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Plato’s Socrates on navigating the ship of state

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In the past few weeks at UD, we have seen abundant indicators on how:

a –> we are in a time of obvious, deeply polarised ideological confrontation in our civilisation [in material part, driven by cultural marxist agendas and stratagems],

b –> we are forced to give unwelcome counsel in the face of an obvious march of folly,

c –> in which march, lab coat clad evolutionary materialistic scientism rules the roost,

d –> such that, logic/ rationality is at a steep discount (especially first principles of right reason),

e –> through the dominance of evo mat scientism, inherent falsity and linked amorality have too often been built into yardsticks for truth and right, and

f –> manifestly evident core principles of the natural moral law are disregarded, leading to a dominance of radical relativism, subjectivism and nominalism, of essentially nihilistic — might and manipulation make ‘right,’ ‘truth,’ ‘justice,’ ‘meaning,’ etc — character.

It is not too hard to figure out that our civilisation is in deep trouble and is most likely headed for shipwreck. (And of course, that sort of concern is dismissed as “apocalyptic,” or neurotic pessimism that refuses to pause and smell the roses.)

Plato’s Socrates spoke to this sort of situation, long since, in the ship of state parable in The Republic, Bk VI:

>>[Soc.] I perceive, I said, that you are vastly amused at having plunged me into such a hopeless discussion; but now hear the parable, and then you will be still more amused at the meagreness of my imagination: for the manner in which the best men are treated in their own States is so grievous that no single thing on earth is comparable to it; and therefore, if I am to plead their cause, I must have recourse to fiction, and put together a figure made up of many things, like the fabulous unions of goats and stags which are found in pictures.

Imagine then a fleet or a ship in which there is a captain [–> often interpreted, ship’s owner] who is taller and stronger than any of the crew, but he is a little deaf and has a similar infirmity in sight, and his knowledge of navigation is not much better. [= The people own the community and in the mass are overwhelmingly strong, but are ill equipped on the whole to guide, guard and lead it]

Titanic_iceberg
The iceberg thought to have sunk the Titanic, photographed April 15, 1912, with a red streak of paint on its waterline

The sailors are quarrelling with one another about the steering –every one is of opinion that he has a right to steer [= selfish ambition to rule and dominate], though he has never learned the art of navigation and cannot tell who taught him or when he learned, and will further assert that it cannot be taught, and they are ready to cut in pieces any one who says the contrary. They throng about the captain, begging and praying him to commit the helm to them [–> kubernetes, steersman, from which both cybernetics and government come in English]; and if at any time they do not prevail, but others are preferred to them, they kill the others or throw them overboard [ = ruthless contest for domination of the community], and having first chained up the noble captain’s senses with drink or some narcotic drug [ = manipulation and befuddlement, cf. the parable of the cave], they mutiny and take possession of the ship and make free with the stores; thus, eating and drinking, they proceed on their voyage in such a manner as might be expected of them [–> Cf here Luke’s subtle case study in Ac 27].

Him who is their partisan and cleverly aids them in their plot for getting the ship out of the captain’s hands into their own whether by force or persuasion [–> Nihilistic will to power on the premise of might and manipulation making ‘right’ ‘truth’ ‘justice’ ‘rights’ etc], they compliment with the name of sailor, pilot, able seaman, and abuse the other sort of man, whom they call a good-for-nothing; but that the true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else belongs to his art, if he intends to be really qualified for the command of a ship, and that he must and will be the steerer, whether other people like or not-the possibility of this union of authority with the steerer’s art has never seriously entered into their thoughts or been made part of their calling.

Now in vessels which are in a state of mutiny and by sailors who are mutineers, how will the true pilot be regarded? Will he not be called by them a prater, a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing?

Of course, said Adeimantus.

Then you will hardly need, I said, to hear the interpretation of the figure, which describes the true philosopher in his relation to the State; for you understand already.

[Ad.] Certainly.

[Soc.] Then suppose you now take this parable to the gentleman who is surprised at finding that philosophers have no honour in their cities; explain it to him and try to convince him that their having honour would be far more extraordinary.

[Ad.] I will.

[Soc.] Say to him, that, in deeming the best votaries of philosophy to be useless to the rest of the world, he is right; but also tell him to attribute their uselessness to the fault of those who will not use them, and not to themselves. The pilot should not humbly beg the sailors to be commanded by him –that is not the order of nature; neither are ‘the wise to go to the doors of the rich’ –the ingenious author of this saying told a lie –but the truth is, that, when a man is ill, whether he be rich or poor, to the physician he must go, and he who wants to be governed, to him who is able to govern. The ruler who is good for anything ought not to beg his subjects to be ruled by him [ –> down this road lies the modern solution: a sound, well informed people will seek sound leaders, who will not need to manipulate or bribe or worse, and such a ruler will in turn be checked by the soundness of the people, cf. US DoI, 1776]; although the present governors of mankind are of a different stamp; they may be justly compared to the mutinous sailors, and the true helmsmen to those who are called by them good-for-nothings and star-gazers.

