The Debate Between Oral and Written Communication (Or why Socrates never wrote anything down)

The following dialogue (see below) is an except from Plato’s Phaedrus in which Socrates discusses why writing would erode thought by permitting people to forget what they had learned because they’d be able to look things up, that “they wouldn’t feel the need to ‘remember it from the inside, completely on their own.’ ” Worse, writing wouldn’t “allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time, the way they do in the mind during oral exchange.”

(I’d suggest taking time to read the dialog before moving on)

Socrates’ sentiments relate to my thoughts on the institutionalization of texts that become “truth” in time. Likewise, I am immediately reminded of Nietzsche’s essay Truth and Lies in the Nonmoral Sense, in which he asks, “What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are
illusions- they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.”

In sum— and I will elaborate much more in a proceeding post— I believe that emphasizing the dead written word rather than the living spoken work is the source of all man’s ills. By placing faith in the value of written word, man effectively subjugates the value of his own personal, individuated experience— that is, his individual intuitions, opinions, and feelings; or more precisely, his subjective reflective consciousness. The spoken word is intimately connected to your feelings and experience: 97% of communication is nonverbal. It is impossible to capture the meaning, the affect, the intention, the feeling, of the author’s written words. In spoken word, there is genuine communication, a mutual exchange of feelings and ideas.  The dichotomy between written and spoken word can be loosely represented as the difference between deductive and inductive thought, or rationalism and empiricism, respectively.

Why this is important relates to the creation and preservation of institutions. All institutions have a text or creed or principles that govern the behaviors and dictate the conventions of its constituent agents, whether the text is a religious book, or an academic text, or a constitution, or a charter is all the same. What is important is that the words are blindly given ultimately authority as the subjective perspective, wrought from an individual’s unique experience, is overlooked and pushed aside completely. The result is that people become a means rather than an end, and human activity manifests as instrumentalism: an extension of someone else’s morality, another person’s valuation of the world, a reflection of their will to power. All of these examples reflect an external set of apriori assumptions imposed into a subject’s psyche by another person— and therefore motivate extrinsically. We call these a priori assumptions “culture” or “truth”, as well as other names like: norms, conventions, commonsense, mainstream, popular, customary and the like.

I think about Jesus, who I believe advocated the same message of Socrates, namely that people are blind to themselves. Jesus said he came to abolish the old law, the old traditions, the rituals and customs that blinded people to themselves, that caused people to get caught up in appearances and words rather than understanding their meaning. He said that god was the living word (Hebrews 4:12), and emphasized that the “spirit” or “god” was within the body, rather than the physical “temple”.  Socrates similarly stresses the priority of the “spirit” or the “reflective consciousness” or “reason” as being paramount to the purification of man.

Suspend your biased judgments about the nature of “god” or “spirit” for a moment; and reinterpret “god” in favor of man’s “mind” or the “subjective reflective consciousness” and consider the following verse: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). Replacing it with our conception of god as man’s “mind” we get: “So the reflective mind created man in his own image, in the image of the reflective mind he created him; male and female he created them.”

The idea that “god” is actually referencing man’s “mind” or “reflective consciousness”—  that distinguishing feature that demarcates men from lower animals to the degree of their development— mirrors many truisms, aphorisms, and words of wisdom throughout time such as: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” (Nin) or “You give birth to that on which you fix your mind.” (de Saint-Exupéry)  or “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” (Bergson) or “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” (Epictetus) or “Let the mind be enlarged…to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind.” (Bacon) or “Things which we see are not by themselves what we see … It remains completely unknown to us what the objects may be by themselves and apart from the receptivity of our senses. We know nothing but our manner of perceiving them.” (Kant) or “Perception is a prediction, not a truth.” (Mooney) and the list goes on.

The idea is communicated succinctly by Feuerbach who said:

“Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge, by his God thou knowest the man, and by the man his God; the two are identical. Whatever is God to a man, that is his heart and soul; and conversely, God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man– religion is the solemn unveiling of a man’s hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts, and the open confession of his love-secrets.” [Feuerbach]

I could write for a long while on this topic, so I’ll stop now and wait to do that later. My main message is that writing is good for personal reflection and meditation and study, but it cannot serve as a replacement for experience and reflective thinking for another man. If you look to the outside world for answers, whether its in books, or things, or authority figures, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to develop authentically. You must earnestly weigh your experience against the world, and do it with an even keel, remembering that self-deception is our natural tendency, that we want to seek confirmation in what we already believe and think to be real, rather than what is actually real. Think dialectically, think in opposites, and challenge other minds in mutual dialog with YOUR mind, with YOUR experience while exercising genuine curiosity for understanding, and with practice your mind will grow fertile, deep, open, and sharp.

I beg you: with an open mind, read on!

*****************************

Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of any other country.

Soc. There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first gave prophetic utterances. The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from “oak or rock,” it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes.

Phaedr. I acknowledge the justice of your rebuke; and I think that the Theban is right in his view about letters.

