Friday, January 21, 2011

Vicious Stalin, Vicious Plato

All day yesterday I was thinking about why people say that I am vicious. What did they mean?

I struck up a conversation with a graduate student up at the University Library. The student said that if a bad person liked a book the book likely was bad. Stalin liked Plato so we should be skeptical of Plato. I asked if he was serious. Did he really believe that good art, books, good anything was only liked by good people? He nodded his head yes.

I replied that things that are well made teach how the world really is, so offer the power to use that knowledge. Well made things do not directly make people good or bad. They are tools that can be used to good or bad purposes. That is one point of view, the student answered.

Later that night I listened on the radio to a lecture entitled People vs. Corporations. The speaker argued that since corporations have been given legal rights to do things which destroy the environment and destroy democratic practice, local cities should declare themselves free from what threatens the minimum political and natural order we need to live safely.

In other words, localities should break county, state, federal law because such law is against the spirit of the constitution. The constitution is a legal document made for a purpose. Like Plato admired by Stalin, it can be used with good or bad purpose. If it is being used for bad purposes, those purposes must be resisted.

Thinking about my viciousness all day, I made the connection. I am vicious with business partners who act on the assumption that in making money normal human friendliness and kindness does not apply. I am vicious with my wife, who says she was taught by her father she should use men to collect money and use it to take care of family.

Like a locality is practicing civil disobedience when it passes a bill of rights saying that it does not accept that industry can pollute or finance politicians because such practices threaten the principles on which we live our public lives, when I viciously attack money making at any cost I am practicing commercial and personal disobedience.  I am being vicious with the vicious.

My business partners and friends complain: lying and money making at any cost works and everyone does it. So why are you saying this stuff to me? Our power proves the principle. You must be insane. How dare you speak this way! You will never get anywhere talking like that.

And I reply: I am sorry you don't understand that people in power liking something doesn't make it right or wrong. Because Stalin liked Plato, Plato is not necessarily bad. Stalin is bad even if what he liked was good. Not all uses of power are good. Some are, some are not.  You can like Plato, be vicious, and still not be Stalin.