Saturday, December 9, 2023

Politicians' Ignorance


Politicians’ Ignorance

Peter Schultz


            Politicians use their intelligence to hide their ignorance. That is, their realism, which makes them knowledgeable about all kinds of things, hides their ignorance of more important matters, such as, realism can never achieve its ends, will never succeed. What they know isn’t as important as what they don’t know. They will always end up “shooting the elephant,” in George Orwell’s phrase. This is the crux of what Fowler, in The Quiet American, calls Pyle’s “innocence.” Pyle is ignorant of the fact he is innocent and, therefore is, like a leper, deadly.


            The many are also innocent and ignorant, but are less dangerous than the few because they aren’t ambitious. They sense but don’t understand or fully appreciate how contingencies pervade the human condition. Hence, their cautious behavior, both in terms of their actions and their goals. Their circumstances render them immune to the pursuit of greatness for themselves. But those who pursue greatness, the few ambitious humans, those who lust after fame or immortality, can seduce the many to follow them, in large part because the many don’t realize how chance, how fate, how contingencies control human affairs. Their ignorance makes them susceptible to such seductions.


            What to do? One key would be not to provide the few with opportunities for such seductions. For example, don’t create offices or positions that offer the opportunity for the exercise of great power. Don’t create an office that appeals to those who are governed by “the love of fame,” and who would seek that fame by gaining such an office to undertake great projects meant to serve the public good. After all, it is only the ignorant who think such projects actually do serve the public good. Such ignorance combined with great political capacities is the nitroglycerin of political life, a combination that leads to death and destruction whenever it appears. It is not the many we need to fear; it is the few.


            Similarly, it is not the many the philosophers need to fear. It is the few because they sense that philosophers seek to subvert their grandiose plans. The many did not accuse Socrates, although they did convict him – barely. And even though Crito was not wise, Socrates was his friend and knew Crito intended him no harm. Socrates, the philosopher, cared for Crito and demonstrated that care by reconciling Crito to Athens despite Athens’ unjust treatment of himself. The philosopher, because he’s human, cares for the unphilosophic, even if or when it jeopardizes his or her life. Philosophic courage is indistinguishable from philosophic humanity. Hence, Socrates’ turn toward the human things was an erotic turn. Eros lifts us up where we belong. Not politics.

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