December 11, 2008

Politics and the Good Life

I believe it was Aristotle who said “Man is a political animal”.

This was not so much a aphoristic sort of reflection on human social life.  No.  This was as close to a scientific statement about the human condition as was possible at the time.  Other animals are social animals, some animals are swimming animals, and some animals are flying animals, but man is a political animal.

As many of you are aware, recently one of our governors (and I say “our” because as he is a governor in the United States of America, he is an American politician) Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was indicted in a scandal in which he is accused of selling President Elect Obama’s open Senate seat in a kind of secret auction.  Many of us are offended, shocked, and our responses overall have been a cynical “well, what did you expect?”

But…What does it say about us, then, when we openly sell positions of power in our politics to the highest bidder?  What does it say about the American conception of the Good Life?  Is this really the story of just one man’s greed?  Or is it indicative of something about American life that needs to change?

You can guess what my answer is, but if you want to know details, keep reading.

President Elect Obama had a conference today, and I want to echo some of his sentiments, because I think they are right on.  This is not just a problem with one guy’s greed.  This is a problem with a particular view of politics in our country and perhaps in countries all over the world.  The view of politics as a rat-race, as just another business–a for-profit enterprise.  Politics is merely a venture for one’s own selfish desires to have power and money over people.

But isn’t the problem, at the root of it, the drive for titles without the responsibilities of those titles?  Isn’t it really the desire to pretend to be worth more than you actually are?   What I mean to say is something along the lines of both Aristotle and Confucius when they both echoed one another: that people ought not to seek titles for the sake of having titles, but should rather seek to become worthy of those titles.

We’ve become utterly confused about what it means to lead the Good Life.  We think that Happiness and fulfilment is in being a CEO, or in being a President, or in being a blog-writer for the Elephant Journal.  But these titles, if we seek them for their own sake, say nothing about who we are as people.  However, if we exemplify Virtue, and push for excellence in all that we do, then we end up being worthy of these titles even if we never get them.

The end of being virtuous is a happy life.  In the end, the one that follows virtue and gains happiness is the better for it than the one who seeks a title without virtue.

So we have to ask ourselves what it means to be a political animal.  We don’t have to abandon self interest necessarily, but we have to understand what is really in our self interest versus what merely appears to be in our self interest.  If we can change how we view the Good Life, we might have a shot at transforming our politics.

That being said, I am starting a fund today for people to help me buy the open Senate seat.  Apparently it is fucking gold.

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