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On Drama and The Next U.S. Presidential Elections

by Ahmad Atif Ahmad
June 11, 2007

The degree of tolerance toward garbage in American culture is pretty high. That is why if one maintains a measure of curiosity about the things that people are interested in, one is likely to end up wasting a lot of time. But the US is a large country, where one can find so many interesting things to pursue, and even on TV, we often encounter interesting ideas.

Al Gore's most recent book (The Assault on Reason, Penguin Press HC, May 22, 2007) begins with an impressive list of the garbage that succeeded in capturing people's attention in recent years from O.J. to Anna Nicole Smith. The list went on for a while, and whether Al was as serious in attacking the popular complacency that benefits dramatists who cherish notoriety, I took his point seriously. Reading him made me wonder whether Plato's suspicion of popular drama and his emphasis on its negative effects was reasonable after all.

Plato believed that poets, essentially dramatic poets, should not exist in the ideal state, because these dramatists tend to distort reality as they try to imitate it, on top of invoking 'emotions' - rather than reason - in the citizens, which negatively affect the quality of the citizenry's opinions. Aristotle, by contrast, believed that drama is potentially cathartic (it helps people clarify, purify, or evacuate their emotions) and can even be informative to the citizens about reality.

Both of them can be right, but Plato's point is most relevant. Popular drama seems to affect the quality of people's thinking and judgment. Why on earth would a rich country like the US be embroiled in so many misadventures? Why would this country be lacking money for important things like funding good health systems or superb educational institutions from grammar schools to graduate schools? I cannot believe it is the mistake of a few people on the top.

Improving the opinions of the people of this republic (the US) will likely take a long time to accomplish. The next presidential elections will, therefore, follow the current pattern and be part of the current era. Whatever happens in these elections is a continuation of a long, bad moment in the history of this country, even if the result is the significant achievement of bringing to the top a woman (which ancient Egypt achieved in 51 BCE and medieval Egypt achieved in 1250 CE) or a black person (Rome was ruled by an Arab Emperor 244-249 CE) or both.

About the Author:
Ahmad Atif Ahmad is assistant professor of religion at Macalester College, MN, USA. His publications include The Evolution of Just war Theory in Islamic Law (American Foreign Policy Interests, April 2006) and Structural Interrelations of Theory and Practice in Islamic Law (Brill: Leiden, the Netherlands, May 2006).

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