leaders should not be expected to have all the answers. But I ask you, and others before me have also asked, “why not ask the people?” Aristotle thought about this, at some length, and came to the conclusion that most people have innate political sense, though they may lack expertise in all things. In democratic Ancient Greece, numbers of people, chosen at random, served well to resolve weighty issues. Currently, we spend obscene amounts of money trying to influence our “elected” officials and those who wish to be elected. Why we expect them to represent us is a mystery to me. It should not be a mystery, since they are merely doing the bidding of those who bought them and permitted them to be “elected.” For awhile, the ancient Greeks did what seems rational, though they admittedly gave their women no civic rights and held many people in bondage to do their heavy work. The city of Athens had perhaps 20,000 citizens, uncounted women and children, and perhaps 200,000 slaves. Yet they had a method of decision-making that was a vast improvement on our very corrupt system of choosing representatives, called random selection, and mandatory service by those chosen. Athenian law dictated obedience to the laws of Athens and participation in its civic activities. Repayment was given to the society for the benefits received as citizens, including military service, should that be necessary, and contribution to the debates in the public forum of one’s expertise, as needed. A citizen could not escape the requirements of citizenship. The Athenians, between the fifth and the third century B.C., tried a method of conduct that may offer guides to a more satisfactory life than our current winnertake-all mentality. We started in the U.S.A. with a somewhat “elitist” government of
very well-educated and thoughtful men who used the Greek model to create the ideal state in North America. What they did was borrow from Plato’s state ruled by “philosopher kings,” and codified it in such a way that it permitted evolution, but hampered participation by the governed. We have almost sanctified our constitution to the point that any real reform is being stifled by those who feel that our founders did enough, and though minor improvements might be permitted, real participatory democracy has never been given a chance to succeed.
Because we have been fortunate to have a huge number of well fed, literate citizens, like it or not, we have an obligation to this society that should be obvious to us all. We cannot continue to look apathetically at Sacramento or Washington, D.C. and shrug as we go about our daily tasks and mutter, “a plague on all their houses,” leaving “them” to manage our world problems. I believe that our population yearns, silently for the most part, to suffer if need be, but to contribute in a meaningful way to help us out of our troubles.
We have grown used to this form of government, but recent events have clearly demonstrated that unless the majority of the “masses” are represented in the halls of power, we can expect more of the same, ad infinitum. The internet was one method recently employed to bring the people into the decision-making process.
Following Athenian tradition, they want to repay the polis, or the nation, for the benefits accruing from residence in this blessed place. One of the last lines of Pericles’ Funeral Oration reads, “a man may at the same time look after his own affairs and those of the state… we consider anyone who does not share in the life of the citizen, not as minding his own business, but as useless.”
Our founders, probably realistically, did not trust the mostly illiterate masses to know the right path to workable government. However, with current increased literacy and universal education, it should be reasonable to expect that meaningful changes in government are worth considering. For example, though recent surveys may bely this, we have in this country a standard of living distributed fairly widely that cannot be matched in most countries. We have, to be sure, recent changes in energy and food cost, and an unsatisfactory war that has no predictable end, and a debt that will create hardship for generations. There is reason enough to believe that we can overcome this temporary set of issues, but we need more input from those who will have to pay for it.
PAGE 33 | THE BULLETIN | MARCH / APRIL 2009
We need to start early, training our young people in discipline and languages, as well as in senior and child care, such that they appreciate the fact that these are real problems that all will face. We have not served our young and elder population properly. Fear haunts nearly every family regarding health and education of the young, and near Continued on page 34