In my last program, I attempted to show how Plato’s work, The Republic, which has influenced Western European thinkers both in the past and the present, has become a model for some people’s idea of the New World Order. Before developing this theme any further, I think that this would be a good place to summarize and lay down some important background points.
First, from a Christian perspective, Humankind, since the Fall of Adam, has been trying to work its way back towards the state it once shared with God in the Garden of Eden. According to the Bible, once the sin of pride entered their hearts, they were ejected from this higher state and were told that from that day on they would have to struggle for that which had once come naturally to them. What this means is still opened for debate. However, from a psychological point of view, it is a proven fact that the human mind is capable of mental feats far beyond our present capabilities. For example, there are people, known as Idiot Savants, who, although they are retarded according to our IQ tests, are capable of performing amazing mental feats that boggle our minds. Sixty Minutes once presented a segment in which three savants demonstrated their abilities. One was a man who was obviously retarded, yet, although he had never received any artistic training, he was able to produce in twenty minutes, using only his hands and fingernails as tools, fantastically accurate wax replicas of horses, bulls, and other animals in action poses. They were so good that, when casted, they sold for thousands of dollars. When asked how he was able to do this, he replied that God had given him the talent to visualize these objects in his memory. Remember that it is the right lobe of the brain that thinks in pictures.
The second man was a savant very much like the one portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. Whereas the first savant was warm and full of expression, he was rigid and lacked expression. However, he was a human calendar that, within seconds, could tell you what day of the week any date fell on going from the year one up until infinity. When asked how he was able to do this, he replied, “I don’t know!” Yet, despite this amazing ability, he could not do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.
The third man, Lester Lemke, who had been born severely handicapped, had been adopted when he was an infant by Mr. and Mrs. Lemke, who were childless. Although he was blind, unable to move, and incapable of talking, Mrs. Lemke and her husband refused to give up on him.
For years he laid motionless in a bed, yet daily they exercised his muscle and, as he grew older, they even strapped him to their backs and dragged him along behind them as they walked. After years of persistency, he began to move on his own and eventually reached the point where he was able to walk.
Mrs. Lemke, a woman of great faith, kept raising the bar higher and higher as she constantly searched for ways to challenge and stimulate him. As he entered his teen years, she purchased a piano that she placed in his room on which she would play songs for him. Then, one night she and her husband were awakened by beautiful music coming from his room. At first they thought they had left the radio on but, when they went to investigate, they found him sitting at the piano playing a classical piece of music. Later they discovered that he was able to play any song, no matter how complex, after hearing it only once. Today he gives concerts in which he plays and sings.
What connects all three of these examples is that they were able to perform fantastic feats without any formal learning or training. In other words, they knew intuitively and without any effort how to do things that the rest of us might be able to do only after arduous training and practice.
Nor are they alone. There are other examples of human geniuses who, with little or no formal training, were capable of fantastic feats of knowledge. I once read of a young Indian boy who without any mathematical training was able to solve mathematical problems that stumped our greatest mathematical minds and, on another occasion, I saw a man who was a human calculator that was able to solve complex mathematical problem faster than a computer.
What all of this suggests is that human mind is, or once was, capable of knowing on an intuitive level what it must now struggle to know on a logical level. And, since the nonverbal, unconscious right lobe is the source of intuitive knowledge and the verbal, conscious left lobe is the source of logical knowledge, it appears that logic has assumed the role of leading us back to a level of knowledge that we once possessed automatically and intuitively. I am not sure what this means and I throw it out to my listeners as something on which they might meditate.
Some of my own thoughts on this are as follows:
Intuitive knowledge is connected to the animal kingdom where animals perform great feats of navigation, engineering, and construction without any type of training. Bats use radar and homing pigeons use the sun to navigate; beavers construct dams, birds build nests and bees build hives and nobody knows how or why they know how to do it.
Since the right lobe of our brain seems to be connected to our animal nature, it too is capable of this type of knowledge which we often referred to as “insight” because the knowledge seems to come from within rather than from without. It is a well-established fact that many great scientists, after struggling for years with a complex problem, discovered the answer in dreams or flashes of insight. For example, the double helix of the DNA molecule was revealed to its discoverer in a dream, after years of futile effort.
This being the case, it seems clear that the genius, a word that comes from genii and suggests something magical, is the right hemisphere of our brains which, from a Christian point of view, is patterned after the Father, who is the creative, artistic genius behind the universe. From the same Christian point of view, the left lobe, which is the source of logic, seems to be patterned on Jesus, the Son, who, according to St. John is the Logos or Word that the Father used to build the universe. The relationship between the two was expressed by Jesus when He said that, although He and the Father were one, the Father was greater than He and that, since the Father judged no one, He, the Logos, was the source of all judgment. Interestingly enough, the right lobe, being a genius, is greater than the left lobe and it is also non-judgmental.
