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Poststructuralism – Another label to be avoided?

Saint Foucault

Saint Foucault by Sándor Iskender via Flickr

Poststructuralism could be defined as an approach to knowledge that appeared in the social sciences during the 1960s to 70s as a reaction against or outgrowth of structuralism.

The term poststructuralism was most chic within academic circles during the mid-1980s to early-90s, after which time ‘postmodernism’ became the mainstream term, aided perhaps by figures like Jean Baudrillard who made headline-grabbing comments about America’s involvement in the Gulf War.

In its heyday, the term poststructuralism generally contained elements found in postmodernism but referred more to social theory and the history of ideas rather than to art, music and architecture—these applying more to postmodernism.

Postmodernism being the broader term, it includes questions posed by poststructuralism.

Although Michel Foucault said he didn’t wish to be pigeonholed as any particular type of theorist, academics in the 1980s often described his later work as poststructuralist. And several other theorists have resisted the label ‘poststructuralist.’

The distinction between poststructuralism and postmodernism arguably remains unclear because representative or designated thinkers of each orientation tend to eschew clear-cut, linear modes of reasoning, along with the notion of consistent theory. And they tend to embrace the task of deconstructing the assumptions and practices associated with traditional approaches to knowledge.

Jean Baudrillard lecturing at European Graduat...

Jean Baudrillard lecturing at European Graduate School, Saas-Fee, Switzerland. (European Graduate School, June 12, 2004, http://www.egs.edu/). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With regard to structuralism, the poststructuralist/postmodern disputes the structuralist belief in universal patterns comprised of binary opposites.

The meaning of the term poststructuralism continues to evolve, especially with the turn to integrating spirituality within a poststructural paradigm, or lack of one.

With the arrival of the internet, broadband, dramatically increased computing power, and a dazzling array of software, digital media and mobile devices, some suggest that poststructuralism and postmodernism are yesterday’s news, these giving way to newer trends of ‘performatism‘¹ and ‘digimodernism.’²

However, this seems a bit rash. Have we really stopped deconstructing accepted (and acceptable) truth claims – i.e. thinking critically – in favor of playing with hypnotizing gizmos or, perhaps, escaping or being distracted through fake news, Facebook likes, and other superficial pursuits?

Let’s hope not.

¹ See http://www.performatism.de/What-is-Performatism

² Alan Kirby’s Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture

Related » Comparative Religion, Counter-Discourse, Discourse, Power, Marx (Karl)

Highlights by Liner http://lnr.li/VZq8J/

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Persona – Age old concept with a whole new twist

Roots of Persona

The idea of the persona has been around for ages, with roots stemming back to ancient Greek and Estruscan civilizations. Over the centuries the use of the term has shifted, evolved and, in response to new technologies, taken on new meanings.

The most common contemporary meaning of the persona is a role played by an actor. This developed from the original Latin meaning of “theatrical mask.”

In ancient Greece the persona (prósōpon) was a mask put on by stage actors, signifying either a character or a social role.¹ The masking effect was created by rubbing clay or dyes on the face or by wearing masks made of bark or similar natural elements.

Persona in Literature

The New Latin term dramatas personae refers to characters listed at the top of a play.

In literary theory the persona is the alter ego or alternate “I” who speaks in a poem or novel, often when some kind of issue is worked out through the narrative. This also happens in movies a lot, which of course, are based on a written script.

Persona in Religion and Society

David and Goliath (1919) via Wikipedia

Persona later referred to “person,” as in persona non grata (Latin: “person not appreciated”). This diplomatic usage means persons not wanted in a country. That is, bad apples.

This kind of persona is arguably semantically related to the New Testament phrase, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). That is, bad persons.

Theologians maintain that God wishes us to cooperate with the divine will. So striking out on our own, based on a personality fragment, whim or selfish desire, is not necessarily in line with God’s will.

“Person” in this theological sense means those whose thoughts, feelings and actions are based on self-centered personality traits instead arising from a living relationship with God.

The many psychological, sociological and spiritual applications of the term persona are often nuanced to fit various theories and agendas. Related ideas like Bad Faith, False Consciousness and The Divided Self run through the humanities and social sciences, with endless discussion and elaborations by different schools and their offshoots (e.g. existentialism, humanism, Marxism, neo-Marxism, postmodernism).

Persona and Carl Jung

For the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the persona is a necessary social identity. Jung says the persona is a convenient or appropriate face we display to the outer world. The Jungian persona is not the true self nor the ego but it serves a crucial role in facilitating social interaction.

