Plato's Laws VIII, 2

We have reached the "Footloose" section of the document, in which the problem of horny teenagers is raised. In a way it is strange that it comes up here instead of before, when the whole business of marriage was hashed out in great detail. But no, it is only at this point -- when the business of the city's citizens proves to be athletic and musical contests and dancing and warlike exercises -- that the Athenian worriers that young people in such good shape might turn to 'sport' of other kinds. This must obviously be prevented. 

In fact the problem ends up generalizing to giving in to sexual impulses outside the context of marriage. These arguments from a Greece that has not encountered Judaism, long before the birth of Christ, are going to sound very familiar to those who have ever heard what the Catholic Church has to say about the subject. Partly this is because the Church has adopted them from Plato, whose work provided a great deal of inspiration in the early (and Greek) part of the Church's formation. 

The Athenian begins by suggesting that the business of encouraging sexual morality is both easy and nearly impossible. It's easy (not as easy as he claims, sadly) to get people to live alongside the fair without having sex with them because we can see that they do not so engage in sexuality with their fair brothers or sisters, or own children. Thus, as long as we can persuade everyone to adopt the same wholly negative view of having sex with non-spouses that we have for incest, a society should in principle be able to attain the end.

The near impossible part is, of course, convincing everyone to go along with that view.

So he begins by proposing first arguments, and then legislation to enforce the conclusions of his arguments. Now the arguments he uses are much more familiar to most readers from Plato's Symposium. They are given here in a much more straightforward form, without the drama of Alcibiades' attempted seduction of Socrates and Socrates gentle rebuff of the younger man's attempt. Here the Athenian just lays out the principles Socrates used in his defense:

Ath. The friendship which arises from contraries is horrible and coarse, and has often no tie of communion; but that which, arises from likeness is gentle, and has a tie of communion which lasts through life. As to the mixed sort which is made up of them both, there is, first of all, a in determining what he who is possessed by this third love desires; moreover, he is drawn different ways, and is in doubt between the two principles; the one exhorting him to enjoy the beauty of youth, and the other forbidding him. For the one is a lover of the body, and hungers after beauty, like ripe fruit, and would fain satisfy himself without any regard to the character of the beloved; the other holds the desire of the body to be a secondary matter, and looking rather than loving and with his soul desiring the soul of the other in a becoming manner, regards the satisfaction of the bodily love as wantonness; he reverences and respects temperance and courage and magnanimity and wisdom, and wishes to live chastely with the chaste object of his affection. 

This is an argument that assumes an equality between men and women, notice, rather than (as we often hear) that they are contrary:  if male and female were contrary, then love between even man and wife would fall under the scheme that is used to reject love between the young man and the older man, or between the rich and the poor. (In the laws on marriage, the rich are actually supposed to marry the poor by regulation; but because it unites their households and their wealth, this reinforces equality. The argument here is that a rich man loving a poor boy creates an inequality so steep as to make true and virtuous love impossible between them.) The importance of equality to friendship will be revisited in Aristotle's ethics; here, the implication is both that men and women have an equality, and also that man and wife should seek to love each other's souls more than bodies. 

Of course there must be children; there's already been quite a bit of legislation proposed about making sure they get to that part also. Perhaps strangely, though, there is a differential in age there: women are to marry between 16-20, and men between 30-35. For whatever reason, this does not strike the Athenian as the same kind of inequality that worries him when he is rejecting the Greek system of man-boy love.

We also get the usual arguments from nature against homosexuality, so that Alcibiades' general impulse is to be "utterly" rejected and suppressed on pain of losing citizenship and all honor. (This same punishment is to attend anyone who has sex outside of marriage in any way, e.g. a man who had sex with a female servant would be punished just the same way as a partner in a man-boy relationship; presumably also unfaithful wives.)  So you get the argument that nature plainly forbids 'spending your seed on unfertile soil,' i.e. other men, but also on fertile soil where a crop is not wanted. 

The arguments from nature are generally rejected these days, following one of two quite different lines. The first (often citing Hume) is that 'you cannot get an ought from an is,' i.e., that you cannot reason from facts about what happens to be true about nature to what ought to be true. Thus, nature is rejected as a source of moral argument (for Kant, in favor of practical reason).

