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Eric Cantor, Ken Cuccinelli, Bob McDonnell, Rick Perry: How NOT to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci


I was looking through my books the other day, and as I did so, I stumbled upon How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. As I skimmed through the book, I was struck yet again at the brilliance of Leonardo da Vinci, probably the greatest of all “Renaissance men” who ever lived. Just a brief summary of the many areas in which da Vinci excelled include:

*Leonardo “transformed the direction of art,” was the creator of “two of the greatest paintings ever produced,” and numerous “equally magnificent” drawings).

*He was “renowned as an architect and a sculptor.”

*He was an amazing inventor, making “plans for a flying machine, a helicopter, a parachute…the bicycle…a crane for clearing ditches,” you name it.

*He was a master military engineer, making “plans for weapons that would be deployed four hundred years later, including the armored tank, machine gun, mortar, guided missile, and submarine”).

*He was a scientist who made major contributions to anatomy, for instance “the first to make casts of the brain and the ventricles of the heart.”

*He “pioneered modern botanical science

*He anticipated Newton’s theory of gravitation by 200 years.

*He correctly “placed man in the same broad category as monkeys and apes,” 400 years before Darwin!

*He noted, 40 years before Copernicus, that “the sun does not move.”

One could go on all day describing the brilliance of Leonardo da Vinci, even more incredible for the fact that it came after centuries of stagnation, intellectual and otherwise, when many people actually believed that there was nothing left to learn in this amazing world of ours.

So, you ask, what relevance does any of this have to Eric Cantor, Ken Cuccinelli, Bob McDonnell, McDonnell’s BFF Rick “Ponzi Scheme” Perry, and the politics of America, circa 2011? A great deal, actually, in the sense that all of these people – and much of their radical, reactionary, intolerant, incurious, ignorant party nowadays – basically has a frame of mind which I’d characterized as the exact OPPOSITE of Leonardo da Vinci.

What is that frame of mine? Here are the 7 key principles laid out in “How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci.” As you read through them, mentally compare them to the mindsets of Cantor, Cooch, etc. The stark contrast should quickly jump right out at you.

1. Curiosita: An “insatiably curious approach to life and unrelenting quest for continuous learning;” an “intense desire to understand the essence of things.”

2. Dimostrazione: “A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistake.” (In Leonardo’s case, his “practical orientation, penetrating intelligence, curiosity, and independent spirit led him to question much of the accepted theory and dogma of his time”).

3. Sensazione: “The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.”

4. Sfumato: “A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.” As the book’s author writes, “Poise in the face of paradox is a key not only to effectiveness, but to sanity in a rapidly changing world.”

5. Arte/Scienza: “The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination;” “‘Whole-brain’ thinking.”

6. Corporalita: “The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.”

7. Connessione: “A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena.” As the book’s author writes, “connessione” involves being “ecologically aware,” being “struck more by people’s similarities than their differences,” having a “well-developed sense of proportion.”

Now, let’s compare and contrast the principles of Leonardo da Vinci to today’s leading Teapublicans, people like Eric Can’tor, Ken Cuccinelli, Bob McDonnell, and McDonnell’s soul mate Rick Perry.

1. These people exhibit almost the exact opposite of “curiosita,” the “insatiably curious approach to life and unrelenting quest for continuous learning.” Instead, what characterizes most Teapublicans is dogma (religious and otherwise), rigid ideology, anti-intellectualism, and “belief” in things as opposed to real curiosity about what empirical evidence demonstrates, what scientists have found, etc. For instance, a truly curious individual would look at the voluminous data collected by climate scientists and wonder what’s going on, not jump to a pre-ordained conclusion based upon economic interests, large sums of money (e.g., from the Koch brothers, the coal or oil industry), “belief” or preexisting ideology. Instead, a truly curious individual would study economics, science, etc., would be open to evidence that contradicts their existing understanding or viewpoint, and would never reject data or observations as unworthy of consideration, simply because they are inconvenient or contrary to their self interest. Needless to say, that is NOT what we get with Can’tor, Cuccinelli, McDonnell, Perry, etc.

2. As for “dimostrazione,” the “commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistake,” that also does not appear to be the case with the aforementioned Teapublicans. For instance, we now have several decades of evidence that “supply side” economics, the “Laffer curve,” etc. do not work, certainly not as they’re advertised. We also have decades of evidence that Wall Street and the capitalist system are not infallible, in fact that there have been numerous cases where markets have failed, as well as numerous examples of “externalities” that have not been “priced in” by the markets. And, of course, we have decades of evidence that cutting taxes for the wealthy does NOT lead to prosperity, certainly not for the middle class, but that it does result in the “rich getting richer” – MUCH richer.

Faced with all this evidence, what do modern day Teapublicans do? Reevaluate? Reconsider? Reject theory and dogma? No, no, and no. To the contrary, these folks simply dig in further, such as Rick Perry’s utterly clueless, ignorant comment at Wednseday night’s debate that “Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We’ll never have to have that experiment on America again.” I’m sure that Bob McDonnell will have a lively conversation on this topic, and many others, with Rick Perry, the next time they chat. On second thought, they almost certainly won’t. Because they don’t exhibit the da Vincian, Renaissance values of “curiosita” or “dimostrazione.” It’s sad, really; imagine living your life like that? Ugh.

