On Plato’s Republic and Just Societies

I see Plato’s book, Republic, as logic-based epistemology applied to political philosophy. Anyway, that would be my claim in my undergraduate Philosophy 101 essay on Plato.

The conceptual range of “logic” and “epistemology” and “politics” in Plato’s Republic is that of a sophisticated and prosperous well-educated aristocrat of late 5th Century and early 4th Century BCE Athenian-Greek society. That conceptual range is free of prehistoric animism, and Asiatic and Celtic mysticism; it is solidly materialistic and absent any “depth psychology” of the type that would be popularized by Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung (the psychology of the “unconscious”). That conceptual range is also absent any qualms about hierarchical society structured on hereditarily-conferred class-based social status and functional roles, and which includes slavery.

So it is easy to see Plato’s Republic as the stone at the center of the plump fruit that is Western Philosophy with its inner flesh of Christian mythology and irrationality — which appropriated, subsumed, reformulated and blended prior pagan myths and mysticisms to serve the needs of temporal political hierarchy — its middle layer of Renaissance and Enlightenment rationalism, and with its outer flesh and skin covering as later envelopments by early 19th Century Romanticism — emotionalism — and late 19th Century Nietzschean anti-religious intellectualism, Freudian-Jungian depth psychology as a substitute for discredited and discarded Christian metaphysics, and the proletarian-socialist consciousness engendered by industrialization.

As 20th and 21st Century individuals, parts of each of us live in various prior periods of the development of Western Consciousness, depending on the particulars of the arcs of our personal psychological, family, ethnic, cultural, educational, economic and political situations.

The slow inter-bleeding of Eastern and Western Thought, at least since the 19th century, has somewhat diluted both, more fundamentally in the East that has become quite enthusiastically capitalist since the 20th Century, than in the West that has added a minor flavoring of Eastern philosophy into the self-absorbed and self-indulgent aspects of its materialistic consumerist obsessiveness.

In his book, Republic, Plato lays out his political philosophy for the establishment and maintenance of a stable, well-ordered and just society. In his time societies were city-states, like Athens in the time of Socrates, Plato and Diogenes. The essential element of Plato’s scheme is the “guidance” of the city — “governing” is too strongly “micro-management” of a word — by a class of “guardians” who were carefully selected and trained from youth for the task, and who were wholly devoted to it for their lifetimes: basically philosopher-guru-priests.

However, I note that the viability of Plato’s political formulation for the construction and operation of just societies rests primarily on the incorruptible moral character of its central and guiding personnel, the guardians, and secondarily on the reasonably stable decency of behavior of the citizens: that is to say, their morality.

Please note that by “moral” I do not at all mean “religious”; there is no functional correlation between the two (and in my view more likely an anti-correlation).

At least since the end of the Neolithic, the idea developed that a stable, well-ordered society (whether just or unjust, but always to the liking of its rulers) could be established solely by political means, such as in: monarchies, parliamentary democracies, socialist and communists states (most pointedly those sharply Marxist materialist), and dictatorships (whether purely materialistic or theocratic).

By political I mean social arrangements for societal management that are constructions external to the individual person. Note that such political structures can include elements of physical compulsion on individual behavior, and elements of thought-control by indoctrination and propaganda to capture, shape and distort individual thought, and that such political structures will still be external to the individual as a moral being.

So, I do not believe it is possible to ensure the stable continuation of any momentarily just society, whatever its political structure, solely on the basis of the forced maintenance of that political structure, nor solely on the basis of a change of political structure whether that change is reformist or revolutionary. Justice as societal stability requires a taproot into incorruptible moral character by a majority of the citizens. Justice is good politics and good political structure, and is a natural outgrowth of good and intelligent morality, which in turn is individually personified as character.

Given the above, I believe that any social movement aiming to “permanently” evolve, reform or revolutionize a society in need of anything from improvement to drastic change in order to make it universally just, has to base its efforts on developing the moral character of its movement adherents and the mass of citizens it wishes to convince, for lifetime incorruptibility. Here, we have faith that a society with a majority of its citizens being of incorruptible moral character will ensure the continuation of such in succeeding generations, by the operation of its educational systems.

Of course any serious movement for social change will act politically whenever it can to counter existing injustices and respond to humanitarian emergencies. But it must never lose sight of its chronic fundamental task — instilling ethics — regardless of the frequency and variety of crisis flare-ups it reacts to during the daily spectacle.

Yes, this prescription for engineering permanent social change for the better is an idealization that may seem impossible to implement, as witnessed by the history of human civilization, but I think it is nevertheless true and has been the most powerful force that has helped bring about whatever degree of decency any of our human societies possesses today.

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On Just Societies

In his book, “Republic,” Plato lays out his political philosophy for the establishment and maintenance of a stable, well-ordered and just society. In his time societies were city-states, like Athens in the time of Socrates, Plato and Diogenes. The essential element of Plato’s scheme is the “guidance” of the city — “governing” is too strongly “micro-management” of a word — by a class of “guardians” who were carefully selected and trained from youth for the task, and who were wholly devoted to it for their lifetimes: basically philosopher-guru-priests.

