Tuesday after the election, my good friend, David Boothman, sent me an interesting video-clip about how ‘’True-Democrats’’ in a democracy should behave after an election. The clip testified that in ‘’Greece the founder of democracy,’’ people were expected to behave in a manner that showed respect for their elected representatives. The clip from Boothman was very apt, given the fact that many persons in Trinidad and Tobago seemed, by their many letters to the Press, to be angry with our leaders’ behavioural actions and sayings, reactions that demonstrated their loss or their winning of the national elections on August 10th. The clip, however, made me think anew about Greece and its democratic postulations.
Democracy is generally associated with the Greeks and Romans in earlier times and with Europeans in the Medieval Period. Truly, Greeks in the Golden Age (500-300 BCE) had many city-states: some aristocratic, some ruled by monarchs, and others by tyrants. Despite their differences, Athenians in Greece were able to fashion out of the different, interrelated entities a democratic order, whereby the authoritative power of the state was vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly, through a system of representation that involved elections periodically. History shows that under Cleisthenes in Athens around 508 BCE, the government was reformed and placed on a democratic footing with a Council and a Jury and these institutions were further fortified by the works of Pericles (461-429 BCE), Socrates (469-399) and his pupil Plato, as well as the outstanding philosopher of the era, Aristotle (384-322 BCE).
What all students and academics should know, however, is that Greece developed its institutions long after the civilisations of Africa, in particular, Ethiopia and Egypt, and the Near East, including the Sumerians in Mesopotamia between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Moreover, India with its early republics such as the Sanghas of Buddha and the Ganas (attendants of Shiva) practised democracy as early as the 6th century BCE. Some historians even consider the Buddhist Sangha as the world’s oldest democracy. In fact, Diodorus, the Greek historian, two hundred years after Alexander the so-called Great invaded India, wrote that India possessed systems of democracy in like manner to Greece, then. Accordingly, when I heard Boothman’s video clip, I told myself that Africans and Indians in Trinidad and Tobago should indeed be politically proud of their management process of holding elections here, since their forefathers were practitioners of democracy long before Europeans wrote history.
History shows that the Greeks in Athens, based on the philosophy and legal codes of the Egyptians, developed a ‘’three-way Athenian Democratic Code’’ by which they were able to assess and describe the behaviour of all eligible electors within the state of Athens and even within the city-state of Sparta in Greece.
In terms of the ‘’three-way’’ grouping, first, there were those persons who, like many in Trinidad and Tobago, refused to vote for representatives to the Council in Athens (The National Assembly); Greek society called them ‘’Idiots.’’ An idiot was thus a private person who kept to himself/herself and refused to be part of the Government. As time progressed, based on the Latin word ‘’Idiota,’’ Europeans placed a derogatory twist to the word and caused it to mean an ‘’uneducated or ignorant’’ person.
The second group of persons in the Athenian Code consisted of those who, like many in Trinidad and Tobago, selected their representatives narrowly, on the basis of their tribe. Such persons in Athens cared not for what was being discussed in the Council nor the thought-provoking musings in the marketplace and were thus termed ‘’Tribesmen.’’ Athens was filled with them at the time. One could easily espy, then, Spartans, Persians, Corinthians, Macedonians, Helots, Minoans, and Phoenicians not only by their dress but by their colour of face. For elections to the Council, tribesmen voted for their own.
The third group in the Code was referred to as ‘’Citizens.’’ Citizens were educated persons who debated issues; who voted for representatives based on their knowledge of philosophy; who studied and practised agriculture; who respected God and family life; and who, in the long run, put Athens first in everything that they did. Of course, citizens were considered by the Council to be the most principled and highest echelons of the state, and all persons in the society, with encouragement from the state, aimed to join that educated group.
But Athens also had a secret fourth group in its Code. These were persons who the government felt were worse than the idiots, in that they undermined the society by trying to destroy its institutions. The leaders of Athens therefore ‘’ostracized’’ them. To be ‘’ostracized,’’ according to the Greeks, was to be banned from society. Indeed, Themistocles, who, it was said, tried to disrupt the smooth flow of the Council in Athens was ‘’ostracized;’’ he was imprisoned for a period of five to ten years. What was his crime? He was found guilty of giving money to people in Athens for reasons not approved by the Council.
Thus, in Athens, there were three groups of persons and a secret one that few historians speak about: the ostracized. On the contrary, how well do I remember my friends in Barbados, historian Trevor Marshall and public servant Vincent ‘’Buff’’ Burnett, telling me that Barbados has a name for the ostracized persons. ‘’In Barbados,’’ according to Trevor and Buff, ‘’we name and ostracize them openly for their ignorance, lack of education, racism, fraud, greed, their undercover moves to undermine the society, and their idolising of money. In Barbados, we call them Half o’ Idiots.’’ Indeed, ‘’go long you half o’ idiot’’ is a favourite, demeaning curseword of Barbadians.
Trinidadians and Tobagonians, therefore, have a splendid, historical template whereby we the people can study the pitfalls and challenges of a society that aims to bring into focus the democracy of our ancestors. When, then, Henry Ford said: ‘’History is more or less bunk,’’ indeed, he can certainly be classified as a ‘’Half o’ idiot.’’
Hollis ‘’Chalkdust’’ Liverpool, ORTT.