Soc. He would be a very simple person, and quite a stranger to the oracles of Thamus or Ammon, who should leave in writing or receive in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters?

Phaedr. That is most true.

Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

Phaedr. That again is most true.

Soc. Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than this, and having far greater power-a son of the same family, but lawfully begotten?

Phaedr. Whom do you mean, and what is his origin?

Soc. I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be silent.

Phaedr. You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which written word is properly no more than an image?

Soc. Yes, of course that is what I mean. And now may I be allowed to ask you a question: Would a husbandman, who is a man of sense, take the seeds, which he values and which he wishes to bear fruit, and in sober seriousness plant them during the heat of summer, in some garden of Adonis, that he may rejoice when he sees them in eight days appearing in beauty? at least he would do so, if at all, only for the sake of amusement and pastime. But when he is in earnest he sows in fitting soil, and practises husbandry, and is satisfied if in eight months the seeds which he has sown arrive at perfection?

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, that will be his way when he is in earnest; he will do the other, as you say, only in play.

Soc. And can we suppose that he who knows the just and good and honourable has less understanding, than the husbandman, about his own seeds?

Phaedr. Certainly not.

Soc. Then he will not seriously incline to “write” his thoughts “in water” with pen and ink, sowing words which can neither speak for themselves nor teach the truth adequately to others?

Phaedr. No, that is not likely.

Soc. No, that is not likely-in the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent.

Phaedr. A pastime, Socrates, as noble as the other is ignoble, the pastime of a man who can be amused by serious talk, and can discourse merrily about justice and the like.

Soc. True, Phaedrus. But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal, making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human happiness.

Phaedr. Far nobler, certainly.

Soc. And now, Phaedrus, having agreed upon the premises we decide about the conclusion.

Phaedr. About what conclusion?

Soc. About Lysias, whom we censured, and his art of writing, and his discourses, and the rhetorical skill or want of skill which was shown in them-these are the questions which we sought to determine, and they brought us to this point. And I think that we are now pretty well informed about the nature of art and its opposite.

Phaedr. Yes, I think with you; but I wish that you would repeat what was said.

Soc. Until a man knows the truth of the several particulars of which he is writing or speaking, and is able to define them as they are, and having defined them again to divide them until they can be no longer divided, and until in like manner he is able to discern the nature of the soul, and discover the different modes of discourse which are adapted to different natures, and to arrange and dispose them in such a way that the simple form of speech may be addressed to the simpler nature, and the complex and composite to the more complex nature-until he has accomplished all this, he will be unable to handle arguments according to rules of art, as far as their nature allows them to be subjected to art, either for the purpose of teaching or persuading;-such is the view which is implied in the whole preceding argument.

Phaedr. Yes, that was our view, certainly.

Soc. Secondly, as to the censure which was passed on the speaking or writing of discourses, and how they might be rightly or wrongly censured-did not our previous argument show?-

Phaedr. Show what?

Soc. That whether Lysias or any other writer that ever was or will be, whether private man or statesman, proposes laws and so becomes the author of a political treatise, fancying that there is any great certainty and clearness in his performance, the fact of his so writing is only a disgrace to him, whatever men may say. For not to know the nature of justice and injustice, and good and evil, and not to be able to distinguish the dream from the reality, cannot in truth be otherwise than disgraceful to him, even though he have the applause of the whole world.

Phaedr. Certainly.

Soc. But he who thinks that in the written word there is necessarily much which is not serious, and that neither poetry nor prose, spoken or written, is of any great value, if, like the compositions of the rhapsodes, they are only recited in order to be believed, and not with any view to criticism or instruction; and who thinks that even the best of writings are but a reminiscence of what we know, and that only in principles of justice and goodness and nobility taught and communicated orally for the sake of instruction and graven in the soul, which is the true way of writing, is there clearness and perfection and seriousness, and that such principles are a man’s own and his legitimate offspring;-being, in the first place, the word which he finds in his own bosom; secondly, the brethren and descendants and relations of his others;-and who cares for them and no others-this is the right sort of man; and you and I, Phaedrus, would pray that we may become like him.

Phaedr. That is most assuredly my desire and prayer.

Soc. And now the play is played out; and of rhetoric enough. Go and tell Lysias that to the fountain and school of the Nymphs we went down, and were bidden by them to convey a message to him and to other composers of speeches-to Homer and other writers of poems, whether set to music or not; and to Solon and others who have composed writings in the form of political discourses which they would term laws-to all of them we are to say that if their compositions are based on knowledge of the truth, and they can defend or prove them, when they are put to the test, by spoken arguments, which leave their writings poor in comparison of them, then they are to be called, not only poets, orators, legislators, but are worthy of a higher name, befitting the serious pursuit of their life.

Phaedr. What name would you assign to them?

Soc. Wise, I may not call them; for that is a great name which belongs to God alone,-lovers of wisdom or philosophers is their modest and befitting title.

Phaedr. Very suitable.

