In mid-June the wife of my long-lost cousin wrote to her Facebook friends:
To encourage and reward lawlessness by refusing to enforce the will of the people as proven by laws passed by our political representatives is the signature of a tyrant. In this case, Obama’s refusal to enforce immigration laws and his blatant suggestion that his chosen illegal activity will be rewarded are proof of his tyrannical tactics.
Sarah Palin is certainly not alone in this judgment of the current President. A frequent commentator to this blog writes:
A White House who believes it can use its pen and phone without ramification and a Congress and constituents who continue to allow such outrageous behavior – how dare you folks allow this continuing weakening of our established procedures by a WH and AG who could give a damn about our laws and enforcing them… The real question, will it be domestic terrorism we need to truly be concerned about, or a government who cannot adhere to the checks and balances placed before us by our forefathers to guard against possible breach of faith and in the words of Frederick Douglass, the following: “Find out just what People will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Award-winning screenwriter and playwright David Mamet agrees that President Obama is a tyrant.
He’s a tyrant and I give him great credit. He’s always said that his idea was to reform the United States. And, you know, like many tyrants, like Wilson and like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he believes that his way is the right way and that he’s going to implement his vision of the world, and many agree with him. And he’s acting in concert with his conscience. And I applaud him for that. I just disagree with everything he’s done.
New York Times writer C. Gerald Fraser has called Mamet the “Aristophanes of the inarticulate”. Aristophanes was a writer and director of biting politically-charged comedies. Plato suggests that his play The Clouds set-the-stage, so to speak, for the prosecution and execution of Socrates. No wonder Plato mistrusts poets. Plato also suggested Aristophanes plays to non-Athenians as a way of better understanding the complex culture of the city-state.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Aristophanes’ The Wasps:
Everything is now tyranny with us, no matter what is concerned, whether it be large or small. Tyranny! I have not heard the word mentioned once in fifty years, and now it is more common than salt-fish, the word is even current on the market. If you are buying gurnards and don’t want anchovies, the huckster next door, who is selling the latter, at once exclaims, “That is a man whose kitchen savours of tyranny!” If you ask for onions to season your fish, the green-stuff woman winks one eye and asks, “Ha, you ask for onions! are you seeking to tyrannize, or do you think that Athens must pay you your seasonings as a tribute?”
Yesterday I went to see a whore about noon and told her to get on top; she flew into a rage, pretending I wanted to restore the tyranny of Hippias.
This play was first performed in 422 BC. It describes an Athenian democracy degraded by a populist authoritarian executive and a banal, self-indulgent, litigious, and often vengeful populace. A long war and related economic decline have generated widespread cynicism. Bdelycleon, above, is a protagonist for reclaiming the joy of life… partly by putting aside anti-social conventions and adopting a rather refined, yet still spontaneous conviviality.
Mamet’s use of tyrant surprises me. But I expect that was his goal. He once told some interviewers, “In my family, in the days prior to television, we liked to while away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, based solely on our ability to speak the language viciously. That’s probably where my ability was honed.”
Vicious, as Mamet knows, is related to vice, suggests cruelty, and signals faulty, defective, corrupt. The opposite of virtuous.
If you have ever seen a Mamet play — Glengarry Glen Ross or Sexual Perversity in Chicago — you might agree the playwright is masterful in exposing how language can be used to misdirect others and, especially, self-deceive.
Vigorous language is needed. It both seeds and weeds our thinking. But it seems to me vicious language is a threat to real thought. Shedding humility the vicious communicator is exposed as anorexically prideful. The language is chosen to intimidate or, failing that, confuse. At the very least vicious language renders a real conversation practically impossible. Dangerous in a want-to-be (need-to-be?) democracy.
— Parabasis —
This post is I readily admit very close to off-topic. Given what continues along our border, what is emerging in North Africa and Southwest Asia, and various domestic threats, it is rather weird to quote a Fifth Century BC dramatist regarding the tendency to socially scripted over-statement.
But it also seems to me the situation in Ferguson has exposed an unbridged abyss between homeland security tactics and strategy. Especially treacherous is where rhetoric is inclined to rock-slides. Too many of the players in Ferguson have performed as if they were reading from (badly written) scripts. Catch-words, platitudes, stock-phrases, pseudo-slogans, clichéd complaints have been repeatedly deployed on all sides; which one or more of many sides receives as proof that others are not listening. So each retaliates on each with a barrage of their own bromides. Absurdly farcical possibilities unfolding into tragedy. Words replaced with other weapons.
Aristophanes — no friend of his city’s authoritarian ruler — strongly suggests that the principal source of tyranny is our individual and collective tendency toward non-thinking.
I have experienced the wisdom of crowds, especially if the crowd is listening and in meaningful discussion. I want to be in conversation with you. When our digital “talks” get going — when we listen and build on the wisdom of each other — it is noticed. Then our words have influence. Especially when we are not repeating scripts but actually thinking, listening, and exploring — together — about tough issues that are, we demonstrate, abundant in ambiguity and ambivalence.