New Year, in the Cimmerian style.

The Late, Great Hank Williams

I have a few records that belonged to my grandfather that give "Hank Williams" as the artist -- not Hank Williams, Sr., but just the name of the man. He died on New Year's Eve, 1953. 

A Refutation of Plato?

Confer this with all you have read.

Is this a refutation, or a confirmation? Is Ireland a proof of his concept, given its commitment to this mathematical music? Or is it a denial of the claims, given that Ireland is not foremost among the world's nations?

The High Reel

Now I've posted this before, some of you may remember it. The concert goes on for a good ways after, and it's all worth your time, as is what came before. But it's this part to which I want now, as in years before, to draw your attenion.

Our friend Plato would have had good things to say about this, I do not doubt. Men who can play like that are on the spectrum with gods, as discussed not long ago.

Philosophy and Safety

A younger cousin is expecting a child. I called to congratulate him. He asked if we were being safe. “I ride motorcycles for fun,” I told him. 

Philosophy is the base human discipline not only because it happened to give rise to all the others, but also because it is the discipline for determining what is best in life. 

Safety ain’t it.

Plato's Laws V, 6

The rest of Book V wrestles with the problems we identified in the last two discussions, especially the ways in which what we call capitalism will distort the equality of the initial division. 

The Athenian suggests that, now, the state must decide on a system for handling property ownership. The best of all system, he claims, is that all shall be held in common and in conditions of friendship. This means not just property but everything: wives, children, nothing shall be thought of as properly belonging to anyone, but all as the common property and business of all. There is no real argument given for this being the best possible system because Plato had already argued for it in the Republic, where he admits that only the Guardians and Auxiliaries will be rational enough to see its value. Here the Athenian simply asserts that it is the best system, but admits that absolutely no one anywhere abides by it, so it probably won't be acceptable to this colony either.

No, people are going to want private property, and private relationships like spousal ones, and to parent their own children. So the problem becomes one of how to ensure that some sort of equality is maintained among the populace.

The Athenian proposes a whole series of anti-capitalist regulations meant to ensure that no one accumulates great wealth. Most important is a regulation that you shouldn't buy or sell your assigned land. It isn't actually forbidden, but anyone who does comes under religious censure and public curse. The idea here is not to provide you with a basis for profit, but with a permanent source of support and standing within a community that is meant to approximate human equality. 

People should not be able to own gold or silver, or currencies issued by other nations abroad; only the local currency should be possessed, as necessary to further local transactions or pay wages (note that slaves are expected to be paid wages). People who have business abroad may draw currency, once the government has approved their going abroad; but when they return, they need to hand in their foreign currency for a like amount of the local currency.

So they can profit, then, on their foreign trips? Yes, profit is allowed, and not just on foreign trips but by regular economic activity at home. However, there are to be limits placed on wealth acquisition. The initial value of the equal lot that everyone received is to be taken as a lower bound: no one should be allowed to fall below it, the Athenian says. presumably meaning that the state should provide new funds as necessary to those who do. 

This lower-bound value is also to be used as the basis for calculating the upper bound. The state is to divide society into classes based on those who have twice, three times, or four times the original value of the lottery distribution. These classes will be assigned different political powers, although so far we have not heard yet exactly how they will be differentially empowered. But what we do hear, now, is that the Athenian wants to limit the absolute upper limit of wealth at four times the initial lottery value. Everything one earns after that is to be handed over to the state.

There is a proof along the way that good men can't grow exceedingly rich, which is mathematical and logical rather than pragmatic. As such, it is subject to Aristotle's dictum (frequently cited here, because I take it to be one of the most important Aristotelian insights and a kind of proto-pragmatism) that proofs from strict logic cannot apply to worldly affairs. I am therefore inclined to dismiss it, but it is worth noting because it allows the Athenian to assume that anyone who has grown very rich is also not morally good.

Note that the upper bound is on wealth, not income. Once you have grown in wealth to four times the original amount you received at lottery, there is a 100% tax on all future income, which carries on forever until you lose enough to fall below the upper bound.

The Athenian also describes the division of the city, physically, into legal departments; here he makes the claim I mentioned earlier, which is that the capital should be at the center of the territory in order to ensure the closest thing to equality of access to the center of law and power. Equality is not going to be perfect -- the most outlying farms will be more distant that the inlying ones -- but that is also true for the wealth system. Some are going to be as much as four times richer than others, and you can rise or fall within limits on how much you can rise or fall. 

It's hard to imagine what a modern society would look like if it attempted to enforce a rule that one could be only four times as rich, in total wealth, as the poorest member of one's society. There are of course also big problems in terms of incentives to work that come from setting a permanent 100% tax on the most successfully productive of the citizenry; but that part, at least, doesn't bother the Athenian. He does not want the society to grow rich, he wants it to be good, and he thinks that excessive wealth concentration is opposed to both personal moral goodness and social stability.

A practical problem: what about the problem of mental health, so that "the poorest" may be incapable of maintaining anything like a reasonable personal standard of wealth? There are two answers to that, one of which is explicit and the other implicit. The implicit answer is that the wealth is not personal, but per household: if a household contains an incompetent member, they are meant to sort that our internally. The householder should be a competent family member, with incompetents to be cared for within the household. The explicit answer is, of course, that households that fall below the lower wealth threshold are to be supported by state resources until they are back at that threshold. 

The book closes ironically, with the Athenian admitting about this system exactly the same thing he admitted about the "everything in common system" -- no one does this, and probably no one would agree to it anyway. The legislator ends up admitting it to the public, and suggesting, "Look, this is just a model, we'll just try to approximate it and leave off the parts that prove impossible." So why did we run through these two systems that are so opposed to human nature that no one does and no one would adopt them? These are two views of human equality, both of which run up against human nature (as well, returning to Aristotle's point, as practical reality). The first one is perfectly equal; the second is only approximately equal; neither is obtainable, because equality is not what we really want.

Social stability is going to require some sort of equality, though. What kind, since neither true equality nor even approximate equality are acceptable to us?

Plato's Laws V, 5: Divisions of Land Part Two

Again, today I'm handling only a few paragraphs of this section, because there's a lot buried in them. The rest of this book turns on the division of land, and tomorrow or thereabouts I'll get to the rest of it. For the moment, though, I want to examine just the introduction to the problem.

"Ath. Another piece of good fortune must not be forgotten, which, as we were saying, the Heraclid colony had, and which is also ours-that we have escaped division of land and the abolition of debts; for these are always a source of dangerous contention, and a city which is driven by necessity to legislate upon such matters can neither allow the old ways to continue, nor yet venture to alter them. We must have recourse to prayers, so to speak, and hope that a slight change may be cautiously effected in a length of time. And such a change can be accomplished by those who have abundance of land, and having also many debtors, are willing, in a kindly spirit, to share with those who are in want, sometimes remitting and sometimes giving, holding fast in a path of moderation, and deeming poverty to be the increase of a man's desires and not the diminution of his property. For this is the great beginning of salvation to a state, and upon this lasting basis may be erected afterwards whatever political order is suitable under the circumstances; but if the change be based upon an unsound principle, the future administration of the country will be full of difficulties. That is a danger which, as I am saying, is escaped by us, and yet we had better say how, if we had not escaped, we might have escaped; and we may venture now to assert that no other way of escape, whether narrow or broad, can be devised but freedom from avarice and a sense of justice-upon this rock our city shall be built; for there ought to be no disputes among citizens about property. If there are quarrels of long standing among them, no legislator of any degree of sense will proceed a step in the arrangement of the state until they are settled. But that they to whom God has given, as he has to us, to be the founders of a new state as yet free from enmity-that they should create themselves enmities by their mode of distributing lands and houses, would be superhuman folly and wickedness."

