Archives for posts with tag: Plato

Hunters and growers.

Then fighters, doers and rulers.

Now, doers and ‘commentators’.

Some people actually do something – be it ‘fighting’, producing something or being involved in government, while other just ‘speak’. OK, their ‘speech’ does have consequences.
So we might say they also ‘do’ something… yes, true enough, only their deed is more than indirect. And no, teachers don’t belong here. Nor ‘actors’. Or even writers. All these people might do nothing but ‘speak’ only they produce something through their speech. Education, show, literature…
‘Commentators’ is very straightforward. Even more straightforward is ‘talking heads’. But ‘talking heads’ isn’t wide enough!

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it. ” Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

We all know the consequences of people following Marx’s advice…
But what could have gone wrong? Weren’t philosophers supposed to be the brightest amongst us?
Wasn’t Plato – the founder of Western philosophy, advocating the very same thing? That society should be run by specially trained philosopher kings?

Let’s go back to the original division of work.
Not all people have become farmers. There still are a lot of humans who survive as hunter-gatherers. Some don’t need to bother – there’s enough food to be gathered where they live , while others couldn’t possibly farm anything. The Inuits, for instance.
Among the farmers, there’s further division. Some farm plants while others farm animals. Because of the specifics of local soil, geography…
Also, farmers need tools. Hence wood workers, metal workers, weavers… etc.
The farmers need protection. Hence soldiers.
Society, as a whole, needs organizing. Hence government.

Let me pause for a moment. These arrangements work simply because they are more efficient than each individual providing everything they need for their own survival.
The soldier protects so the farmer might plow in peace. Some farmers use better plows because of the woodworkers and the metal workers who have cooperated to produce it. The farmers with the better plows produce more than those who use a rudimentary one, built by themselves. And so on. But please remember that each of these people have a first hand experience in their domain of expertise. And that their livelihood depends directly on their expertise.

Now, the next level of analysis shows us that organized societies fare better than those who lack any ‘structure’. ‘Fare better’ in no other sense than having a better chance of survival, as a social organism.
Nota Bene! While an Inuit – or an Inuit family, has a far better chance to survive in the Arctic than you and me, we, together, have a better chance at surviving – and even thriving, anywhere on the planet. Including in the Arctic. But only as long as we act as an organism. Only as long as we cooperate among us.

And whose job is to organize this cooperation?
The government and the ‘commentators’, who else…
The government to act as a referee – to prevent the rogue among us from ruining the game, and the ‘commentators’ to convince us that behaving is a lot better than mis-behaving.

Yeah… only this is nothing more than an ideal… seldom maintained for long…
Usually, the ‘government’ becomes too powerful, the ‘commentators’ convince us – both ‘government’ and general public, that this is how it should be… tensions build up… and something snaps!

And the problem becomes even more acute when the ‘commentator’ pretends to become king. Pretends to have the ultimate truth. Pretends to be obeyed. Convinces us – this being his only skill, to obey him.

This being the moment for us to remember that the commentators have only indirect knowledge about the world. While each of the doers has at least some first hand experience about something, the commentators have nothing but second hand expertise. Everything they know, they know it because somebody has told them so. Or because they have read about it somewhere.
The commentators’ vision might be far wider than that of the doers but it is at least ‘once removed’ from the reality.

And this is the reason for which societies who have used Marx as their spiritual leader have failed. They have not respected the main principle which makes division of work function properly. Let those who know about it make it their job.
Let the doers do and let the commentators gather and aggregate knowledge.

Don’t mess up things.

The relatively flat layout of most parliamentary chambers has induced in us the idea that society is linear. From left to right and backwards.
Also, the current almost ubiquitous existence of parliaments drove us to forget that until recently – historically speaking, of course, most societies have been punctiform. The sovereign king was the only one able/entitled to make any significant decision…

Meanwhile we are told by the political scientists that long term political stability can be achieved only through ‘checks and balances’. Meaning that the state has to be organized in such a way that nobody can get amass too much power.
Actually most modern states have an executive, a legislative body and a judiciary. Each of them performing their specific tasks while keeping a jealous eye on the other two.

