Thursday, December 09, 2004

"They Wreck Their Ship in Harbour..."

There is a tendency for citizens of each age to think their problems are unique, and more difficult than in times past. Still, future generations may well look back at fin de millennium America, and be glad they were born later.

There is a parallel tendency for people to think their problems are not of their own making. This blaming others, or fate, or greed, is entirely misplaced. Other people are always unpredictable, fate is inscrutably unbiased, and greed is human nature. But most problems are caused by problem-plagued people themselves. If things are going pretty well, people will find a way to complain. The problem is the idea of "democracy."

Consider this snippet, from Polybius:

The Athenian [democracy] is always in the position of a ship without a commander. In such a ship, if fear of the enemy, or the occurence of a storm induce the crew to be of one mind and to obey the helmsman, everything goes well; but if they recover from this fear, and begin to treat their officers with contempt, and to quarrel with each other because they are no longer all of one mind,--one party wishing to continue the voyage, and the other urging the steersman to bring the ship to anchor; some letting out the sheets, and others hauling them in, and ordering the sails to be furled,--their discord and quarrels make a sorry show to lookers on; and the position of affairs is full of risk to those on board engaged on the same voyage; and the result has often been that, after escaping the dangers of the widest seas, and the most violent storms, they wreck their ship in harbour and close to shore.
Polybius, HISTORIES, Book VI, Chapter 44, ca. 130 B.C.
(Translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh, 1889)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool story as for me. It would be great to read something more about that topic. Thnx for giving this information.
Joan Stepsen
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