However, I note that the viability of Plato’s political formulation for the construction and operation of just societies rests primarily on the incorruptible moral character of its central and guiding personnel, the guardians, and secondarily on the reasonably stable decency of behavior of the citizens: that is to say, their morality.

Please note that by “moral” I do not at all mean “religious”; there is no functional correlation between the two (and in my view more likely an anti-correlation).

At least since the end of the Neolithic, the idea developed that a stable, well-ordered society (whether just or unjust, but always to the liking of its rulers) could be established solely by political means, such as in: monarchies, parliamentary democracies, socialist and communists states (most pointedly those sharply Marxist materialist), and dictatorships (whether purely materialistic or theocratic).

By political I mean social arrangements for societal management that are constructions external to the individual person. Note that such political structures can include elements of physical compulsion on individual behavior, and elements of thought-control by indoctrination and propaganda to capture, shape and distort individual thought, and that such political structures will still be external to the individual as a moral being.

So, I do not believe it is possible to ensure the stable continuation of any momentarily just society, whatever its political structure, solely on the basis of the forced maintenance of that political structure, nor solely on the basis of a change of political structure whether that change is reformist or revolutionary. Justice as societal stability requires a taproot into incorruptible moral character by a majority of the citizens. Justice is good politics and good political structure, and is a natural outgrowth of good and intelligent morality, which in turn is individually personified as character.

Given the above, I believe that any social movement aiming to “permanently” evolve, reform or revolutionize a society in need of anything from improvement to drastic change in order to make it universally just, has to base its efforts on developing the moral character of its movement adherents and the mass of citizens it wishes to convince, for lifetime incorruptibility. Here, we have faith that a society with a majority of its citizens being of incorruptible moral character will ensure the continuation of such in succeeding generations, by the operation of its educational systems.

Of course any serious movement for social change will act politically whenever it can to counter existing injustices and respond to humanitarian emergencies. But it must never lose sight of its chronic fundamental task regardless of the frequency and variety of crisis flare-ups it reacts to during the daily spectacle.

Yes, this prescription for engineering permanent social change for the better is an idealization that may seem impossible to implement, as witnessed by the history of human civilization, but I think it is nevertheless true and has been the most powerful force that has helped bring about whatever degree of decency any of our human societies possesses today.

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For Americans, the 1950s began in 1947, as Gore Vidal bemoaningly told us, and collapsed in 1964 after June 21. The 1960s began on 1 January 1959, in Havana, and disappeared steadily from October 1973, vanishing completely by 1978. The 1970s erupted on 11 September 1973 and died on 4 November 1980, when the Collapse of American Civilization lurched downward into freefall, which it continues plunging to this day as our Neoliberal Dark Age. While it is still deeply submerged, scattered faint glimpses of the Next Age have broken through the pall of our Neoliberal Dark Age with increasing frequency since 17 September 2011. Whether that Post Fossil Capitalism Next Age is strangled in zeitgeist utero by neofascism, or withered in its infancy by global warming, or lives to emerge into the open and break free to flourish, is for the future to tell.

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Climate Change is like an enormous steamroller that is inching slowly but implacably along the open road of our projected expectations, to roll over and flatten our comfortable situations.

Since we are all “cemented in place” in those personal comfort situations, that steamroller is bit by bit squashing us: first ‘here’ then ‘there’; some by sea level rise; some by hurricanes razing all; some by wildfire; some by deepening and eternal heat and drought; some by waves of disease pathogens sprung from out of formerly deep recesses in the wild; some by the increasing withdrawal of food availability; and some by the infighting all this sparks among us and that causes casualties from our war with ourselves.

First we lose our illusions, then we lose our money, and finally we lose our lives.

Those who refuse to face reality and relinquish their illusions will cause the most damage to their fellow human beings, by being rabidly competitive, as they slide down the cascade of suffering longer and ever obsessed to the death with their unrelieved anxieties of avoiding losses and pain. Those who jettison their illusions and face reality will a least gain the comfort of finding the company of similar people.

Even as the steamroller inches forward toward us, for everyone “the future is uncertain, and the end is always near.” One can pin oneself to an obsession with “the end,” and its avoidance; or one can open oneself to an appreciation for the processes of life, and to the sharing of such appreciation.

Climate Change is now our great teacher, and its lessons range from stark terror to transcendence. We have no choice but to live out those lessons, but we do have some choice in which of those coming experiences we can aim our personal selves to.

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The Prospect of Death Concentrates the Mind Wonderfully to Socialism

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The Prospect of Death Concentrates the Mind Wonderfully to Socialism

Many people are now writing that COVID-19 has “awakened us” to the realization of how inhumane the entire economic paradigm of the U.S. is, and how structurally weak in its lack of diversification and rootedness in domestic assets (‘native species’), in the same way as vast fields of monoculture agriculture of genetically weak hybridized crops (for “high yield” and easy harvesting). Both the economic and plant monocultures can be devastated by disease germs finely targeted to those highly exposed monolithic weaknesses.

