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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Plato told him / he couldn't believe him / Jesus told him...

Anyway, my dad used to point out that in Plato's republic, a utopia, there would still be slavery and war. Plato assumes this, simply. He doesn't think that these things will be, or even should be, eliminated in an ideal state.

The Bible is not an anti-war or anti-slavery text in the least. Paul says slaves should obey their masters. (What color of special bible-marking pen do you mark that in?) I don't know that Lao Tse and the Buddha were against slavery and war, either, or Confucius, or Mohammed. General (yes ma'am) Sherman was not against war, though he was certainly against slavery. Washington and Jefferson, founding fathers, owned slaves and helped to start a war.

It's not even clear that Jesus was against war and slavery. "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

I'd settle for someone against at least one of those two things. Opposing slavery seems very basic, but it is historically very recent. Pacifism remains rare. Almost everyone has a war they like, more or less. Many anti-war people still probably have a poster of Che on their wall.

Che Guevara told him. You told him. I told him. We all told him. He wouldn't believe it.

I think Cumming's point in this poem was that some scrap metal from a defunct elevated train line from NYC, sold to the Japanese, then became weaponized and killed an American soldier in WWII. That is the kind of cosmic irony to appreciate, brought home more directly than in religious teachings. I am not criticizing religious or philosophical traditions in particular here. What is frightening is not that religious traditions get it so obviously wrong, but that they make no difference at all. Secular or non-religious traditions will get it wrong too, most of the time. We can all tell him, he can tell us, and it will make no fucking difference at all.


Vance Maverick said...

Don't know whether it's wit or mismemory on your part, but rather than "weaponized" Cummings has "nipponized".

Jonathan said...

No, I know the poem. I wasn't quoting there but paraphrasing.

j. said...

socrates' interlocutors are dissatisfied with the presumably benign polis they devise where people produce enough to meet their needs and live simply (they think it's important to have things like relishes and nice couches).

the polis which requires war-making and protection from enemies is one that results from the modifications they make so as to provide for luxuries.