The problem with long term political stability being that it is a very abstract goal while most people just want to be happy. And are willing to go at considerable lengths in order to achieve their goals….

And it’s exactly here where ideologues start to argue among themselves

Some say that the individual is sacrosanct. That individual freedom is the most important value that is and the most fundamental ‘human right’.
Others say that society is more important than any individual. That all individuals should put themselves at the service of the society and that individual liberty pales when confronted with social necessity.
And a third category consider that democracy is a waste of time and of opportunity. That the best for any society is that a capable person/group of persons to be given absolute power over it. The rationale being that ‘the capable’ will take good care of their ‘property’. A far better kind of care than any group of bickering politicians would ever be able to offer….

On the practical side, those preoccupied with ‘freedom’ consider that the main duty of the state is to preserve/protect individual liberty. That people, once free, will know how to achieve their personal happiness.
The socially minded consider that individual happiness cannot exist before/outside the well being of the entire society. Hence the ‘rational citizen’ has to postpone (read forget) any personal goals and sublimate their own persona into the society.
‘The more capable than the rest’ consider that the ‘incapable’ cannot be trusted with defining their own goals and have to be told what to do. For their own good!

It is very easy to observe that none of the three ‘ideal types’ described above doesn’t work on its own. That each have been experimented and found to be ‘unpractical’, to say the least.

Individual absolute freedom exists. The Saan living in the Kalahari desert and the  Baka in the Cameroon don’t have any formal rules, no social hierarchy and are absolutely free to do as they please. Both have been easily overcome, their habitat is being encroached/destroyed by their ‘neighbors’ and have been able to survive only by going further and further away from anything.
Socially minded people have, time and time again, congregated. Only to witness their communities dissolve or develop malignantly. From the early christian settlements to the XiX-th century phalansters.
The ‘know better’ is, apparently at least, the most successful arrangement. All kingdoms and empires have been organized according to this principle.
And all of them eventually failed. Even Plato’s idea of ‘king priests’ has led to Alexander the Great’s ultimately disastrous campaign into the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that the erstwhile mighty Athens had fallen into anonymity just after starting to be governed by specially trained rulers.

Since the pure ideal types didn’t work, let’s see what we get if we combine them.

Since I’ve been experimenting it for the first 30 years of my life, I’ll start with the result of crossing ‘social minded’ with ‘know better’. Does ‘communism’ ring any bells with you?
Let’s cross ‘liberty’ with ‘know better’. Actually this has already been done. It was about liberty for those who knew better… Nazism, and its newer variants, are the first examples which come to mind.
And the most interesting result comes from crossing freedom with social minded. This has also been experimented. In the democratic Ancient Athens and in during the truly Republican phase of the Roman Empire. The same combination was used by the vikings and somehow perpetuated to this day. Its offshoots being the western style democracy.

Which democracy – just like the Roman Empire, will survive for only as long as it will conserve both individual freedom and social mindedness while allowing, but only when needed, the ‘know better’ to take over for the short periods of time when their presence at the helm is absolutely necessary.

Authoritarianism, of all ‘flavors’, depends on the ‘father figure’ being absolutely convinced that he is well above the rest. And it is this height which enables him to despise the rest, to the tune of not caring, at all, about how they feel about things.

‘I’m calling the shots, because I can, and the rest of you would better suck it up!’

Democracy, on the other hand, depends on people relying on each other. Enough of them are convinced that none of them is above error. Regardless of their ideological convictions, people who are convinced that democracy works are willing to accept advice from their peers. Or, at least, they listen carefully to what their peers have to say about issues.

The key word here being ‘peers’.

Nobody pays real attention to ideas coming from below or from above. If from below, that idea has to be almost obvious to pass the filter while everything coming from above is interpreted as an order. And executed if there’s no alternative or stalled/ignored whenever possible.

