Thursday, April 4, 2013

Politics, Then and Now

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.


  1. I believe democracy works but only with an educated and patient populace. We cannot change things instantly even when we see an instant reason to do so. The powers count on our lack of patience. They are also doing all they can to end real education for the masses with vouchers or dumbing it down with 'feel good' programs. A well-educated populace, no matter how big the population, can vote for long term interests and understand what that means. With our system we have a group trying to end education for everybody, stick to specialized educations for individual groups, and then there is the-- instant results philosophy that won't really work. They distract us with one thing while they nail us with another. Even with an education it takes some thinking of what's really going on and then sticking to it. I believe in democracy because the alternative is never good for the average citizen. We can make it a real change but it takes time, patience, and voting for those who work for our values. When they get in and we find out they lied, vote for someone else the next time but keep supporting candidates with money, work and awareness. Obama said it as have others-- you have to make us. Most people lose patience and the powers count on that.

    1. I was thinking about the Athenian democracy.... letting the public rule worked for about 100 years... then there were the 30 , the death of Socrates, and the end of the experiment.

      We have to stay involved... and that, as Megan says below, is a challenge.

  2. I'm feeling just as disillusioned as you are. We have 90% of Americans that want background checks, but Congress doesn't care. There's a mandate and yet it's totally being ignored.

    At times, I just wonder when they will listen to us? I guess it might not be ever anymore. After all, Corporations are now people. Today is one of those days when I feel like we are banging our heads against a wall. I hate feeling powerless. :(

    Megan xxx

    1. The other side is counting on your fatigue..... stay with it! As Gabby says, "Fight, Fight, Fight!"


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