Soc. And he who cannot rise above his own compilations and compositions, which he has been long patching, and piecing, adding some and taking away some, may be justly called poet or speech-maker or law-maker.

Phaedr. Certainly.

Soc. Now go and tell this to your companion.

Phaedr. But there is also a friend of yours who ought not to be forgotten.

Soc. Who is he?

Phaedr. Isocrates the fair:-What message will you send to him, and how shall we describe him?

Soc.Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus; but I am willing to hazard a prophecy concerning him.

Phaedr. What would you prophesy?

Soc. I think that he has a genius which soars above the orations of Lysias, and that his character is cast in a finer mould. My impression of him is that he will marvelously improve as he grows older, and that all former rhetoricians will be as children in comparison of him. And I believe that he will not be satisfied with rhetoric, but that there is in him a divine inspiration which will lead him to things higher still. For he has an element of philosophy in his nature. This is the message of the gods dwelling in this place, and which I will myself deliver to Isocrates, who is my delight; and do you give the other to Lysias, who is yours.

Phaedr. I will; and now as the heat is abated let us depart.

Soc. Should we not offer up a prayer first of all to the local deities? By all means.

Soc. Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and carry.-Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.

Phaedr. Ask the same for me, for friends should have all things in common.

Soc. Let us go.

Socrates: Oral and Written Communication (Or why Socrates never wrote anything down)

The following dialogue (see below) is an except from Plato’s Phaedrus in which Socrates discusses why writing would erode thought by permitting people to forget what they had learned because they’d be able to look things up, that “they wouldn’t feel the need to ‘remember it from the inside, completely on their own.’ ” Worse, writing wouldn’t “allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time, the way they do in the mind during oral exchange.”

(I’d suggest taking time to read the dialog before moving on)

Socrates’ sentiments relate to my thoughts on the institutionalization of texts that become “truth” in time. Likewise, I am immediately reminded of Nietzsche’s essay Truth and Lies in the Nonmoral Sense, in which he asks, “What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and; anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are
illusions- they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.”

In sum— and I will elaborate much more in a proceeding post— I believe that emphasizing the dead written word rather than the living spoken work is the source of all man’s ills. By placing faith in the value of written word, man effectively subjugates the value of his own personal, individuated experience— that is, his individual intuitions, opinions, and feelings; or more precisely, his subjective reflective consciousness. The spoken word is intimately connected to your feelings and experience: 97% of communication is nonverbal. It is impossible to capture the meaning, the affect, the intention, the feeling, of the author’s written words. In spoken word, there is genuine communication, a mutual exchange of feelings and ideas.  The dichotomy between written and spoken word can be loosely represented as the difference between deductive and inductive thought, or rationalism and empiricism, respectively.

Why this is important relates to the creation and preservation of institutions. All institutions have a text or creed or principles that govern the behaviors and dictate the conventions of its constituent agents, whether the text is a religious book, or an academic text, or a constitution, or a charter is all the same. What is important is that the words are blindly given ultimately authority as the subjective perspective, wrought from an individual’s unique experience, is overlooked and pushed aside completely. The result is that people become a means rather than an end, and human activity manifests as instrumentalism: an extension of someone else’s morality, another person’s valuation of the world, a reflection of their will to power. All of these examples reflect an external set of apriori assumptions imposed into a subject’s psyche by another person— and therefore motivate extrinsically. We call these a priori assumptions “culture” or “truth”, as well as other names like: norms, conventions, commonsense, mainstream, popular, customary and the like.

I think about Jesus, who I believe advocated the same message of Socrates, namely that people are blind to themselves. Jesus said he came to abolish the old law, the old traditions, the rituals and customs that blinded people to themselves, that caused people to get caught up in appearances and words rather than understanding their meaning. He said that god was the living word (Hebrews 4:12), and emphasized that the “spirit” or “god” was within the body, rather than the physical “temple”.  Socrates similarly stresses the priority of the “spirit” or the “reflective consciousness” or “reason” as being paramount to the purification of man.

Suspend your biased judgments about the nature of “god” or “spirit for a moment reinterpret “god” in favor of man’s “mind” or the “subjective reflective consciousness” and consider the following verse: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). Replacing it with our conception of god as man’s “mind” we get: “So the reflective mind created man in his own image, in the image of the reflective mind he created him; male and female he created them.”

The idea that “god” is actually referencing man’s “mind” or “reflective consciousness”—  that distinguishing feature that demarcates men from lower animals to the degree of its development— mirrors many truisms, aphorisms, and words of wisdom throughout time such as: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” (Nin) or “You give birth to that on which you fix your mind.” (de Saint-Exupéry)  or “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” (Bergson) or “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” (Epictetus) or “Let the mind be enlarged…to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind.” (Bacon) or “Things which we see are not by themselves what we see … It remains completely unknown to us what the objects may be by themselves and apart from the receptivity of our senses. We know nothing but our manner of perceiving them.” (Kant) or “Perception is a prediction, not a truth.” (Mooney) and the list goes on.

