February 10, 2011
Philosophy is a bit of a struggle for many of us, except, of course, if we’re professional footballers, pop stars, film actors, reality-TV performers, or hedge-fund managers. Although in last week’s Takimag I wrote about Nasser’s Egypt, I forgot to mention that the reason Nasser was so wildly popular with the people was because he was totally incorruptible—as rare as a virgin in a harem where Arab politics is concerned. He lived simply and didn’t even give his family a side-road banana concession—very unlike Mubarak and the rest of the crooks in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
Having established that honesty is a virtue even in Egypt, I will now take you to the wilder reaches of philosophy as applied to real life. I always write about the past because I’m afflicted with “anamnesis,” the opposite of amnesia, the latter a condition suffered by all of the world’s dictators and then some. Queen Rania of Jordan is quite a dish but has obviously not read my Greek colleague Aristotle. (More about old Ari in a jiffy.) European royal friends of mine had commented on how Rania got started on the right foot by asking advice and playing humble, but she quickly reverted to type once inside the castle, a not uncommon state of being known as “Lookatmi” among us philosophers. Living an extravagant lifestyle in a country such as Jordan is the equivalent of sniffing an ounce of pure Bolivian and attending a Tibetan monks’ gathering where silence and meditation is all.
It’s bound to attract attention and disapproval. Rania is a Palestinian lass who funnels business to her family—unheard of in the Arab world—and pulls rank on her subjects, also unheard of. Last summer she threw a party for her fortieth in southern Jordan for 600 of her closest. Most guests were straight out of HELLO!’s pages, which is par for the course. Rania’s amnesia for a party thrown by the Shah at Persepolis nearly 40 years ago should have come to her mind. No one likes parties more than me, but it depends where one gives them. When poor Palestinians comprise close to 70 percent of one’s population and you are surrounded by enemies such as Syria, Iraq, and yes, Israel, flashy parties are not recommended.
But back to Aristotle. He taught that all citizens should strive for civic virtue and excellence. The word “idiot” is derived from the Greek idiotis, meaning a private person. An individual. In other words, not partaking in politics means one’s an idiot. To the ancient Greeks, politics was always an art as well as a science. Aristotle and Immanuel Kant were born more than 2,000 years apart, and come to think of it, Jesus was born in between, but all three men basically said the same thing: One has to be a moral person to be a good citizen, and good citizens work together for a better world (Philosopher Taki’s Categorical Imperative).