Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Americans, Israelis, & The Athenians


(from Ritual & Money Making)

- The first appearance of the golden rule in relation to democracy is in Thucydides, Pericles' Funeral Oration. Athenians love to be generous without expectation of return, because the idea of being in debt offends them. In The Melian Dialog the golden rule is argued to apply only between equals in power. Those without power must submit to inequality.
- What's your conclusion?
- Athenians, according to the funeral oration, thought of themselves like this:
 Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about."  "Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics—this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.
- They are generous, but don't feel obligated to be fair.
- They are not hypocrites with each other. They tolerate each other with neither false acceptance nor with resentment. Their love of beautiful things and the things of the mind does not make them soft or extravagant with each other.
- So in some ways they are equals in power with each other? They are generous with each other only when they are equals in power? What is their power?
- Love of beauty, love of thought, attention to public life.
- That's strange.
- Why?
- Thinking, making something beautiful, paying attention to what our neighbors say all are examples of generosity without expectation of return, and the result is supposed to be the golden rule, that you return the good conduct you demand of others.
- That's right.
- And?
- It means that people are fair without hypocrisy when they are of the character the Athenians claimed for themselves. Athenians follow rules because that works. They tolerate each other out of an act of generosity, as a self conscious respect for the power each has over the other in a shared public life. Equal power comes from a rough equality of political knowledge and willingness to act on it. From that comes generosity without expectation of return, because you don't make deals with equals in power. And out of that generosity comes the fact that we treat each other as we like to be treated. That we want to obey the golden rule. Obedience actually is not to a rule but to our own conclusions.
-  Then the hypocrisy of our politicians and of the people who know they are being lied to and don't seem to care results from our not wanting to obey, for our own reasons, the golden rule. We're the wrong kind of people.
- Look at the Israelis Chomsky is so much against. Like us, they are persuaded and not persuaded, are subject to the same governmental-industrial-financial complex. But for various reasons, they are further along than us in development.
- What kind of development?
- Call it anti-Athenian character. Not respecting others in public, without a controlled love of beauty, without thought of a kind that can be brought into public life.
- How are controlled love of beauty and thought brought into public life?
- The best way is what you and me are doing now. Conversation that we enjoy for its own sake as something beautiful, as one of the best things we can do in life, giving each other our thoughts without expectation of agreement, hardening ourselves to the idea our thoughts might well be disregarded.
- Israelis are famous for being disputatious.
- Yes. And for their rudeness, which is to say, public ugliness.
- So they don't respect each others power as members of the public, are not generous with each other in conversation or manners. They don't get along with each other then?
- They don't obey the golden rule, are hypocrites like us but more so. Last year, when I first arrived in Tel Aviv I stayed with a young Israeli, a self described radical protester, in his inherited million dollar (according to him) apartment.  His father was in the business in exporting high technology security fences to places like Mexico, which wanted the technology to use against their people who had managed successfully to reestablish good conditions for public life.
- Did he know he was a hypocrite?
- Sure. He talked about leaving Israel.
- Talked.
- Yes. Typical Israeli. Ugly in manners. Disputatious. He took his handmade, deliberately ugly signs to protests, to the famous million person protests of a couple years ago.
- If million person protests don't work for the Israelis, why should we expect them to work for us? Don't answer. We have to bring "controlled love of beauty and thought into public life".
- Before making demands on the government we have to make demands on ourselves.