The idea is communicated succinctly by Feuerbach who said:

“Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge, by his God thou knowest the man, and by the man his God; the two are identical. Whatever is God to a man, that is his heart and soul; and conversely, God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man– religion is the solemn unveiling of a man’s hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts, and the open confession of his love-secrets.” [Feuerbach]

I could write for a long while on this topic, so I’ll stop now and wait to do that later. My main message is that writing is good for personal reflection and meditation and study, but it cannot serve as a replacement for experience and reflective thinking for another man. If you look to the outside world for answers, whether its in books, or things, or authority figures, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to develop authentically. You must earnestly weigh your experience against the world, and do it with an even keel, remembering that self-deception is our natural tendency, that we want to seek confirmation in what we already believe and think to be real, rather than what is actually real. Think dialectically, think in opposites, and challenge other minds in mutual dialog with YOUR mind, with YOUR experience while exercising genuine curiosity for understanding, and with practice your mind will grow fertile, deep, open, and sharp.

I beg you: with an open mind, read on!

*****************************

Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of any other country.

Soc. There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first gave prophetic utterances. The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from “oak or rock,” it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes.

Phaedr. I acknowledge the justice of your rebuke; and I think that the Theban is right in his view about letters.

Soc. He would be a very simple person, and quite a stranger to the oracles of Thamus or Ammon, who should leave in writing or receive in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters?

Phaedr. That is most true.

Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

Phaedr. That again is most true.

Soc. Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than this, and having far greater power-a son of the same family, but lawfully begotten?

Phaedr. Whom do you mean, and what is his origin?

Soc. I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be silent.

Phaedr. You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which written word is properly no more than an image?

Soc. Yes, of course that is what I mean. And now may I be allowed to ask you a question: Would a husbandman, who is a man of sense, take the seeds, which he values and which he wishes to bear fruit, and in sober seriousness plant them during the heat of summer, in some garden of Adonis, that he may rejoice when he sees them in eight days appearing in beauty? at least he would do so, if at all, only for the sake of amusement and pastime. But when he is in earnest he sows in fitting soil, and practises husbandry, and is satisfied if in eight months the seeds which he has sown arrive at perfection?

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, that will be his way when he is in earnest; he will do the other, as you say, only in play.

Soc. And can we suppose that he who knows the just and good and honourable has less understanding, than the husbandman, about his own seeds?

Phaedr. Certainly not.

Soc. Then he will not seriously incline to “write” his thoughts “in water” with pen and ink, sowing words which can neither speak for themselves nor teach the truth adequately to others?

Phaedr. No, that is not likely.

Soc. No, that is not likely-in the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent.

Phaedr. A pastime, Socrates, as noble as the other is ignoble, the pastime of a man who can be amused by serious talk, and can discourse merrily about justice and the like.

Soc. True, Phaedrus. But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal, making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human happiness.

Phaedr. Far nobler, certainly.

Soc. And now, Phaedrus, having agreed upon the premises we decide about the conclusion.

Phaedr. About what conclusion?

Soc. About Lysias, whom we censured, and his art of writing, and his discourses, and the rhetorical skill or want of skill which was shown in them-these are the questions which we sought to determine, and they brought us to this point. And I think that we are now pretty well informed about the nature of art and its opposite.

Phaedr. Yes, I think with you; but I wish that you would repeat what was said.

Soc. Until a man knows the truth of the several particulars of which he is writing or speaking, and is able to define them as they are, and having defined them again to divide them until they can be no longer divided, and until in like manner he is able to discern the nature of the soul, and discover the different modes of discourse which are adapted to different natures, and to arrange and dispose them in such a way that the simple form of speech may be addressed to the simpler nature, and the complex and composite to the more complex nature-until he has accomplished all this, he will be unable to handle arguments according to rules of art, as far as their nature allows them to be subjected to art, either for the purpose of teaching or persuading;-such is the view which is implied in the whole preceding argument.

Phaedr. Yes, that was our view, certainly.

Soc. Secondly, as to the censure which was passed on the speaking or writing of discourses, and how they might be rightly or wrongly censured-did not our previous argument show?-

Phaedr. Show what?

Soc. That whether Lysias or any other writer that ever was or will be, whether private man or statesman, proposes laws and so becomes the author of a political treatise, fancying that there is any great certainty and clearness in his performance, the fact of his so writing is only a disgrace to him, whatever men may say. For not to know the nature of justice and injustice, and good and evil, and not to be able to distinguish the dream from the reality, cannot in truth be otherwise than disgraceful to him, even though he have the applause of the whole world.

Phaedr. Certainly.

