Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Thomas Paine (featured in my recent post) was a major figure in developing American political thought. But of course he and his revolutionary brethren relied on centuries of political ideas developed in Europe. The great Florentine Machiavelli was a founder of modern, secular political thought. Less known today is his equally astute friend, fellow Florentine Francesco Guicciardini. Guicciardini actually achieved what eluded Machiavelli, substantial political power. He also achieved distinction as a gifted historian. A collection of his sayings, or ricordi, has survived and is available in a paperback English translation.

Here's one of my favorites:
If either necessity or contempt induces you to speak ill of another, at least be careful to say things that will offend only him. For instance, if you want to insult a particular person, do not speak ill of his country, his family, or his relatives. It is great folly to offend many if you only want to insult one man.

How can this help us in today's world? One mistake that earnest activists on the left and right make every day is to hurl insults at someone that violate Guicciardini's rule. A conservative will needlessly offend millions by pointing out that the object of her wrath is from New York. A liberal will denounce someone as a bible-thumping redneck. We need to make clear that our scorn is directed at one particular loathsome individual, and was triggered by a particular sort of action. By the same token, we should focus on the latest outrage, not rehash old grievances that might make our indignation appear to be merely sour grapes. Of course sometimes people merit contempt mostly because they are part of a larger, contemptible group. In this case it is fine to insult the whole group. I don't care if I offend all white-supremacists, although I wouldn't want to heap scorn on any particular state where they might be found.


cranstonista said...

I get your point, Ulysses, but sometimes it's hard to avoid the trap. How can I write "Trent Lott," when I really mean to write "Mississippi racist (and all that term implies) Trent Lott?"

Motivated In Ohio said...

As always, well said.

Cletis L. Stump said...

Interesting. We, in the south, get that a lot. I'll chew on this a bit.

Anonymous said...

i'm watching c span with trent lot he spoke with alot of sense , but i'm not a dumb redneck , but i am a redneck , i grew up poor , and everyday i'm thankful i still have a job , and a good one . they talk plainly on cspan , but all the other news you get is bull "spit" :) , i mean miss information . it's painful to me that most of the regular working class have no voice , nobody is pushing issues that we feel strongly about , like immigration , it might not be humane to shoot people comming here on boats , but it's harder to cross a gunline than a wall . just cause i don't like illegals , don't mean i'm racict or impartial to international relations . but it destroys structure . they work for less and cause problems in society when they loose honesty and morals , not to mention none of those people pouring in give a shit about this country , if it wasn't controlled those coorperations that higherd them so cheap would be destroyed , and none of that money would amount to much . not that those billion dollar coorperations are loyal to america anyway , but they don't mind pushing the patriodic angle to sell u more shit to make them rich . we should look at china and japan , not for their greatness or military or technology , but thier numbers , years from now , will there be enough jobs for the people in this country ... that might be the fall of rome , there is no more room for expansion , aside from mars and how far are we from colonating , other planets . we need to learn how to sustain ourselves and consider , tall buildings and small apartments , wall mart is a good stock to invest in ... also we might not wanna rule out ideas for population controll (birth controll) . and land , farm land , trees and the amount of oxegen in the air . we need a plan for all these things now , we cannot hide from it , and people will understand , if you talk plainly , but someone important needs to say it , someone need to say it , we can't live in a fantasy land forever .