Thursday, February 03, 2005

Fun with Plato

I am still progressing through The Republic, although temporarily sidetracked somewhat by getting several Oz books from the library, but I'm only supposed to read them when I'm on the exercise bike. (I love taking walks. I hate riding the exercise bike. But the weather has been too cold for D1 to go out most days.)

I'm coming to a greater appreciation of why it's important to read all this ancient stuff. When you see the same errors repeated over and over in every century and every guise, you may start to get wise to them.

For all the title of the book being The Republic, and the purported topic being the defining of justice, Socrates offers almost no advice on what sort of laws his society will have. It's all about how those people will be trained and educated. If we just get the education right, everything else will take care of itself.

The same idea appears, in some form, in every vote-for-the-levy flyer sent out today. You would think after nearly 2500 years of believing education was the answer we might have lit upon the right sort of education to do it, but apparently not. Yet the faith continues.

But of course, to make sure people are educated correctly, you have to abolish the family. Otherwise people will wind up creating preferences for their own families, preserving old superstitions, and the women of the society will be distracted from whatever nobler tasks they are fit for. (For Socrates is quite modern in thinking women can do anything men can do, though not, perhaps, quite so modern in thinking they just can't possibly do it as well.)

Raised on his scheme, where no parent knows his own child, Socrates naturally expects these citizens to be purely public-minded guardians of the public interest. What they would be, raised without being permitted a lasting attachment to any particular human being, is sociopaths. Modern scientists have at last come to this conclusion by careful studies. Any mother could have told Socrates he was off his rocker in 400 B.C.

L. Frank Baum writes about a paradise rather like The Republic--but at least he has the humility to keep Oz a fairytale land powered by magic, not just philosophy. But whether it's Socrates or Baum, all utopian dreamers come down to this: People fight over X (families, religion, money). Therefore, if we can just remove X, people will cease to fight and all will be well.

The problem, as parents inevitably discover when they try to settle their children's disputes by these means, is that the problem is not in X, but in people's hearts. Take away what they're fighting over and they'll find something else to fight over. Indeed, take away families and religion and money--or tone down their influence--and you'll find you've removed most of the restraints that kept their fighting civilized.

It's by fighting and helping one's own brothers that one begins to get a glimpse into the brotherhood of man. It's by honestly believing in one's own religion that one can admire someone with whom one vigorously disagrees as a fellow-traveller in the search for truth. It's in search of earning money for one's self that one can work cooperatively with others for their good as well. All these things that people fight over are the very things that pull them together.

1 comment:

Amey said...

Thanks for your education posts! I enjoy reading them, especially since I haven't tackled Plato myself (not since college, anyway). So many people believe they know what would fix education in this country. As smart as the "education experts" are (after all, they're professionals!), things sure are a mess. I'm becoming more and more convinced also that the family is quite inconvenient for these professionals. If they can't get rid of the family all together, they at least want to marginalize it, and denigrate the families' intelligence and values.