Jung and Jungians also say there is a danger in identifying with the persona after a social performance is over. This not only happens with ordinary people but sometimes with actual actors. Recall the tragedy of Heath Ledger (1979–2008), who apparently was haunted by the demonic Joker after completing the The Dark Night film.

The Jungian Shadow by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

Aside from this, Jung makes a general distinction between the healthy and unhealthy persona. The healthy persona is connected with deeper aspects of the self and acts as a conduit for archetypal energy. The unhealthy persona is constricted or cut off from the self.

On this point Jung arguably doesn’t appreciate that a tight-fitting persona may be temporarily necessary for some religious people who normally enjoy the more expansive worldview that comes through a relationship with God.

Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good or reap outwardly visible rewards, as Jung’s model seems to advocate. Jung’s outlook is probably based on his own experience, which sometimes seems like that of a kindergarten mystic. He’s had some basic interior experience but nothing profound nor advanced.

Jung’s theory advocates a “doctrine of [psychological] integration,” as I’ve put it elsewhere, so Jung seems to devalue – or not fully understand² – anything that favors the afterlife over this world.

For Jung and many Jungians, being spiritual is tantamount to having a meaningful, productive and creative life. A worldly life informed by the archetypes. These folks may paint, dance, sculpt or even talk about ESP in dreams. But they tend to be somewhat indifferent to the idea of prayerful or contemplative intercession. Intercession involves upward mobility, as it were; whereas Jung’s theory is stuck on the ground.

Jungians would probably see personas displayed and sacrifices made for the attainment of heaven – instead of for visible, worldly achievements – as skewed, fake, or even pathological.³ That’s partly why I don’t spend much time with Jungians. It is also why not a few religious persons tend to view Jung’s work with suspicion.

Persona and Proselytizing 

Image via Wikipedia

Some uphold the persona to convey a particular belief system held dear. Missionary Christians, for instance, apply personas not just for social convenience, but to try to “fish” for souls—that is, to lead others to a spiritual relationship with Christ.

As a tool for facilitating religious conversion, the persona becomes a kind of well-intentioned lure. After all, the New Testament Christ says his disciples will become “fishers of persons” (Matthew 4:19).

Persona in Music

In music, performers weave entire identities and motifs into songs or albums. This is common in pop and seems to be creeping into classical performances, where performer and performed are a cohesive package. Nigel Kennedy comes to mind. Charlotte Church. And more subtly, Joshua Bell and Angela Hewitt, whose sublimated sensuality pervades their performances.

Some cynically say that pop and classical personas are just glib attempts to boost sales. But I think they are part of parcel of the entire message. Would Ziggy Stardust have been a hit if David Bowie did not dress in costume during live performance? And going back even further, would Sgt. Pepper’s have been a landmark if the Beatles hadn’t dressed up and played the roles on the album cover?

In pop music the persona is also a device where lyrics are spoken or rapped over music.

Frank Zappa, Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway

Frank Zappa, Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Examples are in Robbie Robertson’s song “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” and Frank Zappa’s “Camirillo Brillo”:

Is that a Mexican poncho or is that a Sears poncho?

Hiphop, rap and acid jazz stars like Galliano, Guru, Kanye West and Drake make almost continuous use of this kind of persona.

Drake especially seems to effortlessly blend song and talk, so it’s hard to tell where the talking ends and the singing starts.

in Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 Guru raps in “Living in this World”:

What’s happening… check it out
It’s critical the situation is pitiful
Bear in mind you gotta find somethin spiritual
We never gain cause we blame it on the system
You oughta listen whether Muslim or Christian
or any other type religion or creed

Persona and Social Media

Social media gives us a whole new context for the persona. Also known as the avatar, gravatar, or buddy icon, the internet persona allows users to post with some degree of anonymity and creativity.5

This can be used for good or ill, depending on the user and arguably as legally construed by a host country. Spend some time in another country and you’ll soon find out that what is okay in one place is not necessarily okay in another—hopefully before you go to jail.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persona

² Jung says that Origen castrated himself to immerse himself in his gnostic spirituality. But I find this odd. Most mystics assert that the retention – not the elimination – of seed (a poetic way of saying semen and sperm) is vital to spiritual functioning and wellness. Sperm is manufactured in the testes.