Both authoritarianism and democracy have proved themselves useful.

No war has ever been won by a democratically led army and no authoritarian regime has ever resisted for long. Meanwhile no democracy has ever crumbled as long as it has retained enough of its democratic spirit.
Yes, there are many examples of democracies becoming corrupted and eventually failing. Only this had happened after the democratic spirit had vanished into the smoke of ‘politics’.

Let me remind you that Alexandre the Great, one of the most admired generals and state-men of the world, was educated by Aristotle. Who was the favorite pupil of Plato. The esteemed philosopher who had invented the concept of ‘priest-kings’ – specially educated individuals who were meant to rule the rest.
Needless to add that Plato had witnessed Pericles simultaneously building the Parthenon and burying the Athenian democracy.
While Aristotle (384-322 BC) had lived long enough to witness his pupil conquering the entire ‘civilized world’ and dying an abject drunkard.
Greece, one of the places which had nurtured an enormously important part of the human culture, never fully recovered from the consequences of Plato’s ideas being put in practice.

Are we going down the same chute?
Is this the proper manner in which to engage those ‘on the other side of the isle’?

giving birth to a democrat

Are you done laughing?

It isn’t funny?

Well, it wasn’t meant to be funny… only illustrative for the way in which some people understand freedom… ‘they’ being free to impose their will upon others while all the rest are free to obey. Or else.

My point being that freedom is nothing more and nothing less than what we make of it.

In order to make myself understood I have to mention that there are two kinds of liberty and that, historically, there have been two only apparently conflicting visions on whether freedom is real or not.

Freedom, like most things human, is both a concept and a reality.
We think about it, hence it is relatively simple to accept ‘freedom as a human concept’.
If you find it hard to accept that liberty is also real… when was the last time you took a dog to a park where you can unleash it? To a meadow where it can run its heart out without you being afraid of the city warden? And no, I’m not thinking about the joy experienced by the dog…

We have ‘internal’ freedom – the manner in which each of us relates, in their heads, with the concept, and ‘social’ freedom – the vectorial sum of all that the members of a certain society put in practice about freedom.
It’s a matter of ‘obvious evidence’ that these two may swirl in two directions.
Form a virtuous circle – the natural evolution of humankind, from slavery to feudalism to democratic capitalism, sometimes interrupted by ‘vicious’ epicycles –  the last two being fascism and communism.

Before discussing whether liberty is real or just an illusion let me poke another wasp nest.
How big is this thing we call ‘freedom’?
How big can this ‘vectorial sum’ be?

Infinite? Nobody can live that long, anyway…

Then where does it stop? At the ‘tip of our collective nose’?
It’s up to us to decide? Through constant negotiation? Always keeping in mind that all ‘imperial’ endeavors have failed, sooner or later? That no human being has ever been able to survive alone for any considerable length of time, let alone to grow up by him/herself?

Communism and fascism being only the last two examples of what happens when too many of us forget the most important lesson history teaches us?

One more thing. I still owe you an explanation about why I consider the conflict between the ‘promoters’ and  ‘deniers’ of liberty to be a false one.
Currently, most people agree – even if most of them only implicitly, about ‘your liberty to swing your fist ending where my nose begins’.
From time to time various ‘hot headed’ individuals have contested this.
Either philosophically – Nietzsche, Marx, or practically – Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol-Pot…
The most interesting aspect of all this being that there still are ‘philosophers’ (?!?) who continue to argue one side of the argument against the immense historical evidence which keeps growing. Not only ‘against’ the immense… but also producing fresh pretexts for the ‘willing practitioners’ to try for yet another time. And to continue to increase the mountain of evidence…

‘But what are the arguments marshaled by the ‘freedom deniers’?
What if they are right, after all, only the ‘practitioners’ have not yet been able to ‘do it right’? You, of all others’ – that would be me, ‘should remember that “Critics of early steam-spewing locomotives, for example, thought “that women’s bodies were not designed to go at 50 miles an hour,” and worried that “[female passengers’] uteruses would fly out of [their] bodies as they were accelerated to that speed”!
And, even more importantly, who are you to tell us that freedom is real?’

