Saturday, July 03, 2010

Plato Got It Right: Politics Matter-A Thought for the Fourth of July

"The penalty good people pay for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse that them." Plato


Whether or not Plato actually wrote this is open to dispute, but the idea is true and relevant. Almost 250 years of our experiment in democracy have passed, and our country continues to write the book on whether or not the experiment will survive the next generation. 


I was one of the masses who ignored politics for most of the middle decades of my life. I was too busy, too indifferent, too laissez-faire about our political system to be involved with politics. The first decade of the 21st century was a wake-up call to action, however, and a time of revelation for me: everything is political. Laws that have been settled for decades can be overturned; social and civil understandings can be changed with the stroke of a pen. The origin of the word "idiot" was in ancient Athens, and referred to a person who did not take part of the political life of the city-state. Such a person was viewed as being dishonorable. I, like many of my fellow citizens, was acting like an idiot. 


This July 4th will see celebrations of the birth of our nation. Flags will be waved, bands will march, politicians will speak about patriotism and honoring veterans, and then, after the fireworks have ended, people will return to their homes and give little thought to what we are celebrating. Meanwhile, cynical politicians are playing to our fellow citizens' lack of historical perspective. Some religious leaders are happy to distort the intentions of our nation's founders, and they are benefiting from the animosity that ignorance generates. Our representatives, besieged by lobbyists, are corrupted by the influence of money in national elections. Racism, which has seldom been far below the surface, is alive and well. It pollutes our national dialogue and further divides the strata of society and cultures. 


We are going through a time of great testing of the American soul, and this celebration of our Declaration of Independence can be just another forgotten holiday, or, better, a time to look at ourselves as a nation and consider what we have become and what we wish to become. But change will not happen until we come to understand that we are a nation ruled by laws by common consent, and laws are written by our representatives who are elected by those who have actually taken the time to involve themselves in the political process. We must realize that if we truly want to make our nation better for all of our fellow citizens, we must, as a nation, stop acting like idiots. 

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