Hermione Luck / Chief Columnist
The Greek Critique
“Long Live Democracy … April Fools“
Born and raised in Homer, Alaska, a good friend went on to spend most of his life in Greece and has become a student of ancient Greek culture. We asked him to compare modern American Democracy with ancient Greek Democracy.
Always good to hear from you.
I’m responding to your last letter where you asked if I would write a piece for your blog comparing the painfully bifurcated American version of Democracy to the visionary and ancient Greek adventure in the same arena.
To begin with, the democratic city-state conceived in 500 B.C. by Cleisthenes and a bunch of his homeboys, is interesting in that Greek Democracy lasted only two hundred years until approximately 325 B.C.
That’s right, the vaulted and cherished Greek Democracy now studied in awarded universities and born again wet on the lips of liberal children everywhere, lasted only two hundred years … more or less the current lifespan of Democracy in America.
What initially strikes me are the parallels in the unravelling of both efforts, although to be clear, I wouldn’t say that American Democracy is irreparably unravelling. May I simply suggest I’m a little more worried now than maybe I was five years ago, when fake news had not yet become a religion.
On the other hand, one glaring difference between the two is clear – early Greeks believed that functional government demanded the imperative to come to agreement short-term just to get things done. The debate long-term then continued regarding the collective and common good.
As far as American Democracy is concerned, let’s face it, long term or short term, the picture is so fractured even a pandemic couldn’t bring the American political landscape together. I’m sensing Ukraine seems to be different though, don’t you think? America seems to have a little more purpose these days. Once again Russia to the rescue, as freedom-loving Americans nestle into a common comfort zone of aligning against a bad player.
The interesting thing about the ancient Greek responsibility as a citizen was that even though participation (through debate) was obligatory, as time went on and a century or so passed, it got to a point where there was too much debate and too many clowns in the arena. Does this sound familiar to Americans?
So many Europeans have come to consider American political drama as a sad but true clown show culminating in a fumbling bad prince attempt by Donald Trump to create a monarchy.
And as in all monarchies real or feigned, the sycophants soon followed. Think Marjorie Taylor Green, Madison Cawthorn, Paul Gosar, and their merry little band of alt-right all night minstrels appearing on your national stage.
And so, as history suggests, these same clown in the arena rights were particularly dominant during the decline of Athens, which led to “the period of the demagogues”. Here is a good quote from the era.
“The popular Ekklesia (assembly) had evolved into a boisterous mob giving birth to a rise of demagoguery that captured long-festering Athenian political and social conflicts: the aristocrats vs the working-class; the privileged vs the less advantaged; legacy reputable families networked together vs The People.”
The two-tiered lower rung of Greek life, “The People”, were composed of the “chrestoi” (the useful, well-born citizens) and the “phauloi” (the simple people, lacking in politically influential friends). This latter Greek term gave rise to the expression ‘hoi polloi’, meaning plebs, riff raff, the chattering class. The would-be oligarchic elites thought the influence of the hoi polloi to be a result of “too much democracy”.
By the time Plato and Aristotle arrived on the scene (420-320BC), Athens was in major decline. Although this decline primarily stemmed from wars, mismanaged economy, and poor governance (politics), Aristotle was able to single out a primary failure of the political system as well – there were far too many voices of poor quality/poor education influencing decisions.
Therefore, Aristotle was in favor of muting what today would be called the Low Information Voter. In other words, experts aka the elites, and well-informed participatory citizens should be the only ones listened to or consulted.
(As a side note, the Greek word ‘ostracism’ was coined by the elite during Greek Democracy’s golden years, aimed directly at the hoi polloi. So like Mean Girls, it’s probably safe to say that “cancel culture” is nothing new on this planet.)
With all of that in mind, most likely, Aristotle would have approved of current Republican moves to limit the voting base. In fact, Aristotle suggested that perhaps some voters should be compensated with extra votes if they were deemed experts.
