Thursday, August 7, 2014

Plato's Dry Soul

"Water me, I'm a pot plant"

I don't think Plato liked the world much. Like Baudelaire’s seven horrible little dwarf men, I don't think he was merely indifferent to to its vicissitudes. One derives from his books, a man, who was born to be the philosopher in the classical religious sense. His haughty scorn for everything "human, all to human" is never very far away, and, one senses with this most peculiar and sheltered man, a person who never once let himself go, even, in the drinking parties he attends he always appears to be the sober one . This ever present self vigilance of himself combined with his natural distrustful to the passions of others, sets the context out of which he writes on many topics.. Although he seems to have genuinely appreciated women, and advocated for their equality with men in many matters, there is nevertheless the sense of a man, who was afraid of the "feminine". This fear (common enough in his society) he equated with the irrational which was something that many Greeks appeared to have a deep seated anxiety about as it was synonymous with chaos and disorder in their social universe.

Plato was nevertheless an excellent writer. His ideas are clear and interesting and he employs a huge range of literary techniques in his writing to get his ideas over to this audience. His metaphors of the Cave in the Republic and of the three sexes in the Symposium are quite exceptional in the history of western philosophy. However, as he gets older, the views darken, especially those in relation to the fate of mankind and towards the created world in general. Additionally, despite the fact that he's rarely boring to read, there is almost no humour or wit to found in most of his writings. Humour one generally finds is more abundant in the works of writers who've experienced the world, and got dirtied by it, and yet lived to tell the tale. With Plato there is never this sense at all. In fact you get sense that he becomes even more aloof and detached for the "rag and bone world of experience" as his hair gets grayer, as a result his dislike of the world becomes even more intractable with age. The only thing that moves him passionately eventually is the beauty of the ideal over all sensuous experiences, including those of the arts and music, which he derides as false copies of the ideal. As a consequent, the ideal person or philosopher must be a man or indeed women, who ruthlessly restraints themselves from all sensuous involvement in the world, they must devote themselves to serving the state in a selfish or altruistic manner (the guardians), they must be rational in all matters, and preferably if men, conduct themselves in real friendships only with other men (the famous platonic relationship). It's difficult to appreciate the impact this one man had on western culture, and how his own personal (aristocratic) distaste for the world would become even more concentrated through Christianity, who's troubled legacy we're only beginning to awake from. Salvation to Plato was the soul gone dry and detached, ready to be join the abstract Gods in contemplation of higher things once the soul has shed the dross of its mortal desire ridden attractions. Even in an posthumous existence there is no sensory or sensuous reward, even the personal detached ego is swallowed up into this pure metaphysical realm of ideas and Gods. In this key sense, Plato should be understood more as world renouncing religious ascetic rather than a philosopher in the normal modern sense of that concept. However, if Plato happens to be on the metaphysical money, I think the human race will be in the created world for a very, very, long time to come!