3. With regard to “sensazione,” the expression “there is none so blind as he who WILL not see” leaps to mind. Far from observing the world in order to enliven and inform their experiences, Teapublicans like Cuccinelli, Can’tor, McDonnell and Perry appear more concerned with ignoring evidence, putting their heads in the sand, and steadfastly refusing to see what’s actually happening out there in the real world. This is the case, whether we’re talking about poverty, the widening gap between rich and poor, the unfolding devastation that is being inflicted on our planet’s environment, etc. It’s all glaringly obvious, but only if you’re willing to open your eyes and see it. These people clearly aren’t willing to do that.

4. Sfumato, the “willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty,” is perhaps the area in which Teapublicans like Can’tor, Cuccinelli, McDonnell and Perry fare the worst. Basically, these people don’t “do” ambiguity, paradox, or uncertainty at all. Instead, what they “do” is rigid, black-and-white, good-and-evil, my-way-or-the-highway, us-vs.-them, Manichean, apocalyptic-type “thinking” (in quotes, because seriously, there’s nothing thoughtful about any of this). Unfortunately for them, and unfortunately for the rest of us who have to live with these people as our “leaders,” the ever-ambiguous, ever-paradoxical, ever-uncertain place we know as the “real world” refuse to conform to the infantile, shallow, simplistic notions they hold. For instance, many times we see that bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. We also frequently see that the enemy of our enemy can be our friend, but that sometimes…they aren’t. Complicated! And sometimes, the people on “our side” are good, but sometimes they’re bad. And sometimes, the people on the “other side” are bad, but sometimes they’re good. I know, it’s so confusing and complicated. But guess what, it’s life, and life’s complicated – in spite of what Can’tor, Cuccinelli, McDonnell and Perry (and their ilk) desperately want to believe.

5. Clearly, the level of appreciation and respect for science and the arts is not high – to put it mildly – among the aforementioned Teapublicans. Most of them, to the contrary, either deny or are “skeptical” of climate science, despite overwhelming evidence and the fact that about 98% of climate scientists are in agreement as to what’s happening. Many of these same people also deny the overwhelmingly proven science, which is the basis of just about everything we know about biology. These people also frequently are deniers of scientific knowledge about embryonic stem cells and many other things. It’s maddening, but it’s epitomized by Rick Perry’s bizarre, disturbing comments Wednesday night about climate science and about how “Galileo got outvoted for a spell” (uh, no, actually Galileo got PERSECUTED for “a spell,” by the Inquisition and the Catholic Church, for relating the truth of what he observed, that the sun does not move — HUGE difference!).

As for the arts, the contempt and intolerance from the far right is pervasive, as evidenced by their frequent assaults on funding for the arts in this country. Again, can these people be any more antithetical to the core principles of the Renaissance, and of the Renaissance’s greatest representative, Leonardo da Vinci? No, sadly, they can’t be.

6. With regard to “corporalita,”, I would simply note that the highest obesity rates in America are overwhelmingly in “red” states (Texas is #12), while the lowest rates are overwhelmingly in “blue” states (Obama’s home state of Hawaii is the 4th LEAST obese state in America; the “purple” state of Virginia is right about in the middle, at #30). Clearly, there’s a correlation here. Also, clearly, Teapublican policies with regard to health care, poverty alleviation (or lack thereof), sprawl, not taxing junk food, etc., greatly exacerbate obesity. I wonder what Leonardo da Vinci would think of this situation.

7. Finally, there’s “connessione,” the “recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena.” Clearly, Teapublicans like Eric Can’tor, Ken Cuccinelli, Bob McDonnell and Rick Perry are not “ecologically aware.” That should just go without saying; to the contrary, these people are about as anti-environment as a human being can be, stuck in the utterly obsolete “humans vs. nature” dichotomy as they are (and, of course, heavily in debt to/under control of the mineral and natural resource extractive industries that see the environment as an obstacle to their profits, not as an integral part of life itself).  

As for being “struck more by people’s similarities than their differences,” the Teapublicans’ “fer us or agin’ us” attitudes towards gay people, Latino immigrants (who they basically lump together under the dehumanizing word “illegals”), Muslims, atheists, etc., speak for themselves. Again, Teapublican attitudes and thought patterns are the polar opposite of the principles undergirding the Renaissance and of Leonardo da Vinci, not that they care.

In sum, modern-day Teapublicans like Eric Can’tor, Ken Cuccinelli, Bob McDonnell and Rick Perry represent the near-exact antithesis of everything we (should have) learned from the Renaissance and from brilliant exemplars of humanity like Leonardo da Vinci. I would also point out that these people do not represent the views or ideals expressed by Jesus in the Gospels, but that’s another topic for another blog post one day…


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