banned all strikes in certain essential services”
Britain’s withdrawal of military announcement in 1968 led to Employment Act, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act and Trade Unions Act amendment, “These laws spelled out minimum employment conditions and placed limits on retrenchment benefits, overtime bonuses, and fringe benefits. They set out uniform provisions for rest days, public holidays, working days, annual leave, maternity leave and sick leave. They restored to management the right to hire and fire, to promote and transfer, functions the unions had encroached upon during the years of industrial strife… we made it illegal for a trade union to take strike or industrial action without a secret ballot.”
1972, sets up National Wages Council “with representatives from unions, management and government”
“The NTUC [National Trade Union Council] expanded into health services, child care, a broadcasting station, a seaside resort hotel for workers called Pasir Ris Resort, and a country club, the Orchid Country Club with a golf course by Seletar reservoir. It also developed quality condimuniums its members could buy… To make them affordable, the government provided state land at nominal prices.”
LKY’s political career began as a union consultant and advocate. But when he came to power, he threatened unions with treason if they striked. A series of reforms were put in place which reduced union power and enhanced company/management power, but it all takes place within a system of “managed relations” where the government is a “stakeholder”. For some reason, the national union organization has made conglomerated investments in semi-private for-profit businesses and co-ops aimed at worker welfare, which the government has helped subsidize.
Chapter 7 A Fair, Not Welfare, Society
“We believed in socialism, in fair shares for all. Later we learned that personal motivation and personal rewards were essential for a productive economy. However, because people are unequal in their abilities, if performance and rewards are determined by the marketplace, there will be a few big winners, many medium winners and a considerable number of losers. That would make for social tensions because a society’s sense of fairness is offended.” [set this up as the leading quote for the essay?]
“A competitive, winner-takes-all society, like colonial Hong Kong in the 1960s, would not be acceptable in Singapore. A colonial government did not have to face elections every five years; the Singapore government did. To even out the extreme results of free-market competition, we had to redistrivute the national income through subidies on things that improved the earning power of citizens, such as education. Housing and public health were also obviously desirable. But finding the correct solutions for personal medical care, pensions, or retirement benefits was not easy. We decided each matter in a pragmatic way, always mindful of possible abuse and waste. If we over-re-distributed by higher taxation, the high performers would cease to strive. Our difficulty was to strike the right balance.”
CPF policies imposed a total savings rate of 50 percent of wages.
“I further amended the law to give the government the power to acquire land for public purposes at its value on a date fixed at 30 November 1973. I saw no reason why private landowners should profit from an increase in land value brought about by economic development and the infrastructure paid for with public funds.”
On the development of HDB and resettling of farmers and squatters: “Compressing 30 years into a few pages makes it all appear simple and straightforward. There were enormous problems, especially in the early stages when we resettled farmers and others from almost rent-free wooden squatter huts with no water, power or modern sanitation, and therefore no utility bills, into high-rise dwellings with all these amenities but also a monthly bill to pay. It was a wrenching experience for them in personal, social and economics terms.”
“As incomes increased, fewer patients chose the lower-cost wards, which had the highest government subsidies, and opted for wards with more comfort but lower subsidies. We considered but rejected a means test to determine which wards patients were entitled to use; it would have been difficult to implement. Instead we encouraed people to upgrade to the ward they could afford by making clear differences in comfort between different types of wards. It was in effect a self-administed means test.” so is the market!
“Government expenditure has averaged 20 percent of GDP, compared to an average of 33 percent in the G7 economies. On the other hand, our development expenditure has consistently been much higher than that of the G7 countries.”
“Our aim is to have partial or total cost recovery for goods and services provided by the state. This checks overconsumption of subsidized public services and reduces distrotions in the allocation of resources.”
The Singapore government was dominated by one party, PAP, for its modern history. They very openly bought botes with their welfare programs. But they sought to make many of these programs less generous to ensure their solvency. The government forced high rates of saving on workers which it deployed to finance infrastructure spending and welfare housing. Lower tax rates compared to other developed countries helped Singapore remain competitive. LKY is very clearly NOT a fan of the free market in this chapter.
Chapter 8 The Communists Self-Destruct
On fighting Malayan National Liberation Front/communist guerrillas: “Could we have defeated them if we had allowed them habeas corpus and abjured the powers of detention without trial? I doubt it.”
Singapore had two major political factions, the Communists and the PAP. After a series of political blunders and internal turmoil, the communists formally exited the electoral scene leaving the PAP to run unopposed for 30 years, allowing them long and consistent control over policy-making. They used “ends justify the means” and subverted sound legal principles to obstruct and detain communists.
Chapter 9 Straddling the Middle Ground
“while overall sentiment and mood do matter, the crucial factors are institutional and organizational networks to muster support… in our HDB new towns, there is a network that leads from the RCs to the MCs and CCCs on to the prime minister’s office…”
“The PAP had countered the opposition’s ‘by-election’ strategy with the electoral carrot that priority for upgrading of public housing in a constituency would be in accord with the strength of voter support for the PAP in that constituency.”
The PAP faced no serious political opposition and turned to various patronage and vote-buying schemes to solidify support. It seems the HDB housing projects also allowed the PAP to corral supporters and have a physically defensivle political communications network. Many political opponents made claims of corruption only to be sued, sometimes into bankruptcy, by LKY. The few times his own PAP members were charged with libel, they settled out of court. LKY employes specious reasoning to defend this authoritarian legal approach on the grounds that to let the charges go unmolested would threaten his political power– he has a pure, unviolated record of ethics in a region known for corruption!
Chapter 10 Nurturing and Attracting Talent
“Traditional methods of choosing marriage partners had been ruptured by universal education: The government had to provide alternatives to the family matchmakers of old.”