So what happened? Was it the sin of intellectual pride whereby we sought to know consciously and logically in our left lobe what we had formerly known unconsciously and intuitively in our right lobe that led to the downfall of Humankind? Did Adam and Eve, the original parents of the human race, really or symbolically eat from a “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” and thereby reject the gift of intuitive knowledge? Was it because they weren’t satisfied with knowing “what to do” because they wanted to know “why they had to do it.” In other words, they wanted a reason just as the left lobe of our brains also requires a reason for everything that it does where the right lobe doesn’t. Isn’t the first sign of a child’s rebellion when he begins to ask “why?” when he is instructed by the parents to do something? Wasn’t the original temptation the promise of the serpent that, if they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they would become like God who not only knows “what to do” but also “why it has to be done that way.” In other words, God knows the primary purposes of his creation whereas most of his creatures operate according to secondary purposes because they are led by blind instincts, drives, and passions. Because of this, they are not morally responsible when they “miss the target” or sin because they don’t know what the “target is.” However, once a creature ate from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” it was capable of knowing primary purposes and therefore became morally responsible when it “missed the target.” At that moment, sin entered the world when the innocence of ignorance was replaced by the guilt that comes with knowledge and it appears that this was a two edged sword which cut both ways. In one way it harmed us and in another it benefited us. Eric Fromm, the noted psychologist wrote:
“Self-awareness, (which occurs when one dimension of our brain is able to reflect on another dimension) reason, and imagination upset the “harmony” (of human beings with the natural world.) With (reason and imagination) Man became the “freak of the universe.” He is part of nature, subject to her laws and unable to change them, yet he is above the rest of nature. He is set apart while being a part; he is homeless, yet chained to the home he shares with all creatures. Being aware of himself, he realized his powerlessness and the limitations of his existence. He can see his own end: death!!!
Reason, man’s blessing, is also his curse (because) it forces him to deal everlastingly with the job of solving the problems of life. He is different from other animals in that he lives in a state of constant and unavoidable imbalance. Man’s life cannot be lived by repeating the patterns of his species; he must live. Man is the only animal that can be bored, that can feel evicted from (or thrown out of) paradise. Man is the only animal who finds his own existence a problem that he has to solve and from which he cannot escape. He cannot go back to the … state of harmony with nature; he must proceed to develop his reason until he becomes the master of nature and of himself.
The problem of Man’s existence, then, is unique in the whole of nature. He has fallen out of nature, as it were, and is still in it; he is partly like God and partly like an animal; partly infinite, partly finite. The necessity to find ever-new solutions for the contradictions of his existence, to find ever-higher forms of unity with nature, his fellow men and himself, is the source of all psychic forces which motivate men, of all his passions, feelings, and anxieties…
The problem, then, which the human race as well as each individual has to solve, is that of being born. Physical birth is by no means as decisive and singular an act as it appears to be… Birth …in the normal meaning of the word, is only the beginning of birth in the broader sense. The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born when we die although it is the tragic fate of most individuals to die before they are born.”
Eric Fromm, it should be noted, was a German Jew who wrote extensively on human nature and its quest to become free. Throughout all of his writings one can detect his Jewish roots as he ponders the meaning of the biblical fall of Adam and Eve and the eternal quest of the human race to find its way back to unity with God and nature. His writings are so close to Catholic philosophy that he was part of the mandatory reading when I went to college.
Essentially what he was saying is that at some time in human history an event occurred in which human beings developed reason, which is found in the left lobe of the brain, and therefore fell out of harmony with Nature. As a result, we have entered a struggle to find our way back through an arduous reasoning process which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it created in us a sense of “self awareness” and consciousness and a curse because it has separated us from intuitive knowledge and has forced us to struggle to discover the answer to the questions of our existence. Thus, both human history and each human being is involved in a birth process in which they are developing from a Kingdom of Mental Darkness and Ignorance towards a Kingdom of Light and Understanding. Like Jesus, Fromm is saying that to reach our goal we must be born again, and again, and again, and again as each birth in our own development and in the development of Humankind takes us closer to becoming what we originally were meant to be. For the individual this means that each of us has, as St. Paul said, a “hidden or potential self” of which we are unaware which can be revealed only through a process of dying to the old while we move on to the new. We were not meant to exist like animals by repeating circular patterns. Rather, our lives are supposed to be progressive lines moving from the Alpha to the Omega. But this is also true of human history because it too has been moving from an Alpha to an Omega with each building upon the mistakes and successes of the previous generations. Thus, human societies are constantly in the process of trying to solve the problems of human existence and social living. We have experimented with all types of social institutions and each time that we thought that we had found the answer to our problems, we discovered that each solution contained its own problem. Thus, the quest continues to find the perfect answer; the perfect society; the perfect world. For Eric Fromm the answer is what he calls “The Sane Society”; for the Secular Humanists it is the Secular State; for the Karl Marx it is the “Classless Society”; and for Plato it was the Republic. Each of these proposed solution has some merit to it and, at the same time, each one contains a flaw.
