Our judgments reveal who we really are.
by Richard Sale Sic Semper Tyrannis Oct 8, 2018
An election is an occasion for ordinary people to endorse or reject certain political programs or personalities. If you belong to a political party, you have already given up a great deal of your intellectual independence, your self-ownership. Belonging to a party means that you have no choice but to endorse the party’s platform, many party members are hardly aware that that program was put in place by senior political figures who serve their own self-seeking agendas. I know a few close friends, one of whom is a former Colorado legislator, who have forsaken their own deep, personal convictions in order to submit to their leaders. (They tell of this without blushing.)
I don’t belong to a political party, (*) not because I think I’m superior to the rest of us, but because I abhor anything that drives us to think in unison, which is what a political party demands. Even in a group we retain our own individual view of life and our personal circumstances, but such things don’t seem to matter in an election. It is a sad fact that a political party thinks in a herd. A party by its nature ignores our temperament, moral character, intelligence, and education.
The less educated a voter is, the more he or she is liable to be swept along with a leader’s rhetoric, the spate of clichés he or she utters, ignoring the knowledge and experience that enables a voter to cross examine what they are being told. Voters remind me of schools of minnows that veer one way only to suddenly veer in another.
All of us are supposed to arrive at our conclusions by strenuous study, comparison, and dispassionate analysis, not mere association. Unanimity is the enemy of individual thought. An election assumes that we are all basically the same that every personality has an equal worth, and that reasonable people will do as they’re told by their leaders and endorse the majority.
But is the majority right?
Very often, it’s not.
The most numerous among us aren’t the most noble, farsighted or disinterested. I am not taking away from their hard work, personal honesty and the like. Ordinary people labor under very heavy burdens and all of us are ordinary in certain areas. Yet the most numerous among us are not the most reasonable or mentally or emotionally gifted. People choose leaders because they have qualities which the people lack.
Very often, a political leader appeals to utter blockheads, and we should remember that a blockhead remains a blockhead, even though a million other blockheads think their leader the acme of perfection. The brain and personality of a blockhead is impervious to new perceptions, ideas or fresh and original viewpoints. The habitual is his home. He most feels at home with the accustomed. He has barred his mind against any new or challenging ideas. He often makes his political decisions because of prejudice, prejudging a view without having carefully examined it first.
Unfortunately, the first ally of prejudice is ignorance. The result is bigoted and dogmatic and obstinate conclusions that issue from half-baked ideas.
Of course, bias and predilections are deeply rooted in all of us. When I was young, I liked women who were brunettes rather than blondes unless the blonde had brown eyes. Blue-eyed blondes put me off. Why? I have no idea. Why do some of us like blue or green better than red? Who knows? But in public affairs, fairness demands we counter our own predilections and biases with reason and the skills of critical thought.
The opinions held with the most passion are almost always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. If you cannot explain the grounds of why you have a certain opinion, you should behave cautiously. To free yourself from exaggerations and errors of logic, submit your opinion to other people for their judgment, especially those outside your immediate circle. The best thing would be to submit it to widely educated people with better knowledge than yours who can declare that it is worthy or denounce it as egregious nonsense.
In Garden of Roses, the great Persian poet Sadiq noted that “foolish people are a hundred times more averse to the wise than the wise are indisposed for the company of the foolish.”
Unfortunately, politics is the art of beguiling the foolish.
Stendhal once described French politicians as “automatons driven by vanity.” Doesn’t that describe our own? Vanity cannot live without comparing itself with other vanities and preferring its own over theirs. Politicians are enslaved by the very acclaim they have stirred up. All political leaders want to perform in the spotlight before a vast audience. They crave to be the center of action. They want to be the baby at its baptism, the bride at her wedding, the corpse at a funeral.
But the adoration of the half-witted isn’t worth much.