[Ad.] Precisely so, he said.

[Soc] For these reasons, and among men like these, philosophy, the noblest pursuit of all, is not likely to be much esteemed by those of the opposite faction; not that the greatest and most lasting injury is done to her by her opponents, but by her own professing followers, the same of whom you suppose the accuser to say, that the greater number of them are arrant rogues, and the best are useless; in which opinion I agreed [–> even among the students of the sound state (here, political philosophy and likely history etc.), many are of unsound motivation and intent, so mere education is not enough, character transformation is critical].

[Ad.] Yes.

[Soc.] And the reason why the good are useless has now been explained?

[Ad.] True.

[Soc.] Then shall we proceed to show that the corruption of the majority is also unavoidable, and that this is not to be laid to the charge of philosophy any more than the other?

[Ad.] By all means.

[Soc.]  And let us ask and answer in turn, first going back to the description of the gentle and noble nature.[ — > note the character issue] Truth, as you will remember, was his leader, whom he followed always and in all things [ –> The spirit of truth as a marker]; failing in this, he was an impostor, and had no part or lot in true philosophy [–> the spirit of truth is a marker, for good or ill] . . . >>

(There is more than an echo of this in Acts 27, a real world case study. [Luke, a physician, was an educated Greek with a taste for subtle references.] This blog post, on soundness in policy, will also help)

World-roots is always a relevant subject when we get into seemingly intractable, deadlocked deeply polarised ideological confrontations. But the point is, that too often, the things we need to cut through the tangled thorny thickets to get to the heart of the matter are exactly the things that are most unwelcome.

And, I would be remiss if I did not note on the challenges of stabilising democratic governance in the face of forces pushing to anarchic chaos and/or to oligarchic domination and manipulation:

U/d b for clarity, nb Nil

So, to the question of worldview roots and the signs of our times, we must go, if we are to avert or at least reduce the impact of going over the cliff or hitting a reef or iceberg, etc . . . you pays your money and you picks your metaphor. And, those are going to involve origins issues, roots of science issues [just about every destructive agenda today loves to dress up in a lab coat], and a sobering look at indicators and trends of our times. END

PS: D-Day, Normandy 72 years ago, today.

PPS: FDR’s D-Day prayer, video here:

[youtube 8-weBUzQleo]

PPPS: King George VI’s speech-prayer and call for a global prayer vigil, June 6th 1944.

18 Replies to “Plato’s Socrates on navigating the ship of state

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Captain, de ship of state is sinkin’ . . .

  2. 2
    Dionisio says:

    KF

    glad to read your wake-up calls in this forum…

    Here’s a potential warning:
    Perhaps it’s been said that the brain may use a significant part of the energy we consume, but proportionally to how much it is used. That’s why it is thought that perhaps it helps to engage in challenging serious thinking. However, unfortunately, thinking seriously doesn’t seem like a popular activity these days. Just look at the abundant frivolity shared within some of the most popular modern social media venues. Also we see enough “trolling” even here in this site, specially reacting to your OPs. Let’s see how it goes in this new discussion thread you have started. BTW, see the impressive Trollstigen in Norway, but it’s much nicer to climb it than to deal with trolls here. 🙂

    Thank you.

    PS. not sure if this is off topic here:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-609369

  3. 3

    The United States is being ripped apart at the seams with a fierce intensity, as is much of Europe. Very troubling times ahead. This is not business as usual.

  4. 4
  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    King George VI’s speech-prayer and call to a global prayer-vigil, June 6th, 1944: http://kairosfocus.blogspot.co.....-call.html

  6. 6
    clown fish says:

    It is not too hard to figure out that our civilisation is in deep trouble and is most likely headed for shipwreck. (And of course, that sort of concern is dismissed as “apocalyptic,” or neurotic pessimism that refuses to pause and smell the roses.)”

    Thank God that I live in Canada where cooler heads prevail. Where we have had SSM for over a decade with no issues. Where abortions are legal at any stage of pregnancy, yet 99% occur before 20 weeks. Where we welcomed three times as many Syrian refugees as the US, in spite of our population being one tenth of the US. Where we encourage immigrants to maintain their culture as long as they obey the laws of the country. Where health care is free. And where, as of today, physician assisted suicide is legal across the country.