“I gave special income tax concessions to married women”
Stop-at-Two policy of the 1960s “Without that policy, family planning might never have brought population growth down, and we would not have solved our unemployment and schooling problems.”
“Difficulties over our talent pool were aggravated when the rich Western countries changed their policies on Asian immigration… [the US] decided to accept Asian immigrants, reversing more than a century of its whites-only policy.”
The Singapore government was obsessed with population management, first trying to limit births on Malthusian grounds, then trying to promote the marriage and childraising of educated parents on the grounds of skewing the IQ or “talent” pool. Many subsidies Singapore granted to educate its citizenry was “leaked” as people immigrated to other countries to pursue opportunity, partly in response to changing immigration policies elsewhere (such as the US in the 1960s). Now it has taken to liberalizing immigration for high IQ emigres, especially those with jobs, to try to increase the “talent pool.”
Chapter 11 Many Tongues, One Language
LKY enforced language laws on the population in a desire to achieve social harmony and globally integrated economic progress. He encountered much popular resistance but believes these policies proved prescient given global events. It also allowed for a more homogenized culture.
Chapter 12 Keeping the Government Clean
“Human ingenuity is infinite when translating power and discretion into personal gain.”
Singapore got high marks for honesty of government in a region where corruption is an ingrained part of culture. LKY attributes this cultural success to the ideological rigor, invasive investigative authority given to the anti-corruption bureaus and the willingess of government to pay high salaries to public servants to attract them away from the private sector [distortion]. But who watched the anti-corruption officers to ensure they weren’t on the take? And why would this be a corruption issue if government didn’t have the power over the economy? LKY again admits that the PAP bought political favors with public resources by engaging in welfare spending once in office.
Chatper 13 Greening Singapore
“Hundreds, eventually thousands, of pirate taxis clogged our streets and destroyed bus services… only after 1971, when we had created many jobs, were we able to enforce the law and reclaim the streets.”
“It was immensely better that we competed to be the greenest and cleanest in Asia. I can think of many areas where competition could be harmful, even deadly.”
“We phased out the rearing of over 900,000 pigs on 8,000 farms because pig waste polluted our streams.”
“After we had persuaded and won over a majority, we legislated to punish the willful minority… if this is a ‘nanny state’, I am proud to have fostered one.”
Much in the vogue in the 1970s, LKY got swept up in environmentalism and made it a major policy priority to “green” Singapore; this included building public utility infrastructure to control waste and pollution, but also involved “nudge” legislation to change or ban cultural habits deemed offensive or a nuisance. Agricultural practices were changed as were retail practices (pirate taxis, street hawkers). LKY put great emphasis on the “morale” of greening and its affect on visiting dignitaries and VIPs. There is no discussion of the cost of these programs or whether there were alternative approaches to accomplishing the stated goals: he embraced charges of “nanny statism.”
Chapter 14 Managing the Media
“Our journalists are exposed to and influenced by the reporting stytles and political attitudes of the American media, always skeptical and cynical of authority. The Chinese and Malay press do not model themselves on newspapers in the West. Their cultural practice is for constructive support of policies they agree with, and criticism in measured terms when they do not.”
“My early experiences in Singapore and Malaya shaped my views about the claim of the press to be the defender of truth and freedom of speech. The freedom of the press was the freedom of its owners to advance their personal and class interests.”
“That was exactly what we had the right to do, to seek a mandate to deal firmly with foreign, in this case colonial, interests in the press. It was our declared policy that newspapers should not be owned by foreigners.”
“I needed the media ‘to reinforce, not to undermine, the cultural values and social attitudes being inculcated in our schools and universities. The mass media can create a mood in which people become keen to acquire the knowledge, skills and disciplines of advanced countries. Without these, we can never hope to raise the standards of living of our people… Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.'”
“A few years later, in 1977, we passed laws to prohibit any person or his or her nominee from holding more than 3 percent of the ordinary shares of a newspaper, and created a special category of shares called management shares. The minister had the authority to decide which shareholders would have management shares.”
“We decided in 1986 to enact a law to restrict the sale or distribution of foreign publications that had engaged in the domestic politics of Singapore.”
Freedom of the press is clearly not a cherished ideal in Singapore, in so far as PAP-controlled government is concerned. The law allows various forms of censorship used to control “foreign influence” of the press but there is no discussion of whether this was also used to control domestic press.
Chapter 15 Conductor of an Orchestra
LKY built a national airline, but insisted it make a profit. He engaged in enormous airport building projects without explanation for why they were necessary. He used the unions to pressure foreign politicians. LKY banned jury trials in Singapore, he appointed lawyers, many friends from his school days, to many important ministries related to commerce. He regulated the housing system and enforced desegregation quotas which he knew depressed the capitalization of the housing stock and went against the ethnic groups’ desires to segregate. Is this multi-cultural harmony, based on edict?
At one point, he brags that Uganda has more female hotel managers than any other country in Africa. “We have got four managers, and another two assistant managers.” This is a strange thing for the president of an entire country to worry about—but Amin seems to feel that he has to worry about it: Only if he controls everything, and only if he can keep the country in line, will Uganda prosper. Success, Amin seems to believe, is a matter of will and of heeding his good advice. People just need to work harder—women need to get up at “about 5 o’clock in the morning”—and love their leaders. If something’s wrong, then, it’s because a citizen has personally failed, not because the system is screwed up. Amin had no ideology. (“We are not following any policy at all,” he says at one point.) Like so many Third World tyrants, he was not a fascist or a Communist. His idea of the world was purely personalistic. He was an Amin-ist.