Hermione, I have to admit that sometimes I have dreams at night that Aristotle and Plato might have been scary far-right Republicans if they lived among us today … think the Koch brothers on steroids.
The similarities shared by these two democracies are interesting to people like me, but the most important comparison for your readers is to compare them in scale. The Greeks came to believe that a functional democracy could only thrive with a citizenry of a certain size which turned out to be surprisingly small and relatively homogeneous.
Most of the great ancient Greek thinkers eventually concluded that democracy in any form is first and foremost precarious, and can easily be over-weighted, both at the top and at the bottom.
They also noted that virtuous civic practices which brought the populace together are much easier to manage in smaller more traditional societies that have natural organic alignments of blood, language, religion, culture, and customs … which brings us to a currently politically charged word, ‘tribalism’. I so enjoy the ironies and oxymorons of politics.
So, that’s it, I’m done I promise … now that I read this whole thing over, I apologize for being so epic. I trust you’ll spruce this up for your blog, change some words, and hopefully reduce it in size.
On the lighter side, you also asked how we are doing these days. Things are mostly the same in Athens – everyone has a place to live and a welcoming community to be a part of. So many have rambunctious informed opinions lubed by long dinners and longer drinks. COVID restrictions have recently been relaxed which means instead of getting booted out of the taverna at midnight, dinner gatherings can now continue unabated usually until 2am or later.
Not that anyone is persuaded or anything important is resolved during these exchanges, but at least the convivial spirit thrives and the soul is nourished. I love it here.
Homer the Gaucho
(my taverna name)
founder of M.I.L.D.E.W.
Men with Intimacy and Learning Disorders Experiencing Women
An interesting discussion transpired at our most recent MILDEW meeting about Will Smith and his behavior at the Oscars – one of our regulars, Rico, started the ball rolling by saying “That was a girl slap.” Rico owns an Italian meat store near our house and always gives us a discount so I listen to whatever he says.
“It was absolutely no balls the way I see it,” Rico claimed. “I mean if that’s my wife, you all know my wife Anastasia – need I say more? – and she looks over at me and gives me the stink eye, you know where she’s lookin’ at me like do I want to ever eat dinner again, I’m going up there and take the guy out, that’s what I’d do. The dude was a wimp with that slap.”
First of all, I’m pretty sure nobody in group watched the actual academy awards, unless maybe ESPN was blacked out. I assume some of them probably saw news clips or listened to conversation at lunch. Yet all of them seemed to know what happened and were determined to have an opinion, which I have to say is unusual for our group.
“I’d go further. I’d cut off his particulars.” This was Alan talking in Alan code that at five foot one and a half since he was eleven, he was a fierce warrior and he’d cut off Chris Rock’s balls. Alan was famous in group for standing up for the woman he loved even though he’s never dated.
That is when JuJu who’s been in the group for two years asked Alan, “What you gonna do with those balls? I mean, if you ever go crazy, and most of us think you already crazy Alan, you got a pair of balls, they hot, and now what you gonna do with ‘em? Believe me, I could sell ‘em in two seconds.” JuJu is an aspiring entrepreneur.
One of the quieter voices in the group, Barney, had this to say – “I don’t know … security asked Will Smith to leave after the incident, and he didn’t. What does he think, that’s he’s Putin or something?” That’s as close as we came to talking about Ukraine. Discuss the slap or Ukraine, only in America.
Everyone that night seemed to have a strong opinion. Me? What do I think? I mean Will Smith knows that Chris Rock is a comedian, right? This wasn’t malicious gossip or anything, more a comedian flirting with the edge. Isn’t that what they do? And speaking of doing something, Jaden Smith tweatted “That’s the way we do it.” I’m not sure, but that doesn’t seem to come under the category of great parenting.
There were thirteen of us Wednesday night, and I’d say all in all, although there were comments about how much crapola black women have put up with, most of us leaned towards the comedian’s questionable taste and Will Smith’s undeniable guilt. There was also a point of view that no one had seemed to consider … of course, it had to be Lorenzo.
