Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


February 5, 2013

WE THE PEOPLE: Wisdom demands thought, not obedience

CROSSVILLE — Almost 3,000 years ago, perhaps earlier, a people began their journey toward democracy. Along the way, they invented and formalized both deductive logic and the inductive system that we now call the scientific method.

Scholars think the Iliad was composed by a single author a century or so before the Pentateuch. Homer’s tale demonstrates that ancient Greeks expected individuals to make personal choices. The gods many considered powerful often fought against each other. People needed to choose very carefully. (Agamemnon pleased one god by sacrificing his daughter, but angered another and he lived to rue his action.)

The Iliad, however, also depicts an iron-age western society dominated by warlords and their royal spouses. It would take another 400 years for Greece to “suffer into wisdom” and develop a society of city-states, with Athens as the crown jewel. During this time, a growing population, believing in the importance of individual choice, renounced traditional blood-lust retaliation and adopted the ideals of justice and equality as a better way to live in relative harmony. (For an allegorical summary of that process, read “The Orestia,” written by Aeschylus in about 500 B.C.)

The Athenian government, like ours, consisted of three branches. The first, the Ekklesia, was a “general assembly” of male citizens who had the time and energy to show up. This was their Congress. The second, the “executive branch,” was the Boule (council of 500), whose members were chosen by a lottery and met every day. The third (the Court) was called the Dikasteria, in which jury members were chosen by lottery from a list of citizens and placed under oath.

Of course, the ancient Athenian Spring didn’t produce perfection. Early Greeks didn’t expect perfection. They recognized that progress was only possible by tempering human intellect with careful observation, by honestly striving and probing. They understood an individual, as well as societal, responsibility to suffer into wisdom. They did not comfortably accept ‘revealed truth’ dispensed by somebody else.

The Athenian democracy (the “Classical Era”) lasted for a little over 200 years (about the age of our current nation). It took several centuries for the classical ethic to be repressed in Greece (and, later, Rome), but for a while the advancement of formal human logic, language, technology and justice under a common law advanced at a rate that has never been surpassed.

Someone once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Thus it did for the millennium between Trojan War until the fall of Athenian democracy. But in Europe, the arc then moved toward aristocratic excess and servile poverty for another thousand years. It only began to lean toward justice and rationality again after people became interested in classical learning during the 13th century.

Which way is that arc bending now? A free and vital society teaches its children to value skepticism, honest intellectual struggle and rationality. Posting “revealed law” in public schools better serves the needs of a stagnant, authoritarian caste system. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, those who ignore history (or don’t strive mightily to learn from it) are destined to repeat it.

• • •

This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at

Text Only
  • LION AND THE LAMB: Four ways to demonstrate opposition

    Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan mention in their book, “The Last Week,” that Roman-occupied Palestine during the first century was under the control of Pontius Pilate who lived in the coastal city of Caesarea. Each year at the beginning of the Passover observance when Jews celebrated their liberation from Egypt, Pilate feared that they might be getting ideas about revolting from Rome, so he would come with additional soldiers on horses to beef up the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. 

    April 15, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: Is it (new) party time?

    The Democratic and Republican parties are toast, according to Joe Trippi. The Republican Party is coming apart at its Tea Party seam. Democratic candidates struggle to celebrate President Obama’s health care successes, while responding to criticism of his failed promises, e.g., government transparency.

    April 15, 2014

  • TIDBITS: I found it at the library

    I have such fond memories of going to my local library as a child, searching through shelf after shelf and finding a book that would make me a Little Princess in World War II England, or bring me along as Nancy Drew solved the Secret in the Old Attic.

    April 14, 2014

  • STUMPTALK: The reason words have meaning

    If words did not have accepted meanings we would not be able to communicate effectively and civilized society would not exist.

    April 14, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Do we really believe in democracy?

    The recent Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, is in a long line of debates about power in a democracy. Should power be in the hands of all the citizens or should it be in hands of those who have greater wealth and social position?

    April 8, 2014

  • We the People: Public education or business opportunity?

    A month ago, we followed the money trail left by a ‘think tank’ to the major sources funding an attack on our traditional, locally controlled public schools. We saw that a handful of billionaires provide major support to many organizations lobbying for change.

    April 8, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Just another government lie?

    There is a vault located in Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was built in 1936 and encased in 16 cubic feet of granite and 4200 feet of cement. The door is made of 20-inch thick material that is immune to drills, torches and explosives.

    April 7, 2014

  • GARY'S WORLD: The chance to speak your mind

    Are you tired of hearing people complain about the way things are run in Cumberland County? Or, do you like the way the county government is run and operated in our beautiful county?
    Are you happy with the way things are, or would you like some change?

    April 3, 2014

  • LION AND THE LAMB: Digging beneath the headlines

    Our media have been focusing on two important events that have taken place overseas during the last several weeks.

    April 1, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: SNAP, health and work

    A recent letter from Representative Diane Black to me states that she voted for the farm bill (with $8 million in Food Stamp (SNAP) benefit cuts) because she, like me, is a supporter of food stamp benefits for Tennessee families who qualify. That’s a lot of families, as most recipients are families with children and the elderly. Now, recall that there was already a major cut to the food stamp program back in the fall. But for some Republicans, that was not enough.

    April 1, 2014

Marketplace Marquee
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar
2014 Readers' Choice