The Swiftian ghosting of Socrates

Dear Mariah,

At this point in Plato’s Republic Socrates starts designing this imaginary community or commonwealth which I guess is supposed to be a utopia of sorts or at least it is off the top of their heads the best they can do with Glaucon’s insistence that this community have tables and chairs and therefore courtesans and cow sellers and war.

They then start constructing this society in earnest and this was kind of the point in the book where I wasn’t so excited about Plato anymore because the first thing he does is censor art and poetry and music and literature: folks in our society should not even read Homer, for if the folks in our community are exposed to stories of gods behaving immorally, killing each other and taking revenge, that could never set a good example!

In his Socratic irony he will pretend be ignorant of things that he does know and without justifying his statements in any way he will pretend things are absolutely evident which really are not so evident at all, and when Socrates even for a moment pretends to believe something, everyone demurs to his wisdom: yes Socrates, of course Socrates, because you said so it could not be any other way, Socrates!

I think all these political suggestions Plato is making are not meant to be taken literally and part of my defence of that position is how little justification Socrates actually makes as far as why our society should be created in precisely this way.

Normally Socrates asks a whole lot of questions and he would not let a position stand without justifying it through a lot of questions but here he almost takes over the project and dictates what the commonwealth will look like without much of Glaucon’s input at all. Maybe Socrates was fed up with his penchant for the kind of luxury that leads to cow sellers so he decided from this point on to take over the project himself.

In any case it seems to me the point was not, this is what society should look like, or else Socrates would have slowed down and thought more about exactly why we are designing our society this way and why it is preferable to any other way it might be done. He does not, and it is never really suggested that the point is to design actual utopia (except through our waking up to contact with the Forms), or if it is, there is not nearly enough defense of why Socrates’ utopia which bans Honmer is preferable to the countless other possible societies that do not! Surely taking away the foundations of Greek culture like this, in what was still surely a Greek world, would requirecsome ither justification along the lines if why no other world that preserved the Great poets was possible.

I think the project here could be taken at face value for what Socrates says it is: not an attempt to justify a particular government or social structure or utopia, but an experiment in imagination for the purpose of exploring how justice and injustice emerge. Socrates is just coming up with a social structure that he thinks will work best to aid in the exploration and for Socrates what works best is often full of humour!

Since, thanks to Glaucon’s insistence in luxury, we are going to inevitably need space for cows and therefore war, they pretty quickly agree that our society will need a sort of warrior or guardian (later called auxiliary) class and of course we are going to nurture them from birth to be the best guardians of society. They must be exposed to good and not evil so we must do away with the foundatuons of Greek culture as they now stand. On the surface Plato’s imagined society now very quickly starts to look like a system of censorship and gatekeeping! But would Plato really advocate for the censorship of Homer? He makes a joke to the effect of, well, Glaucon, your insistance on luxury created an unhealthy society but I think we are starting to weed out the unhealthy bits with our censorship!

I think most people today would take Plato literally about a lot of things he never meant to be literal ir rigid about. I feel like he was always getting at something deeper than the words he used. He wanted to open people’s spiritual eyes (and ears) to the Forms, which cannot be spoken of directly so much as pointed to again and again while the soul struggles out of the chains of the cave if shadows. The allegory of the cave was just one of the ways Plato tried to teach a process of awakening. He had a lot if different ways of describing it which right now is reminding me of how Ralph Metzer describes various metaphors for the unfolding of the soul in The Unfolding Self: Varieties of Transformative Experience.

I think a lot if the issues people have understanding Plato and Socrates are similar to the issues people have understanding me. After he has gone through all the censorship they decide to create a new myth for the people in their made-up Republic to believe: that they were moulded in the earth and are made of different kinds of metals. They decide to reform education and cut out anything that would keep these warrior guardians from acting justly in the best interest of the commonwealth.

Obviously there can be no Homer as this would be too likely to corrupt. One wonders what Socrates might think of The Simpsons. Socrates comes up with this idea that I take as a joke but that is also kind of brilliant in a way, to allow these kibds of stories, but the idea is to make access to them an initiation rite and to make access to such rites such that it required the sacrifice that few could afford or would be willing to give up. It is an interesting idea: what if most of today’s media were banned except in a mystery tradition?

So Socrates kind of ironically tells Glaucon something like, well, now that we have banned all forms of remotely interesting art and entertainment I think we can rest knowing we have cut out much of the unhealthy inflammation caused by your luxurious tables and chairs quite nicely! Then he tells Glaucon, I hardly know how to find the courage to express it, but this is what we’re going to do. We are going to try to convince the whole community that this whole process of education they went through all their lives for the sake of serving their community actually did not actually happen! We are going to try to convince them that actually the whole time they werevin the earth being moulded, that they are the earth’s children, some cast in gold, some in silver, and others in bronze and iron!

