I’ve been thinking about Charles Hugh Smith’s comments, mentioned in my previous blog post. The danger of politics no longer being able to solve our problems is very real, and leads to the illusory appeal of the Gordian Knot. Wikipedia describes the legend:
The Phrygians were without a king, but an oracle at Telmissus (the ancient capital of Lycia) decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king. A peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox-cart and was immediately declared king. Out of gratitude, his son Midas dedicated the ox-cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios (whom the Greeks identified with Zeus) and tied it to a post with an intricate knot of cornel bark. The knot was later described by Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus as comprising “several knots all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to see how they were fastened.”
The ox-cart still stood in the palace of the former kings of Phrygia at Gordium in the fourth century BC when Alexander [the Great] arrived, at which point Phrygia had been reduced to a satrapy, or province, of the Persian Empire. An oracle had declared that any man who could unravel its elaborate knots was destined to become ruler of all of Asia. Alexander wanted to untie the knot but struggled to do so without success. He then reasoned that it would make no difference how the knot was loosed, so he drew his sword and sliced it in half with a single stroke.
There’s more at the link.
The legend has become famous throughout history; but there’s a sting in its tail. The moral of the story is that direct action can produce results where indirect action becomes so bogged down in details as to become impossible. There are certainly times when that’s a good idea. However, it’s also too easy to use as a cop-out. “It’s too much trouble to listen to every opinion and take into account every perspective. We know we’re right; so why don’t we just impose our policies on everyone, and then defy them to do anything about it? Let’s cut through the Gordian Knot of democratic negotiation!”
That’s the way to civil war, and sometimes to wars between nations and alliances as well. If one presents people with a fait accompli, sometimes they’ll accept it: but other times, their response will be to try to impose their own fait accompli in response. “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander! What goes around, comes around! Do unto others as you would have them do unto you: therefore, since you’ve done this to us, we’re going to do the same unto you!” The excuses are legendary, but they all amount to the same thing: conflict.
Bismarck was quite right when he said that “Politics is the art of the possible”: but possibility isn’t just the ability to enforce your will, riding roughshod over the desires of others. (That’s what too many recent Presidents have tried to do. Remember “Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool.“? That was Paul Begala, speaking of the Clinton administration. Remember President Obama “negotiating” with Republicans? “Elections have consequences. And at the end of the day, I won. So I think on that one I trump you.” Not very much negotiating in that, was there? Remember the “nuclear option” on the filibuster? “Even if Republicans want to do away with the filibuster someday, Reid said, Thursday’s move was worth it because the current climate had become too hostile to get anything significant done. Reid said he faced a choice: ‘Continue like we are or have democracy?’ ”
However, when the Presidency and the Senate changed hands, former supporters of such measures were a lot less willing to support them than they had been. They were willing to “cut the Gordian Knot” when the political winds were in their favor; but when those winds changed, they found their daring stroke coming back to haunt them.
That’s why those advocating violence, or “resistance”, or whatever, to overcome the present mess in US politics, on both sides of the political divide, are fundamentally misguided. They want a simplistic solution: cut through the Gordian Knot (and, if necessary, their opponents) and solve the problem in a single stroke. Impose the solution they prefer, and devil take those who don’t. They ignore the fact that once one has committed to such means, one has effectively given license to one’s opponents to do precisely and exactly the same thing in reply. The Golden Rule applies. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Do unto them aggressively, or pre-emptively, or violently, and you can expect the same response. That applies in life, and in politics.
That’s not so much fun, is it?