[similar to the # of car competition between LKY and indonesian leader; also, the rejection of ideology by LKY, following his own intuition]
by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, published 2010
Vertical integration, bottom to top
brainstem, regulates energy, fight-or-flight response, generates “drive” w/ limbic
limbic region, generates and evaluates emotion, forms relationships, “story-telling” experiences
cortex, 3D mapping and sensing of reality, conceptualizing, meta-thought
Horizontal integration (bilaterality)
Prefontal cortex functions:
The Tripod of Reflection:
Eight Domains of Integration:
Secure attachment to parents largely driven by the parents’ autobiographical narrative of their own upbringing
Adult & Child Attachment
Adult Narrative, Infant Strange Situation Behavior
by Nathaniel Branden, published 1994
The possession of self-esteem over time represents an achievement
The power of conviction in oneself is a motivator that inspires behavior.
The level of our self-esteem influences how we act, and how we act influences the level of our self-esteem.
With high self-esteem, I am more likely to persist in the face of difficulties.
If I persevere, the likelihood is that I will succeed more often than I fail.
People often self-sabotage because the mind’s desire to avoid cognitive dissonance forces people to alter the “facts” of their reality (behavior) to their “knowledge” of what they think is true of themselves (beliefs).
The tragedy of many people’s lives is that, given a choice between being “right” and having an opportunity to be happy, they invariably choose being “right”. That is the one ultimate satisfaction they allow themselves.
It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.
A person’s image of the future may be a better predictor of future attainment than his past performances.
Self-concept is destiny, or, more precisely, it tends to be.
We cannot understand a person’s behavior without understanding the self-concept behind it.
An unresolved problem at one level may subvert operations at another.
If one does not understand how the dynamics of self-esteem work internally — if one does not know by direct experience what lowers or raises one’s own self-esteem — one will not have that intimate understanding of the subject necessary to make an optimal contribution to others.
We must become what we wish to teach.
Self-esteem is a consequence, a product of internally generated practices.
Once we understand these practices, we have the power to choose them, to work on integrating them into our way of life. The power to do so is the power to raise the level of our self-esteem, from whatever point we may be starting and however difficult the project may be in the early stages.
Think in terms of small steps rather than big ones because big ones can intimidate (and paralyze), while small ones seem more attainable, and one small step leads to another.
Consciously, we rarely remember these choices. But deep in our psyche they are added up, and the sum is that experience we call “self-esteem.”
Consciousness that is not translated into appropriate action is a betrayal of consciousness; it is mind invalidating itself. Living consciously means more than seeing and knowing; it means acting on what one sees and knows.
I do not indulge in the fantasy that someone else can spare me the necessity of thought or make my decisions for me.
Being present means “doing what I am doing while I am doing it.”
Fear and pain should be treated as signals not to close our eyes but to open them wider, not to look away but to look more attentively.
The world belongs to those who persevere.
When body therapists work to release the breathing and open areas of tight muscular contraction, the person feels more and is more aware. Body work can liberate blocked consciousness.
If one’s goal is to operate at a high level of consciousness, a body armored against feeling is a serious impediment.
Self-esteem is something we experience, self-acceptance is something we do.
“I choose to value myself, to treat myself with respect, to stand up for my right to exist.”
Compassionate interest does not encourage undesired behavior but reduces the likelihood of it occurring.
The act of experiencing and accepting our emotions is implemented through 1.) focusing on the feeling or emotion 2.) breathing gently and deeply, allowing muscles to relax, allowing the feeling to be felt, and 3.) making real that this is my feeling (which we call owning it.)
In contrast, we deny and disown our emotions when we 1.) avoid awareness of their reality, 2.) constrict our breathing and tighten our muscles to cut off or numb feeling, and 3.) dissociate ourselves from our own experience (in which state we are often unable to recognize our feelings.)
“I am now exploring the world of fear or pain or envy or confusion (or whatever).”
Acceptance of what is, is the precondition of change. And denial of what is leaves me stuck in it.
I am responsible for the achievement of my desires.
I am responsible for my behavior with other people.
I am responsible for my personal happiness.
I am responsible for raising my self-esteem.
What am I willing to do to get what I want?
Taking responsibility for my happiness is empowering. It places my life back in my own hands.
I do not support the grandiose notion that “I am responsible for every aspect of my existence and everything that befalls me.” Some things we have control over; others we do not. If I hold myself responsible for matters beyond my control, I put my self-esteem in jeopardy.
Never ask a person to act against his or her self-interest as he or she understands it.
No one is coming to save me; no one is coming to make life right for me; no one is coming to solve my problems. If I don’t do something, nothing is going to get better.
Self-assertiveness asks that we not only oppose what we deplore but that we live and express our values.
One of the great self-delusions is to think of oneself as “a valuer” or “an idealist” while not pursuing one’s values in reality.
Fundamental efficacy cannot be generated in a vacuum; it must be created and expressed through some specific tasks successfully mastered. I cannot be efficacious in the abstract without being efficacious about anything in particular. The purposes that move us need to be specific if they are to be realized.
Purposes unrelated to a plan of action do not get realized. They exist only as frustrated yearnings. Daydreams do not produce the experience of efficacy.
The root of our self-esteem is not our achievements but those internally generated practices that, amongst other things, make it possible for us to achieve– all the self-esteem virtues that we are discussing here.
For self-esteem, consistent kindness by intention is a very different experience from kindness by impulse.
In the inner courtroom of my mind, mine is the only judgment that counts.
If integrity is a source of self-esteem, then it is also, and never more so than today, an expression of self-esteem.
