Orchestra: The Timocracy We All Know

May 5, 2015

In Book VII of The Republic, Socrates discusses the five regimes: Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. One leads to the next and eventually shows the breakdown of the ideal city. While discussing this in class, the notion of Timocracy caught my attention. Dictionary.com defines it as “a form of government in which love of honor is the dominant motive of the rulers.” In a Timocratic society, the soul is ruled by the spirit, resulting in a controlled appetite but desire for glory. Being a violinist and participating in several different orchestras, I couldn’t help but notice that the establishment of the orchestra is synonymous with a Timocracy.

Honor and glory are the ruling principles of the modern day symphony orchestra. This is perfectly exemplified by the seating order. Every violinist wants to be concertmaster. Why? It comes with a lot of glory. The concertmaster gets to walk on stage after every other member of the orchestra has taken his/her seat. Upon walking on stage, the audience roars and the concertmaster gets to take a bow in acknowledgment. He/she also gets to play any violin solos written in the music. This unquestionably provides a greater sense of glory.

Each member of the orchestra is fuelled with this desire for honor whether it be violins, cellos, oboes, flutes, french horns etc. Everybody wants that big solo and the honor that comes with it. That being said, the typical orchestra also exemplifies a Timocracy in that it desires to sound better than other orchestras, for that comes with glory. Why do the best symphony orchestras rehearse for several hours each week? Because they desire to sound better than the other orchestras. They want the glory of saying they are the “best in the state” or even “best in the country.”

Unfortunately, as Socrates described how the ideal city would further degenerate from a Timocracy to an Oligarchy, the same can be true for the orchestra. Although it doesn’t happen often, those with money can bribe the people in charge into giving them first chair. The orchestra then goes from an establishment ruled by the spirit to one ruled by the appetite, as it is now governed by the rich. This of course results in an orchestra that doesn’t function as efficiently, for he/she who did the bribing may not be best fit for first chair. In sum, I think Timocracy is an effective regime in the case of the orchestra.

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Disappearance of the Finest Good

May 1, 2015

Most people would agree that as capitalism has grown, so has the emphasis on material possessions. More and more technology is spewing out everyday, and people are encouraged to buy the newest smartphone, or the even newer smartwatch. There is so much emphasis on making money to buy these gadgets, that society is slowly eliminating the genuine joys in life. Rather than enjoying something for its consequence and for the sake of doing it, people are increasingly enjoying things only for their consequences, not for the sake of doing it.

Of course, this relates to the “three types of good” mentioned in Book II of Plato’s Republic. While in conversation with Socrates, Glaucon talks of three types of goods:

1. That which we like for its own sake, such as joy

2. That which we like for its own sake and its consequences

3. That which we like for its consequences, but not for its own sake

As aforementioned, I believe that society is losing touch with the second good listed (which Socrates calls the finest good), and is now becoming overwhelmed by the third good listed. Back in Socrates time, it was enjoyable to gain knowledge, as were the consequences of having knowledge. Even today, in less fortunate countries, kids enjoy going to school for the sake of going as well as for its consequences. Nowadays, in our consumerist culture, people see education as a burden, but carry it through in order to land a higher paying job. The higher paying job then leads to the ability to buy more material objects.

I’ve fallen victim to this, for occasionally when I play a gig for money, I see it as more of a burden with payoff and less of a joy with payoff. Because materialism has driven society to crave money, people don’t do tasks for the desire of doing the tasks. They do it for the money. The money then buys items, such as the smartwatch, which are designed to speed up the tasks. Why would one need to speed up a task if the task itself was enjoyable? Certainly, this doesn’t apply to every individual or circumstance, I just find it unfortunate that tasks that were once gratifying for their own sake are becoming burdensome.


Divergent as Socrates’ Ideal City

April 26, 2015

In Plato’s Republic, he discusses Socrates’ description of the “ideal city” -a city that is completely rooted in justice. To Socrates, justice means that every person does what he or she is meant to do, whether that is to provide for the city (merchants, musicians, educators, etc.), to guard, or to rule. To facilitate this, each individual is tested to see what he or she is best fit to do. Of course, where justice exists, so does injustice: not doing what you’re meant to do. For example, if someone who is best fit to be a merchant were to rule, s/he would be committing injustice. In this case, that individual would be punished.

While on this topic in class, someone stated that the unjust person was “divergent,” which got me thinking. I realized that Socrates’ ideal city is very similar to the society in the book/movie, Divergent.

I had never seen nor read the book because I’m generally not interested angsty teenage dramas that inevitably end in romance, but I was able to sacrifice some time to watch the film. Divergent takes place in a futuristic Chicago, around the year 2100. A great war has left the city to be quite dystopic, and there are now five different factions that a person can belong to. These are: Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Erudite the intelligent, Abnegation the selfless, and Dauntless the brave. At the age of 16, each teenager is put through a series of tests to find out what faction they will join. Then comes along our main character, Tris Prior (played by Shailene Woodley). While she goes through these series of tests, she is found to be “divergent,” not belonging to any specific faction. The “divergents” are endangered, for they pose a threat to this dystopic society. Tris and her divergent teenage romancer then fight the system for the rest of the movie (soon to be two more movies). Sound familiar?

As was aforementioned, Socrates believed there should only be three types of people: the workers, the guardians, and the rulers. In the story’s futuristic Chicago, there are only five types of people (theoretically), Amity, Candor Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless. In Socrates’ ideal city, people are tested to see what they are best fit to do. In futuristic Chicago, teenagers are put through a series of tests to see what faction they best fit into. Those who do not perform the function they are best suited are deemed “unjust” by Socrates, and should technically be punished. Tris, who did not adhere to any of the five factions, was deemed “divergent,” and hunted down.

It is safe to say that there are clear parallels drawn between the two societies, though one was considered utopic, while the other was dystopic. Perhaps Socrates would support the latter, for it holds his same ideals. One must do what he or she is meant to do.


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.


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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