Thursday, December 9, 2010

Plato's Internet

Plato's Republic offers the profound insight that the city-state can be studied as a projection of the soul. If you want to see justice in the soul, which is so small as to beggar the eyes, study it in the city-state, which is large and thus can be readily seen. Train your eyes to the larger frame, then look back to the soul. With some work, using this approach, you'll be able to see the soul's true nature.

Plato was concerned about justice and found that actual cities are feverish, driven by appetites, and thus do not reliably reveal the structure of justice. To see the structure of justice reliably, Plato sketches a conceptual Republic.

The feverish city is the one in which we live. Plato's understanding of knowledge and truth are quite different from Christian sources, but in translation his point is that sin dominates the city. If you want to understand justice, you really have to think about heaven or the kingdom of God.

If you want to understand sin, a term which might well be translated into other conceptual schemes, your best bet is to study 'the city.' A good focus nowadays is the Internet. The Internet is a double, a projection, of the 'unsaved soul.' It's all there: from the devotional and devout, to the hideous and harmful; from the loving and giving to the aggressive and destructive; from the high-minded to the pig pen.

What the Internet reveals about us, as a projection of our ad hoc interconnections, is less interesting than how it alters us over time. Every new projection includes, in lesser or greater measure, elements that derive from previous projections. There isn't an unprojected starting point; each moment is already conditioned by what is and what has been.

Plato thought that philosophers could escape this conditioning nexus but that most of us would need to die to be free from it. He believed that the body was more tied to feverish elements than the soul. The Internet seems to show that the soul is every bit as feverish as the body--and perhaps more so.

Plato's project in the Republic was to conceive a realm of justice, that of free citizens living according to justice. That is, he hoped to show how human beings could realize their full potential, the core of which he thought was essentially divine. This project should be rethought for the twenty-first century.

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