NPR Story: “What If I Don’t Have A Passion?”

May 12, 2013

This is a story that was featured on Nation Public Radio entitled: “I Know I’m Supposed To Follow My Passion. But What If I Don’t Have A Passion?” I found this very interesting especially after reading Socrates’ stance on the different roles that he feels people should fill in society. In this story, Max Kornblith is questioning what to do with his life. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from a prestigious Ivy League institution, he found everyone around him being driven by his or her “passion”. In fact, it seems to Max Kornblith that the main argument that everybody is making for having a successful and meaningful life is to follow that passion that every person has. However, Mr. Kornblith has not found this driving force in his life, and does not know whether he has a passion or not.

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Socrates believed that every person has a place in society, and that every person should be content with that position. He said that if every person dedicated their energy towards the position that they fill in society that the city could function to its full potential. This is a very different philosophy than the one that is most present in our society today. In today’s world, people, like Max Kornblith, are encouraged to “follow their hearts”, “follow their passion”, and “follow their dreams”. It takes about five minutes of watching American Idol to truly understand that a person who is passionate about something shouldn’t necessarily be doing that thing at all. The most successful people today, in my mind, seem to be the people who have both the passion, and the natural ability that Socrates looked for in a person when deciding which profession they were best suited for.

Max Kornblith is somewhat the opposite of the prototype of the conventional successful person. He is a very smart person, having graduated from a prestigious Ivy League institution, with many skills. However, he does not have the “passion” which would motivate him to strive for greatness in career. He explains that he became frustrated when all of his peers had their “one thing” that they found brought meaning to their life. Still it seems to me that Max is looking for depth and meaning in his career that will satisfy the overall goals that he has for his life.

Socrates would not have a problem with Max Kornblith being unable to find his passion. In his mind, Socrates believes that the passion a person has for certain things is irrelevant to the success of their career. This is because Socrates would not have had people in a certain line of work based on their passion and interests, but what their natural skills (determined at a very early age) were.

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Just an individual in a Just society

May 10, 2013

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On several occasions recently I have watched a group of people struggle to grasp the logic behind Socrates’ plan for the ideal city, as stated in Plato’s “The Republic”. I have been thinking about why it is difficult for people, including myself, to understand where Socrates is coming from when he tries to explain his reasoning for the just city. I think that the underlying concept of what success, justice, greatness etc. is and where it truly comes from is different in our minds and the mind of Socrates. Whether the difference lies in the society that Socrates was a part of, or Socrates himself, I don’t know. I do believe that what makes it hard for some people to understand why in the world Socrates would believe the things that he did that would make a better and more just society is the fact that we are focusing on such different things.

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First of all, the society that we live in today places its focus on the individual, not the city, state, or country. We tend to place significance in a person’s achievements and success. The people that I have talked to about things that we feel are greater than the shallow achievements of a person, still usually speak of the potential for an individual. Socrates more often spoke of the potential of a just city, versus the potential for a just individual. I believe that this is the difference that makes it hard to relate to Socrates when he is talking about the ideal society. We are used to the focus being on an individual’s greatness, while Socrates is giving us his plan to form a society that is great.

The concept of “everything in its right place” is one of the most important elements of Socrates’ ideal city, and happens to be one of the ideas that spark the most discomfort among readers of “The Republic”. In this situation, Socrates explains that the ideal city would benefit from every person doing the job that they are most fit to do. This means, for example, that a person with steady hands (among other features) would be a surgeon, because that is what the city needs. Socrates explains that the city will benefit most from every individual doing what their natural skills enable them to do best. Most people find some conflict with this and I think it is because we live in a society where the individual is revered as being able to do whatever they want. “The American Dream”, for example, represents the idea that anybody can become anything that they want in this country, regardless of background, race, gender, sexuality, skills, knowledge, or experience. Obviously skills, knowledge, and experience would need to be acquired before the greatness of the individual could be achieved, but the underlying idea that appeals to people in “The American Dream” is that you are not destined to one career path, status, or lifestyle.

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My experience, and seemingly others experience as well, has been a sort of conflict of interests. I have been more focused on being a just individual, while Socrates looks for justice in a society. He does explain how he believes a person can have a just soul, but this is mainly a factor in his ideal city. He believes that a society consisting of just individuals will be the foundation of the just city. However, part of being a just individual to Socrates means knowing your place in society, and being content with that. I think that most individuals in today’s society, however, are not ready to give up their aspirations and submit themselves to the construction of a just city.


“A Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness”

May 9, 2013

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I have found that it is easiest for me to understand what a person is trying to say if I am able to relate to their situation. This is how I attempted to understand Socrates’ explanation of “The Forms”. I have often thought about the world as having a “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” covering everything. Imagine yourself looking at a tree, but there is this layer of Saran Wrap over top of it. You would be able to see the tree somewhat, although its’ shape, color, and definition etc. would be altered and impossible to see clearly. I was able to follow “The Allegory of the Cave” so well because I related this metaphor to my own experience.

In “The Allegory of the Cave”, Socrates describes prisoners who are seeing shadows of figures, which are made to represent real things in the world. These figures are in the shape of trees, people, animals etc. Because the prisoners have not seen anything except the shadows of these figures their entire lives, they accept the limits of what they are seeing to be true. In my own opinion, there is a metaphorical layer, which covers everything in front of a person, which disables them from seeing the truth and reality of whatever it is that they are looking at.