So here the Athenian begins by nothing something mentioned in an earlier book, i.e., that the colony is lucky because it doesn't have pre-existing distributions of land or debt to worry about. It can divide land anew without having to tread among the pre-existing jealousies and resentments of the people.

These very issues are problems for us, though. As Congress proposes new debts or new divisions, or the elimination of whole classes of debt (like student loans), it aggravates the existing divisions in society. 

This can be ok, Plato suggests, if those who have are generous about giving things up, and those who have not are not greedy. Well, many things could be ok if human nature was better than it is; but both of these are relative concepts. Who is going to say that you have been generous enough, or that the poor who want this or that concession are being too greedy? Is waiving medical debt ok, but not student loans? Both, but not mortgage payments? 

In Aristotle's Politics, this very aspect of government by the many turns out to be the failing point of many constitutions. In aristocracies, the rich are powerful enough to prevent any concessions to the poor -- until the poor revolt. In democracies, the poor are powerful enough to vote to seize whatever they want from the rich -- until the rich hire mercenaries and overthrow the state, establishing themselves as its overlords. In both cases, given Aristotle's concept that there is a healthy form and an unhealthy form of every government, the movement is in the direction of a corrupted form.

Still, say you could do it. Conceptually, how would you do it? What would make sense to me is a kind of corporate form of redistribution: i.e., take land away from those who have not managed to use it productively, and assign it to those with smaller estates who seem to have developed good systems of management and fair conditions for their workers. Just as you might demote an executive, or promote one who seems to be doing well, you might redistribute land and resources in this way. 

You could even then ease the hard feelings from the losers by compensating them: perhaps by disguising the demotion as a "promotion to a distinguished emeritus position" with less practical power and control, but a comfortable sinecure. This kind of fine adjustment might work for the sort of system Plato is envisioning, one with a king (the analog to the CEO of a corporation) and a legislator empowered to introduce new rules. 

That is not what Plato has in mind. What Plato has in mind is mathematical and geometric. 

Ath. "How then can we rightly order the distribution of the land? In the first place, the number of the citizens has to be determined, and also the number and size of the divisions into which they will have to be formed; and the land and the houses will then have to be apportioned by us as fairly as we can. The number of citizens can only be estimated satisfactorily in relation to the territory and the neighbouring states. The territory must be sufficient to maintain a certain number of inhabitants in a moderate way of life-more than this is not required; and the number of citizens should be sufficient to defend themselves against the injustice of their neighbours, and also to give them the power of rendering efficient aid to their neighbours when they are wronged. After having taken a survey of theirs and their neighbours' territory, we will determine the limits of them in fact as well as in theory. And now, let us proceed to legislate with a view to perfecting the form and outline of our state. The number of our citizens shall be 5040-this will be a convenient number; and these shall be owners of the land and protectors of the allotment. The houses and the land will be divided in the same way, so that every man may correspond to a lot. Let the whole number be first divided into two parts, and then into three; and the number is further capable of being divided into four or five parts, or any number of parts up to ten. Every legislator ought to know so much arithmetic as to be able to tell what number is most likely to be useful to all cities; and we are going to take that number which contains the greatest and most regular and unbroken series of divisions. The whole of number has every possible division, and the number 5040 can be divided by exactly fifty-nine divisors, and ten of these proceed without interval from one to ten: this will furnish numbers for war and peace, and for all contracts and dealings, including taxes and divisions of the land. These properties of number should be ascertained at leisure by those who are bound by law to know them; for they are true, and should be proclaimed at the foundation of the city, with a view to use. 

"Whether the legislator is establishing a new state or restoring an old and decayed one, in respect of Gods and temples-the temples which are to be built in each city, and the Gods or demi-gods after whom they are to be called-if he be a man of sense, he will make no change in anything which the oracle of Delphi, or Dodona, or the God Ammon, or any ancient tradition has sanctioned in whatever manner, whether by apparitions or reputed inspiration of Heaven, in obedience to which mankind have established sacrifices in connection with mystic rites, either originating on the spot, or derived from Tyrrhenia or Cyprus or some other place, and on the strength of which traditions they have consecrated oracles and images, and altars and temples, and portioned out a sacred domain for each of them. The least part of all these ought not to be disturbed by the legislator; but he should assign to the several districts some God, or demi-god, or hero, and, in the distribution of the soil, should give to these first their chosen domain and all things fitting, that the inhabitants of the several districts may meet at fixed times, and that they may readily supply their various wants, and entertain one another with sacrifices, and become friends and acquaintances; for there is no greater good in a state than that the citizens should be known to one another. When not light but darkness and ignorance of each other's characters prevails among them, no one will receive the honour of which he is deserving, or the power or the justice to which he is fairly entitled: wherefore, in every state, above all things, every man should take heed that he have no deceit in him, but that he be always true and simple; and that no deceitful person take any advantage of him."

So Plato is aiming at something akin to a true mathematical equality among the households. Everyone should receive as close to a perfectly equal distribution as everyone else, using 5,040 as the basis to ensure that as many perfectly equal distributions as possible are available. He also wants to establish a distribution that is as close as possible to equidistant from the capitol, ensuring equal access. He is motivated by the beauty of math here as he was in music.

Now it happens that I can think of an occasion when something like this was done in reality, and it is a thing I have occasionally praised here. Georgia was set up like this, following James Jackson's overturning of the Yazoo Land Scandal. Georgia was divided into parcels and distributed by lottery; county seats were set up no more than 24 miles from the county border so that everyone who lived in the county could travel to town, do their necessary business at the county seat, and get back in one day.

It worked well for a while, but there are two problems that the Georgian experience illuminates. The first one is that not all land is equally valuable. One of the lottery winners won Stone Mountain, for example. If you had the capitol and resources to set up a quarry, that might have been valuable; as he was a small farmer, it was useless to him. So at once you're going to need to permit trades of these mathematically equal divisions, and some of them are going to require concentration of resources to work effectively. That means inequality.

The other problem is that economics will out. Georgia's lottery system survived hardly any time because it wasn't capable of competing with the slave-based plantation system. That was a much worse system morally, but it produced titanic wealth by comparison. Plato would want the ideal government he hopes to erect to prevent a morally worse system from replacing his division of equality, but practically that is not to be expected. Wealth corrupts politics, so an immoral system that is productive of gigantic wealth will win over a morally better system that does not. Arguably we are witnessing that happening now, with China's openly genocidal tyranny winning out over the law-and-freedom-based American system by a simple practice of mass bribery of international elites. 

Still, there is much to say that is positive about having made the attempt; it has a lot to praise in theory, and even practically for the short while until competition swept it away. 

Plato's Laws V, 4: On the Division of Land

Today's reading is likewise short, this time because it contains a fun mystery as well as some general principles that need to be discussed. I'll take the mystery first. Plato is going to suggest that an ideal population will consist of 5,040 landholders, which he says can be divided by 59 quotients.

A contemporary reader will probably be a bit confused by this, because it would seem as if 5,000 were more obviously divisible into even units than 5,040. You could divide 5,000 into units of one thousand or two hundred-fifty, or one hundred, or fifty. Adding that extra 40 guys seems like it is going to cause a lot of fractions of guys, and while people can be divided into fractions conceptually, dividing them actually tends to ruin the use of the individual.

The Ancient Greeks had a completely different system of mathematics from ourselves, though, one that lacked both fractions and decimals -- that is, both of the ways we teach our young to handle uneven divisions. The Greeks used ratios, so that a number was divisible if you could give a whole number (say "6") and a ratio for the remainder (say "...and two for every three"). It turns out that is exactly what is being captured by the fraction 6 2/3, but this was done on the assumption that really you would not be dividing the two by three. You would be providing two here for every three there. So at first you might think that this aspect of our different systems was behind it.

