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Society — What kind do we live in? How is it formed?

June 17, 2014

 

In this post I want to discuss a few issues that I feel are some of the most important issues for anyone to consider in any type of society, but my main focus will be the current society in the west.

 

What Kind of a Society Are We Supposed To Live In?

We are frequently told that we live in a democracy, which is incorrent. In reality, we live in a form of aristocracy or oligarchy. The word democracy comes from the root words in Greek “demos”, meaning the people, and “kratos”, meaning power or rule, in other words, in a democracy it is the people who rule. A democracy needn’t take any particular form, but the fundamental principle would be that the citizens would fill the positions of government and administer the state.

 

What Kind of a Society Do We Live In?

The root of the word aristocracy derives from the Greek “aristos”, meaning excellent. Aristocracy is supposed to mean, the rule of the excellent. The root of the word oligarchy derives from the Greek “oligos”, meaning the few, so oligarchy is the rule of the few. It has also become synonymous with the rule of the wealthy, after its use in that definition by Aristotle.

In his book The City and Man, the philosopher Leo Straus wrote that, when the people vote for a candidate, considerations enter other than the fact that the candidate is a citizen of the city, in particular the merit of the candidate, and that “voting for candidates is aristocratic rather than democratic.” [pg. 35]

As Leo Strauss also points out in the introduction of the same book, when we examine anything objectively, in particular through the scientific method, there is no objective basis for measuring value. We could, for example, measure how many questions to which there is only one answer a given candidate answers correctly (mathematical equations, for example), but to select a candidate based on the “superiority” of this kind of a criteria presupposes that answering mathematical equations correctly is the prerequisite for good government, the value of which cannot be objectively measured.

Even if, for example, a government official could be said to objectively provide every citizen with a degree of material wealth, several value judgements are involved in elevating this attribute to the highest order. For example, that the ultimate end of a political organization is to provide a certain level of material wealth to its people, which may or may not be univerally agreed upon (and this aside from any consideration of what would be necessary to obtain such a standard of material prosperity).

 

What Keeps Us From a True Democracy?

In his book The Social Contract, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote “If we take the term in the strict sense, there never has been a real democracy, and there never will be. It is against the natural order for the many to govern and the few to be governed. It is unimaginable that the people should remain continually assembled to devote their time to public affairs, and it is clear that they cannot set up commissions for that purpose without the form of administration being changed.”

I don’t necessarily incline to the same view as Rousseau, but nonetheless there are serious impediments to attaining a true democracy. One such impediment I find particularly important, and which I will focus on in this post, is the notion of responsibility.

In order for a true democracy to exist there needs to be a high level of responsibility on each citizen at all times. This responsibility includes, above all, the responsibility of governing the society, including oneself and one’s business which is the part of the society as a whole we have the most access to and the most control over.

It is easy to see why the majority of people do not take the level of responsibility needed for a democracy. Many people would rather enjoy liesure and forget about worries and obligations. This is part of the reason why we delegate our responsibilities to others, whether those others are government officials, co-workers, family, etc.

 

What Other Requisites Are There for a Democracy?

In order to govern ourselves, the affairs of our society and our daily lives, we need an adequate knowledge of what is going on in the world and how the world works. There are many ways we can get this kind of information, for example through schools, books, media, or discussions with others in the society.

 

What Keeps Us From Obtaining Adequate Knowledge About Society?

How do we know if we are getting the whole story and that vital information is not missing or intentionally being left out, or even being distorted and falsified?

These are very important questions today and they always have been. Modern techniques of propaganda and public relations have done much to create distortions and spread false narratives in the general population, not to mention military psychological operations. Some information about these topics is available on this blog or through internet searches, but suffice it to say the most common tactics include highlighting certain details while downplaying others, associating an idea with emotionally charged words, images and phrases, manufacturing events which corroborate or promote a certain position, idea, person or organization, and using experts and celebrities to promote a given position.

While these techniques may have been developed and perfected over time, and amplified by modern media, the issue is not at all new. In ancient Mesopotamia there arose a priest class who had studied the movements of the stars and noticed a connection between certain stellar configurations and natural disasters such as flooding. They used this knowledge to blackmail the citizens into paying tribute to them and their gods, lest the gods unleash their wrath in the form of these disasters upon the impious people. [See Carroll Quigley, The Evolution of Civilizations, Section: Mesopotamia]

In Ancient Greece, a group of teachers called “the sophists” taught their students the art of rhetoric, which entailed using techniques of persuasion to manipulate the “doxai” (or common opinions) to win the people of the city, and even politicians, over to one’s own point of view. (See Plato’s Gorgias) This is the cornerstone of all modern propaganda techniques and rhetoric in general. What it means to use doxai (or common opinion) is to cloak whatever motive one has in the commonly accepted opinions of the time. A relevant example from modern times is the war on terror rhetoric to “spread democracy” around the world, and so justify a number of actions that would otherwise have been distasteful to the majority of citizens (initiating a war that would kill over 200,000 civilians: http://costsofwar.org/)

 

What Can We Do?

Basically, my advice would be nearly as old as civilzation. Really, what is needed is for we as citizens to begin to engage in open discussion with one another, not merely among others on the internet, or among our close friends, but in our daily interactions and with people at large.

If you have read any of Plato’s dialogues you may have noticed that the discussions are among diverse citizens many of whom are not intimately familiar. Their conversations are not light but seek to penetrate to the heart of understanding of society, people, and other human things. Many of the characters in these dialogues do not agree with each other, in fact this is generally the crux of their development, yet they do not devolve into squabbles.

There is a very prominent tendency in our modern society for people to refrain from entering deep discussions with one another. This is not the only reason, but I feel that it is one significant reason so much is able to be decided over our heads, because we have severed the most significant connection with our society, which is each other, and the one thing that we have in common, which is language, ideas and understanding.

I end this post with an invitation to learn.

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From → Exposition

2 Comments
  1. Hi, good post. I sent you an email at watchingtheironcage@gmial hope you got it.

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