It’s not a ground-breaking comparison. I think most courses in political science that delve in classical sources make a point of having students read, and discuss, both men, as we did in college.
But we also had a course in which we read Rousseau along with Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture, which, rather than sparking the usual debate over generosity vs selfishness, demonstrated the difference between sitting in your study imagining what the Carib Indians might be like and actually going and finding out.
Benedict didn’t actually study the Carib, but neither did Rousseau, and Benedict did get off her duff and find out what she was talking about before putting pen to paper.
We were led — if not “taught” — to view Rousseau and his fellow philosophes as interesting thinkers but perhaps dilettantes, while Hobbes was no more experienced, simply taking his Deep Thoughts in a more cynical direction.
By the time we got to Locke and Paine and the Founders themselves, we’d learned to take it all with a grain of salt and try not to be either too naive or too cynical ourselves, though there was little they could do to keep college students from taking themselves way too seriously.
Most of us learned, upon graduation, that there was never a lively job market for Philosopher Kings, not when Plato was writing the Republic nor at any time since, while the rest of us — as Plato did — found ways to make a living through public pondering.
The only diplomatic way to segue from that into today’s look at political cartoons being to start with one that I quite admire.
Cathy Wilcox has not, so far as I know, gone to Gaza to visit premature babies in their incubators, but this reflection upon them seems well-grounded, particularly since it is not specifically about the premies who have been in the news these past few weeks.
All babies are helpless to direct their fortunes and live at the mercy of their parents and their societies. You may sit in your study and ponder what it all means, but Jesus encapsulated it by declaring that those who misdirect children might just as well tie a millstone to their necks and leap into the waters, given how they have managed to poison their own souls.
Whether there is a difference between being a too-optimistic Rousseau or a too-cynical Hobbes, when you provide any sort of guidance, to children or adults, you place yourself under an obligation to at least be honest, which you can control, if not wise, which may be beyond your capacity.
And I’ve just written myself back into a place where whatever I say next will not flatter, but wotthehell, journalists are not supposed to have friends.
So we’ll tackle an easy one, because Gary Varvel (Creators) is making a statement that’s mostly beyond his own opinion and so can be fact-checked.
If you declare that the Trump administration created an economic boom, you get into the weeds of arguing whether it was their actions which did well or if they inherited a strong economy from Obama, who, it should be remembered, had inherited the economic disaster of 2008 from George W. Bush and had to resuscitate things.
And, as with most economic theory, it’s possible to defend either side of the argument because it’s all theoretical and involves way too many variables.
However, this source and this source and that source all agree that Thanksgiving dinner this year is less expensive than it was a year ago. That doesn’t let Biden off the hook entirely, but makes it fatuous to bring up the cost of Thanksgiving dinner as a refutation of his economic policies, since they seem to be working, however gradually.
And if Varvel is on doubtful but marginally acceptable grounds, Pat Bagley is correct to mock Fox News bloviator Jason Chaffetz for, as the Daily Beast put it, buying “the Rolls Royce of turkeys” at $4.99 a pound and holding it up as an example of how normal people are suffering.
As it happens, I recently got my weekly flyer from the grocery store.
It would be surprising if it weren’t, the issue being not the Consumer Price Index itself but a dip in real household income, which falls into that category of things you can pointlessly argue over, starting with the impact of the pandemic and who did what to deal (or not deal) with that.
The bottom line — philosophically, not economically — being, as Phil Hands points out, that things are looking up, and that the opposition’s political success will depend largely on keeping public perception mired in the world of poor, poor pitiful me, since people vote on what they think is going on, rather than going into the field and researching it.
Math class, as Barbie noted, is tough!
Juxtaposition of the Day
Kudos to both cartoonists for noting that there’s little difference in age between the two prospective candidates for president in 2024.
The question is what is to be done about it at this stage, and that’s one where sitting around pondering is particularly useless, because neither party has anyone in the 45-60 age bracket within hailing distance of the nomination. Nobody is genuinely challenging Biden, while the people allegedly challenging Trump seem frightened to criticize him.
Juxtaposition of the Day #2
Conservative editors will, no doubt, get a kick out of these cartoons, but it sure seems a lot more like Rousseau pondering what he’s heard about the Carib Indians than Ruth Benedict trekking into the wilds to find out what the people she writes about are truly like.
There are cartoons, of course, that make hay over Trump’s absurd blunders and, lately, his hopes to establish a dictatorship. But those are Ruth Benedict-style cartoons, because he’s actually said those things.
If we keep promoting popular perceptions instead of researching actual facts, we may find ourselves in a Hobbesian nation, and not the stuffed-tiger type but the kind we once thought was confined to Mississippi.