Forgetting the Heroes, I like Ike More than Atlantis (Timaeus)

Forgetting the Heroes, I like Ike More than Atlantis (Timaeus) October 17, 2018

Beat the bad guys and the History Channel will end up talking more about the bad guys than the good guys. Ike may be likable, but he is not Hitler and evidently the Nazis draw viewers more than the Allies.

Our Ike is a decent man, no saint, but no blood and soil genocidal maniac. His vices were common, his virtues uncommon. He was a winner, but lacked flair, wearing his uniform uncomfortably and garbling his words. He could not strut a stadium like Hitler. He was likable and brilliant, not muderous and charismatic.

We won, but the evil losers fascinate us and there is a problem. This is not new, some nefarious disease caused by cable, since Plato made the point (slyly) hundreds of years before ratings were a thing. He told a story about a brave city, Athens, that faced down a mighty evil empire and won. Athens liberated the known world, but then her victorious army was swept away as was the evil empire: Atlantis. 

I have a shelf of books written by people looking for Atlantis, but few memorials to the freedom fighters who beat them. Here is the summary of a legendary war in Timaeus where Athens (the city of the Athena) defeats the tyranny of Atlantis

Nevertheless she (Athens) overcame the invaders and erected her monument of victory. She prevented the enslavement of those not yet enslaved and generously freed all the rest of us who lived within the boundaries of Heracles. Sometime later, excessively violent earthquakes and floods occurred, and after the onset of an unbearable day and a night, your entire warrior force sank below the earth all at once, and the Isle of Atlantis likewise sank below the sea and disappeared. That is how the ocean in that region has come to be even now unnavigable and unexplorable, obstructed as it is by a layer of mud at a shallow depth, the residue of the island as it settled.’ ”

Freedom was won, yet both the freedom fighters and Atlantis were lost. Both sank beneath the sea, the victors and the defeated. The losers fascinate us, the lost continent. The victors had heirs, the democracy of Athens. We knew they will stop the Persian tyrants.

Boring.

Freedom is so fragile. Athens was the freest society the world had known to that point (howevever limited it seems to us now). Atlantis, so the story went, tried to enslave the world and Athens alone (like Britain in 1940) stood alone and won. Britain went on, Naziism, thank God, died.

Why are so fascinated with the losers?

This desire to look at the ugliness at the side of the road, the accident that makes us a lookie-Lou, is a vice. This vice disguises itself as curiousity. We pretend our fascination with the Nazis or the Atlanteans is research when it is our weaker vice looking toward the bold will to power.

We must turn away, look away, looking goodward instead. Plato hints, in his tricky way, that we wish to know Atlantis, when we should become brave Athenians.

By the way, the tabloids tell me that the Nazis wasted a good bit of time looking for Atlantis. Ike did not. Let’s tell the stories of heroes and let the tyrants be a cautionary tale and not our fascination.

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I am using the translation by Donald Zeyl. For further thoughts on the psychology of Timaeus see my Toward a Unified Platonic Human Psychology. 


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