OK.
As I mentioned before, there are two categories of deniers.
‘Relative’ and ‘absolute’ deniers. The ‘Nietzsche-s’ and the ‘Marx-s’.
The ‘Nietzsche-s’ argue that freedom is up for grabs, that it can – no, actually that it should – be cornered by those having the strongest “will to power”. ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers’.
The ‘Marx-s’ argue that freedom is nothing but an illusion and that everybody must observe the implacable laws which derive from the world being made of nothing else but matter. Hence, according to Marx, the ‘communists’ – those who have understood the ‘scientific’ nature of the world/society, have the duty to take over the society and to take it, forcefully if needed, to its ‘scientifically’ determined destination.
‘Quite a Platonic vision of the world, don’t you think?’
‘Well… I’ve already covered this subject…’
Coming back to the apparent conflict between the promoters and the deniers of freedom, it is now rather simple to observe that ‘Marx’ is nothing but ‘Nietzsche’ dressed up in ‘scientific’ garb – don’t be fooled by the fact that Nietzsche was way younger than Marx, they had been kindred souls, while ‘Nietzsche’ had been a very focused ‘freedom fighter’ – focused exclusively on ‘his’ freedom, that is.

A petty conflict about ‘who has the bigger one’, hidden under pretentious make-up…

‘And were does all this leave us?’

At the conclusion that being free means, before and above anything else, being responsible?
For one’s own fate and for at least some of what’s going to happen in the (near) future?

 

Let me first clear up something.
I’m an engineer. Converted to sociology, indeed, but still an engineer.
So don’t expect any fancy wording or very sophisticated philosophical considerations!

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that we’ve just arrived on this planet. Just ‘you and me’, not ‘us humans’.
Being sent by some alien civilization to see what’s going on here.
Like we, ‘the civilized people’, study the natives still living in the Amazonian forest – minimum contact and so on, no intention what-so-ever to invade the territory or any other-way purposely intervene in the natural evolution of things.

I don’t know about you, but my report would be something like this:

The most interesting aspect of the planet is the manner in which the intelligent inhabitants have evolved.
Those living in a relatively small and isolated corner of the landmass have somehow developed the most consequential culture and then imposed some very important aspects of it on most of the rest.

Even more baffling is the fact that all major religions observed on this planet start from the same tenet.

the golden rule

The only thing which singles out those who had managed to impose their culture on most the rest being that they apply the rule in a ‘pro-active’ manner.
‘Do unto others what you wish others to do unto you’ versus ‘do not do unto others what you don’t like being done unto you’. ‘Normative’ versus ‘preemptive’.

– Why are you so baffled about any of this? The universal law of evolution maintains that things which are not suitable enough for the environment where they happen to exist will eventually disappear… Each culture produces a certain civilization – modifies the environment according to its wishes/as a consequence of its mistakes, and the other cultures have to adapt/evolve to the new situation… nothing new or peculiar here…

– Nothing new, indeed, except for the fact that while most of the cultures on this planet learned to ‘live and let live’ – “do not do unto others…”, while the two most successful ones have adopted the slightly but very consequentially different “do unto others…”, a.k.a. ‘who’s not like us is against us’….

– Is there any explanation for the most aggressive attitude being the most successful one?
Until now, at least… considering that the two cultures which share the ‘do unto others what you wish to be done unto you’ attitude seem to ‘have worked themselves up’ into a rather ‘confrontational situation’… both intra and inter culturally…

– The only putative explanation I can come up with for such a divergent evolution is that Plato, the seminal intellectual figure of the ‘doers’, taught his followers not only that the world is knowable but also that he who has reached a learned state must, forcefully if necessary, lead his peers to the ‘light’ he had found while the ‘significant others’ believe that the learned ones should speak out, at their discretion, only when somebody asks them to.

.

