‘It is disease that makes health sweet and good’: Pepe Escobar

‘It is disease that makes health sweet and good’: Pepe Escobar via The Saker

He was known as “the Riddler.” Even “the Dark.”  Heraclitus of Ephesus was one of a kind.

In his heart of hearts a contemptuous aristocrat, this master of paradox despised all so-called wise men and the mobs that adored them. Heraclitus was the definitive precursor of social distancing.

We, unfortunately, owe the “pre-Socratic” reductionist label to 19th century historians, who sold to modernity the notion that these thinkers were not so preeminent because they lived before Socrates (469-399 B.C.) throughout the 6th and 5th century B.C., in assorted latitudes found in today’s Greece, Italy and Turkey.

How Heraclitus, the Riddler, may teach us to fight Covid-19

Heraclitus, Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1628. Photo: AFP

Yet Nietzsche nailed it: the pre-Socratics invented all the archetypes of all the history of philosophy. And if that was not enough, they invented science as well. Their Grandmaster Flash was, unequivocally, Heraclitus.

Only around 130 fragments of Heraclitus’s thinking managed to survive – prefiguring Walter Benjamin’s intuition that the beauty of knowledge is encapsulated by the fragment.

Let’s start with “Nature loves to hide.” Heraclitus established that nature and the world are ambiguous par excellence, in a never-ending film noir. As nature is a nest of riddles, he could only use riddles to examine it.

It’s tempting to imagine Heraclitus as a doppelganger of the famous Delphic oracle, which “neither declares nor conceals, but gives a sign.” He’s certainly a precursor of Twin Peaks (the owls are not what they seem). Legend has it that the only copy of his book was consigned to a temple in Ephesus in the early 5th century B.C., shortly after the death of Pythagoras, so the mobs wouldn’t have access to it. Heraclitus, a member of the Ephesus royal family, would not have settled for less.

So we, as a race, are essentially a misguided bunch. “Men are deceived in the recognition of what is obvious, like Homer who was wisest of all the Greeks,” Heraclitus wrote. “For he was deceived by boys killing lice who said: ‘What we see and catch we leave behind; what we neither see nor catch we carry away.’”

Heraclitus compared our lot to beasts, winos, deep sleepers and even children – as in, “Our opinions are like toys.” We are incapable of grasping the true logos.

History, with rare exceptions, seems to have vindicated him.

There are two key Heraclitus mantras.

1) “All things come to pass according to conflict.” So the basis of everything is turmoil. Everything is in flux. Life is a battleground. (Sun Tzu would approve.)

2) “All things are one.” This means opposites attract. This is what Heraclitus found when he went tripping inside his soul – with no help of lysergic substances. No wonder he faced a Sisyphean task trying to explain this to us, mere children.

And that brings us to the river metaphor. Everything in nature depends on underlying change. Thus, for Heraclitus, “as they step into the same rivers, other and still other waters flow upon them.” So each river is composed of ever-changing waters.

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