A Teacher, Not An Ally
Section I: Episode 38
May 28, 2015
Galavar had always thought of politics as its own separate thing, like gardening or sculpture. As far as he could tell there was no reason for it to exist, other than that some people must have enjoyed it. When he asked—and he often did, for he was an asking sort—the common rejoinder was that through politics did the people establish self-governance, yet Galavar had a hard time accepting that because the actual matter of governance had always been unobtrusive and straightforward: The best people, or at least demonstrably well-qualified ones, always got the job, and all the situational challenges tasked to them were resolved satisfactorily and in a timely manner.
"Yet people seem to have this perverse need to argue with one another about problems that already have solutions or aren't even real problems."
"Don't say seem to, Pupil."
"Huh?" Koro's correction caught him off-guard, and he opened an eye.
"You may as well declare that you imagine these things in your head, if the best you can do is say that they 'seem' to be."
It was one of her favorite corrections…and apparently one of Galavar's favorite mistakes.
"I only say it because I don't know for sure."
"But, Philosopher, then how are we supposed to express our uncertainty?"
"Do not make the claim in the first place—not even in your own mind, certainly not out loud."
"Then how are we supposed to proceed from ignorance to knowledge?"
"Being tentative in the face of uncertainty is a wisdom, Pupil. However, you were not being tentative. You were asserting a conclusion—one that you aren't prepared to defend." She peered into his open eye. "You must learn how to begin with a premise, not a conclusion. Restructure your criticism."
Galavar opened his other eye and stared down at the bare ground before his mat. He noticed that Koro didn't rebuke him for having his eyes open. She had been adamant about it when he first came to study under her. She always liked to have her pupils think with their eyes shut, but Galavar hated it, and one day he had told her that he preferred to think with his eyes open. Other students had made such objections, but generally she refused them. In his case, however, she had, if not eliminated, then at least reduced her requirement.
When Galavar went thinking he would indeed have his eyes open, but he wouldn't see the world before him. He would stare off into the distance, totally oblivious to his surroundings. He found it peaceful and gratifying, and such experiences comprised many of his favorite moments.
"In this village," he began, "we live ideal lives. We are nourished and sheltered from the womb to the grave. We are educated to the level of self-determination, and encouraged to use that self-determination to live our lives as we choose, within the eminently reasonable laws and customs of the Ieikili. Our infrastructure supports us satisfactorily in all that we do, and we add to it as needs be. Our social institutions facilitate our industry, arts, recreation, and socialization. Sickness is held in check, and treated with patience and decency. Poverty is impossible, crime is almost nonexistent, the population size is stable…and we have the patronage of the Greatest of the Gods. I am confident in making all of those assertions, at least."
"The White Tablers conduct our public discourse. Above them, our Stewards General preside over the matters of the administration. And above them, the Meriters maintain the List of Merits that guides the core tenets of our people. At the top is the River of Ignorance, who counsels and rules. You yourself, and my governance lector before you, taught me the basic arrangement of our government."
"It pleases me that you have remembered this basic arrangement, but do not wander needlessly in the recitation of uncontested facts. Come now to your premise."
"I mention these things to say that our government works well…yet everybody is arguing about whether to replace the River in the upcoming referendum."
"It upsets you."
"It isn't warranted. Jahvoy has done a good job. We all make mistakes."
"So it isn't really politics that upsets you, but the fact that the political process is potentially about to deliver an outcome you dislike."
"It's not about what I like or dislike. People are upset over nothing, and they're making a lot of noise that could easily lead to an outcome that isn't in our interest as a society."
Koro was quiet for a moment. She walked a few paces west, then a few back into the sunlight, and sat down on her mat. Only at great length did she finally rise again.
"No," she said surely. "People are not upset over nothing. Possibly the other part is true—that removing the River will not lead to better governance from that day forward—but that does not pertain to the purpose of the referendum.
"The significance of a mistake comes not only from the type of mistake, but from the magnitude of its consequence. If I dropped a biscuit and it landed on your foot, at the very worst the biscuit would shatter. But if I dropped an axe, it might cleave your entire foot away. The mistake is the same one, but the consequence isn't. As members of the Kindred, it is our responsibility to understand this before we act. An axe must be held more cautiously than a biscuit. Do you disagree?"
"The River of Ignorance is entrusted to make decisions on our behalf, but such power, Pupil, is more like an axe."
She continued, "The purpose of the referendum does not imply that our government has lost its way. It is to give the public the opportunity it deserves to answer the question of whether the River acted negligently that day, when he ordered the bell struck a second time, causing several people to die and causing trauma to many more.
"There is no accusation of malice. The River did not know what the outcome would be. If he had known, I think we can all agree he would have refrained from his action, or at least made worthier preparations.
"The question here, of whether the River acted negligently, is a difficult one. That is the source of the conviction and passion that now marks the public debate."
"It seems to me more that people are upset about the deaths and the injuries, and are acting out in the heat of anger and frustration."
"Do not say 'seems to.'"
"There is anger, and frustration." She touched his shoulder. "It can be difficult for a young mate with a bright but distant mind to understand the power of our Kindred ties. I think someday you will understand."
She released her touch, and stepped away.
"But that lesson is not mine to teach. For now, I can only ask you to accept that some people are deeply hurt by what has happened—by the loss itself, and the manner in which it occurred. If that colors the passion with which people engage in the debate, then we must trust them not to let it interfere with their logical judgment of the true question at hand. As you say, the Ieikili are an educated people."
"Do you prefer that Jahvoy be relieved?"
"A teacher's opinion is a dangerous thing in a school. You came to ask me to take your side and help you make a better statement at the public hearing, but that cannot be. What you are trying to do is commendable, Galavar. I think you should make your statement. But as for what help I can offer you, what you need from me is a teacher, not an ally."
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!