While perusing an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on the meaning of liberty in the works of the English utilitarian philosopher of the 19th Century, John Stuart Mills, I came across a sentence by the author of the Op-Ed piece which gave me pause.
After explaining that Mills’ belief in liberty and democracy was a “civilized belief that there are clear distinctions between honor and dishonor, excellence and laziness.” The author goes on to say that many cheapen democracy by believing that they practice democracy by being nice, voting occasionally and having opinions. That is the sentence that got me.
Those three phrases, being nice, voting occasionally and having opinions are so insipid. They have nothing to do with “honor” or “excellence”.
We are nice when we want others to like us. The central thought is “me”. When we are polite and/or kind, the central thought is of the other. We recognize the value, the worth of another human being. This is being honorable.
When we vote occasionally we are being lazy and irresponsible. We expect the votes of others to maintain our freedom to choose.
Worst of all, especially in the United States with the dawn of so called “reality shows” fostered by social media (facebook, etc.), every body has an opinion which he/she shares. Most of these opinions are emotional responses, which can be very persuasive, like the sophists, but not true. To be lazy in the search for truth is to be dishonorable.
Those who value a free democracy are kind, responsible and seek the truth. They honorably seek excellence.