Archives for posts with tag: The Republic

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

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.

Karl Marx. The world is crooked – there is too much exploitation imposed by the haves upon the have-not’s – so it has to be righted by those who have the right answer to the problem. And because the world doesn’t know what’s good for it, the ‘enlightened’ – the communists who are at the forefront of the class struggle – have the duty to impose the revolution by force.
The crux of the ‘solution’ being the abolition of both private property and the state. The private property because it is the tool with which the haves dominate the have-not’s and the state because it is the tool used by the haves to protect their private property from the have-not’s who continuously try to steal it.
But what tool can be best used to enforce the dissolution of the private property and to insure that the misguided and the ill intended don’t revert to the ‘old and corrupt ways of the bourgeoisie’? The state, of course. Hence we’ll have to postpone a little its dissolution, only until the first chores would have been completed, of course.

Max Weber. The world is too complicated to be understood/run by a single man, no matter how capable. That’s why the decision making process must be rationalized. Weber’s main methodological tool was the ‘ideal type’, a mental construction that is to be substituted to replace the real problem that has to be solved or the real thing that is being studied. This ideal type being stripped of the ‘unimportant’ aspects of the reality will make it a lot easier for the ruler/decision maker/scientist to understand what is going on there and to come up with the ‘correct’ decision or ‘clear’ understanding of the matter. This means that Weber was convinced that individuals are able, in certain conditions, to reach valid conclusions. Which is, of course, OK. Furthermore Weber had ‘reached the conclusion’ that if larger problems are to be solved then the efforts of single individuals are not enough and that in order to fulfill this task in a satisfactory manner many rational decision makers (which have been properly trained in their strict domains) have to be inter-connected into a well structured ‘net’. This way the big problem will be sliced into more manageable sub-problems which will be analyzed by specialists and then the final solution will be re-assembled by people specially trained for exactly this task. Nowadays this entire concept is known as ‘bureaucracy‘. In theory it sounds right, doesn’t it? What could be better than an all encompassing net comprised of rational/professional decision makers who act according to a well considered and well intended ‘ideal type’? Whose ideal type? Good question, indeed. Just as good as ‘who and how trained the ‘decision makers’?’.
(There is something we must keep in mind when discussing Weber, as a person. He died relatively young, before having a chance to reach a ‘final conclusion’, or at least one to satisfy him. That also has to be the reason for which he hasn’t published much during his lifetime.)

Plato. Society (the city, the “Republic’) should be run by a specific kind of (dedicated) people and because “those with the philosopher’s natural abilities and with outstanding natures often get corrupted by a bad education and become outstandingly bad” this ‘special kind of people’ need to receive “the proper kind of education“. Meaning that ‘a true philosopher’ has to be versed in ‘the Forms of Good’, which are amply explained in ‘The Cave Allegory’.
The gist of the matter is two layered.
1. The reality is hidden behind some ‘veils’ (or in ‘shadows’ if you prefer the original metaphor) but properly trained professionals (the philosophers) can be taught to see what Plato describes as ‘the ultimate truth’.
2. These professional truth seekers have not only the right to lead the rest of the people ‘into the light’ but the obligation to do so! Furthermore, for Plato the ‘ideal political structure’ – the Republic – would be so organized as to ‘force’ into public duty those who have been specially ‘bred and trained’ to perform such duty:
“Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the cave, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.”

I believe that by now you have grasped where I’m headed to. There is not much difference between Marx and Plato and a very close relationship between these two and Weber. Still, the fact that Weber was not yet done thinking about this matter at the moment of his untimely death makes me believe that if he had some more time at his disposal he would have understood what Laozi taught us about the concept of “nonaction”:

And isn’t it very strange that the best (short) presentation I was able to find about Laozi is hosted by a site called “Plato.Stanford.edu”?

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/
http://www.academia.edu/4192854/Weber_s_methodology_understanding_concept_of_ideal_type_as_necessary_element_of_Weberian_comprehensive_sociology_Working_paper_
http://www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/weber12.html

http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/laozi/
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

Image

Our admiration for Plato speaks volumes about who we are and about where we are on the historical ladder.

Toward the end of the astonishing period of Athenian creativity that furnished Western civilization with the greater part of its intellectual, artistic, and political wealth, Plato wrote The Republic, his discussion of the nature and meaning of justice and of the ideal state and its ruler.”

