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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong with this picture? If you said that Sarah Palin and Thomas Jefferson can't be reconciled no matter what type of contorted photoshop logic employed, you're right.

There's an absurd and dangerous strand of republicanism masquerading as conservatism that asserts that words don't matter. Pretty words and speeches have no real substance. They're for eggheads and out of touch ivy-leaguers in their ivory towers. Plain speaking people don't care about words.

Now, forget for a moment that the entire point of Democracy as conceived by the Greeks was that citizens should persuade one another through force of words rather than force of arms.

Forget that this idea that words - not swords - should have the power to inform political decisions was the most radical conceptual innovation in the history of thought.

Forget that this love of words led to a blossoming of the ancient Greek language so that there were dozens of words to describe "thought" and the process of thinking - in all it's myriad manifestations.

How about considering the fact that the "founding fathers" like Thomas Jefferson were obsessed with Greek thought and language. (See the letter below.) Every word Thomas Jefferson used in both writing and speech was thoroughly informed by his understanding of the Greek and Latin roots. Thomas Jefferson loved words. Is it really possible to understand anything this man wrote - including the declaration of independence - without understanding the words in the way he understood them? Is that possible without studying Greek and Latin in depth?

Of course not.

When he writes that the truths of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness are self-evident do we really know what he means? Sure, it sounds obvious. We all know what liberty is, right? Close your eyes and give a definition - without using synonyms like "free."

Not so easy right?

Are you aware that in Greek the root for "speaking" is the same root as for "freedom" and "reality." Thomas Jefferson knew that. He spent a lot of time thinking about it. Can you understand what he wrote if you don't put in the same amount of thought?

Okay, that's not to say you can't understand anything if you don't know some Greek and Latin. Lot's of successful computer programers, athletes and plumbers and electricians can perform their work just fine without it.

But it is to say that shouldn't we expect that much from our political leaders? Shouldn't we expect that much from those who seek to persuade us through force of words? Shouldn't we expect that much from those who seek to interpret and employ and enforce the words and thoughts of the founding fathers? Shouldn't we expect that much from the guardians of democracy?


To Judge Spencer Roane Poplar Forest, September 6, 1819

I thank you, Sir for the remarks on the pronunciation of the Greek language which you have been so kind as to send me. I have read them with pleasure, as I had the pamphlet of Mr. Pickering on the same subject. This question has occupied long and learned inquiry, and cannot, as I apprehend, be ever positively decided. Very early in my classical days, I took up the idea that the ancient Greek language having been changed by degrees into the modern, and the present race of that people having received it by tradition, they had of course better pretensions to the ancient pronunciation also, than any foreign nation could have. When at Paris, I became acquainted with some learned Greeks, from whom I took pains to learn the modern pronunciation. But I could not receive it as genuine in toto. I could not believe that the ancient Greeks had provided six different notations for the simple sound of {i}, iota, and left the five other sounds which we give to n, v, {i-i}, {oi}, {yi}, without any characters of notation at all. I could not acknowledge the {y}, upsillon, as an equivalent to our {n}, as in {Achilleys}, which they pronounce Achillevs, nor the {g}, gamma, to our y, as in {alge}, which they pronounce alye.


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