Lorenzo is gay who’s been coming to MILDEW for two months now. He’s from Waco, Texas, and to be honest I’ve always been afraid of people from Waco, Texas … for one, when I was a kid, my family loved to pronounce it Wacko, as if we were lucky not to be living there. And secondly, well, Texas appears to be a few marbles short in the human rights department.
So at the end of the group, after our therapist made each of us define the word masculinity, Lorenzo tells us before we got up to leave, “The way I see it, you have the wrong villain my friends. In my book, Chris Rock is a mere player, a minstrel perhaps, a clown, a clown in a Shakespearean drama.
“And Will Smith plays the role of the classic dupe, the husband trying to prove himself even though it’s too late. His wife already had ‘an entanglement’ as she called it with one of her son’s friends. The man has been reduced in size for a long time now. The way I see it, it was the diva who pulled the strings in this drama.”
Arnie yelled out, I love Arnie, “What the fu*k does that all mean, Lorenzo?” Lorenzo stood up and started to put on his coat.
“It means, Arnie, that the man we saw stalk the stage was simply a weak man trying to prove himself. I have a friend in Hollywood, a producer who has stories about a lot of people, especially the divas, like Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez. Apparently, Kardashian is very professional and easy to work with, Lopez walks around with a stick up her ass, but Pinkett-Smith is downright scary – cold, calculating, obsessively ambitious, and chronically dismissive.”
Lorenzo summed it up this way – “What he did, Will Smith, what he did was wrong. More than wrong, so much was wrong – not leaving when asked to leave, taking the spotlight away from so many, using his acceptance speech to try to exonerate himself, all of it. It was Trumpian.
“But whatever your opinion, my fellow Mildew men, consider that Mr. Smith is already serving his sentence. Just pause and be glad you don’t live on Planet Jada.” Lorenzo buttoned up his coat and ended with his signature smile and “Meow.”
Lorenzo may be right, but I’m a simple man and I do best with simple answers. Did Will Smith hit Chris Rock or did Jada? Would this all be a different story if Jada got up and slapped the comedian? All I know is this – it’s Hollywood, so who knows what really goes on, what’s real, what’s fake? I’m so glad I can just go home and shut the door – kRIS
Polly Peepers / family advice
A girl I just met recently, Starr, wanted me to spend some time with her so we could get to know each other better. Now Polly, I’m no prude – I do things my mother would never allow, like dropping F-bombs and stuff like that.
Well, Starr tells me we should go out on the town and that we should go to Nail Me, which I thought was great cause I’d never been to a nail bar. I told her I had to be back by eleven. Unfortunately, she thought I meant 11 a.m..
I go with her, and there’s this dark hallway and all these doorways leading to dark rooms and each room has a really wide couch in the back, and some skinny long pole in the middle of the room. At first I thought this was fun, and I kept on looking for a fireman to shoot down that pole.
Then I began to realize something. It took me awhile, but I’m pretty sure that Nail Me is this sex kitten hangout or something (I don’t know what else to call it?) where people go to do things that are pretty embarrassing.
Polly, I’m convinced that strangers had sex on those couches and Starr and I sat down on like a gazillion couches for long stretches of time and Starr doesn’t seem worried at all. So I have to ask you – can I get pregnant, like from left-over sperm on the couch? Do sperm hibernate? What if I spilled water, do they come alive? Can they crawl up your leg? And now Starr wants to go to Nail Me again. What should I do? – Marjorie, Iowa
Starr is a hard name to live up to … her parents meant well. First of all, apparently you don’t get out of the house that much, but I can assure you that your unsuspecting eggs are safe. Although sperm are fast little buggers, their propellers aren’t nuclear, so in general, don’t feel at risk sitting on a couch.
As far as Starr is concerned, just be honest – tell her that you didn’t like Nail Me, that it clearly isn’t a nail bar, and that you probably shouldn’t hang out with her because places like that make you uncomfortable.