    And in spite of al of these “terrible” and immoral policies, Canada continuously ranks near the top of countries with regard to standard of living and other measures. Maybe there just aren’t as many back-breaking cliffs in Canada as there are in other countries.

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    CF, why are you so obsessed with the acts of lawfare that created and have sought to impose a blatant counterfeit of marriage under false colour of law? (And yes, across time that will have further deeply divisive and ruinous effect, but it is by no means alone as even the closely associated issues of manipulation and lawfare indicate.) Do you not see that while that is part of the problem, the issues and trends of concern are much broader and deeper? Or, do you think that that is troll bait? As for syrian refugees, I suggest to you that historically the best resolutions are carried out close to home and the severe under-representation of those targetted for genocide in the US statistics raises deep questions as to what is hiding beneath the refugee banner. Likewise, it seems very strange that significantly many of the refugees evidently do not in fact come from the zone of conflict. Where, I notice how you have consistently ducked the settlement jihad captured documents. Finally, do you observe, that the focal issue is the proper guidance of the ship of state, and why it tends to go awry? KF

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    CF, in some ways even worse is the ongoing corruption of logic, or moral principle and embedding of falsity in the yardsticks for truth and knowledge through imposing self referentially incoherent and amoral evolutionary materialism on science, education and the general intellectual life of our culture that are driving so much that is going wrong with our civilisation. Plato’s Socrates has somewhat to say to us about such things, things that we need to heed. KF

  9. 9
    clown fish says:

    Kairosfocus: “CF, why are you so obsessed with the acts of lawfare that created and have sought to impose a blatant counterfeit of marriage under false colour of law? “

    No, I obsess about your misrepresentation about what SSM is. It was the state that legalizes inter-racial marriage. It is the state that imparts the legal recognition of a marriage. It is the state that sets the minimum age of marriage. It is the state that establishes the conditions for divorce. It is the state that establishes the tax implications of marriage. As such, it is the state that can legalize SSM. The fact that you don’t like it is irrelevant unless you can convince the powers that be that it is not in the best interests of the country. But, since there has been no rational argument made as to why SSM is not in the best interest of the people involved or of society, the trend is for it to become legalized in all civilized nations.

    And yes, across time that will have further deeply divisive and ruinous effect, but it is by no means alone as even the closely associated issues of manipulation and lawfare indicate.”

    Yes, you keep saying this. But the worst that you or anyone has come up with is that there are consequences for people who discriminate based on sexual orientation. There is a very simple solution to this. Stop discriminating.

    Do you not see that while that is part of the problem, the issues and trends of concern are much broader and deeper?”

    So you keep saying. But all you have pointed to are laws that you disagree with. That is not evidence of a negative trend, that is just evidence of your world view.

    As for syrian refugees, I suggest to you that historically the best resolutions are carried out close to home …”

    How did that work out for the Jews in Europe in the 30s and 40s?

    …and the severe under-representation of those targetted for genocide in the US statistics raises deep questions as to what is hiding beneath the refugee banner.”

    I get it. You don’t want muslims in the US. Recently in Canada, there was a forest fire that devastated a town in northern Alberta. Recently arrived Syrian refugees (muslim) were amongst the first to step up and offer support.

    Where, I notice how you have consistently ducked the settlement jihad captured documents.”

    Yes, and Jews were responsible for the problems in pre-war Europe. There were documents supporting this as well. Should we leave thousands of legitimate refugees to suffer because a relatively small number of bad apples are in the barrel? Or should we ensure that our screening process is as rigorous as possible while at the same time expediting aid? I choose the latter.

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    CF, say what you want, colour of law cannot make or transform marriage in accordance with nominalistic agendas; marriage is based on unalterable human nature coded in our genes. Just to pick another point, a captured document from a leader of the MB in the US writing HQ in Egypt to explain a subversion agenda is not to be equated with antisemitism, it identifies a specific threat from a known terrorist sponsoring movement. Similarly, pointing out that groups TARGETTED FOR GENOCIDE are persistently and tellingly under-represented in a refugee resettlement programme is not equal to oh you don’t want Muslims in X location; it is pointing to something deeply, systematically wrong with policy, operations and media coverage. And the usurping of law starting with the by far and away largest holocaust in history: try 50 mn unborn children/yr x 40 y x 1/2 to account for growth is itself a sobering danger. The multiplied marches of folly, dismissal of logic and imposition of falsity on yardsticks of truth and right speak further volumes. This will not end well for our civilisation. KF

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: In short, the patterns underscore the problem Plato was pointing out in his ship of state parable. Indeed, it points out exactly the instability of democracy that has been repeatedly spoken of. Something has to stabilise democracy from within for the freedoms it in turn supports to be viable in the long run — and yes, I am pointing to where the founders of modern democratic constitutions went beyond the classical democracies, and that they relied on stabilisers. Undermine those buttresses and sooner rather than later, the instabilities will tell. Such will not end well for our civilisation.

