I took me a full two years, but I finally finished it on my birthday over a hot plate of Motuleño at my favorite Guatemalan restaurant. Motuleño makes swallowing Plato’s Republic a little more pleasant. I have hated, HATED this book – which is why it’s taken me two years to finish it in spite of my little “how to read a book a week” trick; I just couldn’t bear to pick it up most nights. But I’ve been determined. I have an odd obsession to finish books I’ve started (unless it’s just a really cheap, fluffy novel), and most of the time, I find that it pays off in the end. I’m still on the fence about whether or not The Republic paid off.
What I did get out of the book was that human beings have always been brilliant idiots. We have extremely sophisticated ways of coming up with really stupid ideas, and we’ve always been that way. Before I started my chronological quest through classical literature , I had a somewhat elevated view of the Renaissance & Modern eras. I figured that we humans had climbed upon the shoulders of our ancestors and found a way to see farther and with keener sight. But really, humans have always been amazing, brilliant, visionary morons.
Take for instance, Socrates (if you’re not familiar with The Republic, it’s the philosopher Socrates having a dialogue with a friend, Glaucon. Socrates had no writings of his own, but his disciple, Plato, wrote down many of Socrates’ philosophies). He had some brilliant arguments as to why women and children should be held in common by all. After all, it takes a village to raise a child – until you realize that upon birth, that child is snatched from it’s natural mother, taken to a state-run daycare, hidden from the parents for a couple of years as the child is trained according to the State’s determination of what occupation the child should grow into, and no parent will ever know which child is theirs, and no child will know who his real parents are so that perfect, equal care will be given to all children, and perfect, equal respect will be given to all elders. Sounds like a fool-proof way to ensure that no child gets left behind. And never mind that pesky emotional scarring, or lack of identity, or the ability to choose one’s own passion that is living in the depths of one’s soul. Everyone is special while no one is unique. Good thing we live in an age when those absurd ideas have been seen for the foolishness that they are. Don’t we?
I know I’m sounding just a tad cynical today, but Plato can do that to ya. Philosophy can do that to ya. But cynicism is also the gift of philosophy. We want optimism and hope and progress – and we desperately need those things to keep us waking up each morning and doing those brilliant things we’re capable of as humans. But we also need cynicism to keep us grounded in reality, to realize that humankind is just as desperate as it’s always been and we cannot invent enough new things, or come up with better methods or ideas to escape being complete idiots. It helps to read Plato though, at least for the sake of knowing what NOT to do. After all, I have no interest in being a common-property wife.