Monday, September 10, 2012

The American Experiment: A Delicate Balancing of Democracy, Tyranny, Oligarchy, and Aristocracy

As we approach the 2012 national elections, we are witnessing an interesting tapestry of interwoven interests--often coinciding with and often opposing each other.
Kenneth Burke observes: “[T]he Constitution itself is but a set of enactments (variously related to one another, sometimes even directly at odds with one another)” (DD 25). Even so, one could consider the Constitution (or, more specifically, the Supreme Court that interprets it) a form of Tyranny. Once any Supreme Court has ruled on an issue, as the Roberts court did recently regarding ObamaCare and as somewhat different Supreme Courts did earlier in the Bush-Gore election dispute and the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, the Tyranny is set. Of course, this is the Tyranny of the majority vote of nine individuals, rather than the Tyranny of a monarch or despot, but it takes an enormous effort to overturn any ruling of the Supreme Court. One may argue in vain that the Supreme Court misinterpreted the Constitution in a given case. The Supreme Court operates as a Tyrant. One rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street protests pits the 99% against the 1%. The 1% is, of course, the wealthy. It should be clear that if 99% of the voters in a Democracy want something, it will probably occur. The 99% could vote that all of the wealth currently belonging to the 1% be given to them. But is the American Experiment a pure Democracy?
Benjamin Franklin has a famous quotation: “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” An important debate concerns whether segments of the U.S. population are paying their “fair share” in taxes. The President believes the wealthy are not paying their “fair share.” Rush Limbaugh counters that the top 1% pays 70% of the tax burden. He suggest that the 50% who pay no income taxes at all are not paying their “fair share.” Franklin correctly observed that the American system of government is a “republic.” Voters are not (democratically) free to enact their every whim. There are checks and balances. For instance, the Supreme Court may overrule the acts of the voters. So far, the Constitution—with its Bill of Rights—has held a good deal of sway over the actions of the Supreme Court.
In Book I, Chapter 8 of his book On Rhetoric, Aristotle identifies four basic types of government—Democracy, Tyranny, Oligarchy, and Aristocracy. For Aristotle, the goal or end of Democracy is freedom; of Oligarchy, wealth; of Aristocracy, things pertaining to education and the tradition of the law; of Tyranny, self-preservation. If the Supreme Court in the American system typifies Tyranny and the 99% (or, more accurately, anything over 50%) typifies Democracy, then the 1% typifies Oligarchy. The Supreme Court (Tyranny) ruled in January, 2010, that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. This decision effectively reinvigorated Oligarchy as a force of influence in American politics. The wealthy have freedom of speech, in America, as do the poor. The difference between the volume of that freedom of speech among the rich and the poor is that the rich may speak much more loudly, due to the availability of media messages that may be purchased. This may seem unfair to some, but it serves as a counterbalance to the right of the 99% to vote that the poor be given the money that belongs to the 1%. Oligarchy in America may be one of those invaluable checks and balances that keep the American experiment alive. It seeks to persuade voters among the 99% to be “fair” and ethical in voting--in the sense that they should not covet or steal the wealth of the rich. Aristocracy, for Aristotle, refers to education—specifically, that education that is laid down by law. George Kennedy translates Aristotle: “For those who have remained within the legal traditions [of the city] rule in an aristocracy.” There may be a sense in which Aristocracy emphasizes the divide between the well-educated and the uneducated, just as there is a divide between the rich and the poor. Yet, remaining within the legal traditions of a political entity seems to also be relevant to issues of whether illegal residents or convicted criminals are allowed to vote or otherwise influence the American system. For the past few years, such issues have been forefront. How are we to deal with these interwoven interests--often coinciding with and often opposing each other? When I was a businessman, as a General Agent for Fidelity Union Life, an important principle was presented to me. I understood the principle: If a policy is priced too high, the consumers will not buy it and the company will fail. If a policy is priced too low, the consumers may buy it, but the company will not make a profit and the company will fail. If the sales commission on a policy is too low, the insurance agents will not sell it and the company will fail. If the sales commission on a policy is too high, the product will not be competitive, the consumers will not buy it, and the company will fail. This insurance metaphor is not far from the delicate balancing act America must maintain. If America taxes the wealthy too much, they will move their businesses to another country, and America will lose tax dollars. If America gives too many welfare benefits, without the tax income to pay for them, like Greece, the country will go bankrupt. If America has a tax-friendly environment for business, more businesses will invest, more jobs will be created, more workers will pay taxes, and more income tax will be generated. If companies pay these workers too little, they will not work for the companies, and the companies will fail. Oligarchy plays a role in the success of America. Before it was government subsidized, the saying used to be: “As GM goes, so goes the nation.” Businesses and the wealthy must be kept happy or the country fails. Democracy plays a role in the success of America. If the majority of voters are dissatisfied, they will vote out the powers that rule. Aristocracy plays a role in the success of America. We are a country of laws, and those who violate the laws do not generally retain their leadership positions, as we have seen in recent years. Tyranny also plays a role in the success of America. The Supreme Court (and its evolving make-up) are virtually always issues, every election year.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hidden Mickeyisms 7: Disney’s “Brave” and the Three Little Brothers’ Entelechy

