Governed by Small People

While my post title is not a movie currently in production, I think now that it is out in the universe Hollywood executives will be kicking it around for a summer buddy comedy.  Perhaps Danny DeVito and Kevin Hart will boss around Arnold and the Rock.  The little guys can ride the big guys around the mall or some shit.

The small people I really had in mind are our leaders.  Those who choose to serve and pride themselves on said service.  Service by its nature is a noble, selfless feat.  To put others before yourself whether it be waiting tables or in the halls of congress should be admired.  And we agree as a culture that service, especially good service, should be rewarded.  No one begrudges the waiter who gets a great tip for a job well done and that is what makes our leadership so problematic.

The first problem is that those who choose to serve are first and foremost always concerned with their self interest first.  Let’s be clear: everyone is self interested.  We cannot survive without self interest but just as the waiter can put aside his own shit for a few hours to fill some drinks and pick up some plates, perhaps our leaders could stop worrying about their ability to stay in their job and instead, do their fucking job.  Daydream with me for a moment as we imagine our leaders concerned with the project of governance and not A: fundraising or pandering to keep their position or B: endlessly trying to fuck over the opposition.

I imagine that these leaders would argue that both A and B are part of their job, perhaps even the bulk of their job.  How much could they govern in a mere four or six year stint?  How better to serve all our citizens than by not cooperating with anyone in the same government, with the same overarching goals, in an effort to ensure that any political idea outside of their own ideology receives no consideration often leading to political gridlock?  I also imagine that these same leaders would argue that they are representing their constituency engaging in this irresponsible gridlock.  Unless these representatives received %100 of the vote, then they are representing those citizens who did not vote for them and likely agree with the opposition.  Which is great and is the point of a representative democracy but as the representative you don’t get to take a victory lap when you decide to act and blame the people who put you in office when you decide to pout in the corner because you don’t like the kids in your class.  Don’t put your inability to do your job on your constituents.

The inability to govern was the true purpose of this post.  Why is there such an inability to lead and why is it so pervasive?  Where are the philosopher kings of the Republic who rule with their eye always trained towards the Good?  What Plato does not tell us in the Republic is that philosopher kings are rare.  Our current leaders misunderstand great leadership.  This sort of leadership cannot be found on the safe path.  Self preservation doesn’t expand empires, forge new governments or resolve civil wars but rather only seeks to maintain the current state in which we already exist.  That is not to say that our current state is awful but can we not do more?  Can we not dream bigger?  We as citizens find ourselves governed by small people who believe that their wealth, influence and position makes them important; makes them fit to lead.  These people believe that because they serve they have a relationship with the Good and their actions as servants are therefore governed by the Good.  But there can be no relationship with the Good without Justice and these leaders are not Just.  Justice requires that they do their work; their work is to govern; they fail to govern; therefore they are not Just and without Justice, one cannot be guided by the Good.  We are all in the same boat and those tasked with charting the course are blind.  Where does that leave everyone else in the boat?


True inequality is not between the powerful and the weak; the rich or the poor; between the sexes or the races.  True inequality exists between those who have a greater understanding of their relationship with the Good and Justice, and those who do not.  The condition of your sex or race or class may change, nay will change, which makes finding that point at which we may be equals impossible.  These material particulars are not bench marks which reflect who we are, how we live our life nor do they provide us a measure of how we live among one another.

It is our relationship with the Good and the Just that these material particulars reflect.  Plato says that Justice is doing one’s own work.  If this is the case, the conditions immediately around us are our concern and what we should be concerning ourselves with.  When we concern ourselves with work that is not our own we commit injustice.  Injustice, just as Justice, is not an action but a relationship.  It requires more than one participant in order for it to be observed.  When your neighbor steals your garden hose he participating in the relation of injustice.  It is not injustice because he has done something morally wrong or against the law but rather because he is not doing his own work.

What guides us to Justice?  How do we know that the neighbor’s work isn’t to steal garden hoses?  Our relationship with the Good is what guides us to truth.  The Good and truth are inseparable.  Plato explains that when we leave the cave we are able to “see” the truth because the Good is the light that illuminates the world.  Our relationship with the Good directly affects our ability to understand what is Just and what is not.  We cannot speak of Justice without the Good because we must know what is true before we can do our own work.

Inequality is the condition that exists between those still strapped to their chairs in the cave and those who have ventured out of the cave into the light.  Those who amass power, wealth, fame and status from interpreting shadows on the wall are in fact equal to everyone else who is looking at the shadows on the cave wall.  Beware those stuck in the chair next to you, for despite their appearance they understand as little of the world as you do.  Welcome those who look to reenter the cave carrying with them the illuminating power of truth.