Friday, February 11, 2011

Citizen Physicians

Citizen Physicians

2011 Feb 10, Mulk 04, 167 BE; Citizen Physicians

Precis: An ordered state engages citizens in wisdom. Such is the goal of dialectic. A dialectician is an expert in making questions of right, law and ethics the main concern of popular, routine conversations. Dialectics progresses by experimenting with the logic of law. It tries this logic out in words before law informs action.


In the slave owning society of Ancient Athens there were two kinds of doctor, one for slaves and one for free citizens. Slaves had no right to be treated by physicians. Instead, they saw other slaves with experience as aids to trained medical practitioners. Such partly-trained slaves must have acted like field medics, handing out poorly understood remedies in a slapdash manner to all comers. The patients were menials and had no choice but to take the cure and shut up. A physician, by contrast, was expected to get to know his patients personally. Once the ailment was diagnosed, he took the time to explain what was wrong and why a particular therapy was necessary.


Plato compared this to political leaders, especially those who write and apply laws. The legal system, he said, is not therapy for free citizens but remedies for slaves. Its laws are arbitrary, handed down from above, along with a threat of violence for non-compliance. Judges mete out punishment with the cursory attention of a slave medic. Worst of all, one hand is tied behind the judge's back, as it were.


"...none of our legislators would seem ever to have remarked that they rely wholly on one instrument in their work, whereas there are two available, so far as the mass's lack of education will permit, persuasion and compulsion. Authority is never tempered in their lawmaking with persuasion; they work by compulsion unalloyed." (Laws 722c, Collected Dialogues, p. 1312)


There should be long explanations of the laws, which Plato called "preambles," in order to make them palatable to free thinkers. That way, lawmakers would act more like a free citizen's physician preferring persuasion to compulsion, by making laws pleasant and seeing to it that rules and regulations are accepted as enthusiastically as possible.


Comenius agrees, citing a Roman writer who said, "You should know that the most righteous thunderbolts are those which are worshipped even by those whom they have struck." (Seneca: Quaestiones Naturales, ii, 12) But love of laws should also be accompanied by knowledge. Such an imperative was central to the Law of Moses. For example, as a prelude to the ten commandments God ordered first of all that laws be discussed routinely, "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up." (Deut 6:7, WEB) Society should be unstinting in paying workers well for a job well done, and in distributing credit where credit is due. This liberality, Comenius points out, pervades the Bible. For example, he cites: "Give her of the fruit of her hands; Let her works praise her in the gates." (Proverbs, 31:31, WEB) Comenius also noticed that rewards and honours are routinely meted out for sports heroes. Why not do the same for wisdom? The place to start should be in schools. In a section called "special awards for special merits," Comenius wrote,


"For if a civilised nation like the Greeks considered it worthwhile to award laurel wreaths and other prizes as an incentive to the prowess of their young men competing on the racetrack and practising physical fitness or skill in armed warfare, surely anything of this kind will be suitable in the arena of wisdom!" (Panorthosia, Ch. 22, Para 30, p. 53)


Wisdom can be made more attractive by distributing liberal rewards to all who make wise choices. We therefore should put as many people as possible in a position where they can judge the behaviour of others and distribute rewards for exceptionally good deeds. If we do that, then it would be a society not just of free citizens but also of active, wise physicians.

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