All the King’s Voices
And so you watched the progress of this man, the procession, really, of this handsome, lithe, tall black and white man toward the White House (“All in the Game,” Mark Kingwell, April). Then you listened to the decisive way in which he ended each sentence in his speeches, though they contained little, and you knew that you had an obligation to comment, that as an academic philosopher you now needed to bring some clear-eyed thinking to an assessment of this phenomenon.
But there would be no lack of commentary, from the sycophantic to the morose. You knew that simply to add yet another piece of analysis, no matter how clear eyed and dispassionate, would be futile amid the din. And then, watching this man, you thought, this is a bright mind at work here. There must be some small voice in him that stands apart, the real philosopher within the public philosopher-king. Surely there’s a voice within, critiquing all this post-partisan stuff and yes-we-can, even as he declaims it so decisively. You had an idea: that inner voice would be the vehicle for your analysis, an undercurrent, no, a counterpoint to the public voice, only to be tragically stilled in the end, as so many philosophical voices are stilled. Socrates, Boethius, Bonhoeffer; you could name a few more. And, come to think of it, you would be following in the great literary tradition of others who had hard things to say: Galileo, Hume—they both used other voices to say what needed to be said.
So you had the small voice point out the fallacy of the big one. For a moment, you heard another small voice: Are you sure you’re not setting up a straw man here? Did he really say democracy is a meeting of equals? But then you thought, yes, he did at least imply it. In any case, it is integral to his platform and needs to be countered. And as you got into it, into this voice, you knew that you were on to something, that this was indeed the vehicle for truth, and so you soldiered on. You had the man’s inner voice almost consider cheating as a bad business, only to rationalize it as part of the game. A little tour de force of its own, you had to admit, your riff on cheating and spoilsports, a clear-eyed look at the hypocrisy of it all. It is so important to remain clear eyed. You remembered the tiny catch in your throat when this solitary man, young still, and vulnerable, stood in front of the crowd and spoke brave and sombre words into the winter air. You, too, were almost enchanted, but you fought your way free. You saw the words for what they were, and the world as it really is: meaningless.
A last, brief flourish of disdain, and you were done. Point made. You mused about what Davey, that old humbug detector, would think of that! You had perhaps forgotten that in the end Hume’s skepticism was mitigated, that hope can indeed have substance, can spring eternal, in a meaningful world.
Wow, what a performance by Mark Kingwell on Barack Obama’s young presidency. As an alternative take, I have my money on a simpler text: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
I was taken with Mark Kingwell’s serious play in “All in the Game,” getting inside the skin of a new kind of American president, one “bound to become a sort of philosopher-king after all.” But as inauguration day was the real “game on!” for him (and for the rest of us), what’s left to be played out?
Consider that old joke about Plato’s philosopher-king attempting to rule in a democratic state: the punchline was that nobody votes for the roving thinker, whose earnest and endless questioning precludes the politicking voters expect and demand from their leaders. It’s no joke that gerrymandering politics in favour of philosophy’s hope-for-wisdom game starts to look like political suicide.
Indeed, the philosopher-candidate’s inauguration may be more like David Foster Wallace’s sad spoilsport suicide than Kingwell acknowledges here, and subverting rules to win over an electorate while sneaking one through the president’s door dressed in sheep’s clothing his endgame.
Seems to me that if you’re the philosopher-president, the only way to save yourself from imminent political demise is to shed your skin once more to reveal the wolf-tongued politician we’ve seen all the others become. The philosopher must be left behind as, head hung low, you fumble back to Plato’s cave of bureaucracy and rhetoric and stupefying black-and-whites.
Piercing piece of writing, though. More on point than my comments, anyways, for you should never cry wolf.
David Owen Morgan
Taking It Off Online
No one should be condemned just for fulfilling their sexual desires and fantasies, provided no one gets hurt in the mix (“The Other Porn Addiction,” Hal Niedzviecki, April). Our society objectifies women, and some women fight that, while others say, “Bring it on!” The latter group gets just as much of a thrill from being viewed as do the people who view them. It feels good to have the attention, but, more important, it feels good to have the power to stimulate others, to arouse them. It’s one realm of power where women have been able to step up to men over the course of history.
Natalie Pendergast (online)
I have no moral objection to these behaviours, but I do have a sense of sadness about the fact that this kind of communication ultimately isolates people. Seeking intimacy online reduces their humanity; it doesn’t enhance it.