³ I’ve encountered some Christians who are pretty clumsy at this. One guy on a bus bent my ear for over an hour, trying to convert me without realizing that I had already chosen Christ.  He was a non-denominational or Protestant Christian – I can’t remember – but I’ve witnessed the same kind of clunky and irritating “fishing” among Catholics playing a self-aggrandized role of do-gooder or holy person instead of focusing on their own self-knowledge and ethical behavior.

A good discussion about the persona, personality and labels: https://upsidedownchronicles.com/2013/07/04/who-am-i-personality-vs-persona/ 

5 Because users have an identifiable IP address, they are not fully anonymous.

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Plato – One of the most esteemed thinkers of all time

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) via Wikipedia

Plato (427-347 BCE) was a Greek philosopher born into an aristocratic Athenian family. Over the centuries he has come to be regarded as one of the most influential philosophers of all time, especially within Western philosophy.

Plato’s quick wit and eagerness to learn was evident at an early age. He most likely was instructed on a wide variety of topics, to include grammar, music, natural science, geography and gymnastics. And as an aristocrat, Plato would have been taught by the most respected teachers of the day. According to the Roman writer, Apuleus:

Speusippus praised Plato’s quickness of mind and modesty as a boy, and the “first fruits of his youth infused with hard work and love of study.” ¹

All this bore fruit. Few philosophers are seen as his equal, with the exception of, perhaps, Immanuel Kant, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Plato’s contemporary Aristotle, whom Plato taught.²

Plato has an interesting take on knowledge. Essentially, he believes in reincarnation. Plato suggests that all knowledge rests in the soul before birth. The trauma of being born makes us forget what we knew. So learning is just “remembering” what we once knew on a higher, transcendental plane.

Freud via Wikipedia

Some might liken Plato’s view of knowledge to Freud‘s idea of the unconscious, but I don’t think Freud, the materialist atheist, would have agreed. More correctly, Plato’s theory of knowledge leads to the notion of the Forms.

For Plato, the Forms are perfect, unchanging and eternal. They are the true reality that everything else on Earth approximates. Not unlike Buddhism, everything in our changing world is viewed as secondary and impermanent.

But any similarities with Buddhism end there. For Plato, gaining knowledge of the eternal Forms means we become aware of the soul’s eternal nature. So for Plato, the philosophical life is a “preparation for death,” a death where we continue onward as individual souls.

Buddhists, on the other hand, try to eradicate individuality. For them, individuality, even an individual soul, is illusory. And to believe in any kind of individuality – be it the ego or the soul – hampers one’s spiritual development (which for Buddhists is a kind of unpacking and disposal of psychological contents).

Plato’s most influential teacher of philosophy is Socrates. Socrates never writes anything but roams the streets philosophizing with just about anyone who will listen. At Athens, Soctrates is eventually sentenced to death on charges of “atheism” and “corrupting the youth.”

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos via Wikipedia

Socrates’ supporters probably had an escape plan for him. And many would have turned a blind eye had he fled in the night. This kind of thing was almost half expected with exceptional cases in ancient Athens.

But Socrates chooses to drink poisonous hemlock rather than flee and, in his eyes, live dishonorably. From this, some contemporary thinkers say that Socrates’ death is a kind of suicide.³

So impressed by Socrates, Plato makes him the protagonist in most of his philosophical works, which are written as dialogues. In Plato’s dialogues, the character Socrates debates with others about many of the big questions.

Plato sometimes is regarded as hostile to poetry, while his student Aristotle is seen as sympathetic to the poetic imagination. But this isn’t entirely right. Plato admires divinely inspired poetry, in contrast to poems crafted by mere technique.

Aristotle writes prose commentaries on the importance of the artistic process, along with rules for creative artists. Plato, perhaps believing he is eternally justified in doing so, writes not prosaically but with a poetic flourish.

Plato condemns or severely restricts the use of poetry in education, yet he uses poetry extensively in his own works, citing verses with approval, imitating poetic style and imagery, or subjecting poems to critical study.4

Plato’s distinction between inspired verse and poetry based on technique seems a bit clunky. Aristotle begins to collapse the distinction by arguing that well crafted poetry can be cathartic. In other words, Aristotle recognizes that good poetry taps into something deeper than the world of the senses.

Saint Monica (331 – 387), also known as Monica of Hippo, was an early Christian saint and the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Colored engraving from Diodore Rahoult, Italy 1886.

After the Christian church takes hold of the European imagination, St. Augustine of Hippo recasts aspects of Plato’s work to support Christian belief. St. Augustine’s tremendous influence on Christian theology isn’t really challenged until medieval theologians obtain translations of Aristotle made by Muslim scholars.