But actually, if you work it out, 5,040 really is divisible by every number from 1-10, plus 12, and then turns out to have many more ways of evenly dividing it (fifty-nine total, according to Plato; actually 60 if you include itself and 1). So even though it seems like those extra forty guys are going to cause problems, they actually provide for even divisions in more cases. 5,040 can be divided by seven, for example, whereas 5,000 would cause a remainder. 

So it is our conceptual reliance on our base ten decimal system that is fooling us: a number divisible by ten looks like it would be the most obviously useful number.  Because the Greeks worked with practical divisions of whole numbers, they could see that 5,040 was a better choice. This is similar to the way that SAE wrenches and metric wrenches end up fooling the mind when you have to switch between them (as for example when working on a Ford truck, as I do sometimes, which has both SAE and metric fittings for no very good reason I can divine).

This quality of 5,040 was obvious to the Greeks because their quite different approach to math led them to it. The number has some other qualities, some of them more mystical, which are described herehere and here for those interested.

Moon eggs

A couple of Danes shipped a foldable capsule to Greenland and lived in it for two months, as an initial proof-of-concept for Moon or Mars exploration. Much of the experiment was about how bad the shack-nasties might get, but they did pretty well.

Test with St. Stephen's Day Video

 I thought I'd give posting a video a go, using Brave [Version 1.18.75 Chromium: 87.0.4280.101 (Official Build) (64-bit)] and on an old Dell laptop (2014 Inspiron 15) just to see if it works, as a test against Grim's attempts.

Here goes nothing-

Ralph Ellison

 Quillette has a piece on the eminent author that begins oddly.

Ralph Ellison, author of the timeless American classic Invisible Man, was among the most commanding black literary voices to emerge in the 20th century. It is a designation he would almost certainly have resented. Ellison didn’t see his work through the prism of his racial identity but as a means of transcending it... He wanted to “do with black life what Homer did with Greek life” as Clyde Taylor, a professor at NYU, put it.

Quite right. So why label him that way? He probably succeeded as well as anyone can at that great and difficult task.

Otherwise, it's not a terrible essay. It ends on a hopeful note that race may finally be beginning to pass away, though so deep a wound does not heal quickly. Great book. I should dig out my copy and read it again.

First, though, I should get the rest of the way through the Laws. We're just getting to an interesting part, about the perils of wealth redistribution. 


Long-time readers will recall that I've suggested for years that, if Global Warming is really a problem, we have a ready engineering solution:  add dust to the upper atmosphere. It won't stay up there forever, so if we want to adjust later we can just stop putting it up there. It's relatively cheap and quite within our technical capacity.

Bill Gates has decided he wants to do this, which now makes me question this idea that I've long embraced. Partly that is because I don't believe that Bill Gates is the right person to make the decision to do it, of course; my approval of the idea was conditional on if Global Warming really proves to be a problem. I'm not sure we are there yet; last summer was a bit warm and lingered into November. but that's not a proof that we've reached anything like a warming tipping point. We might have just had a warm year.

The Barnum Effect

An amusing matter that came up in a discussion today: the Barnum Effect, named after P.T. Barnum. I have long suspected that astrology is meant to work this way, except it doesn't work on me because I'm so unlike what 'my sign' is supposed to be that horoscopes are almost a negative indicator. 

Toward the bottom is a link to common criticisms of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests. Confer, if you like.


Or, an essay on the hapax

Saint Stephen’s Day

Here’s the Wren Song

UPDATE: For dinner tonight I made a variation on Beef Wellington, using the eye of the standing rib roast instead of a proper fillet. I suspect that it will not receive many complaints all the same. 

UPDATE: No complaints. The whole thing was devoured. 

In Defense of the Swastika

Obviously there is nothing to defend about the ideology of Nazi Germany, nor would I undertake such a defense. Yet I think our friends -- Sen. Cruz, for example -- got this one wrong. This was a matter of honor, and we have failed it.

The news story predictably and characteristically fails to explain the side with which it disagrees, if it bothered to try to understand it in the first place. You are left with the impression that there was one side that was clearly and authoritatively correct, and no other side but hate.

Yet that is not the case. The only reason there ever were Nazi swastikas on those grave markers was that the United States signed a treaty governing the honorable treatment of prisoners of war. This treaty required us, by our given word, to bury prisoners of war who died in our custody with all ranks and honors they were entitled to by their own national laws. This was not for reasons of 'preserving history,' because it wasn't history at the time: it was a matter of ongoing action, at a time when we had soldiers being held as prisoners of war by the Nazi regime as well. Our word was given for the succor of our own, and we should have kept it as we honor our own.

Nothing should make one regret standing over a Nazi's grave in any case. There is no more fit place for a swastika, or a Communist sickle-and-hammer, than on a tombstone. If anything, we have too few such tombstones. 

Really clear user instructions

From James's "I don't know, but...." site, a wonderful little explanation of the Pfizer vaccine mRNA code and, while it's at it, of genetically coded protein synthesis in general.
The people that discovered this should be walking around high-fiving themselves incessantly. Unbearable amounts of smugness should be emanating from them. And it would all be well deserved.

The High Feast of Christmas


That is a duck and bacon Great Pie in the Medieval style, spiced with cinnamon, mace, and cloves. Also a standing rib roast with an herb butter crust. And trimmings. 

I hope your feasting was good, but more that you each found spiritual wealth and divine goods on this holiest day. 

UPDATE: I usually post videos with favorite carols, but I continue to have trouble with Blogger. I tried Brave, but although I like it it seems equally incapable of accessing the HTML editing function without crashing Blogger. Also, now Firefox -- which worked last week -- is incapable of making the switch without crashing. Whatever is wrong is spreading to the other browsers I'm trying to use as a workaround.

So here are some links, which I can still do.

Dog and hearth

Merry Christmas to the Hall!

Christmas Eve

A wintry, White Christmas here.


 But inside the Hall, it is bright and warm.

 I added my sister's glasses to the holiday decorations.

Extract or Die

"We'll be better off without you, but it would be criminal of you to leave." It's the classic beef of people who don't understand where prosperity comes from, and think they can lock the producers up on a plantation--but, as always, more vivid and unhinged in its peculiar California manifestation.

Plato's Laws V 3, Christmas Edition

Some advice that might be relevant to the holiday:

Ath. "Of all evils the greatest is one which in the souls of most men is innate, and which a man is always excusing in himself and never correcting; mean, what is expressed in the saying that 'Every man by nature is and ought to be his own friend.' Whereas the excessive love of self is in reality the source to each man of all offences; for the lover is blinded about the beloved, so that he judges wrongly of the just, the good, and the honourable, and thinks that he ought always to prefer himself to the truth. But he who would be a great man ought to regard, not himself or his interests, but what is just, whether the just act be his own or that of another. Through a similar error men are induced to fancy that their own ignorance is wisdom, and thus we who may be truly said to know nothing, think that we know all things; and because we will not let others act for us in what we do not know, we are compelled to act amiss ourselves. Wherefore let every man avoid excess of self-love, and condescend to follow a better man than himself, not allowing any false shame to stand in the way. There are also minor precepts which are often repeated, and are quite as useful; a man should recollect them and remind himself of them. For when a stream is flowing out, there should be water flowing in too; and recollection flows in while wisdom is departing. Therefore I say that a man should refrain from excess either of laughter or tears, and should exhort his neighbour to do the same; he should veil his immoderate sorrow or joy, and seek to behave with propriety, whether the genius of his good fortune remains with him, or whether at the crisis of his fate, when he seems to be mounting high and steep places, the Gods oppose him in some of his enterprises. Still he may ever hope, in the case of good men, that whatever afflictions are to befall them in the future God will lessen, and that present evils he will change for the better; and as to the goods which are the opposite of these evils, he will not doubt that they will be added to them, and that they will be fortunate. Such should be men's hopes, and such should be the exhortations with which they admonish one another, never losing an opportunity, but on every occasion distinctly reminding themselves and others of all these things, both in jest and earnest."