Soc. But he who thinks that in the written word there is necessarily much which is not serious, and that neither poetry nor prose, spoken or written, is of any great value, if, like the compositions of the rhapsodes, they are only recited in order to be believed, and not with any view to criticism or instruction; and who thinks that even the best of writings are but a reminiscence of what we know, and that only in principles of justice and goodness and nobility taught and communicated orally for the sake of instruction and graven in the soul, which is the true way of writing, is there clearness and perfection and seriousness, and that such principles are a man’s own and his legitimate offspring;-being, in the first place, the word which he finds in his own bosom; secondly, the brethren and descendants and relations of his others;-and who cares for them and no others-this is the right sort of man; and you and I, Phaedrus, would pray that we may become like him.

Phaedr. That is most assuredly my desire and prayer.

Soc. And now the play is played out; and of rhetoric enough. Go and tell Lysias that to the fountain and school of the Nymphs we went down, and were bidden by them to convey a message to him and to other composers of speeches-to Homer and other writers of poems, whether set to music or not; and to Solon and others who have composed writings in the form of political discourses which they would term laws-to all of them we are to say that if their compositions are based on knowledge of the truth, and they can defend or prove them, when they are put to the test, by spoken arguments, which leave their writings poor in comparison of them, then they are to be called, not only poets, orators, legislators, but are worthy of a higher name, befitting the serious pursuit of their life.

Phaedr. What name would you assign to them?

Soc. Wise, I may not call them; for that is a great name which belongs to God alone,-lovers of wisdom or philosophers is their modest and befitting title.

Phaedr. Very suitable.

Soc. And he who cannot rise above his own compilations and compositions, which he has been long patching, and piecing, adding some and taking away some, may be justly called poet or speech-maker or law-maker.

Phaedr. Certainly.

Soc. Now go and tell this to your companion.

Phaedr. But there is also a friend of yours who ought not to be forgotten.

Soc. Who is he?

Phaedr. Isocrates the fair:-What message will you send to him, and how shall we describe him?

Soc.Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus; but I am willing to hazard a prophecy concerning him.

Phaedr. What would you prophesy?

Soc. I think that he has a genius which soars above the orations of Lysias, and that his character is cast in a finer mould. My impression of him is that he will marvelously improve as he grows older, and that all former rhetoricians will be as children in comparison of him. And I believe that he will not be satisfied with rhetoric, but that there is in him a divine inspiration which will lead him to things higher still. For he has an element of philosophy in his nature. This is the message of the gods dwelling in this place, and which I will myself deliver to Isocrates, who is my delight; and do you give the other to Lysias, who is yours.

Phaedr. I will; and now as the heat is abated let us depart.

Soc. Should we not offer up a prayer first of all to the local deities? By all means.

Soc. Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and carry.-Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.

Phaedr. Ask the same for me, for friends should have all things in common.

Soc. Let us go.

Profoundity

Being profound and seeming profound.— Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity; those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound: it is so timid and dislikes going into the water.
-F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 173

If something is true, drag it out into the light. Pull it onto the shore so that others may inspect in full view. Truth should be self evident. It should reveal itself in the most fundamental terms.

All too often we find that truth is revered above understanding. In this way the profound is merely the misunderstood. Anyone who strives for profoundity is deceitful. Rather than appealing to clear and distinct reason, they prey on the obfuscation of affection, which only serves to propagate the veil of ignorance .

Truth Hear

In customary social interaction, I tell people what they want to hear: the truth. And for that reason truth is the most insidious instrument ever to have been invented.

When I want to move people into feeling, I talk in terms of their truth, what they perceive to be real, however far from reality and actuality that may be. Does this cause injury or harm? Do we like being shaken from our dreams?

That is why I let people sleep. Very few people want to be woken from their slumber.

Truth anesthetizes the senses the same way repetitive knocking becomes silent background noise: first it is salient, then it is comforting, finally it disappears.

Repetition lulls man to sleep. It dulls his senses by incessantly chipping away at his resistance until he is made more facile and docile, more tolerant to the beating drum, the inculcation.

Very rarely do I talk in terms of actuality. Far too many people shiver at the prospect of losing ground in their truth. Very rarely do I have the courage to disrupt their cool delusions. Am I wrong? Does this antagonize their delusional trance?

Though exceedingly rare, it is only when someone opens a conversation with hope and self-criticism simultaneously do I test the waters of actuality with my toe, making sure to create the most gentle ripple across their placid consciousness so that I may observe how they react to these waves. If there is no hope, such a ripple will likely cause them to thrash and drown. Where there is hope they will tread water, perhaps reluctantly; and where criticism can churn waters and whip waves high above their head, they will rise with the wake and achieve greater perspective.

What is unfortunate, however, is that most have no hope. No hope in their ability to think critically, to tread in tumultuous waters, and gain perspective. As a result they shirk from novelty, they preserve misaligned bias, and they maintain a certain xenophobia to all things foreign.

While I strongly resist any notion that man is inherently limited by nature, rather than strictly limited  by self, I can only conclude that most prefer the tranquility of sleep, the plush luxury of feeling comfortable in their current state, and that the herd, though bewildered and duplicitous, offers the only mentality capable of capturing this feeling of familiar.

 

The Great Dichotomy: Passionate Power

Random musings.

