A little dark humor with no criminal intent
A few weeks ago, when forest fires were the hot topic, I phoned in a comment to the “Rants and Raves” column in the Franklin Press. Three times, leaving my phone number on the last two attempts. It never appeared, nor did I get any explanation for the omission. It was intended as dark humor. Here it is in its entirety.
“The more of the National Forest that burns, the harder it will be for Trump to find buyers.”
Hopefully, the Macon County News will print this. Hopefully, most readers will get the joke. For those who don’t, the reference is to the notion of selling off parts of the National Forests, which was a non-starter in these parts when it first came around, but which we can be sure will be proposed again under the incoming administration. And smoke damage is not a positive in the real estate business.
Laugh. It’s funny. Do not call Law Enforcement (unless you think they’d like to share a joke). I am not advocating criminal behavior. Just offering a heads-up. Thank you.
Bill McLarney — Franklin, N.C.
More faith in democracies than in Plato
There was a letter written last week that referenced Plato. The author portrayed Plato as an anti-communist proponent of rightwing producerism. As someone who has read every extant word of Plato, I found this exceedingly strange. Plato was indeed critical of democracy, as the author pointed out. Plato believed democracies were susceptible of devolving into tyrannies. But not for the reason given in the paraphrased quote: “in a complete democracy the non-productive class would take that which the working class earned.” This, or nothing remotely close to it, was not written by Plato. Ancient Greece was a slave society. Slaves were the “working class.” Slaves were the producers. The non-productive classes – whether under an Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, or Tyranny – always took the produce of “working class” labor. That is how Greek society functioned.
Why, then, was Plato critical of democracy? This is an apposite question to ask at this time in America. For the fears of Plato are front and center for everyone to see today, some 2,500 years after he wrote.
Plato, through the mouth of Socrates, discussed the various forms of governance in Book VIII of the “Republic.” His conception is hierarchical. Aristocracy is the highest form of government and tyranny is the lowest. Plato thought each form of government could be corrupted, at which point it would devolve into a lower form. Democracies, once corrupted, devolve into tyrannies. One of the means by which this occurs is foreshadowed in Book VI. It is known as the “Ship of State” analogy.
A ship is akin to a city. It needs someone to “take the rudder.” Thus some of its crew members must vie for power in order to become “the pilot,” the president if you will. Plato asks what type of person is successful at convincing the crew, the masses, he (always a he in ancient Greece) is capable of navigating the ship. His answer: the demagogue. It is the person who knows how to exploit the emotions of the unreflective masses, not the “true pilot” who spends his time observing the tides, the stars, the winds, and all of the other various skills requisite for adroit seafaring. No, it is the man who is long on manipulation and short on genuine knowledge. Once in power, the demagogue becomes the tyrant.
We have such a person who is about to take the rudder of our ship. Donald Trump is the quintessential know-nothing capable of mass deception that Plato warned us about so long ago. He is a man who has not spent his life acquiring knowledge and virtue. He has spent his life seeking, acquiring, and worshipping money – his god. But, in the process, he learned a skill: how to manipulate people. And he used that skill with a true demagogue’s precision during this past election.
Plato also knew for there to be a manipulator, there also must be a manipulated; that is, there must be a populace receptive to the evil wits of a tyrant when he called. This, of course, is yet another danger inherent in democracies, according to Plato. For in democratic societies, the populace becomes “drunk” with freedom. The “democratic man” abuses his freedom by spending his life in pursuit material possessions, as opposed to cultivating virtuous knowledge necessary for him to see through and resist the tyrant’s empty, self-seeking claims. He knows nothing of the Good, let alone the collective Good. He is inundated with, what Plato called, “unnecessary desires,” such as the unnecessary desire to clad every piece of furniture in one’s Manhattan penthouse suite in gold.
Given the fact that if the global populace consumed at the level of an average American, we would need four to six planets to support such an unnecessary level of consumption, I think Plato was not altogether wrong in his assessment of the “democratic man.” However, I do have more faith in democracies than Plato. His critique is only true if the masses make it true. This is both the beauty and danger of democracy. So, yes, our democracy is going to be led by ignorant, hateful people for the next four years. But if enough intelligent, moral people band together and resist, all hope is not lost.
Marshall Solomon — Franklin, N.C.
Seeing Christmas inside and out
It’s amazing to think that out of all world celebrations, Christmas is known and celebrated worldwide, every nation on earth, takes time out to reflect upon this one day known as Christmas. Even in times of war the fighting can stop for just this single day. This one day, faith seems realized but not totally understood. We all seem to share and take part in this celebration to some degree whether you believe or disbelieve, or are somewhere in the middle of being unsure, and have questions of uncertainty. This Christmas celebration is mainly the joy and excitement of being with friends and family and the exchange of toys, gifts and time spent with the ones we love and care for. The excitement of preparation in decorating, baking, buying, all adds momentum to the Christmas season. All the externalizing of this holiday can get a bit overwhelming but it all seems worth all the time, effort and energy that’s put into it. It’s the biggest celebration our world shares together as one.
Within the internal quietness of our hearts, Christmas can take a different perspective. We seem to view more closely our relationships of the past and present in hopes that somehow our future relationships grow more complete and meaningful as we grow older. More importantly than this, whether realized or not, there’s a tugging, so to speak, within the human soul for the spiritual side that’s within each of us. This tug of heart, if it doesn’t fade from neglect, has a place which is made by and only for God. As Augustine has stated, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”
Just as in the movie of “Ebenezer Scrooge,” Christmas seems to excite the external physical side, but its true place is felt internally. Christmas seems to draw us into questioning what is it that makes us grateful in life, what is it inside our hearts that seems incomplete and elusive and in search of something that seems hard to find. It can only find its place within our relationship to the One who relates with each of us in being born, and shared life with us, knowing pain, laughter, disappointment, and the good and bad of life, to the point of suffering death on our behalf, so we can relate with Him, and Him with us. This is why all the earth sings as one, “Joy to the World a Savior is born.” This is the One true gift that came for us, but as in the Christmas story, there was no room in the Inn for Him to be born; but this Christmas may we all make room for Him to begin a new life within each of us. This is the free gift only He can give; it only takes a willing heart to receive it.