Whom should you follow? For those of you who are Christians -- the majority of you, as far as I know -- tomorrow's holiday perhaps provides an obvious answer. The Athenian is of course not thinking of that answer. However, one of the parts I did not quote from the Laws has to do with the proper ordering of the gods, which exist in a continuum with men. (If you want to read it, scroll to "heroes" at this link; note that 'demons' is a mistranslation by Jowett, a minister, who did not distinguish the Greek daemon from the evil Satanic spirits. Plato was not urging you to include demons in your prayers, but suggesting the right place for honoring the divine being that guards your family and lends you personally power and protection.) 

That is, it was thought possible that the best of men would rise into the lower levels of the divine; and of course, gods could mate with mortals and produce half-godly offspring, whose children would themselves have part of the divine in them as well. Likewise, your ancestors were to be honored in the same way as the various ranks of gods, though at a lesser rank themselves; and you, too, in time should be honored by your descendants as a member of that rank.

Certainly in my case, the best non-divine man I can think of to follow is my father. He is gone these last four years, but continues to set a good example in memory. He always loved Christmas; all our Christmases were good while he was around to make sure of it. It is right and proper to remember him on this holiday.

The Athenian is on pretty good ground with all of the recommendations in this section. I like the inclusion of the role of jesting in reminding each other playfully to do what's right. In this way we help each other, and as a community of friends we do better than any of us might do alone. Cf. the sidebar links regarding the Anglo-Saxon concept of frith, which is a similar concept: friendship makes us free, and provides us with strength.

Rain and Snow

For us the Christmastide begins early: we are all in for a period that will exceed the beginning of Christmas, and may exceed its end. My wife has been laid off from her work due to new COVID restrictions, which could easily pass the 12 day holiday. We have our food and fuel, and have 'pulled up our ships ashore,' as the Vikings would in making winter camp. There is now no reason to leave for a good long time to come. 

So the tides go in and the tides go out, but for us, Christmastide is now. 

UPDATE: I actually did have to go back out, as a package thought lost turned up unexpectedly at the Post Office. It was from my mother and sister out west. Opening it, I laughed and called my sister on the phone. "By any chance," I asked, "have you been looking for your glasses for two weeks or so?"

America as Griswolds


Plato's Laws V, 2: Snitches Get Stitches

Plato's account of who deserves honor in society continues, with a claim that is striking:

Ath. "Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both to Gods and men; and he who would be blessed and happy, should be from the first a partaker of the truth, that he may live a true man as long as possible, for then he can be trusted; but he is not to be trusted who loves voluntary falsehood, and he who loves involuntary falsehood is a fool. Neither condition is enviable, for the untrustworthy and ignorant has no friend, and as time advances he becomes known, and lays up in store for himself isolation in crabbed age when life is on the wane: so that, whether his children or friends are alive or not, he is equally solitary.-Worthy of honour is he who does no injustice, and of more than twofold honour, if he not only does no injustice himself, but hinders others from doing any; the first may count as one man, the second is worth many men, because he informs the rulers of the injustice of others. And yet more highly to be esteemed is he who co-operates with the rulers in correcting the citizens as far as he can-he shall be proclaimed the great and perfect citizen, and bear away the palm of virtue."

It is important to remember the hypothesis in which we are operating here, i.e., that we are talking about a just state whose rulers are genuinely virtuous in the sense Plato has spelled out before. These are not busybodies making rules out of the wish to appear to be 'doing something.' They are preservers of a state that enables the greatest happiness for humankind:  a true community that shares fellowship, beliefs, festivals and honors. 

This state is also much smaller than one we would imagine. Everyone in this state will know each other, so there is a kind of organic community that is impossible in the sort of states we occupy. This proposition is much more akin to not hiding from Grandfather and Grandmother that Uncle is involved in secret drinking that we might all need to talk about, rather than informing a secret police of the "wrongdoings" (or suspected disloyalties) of fellow citizens. 

You might think of it as akin to belonging to a club, with an elected leadership that you know personally and trust. One of your members is having a problem -- maybe stealing a little from the treasury to cover it, too. Should you keep that secret, or should you bring it forward so that the club is not harmed and the problem can be addressed? 

It's a point of genuine division between Plato's world and ours, because outside of small community organizations like clubs we can no longer expect to live in such conditions. We are permanently alienated from the systems that govern us, which have grown so big and so distant that they know us not, nor we them. The mechanisms they employ to govern are more machine-like, less human, and therefore inhumane and generally destructive. Government really has become a necessary evil, in a way that Plato hoped it never would.  (Well, if in fact it is really necessary.)

As long as we cannot organize but in these massive political structures, our every encounter with government will be of evil being done to us in one way or another. Cooperating with the government to enable it to do evil to your fellow citizens more efficiently is thus not virtuous, and not praiseworthy, in a way Plato would have assigned only to his worst tyrannies -- not to the virtuous government he hoped to develop.

Yuletide Food

Cimmerian... er, Scottish meat pies. 

UPDATE: After an afternoon of hiking and mountain climbing, a kitchen-sink calzone. 



Christmastide to begin in four days. Happy Solstice and Good Yule. 

All Right, Let's Try This...

So this is done on Firefox, a browser I've never used before, which I will earnestly try to avoid allowing to be contaminated with either Google or Microsoft products -- since both of them seem to be at fault, if you've been following the technical discussions below. If this works, there should be an embedded YouTube video below (that being one of the things Blogger doesn't support in its Compose view, but which requires HTML code).

Plato’s Laws V

This section opens with an account of honor, and what it means to rightly honor one's soul and body. Plato does not use the word "honor" in the same way that I do;* in fact he does not use it as Aquinas** or Kant use it, both of whom are also using it in different ways that are distinct from my own concept. For Plato (and Aristotle, but not Aquinas), honor is merely a helpmate to reason. To honor the soul means to do what reason tells us is best and most worthy; honor helps us do that by adding a kind of glory (or sometimes a rhetorical weight) to reason's dictates. 

This is important because Plato believes the soul is divided into three parts, each of which has its own core motivation. The rational part of the soul should rule, motivated by reason. However, there is also a spirited part of the soul, which is motivated by glory and honor; and an appetitive part of the soul, which is motivated by pain (like hunger) and pleasure (like sating hunger, or getting drunk). Very often the core motivation of the appetitive part is directly at odds with the dictates of reason. Thus, it is crucial to enlist the spirited part on honor's side, so the two parts can out-compete the third. The discussion of what is rightly honored, then, helps motivate us to do what we know via reason to be best, but which might be painful or require us to forgo desired pleasures. 

In the Republic, Plato divides society into three classes depending on which of these three motives predominates in an individual. However, there too, all three are present internally: the Guardian class is just one in which the rational part of the soul happens to be especially strong. The Auxiliaries are motivated especially by glory and honor, which means they can be won to supporting the Guardians in enforcing law on ordinary people by appeal to honor. 

Note that here in book five of the Laws, though, Plato is trying to do the same work by appeal to internal factors rather than external compulsion. The Athenian mentions honor 'for the Legislator,' but honor is really due first -- he says -- to the divine, and then to the soul. The Legislator is only important in helping our internal soul's rational part to understand what honoring our soul entails. The Legislator is not due more honor than our soul; honoring our soul is the second most important thing after honoring the divine. The Legislator is just there to help us understand our duty to ourselves. 

And look at what that duty entails! My Scoutmasters of old would have come up with a list nearly exactly similar. 

