let's kind of talk politics

Reading late 19th century literature reveals the genesis of our contemporary expectations that all manner of social questions can be solved through a scientifically unbiased, rational approach to the matter at hand. Such an approach oversimplifies matters - and defies the ancient wisdom which warns of hubris, or a rash, Promethean, hands-on approach to ostensibly making things right.
It was recently election time in certain countries, and I again wonder what priorities politics should set for itself. People used to joke that I would make the perfect diplomat when I was a child, but I must say that what has stayed with me, practically, through time, were no such aspirations, but an image of the Chinese scholar-official of antiquity. It was not uncommon for such figures to retreat to nature during times when their thoughts were at odds with the powers that be. Wang Meng's 14th century calligraphy The Simple Retreat depicts how "the retreat becomes a reservoir of calm at the vortex of a world whose dynamic configurations embody nature's creative potential but may also suggest the ever-shifting terrain of political power".
I have long wanted to write about politics, but can never decide how, for it seems too easy to take a reductionist approach - which people far more intelligent than me seem to do often enough. What is helping me as I consider how to write this post is to think of dear acquaintances who work in politics, both at the party and government level. I am lining my thoughts with their faces and personalities.
The thought I want to address is the lack of agency so many people feel in the face of politics today. During the recent elections in one country, barely half the population turned out to vote, because they feel that the new-style politicians are even worse than the old ones: the source of their power is now masked. "If you've lost your mind, vote!" the photographed graffiti read.

So, when I return to my books and read about 19th century thought, and the optimism of progress and the thought that human knowledge could solve all ailments, while I can step into that idealism with my imagination, and understand such dreams, I also hear the warnings of writers like Ruskin: only he who knows himself is fit to attempt to work for the betterment of others. (He also wrote that future ages would hate theirs for making clothes but not ending famine.) Still, idealism is catching: who wouldn't feel it in an age when so many diseases were cured, and railroads brought distant locations together, in a single journey?
I was raised on idealism. I lived in one of those metropolises that functions on meritocracy, and consequently exhibits few signs of prejudice. But model UN later taught me that idealism only works if everyone subscribes to it. For idealism without general support becomes a battle.
I recently read an excerpt from Hilaire Beloc explaining the plight of the majority when they are ruled by a small number of men. This inspires in them a hatred which destroys the few constructive avenues they have by which to escape the dire circumstances. Hilaire's solution? Teach them better history.
Which brings me to my point. If ever I was political before, I now direct such impulses to education. And not of the five-minute lecture kind, but a reflexive approach to texts and the past. I believe that the past solves the riddle of the future. Hadot writes about this beautifully. I often feel on this blog when I write my thoughts as such a poor second fiddle to these great minds.
In my last post, I relayed a joke about education: A child asks his father the difference between 'for free' and 'for nothing', to which the father responds: School is free, but you go there for nothing. Even where people pay for their education, it seems devalued today, especially when the teacher-student relationship is reduced to the point where trust is barred behind professional distance. If education had a higher value, people would worker harder at it. Of course, I think it already does have a higher value, but most people never see its value, because they give up half way.
It is a serious subject, but nothing a quick jolly diversion can't put in better perspective. In Chris Addison's Civilization Radio4 comedy, a certain Professor Herring (!) is consulted as the voice of authority. He explains that while he wrote a book on a pressing question of humanity, he never actually answers the question in the book, as he was certain no one would actually make it to the end, given that it was 750 pages long, with a complicated cover and a blurry font.
I'd like to try to get to the end of all the books that are before me, I like the idea of carrying some kind of torch forwards, as I wrote in my post on tutoring. And as for politics, it, too, is philosophy, and I think that the three phrases at the oracle at Delphi could be applied, the reason being that without self-awareness and measure, even the right course can turn out to be the wrong one. But let us end with Addison, who jokes, "Democracy?! Who trusts other people? Just look at people's indecision when ordering at a restaurant!"

Elements: Animus, Basically Birds.

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