Have We Lost Our Principles?

To find men of principles that strive for honorable causes, in which, they adjoin for the community the state of grace, has not only dwindled but has virtually disappeared. The innate goodness of men has lost their way in the polarization of political equanimity and has fragmented into balkanization of dishonor, in that, the strife which has ensued in the climate of post 9/11 has deteriorated equilibrium of the public. Insomuch that, with the over saturation of public access to information, the public’s sagacity has been paralyzed by fear and disinformation. The Iron Age of America has begun and suffered the barbarians at its gates; the last civilized democracy has immured itself into chaos.

The United States of America, the beacon of liberty, a far descended child of Socrates, and the “Golden Age” of Greece has failed their instruction and philosophical teachings.

This “Golden Age,” and its martyred hero Socrates was one of the first principled men of the West; he was one of the first father of philosophy. And although some felt that his principality had developed into a ‘religious’ type movement; that his popularity had subverted the government, his students realized his contribution to their city-state nation. His acumen to question everything, to some, seemed to undermine the authority of the nation. To ponder patriotism, god, and the way of life was unsettling and disturbing to many. Nevertheless, the man Socrates may have had seen himself as superior, but he did not see himself as a faultless deity. Then again, like most charismatic leaders, Socrates was certainly egocentric, but had learned the lessons of discernment, or as it sometimes referred to as the Socratic Method.

His methodology provided the foundations of Western-American philosophy, and enabled leaders that followed the example of piety, authenticity, and truthfulness, his charisma set the challenge for other notables, such as: Alexander the Great, Jesus, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, George Washington, Napoleon, Adolph Hitler, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Billy Graham, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy found such clarity of purpose within themselves to lead great “social dramas,” to weave and fold to the next transition, to the next liminal[1] step; ascending through the apex of the indited moment of our lives.

In essence, to crossover from that state of “betwixt and between,”[2] and complete the next phase of our life’s narrative to the next intersection of recognition. Some of these men listed above, chose admirably, to not back down from their principles. Most of these men did not give into temptation of their egoism, they found their balance from within themselves; and, provided prophetic teachings to their followers.

They, the leaders of history, understood and transformed their personal dream into an archetype[3]of myth that deployed within their community, their society; a saga of “aspiration” of hope. Joseph Campbell spoke of Carl Jung’s distinction of the “two orders of dreams,” in that, the communal consciousness identifies with the charismatic leaders vision.

In the case of Socrates, his vision for a more virtuous man, a nobler person, with integrity, came at a time of conflict within his own community. This was true for Confucius, with the warring states of China; he tried to impart a humanitarian perspective to his people. It was true of Martin Luther, who felt that, Catholicism had lost its way. In the time of crisis for the American colonies, George Washington was present to father a country into a new idealism. However, such kinetic personalities have also been a detriment, they have painfully attributed to baneful ideals that dispensed suffering unto untold millions, with charismatic leaders such as Napoleon, and Adolph Hitler.

Each of these leaders was born during times of crises, their country, their communities, and their burden, suffered the strife of tribulations and yet through transformation of their will and charisma moved the culture to come. In the 20th century, these articulations help bore the next step in civil evolution, with the upheaval, for instance, in India, Britain, and America, led to the culling of new leadership: Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy. As for Socrates, his unrepentant quest for discerning truth, and unapologetic avarice for knowledge led to his death. His respect, nonetheless, for the rule of law, to pay the price, embodied his sacrifice for his conviction. And, his example aided leaders to come, illustrated the unwavering tribute to the role of sacrifice, diligence, and honor. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates made clear his feeling when he espoused to the jury,

“I would rather die having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet at law ought I or any man to use every way of escaping death.”[4]

In other words, Socrates felt the restriction of (what he perceived) as his free speech was tantamount to death. So he accepted his hemlock and died with the taste of it on his lips. Other heroic men, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., agreed with Socrates sentiment; for instance, in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, King says to his critics,’

“One may ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the Brat to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I agree with St. Augustine ‘an unjust law is no law at all’”[5]

Thus, what King was saying was that, natural laws of humanity preclude the immoral laws of sinful[6]man, and as such laws ought to be disobeyed when the action was just. However, unlike Socrates, King was not poisoned by the “establishment” but by a bullet from an assassin’s rifle.

