The 1812 Overture – The Guided Tour

Could there be any more fitting way to finish off a reading of War and Peace? The 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky was written as a musical representation of the year of 1812, and is a hugely entertaining 15 minutes of music, beloved of audiences everywhere.

It has been used in so many different ways, that most people wouldn’t realise what the real history of 1812 was. Certainly, I remember it as a youngster in the context of Australian Army ads – this was back in the days when we used to advertise the Army with images of guys in camouflage gear wandering around in the bush shooting machine guns. Once the 90s arrived, and the Gulf War happened, ads oddly enough started just being about how the army would help you get a degree … no guns in sight, after that.

Anyway, here it is – a video of the 1812 Overture. I have taken the liberty of sticking a running commentary over the top. Those of you who know my blog will have seen this before. For those of you horrified by the idea, you might want to look it up on YouTube.

1812 Overture – Part One

1812 Overture – Part Two

One-Year War and Peace E2.12 – Overcoming Our Senses

Reading for – oh stuff it, it should be 30 June

Well, here we go – some 33 days late – but the post on the final chapter of War and Peace. Nothing particularly earth-shattering after everything Tolstoy has built up. Just simply the idea that history must run on laws, but because we sense that we have free will, therefore it’s hard to buy into them.

It’s like admitting that the earth revolves around the sun, when to us it feels like it’s standing still.

If we admit that we have perfect free will and can cause whatever we like, we fly in the face of all the evidence Tolstoy has built up. But if we admit we have no free will, because like automatons. The truth is, Tolstoy wants us to accept both.

So now that I’ve read his full argument, what do I think?

Myself, I do believe that history is predetermined – it’s a major thing that distinguishes Christianity from Deism is that Christians believe not just in a God that set the world going – but a God who keeps it going.

With Tolstoy’s view, it could be either. God could have made the world (or it could have just come into being some other way) and it just runs along by itself, following necessary laws and interactions.

But I don’t quite buy that – because that really does take away from man’s free will. I believe simply that God is in control of all things ultimately, but he has created man to make his own choices and to wear his own consequences.

Because, really, we have choices. Certainly, our environment, our past experiences – these do all combine to make us who we are. But not everyone who grew up in a poor area surrounded by criminals chooses a life of crime. People with identical backgrounds can be put in different situations and make different choices.

But at the same time, in ways we can’t understand, God is running the whole show. Nobody does something and makes God say, “Whoa! I wasn’t expecting that one!” But by the same token, nobody feels like they’re a robot – compelled to do things they didn’t want to do.

So the end result is that one person can play a part in changing the world. If a group of people get together for a common purpose, they can change a larger part. It’ll start with your values that you use to make decisions as an individual and work its way out from there.

Well, look, as they say, “all good things” . . . however, I’m not quite finished with War and Peace yet. I’ve got two more posts I’d like to do.

One is just a general round-up of my thoughts on the whole novel, now that I’ve read it twice and a few thank yous. The other is a bit of a musical treat, which may or may not be obvious to guess, but I’ll leave it for a surprise. Talk to you soon.

One Year War and Peace E2.11 – History As Laws

Reading for Saturday, June 26

I’m realising as I write this that I’ve obviously stuffed the dates around at some stage, because this was meant to go up to 30 June and here we are on the second-last chapter on June 26. (This is going by the calendar as it was meant to be read, not by my month-and-a-bit-late effort.) Anyway, I’m writing up a chart that will have the correct readings by date, and I’ll post that up when it’s finished, so that can be the final definitive guide for anyone who wants to use it.

In the meantime, here’s a very short chapter where Tolstoy draws together all the points he’s made to say that history, rather than being the study of causes (who or what made this thing happen) should be the study of laws – the laws that drive history.

Of course, with only one chapter to go (and it’s a pretty short one), I doubt very much that he’s going to lay out those laws for us. I think the most he can hope to do is have proved that they exist and thus leave us to think about history differently than we have before.

One-Year War and Peace E2.10 – Freewill & Necessity

Reading for Friday, June 26

This chapter is really impressive more for the strength and beauty of its writing more than anything else. After having laid the foundation of free will being more or less observable based on our relation to 1. the external world, 2. time and 3. prior causes, Tolstoy proceeds to say that all of life is generated by necessity – in other words, everything that happens is definitely going to happen and no other option is possible, because of the laws of necessity. So in one sense, history is fixed from the beginning all the way to the end (assuming you belive in a beginning and ending of history – this was a distinctly Christian doctrine that used to set it apart from othe religions many centuries ago).

