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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Fast And Furious Democracy

Some people have called for the abolition of the US Senate, saying that it is grossly unfair in that Rhode Island has 2 Senators while California with millions more people has but 2 Senators also.

Then there is the quadrennial question of the Electoral College's existence, and many say that ittoo be abolished and the President elected by direct vote of the people.

However, sometimes democracy can be too abrupt. Recall the Athenians who were miffed at the inhabitants of Mytilene for some transgression or another, and they sent off a ship and troops to kill all the male citizens ofMytilene.
A few days later when spirits had returned to normal temperatures, they were aghast at what they had done, and sent another ship to countermand the first mortal order.
The Athenian assembly ... hastily sentenced all of the male citizens of Mytilene to death, while the women and children would be sold into slavery. According to Thucydides, after the decision was made a trireme was dispatched to Mytilene to carry out the orders...

The next day, the Athenians realized the unprecedented brutality of their actions and some became hesitant about the hurried decision to kill and enslave the citizens of Mytilene. A second debate, which Thucydides called the Mytilenian Debate, took place in order to reassess the course of action that should be taken. The debate consisted of varying opinions, the first of which was presented by Cleon of Athens. Cleon ... spoke to defend the previous decision against doubts and to assert that the guilty party got the punishment they deserved. Cleon's reputation was violent and ruthless. Indeed Thucydides describes him as "the most violent man in Athens."

Cleon began by questioning the worth of a democracy: “Personally I have had occasion often enough already to observe that a democracy is incapable of governing others, and I am all the more convinced of this when I see how you are now changing your minds about the Mytilenians.”
He also implied the Athenians have become jaded by sophist oratory and questioned the worth of free speech. He described the Athenians as “victims of their own pleasure in listening, and are more like an audience sitting at the feet of a professional lecturer than a parliament discussing matters of state. He finishes his speech by urging the populace to not "be traitors to your own selves."
After Cleon's speech, Diodotus spoke in defense of his previous opposition to the death sentence. He stated that "haste and anger are... the two greatest obstacles to wise counsel...."

 Diodotus argued the issue was not a question of Mytilene's guilt, and whether Athens should seek vengeance; rather it was a question of what is in Athens' best interest.Citing one of Cleon's main arguments for his position, Diodotus questioned whether the death penalty is really a means of deterrence from revolt or just the opposite.
He finished by asking Athenians to fundamentally question what is right and just and look to moderation rather than aggressive punishment. Instead, he urged the Athenians to spare the Mytilenians in an effort to create an alliance.
Following Diodotus’ speech, the assembly recast their votes. Diodotus’ rational argument prevailed and managed to persuade the assembly not to massacre the Mytilenians. The Athenians, who initially ardently supported the total annihilation of the Mytilenians, now found themselves hesitant. As a result, the votes, which were originally unanimous, were narrowly passed in favor of Diodotus.

 Of course, like all good Greek tragedies, it was too late.

However, there is a true democracy all about us in the form of weapons and guns. There is an outlet for anger, and it is quick enough that there will not be time for a second debate. Let us kill all that offend us, and let God sort out the dead.

The morals of weapons has so far eluded us.
We are far beyond the time when everyone used guns in rural settings, and children hunted with their elders.
We are in a different place.


notes on the postcard pictured:

Although the city name everywhere is writ "Mytilene" which is the English rendition of   Μυτιλήνη , which would be something like "Moo-ti-lay'-nay", the postcard has " Μιτυλήνη" instead:  "Mitulene".

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