Now, would Plato. who, like Socrates, so valued truth, really think the perfect society (or the best we could do in a luxurious society at least) was one where absolutely everyone was deceived about their origins and where they came from and that it would be more good, just, and beautiful to gaslight everyone into believing their educations did not really happen? I do not think Plato is that kind of a guy and Socrates certainly did not drink Hemlock for nothing!

Plato’s seeming authoritarianism kind of disappointed me when I read it in philosophy classes and I guess I was like, this book isn’t as interesting as I thought it would be! This all felt so diametrically opposed to my own philosophical libertarianism. I couldn’t help still loving *Socrates himself* because he is just so funny. I so resonated with his way of teaching what he was trying to do: the energy and passion and enthusiasm to go deep and talk for hours with so many different people and to have the audacious confidence to believe that he could wake his community up to the good and beautiful and what really matters in living life?

I had this vision of being like Socrates, just talking to people who were excited to learn with me, getting excited together about learning and truth and love.. I wanted (and want) to get others truly excited about living in the universe and finding meaning in it through engaging in a real way with friends. If you are getting to the root if the most relevant questions about life with your friends how can you feel lonely? What if everyone started getting excited about not just talking but pursuing real truth with friends? Might emulating Socrates in certain ways be a path to a renewal of culture and consciousness and harmony and well-being in our society that is long overdue?

Now it feels so exhausting tobeven think about it because I can hardly say a single word and be heard and Dr. Calica et all bring to life Plato’s allegory of the cave for me: I only meant to cast light at the shadows and I am being poisoned for what, corrupting the youth or impiety to the gods or just for existing and daring to attempt to speak a glimmer if truth? Does Plato now cone back to Jung as we ask if it could perhaps be no mere coincidence that Dr. Calica, who looks and acts sooo must like a little Wicked Witch of the West, should be encountered, should trap me in a town called Glendale when I was dehydrated and needed water and that shevshould also have a namevresembling Kali? Does that synchronicity *mean* something and can we broaden philosophical and cultural thought to deeply engage such questions? I think they do and it is what I have been trying to say forever but when I say things no one hears me.

If Socrates were in my shoes he would be ghosted certainly by the end of each dislogue if not at the very beginning! Nothing he was trying to say, to teach, to offer, to draw out if his friends and companions, would have been heard whatsoever at all if everyone were judging him before he opened his mouth; I mean, where would the Republic be if Glaucon ghosted Socrates after suggesting that kind if a censorship state that would even ban Homer! If you don’t stay with Socrates a little while you are not going to hear a single thing he is saying because his truth cannot be contained in individual statements and propositions like the idea if banning Homer. Might Plato actually be a bit or a lot if a Swiftian satirist? In fact would ancient Greece not be the perfect place for that kind of satire in so many ways? In this post-book banning scene where we now create new stories and myths for our citizens, Socrates suggests bringing up our citizens with the perfectly cultivated curriculum for what we are taking to be our perfectly cultivated rulers in this community we are cultuvating in our imaginations.

One striking thing about how Plato’s Socrates constructs this imagined society is that once they start imagining it there is very little rationale or justification for why this, of all possible societies we might create, is the one we are creating? As far as I can see the point was not so much to create a perfect utopia that necessarily represent his actual politics but I think that mist be how it is often read. Would Plato put on an invisible ring and ban Homer and Aeschylus and all the greats? Would he, if he were to come into power visibly and ethically, seek to cancel Homer? I think most of these things he proposes are not actually things he would ever suggest if he were in politics: would he ever want to do anything even resembling his idea of giving everyone the perfectly censored and cultivated Orwellian education and then gaslighting them into believing their whole life and education never actually happened while implanting them with new creating myths that at least to me sound like an intentional lie? That sounds like The Matrix.

It sounds obvious satire to me, that Socrates would seek to deceive an entire population into thinking things that were not true, the exact opposite of what one of Plato’s most famous stories, the allegory of the cave, was intended to do? That sounds more like leaving them in the dark then showing them the beauty of purevforms! So deceived how could they ever perceive the Forms at all? Plato’s thought originated in his desire to get involved in Athenian politics but corrupt leaders had taken over and the Athens of old became a very different place. He says there was not much he could do for justice without friends and allies supporting him in the cause and that kind of environment made it hard to find any friends. He met Socrates, though, and became a philosopher, but politics is still core to everything he is trying to do. It is not his fate to hold political office directly in such an unjust Athens; thus the spiritual activism of his teachings on Form.

Now I wonder what would happen if Socrates were born in an environment where instead of being respected and listened to with friends who might stay with him through morning he was assumed to be in need of cow sellers? If Socrates were ghosted that much how could he have ever done what he meant to do? He wouldn’t have been famous. They might have given him the hemlock anyway…



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