.

– One more thing.
The immediate consequence of Plato’s teachings was that Alexander – an emperor who was tutored by Plato’s eminent student, Aristotle, had conquered most of the then civilized world only to die, untimely, a drunkard’s death… intoxicated by booze, intoxicated by power… who cares?

Plato, without actually saying so, was planning to ‘kill’ it.
A society run by his king-priests would have been ‘perfect’. Hence in no need of improvement. Not exactly dead but how would you describe something that doesn’t change in time? Anything but alive, right? And since ‘no change’ means ‘no history’…

Four centuries later, Jesus Christ had warned us about the ‘Final Countdown‘. Last Judgement, sorry. But what difference does it make? Final… Last…

Fast forward to the XIXth century, when Karl Marx was breathing new life into Plato’s ideas.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.” (Karl Marx et al, Manifesto of the Communist Party),
Which very able and extremely wise communists were supposed to solve all past, present and future problems through a very simple measure. Abolition of private property and of the state needed to protect such property.
And since not everybody was yet ready to receive ‘the good news’, the communists were given a free hand to use revolutionary force in order to accomplish what they had to do.

To finally bring order to the World. To end history, that is.

Am I thick headed or the difference between Marx’s and Plato’s words is small enough to be insignificant?

You have again forgotten, my friend, said I, that the law is not concerned with the special happines of any class in the state, but is trying to produce this condition in the city as a whole, harmonizing and adapting the citizens to one another by persuasion and compulsion, and requiring them to impart to one another any benefit which they are severally able to bestow upon the community, and that it itself creates such men in the state, not that it may allow each to take what course pleases him, but with a view to using them to the binding together of the commonwealth.” (Plato, Collected Dialogues, The Cave)

A short century later, another optimist announced that ‘now, after the communist gulag had finally imploded, liberal democracy – a system flexible enough to absorb/solve any input/problem – will take over the entire planet. And, of course, bring over “The End of History” “.

Three decades later things are going on, as if nothing had happened.

There are still plenty rulers who behave as if “L’etat c’est moi” was coined yesterday and, even more sadly, too many people who look up to them.

The end of history has been postponed. Indefinitely.

 

This ‘lack’ of philosophers can be explained in two ways.

Nobody = among those with enough ‘brain power’ – cares enough any longer about finding the raison d’etre for which we toil on this Earth.

Not enough of the regular people find this subject interesting enough to keep alight the flame of the discussion.

The consequence being that freak ‘intellectual monsters’ have occupied the front stage and drive the ‘unsettled’ among us to utter insanity.

nuts

My take on the matter being that we live in a different world that we used to.
One where both the explanations mentioned above hold almost equal sway.

Thinkers do not touch the subject with the same vigor as a couple of centuries ago because knowledge has become vast enough so that very few people dare to look from one (putative) end to the other.
Commoners do not care much about the subject because they have become rather complacent. Day to day life no longer poses the same challenges as it used to, to the tune that most people, including the not so well of, do not feel such an ‘urgency’ about tomorrow as the one felt by our forefathers.

What we have is a total lack of workable ‘world visions’.

Usually in time of crises new ideas were presented to the public, some of them took roots, and the (local) world enjoyed a fresh start.

For instance when the Athenian democracy reached its crises point Plato came up with a whole concept that influenced the thinking of Europe for the next two and a half millennia.
I’m not going to discuss here the ups and downs of his teachings but the very fact that enough people followed them, and that his ideas survived for so long, means that there was something there. In the ‘cooperation’ between the philosopher and his followers.

The last inflection point happened sometimes in the XIX-ht and XX-ht centuries. Darwin, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx (the philosopher and the sociologist, not the political activist), Adam Smith, Durkheim, Max Weber, Einstein, Popper, Kuhn, Maturana…

Now?
Zilch!

Not that people do not think anymore.