  • Young men should be humble and listen to guidance from their elders.
  • You should take responsibility for your errors, and recognize how they cause your own problems, rather than blaming others for the evils that have befallen you.
  • You should not indulge in wanton pleasures, but should avoid excess, instead adhering to the limits set by the Legislator.
  • You should do your duty and your work, even though it may be painful or difficult.
  • You should not fear death above dishonor.
  • You should not prefer beauty to virtue.
  • You should never accept dishonest gains, but treat fairly with others, for virtue is to be valued more than gold. 
  • Be upright that you may become more like good men; avoid evil, so that you may not become more like bad ones.
  • Follow the better and avoid what is worse in all things. 

The Athenian cautions that most of us make the mistake of thinking we are honoring our soul because we misunderstand what is really honorable. Thus, for example, a young man thinks he is honoring himself by assuming he should be vocal about his opinions about everything; the right way of honoring himself is to be humble and open to correction by his elders, who have already made the mistakes he believes in so strongly, and can help him do better. By honoring them, you honor yourself by adopting advice and examples that will help you grow stronger and better.

The old man believes he is honoring himself by demanding respect and submission from the young, but he really would be better honoring himself by forcing himself to set a good example for them always in all matters. Practicing virtue constantly, so they can see it done, is the right way to honor himself; after all, it is virtue that is worthy of honor. By training yourself, you also set an example that is the best way of training the young. In that way, by honoring yourself, you do honor to them by providing them with what they really needed to become virtuous themselves.

Because the structure of the soul is supposed to mirror the order of society, these things are mutually reinforcing. In the best sort of person, the Legislator is unnecessary: the soul's rational part will identify what is right, which is also what is worthy of honor on this view of honor, and thus enlist its two parts to control its third. Yet if you are not fully worthy internally, the external reinforcement may help you attain virtue. You may be more motivated by respect or by glory, but you find you will only be honored if you do right in the eyes of others. Thus you do, and eventually you will become like them by practice. 

For those who are capable of internal regulation, the Legislator turns out to be unbothersome because he is only ruling that they should do what they were going to choose to do anyway. For those who are not, friction with the virtuous society will work to their benefit. In time, as they adapt themselves to it, they will become virtuous themselves. 

* If anyone wishes to read a dissertation on the topic of honor by me, let me know. I'll send it to you. 

** Aquinas differs from Aristotle, even while deriving his position from Aristotle's, because of Aquinas' ideas about God. Plato and Aquinas are actually closer than Aristotle and Aquinas, as you can work out from today's reading with a bit of care:  what is the role of the divine vis a vis reason? Honoring the divine means obeying what reason can work out about its dictates; honoring the soul means doing what reason works out is best for it. Honor, reason, our eternal soul and the divine are thus all aligned in a way. When you can say exactly what that way is, you will have understood how close Plato and Aquinas are, and just how they are different. 

Plato's Laws IV, 5

This is the last commentary on Book IV. With the completion of Book IV, we are approximately a third of the way through the Laws.

If any of you are reading along, you must be struck by the eerie way in which Plato's work is immediately relevant to our current moment. I'll give two examples. There is a warning against political factions coming to power who intend to use their momentary election to ensure they will always and forever be in power. Such a faction is so destructive to justice that a state that comes under their sway can no longer be said to be constitutional:

Ath. That when there has been a contest for power, those who gain the upper hand so entirely monopolize the government, as to refuse all share to the defeated party and their descendants-they live watching one another, the ruling class being in perpetual fear that some one who has a recollection of former wrongs will come into power and rise up against them. Now, according to our view, such governments are not polities at all, nor are laws right which are passed for the good of particular classes and not for the good of the whole state. States which have such laws are not polities but parties, and their notions of justice are simply unmeaning.

This is the Jowett translation, again; Edith Hamilton gives that "are not constitutions at all," rather than "are not polities." Yet this is a live theory of what Democrats intend if they win the Senate and seat Biden or Harris today: to pack the Supreme Court, to add seats to the Senate with new Democrat-leaning states, to abolish the Electoral College through the Popular Vote Compact, and to add new voters through amnesty and such. Plato's concern is immediately relevant.

A second example, more fun, is that Plato's characters actually have a discussion about who is and is not properly called a "doctor." For Plato as for ourselves, part of the issue is that there are very different standards of training and expertise at work; yet both the superior and inferior classes are granted the title. 

(The issue is pointed specifically at medicine, and since "doctor" is a Latin word, the word would properly be "physician" here. This means 'a scientist of nature,' for the Greek root of our word "physics" translates as "nature" and not "motion" as you might expect. We think of physics as the science of motion, but Aristotle's account for why different things move differently is that they have different natures. Yet it is motion he is interested in -- his Physics includes inquiry into whether motion is philosophically possible given objections e.g. from Zeno, and how to explain it if it is.)

This remarkable relevance is a feature of a truly great work, one that proves how worthy Plato's Laws are of our continued attention. No matter when you read it, you will find things in it that are relevant. Had we read it a few years ago, for example, we would not have found those aspects as important; but we would have been more taken with his account of the nature and function of marriage. Plato gives an account of what marriage is for and about that is in line with the one our traditionalists were advancing a few years ago: the one that our courts decided 'had no rational basis,' even though it was argued for on purely rational grounds both here and in Kant's Metaphysics of Morals

Another eternally relevant matter, and the one with which I will close my discussion of this book, is the proper form of laws. The issue is whether it is better for a law to be concise, or whether it should be verbose about what exactly it intends to accomplish. You might say that the question is whether the 'spirit of the law' should be put into the letter of the law. 

Consider the Second Amendment. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Here we have an example of what the Athenian is advocating: the law does not just say what shall be true ("the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed") but why it is appropriate, and what this right intends to preserve. 

Many have pointed out that the protections would have been a lot stronger if the explanatory dependent clause had been omitted. Had the Second Amendment simply read "The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed," there would have been less room for clever arguments admitting infringements. 

The Athenian takes the other view, which is that we help our progeny stay true to our constitutional and legislative order if we explain it to them clearly. Because they are now able to know just why we structured marriage laws (that is Plato's example) the way that we did, it will be clear to them what we thought was at stake in making them this way.

This is an attempt to address Chesterton's Paradox of the Wall. By encoding the explanation in the law, we make sure that no one should be able to say, "This wall serves no purpose!" They may be able to explain that the purpose is no longer relevant, which was Chesterton's proposed condition for allowing the wall to be removed. (Second Amendment opponents often argue that there is no longer a need for a militia, given that we have accepted a standing army and have a developed police force; although in the wake of last year's abdication of the police of their duty to protect communities in the face of mob action, that argument sounds very weak.)

There is a lot more, about the duty to one's parents and family -- just last week I saw someone on Twitter arguing that parenthood is a kind of natural tyranny that should be abolished, but Plato views respect for the debt one owes one's parents and elders as fundamental to society. Much of this is eternally relevant, or cyclically so. It rewards our attention, and provides another perspective -- high and distant from our own -- to consider as we attend to the same debates in our own time and place.

Test 3

Done on an older-than-my-laptop Dell PC running Win10Pro--this part typed in "regular" mode. This line tped in HTML. ital, bold, strikethrough.

Eric Hines

Test 2

 Typed in "regular" mode.

Typed in HTML view. ital, bold strikethrough.

Eric Hines

Test Post

Test done on a Dell Precision 3510 running Win7Pro and Firefox v 84.0 browser.

Eric Hines


There's a refreshing absence of lunacy from these public-medicine policy proposals for a vaccine roll-out.

"Dr. Jill"

This debate about whether to call Joe Biden's wife "Dr." is more annoying than it should be. It's a courtesy title. No one has to use it, and anyone may use it. Do what you want.

"Doctor" is from the Latin for a teacher, not a healer, so it's older and more appropriate to use it for someone whose education is pointed at educating. Her degree, Ed.D., is much, much less rigorous than a Ph.D., it is true. It is a teacher's union degree, as is the lesser M.Ed., a degree that a full-time public school teacher should be able to pursue and obtain. It's professional education for someone involved in the labor of teaching children. There's nothing wrong with that, even if it's not the same thing as a 5-10 year full time pursuit with a punishing dissertation at the end of it. 

