Monday, May 25, 2015

Plato, Politics, and the Establishment

Politics, Plato, and the Establishment
P. Schultz
May 25, 2015

            Recently, I read a book, Inside Out, by Barry Eisler, a former spook with the CIA that presents a rather clear and provocative view of the American political order. That view is accurately summed up, in part, in the following passages. The first to speak is Ben Trevon, a spook, who is being educated by another spook named Horton about the character of our political order. Horton is Ben’s boss and is showing Ben he has little choice but to go on working for him and for the Establishment, also called the oligarchy.

            “Come on, Hort, Republicans, Democrats . . . they hate each other, right? There’s competition.”
            ‘Hort laughed. “That’s not competition. It’s suppose to look that way, so people think their interests are being looked after, they have a choice, they can make a difference, they’re in charge. But they don’t.’
            ‘”That doesn’t make sense.”
            ‘”I’m afraid it does. You see, there’s more money to be made in cooperation than in competition. It’s the same dynamic that leads to cartels. You can argue that cartels should be competing. But they don’t see it that way. Their profit motive enables them to rise above the urge to compete. In the service of the greater good, naturally. People who think there’s actual friction, and real competition, between Democrats and Republicans, or between the press and politicians, or between the corporations and their supposed overseers, they’re like primitives looking at shadows on the wall and believing the shadows are the substance.”’

            First, this is a rather provocative view of the American political order, but not one devoid of foundation. Time and again, if one is looking for it, the collusion Horton describes here is visible. In fact, it isn’t too much to say that if it is hidden at all, it is hidden in plain sight. Being that the United States is said to be a republic, one to which school children pledge their allegiance daily, some obfuscation of the true state of affairs is needed. Moreover, those with power need to genuflect, as it were, toward our “republic;” they must make people think “their interests are being looked after, they have a choice, they can make a difference, they’re in charge.” But this is, for the most part, smoke and mirrors.

            Second, though, as Horton here refers to the allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic, I cannot resist adding something here, viz., that Socrates/Plato knew, unlike Horton, that the shadows on the wall thing was not a primitive phenomenon. In fact, given the context of the allegory, it seems apparent that the shadows on the wall are more likely to exist and more likely to be mistaken for “reality” in what we call “civilized” or “developed” societies than in primitive societies. It is “civilized” societies that need such shadows, much more so than primitive ones.

            Consider that primitives, because their lives are far more endangered than the lives of civilized people, cannot afford to take the shadows too seriously or mistake them for reality. Were they to do so, their lives would be endangered in an immediate way. Being “closer” to death, primitives must be far more sensitive to “real reality” than we civilized types.  

            Also, consider the following question: Who is more comfortable with such shadows as “success,” “wealth,” or “social status,” Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn? It seems pretty clear it is Tom Sawyer. It is Huck who refuses to be “sivilized,” as he puts it, and “lights out for the territories,” because he knows he will never be happy being “sivilized.” Perhaps this is Twain’s way of endorsing Plato allegory of the cave, while illuminating that it is in civilized societies that people are most dependent upon shadows and, hence, most willing to believe “the shadows are the substance.”

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