Friday, 19 July 2013

On Being the Odd Man Out

It’s an odd thing being in a group whose views are antithetical to your own.  Why, you might ask, would you join such a group?  Good question.  Well, in search of intellectual stimulation I stumbled across them.  They promised to study Aristotle.  That sounded interesting.  But it turned out they also wanted to hold forth on modern politics, typically from a left-wing point of view which is not at all mine.  I shrugged and ignored the modern politics.  Seeing which way the wind blew, I thought it safer.

But years went by, I became a stalwart in the group, tenacious in my attempts to wrestle with Aristotle, and eventually felt at home enough to venture to challenge some of the others’ assertions on modern politics.  This may have been a mistake.  Now I am ganged up on by them.  Made to account for myself.  As a moderate with no strong political affiliation (except to be opposed to extremes of left and right), I am often taken aback by demands that I label myself.  So you’re a conservative, they say.  No, I say.  Then what?

Another good question.  Or is it?  Isn’t the demand for labels part of the ideology I reject?  I enjoy Montaigne the skeptic and learned from him that even skeptics need to follow some authority.  I enjoyed Thoreau and his disavowal of the pursuit of riches, though not his interest in camping.

Life is like a camping trip, one of my antagonists said in the Aristotle group today, or at least implied it.  I don’t like camping, I said.  But my real point was that life is not a camping trip.  Though who knows, maybe it is.  I am not one for making bold assertions.  Life is full of uncertainty, and wisdom I think comes from acknowledging that.

The problem is that I often let myself be backed into corners and give in to the demand to self-label or at least to come up with counter-proposals.  That’s another mistake.  Just because I am dubious of others’ nostrums doesn’t mean I have better nostrums of my own.  The problem is with proposing nostrums at all.

But when one of my confreres proposed that equality of property is the ideal we all hold, and I said I was dubious about that, I ended up having to invent an alternative ideal.  Actually, it was quite an interesting one.  Not really invented, no doubt, but pulled out of the various things I have read over the years.  Something about needing some people with more property, with capital if you like, to do the big projects that distinguish modern society.  How can you create a university or a cathedral or any other modern institution without massive investment?  Who’s going to provide it?  If we all have $50 each, how will that ever work?

One of my colleagues even gave pause over that, and said well, maybe in practice, for the sake of productivity, you do need some inequality.  He wasn’t quite prepared to agree, but nor would he reject the idea outright.

I actually think the same thing, though forced into a corner I pretended to believe this idea wholeheartedly.  Actually, who knows?   I’m no economist.  It does strike me as plausible, but I don’t really want to be tied down to it.  I don’t like being tied down to a position, and here I had tied myself.

Maybe the solution is to ignore the digressions into modern politics and stick to Aristotle.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting post Sheldon - appreciate your honesty in wrestling with the uncertain.
    I've been reading a book that explores some of these issues called 'How to worry less about money'. Bad title aside, it really explores the concept of money from a ethical and political point of view. Not how much one should or should not have, or how to get/keep more of it, but more how to have a positive relationship with it, individually and collectively. They also make the 'capitalist' argument, that money is required for investing in important and inspiring projects and just because these projects may eventually produce more capital or come from people with capital, does not mean they are automatically lacking in good and aesthetic value. Also talks about having enough money to lead a 'flourishing' life which does not mean a necessarily wealthy one, and the means for one to flourish can vary among individuals. Anyway, it's been a fun and quick read on the bus. Part of the series of School of Life that I've developed a small addiction for.