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The Federalist Diaries

The Eleventh Commandment, Part 2:
Should We Ask Mel Brooks?

Семь раз отме́рь, оди́н отре́жь.

Translation from Russian: Measure seven times, cut once. 

            In part one, we talked about confirming before acting on information.  The greater the consequence of our judgment, e.g., are we sending troops to a war zone?, or more irreversible our action, e.g., are we emptying our life’s savings with a cashier’s check?, the more time we must take and more reluctant we must be to decide or do anything without the confirmation.  The suggestion was made that each of us have a guardian, that is, a person who would do the research to get the confirmation, since it would be impractical for each person to do so him- or herself.  We ended asking what concrete step to take because of the importance of having confirmation before deciding or acting.

The next step is to identify a guardian, but before we do, we should answer why the guardian should not be “somebody famous and remote, like a President, spiritual leader, head of a consumer organization or movie star”.  First, the more distant a person, the less we know about him or her.  We must not depend on a carefully crafted media image to determine whether we should believe that person—and, by extension, any organization with which that person is associated.  Since we have no means other than the media image for judging the integrity of the person, we simply should not give credence to his or her statements without confirmation.  Second, it is antidemocratic to have others do the thinking for us.   Democracy does suffer—with consequences worldwide—when we let others do the thinking for us.  That said, we will explore briefly why it is acceptable to have a guardian who is close to us, but not one who is remote.

            One reason for having a guardian who is a family member or long-time friend is because we have dealt with the person long enough to know something about her / his knowledge and discernment.  Another reason is that he or she is easily reached and can be questioned about a matter, unlike a person who is remote.  Drinking morning tea and talking with the guardian about a proposition on the ballot or a letter which has come in the mail is much better than reading a remote reporter’s account of what a remote celebrity has said.  We do not surrender to a guardian;  rather, we trust his or her knowledge and experience about purported facts as we ourselves ask questions and decide what to do.

            Democracy works best in a small, amicable group.  This does not mean that everyone in the group must adhere to the same faith or philosophy.  This does mean that everyone in the group is, first and foremost, a seeker of truth, as difficult as that can be, given that our assumptions about our world are continually challenged by events and discoveries around the world.  And if there is more than one guardian in a group, even better.

            We might be saying to ourselves, “Who in my extended family or among my close friends has the time to be a guardian?”  A feasible answer to that could bring a needed renaissance of democracy in our country and give democracy a new respect around the world.  You decide whether the answer, in the next part, would be feasible. 

January 18, 2007































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