Take Nicholas Nassim Taleb for instance. Or Jared Diamonds, Robert Prechter and Neagu Djuvara – to name but the first three who crossed my mind!
Yes, each of them had their relative moment of glory but not any near of what each of them really deserved!
Maybe because none of them had actually engaged in an all out effort to redefine human understanding on matters? Knowing that we are not yet ready to embark on a new project?

Have we become so lazy?

No, I cannot accept such a thing.
We’ll surely grow out of this. Fast!

 

Nietzsche was somewhat right only he went bonkers before he was able to shed some real light on what was going on.
The point is that God didn’t die on his own. We killed him. Twice. And while the first time we were capable to fix the situation now we seem incapable to ‘make the right thing’.

Let me explain myself.

I have no way of knowing if it was God that created us or not. That’s something for others to decide.
For me it’s enough that I see no evidence to support the first hypothesis except for some ‘testimonies’ provided by people with vested interests in the matter. I find those testimonies highly biased. Nor do I find any need for a Deus ex Machina kind of explanation for anything that exists in this Universe. Modern science has done a good enough job in explaining the world to me.
On the other hand the second hypothesis is absolutely impossible to demonstrate. So, why bother?

What I do know, for sure, is that at least one kind of God does exist. The one that has been created by us, people, a social representation whose existence stems directly from our mental relationship with Him – the One who supposedly created us.
The mere existence of this ‘virtual’ God had two very important consequences. It brought us democracy and it provided us with a coherent way of understanding the world – a common Weltanschauung in German terms.

I’ll make a short break here to elaborate a little. The common lore is that ‘God made us in his image’. This means that, basically, we are equals among ourselves – we’ve been all cast in the same mould, right? – and that each of us has a spark of divinity in him. Quite a heavy responsibility – being of a Godly nature – don’t you think? Hence the ‘do not kill/judge’ commandment. Who are we to play God towards other Gods?
Also partaking in the same Weltanschauung was what offered us the possibility to act as a community, to help each other. For a while at least but it was good while it lasted. After all none of us could have done much by himself.
In fact none of us is able to survive for long by himself, let alone thrive solitarily. Not even today, with all the modern technology that we now take for granted.

We gave birth to our first generation of Gods, made exactly into our image, good and bad together, during the Antiquity. The Greek, Roman and German Gods were our look alike-s and shared our unruly behavior. Some of them even occasionally shared our beds. Then, at some point, we got cocky and abandoned them. Our philosophers thought they knew better than that and that they could come up with comprehensive solutions all by themselves. That’s how absolute authoritarianism ended up having official blessing from the Academia while the adoration of Gods was left for the unsuspecting masses.
All hell broke loose from that moment. For some 6 centuries after Plato had wrote his Republic the Mediterranean Sea had been a string of empires toppling one another.

Until we came up with a different kind of God. One that first and foremost told us to stop quarreling – for we were all brothers – and start living in communion. Until we killed him also.

Not that we haven’t been forewarned. Pascal, the French mathematician, told us that it is completely irrational to reject the existence of God. If, in reality, God doesn’t exist the believer looses nothing and the non believer gains nothing – except for the lame satisfaction to be able to brag ‘I told you so’ after death. Conversely, if God does exist, then the believers are going to inherit the world while the non believers have dealt themselves the worst hand ever. Meanwhile, by living in a world structured by the presumed existence of God both believers and non believers enjoyed the two consequences I mentioned above – equality among people, even if only in theory, and the ability of doing things in concert, a lot more efficiently.

Now, that we’ve killed God for a second time – the murder described by Nietzsche – we’ve lost it again. Only this time we didn’t lose just the hypothetical after-life, we’re gradually transforming this one – the only life we have for sure – into a bloody nightmare.