  12. 12
    clown fish says:

    Kairosfocus: “CF, say what you want, colour of law cannot make or transform marriage in accordance with nominalistic agendas; marriage is based on unalterable human nature coded in our genes.”

    You are certainly entitled to hold an opinion that is not supported by evidence. However, marriage is a legal contract between two people. As a legal contract, society can decide what this entails. Society can modify it in any way it sees fit. It can decide that it is limited to opposite couples. It can decide that polygamy is allowed. It can decide that homosexuals can marry. It can decide that incestuous marriages are allowed. At present, society has decided that allowing same sex couples to marry does no harm to society and is beneficial to those who are seeking it.

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    CF, the evidence on the nature of marriage under manifest core principles of the moral law of our nature is all around us, but extreme nominalism, relativism and subjectivism/ sentimentalism discounts that evidence to zero. Then it triumphantly asserts “no evidence.” The actual case is, that you are making yourself an example of the concerns Plato highlighted in the parable of the ship. The instability and arbitrariness now being implemented under colour of law will not end well for our civilisation. And one of the primary casualties of that will be — indeed, is already becoming — liberty. KF

  14. 14
    Robert Byers says:

    I think its business as usual. There is just people getting along/not getting along. Most people are good. Few evil people affect our civilization as man accounts evil.
    Our forefathers left us the tools to deal with contentions.
    We just need to fight better and be better lawyers in a nation based on ideas and conclusions.

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    Dionisio, Truth & Robert:

    Let us notice what was so studiously avoided above, the parable of the ship of state.

    Something so central to government that that very word comes from the Greek for steersman, kubernete.

    It is not for nothing that The Republic has Plato’s Socrates warning the civilisation in no uncertain terms on how serious but politically incorrect philosophy, technical skill and learning are treated in a day when mutinous, willfully ignorant sailors and their cynically ruthless manipulators seize control of the ship of state.

    As the OP documents, such are the terms Socrates uses in the dialogue:

    “the true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else belongs to his art, if he intends to be really qualified for the command of a ship, and that he must and will be the steerer, whether other people like or not-the possibility of this union of authority with the steerer’s art has never seriously entered into their thoughts or been made part of their calling. Now in vessels which are in a state of mutiny and by sailors who are mutineers, how will the true pilot be regarded? Will he not be called by them a prater, a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing?”

    Very close to, deluded useless eater and mad man.

    Absolutely telling.

    And utterly revealing as to why, on current track, things will not end well for our civilisation.

    KF

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    PS: Notice, what Socrates says of the mutiny on the ship of state and its result:

    Imagine then a fleet or a ship in which there is a captain [–> often interpreted, ship’s owner] who is taller and stronger than any of the crew, but he is a little deaf and has a similar infirmity in sight, and his knowledge of navigation is not much better.

    The sailors are quarrelling with one another about the steering –every one is of opinion that he has a right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation and cannot tell who taught him or when he learned, and will further assert that it cannot be taught, and they are ready to cut in pieces any one who says the contrary. They throng about the captain, begging and praying him to commit the helm to them [–> kubernete, steersman, from which both cybernetics and government come in English]; and if at any time they do not prevail, but others are preferred to them, they kill the others or throw them overboard, and having first chained up the noble captain’s senses with drink or some narcotic drug, they mutiny and take possession of the ship and make free with the stores; thus, eating and drinking, they proceed on their voyage in such a manner as might be expected of them.

    Him who is their partisan and cleverly aids them in their plot for getting the ship out of the captain’s hands into their own whether by force or persuasion, they compliment with the name of sailor, pilot, able seaman, and abuse the other sort of man, whom they call a good-for-nothing; but that the true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else belongs to his art, if he intends to be really qualified for the command of a ship, and that he must and will be the steerer, whether other people like or not-the possibility of this union of authority with the steerer’s art has never seriously entered into their thoughts or been made part of their calling.

    Now in vessels which are in a state of mutiny and by sailors who are mutineers, how will the true pilot be regarded? Will he not be called by them a prater, a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing?

    It is time to set distractive side-tracks aside and focus the deadly serious main issue.

    If we cannot get first things straight, we will forever be imposing falsity as a test for truth and policy prudence thereafter.

    On present track, this will not end well for our civilisation, let us pause and cf. the AD 59 real world case study put up by Luke (doubtless in knowing echo of Plato) here.

  17. 17
    StephenB says:

    Kairosfocus, very interesting analysis. Thank you. You are specially skillful through your use of the continuum as a conceptual aid.

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    Updates to OP (notes).

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