Actually, we could group all of these solutions into one because they are all inter-related and spring from the same source. All of them are variations on the theme the Plato proposed in his “Republic” because they all involve some central authority taking responsibility for the well being of everyone else. The symbol for this, as I mentioned in my last program, is an upright triangle with the top representing the ruling group- be their Plato’s philosopher kings, Marx’s Communist Party, or the bureaucrats who run the Welfare State- and the base of the triangle representing the common masses.
In essence, this model, in its best form, is a benevolent dictatorship in which the power at the top acts as a loving parent towards the people on the bottom who are their children. And it is this very feature that makes it incompatible with the Christian vision because a dictatorship whether it is benevolent or not is incompatible with human freedom. When Jesus said, “I have come to set the captives free.” He was reiterating a theme in the Old Testament where God had initially forbidden the Hebrew people to have kings. Through His prophets he had warned them that when you turn the power for your life over to someone else, sooner or later that power will become corrupted and end up abusing you. And history has shown that even the most benevolent dictatorship eventually will deteriorate into the worst kind of tyranny as those who follow the first leader start to abuse their inherited power. In other words, power in the hands of other human beings corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Therefore, God said that only He would be their king and He would rule them from the inside by giving them a new heart. Thus the great conflict in human history and society is between law and spirit; between the upright triangle symbolizing “children who always have to be ruled by laws or parents” and the inverted triangle symbolizing “children who grown up to rule themselves”; between “other control” and “self control”; between ignorant people who are ruled by those who are wise and intelligent people who have become wise themselves.
Since the dawn of civilization, when human beings started to live in large, organized societies, there has been a conflict between two basic principles: freedom and order each of which carries certain benefits and dangers. This conflict is related to the one between the right and left hemispheres of our brain. The creative, impulsive, intuitive, holistic, artistic right hemisphere demands the freedom to be creative while the thoughtful, logical, linear left hemisphere insists that all creative impulses must be brought under the control of structure. One, in the name of freedom, says, “Let it all hang out!” while the other says, in the name of order, “Put some of it back in!” And thus there is an ongoing battle between the right hemisphere, which by nature is a lawbreaker, and the left hemisphere, which by nature is a lawmaker. It is the battle that is often observed in the conflict between the artist and the censor, the playwright and the critic, the player and the coach, the athlete and the referee and like so many other similar battles, the truth lies in the center.
The issue comes down to whether we should have control or no control. Too much control leads to an inflexible dictatorship; too little control leads to a chaotic anarchy. It appears that this battle is built into the basic nature of the universe. For example, when I was discussing the Normal Curve, I observed that norms and laws must have a certain amount of rigidness to be effective and also a certain amount of flexibility to be enforceable. Thus, technically speaking 36 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour zone is speeding. In fact, 35.1 miles per hour is also speeding. Yet, any law that is applied this rigidly is not only unreasonable, it is unenforceable. On the other hand, 50 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour zone is too flexible. This much flexibility invalidates the law. By the same token, architects must build two kinds of strength in large skyscrapers. They must construct the skyscraper with enough rigidness that it will stand up. At the same, they must put enough flexibility or sway into it so that it won’t crack when the winds hit it.
The same conflict can be seen between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is based on law. It is full of detailed instructions as to how one is to live his entire life. There was a law for just about everything and thus, a loyal Hebrew person found himself in a legal straightjacket in which he was told how to eat, how to wash, how to worship etc… Thus, one of the major conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees was their legalism and lack of flexibility. When he healed a cripple man on the Sabbath, they complained that He had violated the Law. He responded by saying “which of you, if your donkey fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, would not pull him out” and then He reminded them that David, when he and his soldiers were starving, ate the holy bread in the Temple which was reserved to just the priests. The Sabbath, He reminded them, was made for man not man for the Sabbath. Yet, He also said that He had not come to abolish the Law but rather to fulfill it. In fact, He said that not one bit of the Law would disappear.
Thus, the Law itself is good and necessary but it has one severe limitation. Because it is imposed from the outside, it is capable of changing behavior through the threat of punishment or the promise of reward but it is incapable of changing the attitudes that lie behind the behavior. At best, it is a “quick fix” that assures order only through the constant vigilance of the lawmaker. But let him be absent or unobservant, and the law-abiding citizen will quickly return to his lawbreaking nature. And that is probably why we have two testaments in the Bible: the Old and the New. The Old was based on law, which in the long term could never please God no more than any parent could be pleased with a child who grew up to be an adult who had to be constantly watched and threatened in order to get him to do the right thing. Sooner or later, God expected the human race to grow up and start to internalize His laws into their hearts where “free conformity based on “self control” would replace forced conformity based on “other control.” Thus, in John I, St. John ends his description of Jesus as the Word by saying that through Moses came the law but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
So long as “forced conformity” remained, the disharmony between Man and the Natural Order which Eric Fromm described would continue to exist and our efforts to return to our original state would be thwarted. Jesus, the God-man, showed us the way back to this original harmony when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, faced with the prospect of unbearable suffering which terrorized His flesh, He subjected His will to His Father’s Will. In this way, He showed us the way back to our origins. Adam in the Garden of Eden had broken Mankind’s relationship with God and Jesus in the Garden of
Gethsemane had restored it and by doing so set Mankind on it path to ultimate freedom.
