That would be new! (A Summer in the Republic 4)

That would be new! (A Summer in the Republic 4) June 8, 2018


When I was a little boy, I was blessed to get the long days of summer off to play with my brother. As he got older Daniel and I would go on adventures as we explored our neighborhood. We found creeks we did not know existed, fell into holes covered up by tall plants, and climbed many trees.

There are stories, tales of a bear named Old Scar.

We were always looking for something new to do and knew better than to ask mom. If we did, she might give us chores. Those happened anyway, but the goal was to minimize the work. Rule: never disturb The Mom and chores can be kept to a minimum. Slip out quietly and start the day. When we could find a new project, like trying to give our tree fort a stone flooring (it would keep orcs from shooting us), days of hard work and fun followed.

At some point the last summer of play passed and we became men. We still enjoyed ourselves, but life was different, not worse, just different. Adults find books, ideas, projects that are lifetime long activities and the need for something new decreases. Why? You can only pretend the orcs are going to attack Fort Ticonderoga (our base!) for so long, because our tree house is not, in fact, Fort Ticonderoga, there are (it appears) no orcs, and if there are, they never attacked us!

Grownup projects, work, and even most pleasures are different from even the best summer. Adults make music, write books, garden, build businesses, teach, do whatever it is that God, God’s gifts, and our society allow us to do. The best news is that one need not be very fortunate (as we were to have golden summertime as boys!) as an adult. Most of us can wonder, think, ask questions, consider our lives. We can turn towards the Good, a turning that will lead to love since the Good is good! Love will drive us to truth and beauty since those are qualities that the Good has.

So long as we have a community, time to talk (even during work like painting a house!), then we can love wisdom. This is not trendy, but it is deeply enjoyable, hard, frustrating, and worth the time.

Grownups (God help us!) often miss this stage of maturity. The childish grownup is always frustrated, because no mere entertainments can satisfy it. We outgrow toys and then hope if we spend more on toys that toys can satisfy. A major difference between a man and a boy is a man cannot really play with toys. We know we are playing and the instant we know, we have left childhood’s summertime and entered the wonderful world of meaningful work or we end up bored.

This leads to a quest for something, anything, new.

This summer I am thinking about the Republic in which I live by reading Plato’s masterpiece: The Republic. At the very start, some young men have a chance at grownup fun: learning to be wise. Instead, they are stuck in childhood games. Socrates wants them to listen, but none of them, not one man-child, can.

Now Adeimantus broke in. Don’t you know about what’s going on tonight? There will be a horse race in which the horsemen will carry torches in honor of the goddess.

Now that’s something new.

Do you mean a relay with horses in which the riders will pass on the torches to one another in sequence?

Exactly, said Polemarchus. And the festival will continue all night. After dinner we will go out and see it and then meet with some of our friends and have a really good talk. Don’t refuse. Do stay with us.

It looks like we had better change our minds, Socrates.

Well, if you say so, Glaucon, I suppose we must.***

The lure of some new entertainment causes even the best student, Glaucon, to turn on Socrates. The old teacher wants him to go him, but he will not. Imagine an adult having the chance to talk with Socrates, one of the greatest humans to ever live, and what excites them most is horses with torches!

That is what we would expect with children, in fact, we would arrange such an event for children so the adults could do better things! Again, there is (of course) nothing wrong with spectacles or a bit of frivolous fun, but just like cheese cake, a little is more than enough for health.

The young men are still motivated by the “new,” by sights, and this will lead to trouble of a particular sort: boredom. Why should a republic care about boredom in young men? A bored young man is dangerous. They start demanding that the state entertain them or meet their needs. They become the sort of people that vote to kill Socrates who keeps (gently!) reminding them of how unsatisfying the spectacles are.

Being a grownup is either being a kid who likes naps or it can be wonderful. To be wonderful, we have to say goodbye to spectacle and hello to Socrates.

God help us!


*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

**I have no idea how much of what I know is just Professor Al Geier filtered through my eccentricity. Here is to you Al!

***Plato. The Republic: A New Translation (Kindle Locations 176-181). Kindle Edition.

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