To tell you the truth, it sounds more like Starr just wants a wingman. However, before the two of you decide if you will go your separate ways, you might want to ask if she actually does know of a place where firemen do that pole thing.
My two boys, ages nine and six named Ben and Jerry, have threatened to call their Social Services worker unless I immediately return to therapy to address my addiction to chocolate. I admit they found three cases of Malomars which I keep under my bed in case I have a panic attack … and yes, I do have two separate rooms in my house for my inventory, one for dark chocolate and one for milk.
But I’ve done everything the court has ordered – I don’t refer to either of my children as snacks anymore. I’ve changed my name back to Phyllis from Hershette. The truth is I love both Ben and Jerrys – both my children Ben and Jerry, and the ice cream Ben and Jerry. My fear is which Ben and Jerry do I love the most? I’m afraid that therapy might reveal a disappointing answer. – Phyllis, Massachusetts
Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself as you come to terms with your condition. When you call for Ben and Jerry to come in from playing do you find yourself starting to salivate? What is it like when you put them to bed? Do you have an urge to bring a spoon? If so, these are serious problems that must be treated.
I’d suggest locating a nearby chapter of Chocoholics Anonymous … at the very least, it’s a step in the right direction, and believe me, I can assure you, it’s not a lost cause by any means. And just wondering – were the names Haagen and Daz ever in the running? – Polly
Amy’s Guide to Staying In
Amy Lighthouse is a self-described over-achiever, who worked at Snapchat and Apple before going into venture capital. During the initial Covid onslaught, she wrote for The Lemonade Stand offering strategies of how to cope with quarantine and staying in. Her recipes and cable television suggestions have boosted the spirits of numerous households who credit Amy with keeping a number of families from harming each other.
PREP TIME. 1 hour
COOK TIME. 2 hours
Ingredients and grocery list
- 3 pounds eggplant (Choose the large variety. Make sure they are firm and smooth. Also, choose male eggplants. They have fewer seeds and have a rounder, smoother bottom)
- 1 cup flour
- generous amounts of olive oil
- 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
- 1/2 pound buffalo-milk mozzarella (if the balls are small, get two)
- 2 28 ounces cans of San Marzano (any brand is fine) canned whole peeled tomatoes (add another can if you want extra sauce left over)
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- enough olive oil to cover the pan
Peel the eggplant and slice long ways into 1/4 inch slices. Sprinkle each layer with salt and place into a colander, overlapping and salting as you go. Each slice should be salted. After you fill the colander, place a plate on top and weight it with a heavy pan or a tea kettle filled with water. Let the eggplant sweat for 30 minutes or more.
- While the eggplant sweats, make the sauce.
- Cover the bottom of a sauce pan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Add the sliced garlic and let it cook until is sizzles (do not brown the garlic).
- Add the canned whole tomatoes and their juice and salt.
- Stir and chop coarsely using a potato masher or two knives chopping crossways. Lower the heat and simmeruntil reduced by almost half.
- Remove the eggplant from the colander and thoroughly pat dry each slice.
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet or two with olive oil.
- Dredge the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off any excess. Place on the baking sheets and drizzle the each slice with olive oil. Bake until brown on one side (about 15 minutes or so) and tun over and brown the other side. Repeat until you have cooked all the eggplant.
- Using a 7×11 baking dish (I like ceramic or earthenware, but you can use stainless steel as well), spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and layer the eggplant until it completely covers the bottom (it’s like a puzzle!).
- Sprinkle generously with the grated parmigiano-reggiano. Add another layer of sauce and then the eggplant. Continue to build the layers until you are about two layers from the top, then add a single layer of sliced mozzarella. Finish with a couple more layers of eggplant, sauce, and parmesan. Finish the top with parmesan.
- Bake on the upper third of a 400 degree oven. Check it after it’s been in the oven for 20 minutes. You may find that it throws off more liquid as it bakes. If so, press down on the eggplant and draw off any excess liquid. Cook for another 15 minutes or so. Let stand for a good 15 or 20 minutes before serving.
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