That approach has always struck me as wrong. Every moral principle is going to be founded at least partly on facts about reality. Murder is only wrong, if it is, because you can die; if it were not possible to kill a man, we would not need to have rules against doing it. Kant's practical reason would find no purchase on murder in a world in which death was impossible. Likewise these sexual rules are only going to exist to regulate a nature we happen to have. It's only important to regulate sexuality because we can have sex; it's only important to take care that children are born into families that can support them because children are a thing that can happen with sex; and they have natures that require nurture for survival; and stable families provide... etc. Not only can you get an ought from an is, what is happens to be the only place you can get your oughts.

(Furthermore, reason itself belongs in the realm of what is. So you can't escape the problem by flying to practical reason or even pure reason: you're still appealing to a part of what exists to obtain whatever oughts you wanted.)

The second approach addresses arguments like the Athenian's other point, which is that we ought to be better than beasts, and yet we can observe in birds both an avoidance of homosexuality and faithful mate-pairing. If the birds can manage to suppress their bestial lusts so well, why shouldn't human beings be able to do it?

The usual counterargument is that, you know, birds may do this or that; but humans have much closer relatives in nature, and they do seem to engage in homosexuality, non-paired sex, and a lot of other things. Why cherry pick the birds? If you're going to reason from nature, why not from the natures closer to our own?

The Athenian doesn't receive this challenge, but I'm not sure what kind of counter-argument he would raise against it. I think he feels like he's obviously proven the immorality of male-male sex already, both on natural grounds of the first type and also on the Symposium grounds that it leads to a lower type of love. But these arguments stand as a challenge to the first kind of natural arguments too; it may be that the social benefits of intercourse among members of a troop offer a second natural function for human (and near-human) sexuality, one that is proper to reason from as well as reproduction is, and according to its own facts. Here, for example, one might say that homosexuality has an advantage in that it can't produce offspring, so that the social goods (whatever they are) can be had without running the risk of a child who wouldn't be supported. If that kind of argument were right, Alcibiades' offer might be reasoned to be superior to engaging in sex with someone where reproduction would be possible.  It's natural to beings of our sort in a way, apparently, and this form of it can attain that second end more efficiently and with fewer unwanted side effects. Thus, Alcibiades could argue that it was much better to pursue with him this second social good, instead of the first reproduction good; when the first good was wanted, well, that's when it would make more sense to prefer a female. Practical reason, right?

(The Athenian doesn't raise disease, as Catholics often used to do, as an additional natural argument against homosexuality. I don't know if they had the medical apparatus to appraise it; we are still close to Hippocrates, who was the first to suggest that disease occurred for natural causes rather than out of spiritual corruption, curses, etc.)

The Christians have an argument against that which Plato doesn't have, which comes out in Aquinas but is adapted from Augustine's thinking on the problem of evil. For Aquinas, there are not two but three natural goods to be had from sex. Yet to pursue only one or two of them, rather than all three together, is a privation of the fullness of good that God intended for the act. From Augustine, we learn that evil is in fact a privation of God's intended fullness of good; this explains why evil can exist in a world created by a perfectly good God. God gave you the tools to attain all the goods, but you chose to prefer only a subset, and thus we fell away from the perfection; and everything we call evil is an example of us attaining only some of the goods God enabled. 

Thus, Aquinas can argue (but Plato cannot) that the existence of a second good doesn't imply that you can elect to pursue only one or the other; and since the goods must be pursued together, they can only be pursued at all in a case in which all are possible, e.g., in a heterosexual marriage in which all the goods can be obtained. That happens to be exactly what Plato's Athenian wants as well, but I think he lacks the philosophical apparatus to get there. 

This approach ends up endangering the Symposium argument in another way: why should I pursue the spiritual and chaste soul-love of my beloved only, rather than pursuing that good and the erotic goods together? Aquinas can still point out that it is only in marriage that you and your beloved can do that without giving up the fullness of the goods on the table (to include the good of having a stable situation for any children produced, which is a very great good for them!). Yet it does seem as if the Symposium is suggesting a kind of privation by avoiding the erotic goods; maybe the answer lies in elevating the erotic to a level of equality, and always in the embrace of the love of the spiritual and virtuous good of your beloved as well. 

