Monday, March 28, 2011


It is the hallmark of a totalitarian never to abandon his ideals. But we do not elect gods or kings for our leaders, though the price of their office is a godly vision.


Peter McCombs said...

I changed the word "betray" to "abandon," though I am still not satisfied that this captures my meaning.

Sometimes reasonable people will profess an ideal that is not practical. Realizing this, they may set it aside for a time or settle for a compromise in the hope that a future generation might eventually realize it.

This does not mean that the ideal has been wholly abandoned.

Unknown said...

But I still don't get it -- the second sentence in particular.

Peter McCombs said...

I was thinking about how people buy an ideal when they vote for a candidate. People vote for "no new taxes" or "no meddling in foreign affairs". Who votes for "no new taxes unless it seems like more taxes may become necessary for some yet to be discovered reason"?

You buy an absolute when you elect an official, and that is what we expect to be sold. It's the "price of the office." But absolutes are the realm of tyrants; gods and kings do not give an inch on their ideals under any circumstances.

The point is that, sometimes when leaders appear to fall short of their stated principles, it isn't necessarily because of hypocrisy or weakness, but because of patience, pragmatism, or compromise.

In a free society, we achieve ideals only by degrees. Demanding 100% deliverance on promises is naive and misses the point. Should we therefore fail to advocate ideals? Maybe we should cease to promise them.

Peter McCombs said...

Of course, some of my aphorisms are just plain duds... Sometimes I read back over them and wonder what in the world I was thinking at the time. I should get in the habit of clarifying myself.

As Marshal McLuhan once said, "if you don't like that idea, I have others!"


Unknown said...

I think the second sentence is just structured obliquely. I don't understand how it relates to the first sentence, or what a price of office is until you clarified.


We expect from a candidate godly and implacable vision. Yet, we do not elect gods or kings. It is the hallmark of a totalitarian to never abandon his ideals.

Peter McCombs said...

Yes, I like your version of it. My original came from a longer piece that might have given better context, but it does not work well on its own.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Peter, Just visited your blog on Dave's suggestion. The statements on your masthead are interesting, and so poetic. Maybe the industrial revolution will indeed be the death os us. But of course there's any number of ways to die. And would our species have been happy spending most of our time rejecting the urge to tinker with mother nature? Maybe the clarion call of the industrial revolution, of invention piled on invention, (and of profit piled on profit) was irresistible? I'm sure there might have been a compromise of some sort, with most of us remaining connected with the land, but I also suspect it might have been near impossible for many of us to control the urge to leave the land, to gather together in enormous cities and amuse each other with plays and food and huge libraries and dinner parties, always adding more, via invention and technology, always amusing ourselves with fashion and makeup, jewelry and gadgets. We are a curious species that craves amusement. We are primates who eat a banana and toss away the skin carelessly for others to slip on.

Or as William Tenn the sci-fi parodist once wrote in his poem, "What is Man?"

Not a superman who stumbles
but an ape with makeshift manners,
in whose nickel-plated jungles
roam mechanical bananas

Peter McCombs said...

Hi Edward,

Thanks for your comment.

I'm reminded of some lyrics I recently heard:

Well man created the cardboard box to sleep in it
And man converted the newspaper to a blanket
Well you have to admit that he's come a long way
Since swinging about in the trees
We're the smartest monkeys -XTC

Whether man is just an ape--which seems likely--or something more--which seems hopeful--it is, in any case, a difficult thing to find one who aspires to the life of a drone.

I won't speak out against plays, parties, or amusements. Only, if you look carefully, the whole point of our economics is not to bring us any of these nice things--so very few of us are properly enjoying them! The point of our economics--the point of industrialization--is only more efficient economics. Our most powerful tools become our most potent gods, and for none moreso, it would seem, than for we who also confess a God in heaven. It is that we now invent for the sake of the invention. We invest for the sake of the money. Our economy is an end in itself; even our food and our amusement are only suited to human automata.

What if we considered economics, as E.F. Schumacher once suggested, as if people mattered? It is not so much that we scooped men off the land, it is that we put him into a machine. That, I think, is something worth investigating.