Democracy, from the Greek, demokratia, “rule of the common people”. Oligarchy, from the Greek, oligarkhia, “government by the few”.
With low voter turnout, gerrymandered voting districts, the large role of money in politics, efforts to disenfranchise opponents and drive down turnout, and the growing doubt in the veracity of vote counting, it may be useful to question what sort of government we really have, and what our roles have been in bringing about the government we have.
Going back to the Greek, I am reminded of Diogenes. Diogenes was known for carrying a lantern in broad daylight in search of an honest man. Perhaps, he was the precursor to modern get out the vote efforts. After all, so much of politics today seems to be focused on finding those voters that are most likely to vote and who support a specific candidate.
Today, we have much greater tools that Diogenes’ lantern, but perhaps the process is essentially the same. Diogenes is perhaps the best know of an ancient Greek school of philosophy known as the Cynics. Greek cynicism was an ascetic sect railing against the selfishness of people.
The cynics were founded by Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates. Another disciple of Socrates, Plato, provides us with the Socratic dialogs as a chance to understand Socrates’ thinking and method. Many of us may have read the Protagoras in school to learn about the Socratic method, but how many of us remember the topic of the discussion? One of the key points is whether or not virtue can be taught. Another Greek, Plutarch, returned to this discussion years later.
On this site, is an image saying, ‘Stop Gawking! Cynicism breeds paralyzing apathy’. Perhaps some of that cynicism comes from its Greek roots and the focus on identifying voters today. Perhaps we need to return to the issue of whether virtue can be taught, and if so, how.
Today, I will attend the Games for Change Annual Conference. Games listed on the site seek to raise awareness of important issues, Darfur is Dying, Four Years in Haiti, Pax Warrior and PeaceMaker. How effective are these tools in teaching conflict resolution and skills in spreading message? Do these tools teach virtue? How important are these games in helping our country become more democratic?
Yes, we need to identify and turn out voters, but we also need to find new ways to move beyond the cynicism that is paralyzing American politics. Perhaps Games for Change is a good starting place.