(A contemporary reader might ask: what about birth control? It does not come up for the obvious reasons, but if you are seeking your own moral guidance from these arguments today, you'll have to decide what you think about that. The Church obviously teaches that it is definitely a privation because it disables the reproductive function that is one of the goods -- indeed, Aquinas calls it the principle end.)

Friday Night Show: Corb Lund + Ian Tyson

An hour of good Alberta country songs and stories.

Plato's Laws VIII

We have moved on from education to practice, and specifically the practice of war. This is to be done through competitions held at regular festivals throughout the year. In fact, like the Church's practice of having every day a sacred day in one way or another, all 365 days shall be festivals sacred to one or another god or hero, who will be remembered by the appropriate officer; but twelve days (once a month) will be to the greater gods.

Warlike competitions are the most important aspect of all of this, because it is the way in which the people of the city will remain free from foreign domination and also because it develops excellence.

Ath. No man can be perfectly secure against wrong, unless he has become perfectly good; and cities are like individuals in this, for a city if good has a life of peace, but if evil, a life of war within and without. Wherefore the citizens ought to practise war-not in time of war, but rather while they are at peace.

There is a lot of talk about this practicing, which has many subdivisions and is especially focused on fighting in armor. There are horse competitions as well, but these are not as interesting to the Athenian ("horses aren't much use in a place like Crete," but he does favor competitions for armored javelin-throwing riders and such). These war games are to be as realistic and dangerous as possible, because they really are preparations for war -- a war that might even be avoided, if everyone else is impressed with the city's vigor at these games. 

Ath. [T]he legislator [will] ordain that soldiers shall perform lesser exercises without arms every day, making dancing and all gymnastic tend to this end; and also will he not require that they shall practise some gymnastic exercises, greater as well as lesser, as often as every month; and that they shall have contests one with another in every part of the country, seizing upon posts and lying in ambush, and imitating in every respect the reality of war; fighting with boxing-gloves and hurling javelins, and using weapons somewhat dangerous, and as nearly as possible like the true ones, in order that the sport may not be altogether without fear, but may have terrors and to a certain degree show the man who has and who has not courage; and that the honour and dishonour which are assigned to them respectively, may prepare the whole city for the true conflict of life? 

Plus, hardship builds virtue, which is important enough that the real risk of death should be courted:

Ath. If any one dies in these mimic contests, the homicide is involuntary, and we will make the slayer, when he has been purified according to law, to be pure of blood, considering that if a few men should die, others as good as they will be born; but that if fear is dead then the citizens will never find a test of superior and inferior natures, which is a far greater evil to the state than the loss of a few.

Given how much emphasis was placed in the prior book on the equality of women in military service, it may be surprising to discover that the Athenian does not think women should have to compete in these games unless they individually desire to do so. It is striking how unwilling the Athenian is to try to compel women to do much of anything at all. They are definitely to be afforded the opportunity to study all forms of warfare equally, but remember that girls could opt out of the lesson and instead learn to dance in armor; public messes, so important for building political friendship and social cohesion, should be made available to women but he expects to be ridiculed for even suggesting such a thing; and here, too, these perilous and virtue-building exercises are open to women, but only if they feel like it.

Along the way we learn that there are two evils that lead to all other evils, principally by preventing men from practicing for war as vigorously as they ought to do. The first one is love of money, and the comforts it can bring; the second is government. 

Ath. I say that governments are a cause-democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, concerning which I have often spoken in the previous discourse; or rather governments they are not, for none of them exercises a voluntary rule over voluntary subjects; but they may be truly called states of discord, in which while the government is voluntary, the subjects always obey against their will, and have to be coerced; and the ruler fears the subject, and will not, if he can help, allow him to become either noble, or rich, or strong, or valiant, or warlike at all. These two are the chief causes of almost all evils, and of the evils of which I have been speaking they are notably the causes. 

Strange indeed to find such a conviction -- with which I am inclined to agree -- in the middle of a large work on the subject of government, and a government that has been granted a massive capacity to compel. Poets cannot so much as recite a poem without getting the prior approval of a magistrate; twelve times a year you shall be compelled into the lists to live or die as best you can; you are to marry at this age and divorce if you don't produce children quickly and regularly, after a period of having to perform under the watchful eye of state officials assigned to make sure you're doing your husbandry correctly. You can't have silver or gold, unless you are going on a journey that requires it; after you return you must hand it back over to the state, plus any excessive profits. There is a 100% tax on wealth once you cross a threshold value. 

