Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sustainable Plato

Plato held that there are 'ideal forms' of all objects that exist. Therefore, there is a 'perfect' dog or a 'perfect' human for which nature provides only approximate examples.

When we look at ourselves from a racial perspective we use Aristotelean logic by creating categories we call 'race'. Our natural instincts sense 'other' when we come upon those who appear different from ourselves. Any language which involves racial terminology heightens this impulse. We are then caught in a cycle of separating ourselves from those around us. 

In a world with long established racial prejudices the slender blond white woman is held in print media as the most often shown ideal woman in the USA. Women who do not fit this 'ideal' are forced consciously or unconsciously to desire to change themselves to emulate this perceived 'ideal'.

Similarly, the white, slender, muscular, wealthy man, with perhaps, a British accent, is presented as the ideal man in this country. Features which deviate from this perceived ideal cause unwanted anxiety at some level.

Since the Queen of England acquired pekingese dogs during the British invasion of China, dogs have become mostly pets, and in a breeding-for-looks frenzy, the dog show was born with it's 'ideal' dog for each breed. But the single ideal dog of Plato's imagination would be one which did not fit any of these breed categories as it would have the most functional features of all of them.

And 'functional' features would depend on climate and best-way-to-catch available prey.

The Industrial Revolution took us away from the climate based agricultural life- a hard life- but one centered on the tangible reality underfoot. This Industrial Revolution eventually created affordable goods. Unfortunately it also separated us from our own food production and turned us into slaves for owners instead of the small business farmers/owners we had been. We then desired to be top of the food chain in the Industrial Revolution- the British wealthy aristocrat- as Britain was the most powerful nation during this period. And this became the desired 'ideal' human- very racially, economically, and socially particular and separated from the consequences of their actions. Soon, what I call, "trickle-down aristocracy" was rampant and everyone wanted a house on a big-as-possible lot, with a pet dog, membership in socially exclusive clubs, and the chance to look down on others.

Hopefully we are finally moving beyond the post-Victorian worship of aristocracy and it is not necessary to anglicize our names or desire to be like a certain 'ideal'. When even the very top of the world-wide social hierarchy, the British royal family, finds it necessary to anglicize it's name from a German one to an English one, the ridiculousness of it all becomes apparent.

But, the Industrial Revolution grew from the Enlightenment which replaced the mysticism of past and led to the scientific method which led to advances in medicine, technology, etc. Now that we have the method to solve problems rationally we can attack our climate crisis. And we can rationally reconnect to the ground underfoot.

This means living a hybrid life- one in which we are both old-school earth friendly in our daily lives and taking advantage of the scientific method to invent life-improving technology. A life in which our surface and social hierarchy characteristics are replaced by our life characteristics- the way we live- the way we successfully blend with our fellow humans and the earth's systems.

Paradoxically, Plato's 'ideal human' may be thought of as a mixture of all races; a perfect blending of all Darwinian climate-resistant and hunting/gathering traits capable of inventing functional objects and making peace with others. How's that for a thought experiment!

Frank Zappa once said, "Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny."

Maybe the Enlightenment is not dead- it just smells funny.


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