by David Eide 

The Values That Emerge  

Well, I know I don't have an empire to defend. I have only worlds to know and experience. It is the beginning of renewal. A 30 year cycle that started in '68 is now finished. A new era awaits.

Idle Musings of the Hypothetical Citizen

"You must not fall below the standard of your fathers, who not only won an empire by their own toil and sweat, without receiving it from others, but went on to keep it safe so that they could hand it down to you. And, by the way, it is more of a disgrace to be robbed of what one has than to fail in some new undertaking."
Pericles speaking to the Athenians after the second invasion of the Peloponnesians

The hypothetical citizen spent one sunny day reading through an old college text when he stumbled over a piece of literature he had read many years before. It was the Funeral Speech by Pericles, given at the outset of the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C., some 2400 years before his own birth; a span of time that he had become familiar with through a variety of libraries and bookstores.

At the time he was reading it, his own country was going through enormous self-doubt and turmoil. The mind, itself, turned against it. This simple gesture could create epochs and what was left, then, was a littered few decades of nothingness.

He was disgusted at the monstrous gargoyles they had become under the duress of living in a culture that demanded everything and meant nothing. Remembering what his professors said, he was desperate to find a cause.

"When the sales pitch and the entertainer replace knowledge at the center of the liberal, democratic culture, then it lost its ability to build and, instead, fakes it." A professor had told him that. At that time he had hardly listened to the professor but now his words came back, amplified by expereinces he'd been having of late. "It loses the ability to sacrifice and wanted to live in an Eternal Now which is the dream of barbarians who didn't need to build anything. They who simply ransacked what is already there, produced by earlier generations of people."

Ah Professor! Where are you today? They were successful in taking over the culutre, in making it their own, in making you irrelevant, not even fearing you any longer. They now honor and hoist above them, pro wrestlers, actors, and pornographers.

The people had to be convinced that their country was at a crux moment. That it either produced the better citizens fit for a liberal, democratic culture or it would take the historic road and produce a class of 15% of the citizens to run everything and turn the rest into masses. He had seen it in his dreams or where they nightmares? They took him high above the land and showed him the unfolding disaster.

The land itself. The great profound geography pervading all living space in the country, this is what he loved about the country. A mountain with no name driving eternity to the center of his chest, high above the rural towns whose smoke was barely visible. The empty space. Light. Infinite and scary for a man trying to find an identity. It would make him inhuman in a way the mothers could not fathom. And then great gestures of the past, "existential" like the mountain men whooping up the river valley at the sight of beavers. The genuine kindness of the people, this is genuinely loved.

So Pericles said some interesting things to his fellow citizens in Athens long ago. "Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses. No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty."

"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...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."

"But the man who can most truly be accounted brave is he who best knows the meaning of what is sweet in life and of what is terrible, and then goes out undeterred to meet what is to come."

"We make friends by doing good to others, not by receiving good from them."

"When we do kindness' to others, we do not do them out of any calculations of profit or loss; we do them without afterthought, relying on our free liberality."

The French revolution was two hundred years ago. It was the beginning of a succession of transformations that made the citizen a collective builder of vast Super-States. States that unleashed great power throughout the century. And yet the citizen despised himself so much and acted as though he wanted to be stripped of his pride and accumulations. "Set me naked in the world, naked with nothing but phenomena and desire and the necessity to recreate myself in an image of destiny that I can not find."

So, on his wistful days, at rest, the hypothetical citizen contemplated away from his relation to the political process that surrounded him. "Away" as a condition of alienation, or as a self-conscious disillusionment we find in an individual who is filled with his own desires but can not find the object of those desires without sacrificing some of his pride. This kind of individual is thoroughly problematic and exists in the imagination only.

© 2003 David Eide. All rights reserved.

David Eide

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