Yet the Athenian declares that this constitution avoids both those evils, and Cleinias mildly agrees with him. 

The Pseudo-Reichstag Fire

Google and Apple take Parler off their app stores. Amazon apparently breaks its own terms of service to take Parler offline ASAP.

Airbnb is cancelling reservations in the DC area during the week of the inauguration.

The language of 'coup' is all over the place in the MSM, it seems:

Abram Brown, senior editor at Forbes:

Since the conservative social media app Parler went down over the weekend, a widely shared Telegram group called Parler Lifeboat has emerged. It has 16,000 members and has established itself as a space to venerate President Trump and the Jan. 6 attempted coup, “an awesome event,” as one rhapsodic anonymous user described it on Monday night.

The "attempted coup" language has been adopted by writers at a number of other outlets.

Assault on democracy: Sen. Josh Hawley has blood on his hands in Capitol coup attempt

Trump Launched A Deadly Attempted Coup, Encouraging A Mob To Breach The US Capitol Building Because He Lost The Presidential Election

It’s Our First-Ever Coup Attempt—and There’s No Doubt Who’s Behind It

And the inevitable:

I dunno. This didn't look much like a coup attempt to me. It was an expression of anger, a riot. But I am not an expert in these things, so what do I know?

However, all the language about coups and insurrection leads me to think this will be overplayed to crack down hard on dissenters and any other targets of opportunity on the wrong side of the political fence.

The big tech oligarchs shutting down communication by the sitting President seems a lot more dangerous to democracy to me. I bet they will defend their actions by claiming they feared a coup if Trump got his message out.

Anyway, this clearly isn't the Reichstag Fire, but maybe they can build it into one.

Next Day D'oh!: I can't believe I forgot the impeachment. That's great cover for anyone taking extraordinary measures against Trump supporters.

Nostalgia & Assumptions

A review of Anne Applebaum's new book.

The author of the review is largely unsympathetic to her, on the grounds that her center-right/centrist politics are too easily aligned with what he calls the "far right," by which he means governments like Poland's or Hungary's. He notes that she is still a friend to Christian Hoff Sommers, and so how can she critique her former friends if she can't see the problems with her current ones?

I'm poorly placed to enter the discussion, since I think Poland and Hungary and Sommers are all better characters than he believes them to be. Poland, I hear, is considering using its power to restrain social media giants like Facebook from censorship; that's hardly the side of oppression. Where I would look for dangerous authoritarianism is the People's Republic of China and those doing business with it or currying its favor. 

Still, both Applebaum and the author have some points that are worth considering in our fraught present moment. 

Competition Means Lower Revenue

If only there weren't so many women willing to sell nudes of themselves online, those who do could make more money. The NYT reports.

Apparently this is big business these days. Everybody's getting in on it -- well, the younger generation, anyway. 
“I’m a mom of three kids. I never thought anyone would pay to see me naked,” said Ms. Hall, 27. “It’s been a confidence boost.”

She has made about $700 so far — not enough to change her life, but enough to make the holidays special.
You could join the Navy at 27 and get more than that every month, but I suppose that's out of the question. Not that the Navy needs more single mothers; that basically is the Navy these days. 

It's a very bad world we've wandered into. I don't disdain these women, not at all; but I do wonder at the world that has made this choice seem reasonable and appropriate. So reasonable and so appropriate, in fact, that the market is saturated. 

Ska Jackson


Plato's Laws VII, 4

If you thought we were surely done with restatements of the importance of women sharing equally in military service, we're not: it comes up again towards the end of the book. I'm not going to quote the argument at length this time, but if you're interested in reading every version of this argument, it's there.

The ending section of Book VII contains an array of subjects: how to judge good poetry from bad, and therefore which to teach to students; dancing and wrestling; the correct playing and therefore teaching of a particular musical instrument; and how much a good person should sleep (not much). 

