A Table of Values and the Various Types of Regimes(12/22/11)

If it could be established (and compellingly argued) that certain ends are of an intrinsically nobler or more morally/spiritually elevated character than others, then we would at least have the rudiments of a value scheme to refer to in assessing the relative merits of an action, a desire, or the general character of an individual, an organization, a regime, or a society. Unless and until such criteria are established, generally endorsed, and genuinely embraced (by the foremost figures with the society) we are left with little else but a vitiating relativism, the unraveling of the social fabric, and cacophonous, shallow individualism—pretty much the cultural conditions under which we live today in the ‘United’ States, as any honest person with his eyes open can see.

Such hierarchically structured value schemes have a long and illustrious history—within all major world religions and philosophical systems worthy of the name—but under the leveling, anti-traditional floods of modern education, egalitarianism, and mass entertainment, these old systems have largely been neglected, razed, or buried, along with whatever authority and reverence they once commanded. In the present age of chaos, we see a situation where the ultimate arbiter in virtually all disputes is naked power—not reason, not charity, not justice, and certainly not the perennial wisdom traditionally founded upon the great chain of being.[1] Power is the only ‘value’ that still carries decisive weight, whether or not that power derives from money, military superiority, sexual allure, false advertisement—or a mixture of these. In his teaching on possible and actual regimes, or forms of political organization, Plato suggested the following types, descending from the best to the worst type of city-state: aristocracy (rule by the best and wisest citizens, not an aristocracy determined by birth); timocracy (rule by the lovers of honor); oligarchy (rule by the few rich); democracy (rule by the demos, or popular will); and finally, tyranny.

Now, the contemporary United States is a very complex and multi-faceted beast, and elements of each regime-type can be found at play here, in differing degrees. The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement has its sights trained on the oligarchic (or corporate) sector—claiming that if this greedy 1% is exposed and its agenda dissolved, the ‘rest of us’ might have a fighting chance for a better life. Of course, there is some real value and substance to this young movement’s criticisms and concerns, but the actual predicament we are in is incalculably more complicated, multilayered, and subtle than this. The aims of this new movement derive from an outraged sense of justice, but there are other important questions to be wrestled with in addition to the commendable ones being raised by these enemies of corporate greed, injustice, and irresponsibility.

Unless and until a few capable persons of wisdom are able to convey to the masses a thoroughly graspable and compelling understanding of the systemic problems that afflict us, we are likely to remain helplessly awash in the symptoms of a disease for which there is no apparent cure. The masses are not obliged to undertake the heroic analytical-synthetic task of uncovering and fully comprehending the etiology of this systemic cancer that has progressively eaten away the very soul of Western culture. We are speaking here about a cancer that has metastasized and is rapidly spreading across the planet, chiefly through myopic globalization and its handmaiden, a debased and bastardized form of reason (pragmatism) that is capable only of pursuing means to arbitrary, material ends.

With the recovery of wisdom and the gradual—unavoidably disruptive—dismantlement of venal oligarchic power, humanity (and many other endangered species) will at last be able to breathe a sigh of relief. But wisdom must first come out of hiding. Wisdom—alone and unsupported by those who are able, if but faintly, to recognize this beacon upon the dark night sea—is certainly not sufficient to contain this cancer and to redress the systemic evils that presently prevail. Humanity’s fate hangs in the balance and it is humanity’s collective choice that will make the decisive difference in the end. The wise, without question, know this—and it is precisely the pessimism and diffidence of these diagnosticians and potential guides that induces them to remain hidden and quietly vigilant. Many of the un-wise know of the dire straits we are all in, as well, but a highly intoxicating cocktail of cynicism, hedonism, shallow individualism, and self-delusion block all possible attempts to reform their lives. And then there is that other species of the un-wise—religious fanatics who both see and welcome the apocalyptic scenario that is visibly mounting under the system’s diabolical influence. For these poor fools, the disease is perversely redefined as a remedy—or as the long-awaited fulfillment of an infantile, collective fantasy that places these self-righteous and risible believers at the privileged center of things! There is no reasoning with these extreme types—hard-boiled cynics and hard-core religious nut-jobs—for they are, in a real sense, possessed by unconscious drives, compulsions, fears, and other unhealthy factors over which they have little or no conscious control or leverage.

[1] The unparalleled dramatic rendering of the violent collision between these two ordering schemes—the traditional (hierarchical) and the modern (Machiavellian-pragmatic)—is to be found in King Lear.

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