Perhaps, no one else saw it because few others lived through it. What I saw in Disney’s “Brave” was an entelechy that struck me, as if I were looking in a mirror. I saw myself, my next older brother Tim (nearly 2 years older than I) and my oldest brother Rod (nearly 2 years older than Tim) in the characters of Merida’s three little brothers, the triplets--Hamish, Hubert, and Harris. These three Scottish boys were tricksters. They were constantly performing pranks designed to accomplish nothing more than to entertain the boys themselves. They tied their father’s boots to the table, as their father ate dinner. They sneaked throughout the secret passageways of the castle. They devised numerous tricks to steal treats. And, when their mother was magically turned into a bear (and they were subsequently turned into cubs) their trickster characters remained intact as they used trickery to help Merida save their mother from their clueless father. As personal members of the Scottish Lindsay clan, Rod, Tim, and I were aware of our Scottish roots. We knew that the Lindsay clan had our own Lindsay plaid cloth, a coat of arms, and even our own castle in Scotland—Edsel Castle. I remember a Scottish song about trickster brothers that our dad, Andrew Lindsay, used to “sing” to us: “There was a man who had two sons, and these two sons were brothers. Sing, brothers, sing! Tobias was the older one; Biangus was the other. Now, these two boys they bought a mule; they bought it on a Monday. Tobias rode it all the week; Biangus on a Sunday. Now, these two boys they bought a mule, and that poor mule was blind. Tobias always rode before; Biangus on behind.” Just as Hamish, Hubert, and Harris (and Tobias and Biangus) pulled pranks, Rod, Tim, and I jointly entertained each other with pranks. Our seriously overweight neighbor lady routinely traveled the same route through a grassy area as she came daily to drop in on my mother and chat, uninvited. We had seen westerns in which pits were dug in pathways and re-covered with sticks and twigs. So, we three dug a one-foot deep pit in our neighbor’s preferred pathway, filled it with water, and overlaid it with sticks, twigs, leaves, and grass. We heard the yell and the splash as she tumbled in, then trudged back home to change clothes. It did not occur to us that she could have hurt herself. We simply reveled in the prank. We were always attempting to uncover the secrets of our Christmas presents. One year, Tim and Rod discovered where our dad had hid a major Christmas present for us—a pony cart, to be pulled by our Shetland Pony Smokey. They let me in on the secret—although I did not have the nerve to go sneak a peak. Nevertheless, my dad punished all three of us for this snoopy prank. We were forced to wait until New Year’s Day to try out our new toy. In episodes reminiscent of Merida’s relationship with her three little brothers, I remember hiding in the back seat of the car of my big sister’s boyfriend, so that we could surprise Marilyn and Albert when they came out to sit in the car and kiss. When my oldest sister and her boyfriend borrowed our pony cart to take a romantic ride to the levee, we hid in the weeds and bushes and spied on Barb and Dean, and later, repeated their sweet talk back to them. It is a shame that there are fewer large families, these days. Fewer little boys get to experience the innocent, trickster, prankster camaraderie of Hamish, Hubert, and Harris. Little boys eventually grow up and get caught up in their own individual lives. They sometimes forget what it was like to have brothers—partners in innocent crimes, pranks, and trickery. It sometimes takes an entelechy such as that of the “Brave” triplets to shake us out of our individualism and remind us of how sweet brotherly camaraderie can be.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hidden Mickeyisms 6: Disney’s “Brave” Old World and Mother-Daughter Separation