Since it's apparently important to her, the courteous thing would be to use the courtesy she prefers if it's important to you to be respectful of her wishes. If you wish to demonstrate disrespect, it makes it easier than ever to do so. Either way, it makes it easier for you to do what you'd prefer to do. Take your pick.

Being Reasonable

I talked to Jim Hanson yesterday, and he is not at all convinced there is anything to the Dominion stuff. He used to work in cybersecurity, and thinks that the audit is unlikely to be reproducible in other areas because if it were then literally every single thing that could go wrong would have gone wrong. Well, fine; let's see if it is reproducible in other machines in other states. Only let's do it soon, yeah? Not in February or March. I'm prepared to accept that it's not true, I'd just like to see it tested in time to do something about it if there's anything to it. 

Meanwhile Michael Flynn, a man I respect for his work in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, is talking about maybe having Trump use the military to re-run the election in swing states. That's definitely a non-starter in my opinion. There's no reason to think it would work anyway. I imagine that many Trump voters would change their votes in the face of a move to re-run the election 'until we get it right.' Should a President endorse such a move, that would be an excellent reason to vote against him. 

What I would like to know is what really happened, that night when in Atlanta the poll counters were dismissed and then they pulled out suitcases of ballots and counted them for hours. That part is very interesting, and the time to get any kind of truth about it is short. There will definitely be no truth forthcoming after January 20th, not with Biden/Harris in office. 

Deleted Post

The post "Nothing to see here" was deleted because Blogger became non-operational until I deleted it. Here is a screenshot, though.

No messages suggested that the blogging interface was locked up because of the post, nor to suggest deleting it as a way to fix things. Probably it was just one of those odd coincidences. If it should happen to any of my co-bloggers in the future, please let me know. 

Plato's Laws IV, 4

I want to talk a bit about the approach to government that the Athenian is recommending as the ideal. To people who lived through the 20th century, it sounds like totalitarianism. Plato did not live through the 20th century, but he was also writing at a time and in a place where nothing similar was really possible. 

Governments in the ancient world could be oppressive -- Herodotus talks about some awful tortures and slaughters, for example -- but they weren't capable of monitoring your every move, nor trying to control it. Saying that the government ideally should try to guide you in all areas of life wasn't a commitment to anything like the kind of levels of control that a government could exercise today.

It is also an approach that was very widely endorsed in the Middle Ages. Christian writers believed that the function of the government was to shape the morals of the population as well as protecting whatever rights people enjoyed ex officio to their social class and standing. Raymond Llull, for example, argued in his writings on chivalry that the knighthood existed to defend innocents, but also to serve as a guiding hand by restraining evil impulses. 

In the Catholic world, the Church's own power and authority was strong enough that this did not lead to a total power in the secular state, but rather an alliance between the "Lords Temporal and Spiritual." The Church was jealous of its own privileges, but in return for having its privileges respected, it was willing to endorse the idea that God himself had sent the king to rule and guide royal subjects in a just and moral order. 

In Islam, the total power did devolve upon a state that was both temporal and spiritual. The Caliph was meant to guide his people to lead upright and moral lives in all matters. Avicenna gives a discourse on jihad in which he says that it is a kind of double blessing, because it both improves the soul's position with God by doing God's work, and also the material body's position by providing extra wealth and slaves to serve us in this world. Similarly, the Caliph was meant to lead his society in such a way as to encourage both material and spiritual flourishing. 

So what the Athenian is suggesting here has probably been the ordinary understanding of most of humanity for most of recorded history. This is especially true insofar as the Athenian recommends what we might call The Rule of Law:

"I call the rulers servants or ministers of the law... not for the sake of novelty, but because I certainly believe that upon such service or ministry depends the well- or ill-being of the state. For that state in which the law is subject and has no authority, I perceive to be on the highway to ruin; but I see that the state in which the law is above the rulers, and the rulers are the inferiors of the law, has salvation, and every blessing which the Gods can confer.... Now God ought to be to us the measure of all things, and not man, as men commonly say (Protagoras): the words are far more true of him. And he who would be dear to God must, as far as is possible, be like him and such as he is. Wherefore the temperate man is the friend of God, for he is like him; and the intemperate man is unlike him, and different from him, and unjust."

So too the Church and the Islamic world believed that there was a law that was above kings, and which no legislature nor king could justly void. Aquinas gives an account of how natural law follows from divine law, and is prior to and has priority over any laws made by kings or parliaments. God is to be the measure of whether or not the society is just or unjust, right or wrong; the laws are to follow from what can be understood about the divine; and the divine shall thus stand in the position of the ruler of the ruler, just as the ruler is the ruler of men. 

In this way, something like the shepherd/herd metaphor is to be attained. We can't be ruled by gods, but only by other men; but we can at least find a way, the Athenian believes as many others have also believed, to ensure that those men trusted to be the rulers are acting in a way that is in accord with what God would want for us.

Beethoven's 9th

Beethoven was perhaps born on this day, though what we have recorded is the date of his baptism, which was tomorrow. Apparently Charles Schultz' Peanuts used to make a big deal about his birthday regularly. For the same reason that it seemed right to talk about the theorbo a few days ago, it seems reasonable to play some of his great music today.

Plato's Laws IV, 3

Now to return to the Laws, which is our proper inquiry at this time. 

Plato's Athenian now begins to ask after what the best form of government for the new colony shall be. He begins this in a surprising place, which is by asking what form of government would provide the best beginning for an eventual transition to the truly best form of government. You have to start somewhere, after all, so that the legislation can be put into place for the government you wish to have. You don't start with the legislation already in place, but with a form for creating the legislation that is to follow. 

We don't see this insight often in political philosophy. We tend to think about the ideal as something like the construction of our own Constitution, which was created by legislators before it was enacted. But Plato is right: before the Constitution was crafted by the Founders, there was a time when they had only the Declaration of Independence. This provided no laws, only a statement of principles that ought to guide the construction of laws. After that, they tried to establish a system under the Articles of Confederation, which did not work out. There was a long debate -- the Federalist Papers are still read -- under the prior system about how to revise it towards a better system. 

The Athenian argues that the best origin point will be a tyranny -- provided, that is, that the tyrant is the right kind of man. If that is not so, a tyranny will produce disaster. But fortunately, the Athenian thinks he can say exactly which man is the right one:

Ath. "Give me a state which is governed by a tyrant, and let the tyrant be young and have a good memory; let him be quick at learning, and of a courageous and noble nature; let him have that quality which, as I said before, is the inseparable companion of all the other parts of virtue, if there is to be any good in them."

Cle. I suppose, Megillus, that this companion virtue of which the Stranger speaks, must be temperance?

Ath. Yes, Cleinias, temperance... 

Cle. You would assume, as you say, a tyrant who was young, temperate, quick at learning, having a good memory, courageous, of a noble nature?

Ath. Yes; and you must add fortunate; and his good fortune must be that he is the contemporary of a great legislator, and that some happy chance brings them together. When this has been accomplished, God has done all that he ever does for a state which he desires to be eminently prosperous.

So notice that's two men, not one: a tyrant who is young, temperate, quick, good memory, brave, noble, and fortunate; and also a legislator who is presumably older and wiser, and ready to inform the active young man who has the energy to enact the older man's wiser designs. 

There's a brief debate here about the order in which other forms of government are inferior to the 'good tyranny' as a starting point. Democracy is not at the very bottom, but it is close. The problem is that the more centers of real power there are, the harder it will be for the legislator's designs to be realized. A tyrant can just force everyone to obey the new laws. If there are two competing power centers, however, their competition may weaken the purity of realization of the new laws. Three is worse than two, etc. An oligarchy, in which several centers of power exist, is thus the worst one of all -- it will be very hard for the legislator to persuade them all to cooperate.

