Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rumination on Livy

So the other night I was reading some Livy and I came across the following passage, pertaining to the incompetence and arrogance of two particular magistrates (translation mine):

"Yet these men, condemned ahead of time and cut to the core by so many judgments, came to the judgment of the people and believed that they were no longer in harm's way and had paid sufficient penalty, because they had been stripped of their office two months early; and they did not understand that simply the power to harm had been stripped from them, and punishment had not yet been imposed..."(Ab Urbe Condita, Book V, Chp. 11)
It seems to me that such an attitude exists among so many of our modern-day public officials, most notably those in Washington, D.C. What else can explain the mantra of "Looking Forward," so frequently mouthed by those in power, especially in regard to Bush Era torture and detention policy.

We are told that because the Bush Administration is no longer in office - that is, the power to harm has been stripped from them - the problem has been solved, and there's no need to dig around and actually punish anyone for anything. Why, they're no longer in authority, isn't that punishment enough? But, as this passage notes, the separation from the ability to do harm and punishment for harms committed are two separate issues. To be sure, the first is necessary, without which thing there can be no hope of redress, but only the second action establishes the precedent that wrongs will be made right, regardless of the political stature.

This is why I find it fair to say that the Obama Administration is not the sharp break from the Bush Administration that some would like. Yes, there has been tinkering around the edges - tinkering that has aroused deranged opposition all the same - but the main structure and system remains largely intact.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Old Comment, Revisited

So, I was looking at the old blog the other day, and found these two comments/posts from myself:

My religious beliefs - such as they are - are basically puritan. I am in this regard totally insufferable. I also believe in Original Sin. I don't just mean I pay lip service to the idea - namely that we need a Savior to free us from sin - because it wraps my theology in a nice little bow.

I mean that I actually think the human capacity for sin is well-nigh unsurmountable. Not even think. I feel it. Is this altogether logical? Well, I can't say for sure. But the world furnishes me with evidence on a daily basis that, at the very least, I'm not insane to feel it.

Where I differ with orthodoxy, or rather where I have a fundamental problem with people's views on religion and God is that there seems to be a prevalent mindset at work: "I want to feel good about myself."

So you get a lot of spiritually unfit people - Jesus called them hypocrites! - feeling good about themselves because they made an outward show of piety or some such. But if God and Truth are the same, this is completely ridiculous: you shouldn't feel good about yourself! Nor, should you feel bad about yourself, I should add.

The purpose of the religious exercise is more to feel, how can I phrase it... accurately about yourself. To be able to see your human nature as it is - fallen, corrupted, imperfect - and not as you'd imagine it or wish it. Only when you understand yourself can you do anything about anything. The religious discipline - and that's definitely the way to think of it - is there to guide you and provide you with a mean on how to go about reaching a better understanding.

Why the discipline? Well, absent it, you're just left with yourself talking to yourself. Possibly even deluding yourself. The discipline itself can take many forms, of course, not just in terms of different religions themselves, but different aspects of each religion...

Interestingly enough, it is precisely because I believe these things - and can't recall a time when I didn't - that I do not wish them imposed on anyone else. If I admit that my own understanding is inherently flawed, corrupted, and fallen, why would I dare inflict my specific outlook on other people, and in doing so, set myself back from my own path? It just doesn't make sense. It leads to the worst kind of hypocrisy.
You know why I like the concept of Original Sin... ? Because it reminds us that we shouldn't go around feeling good about ourselves. And why shouldn't we feel good about ourselves? Well, look at the world today. More specifically, look at what the United States has done in the past six or seven years. Most - if not all - of our policies have been based on the premise that we are a good people, that good people will do good things if given power, and we should feel even better about ourselves for it.

We see where this has gotten us. I say we need to stop feeling good about what we do. We need to stop promoting ourselves as virtuous, inherently good people who can do no wrong. This is called pride. Until we rid ourselves of these self-glorying conceptions (and their parallel delusion that only mysterious bad people who are not us are behind all villainy), our nation will only suffer. So stop feeling good about yourself.

These still sum up my views fairly accurately. Nice to know I've always been so theologically dour!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

How could I be disappointed?

As it becomes increasingly clear to me that the Obama Administration is ill-equipped to handle the current realities of the world, I have to ask myself - am I disappointed in him? My answer is very clear: no, because I never expected anything in the first place.

Now, I realize this is a bit harsh, but I must confess that I was never impressed with the man. Yes, he can deliver an impressive speech on occasion (although even here I think the bar has been progressively lowered over the past 30-40 years), but at no point during his campaign did I get the sense that he saw the larger picture. What I did see is a master tactician, someone with an innate ability to outwit and confound his opponents. Doubtless this ability comes in handy - witness the fun he's having with the hapless GOP - but it's all in vain if there's nothing behind it.

So let's remind ourselves, why did Obama run? To bring "Change." While I would hardly dispute the wisdom of repudiating the Bush years, "I'm not Bush" was hardly a positive vision for the country. The next president, inevitably, was not going to be Bush! Something more was and is needed, without which we're just bouncing from one pointless tactical victory to another with nothing accomplished of actual importance to the American people.

Please look at this chart for a breakdown of partisan identification. The Republicans have taken a nose dive, but support for Democrats has also weakened (admittedly not to the same degree). I put it to you that this is because Obama and the Democrats have not presented a viable governing philosophy. To be sure, they've put forward various measures and policy proposals, but this is hardly the same thing. Do they have a governing philosophy? In their own words, what would their America look like?

In my next post, I plan to outline my own philosophy of government.

Mission Statement / About the Name

The name of this blog, "The Optimates," traces its lineage to the later days of the Roman Republic. In the first century BC, there were two main factions on the Roman political scene: one being the so-called "Populares," or "People's Party," and the other being the so-called "Optimates," or "The Best Men." Although neither party was a party in the modern political sense, both did represent prevailing streams of thought. Now I happen to believe that traditions do exist for a reason and are undone at our peril. I also believe that our popular democracy (as currently practiced) is liable to the worst sort of demagoguery. If anything, this puts me in the same stream as the Optimates of old, whatever their flaws.

But a lot has changed in the last two thousand years, has it not? To what extent are ancient philosophical traditions applicable to our lives here and now? Well, that's precisely what I want to discuss here. As I said in the previous post, I'm dissatisfied with our current politics. I'm dissatisfied with it precisely because the range of opinions that is publically discussed is so narrow and self-selecting. I want this blog to be a space where that range can be broadened a little bit. To be sure, my own emphasis will be on analyzing the events of today through the prism of what has gone before, no new thing it itself; but even this is not so readily found in our public discussions. Not only that, I do think my perspective on events past, present (and future) is worth sharing.

Return To Blogging

Facebook, of all things, has inspired me to get back into blogging my political/philosophical/religious thoughts. Or you could say that Facebook's inherent inadequacies have done so: many times I've wanted to link to something, post a thought, or engage in long-form discussion, only to find that the format really doesn't permit anything as lengthy as I wanted. So here I am.

If anything, I plan to use this site to continue to explore my dissatisfaction with two things: the current absymal state of our country's political discourse and the current (woefully) absymal state of so-called "conservatism." I am tempermentally quite conservative, yet neither the GOP nor the conservative establishment has my intellectual allegiance. Yet this hardly makes me a liberal/progressive or a Democrat. I suspect I am not alone in this.

At the very least, the posts to follow will help me 'get it out of my system' by providing an online outlet for my dissatisfaction. But my modest hope is for something a little more; perhaps we all can have the sort of reasoned discussions that we don't get to see in the media!