There is also a particularly important question raised by the Athenian: what exactly are we leaving these people to do, given that we will have provided for all their needs including cooking for them at a public mess? I'll get to the answer in a moment, but notice first that this approximately equal "second best" society contains a huge masked inequality: the citizens are being cared for by a large mass of servants, who are barely mentioned.

Ath. What manner of life would men live, supposing that they possessed a moderate supply of all the necessaries, and that they had entrusted all the crafts to other hands, and that their farms were hired out to slaves, and yielded them produce enough for their modest needs? Let us further suppose that they had public mess-rooms—separate rooms for men, and others close by for their households, including the girls and their mothers—and that each of these rooms was in charge of a master or mistress, to dismiss the company and to watch over their behavior daily; and, at the close of the meal, that the master and all the company poured a libation in honor of those gods to whom that night and day were dedicated, and so finally retired home. Supposing them to be thus organized, is there no necessary work, of a really appropriate kind, left for them, but must every one of them continue fattening himself like a beast?

So the citizens of this noble republic aren't working their equally-divided farms; they have slaves for that. (Hamilton translates this as 'viliens,' preserving the sense of a city dweller who is of both lower class and presumptively lower character than a noble.) They aren't cooking their own food, or cleaning up after the meals. (This alone is reason to doubt the Athenian's assertion that women would reject public messes; I do most of the cooking around here, and quite a bit of the cleaning up, and while I enjoy cooking I certainly don't mind to pass it off once in a while.) 

In fact, so much of the actual labor of life is being done by others that the Athenian wonders what they would pass their time doing. Well, it's not hard to guess the answer: the answer is to pursue virtue.

That, we assert, is neither right nor good; nor is it possible for one who lives thus to miss his due reward; and the due reward of an idle beast, fattened in sloth, is, as a rule, to fall a prey to another beast—one of those which are worn to skin and bone through toil hardily endured. Now it is probable that if we look to find this state of leisure fully realized exactly as described, we shall be disappointed, so long as women and children and houses remain private, and all these things are established as the private property of individuals; but if the second-best State, as now described,  could exist, we might be well content with it. And, we assert, there does remain for men living this life a task that is by no means small or trivial, but rather one that a just law imposes upon them as the weightiest task of all. For as compared with the life that aims at a Pythian or Olympian victory and is wholly lacking in leisure for other tasks, that life we speak of—which most truly deserves the name of “life”—is doubly (nay, far more than doubly) lacking in leisure, seeing that it is occupied with the care of bodily and spiritual excellence in general.

Note the slipping-back-in of the idea that giving up families in return for a full communal living is really best, and our unwillingness to do it is likely to lead to problems sooner or later. But this 'second best' society will nevertheless produce an opportunity for us to pursue excellence: we shall all be Olympic athletes and/or poets, prophets, and sages of one sort or another. 

This is an idea that our Marxists recovered in the 19th century, when they likewise imagined their ideal society -- one that somehow did away with the mass servant class, and attained luxurious communism.

And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Speaking of hunting and fishing, Book VII closes with a treatment of that, too. This book is focused on education, both physical and intellectual, and hunting is supposed (by Plato as the medievals) to be especially good for one's moral education. Plato's treatment of it is similar to medieval takes in that it privileges the chase, which he sees as especially worthy of noble men. In general hunting is praiseworthy or blameworthy depending on how hard it is to accomplish (e.g., fishing with stupefying chemicals is to be forbidden; fishing with net traps is merely discouraged).

If you are curious about the answer to the question of how to best judge poetry, by the way, it is that you should study philosophy. The Athenian asserts that this whole discussion has a kind of poetry to it, and those who learn it best will be the best judges. So congratulations; you're on your way to being a prime literary critic. 

On Parler and Masterpiece Cakes

Over on Ricochet, SkipSul takes exception to conservative's objections to AWS refusing to host Parler by comparing AWS to Masterpiece Cakes.

But then again, wasn’t Masterpiece Cakes engaged in a different sort of “censorship”? Wasn’t Masterpiece Cakes honored for exercising their right not to serve clientele in ways found unconscionable? The persistent lunatic who kept suing Masterpiece at one time demanded a satanic cake with protruding sex toys. If we honor Masterpiece Cakes for refusing such clientele, why are Amazon, Apple, and Google condemned for refusing Parler’s business? For that is what they have done.

