I was surprised and disappointed to learn that Socrates advocated censorship. Could it be the hero of philosophy stating that because the gods by definition are infallible, any writing depicting the gods performing behaviors which are contrary to perfectionism are to be suppressed? Yes indeed – so he did say.
I have been struggling to reconcile this position with the other things I’ve read, and have come to the conclusion that in my idealistic fervor I have ascribed more wisdom to Socrates than is his due; he himself is not a god, and so is fallible! But I have to be careful here, because I am not taking an extreme position – this is not a black or white issue. I merely point out that I had previously approached The Republic as a child seeking The Answer, and now I understand the folly of this attitude. Socrates was certainly a wise man who influenced the development of Western philosophical thought to the present day; it is just that to me he is no longer the arbiter of all things wise and ethical.
Even in light of the above disillusionment, I do understand the source of Socrates’ concern. There is a contemporary saying, Garbage in, garbage out, which in my life contains much truth: what a culture consumes, such is what it excretes. Or as a friend of mine once said, I have to be careful about what I put in my head, so that I can keep my mind open. Perhaps some people are not quite so easily influenced, and perhaps others are just not very sensitive but for me there is much relevance to this concept of monitoring what we take into our lives so that we can mediate what comes out of it.
A small example is watching scary movies. I do not wish to generalize as I can truly only speak to my experience, which is this: when I watch a movie that involves stories around the occult, I frequently have nightmares. The rational part of my brain of course rejects the premise as ridiculous: ghosts are manufactured in our imagination and do not exist as independent entities; the likelihood of someone wielding a chainsaw entering my house unannounced and dismembering me and my husband is quite slim; simple biological truths prevent human beings from temporarily becoming invisible. But the limbic system doesn’t necessarily pay attention to these conclusions. The imagination is not constrained during the night, when the brain is performing an incremental backup and purging the detritus accumulated, but not acknowledged, during waking hours. Hence, nightmares.
Socrates proposed that the future Guardians of society – the group of men and women whose principal concern is the preservation of social order – are to be trained to comprehend and respect not only the laws but the morals necessary for a society to remain stable, and flourish. His concern was that this education must be based on truth, not fantasy, and focussed on the serious rather than the frivolous. His conclusion that this would be best served by censoring objectionable writing may be flawed, but indeed came from a place of good intention.