These are my notes from the first part of “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide To Classical Education At Home”. It covers concepts and instruction from the typical kindergarten through fourth grade period of education. My notes will remain fairly rough for now; later I may go back and compile them into a comprehensive “1 sheet summary” to classical education for home schooling. For now I will just provide my notes chapter by chapter, with the understanding that there is a mixture of direct quotes with clarifying commentary or analysis from me personally.
Chapter 2, A Personal Look at Classical Education: Susan
The author states that her personal experience with classical education applied at home was like this:
Our education was language-centered, not image-centered; we read and listened and wrote but we rarely watched.
A classical education revolves around three core disciplines: grammar, logic and rhetoric. These three disciplines become an organizing principle for a home school family attempting to follow a classical education, and a model of the individual child’s intellectual development:
As the authors suggest, a child will go through three distinct “parts” of their education mirroring these stages; within each discipline or educational topic they’ll also individually progress through these stages.
Principles of classical education:
Twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: ancients (5000 BC to AD 400), medieval period through the early Renaissance (400-1600), late Renaissance through early modern period (1600-1850) and modern times (1850-present). The student will end up visiting each of these historical periods once each in the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages.
Move forward chronologically and organize the bulk of your history by time period, rather than by individual country. The traditional American method of studying history by region does nothing to help students draw connections between events, vital to critical thinking about history.
They suggest a 4-year pattern for sciences instruction:
The classical pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science and literature.
Virtuous men and women can force themselves to do what they know is right, even when it runs against their inclinations. Classical education continually asks a student to focus not on what is immediately pleasurable but on the steps needed to reach a future goal.
“The Great Conversation”: the ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages.
Part I, The Grammar Stage K-4
Chapter 3, The Parrot Years
A classical education requires a student to collect, understand, memorize and categorize information.
Your goal is to supply mental pegs on which later information can be hung.
The elementary years are ideal for soaking up knowledge.
The child should be accumulating masses of information: stories of people and wars; names of rivers, cities, mountains, and oceans; scientific names, properties of matter, classifications; plots, characters, and descriptions.
Seize this early excitement. Let the child delve deep. Let him read, read, read. Don’t force him to stop and reflect on it yet.
The immature mind is more suited to absorption than argument.
There is nothing wrong with a child accumulating information that she doesn’t yet understand. It all goes into the storehouse for use later on. [like language]
Children like lists at this age.
The goal of grammar-stage instruction is not to restrict your child but rather to protect her love of learning. Children mature out of the grammar stage into the logic stage at different times. Children mature unevenly. Give your children the time and space to mature, in each subject area, from grammar into logic-stage thinking.
Prioritize reading, writing, grammar and math.
A child who reads and writes well will pick up surprising amounts of history and science as he browses.
Chapter 4, Unlocking the Doors: The Preschool Years
She’s learning that words are used to plan, to think, to explain: she’s figuring out how the English language organizes words into phrases, clauses and complete sentences. [sportscasting with an infant]
Repetition builds literacy.
After you read to your toddler, ask her questions about the story.
As soon as your child begins to talk teach her the alphabet.
Teach a child from the beginning to hold a pencil correctly.
Start with counting: fingers, toes, eyes and ears; toys and treasures; rocks and sticks.
Most four-year-olds have microscopic attention spans, immature hand-eye coordination and a bad case of the wiggles.
Children can listen to and enjoy books that are far, far above their vocabulary level. Audiobooks stock a child’s mind with the sounds of thousands of words.
Many children are ready to read long before they have the muscular coordination to write. Why delay reading until the muscles of the hand and eye catch up?
Do “daily” math by adding and subtracting in the context of everyday family life.
Do lots of addition and subtraction with manipulatives (beans, buttons, pencils, chocolate chips).
Chapter 5, Words, Words, Words: Spelling, Grammar, Reading and Writing
Your goal, in grades 1 through 4, is to make the proper use of language second nature to your child.
Begin the academic year with three-ringed notebooks, a three-hole punch, and lots of paper, both lined and plain. Also lay in a boxful of art supplies: glue, scissors, construction paper, colored pencils (good artist-quality ones like Sanford Prismacolor), stickers and anything else that strikes the child’s fancy. For elementary language arts, you’ll want to make use of two of these notebooks. Label one “Literature” and the other “Writing.”
Always spend as much time on one level as you need and progress on to the next level only when your child has mastered the previous one.
Three levels of reading:
Aim for the “reading periods” to include all three skills, each week.
Try to give the child simplified versions of the original literature that he’ll be reading in the higher grades or introduce him to a writer he’ll encounter later.
After a child reads, you can ask questions about the reading and the oral answers are called narrations.
Learning how to identify one or two items about a book as more important than the rest is a vital first step in learning to write; a young writer will flounder as long as he cannot pick out one or two of the ideas in his mind as central to his composition.
Children in the 3rd or 4th grade can write down their own narrations after reading. Instead of learning to complete fill-in-the-blank questions, the child uses all his mental faculties to understand, remember, and relate the main points of a story.
Every three or four weeks, the child should also memorize a poem and recite it to you. Memorization and recitation of poetry is an iomportant part of the reading process; it exercises the child’s memory, stores beautiful language in his mind, and gives him practice in speaking aloud.
Spelling is the first step in writing.
We don’t think you should allow spelling to consume your language arts time.
It’s important to allow students to progress at a natural pace in each of the language arts areas without frustrating them by limiting their progress to the speed of their worst subject.
Grammar exercises should be done orally with 1st and 2nd graders.
Early writing instruction should focus on developing those tools, rather than demanding a great deal of original content.
How to more quickly develop writing capability:
The young writer practices putting ideas into words, and then putting words down on paper, before trying to do both simultaneously.
The classical pupil learns to write by copying the great writers.