I think this layer that comes between the average person and reality is something that is created by many things. The media, for example, definitely keeps the public from understanding the truth in a situation, in a number of ways. For example, each news station has a certain set of values, morals, and opinions, which are injected into the stories that are told. When the news stations report on a story, the public is not just presented with the facts that make up the situation, but a certain set of opinions about the events as well. The opinions are not the problem, but the way that they are presented does not make it clear to the viewers that there are more than just facts being reported.

It is my belief that society, whether this is intentional or not, does this same thing. As we grow up, we take some things to be true simply because that’s how we were taught. For example, we are taught that achieving a certain amount of success will result in happiness. This, to me, is like putting a “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” (bull crap) over everything; or putting a bag over someone’s head. The happiness that is obtained when a person follows the lifestyle that society places on a pedestal is not true happiness, and in my opinion, doesn’t really mean anything. Conventional success, as defined by society today, focuses on things like money, status, material things and fame. While these things may bring some sort of happiness to some people, there is not enough substance and depth to keep me satisfied or interested. The “Saran Wrap layer” that is put over everything restricts people to seeing certain things a certain way, and keeps them from knowing more. In this example, people can obtain a certain type of happiness and will be content with that, because they have not been able to see that there are greater, more powerful, and more beautiful forces than the feelings that having lots of money can bring.

Although I do not agree with everything that Socrates says, I found it interesting to see how far the analogy of the “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” can correlate to the “Allegory of the Cave” and other readings. In general, I felt that I was able to follow what Socrates was saying because I had this other analogy to compare and relate it to.

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The Hunger Games, 18c French Aristocratic Culture, and Ancient Greek Culture

May 8, 2013

I just finished reading the book series ‘The Hunger Games‘ in anticipation of the upcoming second movie and could not help but ponder the correlations between the series and the French aristocratic culture we saw in ‘Ridicule‘ and that Rousseau would have been dealing with in his time.

Though The Hunger Games was gripping in many ways, from its non-stop spree of child on child violence, to its predictably verrry drawn out love triangle, and its fantasy quasi-post-apocalyptic world, the feature I found drawing me back each time was its stark depiction of the Capitol and its relation to the other Districts 1-12.

 

Katness’ three stylists many interactions serve as quite possible the largest pool of information we have when it comes to the way the Capitol sees the district people.  They often rant on and on about fashion trends in the Capitol, gossip of the latest celebrities, and the sporting events (past and future hunger games).  When the stylists inquire as to what Katness does regularly, or to the lives of the districts they are not even able to fathom what this ‘simple’ lifestyle could be.

The opposite applies as well, and perhaps to greater effect in the books as our protagonist provides the perspective of the Districts people.  When over hearing this seemingly babble from the people of the Capitol to one another an almost un-remorseful anger arise for Katness as these people go on with their seemingly empty lives without any care for the travesties that ravage the lives of the poor.

This all is very direct to the way the Aristocrats view the poor in ‘Ridicule’ where Madame de Blayac states, “The poor, such boring lives.”  For to them these ‘worldly’ matters are so base it is not simply unfashionable to entertain them.  In the movie our protagonist (Ponceludon) is faced with the simple task of getting funding from the king to drain his swamp to keep his people from dying of malaria.  However to do so he must prove himself to the king through jests of rhetoric, wit, and poetry.  This need to do so is viewed by Ponceludon and other poor characters as bordering hysterical  for to them the negligence of such worldly problems is unfathomable.

So while reading I was also immensely intrigued by hoe Katness tried to put herself in the shoes of the people of the Capitol and question if they were deserving of her hate.  Often coming up with thoughts like, “I guess if I was raised in the capitol I too would be wondering what the next fashionable color to dye ones skin is”.  But even when she was able to justify the ‘blindness’ to the rest of the world of its citizens it didn’t seem she could ever justify the reason the capitol would promote such a system.  This is where I think ancient Greek culture comes into play.

For the Greeks, to have to do manual labor of any sort was considered lowly and something only for a slave.  And boy did they love their slaves, for to truly be a citizen one must be able to remove themselves from the hardships of life to be able to think upon the deeper philosophical questions.  This at least was one justification they presented.  For if one is always caught up in the turmoil of difficult living, one can only think of remedies to their situation, and therefore cannot begin to attain true knowledge.  I think this also works in the Capitol’s favor as they are not able to pursuit these high forms of art, beauty, architecture, etc without being 100% removed from ‘worldly duties’ .

So I have a few questions to prompt comments:

  1. aristocracy, at its core, will always justify itself with a claim to being more knowledgeable, however in doing so does it also setup a necessity to disregard the troubles of the poor as moot to their situation?
  2. Another way I was reading the Hunger Games was as a play on the way 1st and 3rd world countries interact in modern day society, i.e. we in the US ignore the travesties of most of Africa, Asia, Middle East etc and are able to go on with our daily lives often without the ability to even fathom what is occurring their.  Further the people of those countries must see us as the Districts people saw the people of the Capitol, as over indulgent and blissfully ignorant of the reality surrounding them.  My question is, if this is the case will an unequal society always have this dispute between populations or is this just a result of the vastness of the inequality?