An apology to ...Re history of word "idiot"

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at
Thu Oct 15 09:44:40 PDT 1998

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to acknowledge Carrol Cox's posting which I will quote below. I thought it was a brilliant extension of what I was trying to get at. I think of Marxist thought as not moralizing, and in this case the subject matter can easily become moral rightness, and wrongness. Rather what I want to see happen is the expansion of awareness of the meaning of things. Carrol is doing exactly that by looking at the history of the word idiot. I think this expansion of the mind is what we aim at as Socialists. We are attempting to liberate ourselves from the strictures of the present barbaric system. We are also attempting to liberate everyone all around us. Not to confine people to labels (name calling), but to make the room to bring in history and science into what we think. Thank you Carrol.

Carrol I don't have the patience right now to look up the exact history of the term *idiot*, but I know it in general. In Greek *idiotes* (sp?) meant something like a private person, a person who did not take part in the collective (political) life of the *polis* and was therefore (as we can see from Arisotle's use of *political* [I forget the Greek]) "not all there, not fully human, incomplete." Some writers who quote Aristotle's definition of "man" (human), "man is a political animal" [one who lives in cities], argue that that it should be translated "social" rather than "political." True, by "political" Aristotle did not mean voting in elections (which he would have regarded as private rather than political) or having opinions on state policy or even campaigning for office. The last is not political in Aristotle's sense because in it speech is one-way, it does not involve the absolute necessity of listening to the speech of those one speaks to, while the politics more or less explicit in Aristotle's definition meant direct participation in the deliberations of the state Athens being what is now called "direct democracy," a definition which continually reproduces the ideological illusion that electoral politics are "democratic." (Marx was being quite Aristotelian when he coined the phrase "parliamentary cretinism.")

Doyle This isn't about free speech, but about the ability to open up things to all the influences (like history as Carrol rightly points out) that we "need" to build a system that suits our purposes. I also very much appreciate Paul Henry Rosenberg's reaction. He and I both seem to feel strongly that acknowledging how the intensity of feelings shape conversation is hidden from view in these exchanges. I myself believe that looking at those aspects could lead us to new socialist organizational goals and programs. I think myself they include a new look at consciousness. Not in the sense of pop psychology, or as some here say as psychologizing, but in the sense that Carrol says above, observing how the system limits participation due to social status. What does that mean? Every person embedded in oppression has something to say about how oppression limits their ability to grasp a way out. Let us give people a way out. regards, Doyle

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