In the Bible the story of Moses and the Promised Land is full of symbolism which tells of this journey from slavery to freedom. Black Americans in slavery immediately saw the symbolism when in their songs and poetry they portray Egypt as a symbol for slavery and the Promised Land as a symbol for freedom. But the story of the Hebrew’s journey is full of even more symbolism. For example, the Bible says that in order to get to the Promised Land they had to go through the Wilderness of Sin and, as the going became difficult, many of them wanted to return to Egypt where, they said, that, even if they weren’t free, that had daily food and a roof over their head. God became so disgusted with them that He said that they were unworthy to enter the Promised Land because they still had Egypt, or slavery, in their hearts. Thus, they had to wander in the desert for forty years until those who had been born in Egypt had died and only those who had no memory of Egypt remained. Throughout their journey, God responded to their needs by quenching their thirst by having water flow from a rock, and satisfying their hunger with manna which prefigures the Holy Eucharist. When they were bitten by serpents, He had Moses cast a bronze serpent which was hung on a pole and anyone who looked upon it was cured. There is an obvious symbolic connection between this and Christ on the Cross.
The obvious symbolic significance of the entire story is that God wants to take us from slavery to freedom but to do so we must pass through the Wilderness of Sin. However, we should not despair because we should have faith that God will always be there in our hour of need to satisfy “our thirst and hunger” with the Bread of Life and that anyone who looks upon His Son on the Cross with faith will be saved. It also means that the path to freedom is difficult and hard and that many will be tempted to return to slavery because they preferred to feed their flesh rather than there souls.
Translated into more modern terms, we might say that it is easier to be a child than it is to be an adult but the cost is one’s personal freedom. In other words, freedom carries with it responsibilities and those who can’t accept it or abuse it will never be free.
Thus, we are caught in a dilemma that only the Gospel and the Christian vision can answer. When our desire for freedom goes too far, it results in chaos; when our need for order goes too far, it results in dictatorship. Throughout history the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other, and that is why Plato had observed that governments followed a cycle from order to freedom and back to order.
Who can break this cycle and how will they do it is the issue that we are now analyzing? Plato’s answer and all those who were influenced by him believe in the upright triangle where “wise people” at the top will rule the “ignorant people” at the bottom. And so long as they provide for the physical well being of the people why should we be concerned?
The Christian answer is the inverted triangle which says that God is not satisfied with just the leaders having wisdom because He has called for everyone to be saved from the Kingdom of Darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Light. Man, said Jesus, does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from His Father’s mouth. In other words, the outer man might eat bread but the internal man eats Wisdom and everyone has been invited to the feast. Not just those who sit at the top of the triangle.
Therefore, Plato’s vision of the perfect society as one ruled by “philosopher kings” is a “quick fix” which might be acceptable in the short term when the people are children but it is unacceptable in the long term because we all made to become adults who are free and have accepted responsibility for their own lives.
But won’t this lead to chaos if the people are free? The answer is “Yes, if by freedom we mean “no control” because, as Will Durant had said, “when freedom destroys order the need for order will destroy freedom.” Thus, irresponsible freedom based on slogan like “Just do it!” or “Let it all hang out!” is the quickest path back to dictatorial control because those who believe and practice it will eventually create the chaotic conditions which even they will not be able to tolerate.
The only way to be truly free is to replace “other control” with “self control” in which the wise laws, assuming they were wise, created by those above us that were view as oppressive by us as children suddenly are internalized and we take ownership of them by freely accepting them as necessary for rational living.
For example, for many years I viewed the Church as my mother and I listened to her directives even when I didn’t understand them. But now, like St. Paul, I have grown up and have put away the mind of a child. Yet, to my surprise, I am a still a loyal member of the Church because, like Mark Twain, I can say, “When I was seventeen, I thought that my father was the stupidest person on the face of the earth. And now that I am twenty-one, I am amazed by how much he has learned in four years.” In other words, what really changed was not his father but his own understanding of his father’s views. Unfortunately, there are children and people in the Church who believe that growing up means to contradict the wisdom of their elders rather than coming to understand it.
Well, I see that my time is up. We will pursue this topic further in my next talk.