Monday, April 11, 2016

Plato's Gorgias, Entry 2

After discussing rhetoric with Gorgias, Socrates takes on Polus and talks him around to agreeing that the one who suffers injustice is better off than the one who inflicts it. They discuss dictators who seize power unjustly and do not suffer punishment. I'm not going to rehearse the arguments, rather, I'm going to talk about the suffering of Macbeth.

The power of Macbeth for me is Macbeth's powerful imagination and the depiction of guilt and insecurity of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare dramatizes the damage the murders do to the psyche of the Macbeths. Macbeth says he heard voices saying "Macbeth has murdered sleep", and he goes on, indicating apparent remorse. And Lady Macbeth is driven to insanity and suicide. Macbeth himself degenerates to concluding "life's but a walking shadow". Is Macbeth's famous speech merely a representation of the effects of treason, or has Macbeth, in his degenerated state, seen a deeper truth? Or is the 'deeper' truth itself relative?  I was reminded of this when Socrates talks about the good done to the soul by punishment and the idea that it rectifies a damaged soul. Perhaps, just as Macbeth realizes that Burnam Wood has come to Dunsinane and Macduff was not of 'woman born', Macbeth has his first psychological relief. Maybe his last moment, when he knew he was beaten, he got himself back. If so, than Shakespeare is gesturing at ideas like those of Plato. But it's difficult to pin Shakespeare down, that's why he's so much better than everybody else.

Unfortunately for this argument, it seems to me that there are plenty of examples of terrible people, people who have no conscience, and can do awful things with impunity and get away with it. Socrates may claim that in an 'objective' sense their souls are worse off, but my experience is subjective, not objective, and I reject the notion that there is an objective condition of the soul at all. What appears to the mind is all there is to the soul, nothing else. And if what appears to the soul is not suffering, argument over. Now most people feel guilty when they do things contrary to the society in which they are raised, very much including the Macbeths. But there are some people who don't, or not much to speak of, and often not nearly so much as to cause them to regret doing something bad if they gain a sufficient amount from it.

I should say here that I'm NOT encouraging people to be selfish dictators, selfish dictators suck. I'm only saying that we should face the reality of our condition, which is that all the attempts to prove that those who profit from injustice somehow are worse off, have failed and are doomed to fail. I wish I could agree with Socrates' arguments, I really do, but I can't -- it's too bad, really.

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