Today, Plato’s influence has fallen out of favor in the Catholic Church and the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, who borrows from and respectfully calls Aristotle “The Philosopher,” is taught in various theological contexts.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato

² No brief summary can account for all of Plato’s beliefs and ideas. Some that have captured my imagination are mentioned here.

³ See G. S. Aldrete http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/history-of-the-ancient-world-a-global-perspective.html

4 Paul Woodruff, “Plato’s Use of Poetry” in Oxford Art Online (Plato)


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Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Creative genius on the edge

Graeme Garrard traces the origin of the Counte...

Rousseau (Photo: Wikipedia)

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a French speaking political writer and educator born in Geneva, Switzerland.

After taking various odd jobs this self-taught intellectual moved to Paris in 1741, meeting up with Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedists.

A kind of romantic naturalism pervades much of his work, which many equate with the idea of the “noble savage.”

Many see the noble savage as one who rejects stultifying conventions and religious promises of an afterlife in favor of spontaneous desire and worldly affections.

But this is another myth that students of Rousseau say does not apply to his work. In reference to Rousseau’s belief in stages of human development, Wikipedia notes:

Rousseau believed that the savage stage was not the first stage of human development, but the third stage. Rousseau held that this third savage stage of human societal development was an optimum, between the extreme of the state of brute animals and animal-like “ape-men” on the one hand and the extreme of decadent civilized life on the other. This has led some critics to attribute to Rousseau the invention of the idea of the noble savage, which Arthur Lovejoy conclusively showed misrepresents Rousseau’s thought.¹

Voltaire & Rousseau

Voltaire & Rousseau by Anne via Flickr

In 1754 Rousseau wrote Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Amongst Men, outlining an apparently innate sense of freedom and perfectibility in human beings, in contrast to the corrupting powers of institutions.

In Luxembourg from 1757-1762 he wrote The Social Contract, which had a significant bearing on the French revolution, as exemplified by Rousseau’s cry for ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ The Social Contract produced the famous line, “man is born free, but everywhere is in chains.” This work remains a cornerstone in modern political theory, but has roots in ancient Greece and Rome.

In 1762 Rousseau published the novel, Emile. Its critique of the monarchy and government bureaucracy got him into hot water with the authorities. To avoid arrest he retreated to Switzerland, ultimately to end up in England with the support of the philosopher David Hume.

Rousseau later wrote his Confessions and returned to Paris in 1767, ignoring the threat of an outstanding arrest warrant. He continued to write but became hypersensitive to perceived threats. Some of these threats may have been real and others exaggerated. For instance, he believed that Hume was conspiring against him, which may have been partly true. And Voltaire accused him of burning down the theater at Geneva in 1768.²

Devon Hollahan – Paranoid android via Flickr

Some say that Rousseau was paranoid during this period. But I prefer to think of him as confusing actual and perceived threats.

When people are threatened, possibly traumatized and lied to, and all they have is their intuition to guide them, it’s hardly surprising that they make interpretive mistakes. They sense the bad vibes from others, which are real. But unless they train themselves to treat every perceived threat as a hypothesis instead of a fact, they could become overwhelmed and see some non-threats as threats.³

Rousseau also took some heat for his views on religion, which challenged both Catholic and Calvinist teachings. Rousseau was a precursor to those Romantics who see God in natural creation and society as something other and potentially corrupting. He rejected the belief in original sin and was upset that his views gained much criticism while the religious authorities were indifferent to the atheistic philosophers of the day.4

Related » Enlightenment

The house where Rousseau was born at number 40, Grand-Rue. – Wikipedia

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Jacques_Rousseau

² Ibid. Hume had offered to filter and forward Rousseau’s more important incoming mail, to which Rousseau agreed. But there is some evidence that Hume also read Rousseau’s outgoing mail, which was not agreed upon. This only goes to show that creeps who somehow think they’re justified in violating personal privacy – just because they can – have been around for a very long time. It’s not something unique to the cyber age.

³ Of course, it’s not easy to support or reject these hypotheses because some threatening people are pathological liars and polished fakers. As for those generating the bad vibes, I believe God will deal with them – fairly – in good time.

4 This situation has been tentatively explained by the sociological “in-group / out-group” theory. According the theory, people in an in-group feel more threatened or irritated by an out-group when the out-group shares some but not all of the in-group’s views and practices. So for example, some Americans and Canadians look down on and insult one another because inhabitants share some but not all elements with the other country. But neither Americans nor Canadians become emotionally invested or insulting toward peaceful, faraway lands that are fundamentally different. Most just couldn’t care less. It’s the partial similarity that stirs up discontent between in-groups and out-groups.