I don't think this analogy works very well due to the tech oligarch's selective enforcement. They had no problem serving those on the left planning and conducting violent rioting last summer, all in violation of their terms of service. It is only now when some on the right do it that they have decided to deny service. Masterpiece Cakes was consistent in their decisions; Amazon, Apple and Google have not been.

In addition, according to Parler, Amazon seems to have violated their own policy, which stipulates that they will give 30 days notice before shutting off service, and they only gave Parler one week's notice. 

That said, the normal position on the right is that people and businesses have the right to deny service if they want to. If you are denied service, well, "Bake your own cake!"

I'm not sure this applies with the tech oligarchs. I'm not sure at this point that it is possible to build your own Google, Amazon, or Apple. But who knows?

Whether it's right or wrong, I find the power of the tech oligarchs to shut companies and individuals down frightening. Nothing else in my life has been so close to Orwell's 1984.

Plato's Laws VII, 3

I'm switching to a different source for the later parts of this book, as the online version of the one I was using is cut off for some reason. This occasions also a change in translators from the English Anglican clergyman Benjamin Jowett to the Irish Anglican clergyman Robert Gregg Bury. I'm also using Edith Hamilton's print translation as a third way of looking at the text in English. There are minor but occasionally significant differences between translations, but when we encounter a place where the three diverge, we can check the original Greek (which I am definitely not facile enough with to do for just every word, nor can I offer a translation of my own as I might in a language I know better).

Just to give an instructive example, there's a part of today's passage where the Athenian argues that it is necessary -- he never says why -- to distinguish between masculine and feminine music. The adjectives describing feminine music are given quite differently in these translations. Hamilton (the only female among our translators) gives them as "order and purity." Bury gives them as "decorum and sedateness," which is quite a difference! 

The word being translated as "decorum" or "order" seems to be σώφρων, which you can see in the handy Greek Word Study Tool. The other adjective I believe is κόσμιον, which is here. Both words turn out to be reasonably good synonyms for "temperance," which (as Hamilton suggests) implies correct ordering of passion to reason. One might get the impression that the Athenian is suggesting that masculine music is 'noble and manly' (well, of course it's the latter!) whereas feminine music is more discrete or sedate, but that is likely not quite what is meant. Recall that the Athenian has spoken throughout of the importance of temperance as his foundational virtue, and the need to regulate even appropriate and noble emotions according to reason. 

He seems to be suggesting that masculine musicians will be bold and inspiring, but that it is the feminine music that will teach proper order: or, even the right pleasure of preferring careful order to intensity of experience. (Or possibly a better translator might say otherwise; there may be nuances that come from the surrounding words that I would miss, being a very poor scholar of Greek.)

At any rate, this aside has already gone on for quite a while, so perhaps I will end today by noting that this section contains yet another restatement of the idea that men and women should be trained alike and equally for war, and indeed in everything.

Ath. [F]emales, too, my law will lay down the same regulations as for men, and training of an identical kind. I will unhesitatingly affirm that neither riding nor gymnastics, which are proper for men, are improper for women. I believe the old tales I have heard, and I know now of my own observation, that there are practically countless myriads of women called Sauromatides, in the district of Pontus, upon whom equally with men is imposed the duty of handling bows and other weapons, as well as horses, and who practice it equally. In addition to this I allege the following argument. Since this state of things can exist, I affirm that the practice which at present prevails in our districts is a most irrational one—namely, that men and women should not all follow the same pursuits with one accord and with all their might. For thus from the same taxation and trouble there arises and exists half a State only instead of a whole one, in nearly every instance; yet surely this would be a surprising blunder for a lawgiver to commit....

What seems good to me, Clinias, as I said before, is this,—that if the possibility of such a state of things taking place had not been sufficiently proved by facts, then it might have been possible to gainsay our statement; but as it is, the man who rejects our law must try some other method, nor shall we be hereby precluded from asserting in our doctrine that the female sex must share with the male, to the greatest extent possible, both in education and in all else. 

This line of inquiry nearly occasions a fight a few lines down, when the Athenian criticizes the Spartan approach to women. 

