Can you REALLY be offended on behalf of someone else??
Lessons from Borat
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
I had my first kiss in Kazakhstan. I had my first drink... and first hangover in Kazakhstan. I had my first realization of privilege, wealth discrepancy and how basic necessities like drinking water and electricity were indeed luxuries in Kazakhstan.
I spent my adolescent summers in the then capital city of Almaty, and consequently it has stayed a very special place to me...
So you can imagine my horror when the movie Borat came out.
Written and starred in by British comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen, the ‘mockumentary’ follows a supposed Kazakh named ‘Borat’ through his culture shock adventures in America. Totally inappropriate pranks on knowledgeable Americans result in collective attacks on anti-semitism, references to bestiality, among other obviously distasteful events.
I was furious! Most people don’t know anything about Kazakhstan... and so this silly movie was completely wrongly filling in their blanks.
Where were the sweeping mountains? The biculturalism? The yurts? The nomads? ANYTHING That resembled the Kazakhstan I knew and loved.
I was personally, deeply and passionately offended on behalf of all of Kazakhstan. And I was quick to point this out to anyone who would listen to me.
That was... until I spoke to my father. Of course, he had lived there year long for an olympiad. He had much closer connections. And his first response... laughter! He talked about how all the Kazakhs he knew were trying to get bootleg copies, and how they thought it was hilarious. Apparently, even the government eventually was happy about the movie when they saw the rise in tourism as a result.
It dawned on me then: What is offense in the first place? Fellow Classics lovers are no doubt conjuring up the Stoics and their position on the matter. Perhaps some of you are recalling the old “sticks and stones’ mantra from childhood... either way it poses a few interesting questions, some of which I’d like to enquire about today...
So I ask you, dear reader, Is it possible to be offended for someone else? How can we really claim to understand someone else’s point of view? And, perhaps even more fundamentally, can we control being offended in the very first place?
As always, you can write to me at email@example.com or reply to this email. I’ll post your responses next week and in the meantime you can enjoy a few reader responses below to the question: Do you need to be good to be a good leader?
P.S. As folks all over the world head off for their summer holidays (at least in the Northern hemisphere), I thought we could provide some excellent beach reading. What could accompany that Piña Colada better on the beach than a collection of the greatest ancient novels?
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Yes. I think it is a fundamental truth. There have been many examples showing that the form of government matters less than the quality of the men who lead it. Sometimes, as in Rome and here, the power is so great as to sustain many bad men. But eventually even a virtuous constitution will be corrupted by bad men causing harm to the populous they serve. In such times, as in Petrarch’s time, a humanist, classical education is called for: one that inspires love of virtue and an aversion to evil and excess. How do we get out of this mess? Reforming laws does nothing to stop evil men. You need to play the long game and reform men.
Hello and thank you. It caused me to think about the Cynics but, above all these questions: do we need a "statesperson" and a "leader" on the top of a gigantic pyramid of power? No matter how accomplished an individual is and how ethical?
Thank you for the thought provoking
Absolutely YES! One cannot talk the talk and not walk the walk, a servant leader is the best leader, a humble person gives great example, people may forget what you did but they will never forget what you said. So in my humble opinion I truly believe; to have good leaders that produce great nations the leader must be a person after God's own heart.
Leadership is best defined for the purposes of this response as the process of identifying targets and vision then selling that vision to others. Management may determine how to set up a ladder for the building, but leaders determine which buildings to select.
Virtue is required and originates from two sources. One is an absolute set of values from a Judeo Christian God or they may derive from a function of doing what is thought in the eyes of the leader. The latter may be a source of anything but virtue but they are the cement required to create the vision that is sold successfully to others.
Brilliance, empathy, confidence and toughness are four absolute requirements. To this the ability to sell the vision and stay true to the course are the other mandates.
By good do you mean one who is an effective leader and creates balance and is respected? If so, I still do not know what good signifies. Maybe one who leads has to encompass the spirit of eudaimonia, as did Alexander (supposedly)--but did he not die young as an alcoholic? Of course one could say that a leader must have virtue, but is justice at all related to virtue? And to be just and show justice, I think, is necessary to be an effective leader.
Now if one looks at the etymology of virtue it comes from the Latin virtus, valor held by males (vir). I do not know if I trust virtue and the egocentricity behind it, which leads to monumentalism and eventually falsehoods.
Machiavelli says something like: as leader it is good to be feared but never hated. Of course fear can be a sign of respect. I guess this is what a leader needs to encompass: a spirit of no hate but love. If I want to control you I will get you to hate me, then I am in your mind all day and in your dreams; you will not get rid of me. However, a leader who rules through hatred is always in fear of being destroyed and the country or organization will be in chaos. If one shows love, a true leader will emerge. So what is love?: the giving up of hate and losing any egocentric stance and finding balance in it all.
Herman. H--San Francisco
Often the essential quality in a good leader is good luck.
King Solomon also was not all good because he disobeyed God by worshiping idols by his infatuation with women. Too much of anything is not good. So to be a leader, you need not be good but do what your constitution requires of you to do.
Re: Ancient Atomists
The ancient Greeks stayed all day in the public square, the agora, to devise theories on the origin of names, peoples, mythologies and much more; but how many of these lucubrations are real and how many are far-fetched, despite having been taken for granted up to the present day? Conversely, sometimes ideas that would have proved successful remained marginalized for millennia, only to be rediscovered with the progress of science: let's think of the atomic theory of matter, formulated by Democritus in the fifth century BC, and then dusted off only a few centuries ago with the new discoveries of modern chemistry. And thank goodness they didn't have the internet, the most formidable information (and disinformation) tool ever invented! And one wonders how different the history of humanity, of thought, of religions would have been, if someone had also invented the microscope a few millennia in advance.
The atomic theory was invented for the first time by Kanaad, in India, more than a thousand years before Democritus. He was named Kanada only because he tried to invent the smallest particle of the physical or material body. It is a fact that the search for the smallest particle was pursued in ancient Greece also. But chronologically Kanada comes earlier to Democritus.
With Warm Regards,