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Romeo and Juliet – Not my fav but respected

Photo - Wikipedia

Photo – Wikipedia

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare (1595-6). It portrays the brief lives of two “star crossed lovers” who come from feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues.

In Shakespeare’s time it was one of his most popular plays, as it remains today.

Myself, I never really liked Romeo and Juliet too much. It seems small and dark. Romantic love is fine. But when it gets all messed up and doesn’t work out right, it doesn’t really capture my imagination.

I find it sort of silly and dramatically frustrating that someone would commit suicide because he thought his true love was dead. And guess what? She wasn’t even dead after all. So what happens? She wakes up and kills herself.

Maybe I just like happy endings. I realize life doesn’t always turn out that way but still, Romeo and Juliet for me is a bit of downer.

Like many of his plays, Shakespeare didn’t come up with the idea out of the blue. There were precedents, some very clear.

Romeo and Juliet borrows from a tradition of tragic love stories dating back to antiquity. One of these is Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ovid‘s Metamorphoses, which contains parallels to Shakespeare’s story: the lovers’ parents despise each other, and Pyramus falsely believes his lover Thisbe is dead. The Ephesiaca of Xenophon of Ephesus, written in the 3rd century, also contains several similarities to the play, including the separation of the lovers, and a potion that induces a deathlike sleep.

One of the earliest references to the names Montague and Capulet is from Dante‘s Divine Comedy, who mentions the Montecchi (Montagues) and the Cappelletti (Capulets) in canto six of Purgatorio:

Come and see, you who are negligent,
Montagues and Capulets, Monaldi and Filippeschi
One lot already grieving, the other in fear

Image - Wikipedia

Romeo and Juliet (detail) by Frank Dicksee – Wikipedia

In 1938 the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote a ballet after the story. And Berlioz (1839) and Tchaikovsky (1869) also wrote classical pieces on the theme.

There have been several screen adaptations. One of my favorites is Franco Zeffirelli‘s 1968 Romeo and Juliet. I remember marveling at Olivia Hussey as a kid when I saw the film in junior high. For me, she was the epitome of womanly beauty back then.

¹ See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet

In India, the Mahabharata epic tells of a family feud that leads to total war between the Pandavas and the Karavas. This war is also central to The Bhagavad Gita, which is a part of the Mahabharata (some believe a later addition because it differs stylistically). I don’t think the Capulets and Montagues were related but the Pandavas and Karavas were. Of course, Shakespeare most likely did not have access to Hindu myth (in this case, the Puranas) because it hadn’t been translated into European languages yet. But for thinkers like Adolf Bastien, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung (who believe that certain psychological “patterns” or “structures” arise independently around the world) this wouldn’t have been a huge problem.

Related » Projection, Radha


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Rishis – Holy persons or good singers with too much time on their hands?

A Hermit (Rishi), India, 11th century AD, pink_sandstone - Chazen Museum of Art

A Hermit (Rishi), India, 11th century AD, pink sandstone – Chazen Museum of Art

In Hinduism rishis are primal seers or sages mentioned in the Vedas.

The rishis belonged to an elite class of male and female holy persons said to have received the Vedas through revelation. They “heard” and then passed on the sacred Vedas in the form of hymns.

Through song and oral repetition the Vedas were transmitted to disciples for centuries until the verses were eventually written down.

For this reason pinpointing the age of the Vedas is problematic because (most likely) no one really knows when the Vedic revelations were received and orally composed.

Also, from a contemporary skeptics eye, no one really knows if the rishis just had good imaginations, were repeating cultural biases, or whether their songs came from God (or partly from God).

This may seem politically incorrect or indelicate to say, but it’s so common for people to level this kind of critique against Jewish and Christian scripture, it only seems fair and right that all sacred scripture should be met with the same kind of critical scrutiny.


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Plato’s Republic – A far-reaching attempt to understand life and eternity

Allegory_of_the_Cave (Plato)

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (Wikipedia)

The Republic is a political, philosophical and literary work by the ancient Greek Plato. Written in dialog form around 380 BCE, it reads more like a play than a dry treatise on philosophy, maths, political theory or the arts.

Plato writes a fictional discussion among Athenians and foreigners. The outcome of these contrived debates advances Plato’s ideas, as presented by the literary character of Socrates,  Plato’s real-life teacher.