Money to get power, and power to guard the money.”
~Medici family motto

Dichotomies are interesting. Many are none other than existential paradoxes: mind and body, thought and matter, possibility and necessity, spiritual and physical,  and the list goes on. Kierkegaard, as well as Nietzsche and other agents of enlightenment, was a literary guru when it came to expounding upon how to live with these irreconcilable realities. Over the years I’ve learned to cope with the resulting blindness of these realities, the otiose character of life and the recondite disunion of body and soul. I’ve compromised with myself and learned to live with one eye pointed inward and the other pointed outward so as to balance introspection and aspiration.

In recent years I’ve faced a dilemma of deciding what to do with my life and career. It’s not like I didn’t see this crisis coming, but I guess I didn’t realize how many times I would be wrestling with my conclusions and convictions. Despite the temporary setbacks and failures mottling my youth, I’ve orchestrated my education beautifully over the years, exploiting a multitude of disciplines of thought and growing ever cognizant of how achievement is actualized. I’ve gone to great pains to realize the context of my condition and the contingencies of my aspirations.

Out of my experience grew two concentrations of study, economics and philosophy, each representing the broader dichotomies encompassing life. One satisfies my intuitions about what I perceive other people to value, the other regards what I value in my heart. I’ve tried to reconcile these over the years and explain why this dichotomy exists, whether a balance can be achieved, or what direction I should favor. For a long time I decided to refuse to sell out. But this clashed with the omnious system that I would face upon entering the workforce: success seemed tantamount to abiding to the myriad of expectations laid out by others.  As I have no trust fund to lean on for support, no assets to buy my way into fortune (compounding investment: you must have money if you wish to accumulate more money), I faced the reality that no upper echelon would endorse my musings, my art, my thoughts, unless I belonged to them, to their network or, by chance, satisfied their criterion of worth.

The citizen of the world in me refused to conform to the ‘system’, to the authority that dictates standardized achievement and propagates worldly values. The autonomy within me bucked as I studied philosophy and developed the tools and methods for critical inquiry, tools I used to ridicule the backward nature I learned to see in the world. The pragmatic element of my spirit recognized the utility of conformity and uptook various preoccupations that would fashion my mind according to them, such as the study of economics and finance.

But I ask myself: what does it take to be successful? I always like referring to the context in question. I’m American. I live in a ‘democratic’ country where the few rule the many. The few in this case are not the parasitic politicians (although in many cases, when it’s convenient, they are one in the same). The politicians are figureheads, merely the arm or scepter of power, not the head of governance. The true source of governance and power resides in the wealthy, the capitalists, the business owners, the stock holders. These are the greats that arbitrate the economic and political atmosphere. They embody the will to power. They pass the laws, set the wages, orchestrate the commerce, conduct the symphonious marketplace we’re lead to believe is free and open. The current sentiment is that if governance is left to the people, we’ll be in a real mess. The populous is simply a bewildered herd, uneducated and incapable of self-rule. (The Wagner Act of 1935 was the last real effort of the masses to mobilize. Since then these efforts have been squashed. Unions are ‘evil’ and communist.) This is why we live in a ‘democratic republic’ where we elect a small group of ‘leaders’ to instruct the masses on which policies they should live by.

To be successful you must be a sycophant. More specifically, you must possess utility for those in power. If you cannot help these people achieve more power, you are worthless and will amount to nothing more than a cog, expendable and interchangeable. But the wealthy will not extend a job or opportunity to just anyone with ample capacity and a strong will. No. They must be familiar with you. You must possess some wealth, influence, charisma, intelligence, talent or power that they can leverage for their own gain. Posterity is as empty as truth. Rationality is an instrument of the powerful: they dictate the rules of the game, the vernacular, the premises and logical structure of your success.

“All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” (Nietzsche)

Rationality is a function of motives, of intention. Pin-point desires and motivations and you can construct a cathedral of reason to leverage against those in power to mutually achieve independently contrived ends.

The questions that have wracked my mind most over the years: Do I follow my heart or my mind? Do I follow my passions or my prudence? What it’s come down to is that, given the current state of affairs, given my context as a young American, passions are prized only in youth, as is freedom. With the coming of age what is most prized is security, with the passions left to fantasy much like the irrealism of dreams are left to enamoring vagaries. We discard our passions and convictions, our fantastical visions of grandeur for a better world, in favor of a ‘realism’ scented with a dark cynicism that dispels illusion, that acquiesces under the ‘system’ that we obey out of sheer necessity grown from our will to survive. What has been trampled is our will to power, but it is never too late to revive this urge.

The artists, when they are not lining the capitalists pockets with profits, are simply muses in the most passive sense of the term. These artists are no longer concerned with inspiring as much as they are fixed on entertaining, or ‘amusing’, for their agenda is the same as the capitalists: money. They render the audience as docile and facile as possible, getting them in a blurred frenzy, caught up in emotion, totally distracted from the realities that oppress their sad existence. The poorest, the most impoverished left with only their intangible dreams, love these entertainers the most. Since they cannot live through possessions and materialism they escape through fantasy, artificial emotions induced through hollow emotives.

