Tertium Datur

So what moral defect and/or lack of political imagination do these two songs (or the imagined narrators thereof) have in common?

The nations not so blest as thee
must in their turns to tyrants fall
while thou shalt flourish great and free,
the dread and envy of them all:
Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves:
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

So I’m picking ’em up and I’m laying ’em down
I believe he’s going to work me into the ground
I pull to the left, I heave to the right
I ought to kill him but it wouldn’t be right
’cause I’m working for the man
I’m working for the man ….
So I slave all day without much pay
’cause I’m just biding my time
’cause the company and the daughter you see
they’re both going to be all mine
yeah, I’m going to be the man
I’m going to be the man ….

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10 Responses to Tertium Datur

  1. Kevin V July 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    False dichotomy: either master or slave and nothing else! What do I win?

    • Roderick July 10, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      Correct! You win perpetual servitude! (Next time read the fine print more carefully.)

  2. Null Void July 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Myopia. Solippism.

    The idea that you need to kill others in order to live, to enslave others in order to be free, to screw other people in order to survive. The idea that the person next to you is not as human as you are, that if-only-I-could-be-the-boss. That there is no alternative to hierarchy and exploitation.

    Never bothering to consider that there is an alternative.

  3. Joe July 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    The moral defect would be “Libido Dominandi”, a lust to dominate and control others, would it not?

    • Roderick July 10, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

      Yes, but not just that — rather, it’s the confusion between the legitimate desire not to be dominated, and the illegitimate desire to dominate others, as though there are only two categories and one wishes simply to move to the other category rather than challenging the system of domination as such.

  4. Brandon July 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    The second one has the right idea. Nothing wrong with marrying the daughter and taking over the company.

    • Roderick July 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      And become the kind of boss he is currently tempted to kill?

      • Brandon July 11, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

        Well, t he lines don’t explicitly say that, but sure, becoming what you hate is the american dream, isn’t it?

  5. MBH July 29, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Roderick, I’ve always been curious about your take on Aristotle’s The Politics. Specifically, I’d love to know your take on passages that reference the legitimate rule over freemen — those that transcend the master/slave dichotomy. For instance, in Book VII, Chapter 3, Aristotle says,

    […] It is an error to suppose that every sort of rule is despotic like that of a master over slaves, for there is [a] great […] difference between the rule over freemen and the rule over slaves […]

    Do you want to say that there is no difference?

    • Roderick July 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

      Aristotle distinguishes two kinds of freedom, eleutheria and exousia. The latter is day-to-day control over your actions. To the extent that someone is ruling over you, your exousia is diminished; but you still maintain eleutheria if you’re free to leave. The difference between despotic rule and political rule is that political rule is rule over those who consent; but he seems to think of consent as expressed not by voting but simply by staying in the community. Since I don’t think either of those things counts as genuine consent, I can accept his principle but not his implementation. (You can see Aristotle as taking, for the polis, a line analogous to the line taken nowadays in defense of the hierarchical firm: you don’t have much control over your activities while you’re on the job, but you’re free to quit. Of course this argument was even less plausible in Aristotle’s case, since it was very difficult to become a citizen of a community one hadn’t been born into.)

      For Aristotle the consent of the governed is necessary for rule to be legitimate, but it’s not sufficient. Aristotle’s view is that among those who are free, rule, even if consensual, is justified only on the following terms:

      a) when some members of a group are both individually and collectively wiser than the rest, then they should have sole authority;

      b) when some members of a group are individually but not collectively wiser than the rest, they should have the sole right to exercise individual authority (by holding office), but the rest should have the right to exercise collective authority (by voting).

      c) when all the members of a group are roughly equal in wisdom, then some can rule the rest only on condition that they take turns ruling.

      Taking the polis again as analogous to the firm, Aristotle is saying that even if you’ve joined voluntarily, it’s wrong for your employer to boss you around if he’s an idiot and you’re not. (Dilbert, take heart.) However, I have further reservations about Aristotle’s position:

      a) I think the moral claim to control over one’s daily activities depends more on mere rational agency than on wisdom;

      b) when something is wrong, having it done in turns doesn’t make it right;

      c) Aristotle sees rule as necessary when it isn’t.

      But there are weaker senses of rule or authority that I think can be legitimate; the position of department chair, for example, answers to some of Aristotle’s principles.

      Hmm, I should write a paper on this.

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