Chapter 6, The Joy of Numbers: Math
Mathematics is a language because it uses symbols and phrases to represent abstract realities.
Mathematical literacy (numeracy) involves learning both the procedures and the reasons why they work (conceptual math).
Two primary methods of learning math:
Chldren aged 5 through 7 usually need concrete objects; children aged 8 through 10 begin to shift into “mental image” mode. Abstract thinking begins around age nine or ten, which coincides with the beginning of the logic stage.
Firm principle of elementary mathematics: no calculators.
Math is a science of not being wrong about things, its techniques and habits hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, sounder, more meaningful way.
Chapter 7, Seventy Centuries in Four Years: History and Geography
The history of the world is but the biography of great men.Thomas Carlyle
History is the study of everything that has happened until now. Unless you plan to live entirely in the present moment, the study of history is inevitable.
Keep one central fact in mind: history is a story.
The logical way to tell a story is to begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end.
The history curriculum covers seventy centuries; America occupies only five of them. [don’t over-emphasize your time and place in historical study]
The goal of the classical curriculum is multicultural in the true sense of the word: the student learns the proper place of his community, his state, and his country by seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning and then fitting his own time and place into that great landscape.
Tackle original sources.
[why does the history curriculum begin with 5000BC, what about pre-history? biological history? spread of mankind over the globe?]
Three goals of studying history:
Progressing chronologically from your chosen starting point gives students an organized and orderly way to think about history; the majority of your history study should be done with a worldwide focus, not country by country. [comparing and contrasting simultaneous developments]
Follow the same basic pattern:
Give priority to reading, grammar, spelling, writing and math. History and science follow on these basic abilities.
History should be a delight-centered activity for the grammar-stage child. Allow him to explore, do activities and projects, and have fun; you can always hurry over (or skip) later chapters without injury.
Chapter 8, Investigating the World: Science
Two important attitudes to cultivate: a sense of amazement; a commitment to look hard at the world around us.
Parents who are themselves scientists have told us that they prefer to teach the sciences as connected to each other rather than related to history.
Chapter 9, Dead Languages for Live Kids: Latin (and Other Languages Still Living)
Reasons to study a “dead language” like Latin:
A foreign language “provides one with entry into a worldview different from one’s own… If it is important that our young value diversity of point of view, there is no better way to achieve it than to have them learn a foreign language.”
Whole-to-parts Latin instruction is frustrating and counterproductive, and breaks down the very skill that systematic Latin lessons develop– the habit of systematic thinking.
Conversation is the only path to fluency.
Chapter 10, Electronic Teachers: Using Computers and Other Screens
During school-time, we read books, do experiments, and write about what we’re learning. It’s hard work, but the more the student reads and writes, the more natural reading and writing become.
Chapter 12, Finer Things: Art and Music
Art for elementary students should cover art techniques and elements, and learning about great artists.
Two years is the minimum time that it takes to begin to enjoy an instrument, rather than simply struggling with it.
If you’re the parent of a young child, you probably have a copy of The Rainbow Fish somewhere in the house– probably two or three! It seems this is one of several books that every family member and friend wants to be the one to give to you.
The book’s popularity and appeal are rooted not just in its attractive art style, including reflective foil silver fish scales, but also in its moral lesson. In simple terms, the book teaches about sharing and every modern parent knows that sharing is the Cardinal Virtue of Childhood. Whatever your child’s other vices, shortcomings and individual weaknesses might be, if he or she knows how to share and does it consistently in public social settings the parent can be confident, even proud, that they’ve raised their child right.
But why is sharing so important? Ah, this is the question to which no parent seems to know the answer!
We do not read The Rainbow Fish in our house, not to our children and not for the pleasure of the adults. We don’t think “sharing” is a virtue, cardinal or otherwise. We think it is an unthinking codeword of social metaphysics– the idea that one’s individual value is relative to what other individuals think it is.
Here is how The Rainbow Fish teaches social metaphysics to children:
The eponymous pisces is born with beautiful shiny scales. His shiny scales are coveted by other fish who are born without them. These fish ask for his scales, which he does not give to them. As a result, the other fish scorn and ostracize him. He meets a “wise” octopus (ie, a not-fish) who tells him that he can be desirable to the other fish if he gives the virtues he was born with to others. He proceeds to do so until he is left with one shiny scale for himself, all others being distributed pro-rata to the other fish. At this point, the other fish are happy with him and he is accepted into their community.
What’s going on here? Let’s parse this.
The protagonist is an antagonist. The school of fish, the fish community, is the protagonist and he has antagonized them simply be existing. The reason his existence is bothersome is because he was born with qualities (beauty, in this case) which they lack. They feel lessened in their pride and their own existence by witnessing things he came into life with that they were not.
Without making any attempt to know and understand the Rainbow Fish, the other fish determine he is unlikable because he won’t give them the things they have, simply because they ask for it. His virtues are vices if they can’t have them for themselves.
The Rainbow Fish faces exclusion and emotional pain if he chooses to keep himself to himself. He is not free to exercise his property rights as he likes without fear of being alienated by the other members of the community.
To gain wisdom about how to participate in a community of his peers, he speaks with a creature outside of his species. He learns not to trust his instincts or his own rational capabilities but to trust in alien powers. He learns that he is wrong “as a person” just for being who he is– he must make some gift, offering or sacrifice of himself to the community to be accepted.
Finally, he gives up what is desirable and virtuous of himself to others. Only when there is equality are the others happy with him. And suddenly, he is happy with himself for being liked by them. It is not explained how and why he needed to be unhappy without that condition being met nor why he couldn’t survive and prosper without giving away his virtue and strengths to others, now totally diluted.
