Saturday, November 14, 2009

Some Socrates and some thoughts

This is from Plato's Theaetetus. I've had his complete works sitting on the mantle of the (non-working) fireplace right in front the rest just waiting for a free moment.

SOCRATES: The art of the greatest representatives of wisdom-the men called orators and lawyers [my note (and politicians)]. These men, I take it, use their art to produce conviction not by teaching people, but by making them judge whatever they themselves choose. Or do you think there are any teachers so clever that within the short time allowed by the clock they can teach adequately to people who were not eye-witnesses the truth of what happened to people who have been robbed or assaulted?
THEAETETUS: No, I don't think they possibly could; but they might be able to
persuade them.
SOCRATES: And by 'persuading them', you mean 'causing them to judge', don't you?

THEAETETUS: Of course.

SOCRATES: Then suppose a jury has been justly persuaded of some matter which only an eye-witness could know, and which cannot otherwise be known; suppose they come to their decision upon hearsay, forming a true judgment: then they have decided the case without knowledge, but, granted they did their job well, being correctly persuaded?

THEAETETUS: Yes, certainly.

SOCRATES: But, my dear lad, they couldn't have done that if true judgment is the same thing as knowledge; in that case the best juryman in the world couldn't form a correct judgment without knowledge. So it seems they must be different things.

Now assume this jury is the American people. And assume that the current structures are failing or, at the very, very least, not anywhere near approaching optimal, and that that becomes a kind of generational robbery, as those structures not only allow for substantial environmental degradation but also fail to prepare and educate the next generation to continue the systemic optimization project (the infinite chain of being [in which immortality is glimpsed perhaps]). Wouldn't it also be in the best immediate interests of those lawyers (as per the time limits of human life), who in reality do make up the largest percentage of professional politicians and have since the end of feudal times here in the Occident (an idea from Max Weber's Politics as a Vocation), wouldn't it be in their rational interests to try to persuade people and also to persuade people to persuade people to decide based on hearsay to continue to tacitly support a verdict that was incorrect in order to maintain the same Ouroborian cipher of the waxing and waning of the human irrationality of true self interest (an approach that will by it's very definition limit the movement towards true knowledge [objectivity {the true self in it's proper relation to the true other}]). The maintenance of that pendulum of flailing humanity is a great source of personal power and wealth for such demagogues (and one of the points Socrates makes in Gorgias is that even further, if the persuaders themselves are not experts in anything other than persuading, while they may be able to persuade, they are highly unlikely to actually know or have any real valid answers) but is just really the status quo of a world of exploitation, inequality, and ignorance for us all.

And really democracy doesn't work when the American people don't have true knowledge, or at least are moving in the direction of true knowledge. And when the structures of that society are encouraging those people to in fact simply make decisions without thinking, which, this thinking, it takes education (it's one helluva process learning how to think. I don't feel like I'm even halfway there myself) and cultural commitment to the core process of seeking out true knowledge. We need to find the social will to search out the political and economic truths, which we must seek and maybe find in the forests of philosophy.

The map of that forest is hidden in the human mind. And hopefully in that map is the key to unlocking continually deeper objectivity, moving closer to true knowledge and understanding. That's what education is all about. And our education system is failing. And our public education system is rapidly becoming the worst in the western world, even as our private education continues to be the best. And this inequality is a clear indicator of a friction in the fabric of the structure, and relieving that tension in the bio-psycho-social web through the instruments of society ( businesses, governments, schools, etc.) requires conscious attention and coordination. We cannot be stupid about these problems, and we cannot in reality ignore them or pretend they are otherwise. They will not go away just because we wish on a star and believe the con games of the pols or the media persuaders or the corprocrats or their cadres of lawyers.

Regardless of who's lying to whom (and I suspect that anyone lying to the world is then also lying to themselves in probably not totally conscious ways, and also anyone believing the lies then also was firstly lying to themselves about some other maybe seemingly unrelated problem), it's a reinforcing cycle of compulsions, apathy, and helplessnesses that keeps us as a people from our own heroic efforts in service of the goals of knowledge and the understanding of objective reality.

Or something. It might just be me on that one (that sentence originally read: I might just be me on that one. Which I thought was amusing [I might indeed]). I don't entirely know about the heroic part for myself (but, course, my own megalomania keeps hope alive). Just the attributes of numbness. A common response to the insanities of modernity; a thing for which the human animal may have been intended (it was our destiny, right?), but for which it was not entirely designed.

How much do we entrust to human redesign? In moral and political minefields of, really, what should be philosophical leading (as where the hell else do you go for true knowledge? Am I right? Can I get a hell ya' we need to let the philosophers come to the fore? They couldn't be any worse than the lawyers [Oh. Wait. We don't have any damn philosophers anymore, just really semanticists rehashing ancient esoteric arguments in the languages of more modern analytics {Ya get whatcha pay for, America}]), in those fields, if it was really not just formulated by an elite but truly publicly formulated (if the whole population had some basic level philosophic ability), if you did have those democratic formulations in more direct or participatory ways, as really the more people working on these problems the better, the better directed our social resources and the development of those social resources might just be. All the research points in that direction. The average of a larger population's estimate is more likely to be correct than any one single estimate. But without something approximating true knowledge for all, there can be no likely redesign.

Actualizing and transforming the structures, from the businesses, to the partnerships, to the corporations, to the political bodies, with knowledge that hews more towards objective truth (an absolutely illusive and possibly asymptotic ideal for sure), that's really the trick. And it's an outside the box kind of thing, because you really have to be able to see beyond the current structurality. To the potentiality of future structure. (Everybody, say it with me: OR SOMETHING.)

And this is why seeing Ann Coulter talk about Sarah Palin being a true or a real American makes me so upset (not really upset so much as sends me off on a tangent all week about how dangerous this particular dualistic concept is). Because the very principle of the constitutional democratic movement, this whole western thing (which has always been half hearted and imperial), is about more voices, more cultures, not homogenization but the hetrogenization of the democratizing force of expanded consciousness (more knowledge). That's what the great political philosophers have been talking about in essence. And it's what's going to give us our best shot at a bright and sunny future. And the divisive, demagogic language of enthnocentrism and us versus them duality is just gonna slow us down. It is and will always be unproductive. Even as it might be personally lucrative to trade on this reinforcement of small mindedness and narrowly defined interests (a call to put the blinders of bigotry and hatred back on [Give in to the dark side]).

Now, course, translating philosophy into action is surely difficult, but if ever the basic structures of what might be useful in that process were in place it would be in a bureaucratic and technocratic structure of both a public and private sector as currently formulated. The physical structures are quite close, although clearly our energy infrastructures are all ridiculously outmoded. One might say antiquated. But in a realignment of the moral plain on which our political, public, and private structures are enacted maybe, there might be some leverage.

Okay then, I know that's not really a completed thought there about the potential of the current structure to be regenerated and not just chucked and we'll just start over. Still, I've gone about as far as I'm gonna go here on Sunday morn. I might just try for a run. Hadn't been able because of a winged scapula (alignment problem of the shoulder) that still causes some pain and a lot of discomfort even after doing physical therapy and all kinds of stretches for several months now. But I'm thinking it's a good day to give it a whirl. I've been getting down with the power walk, and, besides feeling like a yupmaster dork-a-tron, it's been good for the shoulder and the mental health and all that, but there's still nothing like a flat out run to get the ole' engine started.

Enough then.

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