Think of the adoring masses who shouted their acclaim for creatures like Mussolini or Hitler or Stalin. Conformity is a contagious disease. If hundreds of limited brains praise a public figure, the crowd infers that the public figure must have outstanding merit and that they have characters that are sound, inspiring and hold views that will act to improve our daily lives. Yet in the rush to conform to a political ideology, new original viewpoints and objections are overlooked, denounced, derided and scoffed at.
The great historian Jacob Burckhardt warned of the “terrible simplifiers,” men who “by their clever manipulations and vulgar appeals to mob psychology would achieve popular acclaim and, with the approbation of the people themselves, seek to extinguish freedom.”
The most alarming feature of political parties today is that both parties abound with “terrible simplifiers.” The tactics of lying, misreprentation, false promises and false hopes have reached new pinnacles in our time.
My Hope and Aim
What I want to preserve is the validity of individual thought amid all the truculence of our political life and its political choices. The world in which a man or a woman lives shapes itself chiefly by the way in which he or she looks at it, and one life can appear different to different people — to one person life is barren, dull, and superficial; to another it is rich, interesting, and full of meaning.
We should develop in ourselves a keener perception, noticing things that most don’t, developing a deep sympathy for the dilemmas of everyday life, developing mental gifts that allow us to grasp accurately the complexity of the circumstances we live in. Of course, every person is pent up within the limits of his or her own consciousness, their peculiar temperament, their own gifts of character, and they “cannot directly get beyond those limits any more than he can transcend his or her own skin.” (I am paraphrasing Schopenhauer.)
In other words, you cannot see in a leader any more than you have in yourself. You cannot see over your own height. A pint of liquid can pretend it’s a gallon, but it remains a pint.
The truth is that what you have in your inner character determines how you see and think. To the dull, treasures of the life or mind escape their scrutiny and the joy they give. Their perceptions have grown blunt and dull with habit and time. They no longer have that sense of wonder that so enlivens life. They are captives of the beaten path.
To stray from that path seems to them dangerous or even treasonous. They return to the accustomed where they feel safe. Yet new revelations and new wonders lie ahead. Keep the faith. Keep thinking, keep examining, analyzing, comparing, measuring, weighing, assessing as long as you can. “An intellect clear, lively, penetrating and seeing things as they are, a moderate and gentle will, and therefore a good conscience –these are privileges which no rank or wealth can make up for or replace,” said Schopenhauer.
Our mind exists in a multitude of other minds, and our mind wants to go its own way, it wants to texted its dominion but it is limited by other minds, each trying to expand its power and reach. Yet I believe that our minds and sensibilities are unique. Our sensibilities and our inner constitution are unrepeatable. This is why they deserve respect. Political leaders ignore this. They are alarmed by the uniqueness of the mind and work to curb, seduce, control and tame it. To them our minds and moral character are mere commodities to exploit. They are only interested in the weight of numbers.
Self-control is required during these chaotic times. But you are not virtuous because you hold certain opinions. Opinions don’t confer virtue. Holding them and sharing them with others doesn’t confer original insight. In fact, the opposite is likely to happen – you end by worshipping what is worthless.
Bertrand Russell once said, “To save the world requires faith and courage: faith in reason, and courage to proclaim what reason shows to be true.”
In other words, even in an election, we should remain true to what is best in us.
(Header image: The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg)
My wife just reminded me that a few years ago, I voted for a Democratic candidate for governor in my state because I thought the Republican candidate was dishonest.
So I am currently a registered as a Democrat, but I will withdraw and become an Independent. I voted for President H.W. Bush against candidate Clinton because I thought he had handled the first war with Iraq with sill. I never voted for Bill Clinton, never voted for Gorge W. Bush and voted for Obama.
In the last election, I did not vote for Hillary Clinton nor did I vote for Trump. I wanted to vote for Sen. Sanders because I feared that as a country, we are no longer a democracy but an oligarchy.
To conclude, politics has never been a major interest for me. Greek and Roman history, ancient history, American history, WW II, plus logic and philosophy, and literature have dominated my life.