Sunday, June 29, 2008

Musings: Pondering the Fall

A wedge of darkness illuminated the brighter whole of the moon, which was floating among wispy clouds in a sky thickly sprinkled with stars when Koko and I went walking in that ethereal time on the night side of dawn.

Jupiter glowed round and solemn in the southeast among the stars of Sagittarius, reminding me that a reader wrote to alert us that Saturn and Mars will be dancing with the bright star Regulus for a week or so in the western sky about an hour after sundown, starting tonight.

Looking up and back, to admire the moon, a brilliant meteor shot across the sky, falling straight, not down, and heading mauka. Walking ever so quietly, so as not to disturb the neighborhood dogs, we passed a heavily laden mango tree and heard the swoosh, thump, thump, thump-thump of a mango taking others with it as it fell.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fall since reading Jeffrey Rosen’s excellent review in the New Yorker of books published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Milton’s birth. I was struck by the many enduring contributions Milton made: he coined the words pandemonium and self-esteem, in addition to writing the epic “Paradise Lost” and other important works.

But I was especially interested to read about his dual role as poet and political activist, which had him writing pamphlets defending the beheading of Charles I and serving Oliver Cromwell, even after that hopeful government had turned into an autocracy, before doing time in the Tower of London when Cromwell’s son was overthrown and the monarchy restored.

Four centuries later, some of us are still trying to find the perfect political system, still trying to create, at some level, even if we reject any religious overtones, a sort of “heaven on earth” where justice and righteousness prevail. And it got me wondering, are all “political solutions” ultimately doomed to fail because they are constructs of flawed human beings?

We’re taught that democracy is the ideal, because we the people supposedly have a say and a voice, but I have to wonder to what extent that’s really true. The power elite decides which candidates will be allowed to run, and high level races are heavily manipulated. That very same issue of the New Yorker contained an article on GOP political trickster Roger Stone, whose “accomplishments” included orchestrating the November 2000 demonstrations that disrupted the court-sanctioned ballot recount in populous Miami-Dade County, “depriving Gore of his best chance to catch up in the over-all state tally,” reporter Jeffrey Toobin writes.

The rest, as they say, is history, and now we’re watching the most expensive Presidential race in history unfold, financed primarily by special interests that will want something in return. We are not in control of our republic any more, yet how do we change that? When you’ve got a dictator or a king, it’s clear who need to be ousted, but how do you overhaul a democratic system that is rotten at its core?

It has so many people and so many moving parts that's it's virtually impossible to make a clean sweep. So people are kept busy advocating for, and occasionally executing, endless little fixes that never really solve the root problems — problems that rest, it so often seems, in the very same jealousies, lust for power, vengeances and delusions that are the theme of “Paradise Lost.”

So what it seems to keep coming down to, at least for me, is that we’ll find no truth in our political systems, and must seek it instead in whatever ways we can. As Rosen wrote:

“For Milton, the great trial of life was to discover truth through error, but without falling off the path of good.”

Perhaps that, and love — Milton’s fall was nothing if not a testament to the power of human love — is the best we can hope to attain as we seek not to create a heaven on earth, or wait to be called onto one, but to witness, truly witness, the little bits of paradise offered up to us on a daily basis.


Katy said...

I think it's important first to shed the idea that capitalism equals democracy and vice versa. We should remember that one is an economic system and one is a political system, and that they can (and some say, should) be uncoupled.

What I wonder is whether capitalism by its nature corrupts democracy.

Also, does hierarchy corrupt democracy? As someone who believes that hierarchy is inherently oppressive, I tend to believe that yes, it does.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget scale. Keep it small. No political system can function at a scale the size of the U.S. or the U.S.S.R.

Anonymous said...

"the court-sanctioned ballot recount"

You mean "the court-sanctioned ballot recount" that the U.S. Supreme Court found by a vote of 7-2 was unconstitutional?

When you say "court-sanctioned" you make it sound so legal. But in fact seven justices found that the Florida Supreme Court's method for recounting the ballots was quite illegal.

Anonymous said...

Stone is my hero. He took down that would-be dictator Eliot Spitzer.

The reason you libs hate Roger Stone is because he is ....effective.

Katy said...

No, it's because he's a shit-bird. I read the article about him that Joan refers to, and I had to take a shower afterwards.

Anonymous said...

The scary thing about the left is that they "are still trying to find the perfect political system" and they so often turn out like Milton and become apologists for deadly tyrants, looking past the tyrant's cruelty because the of the tyrant's "enlightened" politics. Or else, more frighteningly, they end up like Pol Pot, and become deadly tyrants themselves. The left scares me.

Anonymous said...

whereas the right just goes straight to the tyrant. No need to apologize.

The right scares me much much more.

Anonymous said...

Who's the right tyrant the scares you more than Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Maximilien Robespierre, the Jacobins, etc? Bush? Don't be pathetic.

Katy said...

Well, rather than engaging in a pissing match over who can claim the worst authoritarian creeps, why not talk about what values are important to you in a social system, and offer some ideas about we could realize them?

The scary problem isn't "left" or "right" but a history of ceding power to an authority.

Anonymous said...

Allrighty then. I'll opt for the one that secures personal freedom then.

Larry said...

Only the poor think we have a democracy. The rich know better.

Democracy is certainly one of the "values" we can talk about, and there is even a song about bringing democracy to the USA. So we can sing about it, too.

Larry said...

To anonymouses: suggestion, could you each possibly pick some identifying anonymous name so that it would be easier to differentiate between you, heap praise, throw darts, etc.

Ed Coll said...

All authority must be challenged for legitimacy and if found to be illegitimate must be removed. By Who? By you! Never miss an opportunity not to go along with an illegitimate regime, and try to undermine it daily.

Anonymous said...

I don't think so. It works for me more so than any alternative the leftists are suggesting.

Anonymous said...

Someone compelling me to do something I don't want to do never worked for me.

Anonymous said...

Very true. That's why I don't want to be compelled to give up anything this capitalist society has done for me.

Being compelled means haveing to do something you don't want to do. That has never happend to me.

I'm happy as a clam to have paid $70K in taxes/year. It means I've made a ton! I don't care how they spend it.