Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Inside the mind of the oligarchy

From the brilliant, "Manhood and Politics: A Feminist Reading in Political Theory" by Wendy Brown: 

Writing about Greek culture during the time of Aristotle:

Greek man grasped his existence through acting politically and could not know that he existed unless others acknowledged his action by bestowing honor upon him.  "Denial of honor due," says Jaeger of the classical Athenians, "was the greatest of human tragedies." Failing to receive honor for great deeds did not merely diminish the glory of the activity but threatened man's sense of self at the deepest level.  According to Jaeger, Greek man, "estimated his own worth exclusively by the standards of the society to which he belonged.  He measured his own aretē by the opinion which others held of him."

More significantly for the nature of political life, this recognition and honor by one's peers could not be shared with another and still serve the purpose of asserting and affirming one's existence.  For a man to achieve recognition, hence existence, he had to obliterate the greatness and thereby the existence of some other man or men. Manhood itself appears to have been predicated upon the shortage of available existences.  "As aretē is man's only weapon against oblivion," the diminished aretē of another was the only means of asserting one's own aretē and existence. The agonistic nature of Greek politics was thus not a mere component or consequence of the quest for manhood through action but part of the bedrock of this quest, a necessary feature of its foundations.

--Manhood and Politics: A Feminist Reading in Political Theory, p. 62

So think about the indignity that Mitt Romney and his surrogates express when he is asked to release his tax returns.  It's not just that they are saying "no" -- it's that they are offended that any of the little people would even dare to make such a request.  The reality is that this has been going on for thousands of years.  It's not enough for the oligarchy to be rich, they only get pleasure when they are rich AND we bow down to them. 

So too when Republican Governors fall all over themselves to deny services and increase pain for poor people. But their actions stem from the very ideology described above. For them, greatness is a zero sum game -- they can only be great only through obliterating the greatness of others (in this case women, people of color, and the poor).