What had happened, back then, was that Athens had invented a certain kind of democracy (based on ample opportunities and relative abundance) and, using that political system, had build a very successful society.

In time, the system became perverted – mainly because pampered people loose their edge – and its future demise started to become apparent for the open minded thinkers. Among them, Socrates was one of the most vocal critics and had payed dearly for not keeping his mouth shut.

We should remember now, if we are to believe Plato’s words, that ‘the Republic’ is nothing but the faithful reproduction of an actual conversation. Socrates own thinking, in spirit and in words.

Let me take a break at this moment and remind you two things:

1. Rome, which had also started as a democracy, at some point had conquered the entire Greece – including Athens, discovered the works of Plato, admired them and, a little later, its political system also degenerated into authoritarianism and eventually failed miserably.

2. Western Europe had forgotten about Plato for more than a millennium and rediscovered him because the Arabs had preserved his work. Moreover until recently  only specialized scholars had any idea about who Plato was…

Back to the ruling process…

I’ll assume the translation was faithful and Plato really meant ‘rule’ as opposed to ‘govern’, ‘impose your own will upon the community’ instead of ‘putting in practice the will of the people’…

Now let me remind you that no matter how wise a ruler and how proficient a builder Pericles was, his reign ended the epoch of grandeur for Athens. After that, the great city had experienced a 2000 years decline…And here are some other interesting thoughts about that era: “There is no little irony in the fact that one of the things we most admire in the ancient Greeks is their love of freedom – and yet one of the chief manifestations of that love was their constant striving to control in some way the futures of their neighbors.” (Robin Waterfield, Athens, a History…)

So what was Plato really trying to say?

“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

Well, I have no way of knowing exactly what went through his head when he was writing this but I can infer a thing or two from his words:

– He was speaking about an epoch were bona fide democracy was no longer the prevailing political system. Not only that he used ‘rule’ instead of ‘govern’ but, according to the written texts which have survived, the public offices were up for grabs and the ‘important’ person itself was the one to decide whether to ‘rule’ or to govern.

– People were rather arrogant at that time… who’s job was to decide who was ‘above’ and who was ‘below’? How come am “I” so sure that “I” am the most qualified (superior) to rule and that everybody else is/should be considered my inferior?

Then what made Athens, and then Rome, fall from the pinnacles where they had managed to climb while they governed themselves as democracies?

As for Plato maintaining that all he did was to ‘faithfully’ record Socrates’ words… allow me to have some doubts.

Socrates was asked to kill himself because of his teachings – ‘you should learn to think with your own head’ – were perceived, by the powerful-s of the day, as being dangerous for the younger generations.

Was it be possible that the same thinker might have uttered, as Plato pretended:

[Socrates]Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.

[Glaucon] What do you mean?

[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.

[Glaucon] But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?

[Socrates] You have again forgotten, my friend, 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.

There is absolutely no difference between this line of thinking and that which was taught by Marx to his followers:

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.

The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.

They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism.

What we have here is nothing but two examples of extreme arrogance.

Both posit that ‘I (disguised as ‘the thinkers’/’communists’) know better than all of you so you’d better obey me. Or else.’

For both the State is instrument of oppression, not the expression of the free will of its inhabitants.

I refuse to accept that Socrates actually thought like that.

On the other hand Plato wrote his Republic during Pericles’ reign and Aristotle, Plato’s favorite pupil, was the teacher of Alexander the Great.
And no matter how many exploits Alexander had ‘committed’, we shouldn’t forget that he was nothing but yet another ruthless dictator. More successful than most but still a dictator. Same thing for Pericles. He was indeed a great builder and administrator but his reign marked the end of the Athenian democracy. Very soon after him the entire Greece had lost her independence and political significance.

All that was left was the Greek culture. The habit of thinking with one’s own head. Socrates’ legacy, not Plato’s.

PS.

Now what if Plato had written his dialogs as a warning rather than as a set of guidelines? ‘This will happen’ – historical facts were already clear enough, ‘if you do such and such things’.

It’s up to us, his readers, to choose what we consider to be the proper interpretation!

Which reminds me of the diehard Marxists who still believe ‘the bearded one’ was right and that his ideas had been badly put in practice by the likes of Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ceausescu…

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