[ExI] democracy sucks

Darren Greer darren.greer3 at gmail.com
Sat Feb 26 15:09:36 UTC 2011

On Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 3:27 AM, Damien Sullivan
<phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu>wrote:

> Well, this greatest thinker thought women had fewer teeth than men.

True. He also came up with a defense for slavery  and some other lulus. And
Plato thought it was a good idea to lie to the populace to keep them in
line, which influenced Leo Strauss who became the philosophical father of
the neocons. The anti-abolitionists used Aristotle's arguments to defend
their brand of slavery, and of course the bible has been used to justify all
kinds of deadly nonsense. Democritus thought that atoms were the smallest
units of divisibility and that there were air atoms and earth atoms and
thought atoms, etc. One of the hallmarks of being great is that you're going
to have a lot of opinions about a lot of things, and time will prove you
dead wrong on some of them. Our own great minds will meet that fate one day,
including Einstein et al. If we dismissed every thinker from the past who
was wrong about some things, we'd have a pretty short reading list.

> Which is kind of unhelpful by itself, since that exhausts the
> logical possibilities.
> Not quite. He championed a polity, which, similar to what Jeff originally
posted, elected officials sought only virtue and justice in the system and
nothing else. I'm not sure if you have read the Politics, but in it, he goes
on in great lengths about what happens if economy is the entire focus of
government. The people chase an unattainable grail, wealth through
regulation, which, let's face it, doesn't happen, and the officials become
corrupt. And by virtue, Aristotle does not mean morally upright behavior,
but rather decency through conduct -- honesty, integrity, accountability and
the like. Elected officials are elected because they demonstrate these
qualities, and once elected they work in concert to achieve justice. That's
where it gets tricky, because Aristotle never clearly defines what that is.
Plato did, but for him it was a perfect form and the ancient Greek precursor
to one God, which has been the source of much woe. Aristotle also thought
that virtue was dispensed at birth in fixed amounts and was usually found in
the upper classes, so some problems there.

   Democritus thought the world

> was made of atoms and the Milky Way made of stars and wrote the first
> encyclopedia, so there's some intriguing potential there.

A scientific bias perhaps? :) I'm a fan of Democritus too. Many people I
know with scientific bents are. He also surmised there might be life on
other planets, which was pretty heady thinking for a guy who lived 2500
years ago. I guess that's why he is considered the father of Greek
philosophy. Epicurean philosophy is closer to libertarianism, I think, than
any of the others. And it is often misunderstood. Diogenes and the barrel
philosophers were also interesting.

> More relevantly, what Aristotle called democracy isn't what we call
> democracy.  Athenian democracy was a mix -- varying over two centuries
> -- of New England town meetings and decision-making by giant juries.  In
> Aristotelian terms, almost any large democracy today is actually a
> democratically selected and replaceable (that's the important part)
> oligarchy, with the occasional plebiscite (a Roman concept.)

That's undeniably true. What Aristotle championed was representative
government, very much of the kind we have today.  True democracy with a vote
for every citizen was possible in times when Troy, the legendary great city,
was no more than five thousand inhabitants. (Actually Troy was a bit before
A's time, but you know what I mean.) But the important point again is that
Aristotle's concern was not so much how the mechanics of government were put
in place, but what the focus was. If it was in the hands of the many, and
the many were only focused on money, then the government would be focused on
money. And that was in his purview a recipe for corruption. I would say he
wasn't that far off. He suggested we needed to rise above that and focus on
higher goals, and the money would take care of itself. That's why I was
struck by Jeff's description of his accountability party and forcibly
reminded of Aristotle.


*There is no history, only biography.*
*-Ralph Waldo Emerson
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