First: a must see. Seriously, put this one on your bucket list:
This is what’s left of ancient Mycenae, as you follow the ancient way, travelling east until you come to the Lion Gate.
Play with the name of the family whose home this was: the Atreidae, (not to mention House Atreides…). Think Agamemnon, passing beneath those two stone beasts, home from ten years of war, with hours left to live. Remember the blood Cassandra saw before it was spilt, and it’s impossible (at least it was for me) not to think of the horror and terror of war as it touches every sphere of human fellowship….
I stopped at the top of the citadel for as long as my 12 year old traveling companion would let me, looking down on the Plain of Argos west to the mountains, south to the sea. The myths of battle flow from here, the call to glory, and as well, always — if your mind is set to the right resonance — the bitter truths that the original singer-writer slipped past his hero-drunk audiences.*
All which is to say a couple of things. First, and less, I’ve been on the road with my family, trying to remember what this thing called Vay-Kay-Shun might be, taking off without showing Mistermix’s courtesy in saying see-you-in-a-bit.
Second, and more, I came to Mycenae right around the time the ‘tubes were all snarled up in reactions to the Supreme Court decision upholding the Obama administration’s health care reform law. I was utterly unsurprised by the flood of wingnut tears, of course, and I’ve grown accustomed to the radical destructiveness of what now passes for acceptable rhetoric on the right. But perhaps because of time spent in a country so thoroughly and brutally conscious of the costs of violence unto their children’s’ children’s’ generations, this and this tripped my disgust reflex in a way that I haven’t been able to shake. Y’all saw these, I’m sure — ABL blogged them here, and even from my distance from reliable internet, I’m guessing this was a pretty well discussed issue. But anyway, money quotes:
When a gang of criminals subvert legitimate government offices and seize all power to themselves without the real consent of the governed their every act and edict is of itself illegal and is outside the bounds of the Rule of Law. In such cases submission is treason. Treason against the Constitution and the valid legitimate government of the nation to which we have pledged our allegiance for years. To resist by all means that are right in the eyes of God is not rebellion or insurrection, it is patriotic resistance to invasion. (Mississippi Tea Party Chairman Roy Nicholson, emphasis in the original.)
If government can mandate that I pay for something I don’t want, then what is beyond its power? If the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday paves the way for unprecedented intrusion into personal decisions, then has the Republic all but ceased to exist? If so, then is armed rebellion today justified? (Michigan former GOP spokesman Matthew Davis.)
So much prologue to the obvious point: Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Davis are gutless fools. There’s a certain vicious pleasure in the hope that they — and only they — might actually get to experience the reality of armed insurrection against the established authority of the government of the United States of America. Plenty of folks — and not just our Confederate friends — have tried that one on, and it hasn’t worked out well for them from the Whiskey Rebellion** forward.
But I can’t take any joy at imagining the comeuppance that delusional keyboard commandos would face if ever they — or more likely, the fools they “inspired” — actually took violent action. Not with Mycenae so present before me. Wars are not Homeric poems, which is something Homer himself clearly understood, if Odysseus’s conversations with the heroes who preceded him into Hades offer any hint. They wreck people, and not simply those who are obviously war’s casualties. I’m not going to belabor that thought in this forum, because so many here know this as well or better than I.
So: idiots will be with us always, and two otherwise utterly inconsequential folks like Messrs. Nicholson and Davis — barely public figures at all — aren’t worth the spit it would take to express my true opinion.
No: what matters is that this kind of talk can’t take place without the tacit permission of actual leaders — informal ones, like Limbaugh, and the actual political actors on the right, figures like Boehner, McConnell, Cohen, Ryan, McCain, whoever. First among them, of course, is the man who would be president, Mitt Romney.
Leaders shape the frame of argument. They delineate the forms of dissent and opposition. They define, both by what they say and by what they fail to rule out, whether we have a small “r” republican approach to government, or rule by the manipulators of the manipulated mob. When they stay silent they are the cowards of the headline, passive bystanders as their followers betray the basic principles of (small “d”) democratic politics.
Greece is a good place from which to think about this. You don’t have to go back to Agamemnon or to Plato; living memory — the civil war, the colonels, very recent memory indeed offer regular reminders of the fragility of government by consent of the governed. Words matter here, and have for millennia.
So it is in this place, with that history in mind, that I am reminded once again that the habit of dismissing crap like that spewed by Nicholson and Davis as wingnuts being wingnuts is not acceptable. The speakers themselves may not count for much, but for a nominally civil society to allow such speech to pass without massive retaliation, actual leadership from those who would lead from that side…well, that’s how individuals get hurt, and democracies die. It’s happened before, not many miles from where I sit as I write this.
That’s enough. I’ve committed once more the sin of belaboring the obvious. Catch y’all stateside soon enough.
*I know that this is an anachronistic reading. Sue me.
**It’s interesting (at least to me) to discover in the course of writing this post that there exists a libertarian alternate history that imagines a leader in the Whiskey Rebellion persuading the federal militia not to attack them, instead turning around to march on the capital, capture and execute George Washington for treason (sic!) and then swap out the Constitution for what would become a The North American Confederacy (sic!!). Who knew it was Washington, and not Lincoln, from whom all our troubles flow…