But, says Tolstoy, we are all conscious of our own free will. So, for Tolstoy, free will becomes the driver of necessity. It becomes the force.

Will an apple fall from a tree if it breaks off? Yes, it will. The apple will fall from necessity.

What is the necessity of the apple falling? The law of gravity.

Why does history happen a certain way (and no other)? Because of necessity.

What is that necessity that makes things happen? Tolstoy calls it freewill. We understand it as being free to make choices from a philosophical point of view. But for Tolstoy freewill is also another name for the force that drives history along.

At least I think that’s what he’s saying . . . it makes so much sense when I read it in the book, but gets fuzzy when I think about it later.

One-Year War and Peace E2.9 – External World, Time and Causes

Reading for Thursday, June 25

Well, here we go – Tolstoy delves even further into free will. Sadly, having left this since last week, it’s now even harder to pick up the thread, but I’ll do my best.

Basically, he’s talking about how we have this dual tension between seeing that the world is run by immutable laws (assuming that you’ve bought everything he’s said so far) and thus we have no real free will. However, we perceive we have free will . . .

…depending on how much we know about our relation to the external world, time and causes.

1. External World – so if someone grows up in external circumstances (such as you grow up in a rough neighbourhood with drug addict parents), then we’d say you have little free will if you became a criminal. If, however, you grew up in the good part of town – then we’d say you exercised free will in deciding to be a drug pusher.

2. Time – If you committed a crime a long time ago, we can kind of see the events that led to it. If you did it 5 minutes ago, it’d seem completely out of the blue.

3. Causes – if we understand all the events that led to something, we don’t attribute it to free will. If we do, then we are less likely to say someone had a choice about something.

Does all this make sense? What he’s really saying is that, in his view of the world, while it might seem like we have free will at any particular point, or it might look like someone else did, the more we understand about their environment, the more distance from the events, and the more we understand the causes behind things, the more we can explain everything away as being inevitable.

One-Year War and Peace E2.8 – Free Will

Reading for Wednesday, June 24

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Tolstoy tackles the issue of free will. If there is a law, he says, that governs all of man’s actions – then we’re not really free. Everything we do is pre-determined by our make-up, our past, everything. It’s a kind of fatalism.

But yet – inside us – our consciousness perceives that we are free and that we get to make our own choices. So how do we reconcile this?

He touches briefly on Darwinism at the end, which says that all our behaviour is explained by evolution. But, says Tolstoy, even granting that – it doesn’t answer the question. It just agrees with his main point – but doesn’t explain our consciousness.

I’m sure modern Darwinists would disagree, and will quite happily give reasons for why we think the way we do, based on evolution as well. I’m also sure that theologians would also be dismissive of Tolstoy’s attempt to put evolution on the same level as God’s predestination (which he tries to argue for near the end of the chapter).

For Tolstoy, whether you are controlled by your evolutionary history or you are controlled by the sovereign will of God, you’re still a product of forces outside of you. They’re not quite the same thing, but from the point of view of being forces that act outside our consciousness, it follows on.

Anyway, he’s on a roll, and he’s got four chapters left, so I wouldn’t argue too much . . . the book will soon be over.

One-Year War and Peace E2.7 – The Law of Mass Motion

Reading for Tuesday, June 23

And Tolstoy rants a little bit more about power, before finishing off with the thought that you can’t actually find a single cause for why a war occurs (or anything for that matter). Well, not a single cause of one person anyway. Only in taking the sum total of all actions of the masses will you find the reason for something.

And we see now why this novel devoted so much detail to all the little characters. Even if they only appeared for an instant. Because, from Tolstoy’s view, every single one of them was important to the flow of history. Some may have actually changed things, some may have stood back and let things happen – but the sum total of all those interactions was the War of 1812, the invasion of Russia by the French.

The question is – when you’ve debunked a few people at the top as being catalysts for history – where do you go from here? What can you put in its place?

The solution is quite astonishing – Tolstoy says that there is a law that governs all our actions. Every little thing we do is caused by something else which is caused by something else. Thus, despite the fact that he’s thinking he’s doing whatever he wants – is really heading down a pre-ordained path.

So while you may have been reading these chapters, secretly enjoying Tolstoy cutting down the big man at the top – really, he’s cut down you. Because if a man at the top has no more or less influence over the course of history, then neither do you.

So the question he moves on to is: do we then have free will?