Democracy is not quite as bad as an oligarchy because no one actually has any power as an individual. The majority is the only power center, though it is made up of many people. Thus it is harder to persuade the majority than it is to persuade the single excellent tyrant, or a couple of noble co-kings (as Sparta had multiple kings). But it is easier to persuade 50%+1 voter than to get several competing power centers to work together, each of whom is powerful enough to be a problem. 

There's a similar discussion in Aristotle's Politics about which governments are best, but Aristotle wisely contrasts his discussions of potential best government with a discussion of which forms are most dangerous. A good tyranny may indeed have the greatest potential for goodness, Aristotle finds, but tyranny is also the most dangerous sort of government: should the tyrant not be this ideal character, the tyranny can produce an awful situation very rapidly. Democracy has much less potential for good, but somewhat less potential for harm because you have to convince a majority to go along with the harm (although Aristotle expects them to do so eventually, usually over the issue of voting themselves access to the minority's wealth).

Government by an aristocracy of nobles, whose class values aspire to proofs of virtue, has most of the potential of a good tyranny but with little of the downside from getting a single bad actor in the bunch. But the safest of all governments, Aristotle decides, is government by the "middle class," that is, people who have property but are not rich. These people will not want to accept the principle that private property should be taken away by the government, because that would mean their property was endangered too. But they also will not want to spend much time governing, because they aren't rich enough to waste time on it:  they'll want to get back to minding their own business as quickly as possible. They need to be minding it, to ensure they don't lose what they have.

Plato's Athenian gives little thought, here, to the dangers of government. Having established that it would be best to start with a good tyranny, he then goes into a series of mythic arguments about how it would be best for men to be ruled by gods, as it is better for oxen to be ruled by men (rather than by other oxen); and by reference to Cronos, the old god, setting spirits over men to govern them and provide for their every need. We seem to be getting a picture of human happiness in which we would be happiest if managed carefully by those wiser than ourselves; cared for, like herd animals, rather than free. 

Undeceptions: Plato

If you're a regular reader of AVI's page, you know he's got a series called "Undeceptions" going. It's well worth your time. Since we've been doing a lot of Plato here, I thought I'd take a moment to bring forward the argument from the Lesser Hippias.

One of the things that Plato had to do in his work was to convince the people of Athens to rethink their judgment of Socrates. They had executed Socrates for corrupting the youth of Athens, after all, and Plato wanted to build his Academy on the principle of furthering Socrates' work. That would be a dangerous thing to do if people still considered that kind of work a sort of corruption, especially in an age when the people were empowered to kill those they thought of as corrupting influences.

There are several approaches Plato adopts towards this end, but one of them is this rather playful dialogue. Socrates is often likened to Odysseus (whose name means something like 'troublemaker'): a clever, strategic thinker who can talk even those who proclaim themselves wise into knots. Hippias is a Sophist at the height of his fame and power during this dialogue, and is readily convinced to proclaim himself the greatest of calculators and thinkers. Socrates and he undertake to debate whether Achilles or Odysseus is the greatest of Homer's heroes. 

Socrates begins by convincing Hippias to accept that a liar is a better liar if he lies voluntarily than if he lies involuntarily. This is a relatively simple argument: a mathematician who can arrive at the right answer, but intentionally provides the wrong answer to an enemy, is a better mathematician than one who isn't actually capable of working out what the right answer is anyway. Both give wrong answers, but one of them is demonstrably a better mathematician. So too a liar who understands the truth, but is manipulating for his own reasons, is better than one who is telling an untruth because they aren't capable of seeing the truth -- or admitting it to themselves. 

Having gotten Hippias to agree to this basic principle, Odysseus proves to be the better man according to Socrates:

SOCRATES: [Y]ou say that Achilles does not speak falsely from design, when he is not only a deceiver, but besides being a braggart, in Homer's description of him is so cunning, and so far superior to Odysseus in lying and pretending, that he dares to contradict himself, and Odysseus does not find him out; at any rate he does not appear to say anything to him which would imply that he perceived his falsehood.

HIPPIAS: What do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Did you not observe that afterwards, when he is speaking to Odysseus, he says that he will sail away with the early dawn; but to Ajax he tells quite a different story?

HIPPIAS: Where is that?

SOCRATES: Where he says,—

'I will not think about bloody war until the son of warlike Priam, illustrious Hector, comes to the tents and ships of the Myrmidons, slaughtering the Argives, and burning the ships with fire; and about my tent and dark ship, I suspect that Hector, although eager for the battle, will nevertheless stay his hand.'

Now, do you really think, Hippias, that the son of Thetis, who had been the pupil of the sage Cheiron, had such a bad memory, or would have carried the art of lying to such an extent (when he had been assailing liars in the most violent terms only the instant before) as to say to Odysseus that he would sail away, and to Ajax that he would remain, and that he was not rather practising upon the simplicity of Odysseus, whom he regarded as an ancient, and thinking that he would get the better of him by his own cunning and falsehood?

HIPPIAS: No, I do not agree with you, Socrates; but I believe that Achilles is induced to say one thing to Ajax, and another to Odysseus in the innocence of his heart, whereas Odysseus, whether he speaks falsely or truly, speaks always with a purpose.

SOCRATES: Then Odysseus would appear after all to be better than Achilles?

HIPPIAS: Certainly not, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Why, were not the voluntary liars only just now shown to be better than the involuntary?

Hippias now tries to argue that you can't be a better person by being better at something evil, and accuses Socrates of being troublesome and dishonest (i.e., a troublemaker, like Odysseus). Plato is re-explaining Socrates by example, showing him to be an analogue for a Homeric hero involved in a kind of combat -- a duel of ideas, which he is winning like Odysseus won more practical combats, and in a way that makes him subject to the same criticisms as Odysseus.

Socrates says something I often think of at this point, which is worthy of any of us who are disagreeably inclined to speak our minds even when no one else aligns with our thinking.  "My deficiency is proved to me by the fact that when I meet one of you who are famous for wisdom, and to whose wisdom all the Hellenes are witnesses, I am found out to know nothing. For speaking generally, I hardly ever have the same opinion about anything which you have, and what proof of ignorance can be greater than to differ from wise men?"

What proof indeed?

A Blade for the Space Marines

By KA-BAR, of course.

I've been wearing my KA-BARs a lot more since moving to North Carolina. Georgia law -- a law I helped draft -- allows a concealed weapons permit holder to carry either a gun or a knife as he prefers. I thought that was reasonable:  why should you wish to ensure that the only option for concealing a weapon was a firearm?  If someone can defend himself with a blade, it carries far less risk of ricochet or of striking someone on the other side of the target. 

North Carolina law is fine with you carrying concealed firearms with a permit, but there is no legal way to conceal a knife. Thus, if you're carrying openly it's perfectly OK, but if it's ruled by a court to have been concealed you're in serious legal trouble. The KA-BAR depends from your belt, with the hilt entirely below the top of your belt. There's no way anyone could miss it.

Reception is mixed. Usually people out here are not the least bit surprised by knife-wearing, or gun-wearing as open carry of firearms is also legal. I did get a long look from a bouncer in Asheville when he noticed it, but he didn't say a word about it. He just filled me in on the current COVID-appropriate way to order a Guinness from the bar. An old man out toward Cashiers asked to see it the other day, and wanted to know if it was an old one. Well, the same way I'm getting to be old; I've been carrying that particular knife for thirty years. It was the one I took to Iraq, and wore strapped to my body armor when I went outside the wire. 

He said a knife like that was probably worth some money. It's not. They're pretty good knives for the money, but inexpensive enough that every Joe (or Space Marine) can carry one if he'd like. For that reason there's so many of them from so many wars and decades that none of them are very valuable. Or rather, all of them are in their way:  it's a proven design of many years' service. There are better designs for combat alone, but it is designed as a "fighting/utility knife" that is good for broad applications. I use it for tons of things; there's nothing handier than having a good knife on your belt.