Questions like the nature of justice, virtue, truth and beauty are examined. Also, a contrast is set up between the world of becoming (our visible world) and the world of being (an eternal world that informs our visible world).

This dialectic permeates the entire discussion. Not unlike some of the ancient Chinese sages, Plato’s eye on eternity influences how he understands society, rulers, and the arts.

For Plato, the philosopher-king is the best kind of ruler. So the Republic does not advocate democracy (Greek: strength of the people), even though democracy is an ancient Greek invention, traceable to the 6th century BCE.

Today, many take the idea of democracy as a good in itself. We hardly stop to think if there might be a better way (except for tyrants, communists and non-democratic socialists). But it is conceivable that the majority isn’t always right or best.¹ And that’s how Plato saw it.

From the House of T. Siminius Stephanus, Pompeii

Plato’s Academy – Roman mosaic from Pompeii, 1st century BCE (Wikipedia)

Just as a doctor is specially trained to heal citizens, for Plato an enlightened ruler is uniquely endowed to govern subjects. But not everyone is able to recognize the best ruler. And for Plato the vast majority of citizens are ill-suited to the task of selecting one.

The Republic groups society into four classes of gold, silver, bronze and iron. Individuals (ideally) fulfill the duties that nature has allotted to their social class.

This is reminiscent of the Indian caste system, although Hinduism traditionally legitimizes social inequality through myth and spirituality, not so much through nature.

via Vimeo

via Vimeo

Christianity too speaks of different members of one spiritual body, each having his or her own role: Hands, feet, head, heart, etc.²

On a deeper level, The Republic also presents Plato’s popular ‘cave analogy.’ This illustrates his views about a link between worldly change and eternity. The cave analogy goes as follows:

Prisoners in a cave have been there since birth. Bound to a chair, they face a wall with a fire some distance behind them. Their captors come and go, always walking between the fire and the prisoners’ backs. So the captors and the stuff they transport are always seen by the prisoners as shadows on the cave wall. The prisoners cannot see anything else so assume the shadows are reality.

If a prisoner were dragged up the slope leading to the cave entrance, his or her eyes would be temporarily blinded by the sunlight. Once their eyes adjusted, however, the free prisoner would see a far greater reality than the world of shadows.

Supposing the prisoner were to reenter the cave, they again would be temporarily blinded, this time by a lack of light. When their eyes readjusted to the darkness, the shadows would reappear. But the prisoner now knows these are mere shadows and not reality, as he or she had previously believed. And he or she would probably feel sorry for those who did not know the difference

A Renaissance manuscript Latin translation of ...

A Renaissance manuscript Latin translation of The Republic (Wikipedia)

In this analogy, the shadows represent the ever-changing world of daily life. The world above the cave entrance represents an eternal, unchanging reality that Plato calls the realm of the Forms. For Plato, only the Forms are real because our mundane world is subject to change and lacks permanence.

Toward the end of The Republic, “The Myth of Er” outlines Plato’s belief in reincarnation and the immortality of the soul.

Many see The Republic as a landmark in literature, education, philosophy, politics and theology. Influential throughout Europe in the Middles Ages, it continues to inspire in the modern age.

For me, this was one of the first ‘mind-blowing’ books that I encountered in my youth. And even though I’ve moved beyond it in my own thinking, I will always respect Plato because he provided a model, however embryonic, to help make sense of my early spiritual experiences.4

¹ Consider how the vast majority of scientists – at least, those who have received funding – maintain that climate change is bad for the planet. But what if, say, an asteroid hits which causes a deep freeze, and that extra ½º of temperature saves humanity from extinction? Far-fetched, to be sure. But like Plato’s scenario, a hypothetical example where the majority would not be correct.

² Funny how this photo has a white hand on top. A little bit racist? The Christian notion of “one body” can also be used by sexists to suggest that women and men have definite, different roles.

³ This is my retelling, partly based on philosophy lectures given by Dr. Robert Carter at Trent University. See original text: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/allegory.html

4 A sampling of some of the topics covered in this diverse work:

pl1

(studyplace.org)

Related » Archetype, Archetypal Image, Aristotle, AtlantisSri Aurobindo, Blessed Isles, Boethius, Church Fathers, Dionysius the Areopagite, Gorgias, Meno, Neoplatonism, Plotinus, Proclus, Socrates, Skepticism, Solon, Sophists, Timeus, Universalism