Political Things

There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.-Plato in The Republic

I've been trying to organize my thoughts about all of this political nonsense in a way that firstly doesn't betray my followship of Christ and which secondly (perhaps more like consequently) doesn't betray Reason which was instilled by Him and remains one of those echoes of the Divine that weren't severed all those years ago in a garden when we tried to use it against Him.

I don't think that I would have to spend too much effort constructing an argument that the state of "politics" in the United States is less than admirable, to say the least. I should imagine that any system overtaken by disconnected, polarized elites quite versed in the art of agenda pushing would end up being muddy and tiresome to people concerned with Truth.

A Bedtime Story; or, a History of Know-It-Alls

Once upon a time, before the establishment of publicly accessible schooling, before everyday people with access to the internet pretended that they knew everything, there lived a group of people named Sophists. What we know about Sophists is, unfortunately, very limited and rather biased, for we really only possess accounts from people who opposed them and treated them quite without a non-bias that is supposedly present in some modern day journalism, but I will try to paint a picture anyway.

We're in the 5th Century BC in Athens and Rome mostly, by the way.

Sophists lived much like a traveling salesman would - roaming house to house until he found somebody who would "buy" his product, except in this case instead of Tupperware bowls, it was education. They were live-in tutors of sorts, teaching children of families rich enough to afford them Math, Natural Philosophy (science), Music, Language, etc. But what they became most known for was their emphasis on (and perhaps abuse of) Rhetoric, or, the art of persuasion.

Now, were these men greedy agenda-pushers bent only on making money and manipulating youth to their causes? Perhaps. But they served an important purpose in teaching these things - because they were the things of value. For instance, let's say that your neighbor really, really liked your house. He could, if the mood struck him, take you to public court, argue a strong case, and leave with the keys to your own front door in his hand. In order to prevent this, people were taught by men like Sophists the art of persuasion so that they could protect the things that they own and procure things that they need. They learned to construct arguments and defend things that were important to them.

Rhetoric was, then, a defense of sorts. Armor, if you will.

The Mean

Aristotle (who came after Socrates and who literally wrote the book on Rhetoric...and invented modern logic and wrote the first book on psychology and retooled the conceptions of metaphysics and developed a framework that the fathers of the Christian church would adopt) wrote significantly about the three most favored lives: gratification, political activity, and study.

Now, when he talks of "political life," he is not particularly referring to its degraded cousin of today: to elephants and asses (I've always wanted to say that here), to lefts vs. rights, to Fox vs. CNN, rather he means all aspects of meaningful social involvement. In fact, he wrote extensively against the bipartisan monstrosity that has infiltrated most aspects of our existences.

Listen to what he has to say about virtue: "it is a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency." For example, following his argument, the virtuous position would be to be courageous: for it is not excessive like brashness, nor is it vicious like cowardice.

But lots of things are not how they were once upon a time.

The Dilapidated Beautiful

What Rhetoric has become, unfortunately, is a dirty word used by Rights to refer to empty promises or by Lefts to refer to avoidance of social issues. It's found a comfortable home in less than amiable talk in the world of politics, and has acquired somewhat of a foul taste in the mouths of those saying it.

But the problem goes deeper than that: it's that the system we call Politics now revolves on Rhetoric's pejorated connotation. Politicians must appeal to the 'common man,' they must embrace the extremes to force swing states to make a decision one way or the other. It's a contest to win votes rather than a collaboration to form the best possible solutions to all of the problems presented. And what happens is that none of the things that matter get resolved, but both sides are sure to call the other a liar.

Take social issues, for example: We're all about debating whether or not to allow gay marriage, but nowhere to be found are measures to encourage intact families. Right-wingers like to argue that it is gay marriage which will destroy the traditional family, yet I haven't seen anything coming from them to combat domestic abuse, infidelity, or divorce. In fact, (though the link I am providing for where I found this information accounts for what may be some discrepancy and number-statistics aren't the end-all of arguments, I believe they say something) this study suggests that the states that typically vote Republican have a higher divorce rate than ones that typically vote Democrat. Again, not the end-all of arguments, but it's an interesting thought, to say the least.

Left-wingers counter that it is the individual's right to decide and that if you don't like it you should butt out, yet they spend quite a bit of time doing basically the opposite of butting out with those who oppose them. It's the great fallacy of the Relativist argument in action.

The same goes for the other biggie: abortion. It's either the great genocide which must be stopped or the great injustice against personal choice, but nobody wants to see the other side, if only for a second. Those Pro-Choice rarely acknowledge that yes, Abortion is a horrifying, emotionally scarring and dangerous thing, but Pro-Lifers spend a lot of time proselytizing and little time loving on someone who is clearly having a rough go of it.

We spend so much effort talking about big/little government, yet so few on the one end acknowledge that we probably shouldn't be spending so much money when we are so far in the hole, and so few on on the other end admit that government has the great potential to be good if only the people it governed could get their acts together.

 

Let's not forget that as Christians, it is our job to recognize a few things:
1) Our King remains on the Throne.
2) We are commanded to love each other, and
3) It is God who has set our rulers in place.

Be critical always, whether you are pleased with the election or not, for Reason is a gift and nothing is above a critical attitude or improvement, but remember that when it comes down to it, you are not in charge. Your ruler is not a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian or a Socialist or a Dictator, it is a God who has set all things in motion, who has given you breath, and who has charged you to love the person next to you as you love yourself. It is possible to take a stand against an issue but love those it affects - for that is exactly how we are dealt with by God. If He loves us like He says He does, then He does a great deal of looking past the "issues" and loving the people. I can't imagine that God is too fond of something like abortion (*notice the immensity of my understatement - let's not get mad here*), yet I know for a fact that He is terribly fond of the terrified girl considering it.

This is not a political treatise by any stretch. There is a list ten Earths long of things I don't have any business speaking about, and God knows that if I were in charge, we'd certainly be in no less deep of trouble than we are now. These are just some of the things that have been running through my mind here recently. I'd love to hear your thoughts about some of the grievous missteps and gross exaggerations included in a few of my examples and explanations above.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.