Monday, May 22, 2017

Our Ship of Fools




Plato, in the course of describing and justifying his frightening ideal state in his Republic, used as an allegory what's been called ever since the Ship of Fools.  The Ship of Fools was intended to reflect a democracy, where all thought they could captain the ship or where they would select as captain whoever best thought as they did or would advance their selfish interests.

Plato seemed to have been fond of the ship allegory, as he used it again contra democracy, noting that those who would charter a ship would want an expert captain at the helm.  No doubt that's true, but those who would do so would also, I think, instruct the captain on what the destination would be, rather than leaving it to the captain to determine where it is best for them to go.

I'm not as adverse to democracy as Plato was, and am quite adverse to the totalitarian state he thought best.  But the Ship of Fools is useful as a reference to a nation, or company, or group that is being significantly mismanaged or directed by fools.

The phrase comes to mind almost unbidden when we consider the state of our Great Republic.  Regrettably, it's a kind description under the circumstances.  I've always believed that the mistakes of government are more likely the result of incompetence than criminal conduct, but whether that is true in this case is unclear.

It's possible that the curiously senseless statements of the Chief Executive regarding the investigations taking place are merely the result of his incompetence.  No sensible person in his position would so blithely undercut the explanations offered by those he so memorably described as his surrogates, particularly when they're clearly offered to explain his own conduct as something which doesn't implicate him in wrongdoing.  Alternatively, they may be expressive of a remarkable ignorance of his position as president, which though one of power is also one of responsibility and for which he may be held accountable.   This I would guess is something he's not used to, never having in his privately owned businesses been accountable to shareholders or a board of directors.

But if incompetence and ignorance explain what appears to have taken place, it seems that the result is little different from what would be the case if it was intended.  Perhaps reports of what's been said and done are inaccurate.  But the president has little or no credibility on any subject, for which he has only himself to blame (though he would no doubt blame his unfortunate advisers), nor does his administration.

U.S. Grant was president of a notably corrupt administration.  Grant seems to have been a highly intelligent man, judging at least from his very well written memoirs.  It's not certain that he himself was corrupt, but he was certainly far too fond of his friends and neglectful in overseeing them.  He might be said to have been na├»ve.  This president, though, appears to be lacking in intelligence to the extent that implies the ability to reason closely and thoroughly.  His dislike for reading indicates he lacks patience and is inclined to do and say things off the cuff.  Indeed, it indicates he doesn't like to make the effort to think deeply and is entirely reactive.

So it seems entirely possible that the chaos we see is the result of a scatter-brained, impulsive, thoughtless man used to getting his way taking on much more than  he can handle.  But, if he demanded personal loyalty of an FBI Director, asked him to drop an investigation, accepted as a close advisor a man working as an agent of a foreign government, there's something more involved.  Now we learn that man is relying on the Fifth Amendment to avoid a Congressional subpoena.  None of this bodes well for the Republic.

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