New Gubernatorial Restrictions

Language warning.

Dominion Audit

A forensic audit is released to the public on authority of a Federal judge. 

"Ramsland’s team concluded that Dominion’s system 'intentionally generates an enormously high number of ballot errors.'"

Well, what's really important is that the election is over, and it's just too late to worry about that. Or anything else, like the use of state police to bar Republican electors from the state capitol. (Or making the audience stand for the National Anthem "and the Black National Anthem," a more symbolic but still striking attempt at fragmenting America along racial lines.)

Laws IV, 2

We will not get much farther into Book IV today, as Plato brings up and then disposes of quickly two titanic subjects. The first is immigration, and the difficulty of diversity; the second, the effect of fate on constitutions.

The first subject arises because the Athenian wants to know from whence the population of the new colony is coming. He then gives a general set of remarks on the subject of the difficulties of trying to forge a new colony either of a homogeneous or a diverse population. Each has its challenges, he says:

Ath. Cities find colonization in some respects easier if the colonists are one race, which like a swarm of bees is sent out from a single country, either when friends leave friends, owing to some pressure of population or other similar necessity, or when a portion of a state is driven by factions to emigrate. And there have been whole cities which have taken flight when utterly conquered by a superior power in war. This, however, which is in one way an advantage to the colonist or legislator, in another point of view creates a difficulty. There is an element of friendship in the community of race, and language, and language, and laws, and in common temples and rites of worship; but colonies which are of this homogeneous sort are apt to kick against any laws or any form of constitution differing from that which they had at home; and although the badness of their own laws may have been the cause of the factions which prevailed among them, yet from the force of habit they would fain preserve the very customs which were their ruin, and the leader of the colony, who is their legislator, finds them troublesome and rebellious. On the other hand, the conflux of several populations might be more disposed to listen to new laws; but then, to make them combine and pull together, as they say of horses, is a most difficult task, and the work of years. And yet there is nothing which tends more to the improvement of mankind than legislation and colonization.

We can see plenty in American history to sustain these opinions for our own nation. The early colonies tended to be ordered around a particular faction that came of its own accord, with a homogenous view of life. These sometimes had trouble adapting to the harsher conditions of the new land, until they finally managed to overcome their convictions and adapt. The Plymouth colony famously had a religiously-inspired socialism at their root that failed them terribly; they were saved by the introduction of anti-socialist reforms. 

Likewise you have the story of ancient hatreds from the Old Country surviving for a time in the New World, until it became clear that they were no longer valuable. Even among those driven to emigration by destitution, pride in 'where one came from' was one of the last sources of personal meaning. It took a while for people to realize that it was not worth much in the new country, and to abandon it in favor of learning a new way of life that was functional.

Plato uses a nice metaphor for this process, that of two horses who have both been traced to the same chariot learning to breathe together as they run. As long as they fight the new conditions, and struggle against learning to work together, they will have a more difficult time of it. When they get it together, though, the work will go more smoothly for everyone.

We use 'the melting pot' for the same idea, a metaphor from cooking. Things that were quite different when they were put into the pot meld together into something that is -- hopefully! -- tastier and better than the two different things were alone. You can imagine a rich fondue as the ideal, but the truth is that the products are more like a stew: one recognizes that this element is a carrot and that one a piece of meat, but they have taken on each other's character to some degree and been joined in a broth that provides a savory harmony to each and to both.

We are far enough along in our own project that the initial failings of the homogeneous have been worked out, and many of the new additions have already successfully learned to breathe with the team. Others are still learning, but the process is ongoing in spite of ideological efforts to discredit it. The reason is Plato's reason:  it is a pragmatic reason. Things get easier as we learn to live and work together. They get easier for everyone. Whatever values or resentments you hold against the idea are expensive: you must literally pay for them, in your own life and in the extra difficulties they cause you. A particularly devout man might pay for his values, or resentments, but over time simple economy causes most of us to dispose of them. 

There is much, much more to be said about this, but I will leave it for you to say in the comments if you like.

The second huge idea is the effect of fate on human intentions. This rises naturally from the discussion of how hard it is to transplant homogeneous ideas from one area to an area of different physical conditions. How much do we really legislate, the Athenian wonders? How much are we not planning our political ideals, but just admitting to the necessities that reality is forcing upon us?

Ath. My good friend, I am afraid that the course of my speculations is leading me to say something depreciatory of legislators; but if the word be to the purpose, there can be no harm. And yet, why am I disquieted, for I believe that the same principle applies equally to all human things?

Cle. To what are you referring?

Ath. I was going to say that man never legislates, but accidents of all sorts, which legislate for us in all sorts of ways. The violence of war and the hard necessity of poverty are constantly overturning governments and changing laws. And the power of disease has often caused innovations in the state, when there have been pestilences, or when there has been a succession of bad seasons continuing during many years. Any one who sees all this, naturally rushes to the conclusion of which I was speaking, that no mortal legislates in anything, but that in human affairs chance is almost everything. And this may be said of the arts of the sailor, and the pilot, and the physician, and the general, and may seem to be well said; and yet there is another thing which may be said with equal truth of all of them.

Cle. What is it?

Ath. That God governs all things, and that chance and opportunity co-operate with him in the government of human affairs. There is, however, a third and less extreme view, that art should be there also; for I should say that in a storm there must surely be a great advantage in having the aid of the pilot's art. 

"That God governs all things" is the Jowett translation, which is 19th century. He was an Anglican, and not the only one to shoehorn Greek theology into Christian wording. He doesn't have to go far, though, because the original Greek is "θεός," that is, "Deus," which for a long time now has been given in Latin as "God" in English. It had a somewhat different usage in classical Latin. This is from scroll 709b, if you want to look at it yourself.

This is a point of great importance at the moment: we ourselves are struggling to find a way to reinforce our constitution against the winds brought by a disease and our fellow citizens' adaptations to it. Our constitution provides for unfettered free expression of religion; our governors ban church services. Our constitution calls for most powers to be divided among the state governments; yet such diversity of planning and legislation proves to be inefficient as a way of responding to a disease, though it does tend to give us opportunities to test which of the legislated ideas were really effective. Governors assume heretofore-unknown powers to close businesses or to forbid you purchasing seed to grow food. Mail-in-voting schemes may be adopted unconstitutionally in order to minimize disease spread; should they be accepted in view of public health, or set aside in view of the constitutional order? Are these temporary changes, or permanent ones?

Wars have also brought major changes to our constitutional order, especially but not only the Civil War. Immigration likewise was behind major constitutional changes: at a minimum the 18th and 19th Amendments were about making America less attractive to immigrants and diluting the power of mostly-male immigrants respectively. It is very likely that, absent circumstances in Europe that led to the flight of millions of migrants, we would never have had Prohibition or women's suffrage. These things are, then, accidents rather than the careful products of our legislation -- but we have come to think of the former as a ridiculous mistake, but the latter as a fulfillment of principles embedded in the work of earlier legislators, rather than an accidental product of pressures no one planned to endure.

The Athenian invokes this big idea briefly in order to bring the discussion back around to the skill of the navigator, who in our analog is the legislator. Constitutional changes may be products of necessity, but they can be made skillfully or not. That will be the subject of the next section.


Since we have heard so much talk from Plato about the universal laws of beauty in music, perhaps it would be well to take a moment to play some magnificiently ordered music. Here is a piece you will have seen this week if you followed all my links, on what at the time I first posted it I identified as a lute.

I have since learned that is a late development of the lute that is known in English as a "theorbo."

How about one more, accompanied by an academic's explanation of some of the mathematics and musical forms involved?