One thread that runs through many of Disney’s animated films, as I have pointed out throughout this series of “Hidden Mickeyisms” commentaries, consists of supplying entelechies (strategies or plots) that children use to deal with problems they face while growing up. Specifically, I see many of these entelechies dealing with parent child separation. With the release of Disney/Pixar’s movie “Brave,” however, we see Disney implicitly suggesting that some entelechies should be reacted to (rebelled against), rather than followed. The 10th Century Scottish princess Merida is more of a tomboy than her mother would like her to be. Her mother, Queen Elinor, expects Merida to follow the entelechy she (Elinor) has provided—that of a very feminine wife, mother, and queen. Merida rebels against this entelechy her mother wishes to pass on. She is not ready to give up her freedom and be married to some unknown royal son. She does not want some royal son to “win her hand” via his skills in archery. She wants to “win her own hand” and preserve her status as single. To an extent, Merida is a character similar to Disney’s 1998 animated film character Mulan. Merida, like Mulan, excels in athletic skills traditionally considered masculine, but Mulan uses her skills to save her aging father. Merida uses her skills for more selfish reasons. Both Merida and Mulan seem to lack traditional feminine characteristics, but while Mulan eventually develops a love interest in the opposite sex, Merida is bent on maintaining her single status. This objective will appeal to many present day feminists, but the notion of Disney/Pixar implicitly condemning the now outmoded tradition of arranged marriages seems trite. Except in some foreign cultures, the idea of arranged marriages has almost completely died out in present day society. To fight against this practice seems too easy. Why would Disney/Pixar create a story to discredit an already discredited practice? Is this the entelechy against which young women should rebel/react? I think, instead, the entelechy against which viewers are expected to react is the entelechy of attempting to force others to change to accommodate our own expectations. Elinor was forcing Merida to change and Merida used magic to force Elinor to change. The result was nearly disasterous. I discuss the relationship between coercion and persuasion in the Introduction of my book, Persuasion, Proposals, and Public Speaking. (See link to right.) Whether the “force” being used to “coerce” change in another is parental power or “witchcraft/magic,” coercion is implicitly unacceptable. Both Merida and Elinor needed to substitute “persuasion” for “coercion.” And, as with other Disney films, the motive that best teaches this lesson is “true love.”

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hidden Mickeyisms 5: Disney’s Chimpanzee and Animal Tool-using

It was probably not a hidden agenda in Disney’s nature documentary “Chimpanzee,” but it is still a learning opportunity. I doubt that Disney was attempting to present animals in comparison to humans as tool-using animals. Nevertheless, Kenneth Burke does define the human in one respect--in a tool-using sense--as being “separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making” (Language as Symbolic Action 13). Animals may “adapt” to their natural environment through mutation, but humans can separate themselves from the limitations of their natural environment by making instruments that remove the limitations of nature. I point out on page 78 of my book Disneology: Religious Rhetoric at Walt Disney World:
It is true that sea otters can “use” tools (that they do not make). They can “find” rocks and use the rocks as tools to break open the shells of shellfish, so they can eat the meat inside. It is true that apes will use sticks they “find” to place in holes and crevices to retrieve insects and other foods. However, the sea otters and apes do not “make” these instruments—they “find” them in their natural environment. Humans, on the other hand, “make” the instruments that separate them from their natural condition. While sea otters may “use” rocks as tools, humans “make” the rocks into cutting instruments. They chip away edges of the rocks to make sharp knives. Humans did this—even in the Stone Age. Then, humans realized that they could use vines to tie their sharp rocks to sticks and they “made” axes. The humans, next, realized they could put the sharpened rocks on the ends of longer sticks, so they did not have to come into close contact with the animals they hunted. They had invented spears. They noticed they could throw these spears, but if they tied vines to each end of a willow stick and bent the stick, they could use this bow to propel smaller spears (arrows). Every single human culture, it seems, has learned to “make” bows and arrows. But, it did not stop there. If humans are too cold, they “make” clothing, insulated homes, fireplaces, central heat, thermal underwear, etc. If humans are too hot, they “make” electric fans, backyard swimming pools, central air conditioning, etc. If humans desire to travel fast, they make chariots, bicycles, automobiles, motorboats, airplanes, jets, etc. If they are Earth-bound, they make rockets and space shuttles. Chapter 3 of my book Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth Burke’s Extension of Aristotle’s Concept of Entelechy, is entitled “The Human as Super-Natural.” The human is the only animal to have the ability to transcend natural limitations by his rational thought, symbol-use, and inventions. Even so, it is fascinating to view the tool-using aptitudes of the chimpanzees in Disney’s film. As I suggested in Disneology, they “use sticks they ‘find’ to place in holes and crevices to retrieve insects and other foods.” Just as sea otters “find rocks and use the rocks as tools to break open the shells of shellfish, so they can eat the meat inside,” the chimpanzees in Disney’s film were caught on camera using rocks (and, less successfully, pieces of broken tree branches) to break open various shells of nuts so that they were able to consume the meat of the nuts. Sometimes, the “tools” they found (such as the pieces of broken tree branches) were discarded as ineffective tools. Sometimes, the rocks they used broke, but they did not have the mental capacity to see that broken rocks can serve as knives and axes. They stole effective tools from one another, but they did not “make” them, as humans do. The closest the chimpanzees come to “making” tools is stripping the leaves off of the twigs so that they might use them to poke into various holes, to gather insects and honey. I do not believe that this constitutes any type of symbolic invention capacity—any more than birds building nests and spiders fashioning webs. There is no hint (in the scenes of the movie, at least) that the tool use of chimpanzees is anything more than instinctive behavior.