Friday, November 29, 2013


As Mark Antony said when told Cleopatra was in bed with laryngitis, Damn those Greeks.

Back in the day, circa 500 B.C. give or take a century, the school of Cynicism in Greece was enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame…which is still happening 2 ½ millennium later though in an altogether different form. The word, cynic, derives from, dog (canine), as in the life of a dog. Diogenes was a well-known Cynic who rejected all the usual conventions of fame and fortune, sex, power etc… in favor of living for virtue which meant being in accord with Nature. He opted for the austere life of dispossession and is said to have lived in a tub on the streets of Athens. Legend has it he spent his life with a lantern in search of an honest man.

Early cynics did not disengage from the world; they would preach cautionary words railing against excess and gluttony; not the sort of guys you would save a seat for at the Thanksgiving table.

As a philosophical school they were doomed. There has always been enough poverty in the world without seeking it as a goal. However certain tenets remained and got incorporated into the Jesus story persisting with St. Francis and even Thoreau at Walden Pond.

Today’s cynics have different stripes. They are generally fed up with politics and how society seems to have devolved. They wish for a pox on both parties. They have turned their attention away from the fray. Cynics are exactly what the Conservatives have devoutly wished for, a disengaged electorate.

Certainly there is much going on in Washington to discourage Progressives. Diogenes would have a difficult time in the shadow of Congress shining his light on an honest man or woman. Our beleaguered president seems to have fallen into what that great baseball sage, Casey Stengel, warned against in his secret of managing.  Keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.

Whether through inattention, incompetence or caving in to the fear-mongers his support on both flanks is waning. As an art of the possible, politics calls for a pragmatic approach but Obama has been compromising with himself.  His opposition is absolute and recalcitrant even if those shrill voices ill-represent the concerns of the American people, 75% of whom now live in cities which comprise 3% of our land mass. The constituency of the Republican Party is largely the empty space between cosmopolitan centers. They have come to Washington not to govern but to dismantle.

To be sure our government, as presently constituted, is in grave disrepair. But the Right-wing broke it and only full participation from the Liberals can hope to restore some legitimacy. I, too, have thrown up my arms in despair from time to time but that's too easy. Now is not the time for cynics to sneer like disappointed romantics. It has always been thus to some extent. One works within the system to elect enlightened minds. It’s time for Diogenes to put his tub aside. Let us start a movement to encourage Democrats to relocate into those contorted districts where pockets of Conservatives felt safe. Gerrymandered salamanders are known to slither about and won't hold still for very long.                                                                                                                                    

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