“I think, therefore I am.”
René Descartes, 1637, in his Discourse on Method
In the first act of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has his protagonist make the following comment about a man who will eventually murder him:
Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.
I painted Dream of Power more than fifty years ago. At the time I was not thinking of Caesar or his assassins. I was thinking about thinking, and about some implications of Descartes’ syllogism. Do trees and rivers think? Do ravens, clouds, caterpillars and bees think? Do the Himalayas, planet Earth and the billions of galaxies that surround us think? And what about common sense, memory, imagination and intuition? Are they worthwhile human qualities or merely ornamental accessories of King Reason?
At the time of the painting I was also thinking about war. In 1972, David Halberstam published “The Best and the Brightest,” about the most brilliant minds of Academe, Industry, the Pentagon, State Department, CIA and the Houses of Congress. The thoughts of these would-be Masters of the Universe abetted and justified an American military incursion into a civil war that had raged for decades in Southeast Asia. The results turned out not to be what the thinkers had intended.
The subject of Dream Of Power is fear. Not the fear of thinking, but the fear of reason that is disconnected from memory, feeling, intuition, ethics, imagination and other essential human qualities.
No doubt the best and brightest minds in Beijing, Moscow and Washington are still clicking and clicking, dreaming of power. Meanwhile, everything else trembles.