This sounds like an epidemiological Pearl Harbor argument: viral surprise attack on huge vulnerabilities we should have realized long ago, the eruption of fear that we were unknowably living in a house of cards that the surprise viral attack has caused to collapse around us. But in this case the falling cards of our once intact economic erection, though now so apparently flimsy in collapse, are nevertheless so massive as to easily crush us all in this ongoing demolition.

That previous image has become quite popular in the commentariat during the last few days. However, I think it is more of a cover for chagrin over having avoided acknowledging the truth previously. And that truth is simply that the U.S. economic paradigm has always been thoroughly inhumane, and a complete monoculture of capitalist obsession, with its least barbaric period extending from the Franklin Roosevelt Administration to the first half of the Jimmy Carter Administration.

During that milder interregnum the claws of American capitalism were clipped and rounded somewhat by the social programs softening the bitter disappointments Americans bore through the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War, and which social programs offered the prospects of greater popular comfort, entertainment and consumerist happiness, and somewhat assuaging the stresses and agonies of civil rights aspirations and the stings of the various wars of empire of the 1960s and 1970s, most notably in Vietnam.

I think that the years 1976-1977 was the time of peak American peace, popular prosperity, and general societal wellbeing; this was post-Nixon and pre-Reagan. In 1978 Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, steered Carter rightward away from his more humanitarian inclinations and towards Cold War vengeance and Vietnam War payback by suckering the Soviet Union (the Russians) into their Afghan War quagmire. With the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the U.S.A. in 1980, neoliberal economic and nationalist ideology came to dominate our paradigm, and capitalism’s claws were lengthened, sharpened and dug in much deeper into the tender flesh of civilization. That cruel regime has continued in the U.S. to the present.

So, there is no logical reason why it should now come as a surprise to any honest commentator that our economic paradigm is so structurally and operationally inhumane. You didn’t need COVID-19 to suddenly awaken you to this long evident fact. What has actually happened is that the entire pandemic crisis, even catastrophe, has made it impossible for anybody to hide themselves from the undeniable fully exposed truth of our economic and societal inhumanity. Any well-educated thinking person, like the members of the professional commentariat, can only feel somewhat embarrassed (the most decent ones would feel ashamed) at having consistently avoided stating the socio-political facts-of-life to their public audiences in the past, but of course that camouflaging avoidance was precisely what they were being paid to do.

And so, “the best and the brightest” were surprised by the appearance of COVID-19 to the structural weakness of inhumanity in our economic system, and we their grateful audiences are now instructed to be surprised as well. And this surprise leads perforce to fear: how else can we preserve our hierarchical system of rigged prosperity from destruction by pandemic economic collapse, than by implementing socialist financial relief measures of the Bernie Sanders and FDR type that we can’t allow ourselves to make permanent, since that would in itself be a collapse of our raw capitalist paradigm into redistributive socialism.

Notice, that of ideological necessity the “surprise” leads to the realization of a needed socialist correction as a “fear,” because the inhumane truth was always out there in plain view, and the recognition of that truth at any time could have been the source of great joy: we don’t have to suffer, we can change this now!

It is easy to see the personification of this ideological duel in the persons of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of an essentially unified presidential campaign championing the preservation of the neoliberal paradigm (“surprise” by COVID-19 and “fear” of chronic socialism); and presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders and his many young acolytes, who champion the socialist correction of the long-standing — and by Sanders long recognized and decried — economic inhumanities.

COVID-19 is only authentically a surprise in the sense that any new infection is a surprise to a person who finds themselves suddenly miserably ill, and the societies that find themselves infused with new runaway contagion. But the long-known truth is that such diseases erupt periodically, inconveniently, and with damaging and deadly consequences, so any humane economic paradigm must include persistent scientific efforts to anticipate, prepare for and effectively respond to epidemics. Obviously, this is (or would be) a socialist element of any government and international association of governments.

Surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the economic frailties of our capitalist economies is really fear by the capitalist elite, and their fake-tough toady flunkies, that socialism will be seen by the masses as the obvious best format for the economic paradigm going forward, because it is the self-evident solution to the immediate problem of preserving society from collapse because of the onslaught of an uncountable number of teeny tiny viruses, each perhaps only tens to hundreds of nanometers in extent, but with embedded programming for eating away your lungs.

According to Boswell, Samuel Johnson said: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” And so with us, the people of Planet Earth in the year 2020, the possibility of death by highly contagious viral disease overrunning the world has wonderfully concentrated our minds on a sought-for safe harbor for protection and salvation, and — surprise! — that safe harbor is socialism. What happens beyond this point is entirely a reflection of our individual and collective moral characters.

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