Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Prometheus Plato Pirsig Points

Plato begins on (208) to “compare the effect of education and that of the lack of it on our nature to an experience like this.” He then outlines his story of the cave. Essentially humans fettered in place, forced to look only one direction and see shadows projected by people unseen of the people, animals, and objects. This is all they know of reality. It is in my terminology very “flat.” The Matrix clearly borrows heavily from Plato, complete with fetters and virtual reality shadows as substance. Even after being released from bonds and able to turn around, men become puzzled and “believe that the things he saw earlier were more truly real than the ones he was being shown?” (209) How would we know what was real after, and how would we know now? This brings to mind Edwin Abbot’s Flatland (and again I’m thinking about unflattening.) Wherein “A. Square” visits lower dimensions in preparation for a visit from the higher dimensional Sphere. It’s impossible to imagine something outside of our reality, another dimension, at least in anything but the abstract. But through analogy we can. As far as going back to tell others in the cave, he would “go through any sufferings, rather than share their beliefs and live as they do?” Those who claim to “know it” are often considered madman. (210)

Here’s the key of the dialogue, (211) Socrates ties the analogy back to their lives: “The realm revealed through sight should be likened to the prison dwelling, and the light of the fire inside it to the sun’s power. And if you think of the upward journey and the seeing of things above as the upward journey of the soul to the intelligible realm, you won’t mistake my intention…” “in the knowable realm the last thing to be seen is the form of the good, and it is seen only with toil and trouble. Once one has seen it, however, one must infer that it is the cause of all that is correct and beautiful in anything, that in the visible realm it produces both light and its source, and that in the intelligible realm it controls and provides truth and understanding; and that anyone who is to act sensibly in private or public must see it.”

Essentially he’s saying that what we see with our eyes is only a shadow on the wall (the knowable realm), and what’s beyond it is the intelligible realm, and that’s where truth is, and the good…. He’s also making it out to be something fixed and permanent. Pirsig addresses this permanence in Z&tAoMM and how Truth is turned into fixed Ideal, something to be touched, rather than something constantly changing, always invented and rediscovered. (see earlier post for quotes.)

Thus, this knowledge is something some can attain, as “for your own sakes and for that of the rest of the city, we have bred you to be leaders and kings in the hive, so to speak. You are better and more completely educated than the others, and better able to share in both types of life. So each of you in turn must go down to live in the common dwelling place of the other citizens and grow accustomed to seeing in the dark. … So the city will be awake, governed by us and by you; not dreaming like the majority of cities nowadays, governed by men who fight against one another over shadows …” (214)

Having seen the “light” so to speak of knowledge is a great power and comes with great responsibility to return to the caves and guide the people. However, doesn’t seem to indicate trying to educate them and bring them into the light. As he writes, “education is not what some people boastfully declare it to be. They presumably say they can put knowledge into souls that lack it, as if they could put sight into blind eyes.” (212) Thus, “It is our task as founders, then, to compel the best natures to learn what was said before to be the most important thing: namely, to see the good; to ascend that ascent. And when they have ascended and looked sufficiently, we must not allow them to do what they are allowed to do now.” Which is: “To stay there and refuse to go down again to the prisoners in the cave and share their labors and honors, whether the inferior ones or the more excellent ones.” Citizens must “share with each other the benefit they can confer on the community.” (213) A key in here is the “Best” natures. Not that all can attain such things. An early idea of the “Power Elite” and that knowledge is a thing, of substance. need to turn our instrument toward the light, towards the good (the brightest thing there is…) (212)

Ideas of ruling, Cautionary warning just as applicable today “in it alone the truly rich will rule – those who are rich not in gold, but in the wealth the happy must have: namely, a good and rational lie. But if beggars – people hungry for private goods of their own – go into public life, thinking that the good is there for the seizing, then such a city is impossible. For when ruling is something fought over, such civil and domestic war destroys these men and the rest of the city as well.” (214) 214) “surely it is those who are not lovers of ruling who must go do it. Otherwise, the rivaling lovers will fight over it.” And therefore, “the truth of the matter is surely this: a city in which those who are going to rule are least eager to rule is necessarily best and freest from faction, whereas a city with the opposite kind of rulers is governed in the opposite way.” (214)

Aeschylus “Prometheus Bound”

Unlike the story of the Modern Prometheus, Dr. Frankenstein, who stole the power to give life from the gods, which serves as a warning for humans attaining knowledge not meant for them and general fear of technology, in this version of the Prometheus tale, his theft of fire, is a gift of life, of freedom to humanity. And where he’s punished is that it gave people a chance to challenge gods. It’s never totally clear what Prometheus’s motivation is. He steals fire from Hephaestus and acts as champion of human race (20) But why? He says on 34, “all my gifts were guided by goodwill” and pity for mortal men (28). And since he’s a seer, did he know his fate and the anger of Zeus and do it anyway? (24)

(On a side note, I wonder in this passage: “Scorched with the sun’s flaming rays your skin will lose Its bloom of freshness…” (21) Could we think of Prometheus as another race, who’d come up with technology, science, earlier, and then punished? On (33) we learn that the races weep for Prometheus – all over the world… Is Prometheus the African people, the first people? Probably too much of a stretch….)

Prometheus’s gift, fire became “for men a teacher in every art, their grand resource.” (24) On 34 we hear all else that he brought, “At first Mindless, I gave them mind and reason. … In those days they had eyes, but sight was meaningless; Heard sounds, but could not listen; all their length of life They passed like shapes in dreams, confused and purposeless. … lived in holes, like swarms of ants, Or deep in sunless caverns…” Here we have a reference to the Cave and thus to Plato’s dialogue. Men lived in this state of no knowledge. “their every act was without knowledge, till I came.” He says he taught men about the stars, mathematics, writing “the all-remembering skill, mother of many arts” harnessed animals, gave them sailing, medicines, the means to understand prophecy (also, his means were part of his thievery from Zeus), treasures from the earth – bronze, iron, silver, gold – and we must assume the means to work them, Summarized: “All human skill and science was Prometheus’ gift.” Essentially man’s existence is due to Prometheus. Particularly since Zeus, “Of wretched humans he took no account, resolved To annihilate them and create another race. This purpose there was no one to oppose but I: I dared. I saved the human race from being ground To dust, from total death.”  (27) Furthermore, “I planted firmly in their hearts blind hopefulness…” (28) In other stories, this is also attributed to Pandora, who is also seen as a burden created for man.

We learn that Prometheus stood with Zeus against the Titans, because “they despised cunning; in their pride of strength They foresaw easy victory and rule of might.” But his mother Themis, or Earth “Had many times foretold to me, that not brute strength, Not violence, but cunning must give victory To the rulers of the future.” (27) But then Zeus turned around and ruled with brute strength. For “A new master holds the helm of Olympus; These are new laws indeed By which Zeus tyrannically rules; And the great powers of the past he now destroys.” (25) And “We are ruled by one Whose harsh and sole dominion none may call to account.” (30) “Zeus, ruling by law of his own invention, Provides an example of his proud power over the gods of the past.” (32) “All tasks are burdensome – except to rule the gods, No one is free but Zeus.” (22)

In Zeus’ eventual pardoning of Prometheus (later plays/stories), we see a change, a turn in him from ruling simply out of strength, and using reason, thought, and this serves as analog for the way the Greeks thought of ruling, as different to what had gone before.  

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