Today is the final class of the semester. We've gone from The Dawn of Time through the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, the Sicilian Disaster and the fall of democracy. Today, we'll examine Socrates, and then it will be done.
The texts sit on my bookshelves all year 'round. Aristophanes, Euripides, Plutarch and Plato smile at me as I open the file drawers beneath their perches. Shakespeare must have had similar tomes on his shelves; would that the ancients had inspired me to his heights. The biographies in Plutarch were the source of so many of Will's works; my thousand word screeds don't come close to his efforts, no matter how I try.
That's the glory of it all, I think.
I've learned the basis of might makes right. I've studied how a comic play can bring down a philosopher (cf. Aristophanes's The Clouds and Socrates). I've seen how bombast and bellicosity can sway a population, and I've marveled at how little has changed over the years.
Democracy doesn't work. It's not a bad idea, it's just an unworkable idea. A small, agrarian society might be able to govern by consensus, might be able to give everyone a voice, but a thriving metropolis is the antithesis of a working democracy. The common good, the shared values, the definition of necessity all fall by the wayside as the population swells.
Losing a war doesn't help, either. There's always enough blame to go around. The Athenians, stuffed into the city, attacked by the Spartans year after year, fell victim to plague and overcrowding and dissension. As the Sicilian Expedition reached its inglorious conclusion, democracy crumbled. I've not read much that shows anyone mourned.
Our representative form of government dangles the carrot of participation in front of us. Make your voices heard and change will come. Unlike the Athenians, who had only to wait until their tribe's month of power arrived in order to take the reins of leadership, we cajole and correspond and hope that those we've elected will hear our pleas and respond as we wish.
I used to believe that was how things work. I'm learning that it's really not so simple.
I laughed when I realized that I'd never voted for a winning presidential candidate until Bill Clinton ran the first time. I squandered my vote on John Anderson and Ralph Nader (twice) rather than endorse a candidate in whom I could not believe. I was delightfully naive, thinking that my protest votes would make a difference. They didn't. I knew it then, I think, but I didn't care. Ralph Nader didn't steal my vote from Al Gore; Al Gore lost it all on his own. I couldn't enter the polling place and pull a lever for a man who didn't deserve my vote.
My vote..... it's really all I have. It's my way of saying that I belong, that I participate, that I care. When my candidate loses, I still hold out some hope that the elected official will want to represent me, too. Two Senators and one Representative ... they are all I have. Right now, I'm feeling left out. It doesn't seem that anyone is listening to me.
My congressman, Ron Barber, was shot when I was. He's a social worker, a friend, and one of 435. It's that last figure that's the most important. He can introduce bills, he can sponsor legislation, but his voice is one small cry in the wilderness of Washington. Arizona's Governor makes her own noises, and the press and the comedians jump right on it; I wonder if Jan Brewer gets a retainer from The Daily Show for all the prompts she's sent their way.
I, the citizen, remain unmoved, unanswered, unhappy.
When phone calls and letters and emails and tweets go unanswered, what am I to think? Like the Melians, I have right on my side... and it doesn't matter. The conversations have become so skewed, so anchored to one side or the other, that change is virtually impossible. Michael Bloomberg's millions have put fascinating ads on my tv screen, but I can't imagine that they'll change a single mind.
It's thoughts like these that make reading the classics relevant for me. They don't make me happier or more content with my lot, but they do serve to lay a foundation from which I can learn. I just have to remember not to wallow in the sad fact that very little has changed in the last 2500 years or so.