Ath. Must the girls share in gymnastics and music, and the women abstain from wool-work, but weave themselves instead a life that is not trivial at all nor useless, but arduous, advancing as it were halfway in the path of domestic tendance and management and child-nurture, but taking no share in military service; so that, even if it should chance to be necessary for them to fight in defence of their city and their children, they will be unable to handle with skill either a bow (like the Amazons) or any other missile, nor could they take spear and shield, after the fashion of the Goddess, so as to be able nobly to resist the wasting of their native land, and to strike terror—if nothing more—into the enemy at the sight of them marshalled in battle-array? If they lived in this manner, they certainly would not dare to adopt the fashion of the Sauromatides, whose women would seem like men beside them. So in regard to this matter, let who will commend your Laconian lawgivers: as to my view, it must stand as it is. The lawgiver ought to be whole-hearted, not half-hearted,—letting the female sex indulge in luxury and expense and disorderly ways of life, while supervising the male sex; for thus he is actually bequeathing to the State the half only, instead of the whole, of a life of complete prosperity.

Meg. What are we to do, Clinias? Shall we allow the Stranger to run down our Sparta in this fashion? 

Cli. Yes: now that we have granted him free speech we must let him be, until we have discussed the laws fully.

We have stories of the Sauromatides from both Herodotus and Hippocrates, though like the Amazons from whom they are said to be partly descended they may be mythological; or not, since the Scythians who provided the other part of their claimed descent were certainly real. 

Our Altamont

Andrew Bacevich is generally presented as a conservative, but he is more a pessimist than anything else. I can't remember having read him say nice things about anything at all. Here he is not saying nice things once again.

The insurrection of January 6 was this generation’s Altamont Moment. As did Altamont, it shattered delusions that never deserved to be taken seriously in the first place.

An infamous December 1969 rock concert in southern California that descended into mindless violence, Altamont demolished fantasies of the Sixties as an Age of Aquarius. Occurring just months after Woodstock had seemingly affirmed illusions of peace, love, and good dope giving birth to a new and more enlightened society, Altamont exposed the dark underside of such expectations. A post-mortem published in Rolling Stone accurately characterized Altamont as “the product of diabolical egotism, hype, ineptitude,” and sheer greed.

I'll let that pass, in the spirit of trying to let political commentary go. Only one thing: remember who the good guys were at Altamont. 


Against the pursuit of happiness, in the Guardian.

Look, the problem is not that you want to be happy. The problem is that you have been lied to about what happiness entails. 

Happiness is not a feeling. It's not a passion. It's not a thing that you experience, or that happens to you.

Happiness is an activity, as we know from Aristotle: and the particular activity it is, is the pursuit of excellence. 

Go do that and you'll be happy in a new and better way. And you'll live a better life too.

Plato's Laws VII, 2

From the education of the young we turn to the need to regulate the rules of games, so that all children shall learn to play the same games in the same way (and thus ensure the development of the same, good, qualities). There is an invocation of the dangers of change of any kind whatsoever (with the sole exception of 'change from the bad') and a general curse on the character of the kind of people who love innovation. 

One wonders how much of this is Plato being old, rather than Plato being philosophical. But then he turns from games to festivals, and extracts from the Egyptians a system that looks almost like the system the Catholic Church actually achieved through the Middle Ages -- a system that is responsible for all the delightful folk festivals we admire from a distance, folk customs of unknown antiquity that have been turned to sacred purposes and the good of the community.

Ath. Can any of us imagine a better mode of effecting this object than that of the Egyptians?

Cle. What is their method?

Ath. To consecrate every sort of dance or melody. First we should ordain festivals-calculating for the year what they ought to be, and at what time, and in honour of what Gods, sons of Gods, and heroes they ought to be celebrated; and, in the next place, what hymns ought to be sung at the several sacrifices, and with what dances the particular festival is to be honoured. This has to be arranged at first by certain persons, and, when arranged, the whole assembly of the citizens are to offer sacrifices and libations to the Fates and all the other Gods, and to consecrate the several odes to gods and heroes: and if any one offers any other hymns or dances to any one of the Gods, the priests and priestesses, acting in concert with the guardians of the law, shall, with the sanction of religion and the law, exclude him, and he who is excluded, if he do not submit, shall be liable all his life long to have a suit of impiety brought against him by any one who likes.