And if you don’t believe me do as Lesek Kolakowski suggests.
“Let us simply compare the godless world of Diderot, Helvétius, and Feuerbach with that of Kafka, Camus, and Sartre. The collapse of Christianity that was so joyfully awaited by the Enlightenment took place almost simultaneously with the collapse of the Enlightenment itself. The new, shining order of anthropocentrism that was built up in place of the fallen God never came. What happened? Why was the fate of atheism in such a strange way tied to that of Christianity, so that the two enemies accompanied one another in their misfortune and in their insecurity?” (God in a godless time, 2003)

Now why can’t we make the small effort to understand what Pascal told us? Why is it so hard to understand that we are spoiling the beautiful life we might have if only we kept pretending that God existed and behaved accordingly?

Why is it so hard at least to fake some respect for those who happen to share the planet with us?
Fake respect is not as good as the genuine one, of course, but is a lot better than the huge amount of scorn that is publicly traded these days.
Even more important is that if we won’t have to use so much energy in maintaining a force field to protect us from being drenched in scorn we’ll may be able to imagine a better world than the one we currently have to deal with.
And, who knows, maybe we’ll have time to discover how beautiful we really are, inside our armors.

A new (representation of) God would be born this way.

god-is-dead

Lesek Kolakowski, God in a godless time, 2003, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2003/06/visions-of-eternity-7

This image constantly pops up all over Facebook.

And while the caption does harbor some truth it somehow completely misses the point.

So:

– Those who don’t study the history have all the chances to repeat it but only if they are just as callous as their ancestors.

– Those who do study the history and stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it have studied it in vain. They still haven’t got a clue about what really happened outside those books they’ve been reading. Had they learned a real understanding of what went on they would have been able, and willing, to explain it to their contemporaries and thus help them move forward, to a totally different set of mistakes waiting to be made.
Just as Plato (and Marx after him) thought of having found the absolute truth and did his best to lead his people to it …

But don’t despair. There is a safer way. To let things take their own course, to develop naturally. Just as Lao-Tzu taught us.

http://izquotes.com/quotes-pictures/quote-the-wicked-leader-is-he-who-the-people-despise-the-good-leader-is-he-who-the-people-revere-the-lao-tzu-188515.jpg

Karl Marx and Max Weber, two different pupils of Plato:

https://nicichiarasa.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/karl-marx-and-max-weber-two-different-pupils-of-plato/

Some of you might know that ‘ratio’ comes from Latin, where it’s original meaning was linked with the mental operation of dividing.
Yep, the first ‘rational’ thing made by man was resource allocation: how much food each member of the clan will get, according to a huge, and variable, set of criteria. I won’t get into details now.

My point is that we shouldn’t be bragging about how rational we are. At most we are ‘rationalize-rs’.

You see, for a decision to be perfectly rational it has to fulfill three criteria. The decision maker must:
– Have at his disposal all pertinent information regarding the entire situation under consideration,
– Be able to act in a completely unemotional way,
– Be in possession, and willing to use it to the maximum, of a brain not only in perfect working order but also able to process that huge amount of information in such a short time that nothing significant changes while the decision is being made.

So, which of you still thinks we are actual able of reaching actually rational decisions?

In reality we function in a completely different way.

From time to time an IDEA flashes in our heads. Again I won’t enter into details about how this outcome is influenced by our needs, emotions and previous experiences, for now I’ll just deal with what happens after that idea has already ‘sparked’.

Depending on a plethora of individual characteristics people differently when something like this happens to them.

Some shun it as if displaying any degree of originality was a mortal sin.
Some honestly and straightforwardly set to examine it as thoroughly as they can. They take into account as many information as they can muster about the subject and not only carefully balance costs against possible benefits but also try to determine as many stakeholders as possible and determine, to the best of their knowledge, whatever consequences might befall upon them if that idea is put into practice. And they proceed only after this entire process has been followed step by step.
Some take a different route after the cost analysis. If they reach the conclusion that the whole thing might prove to be profitable enough for them they start identifying who might object, for what ever reasons – no matter if valid or not – and thoroughly plan how to stifle the opposition.Some don’t even care about the costs. If they become, by any means considered to be proper by themselves, convinced that that particular idea has to be implemented then they will stop at nothing. They will employ all means at their disposal in order to put that idea into practice, no matter what those around them might feel, think or even suffer.