I’ve decided I want to sell out, for a time. I want to master the system so I can one day create the system. Considering my background, I’ve played my cards right up until now: the best university, the best internships, solid degrees, great grades. What is necessary now is to capitalize on these achievements instead of forfeiting them for the preponderances of my heart, the longings of my spirit, the existential conundrums I unravel in my reflections.

What I need to do is exploit the source of power for my ends: finance. I need to get into the industry where all the wealthy have a mutual stake. Wealth is the common denominator of power. Investment banking, wealth advising, asset management.

I need to toss these ephemeral thoughts about passion, about right and wrong, about selfless creation, to the garbage. They are fruitless. If I want to succeed, I must capitalize on my strengths: people skills, smooth talking, will-power, vision, charm, intelligence, good nature, pleasant appearance. I can be obedient. My rebellious nature was resistant to obey arbitrary authority, and my attitude throughout school and to my superiors proves this. But this needs to be corrected if I am to succeed and dominate. I must fawn these superiors in order to advance. There are many who wish to succeed, but only those who stroke the ego’s of those holding the keys to power will allow be to ascend to their true potential. I look around me and I see so much talent. Young automatons do everything right, except they haven’t a clue that doing everything right has a ceiling. You must not only serve the interest of your superiors, you must also create value for them, you must learn to hijack and supplant their vision with yours in order to aid them in their accumulation and concentration of capital. In this way achievement is guaranteed.

Morality does not exist. There are no facts, only interpretations. You cannot have a universal moral conscience as a businessman, as a ruler of wealth: only a fabricated justification that accepts the inequality of man as a rule. Nietzsche said, “The reasons for which ‘this’ world has been characterized as ‘apparent’ are the very reasons which indicate its reality; any other kind of reality is absolutely indemonstrable.” Those in power dictate these reasons. Their are the moral clergymen.

It’s interesting to consider the influence of media control. The media is the mouthpiece of the powerful. As Chomsky said in his book Media Control, “Propaganda is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

Who rules the world? The powerful, the elite. These are the American ruling class. We elect proffered politicians which have been paid for by these elite with the single agenda of taming the bewildered herd, of keeping the masses complacently compliant.

Slavery was replaced by share cropping, which has been replaced by credit and loans: all of these forms of debt rob the citizens of equality, life and liberty, and it’s legal. Bankruptcy laws. Capital gains taxes. Trickle down economics. Sub-prime mortgage lending. Failed education reforms: No child left behind. The war on drugs. The rise in pharmaceutical psycho-therapeutics. Currency manipulation: Coinage Act of 1972. Foreign wars and fear mongering, communism, creating enemies like Russian and terrorists as a means of keeping the populous paralyzed and fearful, of keeping their attention turned outward instead of inward. All creating fear. All manufactured to suit the ends of the elite. All propaganda.

Truth and lies are one in the same. They condemn or praise according to which subjective end you are most vested.

 

Ran

‘Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.’
— Henry Brooks Adams

Your life is a lie. All is a myth. There is no matter of fact that lies beyond the assaulting grip of dispute. Everything can be contended.

I’ve been feeling great lately. Have a great story to tell. I need to begin blogging again. Starting… right now. Every day I’ll spew something about my day, about my thoughts, recent conversations, stuff I learned at work, etc.

But back to my original thought. All is a lie. A myth. We create these myths through out desires. We justify these myths, these upending urges that swell and burst into action, through irrational beliefs. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to rationalize these beliefs. Oh no.

What I’ve realized is that people are bat shit insane. I nod most of the time. They ask me what I believe, wouldn’t you know it, I say “what works.” They usually ask me to come again, to clarify. I say, I don’t believe anything. I just adopt beliefs that work within a given context to get me what I want or bring me where I want to go. These beliefs account for a multitude of emotional, social, and relational factors.

I am a skeptic. I believe in the ego, the I, the ‘consciousness’ and that’s about it. I believe this ego manifests desires and that it justifies its actions according to these desires, whether it is the desire the self-preserve, or look pretty, or get in shape, or be smart, or whatever.

I am a skeptic, I repeat: I doubt. I insert wedges of doubt behind every thought so that I may unhinge my biases, my habituations, my prejudices. I am a skeptic. I believe that knowing nothing is the best route to knowing more. When you have your mind made up, you have failed yourself. Always leave room for doubt. Even test the reasonableness of your methods for doubting. Doubt everything. Leave no stone unturned. We live in a web, a sticky web: a context where thoughts in the now are found at the center, where the periphery extends into the far reaches of the past. Let us probe. Let us look for where these webs unravel, let’s unravel these webs of beliefs and string together something totally new and magical. Something original and wholly mine.

I like my job.

This world is about power.

Everyone is blind. Blind to themselves.

I need to spend time fully typing out all my thoughts.