The Church arranged that every festival would fall on a day that was available to be sacred for one reason or another, and encouraged that such festivals be brought within the confines of the sacred as far as possible. (Christmas, surprisingly to contemporary Americans, was the one they had the most trouble with: it was so riotous as to be regularly the subject of legislation, and its celebration in Scotland was banned for so long that New Year's became the occasion of the winter festival -- Hogmanay, as we were recently discussing.) 

The Church also managed to attain something like the degree of separation from history that the Athenian proposes as the ideal. These customs' origins and longevity are forgotten; no one in the little village can say how long this particular festival to St. Cuthbert (or whomever) has lasted.

Ath. For when they have been brought up in certain laws, which by some Divine Providence have remained unchanged during long ages, so that no one has any memory or tradition of their ever having been otherwise than they are, then every one is afraid and ashamed to change that which is established. The legislator must somehow find a way of implanting this reverence for antiquity, and I would propose the following way:-People are apt to fancy, as I was saying before, that when the plays of children are altered they are merely plays, not seeing that the most serious and detrimental consequences arise out of the change; and they readily comply with the child's wishes instead of deterring him, not considering that these children who make innovations in their games, when they grow up to be men, will be different from the last generation of children, and, being different, will desire a different sort of life, and under the influence of this desire will want other institutions and laws; and no one of them reflects that there will follow what I just now called the greatest of evils to states. 

Were these happy outcomes? We have the testimony of J.R.R. Tolkien and others that they were much to be envied, and their wearing away due to the Modern period much to be regretted. There is some danger, as AVI has been reminding us, that this is merely nostalgia; on the other hand, Tolkien seems to have maintained this opinion throughout his life, and not merely when he was as old as Plato was when the Laws were composed. 

Now in earlier books we heard that the old men should be the proper judges anyway of what was right and best, but here is an alternative: what seems right through all ages might have a claim to be better yet than that which seems right at any single age only. Yet then we have to ask whether it is not a particular character that is able to value these things in youth as well as age; I know old men who celebrate novelty, and bemoan how slow our society is to change. Whom shall judge continues to be a problem.

There is the usual argument about non-sacred songs at Christmas... er, sacred festivals.

Ath. If when a sacrifice is going on, and the victims are being burnt according to law-if, I say, any one who may be a son or brother, standing by another at the altar and over the victims, horribly blasphemes, will not his words inspire despondency and evil omens and forebodings in the mind of his father and of his other kinsmen?

Cle. Of course.

Ath. And this is just what takes place in almost all our cities. A magistrate offers a public sacrifice, and there come in not one but many choruses, who take up a position a little way from the altar, and from time to time pour forth all sorts of horrible blasphemies on the sacred rites, exciting the souls of the audience with words and rhythms and melodies... Now, ought we not to forbid such strains as these?... [W]e should avoid every word of evil omen; let that kind of song which is of good omen be heard everywhere and always in our state. I need hardly ask again, but shall assume that you agree with me.

And we also get a restatement of the importance of regulating poets and songwriters, to ensure that they produce nothing that does not embrace what is good and noble. Plato returns to that as often as Tolkien did to the good of the English countryside; it is one of his most certain conceptions, and one with which I am most inclined to disagree. Yet by the same principle I just raised for consideration, perhaps we should reconsider it; and also, since so much that both he and Tolkien agreed was good arose from this system, perhaps it too deserves more consideration than I'm inclined to give to such a controlled and unfree system. 

A Gentleman

...or not. One thing drew my eye from the video in this tweet

The gentleman isn't, really, but for a second reason in my peabrain. 


The apparently routinely philandering wife might have little value in some circles, but she's still a woman and a human being. When the cop-husband let the man drive off, he did so without so much as a glance back. He had not a care in the world for leaving a woman alone, in a relatively isolated area, in the hands of an angry, armed man, even if he was a cop. No suggestion that he might take the woman to a place of safety and drop her off, no stopping a short distance later to check on her. 


Eric Hines


Wretchard suggests that it might be worth downloading some of the Project Gutenberg archives, in case you find yourself deciding to take your life offline. I went by to look and see what kind of things they might have, knowing Tex is working with them, and I was amused to discover that their Philosophy bookshelf is contained in a collection called "Philosophy, Psychology, Witchcraft." 

What's up with that, Tex?