Polis, Soul, Nectarine

Political life is over. There are only money and guns now, each of these, in any socially effective quantities, increasingly concentrated in the hands of an increasingly affiliated few.

Everywhere, men are cowering, conceding, complying — and not only with their bodies. Modern men, in fact, have developed an impressive ability to feign courage, resistance, and erectness with their bodies, as a veil for their spiritual submissiveness.

Vulgar amusement is the savior of choice, the preferred and gradually inescapable escape from the onerous imperatives of reality and self-realization. And what is called “politics” today is the vulgarest of all our amusements.

All the history of mankind must take place in the individual soul. The man undergoes a first moment of self-awareness; a birth of language and the playfulness of seeing a whole world as new and his own; a startling discovery of The Other, leading to eruptions of mystery rites, poetry, and a nascent philosophic impulse; a series of climatic shifts and natural disasters forcing unpredictable (but often fruitful) episodes of realignment, and the invention of new systems of government; various destructive wars, most of them ending in defeat or uncertainty; a renaissance or two, in which earlier insights are rediscovered and the past winnowed for memories of forgotten virtue and beauty; periods of relative freedom and development followed by episodes of tyranny and decay (some of which decay the man mistakes for progress); and various “ultimate” turning points at which his level of rationality and his ability to recognize the alternatives of his situation as echoes of familiar experience will determine his choice and direction — whether toward folly and ruin, or toward understanding and an ability to withstand.

Given this natural history of the soul, it may seem remarkable that as a species, mankind repeatedly misunderstands his situation so profoundly, and hence chooses ruin. This incongruity suggests that at least one of two things must be true: (1) Most men live more or less oblivious to the soul and its natural history — either because they do not experience it at all, or because they are incapable of attending to their experience in memory so as to comprehend it, and therefore have no internal lessons to apply to their external world; (2) Most men, being implicit materialists (regardless of what they think they are), lack the capacity for figurative thought, which is essential to all communication between the soul and the world, in either direction — the polis is “the soul writ large,” says Socrates, one of the great practitioners of figurative reasoning (i.e., philosophy).

I am eating a nectarine. It is crunchy but tasty. As much as I want to get at every last bittersweet bit of the flesh, I should be careful not to hurt my teeth on the pit.

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