Anthroapologia IV

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.


3 responses

  1. I have often wondered the same thing to be honest. What if there were a group of Guardians? The problem always comes back to the problem we as human beings always have. Total Power corrupts totally. Its a sad fact.

    Its such a great concept. But you go down that slippery slope to… where do the lines become drawn? Who makes the choices for our society? Will the they decide who are fit parents? Will they decide who is fit to be on this planet? Will the separate us according to IQ? And what happens to people like me who are handicapped?

    I wish there were some fair way for it to happen. Wouldnt that be a miracle. We could in fact use it to create a fair justice system for all, non dependant on skin color or wealth, or how competant your lawyer happens to be on that day.

    Ah well, maybe someday we will find that mechanism. We will find that utopia, that miracle. Until then, we are stuck with what we have.

  2. Maybe the best we can hope is to do what is right ourselves, assuming society is the sum of its parts those parts have to working for society to get better. And to steal from the previous comment, yes there is a group of Guardians, and we are them.

  3. Socrates (and presumably Plato) had considered the temptations of power as the instrument of corruption, and developed rules to prevent Guardians from becoming overly self-interested. For example, a Guardian was not to possess valuable property, a Guardian’s salary was to be a liveable wage and nothing more, Guardians were to live communally both to limit their exposure to the temptations of the world and to support one another, and Guardians were not to marry (but could have sexual relations which resulted in children; the children were to be raised by the entire cooperative rather than a parenting pair). This is information faced by the earliest of recorded Western republics, and are the same problems we confront today. Is this the nature of Western culture, that we will always struggle (or, work, if you prefer) toward balancing the conflicting interests of individual ambition and the good of society?

    As Westerners living in nations modeled (ever so loosely in some cases) on the ancient republican model, we have evolved the concept of the Guardian and perverted it at the same time. For example, we take responsibility for our nation by voting, thereby placing a representative of the interests dear to our minds and hearts into a position powerful enough (we hope) to effect change and progress. On the other hand, we worship that which diminishes us, by indulging in self-destructive violent behaviors, admiring and supporting people who are obnoxious and ignorant.

    We are the Guardians, and I agree ACIM that we need to take that responsibility and try our best to do what is right and good. Maybe it will infect the others around us to do the same.

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