Plato, women

When I took Philosophy 101, way back when, I remember being struck by the fact that Socrates and his student, Plato, lived in B.C.. I’d sorta’ just thought B.C. looked more like, well, a movie starring Rachel Welch.

One millionis years B.C.
One millions years before Christ the first bikini was invented! Unfortunately, it attracted Pterodactyls.

There is a difference between what the rational mind concludes, and what the rest of the mind perceives. I was shocked that Socrates drank the poison hemlock over 400 years before Christ was crucified. If you don’t know, Socrates was put on trial for “corrupting the youth” and was sentenced to death. Call me naive, at the time, for thinking this was odd, but one would lack self-awareness to not notice just how peculiar was the chasm between perceived and factual reality. I’d always assumed Western philosophy came AFTER Christianity, and not the other way around. That seemed logical. How could such strong religious belief come after the fully rational debate of Socrates’ dialectics?

And here we are 2,394 years since Plato persuasively argued that females should receive the same education as men, and be permitted to rule. That’s longer ago than the current date implies is possible, unless one tags on “A.D.”. It’s before history started according to what I would write on checks, if I wrote checks anymore. Why did it take over a hundred and forty years for Americans to figure out what Plato solved over 2,000 years before? And then when we DID figure it out, why was it, or why has it come to seem, as if it had been unraveled and realized for the very first time?

The Buddha also died 483 years before Christ was born, which is why in Thailand, where I live, it is now the year 2557. That’s relative to his birth, in 563 B.C., not his death. What to make of it?

The Buddha was born 563 years before Christ, which is why it’s the year 2557 in Buddhist Thailand.

The earliest recorded cave paintings are over 40,000 years old, and the agricultural era began over 10,000 years ago. According to proponents of the “Human Era”, or HE, it is the year 12014. They believe 12014 is a much more accurate marker of the age of human civilization. To use this date, just smack a “1” in front of whichever year it is according to CE, or “common era” (which is a nice way of saying BC and AD without alienating non-Christian religions). If someone tells you that you wrote the date wrong, you can give them a lecture about HE.

The first stencil graffiti in the Spanish El Castillo cave is over 40,800 years old. It took us over 5 thousand lifetimes to come up with Banksy?!

Deep down, though, I was schooled to believe the universe started in 1776. Anything that happened before then was hardly relevant. We have our impressions and we have our rational conclusions. Both can be cultivated, but impressions are stronger, which is why advertising and propaganda target them to get us to part with our precious money and liberty. It takes a bit of skill, and being attuned, to use one’s own reason to override impressions and associations inculcated since birth.

And then there is my own time clock, that starts just over 48 years ago in 1965. Anything before then seems to belong to a different era – P.E. or Pre Eric – personally speaking.

And another weird time thing… I’ve been watching a Beatles documentary. The first episodes are devoted to the early Beatles, of course, but what gets me is I can’t wait for them to reach the much cooler, color era.

The poor Beatles lived in a black and white universe up until around the mid 1960’s, or so it sometimes seems.

Oddly enough our lived experience gives us a false impression of history – perhaps largely due to advertising, religious beliefs, patriotism and other propaganda – and the rational mind can give us a much clearer view. To assert there isn’t a wide margin between perceived and rationally understood history is to not be aware of it, which one needs to be in order to unravel it, just as one needs to be aware of one’s own bigotries and selfishness in order to counteract or overcome them (assuming one doesn’t want to be a full-on ass).

Philosophy has fallen out of favor, and it’s my strong impression that most people believe it has become irrelevant. We are wrong. The reason is that underlying each person’s behavior is a set of convictions or beliefs which are essentially one’s own personal philosophy. People spout things like “it’s a dog eat dog world” or “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” to guide, explain, or justify their own actions. Many people follow precepts picked up from Eastern Mysticism and/or New Ageism. In other words, philosophy is so relevant that it underpins all of our actions, and yet we largely relegate this process to passively, even unconsciously assimilating ideas promulgated through popular media and national propaganda (I think most Americans believe in Democracy, Capitalism, and expansionism whether or not they’ve ever sat down and thought about it).

I’m a firm believer that while there may be that which falls beyond the scope of reason, for the things that can be decided by it, such as what to do about global warming according to scientific consensus, we should adhere to it. I think the best argument should win. Obvious enough, but somehow that’s not how civilization is being steered. It seems more as though the dominant forces in civilization don’t follow reason, but follow an irrational belief that the self-interest of the individual is paramount, and somehow whatever is in the best interest of the most powerful individuals will benefit everyone else as well. Is greed really the highest good, and selfishness the noblest attitude?

As I was recently listening to some lectures on ancient Greek philosophy, I was surprised by the lack of philosophical debate today about what is a good life, or how society should be run, as compared to the rigorous investigation of the Greeks. Nowadays we must profess blind allegiance to the conclusions of whatever nationality we belong to (in the service of whatever corporations) and be willing to kill and die for them. In this way we have fallen far from the standards of the Athenians in Plato’s time who allowed open public debate and questioning of the core assumptions of how people lived their lives and how government should be run. As testament to this, I offer that we still treated women as inferiors thousands of years after Plato accurately demanded the genders be educated equally and have equal chance of rule. It’s time to place reason above patriotism, patriarchy, and the cost-benefit analysis of ExxonMobil.

~ Ends


2 replies on “2,300 years ago

  1. Good, thoughtful, piece, Eric–and confirmation of the importance of studying (not just parroting) history. As a former part-time history teacher I’m always happy to see that vindicated.

    I think it’s worth mentioning, though, that just about every settled society has had its notable thinkers, who, like Plato, often come up with terrific ideas that are then ignored by most of the thinker’s contemporaries. Greece in Plato’s time never did put women on an equal basis with men, or eliminate slavery. This of course doesn’t invalidate what I take to be your basic points: that we all live by a philosophy whether we admit it or not, that it is increasingly hard to see the serious stuff in life through the screen of advertising and PR bullshit, and that we tend to implicitly believe that everything of importance began the year we were born. Let’s hear it for philosophy!


    1. Right! Yes, in Plato’s time, well, Socrates was put to death. Also I am not as fond of Plato’s student, Aristotle, who backpedaled on Plato’s ideals and wanted a “middle path” that seemed like it was designed to not upset the upper class. I’m not sure if I got across that in today’s worldI don’t think most people even hold up reason and logic as that valuable anymore. It’s all just reduced to “opinions” when many things could be solved rationally.


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