“The revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don’t turn, it falls.”

Read Persepolis. Thinking a lot about how delicate freedom is. The truth is that tyrannical attitudes are all around us. Fundamentally liberal and generous people are very rare. Out of all the people I know, the most naive is one who believes his own very particular religious sect is thoroughly giving, accepting, with a spirituality like his which can be found nowhere else. I don’t know how to break it to him that if he and I are communicating well, maybe better than anyone else he knows, then perhaps he doesn’t really know what on earth he believes.

Maybe most people are just tyrants who disguise it. Eh, it’s not that simple. My naive friend’s problem is only a more exaggerated version of our own thinking. Everything seems great with the people we’re around. They can be trusted, right? Things are going well; they must really believe our shared freedoms are good. Of course not – they may not have the desire to make everyone else slaves, but if they think they know how to live life better than everyone else, they’re already one step away from imposing on others. Now it is crazy to complain about this, since all of us think to some degree that we know something the rest of humanity doesn’t. However, evaluating other contentions about what is good and putting forth evidence for one’s own is a rare sight. I think most of us find it obnoxious and unnecessary, as we see someone else trying to prove they’re right. But the same process can also be a show of respect to others and their situations, while establishing a serious plan of action for oneself. That we don’t like to reason publicly shows we’re scared of having our values critiqued in any way. A free society contains the seed of some of the worst tyranny. We reserve the right to be right no matter what.

There are also those who just hate and are criminals and do resent the freedom of others. It’s important to take note of them because of an additional consideration. Is liberality or generosity the greatest good? For Aristotle, it wasn’t even the highest virtue, as it only consists in giving to others privately. Compared to things like justice and prudence, it has a lower status. Still, one can be just or prudent and not really care at all about another’s freedom. Any sort of government is an imposition on others. And one might actually be right about what is just, to tell the truth. However, with that considered, generosity turns out to be foundational: without it, no other virtues, no politics. One might be able to say that politics proper starts with learning to share and give. Tyranny is not only immoderation, but non-stop self-aggrandizement.

1 Comment

  1. This quote is well-known in France and at least as old as the movie “Rabbi Jacob” from 1973. In the movie, the quote is attributed to Eddy Merckx (famous Belgian cyclist champion), and then to Che Guevara.

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