Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Pithy wisdom and slogans

Back in 2013 I wrote about proverbs that "I don't hear these much, though perhaps I don't travel in the right circles, and I suspect we suffer for it." Since then I've been looking for places where old proverbs, or what used-to-be familiar scripture would fit in.

I'm surprised that I didn't hear anyone cite "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't" about the last presidential election. It was certainly one of the major themes.

You hear plenty of slogans and phrases encapsulating some political or social ideas, but that's not quite the same thing. The slogans anticipate, while the proverbs react to, classes of situations. For example "The people united will never be defeated" is an aspirational slogan (and piano composition): history is chock-a-block with counterexamples and compromises that only vaguely resemble victory. "He who slaughters a beast does not hesitate about skinning it," on the other hand, warns the wishful thinkers in every age. We hear "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," or "no justice, no peace"--both aspirational (since the latter implies that there will be peace once there is justice). But "A camel never sees its own hump." You know people like that.

I like this one. Albanian: "Fire, water and government know nothing of mercy." And this "A benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself to keep his friends in countenance."


RichardJohnson said...

For example "The people united will never be defeated" is an aspirational slogan

The slogan came from Allende supporters. While the slogan was aspirational, it didn't accurately describe the realities of Allende's Chile. Allende was a President of the minority, which unsurprisingly can be problematic when one attempts revolutionary change in a democratic system. Allende won a plurality of the vote- 36.3%- in the 1970 presidential election. The Allende coalition never won a majority of the vote, though it came close in the 1971 municipal elections: 49.7% to 48.0%.

Allende Coalition vote percentage
1969 Congressional elections 44.2
1970 Presidential election 36.3
1971 Municipal elections 49.7
1973 Congressional elections 43.9

Three weeks before the 1973 coup, the Chamber of Deputies, which is the equivalent of our House of Representatives, passed a resolution by a 81-47 vote, a 63% majority. The resolution accused the Allende government of repeated and systematic violations of the Constitution and laws of Chile. The resolution also stated the Armed Forces "must be directed toward the full restoration of constitutional rule." Allende correctly stated that the resolution promoted a coup.

Even a hardcore Allende supporter like the writer Ariel Dorfman finally admitted that Allende didn't have the support of the majority, though it took him decades to do so. Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey:

We could blame the CIA, the United States, the oligarchy, the military, all we wanted, but they would never have prevailed if we had been able to get the majority of Chileans behind our reforms.

Ariel Dorfman was a red-diaper baby whose UN bureaucrat father was kicked out of the US in 1953 for providing a place to stay for Maurice Halperin, who was in the process of fleeing the US to avoid testifying to the HUAC. Ironically Halperin, when he was working for the OSS during WW2, helped Dorfman's father get out of Argentina in WW2, when his father was too vocal in his opposition to Argentina's military government. Peron was a leading member of that government. The evidence is that Halperin delivered documents to the Soviets when he worked for the OSS in WW2. Further irony: Ariel Dorfman's parents were Jewish. His father was named Adolfo Dorfman. Not too many Jewish families choose such a name for their male children nowadays.

Election data: Collier & Slater, A History of Chile 1808-2002 (2nd Ed.), page 333


RichardJohnson said...

A further irony regarding Ariel Dorfman and his father Adolfo. When Ariel Dorfman was born in 1942, his parents named him Vladimiro.Yes, for Lenin. It is no accident that Ariel Dorfman describes himself as a red diaper baby. Adolfo naming his son Vladimiro: truth is stranger than fiction.

When he was nine years old and living in the US, Ariel disclaimed his given name of Vladimiro, choosing Edward instead. He eventually chose Ariel for his name.