And, unlike John F. Kennedy, who was also assassinated by the rifle, Socrates jurors were up close and personal, and the assailants took personal responsibility for their actions. But similarly, neither were either society that of ancient Greece, and 20th century was ready for the change of philosophy: in ancient Greece, Athenians were not ready for conflation of the “self-examining” man[7], or in the United States, the integration of ethnic groups and races.

Taking personal responsibility came after the deaths of these charismatic leaders: John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, for instance, were seen as martyrs only upon reflection as the citizenry later regretted its mistakes of its own self-embittered confliction. Only proving the point, as someone once said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doom to repeat it.” After all, upon the death of Socrates, his own betrayers saw the errors of their way; unfortunately, it has nearly been more than 2,200 years later and humanity has continually failed to learn the lessons of its past. Only today in the 21st century, we kill in the name for our greatest leader in Western-American culture, Jesus, spoiling his message of peace, tolerance, and love for the mere pittance of fifty pieces of silver; in our case, as some perceive, the United States was and has been corrupted for its pursuit for the world and the “precious” commodity of oil.

On the other hand, others see the United States as the great liberator whose quest for freedom, liberty, and justice can do no wrong; and, these pastimes, these equanimities, are righteous for all the citizenry of the planet. But the current leaders of fanaticism, such Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Karl Rove, Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy, Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpeton are not only destabilizing and subverting the consciousness of America, but also contributing to the disintegration of core values: of understanding, compromise, and pragmatism. Americans used to be a forward looking nation (some say that we still are), but the transparency of truth indicates that we are incarcerated and trapped in the past.

Lost in nostalgia, of past days gone by, are only a selectively remembered of what we want to be true. Warring over ideals, beliefs that are squarely belong in the realm of personal liberty. Our loss of the principled man, person, if you will, untainted by the evils of power, money, and fanaticism, and lead the charge to the next civil evolution, to get beyond the rhetoric of polarized discourse, either does not exist, or has been lost in the saturation of media bombardment.

So, the challenge, and responsibility of all Americans is to remind their leaders that We the People are the government, not the lobbyists, not men and women consumed for the mission of power, but the people are rulers of their souls, their liberty, and their sense of justice until the next Socrates of the community consciousness steps forward and shines a bright future for us all.

[1] Victor Turner, a redound anthropologist, discourses on civilizations ebbs and flows of critical social epochs. His thesis, simply, that great events are enacted similarly to those of dramatics plays. Changes within the society become evolutionary or liminal, in that cultures are “neither here or there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial. As such, their ambiguous and indeterminate attribute are expressed by a rich variety of symbols (my emphasis) in the many societies that ritualize social and cultural transitions.” In other words, the various human cultures find expressive anecdotic methods to sustain and create their own cultures; essentially, on a macro and micro level individuals and cultures find ways to transcend key moments within their lives. (See A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, “Liminality and Communitas,” pp. 358-374).

[2] See Victor Turner paper in the “A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion,” pp 359.

[3] Carl Jung believed that an individual’s personal narratives are revealed through their dreams. He felt they, being our dreams, not only guides us through the cycle of lives, but enables us to process the information from the day events, in effect, “ the ‘dream language’ does; its symbolism has so much psychic energy that we are forced to pay attention to it.” In other words, when personal dreams become deployed within the community, it can be denied, or be accepted into everyone else personal archetype; thus becoming the society’s myth. See “Man and His Symbols” edited by Carl Jung and M.-L. von Franz, page 33.

[4]Quote taken from the Bedford Anthology of Western Literature Book one, “Plato: Apology,” p. 1105.

[5]This quote was from a letter that Martin Luther King Jr., wrote while he was in the Birmingham, Alabama jail, April 16th, 1963. He was responding to critical clergymen who felt his activities were not only unlawful, but discreditable because he was breaking the civil laws of the cities. In this letter, he justifies his rational as Socrates defended his position. See site of University of Pennsylvania – African Studies Center at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/African_Studies/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

[6]I am using sinful as a descriptive term, and not to denote its religious context.

[7]See Plato: Apology in the Bedford Anthology of Western Literature Book one starting at page 1105.

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