Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ideas are Important. Wat?

He had NOTHING to say about politics
I think I've finally figured out why it's so difficult for me to discuss just about anything that has to do with politics with Liberals and some extreme right-wing conservatives.  First, two quick stories.

A few weeks ago someone on Crooks and Liars posted an online study in how much U.S. citizens know about American civics.  The study posted the group's findings, and it even included a 33 question civics test.  I'll say that the test was moderately challenging.  It wasn't difficult for me, but I attribute that to the fact that I majored in American history and Political Science in college.  I can imagine where it could be difficult for someone who hadn't.

Anyway, I only missed two questions, and they were economics questions that were really ambiguous and poorly worded, and surprisingly many people on C&L did just as well or a little bit worse than me (I can't attest to how many did it entirely off the cuff like me or looked up answers they didn't know).  Well, one of the questions asked "Which of the following to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas have in common:" and the correct answer was something along the lines of "all believed that there are certain universal truths that human beings can discover and understand through the power of reason."  For me, that question was a no-brainer.

One jackass on C&L, however, stated "I don't know what the hell Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas have to do with American government or why this question would even be on an American civics test."

Story 2:  I was out with some friends of mine for all-you-can-eat wings night at Quaker Steak.  A mutual "friend," of ours, a bleeding heart liberal, came with us.  We'll call him Clay.  I was talking politics with another friend of mine, and somewhere in there I mentioned Aristotle.  Clay says to me "well Aristotle didn't really have much to do with politics.  He was more of a philosopher."

Natural rights theory?  WTF is that???
Being a political scientist (I call myself that even though I don't have graduate degrees in it), I was immediately flabbergasted.  When I told him that Aristotle coined the term "human beings are political animals," he got upset with me and wanted to end the conversation.  Then when I got home, I had a friend of mine post an amazon link to Politics by Aristotle and apparently he deleted that whole thing from his FB wall.

The reason I have so much difficulty talking politics with almost everyone on C&L, with jackasses like Clay, and with morons like marie on Capitol Commentary (the author, Harrison, is a stand-up guy and is awesome in political discussions, btw) is because none of these people have a fucking clue, not a shred of knowledge base in political theory.

Why?  I don't have a fucking clue.  Probably because they think that things like ideas and political theory don't matter.  It's no wonder that they're so easily able to contradict themselves and their own ideologies, because they don't even know where the hell they're getting their shit.  They probably heard someone on Fox News or CNN say something salient that they accepted as true, and they ran with it.

News flash, morons: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas--among others--laid the groundwork for what we all know to be Natural Rights theory.  John Locke didn't just make this shit up out of nowhere.  He was well read in the classics, and he understood the same basic principle that these intrepid men did: that there is such a thing as universal truth, and we can know it if we just stop being dumbasses.

John Locke didn't say that humans have the right to choose only a democracy.  He said that when the government has infringed on the rights of the people, the people have the obligation to rise up and choose their form of government.  Sharia might be shitty, but the people have the right to choose it.  We might say that Sharia infringes on people's rights, but it's not for us to forcefully impose our standard of living on another people.  They must come to that conclusion as we did.  We can tell them how we think on the subject, we can sanction them because we believe they are violating their people's rights, but if the people choose it, who are we to stop them?

Guess which one represents me in this photo.
Telling a sovereign people that they do not have the right to choose their form of rule completely goes against everything a conservative American believes in.  How can you believe in the freedom of choice if that freedom is only valid so long as they choose what you think is best?

Ideas matter, and because of that it's up to us to educate people about them, not force them to believe us.  You simply can't force a way of life on a people: the people have to want it.

If your political theory or philosophy comes from any news network, if it comes from the blogosphere or some op-ed piece you read in the Washington Post or the New York Times, then you've already failed, and you know nothing of politics.


KP said...

Again, home run, mate.

Another great read:

Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations".

Full of wisdom and practical advice.

LD Jackson said...

Interesting post, Jack and you raise a good point. I have some very strong opinions about some of the social issues in our country. I will leave those issues unnamed, but suffice it to say that even though I disagree with the choices some people make on how to live their lives, both morally and spiritually, it still remains their choice. I have no right to condemn them, as that will be between them and God.

That same attitude necessarily carries over to the political side of the discussion and highlights why state's rights are so important. My home state of Oklahoma may choose to conduct their politics in a much more conservative manner than another state, like Massachusetts, but neither state has the right to tell the other they are wrong.

Silverfiddle said...

Good post, Jack, and I also agree with LD's comments. I try to convince my fellow Christians that it's improper for government to adopt and promote any particular religion's values.

Government guarantees the God-given rights of all to practice as they see fit and to preach in the public marketplace of ideas, that's all.

I fault our education system for not teaching the classics or logic or critical thinking and argumentation.

It is a particular disease of our time that people have no sense of history; everything is right now.

Jack Camwell said...

Very true sentiments gents. Larry, I am also all about state's rights, and I share the same opinion about people's spiritual choices. I may think they're wrong, or mistaken, but at the end of the day it's between them and God, as you said.

Silver, you're spot on. John Quincy Adams translated Cicero when he was 16. Granted, the man was a genius, but that was par for the course for anyone receiving a classical education in the 18th Century.

Harrison said...

Thanks for the kind words. I wouldn't call Marie a moron although it is clear there would be blood if you two were locked in the same room.

Most people live in a haze... the past is kind of fuzzy and the future is fuzzy... all that is clear is 5 minutes before and five minutes from now. Too bad reading Dead White Males is passe because they kind of had some things to say. I am more of an 18th Century French/German kind of guy but I have read Plato, Aristotle, Locke, and Hobbes.

If you don't have a base vocabulary to discuss with people then you'll be dealing with people flying on the seat of their pants.