We believe that the strengths and capabilities people are born with are virtuous. At minimum, they benefit the individual and at maximum they may be utilized in social cooperation to benefit others as well. But they do not harm or hinder other people who are born without them.
We believe that people should be free to choose who they associate with and on what terms. Giving away one’s values and virtues is not an acceptable condition for gaining group membership or loyalty in our minds. Any group that values an individual as a member should be able to value them for who they are, not for what they can take from them.
We believe individuals should trust themselves and their own reasoning. They should not need to rely upon the “wisdom” (opinions) of people who are not like themselves to learn how to live their own life truthfully and successfully.
We do not believe that self-sacrifice is a reasonable price to pay for the approval of others. We do not believe the approval of others to be valuable or desirable criteria for self-esteem and the ability to live life joyfully on one’s own terms.
We believe there are other means for establishing group harmony and the bonds of community than simple equality of property, possessions or ideas. The Cardinal Virtue in our minds, in childhood and otherwise, is Integrity– honesty with oneself, full visibility of one’s individuality, and the courageous nobility of embracing the unique challenges and triumphs of each person’s identity.
For these reasons, we do not read The Rainbow Fish in our household even though many families do.
by David Burns, published 1980, 2008
This post is less a review of the book and more an exploration of its major philosophical principles and techniques.
All your moods are created by your cognitions, or thoughts, including:
When you are feeling depressed, your thoughts are dominated by pervasive negativity which infect all of your experiences, including:
Negative thoughts at the heart of emotional turmoil almost always contain gross distortions, therefore:
Diagnosing Your Moods
You can use the Burns Depression Checklist (the author’s proprietary list of indicators of depressive thinking) weekly to chart the progress of your depression’s severity. This is important because it introduces objective data into your self-experience. By seeing the change in data over time as a result of specific action, you can break the allure common to all depressive episodes that the present experience is likely to continue on indefinitely, or only get worse.
Understanding Your Moods
Depression is not an emotional disorder, it is a disorder of thoughts.
Practice noticing the negative thought you had just prior to your negative feeling. This will help you generate awareness about the specific “triggers” that instigate a depressive mood. You will begin to notice that right before you feel downcast, you have made a critical or despairing assumption about yourself or other people.
One argument depressed people make is that their depressive mood is an accurate reflection of a depressing reality. However, emotions do not happen automatically based upon experiences, but rather experiences are processed in the mind and filtered through pre-existing thoughts before being translated into an emotional state. Therefore, if your understanding of reality is normal, your resulting mood will be normal; if your understanding of reality is distorted, your mood will be distorted as well.
Thinking you are the one “hopeless”, truly flawed person in the world is a sign of distorted thinking. This is a belief based upon fallacious logical thinking rather than an objective, existent fact about reality knowable to all.
In its essence, depression is a highly credible form of faulty faith in a reality that doesn’t exist. Truly, the cure for long-lasting depression is a “scientific mind” determined to observe and examine reality using sound logical principles.
The 10 Major Cognitive Distortions
Depressive episodes are triggered by one of ten common cognitive distortions, or fundamental logical fallacies embedded in the assumptions and thinking of the depressed individual:
Sometimes people experiencing depression worry that if they do not experience the grief and upset feelings of depression, they will not be living authentically. Getting in touch with and expressing valid emotions based upon valid thinking, is a form of emotional maturity; expressing invalid emotions based on invalid thinking is a personal and sometimes social problem that is not at all desirable. Emotional growth and development involves ridding yourself of invalid thinking and the harmful, deluded and invalid emotions that come with it.
In a depressive state of mind, it can be difficult to summon the determination, motivation and interest in moving one’s goals and life plans forward. Using the major principle mentioned earlier, it is important to consider what kind of self-critical triggering thoughts precede this unwillingness to act. When you are suffering “do-nothingism”, consider the following as a new mental habit:
When I think about an undone task, what thoughts immediately come to mind?
You are likely to find that these thoughts are filled with the logic of futility, hopelessness and general nihilism and discouragement.
Common Mindsets that Yield Action to Inaction
Here are some common cognitive distortions that precede do-nothingism:
You may notice that many of these cognitive distortions are simply “inaction-specific” versions of the earlier list from above.
Dealing With Anger
Anger is a common aspect of many depressive episodes. As depressed people tend not to carry out the values of their lives into action, they often experience frustration, resentment and anger about the seeming futility and malaise of their life, particularly when they are in touch with or aware of their latent talents and abilities. Anger is often directed outward at others as an expression of the pain within.
When you label someone, you tend to apply a mental filter that results in disqualifying the positive as you emphasize their poor traits and ignore their good ones. Labeling gives way to blame, blame leads to vengeance. Ironically, you can not enhance your self-esteem by attacking someone else’s, so this act of labeling and attacking the character of others in anger proves doubly harmful.
Mind-reading also leads to anger as you will tend to attribute false ideas and motivations to the other person’s behavior.
Magnification of the original negative event will cause greater than necessary pain and cause the pain to linger longer than it must.
Should/should not statements generate entitled beliefs and entitled thinking leads to resentment and frustration with other people as well as the self.
The perception of unfairness or injustice is the ultimate cause of anger. It is the emotion that corresponds 1:1 to your belief that you are being treated unfairly. Significantly, there is no universal standard for fairness or justice, only different ethical systems based upon tradition, circumstances and logical rationalization of self-interest and specific harmony.
Arguments over who is “right” are fruitless and unresolvable.
