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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Politics, now and then

As we pass through another season of voting, similar I think to passing gas, except its a lot less comfortable, it's important to recognize that we're not that different from those lovable democrats of old, the classical Athenians (ca: 400BC). They invented democracy, and with it assassination of the political sort, idiotic foreign intervention, gerrymandering to rig the vote, and a governance if not by logic, at least by happy sounding metaphor.

For the American congress, clever gerrymandering made it possible to democrats and republicans to run virtually unopposed, and to demonize each other as they fight for the levers of power that can't be immobilized by clever back room deals. As for the issues, just wrap them up in the rhetoric, entitlement, or manifest destiny, and you've got the sound bites that can carry elections.

The Athenians knew this business as well. Only male citizens could vote, which left out the vast majority of the populace, consisting as it were of women and slaves (in our times also called the middle classes) And the pressing issue then and now was security. Invade this city state, bully another, par for the course for the supreme power in the Aegean.

Athenians were very bright people, giving us philosophy, literature, and science, things we know about but never read. This of course didn't stop them from entering interminable wars with their neighbors, making stupid economic decisions, and acting for the most part like selfish assholes. Of course, the Romans, Macedonian, and other peoples who took them over were just as selfish, were even greater assholes, and made even stupider economic and political decisions, leading inevitably to a long series of dark ages fully of death, destruction, and ignorance. Winston Churchill said that democracy is an awful form of government, but that all the others were far worse. Perhaps that's the muse that checks my despair with the idiotic politics of the U.S. Heavens! I could be living in Bolivia, Ivory Coast, Chad or France!

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