Money is power. Power is money. They are synonymous. They buy influence, satisfaction, discontent, life, death, whatever you can dream up. But money and power doesn’t give you answers. That is left for wisdom, something that supersedes and transcends both. I desire to have money, power, and wisdom. Eh.

Sage advice: Buy gold. The dollar is losing its value. The fed stopped quantitative easing/printing money. Deflation will be sure to ensue, briefly. So they’ll start again. Interest rates are at zero percent. Major trade deficits loom. The economy will be volatile the next few months. Buy mining company shares, like Newmont. And Microsoft, because it’s a severely undervalued stock right now. So help me god.

Anywho.

I need to go to bed.

Most people think they think big. But their idea of big is awfully small.

On Selfishness, Values, Creativity, Death

There is no selfless act. Though you die for values and ideals, they are nonetheless yours and yours alone, subjective and independent of external facts and realities. Insofar as self-preservation is the prerogative of all life, the preservation of ideals and values is the prerogative of the human consciousness.

But what of love? some may say. Love is a selfish conception. If it is not predicated as a pleasure or passion, it is predicated as a subjective concept projected onto the world to characterize a type of relationship. To die for another is to die for your ideals and values, not the subjective values of others. The act of dying for another or another’s values is embedded with subjective valuations. Camus said that what man believes to be true must determine his action.

Echoing Nietzsche in his essay On Truth and Lies in the Non-moral Sense, truth is a metaphorical representation that is coined from an originally subjective perception of experience and passed on as an objective fact of experience. Though it may be passed on as objective, its application in life through experience is nonetheless a subjective assertion. Insofar as we exist before we perceive the world, all that is conceivable and doable is a sui generis selfish act, whether it’s to preserve the well being of the body or preserve the conceptions of the mind.

But what of martyrs or saints? others will say. Are not these selfless acts of death or denial? I would reply that they are no more selfless than suicide or any other act that preserves a subjectively possessed belief or ideal.

The only selfless acts are those selfish deeds which indirectly and consequently improve upon the lives of others so that they must do the same when taken to denouement. That is, selfless acts are no more selfish than any other act, only that their corollary influences others to perform actions which empower others to empower others.

In this way one may pursue the ideal of freedom selfishly but in doing so he not only apprehends freedom personally, but apprehends this freedom for others as well. Likewise it is with equality, so that by cherishing equality for selfish motives he secures equality for all. What must be preserved in these acts is an inherent method of propagating the power of others to do the same.

Creativity must not be confused as being exclusively devoted to the arts. Creativity is the ability to stipulate something from nothing, to instantiate new conceptions according to new or existing demands. The constructive value to life inherent in creativity also contains an equally threatening detriment to life. By their very nature new and original conceptions destroy uniformity, disrupt equilibrium and threaten the familiar. The foreign and alien, the new and novel, have no place in circular systems. Circular systems arise from habits formalized as convention, routine, pattern, method and the like. They allow predictability and consistency and uniformity. Their adoption requires a suspension of familiarity so that a leap of faith is required for their assimilation. In many cases the familiar must not only be amended, but totally destroyed and annihilated to sufficiently accommodate change. In this way change requires adaptation, an alteration of existing units and relations within a system.

These systems may represent cultural practices, or histories, or traditions or rationale. One must not rely on the past to sufficiently guide and navigate the future. So long as there is time, there is change, and all change must be embraced accordingly. Negating the existence of changes is the source of all problems. If life is an activity characterized by growth, problems are a natural phenomenon and must be welcomed as such. But what is growth if it is not life? And what is life if not a continual pursuit of preservation? To preserve the past is to celebrate death; but this is precisely the natural character of humans. Nietzsche said “Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.” As with all things living, it is human nature to preserve the self, to struggle to exist, but the rarity arises in man’s specialized ability to preserve. This ability resides in the act of perpetuating equilibrium through adaptation, through the creative employment of reason and imagination to adjust to changes. Non-living matter can be said to be in the greatest equilibrium of all.

But this is where man diverges from other life. It is not enough to maintain equilibrium. Man contains a will to create equilibrium where there is not, to dominate his surroundings in an effort to project an ultimate equilibrium that renders a congruency between the inner life of the self and his environment. This is why Nietzsche dismissed the Darwinian notions of struggle for existence in favor of the will to power which more accurately reflects the nature of man. Evidence of the will to power becomes obvious when we turn to the modern day manifestations of man and witness artificial disequilibrium instantiated as civilization and technologies. Going far beyond all the past pursuits of life that merely sought to preserve corporeal existence, man has successfully learned to preserve the inner self. He has fully exercised his freedom to impress his inner world onto the outer world, to fashion it according to his liking.

Leaders are creators who operate to conjure and implement new realities and visions that accommodate real or perceived changes. While leaders can be oppressive in this way, they can be, more importantly, liberators who sow new realities and ideas that empower others. The difference lies in the values contained in the given vision and whether or not these values empower others to empower themselves to empower others.