Some anger is healthy in motivating change. But to determine if your anger is motivational or de-motivational and depressive, consider these two criteria for anger:
Techniques for managing anger:
Examing Depressive Thinking
Some people are so depressed, all they can do is carry their whining and complaining with them everywhere they go. How do you deal with a whiner? Try the Anti-Whiner Technique– when someone complains, agree and compliment, don’t try to help. People who whine never want help solving their problems, they are looking for validation and security from others that their pain is real. By offering solutions, you unwittingly end up sending the message to the whiner that they’re incapable of helping themselves, are being victimized by reality and thus should continue whining!
There is no such thing as a “realistic” depression, although there are realistic reasons for temporarily feeling sad. Consider these two ideas about “realistic” depression:
Preventing future depressions:
Downward Arrow Technique, used to mine automatic thoughts for “logical consequences” of silent assumptions, the residue of recurring depressive episodes; then “talk-back” is used the challenge these beliefs.
Taking Action Against Depression
What problems do you face? How are you solving them? This is where the action is, not “worth” or “true self”.
People can spend their whole lives trying to get beneath their depression to an authentic understanding of self when really the difference between a depressed person and a non-depressed person, ultimately, is a willingness to take action to solve one’s own problems.
Why treat yourself in ways it would be rude or uncomfortable to treat others? Encourage yourself to identify your problems and create strategies for resolving them. In taking action, you’ll find your own capability and begin to let the depression go.
by Alan Weiss, published 2019
Estimate costs to reasonably support yourself and your family for 1 full year and set this money aside as initial startup costs for consulting
10 Key Traits of Successful Consultants
Necessary specialist help with professional staff, entrepreneurial bent, accessible, resourceful, same risk-profile:
Marketing, develop market gravity through:
Key principles of consulting sales
Gaining conceptual agreement
Focus on developing “small yeses”
7 Elements of Great Proposals
by Paul Strathern, published 2017
The history of the Medici family might best be summarized with the phrase “from dust to dust.” As if to emphasize how they were destined for greatness and nobility, the family started out as a bunch of Tuscan hillbillies who could trace their lineage to a legendary knight of the Holy Roman Empire who settled near Florence in the 8th or 9th Century. From there and then, no one heard much of these people until some of the clan moved into Florence proper in the early 1300s and formed a small money-changing business.
Using conservative business practices and investing in roles of civic responsibility, eventually a Medici was elected to the position of gonfaloniere, the primus inter pares of the Florentine Republic. From this position the dice were carefully loaded in the favor of subsequent Medici generations by artfully forming governing coalitions that cemented their public position while creating leverage across their business and investment portfolio through the tactical use of subsidy, official privilege, insider information and regulatory capture wielded against competitors and opponents.
The story of the “overnight success” of the Medici begins here. The first great head of the Medici family and Medici bank, Giovanni de Medici, had jockeyed for favor with the newly appointed (anti-)Pope John XXIII in order to secure a role as the personal banker to the Papal Curia upon his ascendancy, which was then granted. For much of the 14th Century and Renaissance period in general, the papal revenues and banking needs were equivalent to managing the treasury function for the modern era’s most wealthy and complex multi-national corporations. To gain this trust was not only a measure of unique esteem valuable in and of itself, but a responsibility that carried with it priceless information and irreplaceable business franchises throughout European Christendom and even the Levant.
However, Pope John XXIII soon became embroiled in the Great Schism in which he and 2 other rival popes were called before the Holy Roman Emperor and summarily dismissed, to be replaced with his appointment, Pope Martin V. At his son Cosimo’s urging (whom he had sent to be his representative at the delegation attending the papal conference) the Medici’s continued to support the defrocked pope, even helping to pay his ransom for his release from imprisonment. Rather than being a financial disaster, this loyal support of the former pope led to a new lucrative banking relationship under Martin V, because in return for bartering his release the former Pope John XXIII agreed to support the nomination of Martin V and participate in the reconciliation of the Schism, leading to greater legitimacy for the new pope.
As a major political player on top of his business responsibilities, Giovanni left three apocryphal warnings for his descendants:
It seems as if it should be unnecessary to say that in time this advice was forgotten and eventually, so, too, were the Medici.
But the dissolution of the Medici was a ways away yet. After Giovanni came Cosimo as head of the family and the Medici bank. He faced a disastrous and unpopular war between Florence and Lucca (backed by Milan) which threatened to ruin the Florentine treasury and which had pitted the various leading families against one another. Subscribing to Rule #3, Cosimo opposed the conduct of the war and worked to hide the bank’s assets outside of Florence to avoid expropriation in the war’s aftermath.
For these maneuvers and others, Cosimo was recalled to Florence and imprisoned in the bell tower of the Palazzo Vecchio by a faction led by the rival Albizzi who had plans to execute him for treachery. However, Cosimo’s far flung banking business and participation in the geopolitics of Western Europe had led him to a series of alliances and power relationships with foreign entities such as the Venetian Republic and the Papal States which he utilized to create a kind of diplomatic protection for himself, pressuring his enemies to choose exile over execution as his fate.
In the meantime, he used bribes and the threat of invasion of the city by his own mercenary forces outside its walls to add to the diplomatic pressure and engineer a favorable outcome for himself, all while behind bars.
Shaken but not stirred, Cosimo came to rule Florence through the intervention of the Pope and Venice, but vowed that “he would rule, but he would not be seen to rule” going forward. He had learned his lesson about bearing personal responsibility when it came to matters of state. Further, he was coming to understand that it was easier to wield power when others weren’t watching.
According to one supporter, “Whenever he wished to achieve something, he saw to it, in order to escape envy as much as possible, that the initiative appeared to come from others and not from him.” One policy he pushed for through his crony network was the use of the “catasto”, which had originally been levied to pay for the war, as a punitive tool to crush his political and business opponents through ruinous taxation. While he was forcing his enemies into exile to avoid financial ruin, purchasing and redistributing their former property to his supporters on a bargain basis, he simultaneously used inflated personal balance sheets to hide his income and appear to be bearing the heaviest personal tax burden on a relative basis.