One-Year War and Peace E2.6 – Giving Commands

Reading for Monday, June 22

Here’s an interesting little twist on the whole thing – almost as if Tolstoy read my last post and decided to reply.

Last time, I was saying that in Western society, we are used to following orders and obeying the people at the top.

Tolstoy comes right back at me – okay, let’s assume there is a guy at the top who gives orders.

Two important things to know about orders:

1)  We only judge an order as successful if it was executed successfully. If someone gives an order or a law or a command and nobody obeys it, then what good was it?

2) The person giving the command is almost never the person doing the actions that occur. So therefore, the real power lies with the people who do the actions, not the person giving the command. And especially (as in the hecase of the army), the higher up the chain you go, the less likely that the person giving the commands will actually be involved in carrying them out.

So, if the person giving commands a) may or may not influence history with that command and b) has no hand in carrying it out – in what way can we say that the person at the top is in control?

You know, I’m starting to wonder how this might relate to the business world.  Or the church world, for that matter.

Is it really a matter of having the right visionary at the top, or a hard driver, and everything will work out? Or does it come down to the quality of your staff? There are many management books nowadays devoted to reversing the paradigm of workplaces being run by managers who order their staff around.

Now it’s all about empowering your staff, working with their strengths, getting everyone focused on a common goal.

Isn’t all of this starting to recognise that if you don’t have everybody aligned and moving as a common entity, one person giving orders at the top isn’t going to achieve much?

Hmm . . . will bear thinking about.

One-Year War and Peace E2.5 – More on Power

Reading for Sunday, June 21

Tolstoy actually picks up on the point I made in my last post – that if you’re going to assign power to the person at the top, this only works if people actually do what that person says. What about those rulers that nobody obeys?

And thus, because you can’t find a definite connection between having someone at the top and what the masses do, therefore, you can’t say the person at the top has any power.

At this point, my own thought leads me to think that what’s missing here is a recognition that people (generally) are brought up to understand and have some sort of respect (perhaps grudging) for authority figures. At least in normal Western society, we are brought up by our parents to obey them, and then to obey certain authority figures around us.

We learn to obey the law, we learn to obey those who enforce the law (the police and the law courts). For some, this respect might be willing – we know if we obey them it keeps the peace for everyone. For others, it might be grudging – if I don’t obey, I’ll get locked up. But either way, it leads to (most of) the population doing what they’re told.

And thus, in a social system like this, with everyone blindly obeying the laws of the land and respecting the law enforcers), the position of lawmaker (whether it be politician or Emperor or King) becomes very important indeed. In a society where most people do what they’re told, the person doing the telling wield immense power.

Yes, you can argue that the population got itself into this herd-like state by being conditioned that way by the circumstances of their parents and their upbringing. (Thus, why countries can struggle with maintaining social order amongst members of the population from different ethnic backgrounds – not everybody has been raised to be respectful to those in authority around them.)

From time to time, revolutions occur, and the people rise up against their rulers (just look at Iran at the moment), but unless they choose anarchy (rarely), they pick someone else to be the lawmaker that they can follow. So, under those circumstances, I think it’s pretty sane to say that the person at the top can cause a great deal more to happen than a person at a lower level.

Anyway, Tolstoy I’m sure will try to win me around to his thinking in the next seven chapters left in this book, so we’ll see how he goes . . .

One-Year War and Peace E2.4 – The Source of Power

Reading for Saturday, June 20

Okay, I’m starting to get on Tolstoy’s wavelength here, and starting to be intrigued by his argument.

So we read in the last chapter about power and whether that’s a good explanation for things. Now Tolstoy expands on his argument.

I feel a bit sheepish having to basically repeat his argument, because you can read it for yourself – but in case you couldn’t follow it – the idea is quite simply this:

Okay, let’s assume that history can be explained by a dozen guys at the top ordering everyone else around. Why do the millions of other people do what the guys at the top say?

You can either go down a path where the guy at the top somehow represents the will of all the people under him – but to what extent? (Tolstoy elaborates on this a lot more, but I’ve got to leave some things for you to read . . .) Does he really represent all people? Of course not. Some of the people? What percentage?

Once you get down that path – well, then, what huge impact does the leader at the top have? If history is made up of the millions of movements of the masses, and the guy at the top really doesn’t represent the masses, then to focus on the great man is not really to explain history. You can look back in hindsight and say, “So and so caused this to happen.” But that’s only because the masses chose to follow that person.

If they’d rebelled against the guy at the top (something Russians are fond of), well, then, it would be a completely different story.

The argument continues tomorrow . . .