Please observe that the last three are all using their rational brain to the utmost. Yet only the second one might be described as reasonable, right?
Most of us are culturally conditioned to think about the third that he is a callous manipulator and about the fourth that he is an aggressive bastard. Right again, ain’t I?

Well, not so fast.
According to Plato the fourth is doing the right thing. ‘He who sees the light has not only the right but also the obligation to take the others with him towards that light’. (Plato’s Republic). One might think that this is a very dictatorial attitude that doesn’t, in any way, resemble Socrates’ manner of dealing with things – after all he was convicted exactly for teaching the young how to make their own decisions – but this is another discussion. Coming back to the manner advocated by Plato it is indeed extremely authoritarian – all dictators have followed it to the letter – but it is not altogether without merit. What should a doctor do when you are brought to his ER with a mangled leg? Wait for a couple of days for you to come about and decide if you’ll accept the amputation – while the already dead tissue poisons you beyond any therapeutic possibilities – or proceed with cutting away your limb and thus saving your life but assuming the risk that you’ll sue him for his last dollar?
According to the modern business practices the third guy is acting in a quite conventional way. Most of us agree that planned obsolescence is good thing – it provides a lot of jobs – doesn’t it? Well, I don’t, not on the scale we are using it anyway, but that again is another subject.
And now that we have reached the presumably respectable and the only reasonable ‘second decision maker’ I’ll just add some of George Bernard Show’s words on this matter:

the-reasonable-man-gbs

So it seems that there isn’t such a thing as an always valid manner of thinking, right? Things depend a lot more on our individual judgement than a lot of people feel comfortable with. Rational thinking isn’t at all that panacea some people believe it to be and in reality reason is nothing but a mental tool and the manner in which we use falls squarely in  our individual responsibility
That’s why Plato thought he was doing a service to his fellow citizens when he wrote: “I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.” Let me remind you that Plato was contemporary with the Golden Age of the ancient Greek civilization and with the last days of the Athenian democracy. I’m not going to pretend now that the demise of the Greek democracy  or the relative rapid decay of the Greek civilization after Pericles and its replacement by the Roman and Persian ones were influenced by Plato’s writings. No. In fact it’s all the way around. Plato had only witnessed and put in writing the attitudinal changes that affected the Athenian/Greek society and which eventually caused those developments.

And now that we have reached the subject of democracy here is why maintaining a democratic attitude is extremely important for the long time survival of a society. Real democracy means that a considerable part of the people pay active attention to what is happening to their lives and have the ‘constitutional’ possibility to intervene peacefully if they don’t like where their leaders take them. We have seen that we cannot depend, as Plato urges us to, on the wise guidance of a ‘specialist leader’ since there is no such thing as ‘perfectly rationality’ being attained by a man. A widely disseminated attitude of the general population is the only way in which individual mistakes made by the leaders are eventually acknowledged and fixed. Any other ‘political arrangement’ leads to these mistakes being rationalized away and their (disastrous) results constantly accumulating until the entire system collapses.

One other thing before I wrap this up. The first argument I made, that the first rational thing made by man was the rational allotment of food among the members of the clan, is also a rationalization. That’s how we, who like to believe about ourselves of being rational, think it must have happened. That the inhabitants of the temperate Europe were the most rational among the peoples of the Earth and that’s why they have reached such a dominant position as they used to enjoy until not so very long ago.
Sorry, it happened exactly the opposite way. Europeans, because of the harsh conditions they had to face – coupled with the relative abundant resources and a special geographical layout – they have developed a (relatively) rational way of thinking. It was this or else… just as Ernst Myer says: ‘evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit’. In order for us to develop ‘rational thinking’ we needed the very special environment to force us to do it.
We are any special – if at all – not because we are any different but because we had the good fortune of being born in the right place. OK, we made good use of that happy act of hazard but that’s all.

For those of you who want to read about how ‘mere’ geography decisively determine evolution I highly recommend Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel.

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