But Cosimo was far from poor:
Between 1434 and 1471, Cosimo spent 663,755 gold florins supporting public works, by comparison, total assets of the Peruzzi bank at its height were 103,000 florins from Western Europe to Cyprus and Beirut.
If he was able to spend 6X the total assets of a well-known competitor at the height of its powers on public works, his total assets and wealth must have been a multiple of that amount. Normal banking and family secrecy aside, the Medici wealth at this time seems to have been nearly incalculable. It is no wonder, then, that one of Cosimo’s key strategies in building and wielding power was to always return favors with favors.
Following Cosimo, who was once to have said that “Trade brings mankind together, and casts glory on those who venture into it” his son Piero and Piero’s son, Lorenzo began to venture the family increasingly beyond the scope of banking and business and into the realm of politics and social standing via nobility. Depending upon how you interpret the events that followed, Piero and Lorenzo were either some of the most “magnificent” leaders of the Medici banking and political enterprises or they were equivalent to the decadent dissipators of the true talent and generational thrift of their greater ancestors.
Either way, the local power of the Medici in and around Florence was successively traded for inter-regional power and influence within the royal families of Europe. As the Medici gained a queen mothership in France, they lost their rule over the Florentine Republic to foreign invasion and intervention and increasingly squandered the capital of their banking and related enterprises. By the early 18th Century the Medici had failed to produce a male heir and had ceded their Grand Duchy of Florence to the Holy Roman Emperor and ceased to be a meaningful business or political entity forever.
by Ross King, published 2013
In the late 1400s, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, to complete a large bronze equestrian statue to honor himself and his late father and cement his authority over the people of Milan and northern Italy. It was to be one of the greatest equestrian statues of the era and one of the most technically challenging, single biggest pieces of cast bronze in the history of sculpture which would also fix Da Vinci’s reputation as a craftsman, artist and virtuoso.
But like many of Da Vinci’s projects and ambitions, it was not to be. After a series of unfortunate events that cascaded from Sforza’s unpredictable realpolitik, the duke was forced to melt down the bronze assigned to the project to form cannon to defend Milan from the invading forces of France’s Charles VIII.
Although Leonardo Da Vinci is known to history as an artist and mechanical genius (or at least, a philosopher of theoretical mechanical devices) his great personal ambition was to create outstanding weapons of war. He hoped the equestrian statue would be his entree into a world of defense industries assignments for the notoriously pugnacious Sforza clan. Instead, he spent most of his time in their employ designing parties, feasts and pageants and lamenting himself at age 42 as some one who could not positively reply to his own request, “Tell me if I ever did a thing.” He had struggled unsuccessfully in his 30s to learn Latin, a standard achievement of the scholarly and intellectual in his era, and as a result ended up a uomo senza lettere or “man without letters”, almost like a person today who failed to go to college. However, it was not the external standards of brilliance or achievement he failed against but rather the “extremely high standard he set for himself in his quest for a new visual language” that brought him the most self-doubt and personal pain.
And so it seems fittingly ironic then that his pinnacle achievement and the work of art he would come to be most famous for beyond even the mysterious Mona Lisa was not a weapon of war on a field of conquest or a bold statue in a central plaza but a fresco-style painting of a commonly depicted scene throughout Italy, found in many a dining hall of a local convent– The Last Supper.
There are many details of the painting that ended up making it remarkable and that have to do with the finished output, such as we know of it today in its highly degenerated and damaged form from the original. But it is what went into the painting that are the details most worthy of consideration.
First, this being a common subject matter in a humble, dingy room in a less-than-spectacular Dominican church, Da Vinci considered the work beneath him and like many of his projects he had trouble bringing himself to complete it. One of the art world’s masterpieces almost never happened out of simple spite and disinterest.
Second, Da Vinci combined the urban with the urbane in painting the portraits of the individual saints. To capture interesting “grotesque” expressions, he spent weeks hanging around the lower class parts of town studying the bodies, stances and gestures of various commoners. But for the visages of the saints themselves who are, along with the face of Jesus, lost to history in terms of any factual depictions, he selected from well-known friends and courtiers of the Ducal Palace in Milan. Thus these characters are both realistic, ahistorical and anachronistic simultaneously.
Third, the work of fresco is time and labor intensive and large scale murals are very much a team sport. Many materials such as certain paint colors and sealants had to be developed in a proprietary fashion by each workshop through a method of experimentation similar to laboratory chemistry. Most great art works were made by the master and his apprentices, but contracts at times specified certain portions which must be completed by the master himself. And the work itself was not necessarily quiet and contemplative but perhaps closer to today’s modern construction sites replete with boombox jamming. Although, Da Vinci is reputed to have worked to the sound of musicians or readers speaking from philosophical books, a Renaissance-era Spotify/podcast listening approach to productivity.
While the Last Supper is an act of inspired genius, it did not simply leap out of the head of Da Vinci through his paintbrush fully-formed. It was a team effort and followed a thorough process in which the final “draft” was first broken into constituent parts, practiced and rehearsed (“studies”, “carbons”) before being recomposed piece-by-piece as a fresco. The process is similar to writing a long history or novel (see Paris Review Interview No. 5 w/ Robert Caro) and has parallels in sports and investment analysis– from the parts to the whole.
While Leonardo Da Vinci found himself disappointed in his inability to produce a volume of highly anticipated works, his ability to nonetheless achieve global notoriety for just two works of art over the course of a longer, fully life perhaps gives double-meaning to his quip that “men of genius sometimes accomplish most when they work the least.”