What Plato can Teach us about Covid 19
Plato taught us that the purpose of life is to know, love, and serve the Good, which is at once Reality itself, its source, and the power by which we know and love it. Plato also taught us that, as humans are communal, they know, love, and serve the Good together in communities, especially the larger community of the polis or city. For Plato and the philosophia perennis as a whole, Reality is the Good and the Good is Reality, and as such the foundation and purpose of both personal and political life.
But what is Reality, and how do we know it? No one grappled with this question more deeply than Plato, giving us the classic distinction between what appears and what is. The Good is both What Is and the perfect self-awareness of What Is, and so the distinction doesn’t apply to It. But you and I are not the Good, and this otherness puts us at some distance from it, in the space between which, as it were, the Good makes its appearance. The whole point of Platonism is to reduce this distance as much as possible, such that for all intents and purposes, we become one with the Good and thus with Reality. When the philosophers who are to rule the city have obtained this unity through rigorous formation and years of contemplation, they order the city so that those living within it are enabled to become as united with the Real and the Good as possible. Otherwise, as Plato makes clear, tyrants, those who put their desires in the place of the Good and their dictates in the place of Reality, will rule a city of unreality unto self-destruction.
Many people today, particularly the religiously inclined, still agree with Plato that knowing and loving Reality and the Good is the purpose of life, but not many think that political life should be based upon spiritual or even moral reality. Liberalism (in both the classical and late-modern versions) is responsible for this change, as it teaches that the purpose of politics is to provide a secure space and the economic/legal (free-market exchange, constitutional law) provisions and communal (family, school, church, etc.) resources by which individuals can freely work out for themselves the difference between appearance and reality and choose to live according to their conclusions without coercion. People in political power are not authorized to impose their view of the Good and the Real on everyone else, which is what we didn’t like in the bad, pre-liberal old days. It’s not that it wouldn’t be a great thing if we all came to agreement on the highest good and the most real, if that were to occur through the free pursuit of truth and individual happiness, but even then, no established religion or confessional political order would follow. The secular, pluralistic city is the best one, we know now, for it secures the blessings of liberty and freedom for all requiring only a modicum of shared principles, such as not killing each other over disagreements about the Good and the Real, educational and economic opportunity for all, and not taking other people’s stuff. Plato helped us to recognize the connection between the search for the truth about the Good and political peace and happiness, but he went too far when he authorized the political community to establish and impose the Good on its citizens. We cannot force people to move from appearance to Reality.
But if Reality and the Good is not something we want imposed on us by our rulers, why is it that since March of 2020, we let them do just that? Suddenly, whatever the medical “experts” and “authorities” declared was Reality—the most deadly global pandemic in human history— and Good—the shutdown of all social and economic life, social isolation, wearing a mask, and mandated injections. The philosopher-kings also made sure that all people in the world rejected any appearances to the contrary of their declarations, with money, moral accolades, and prestige for the Reality-knowers, and sanctions, demonization, and cancellation for the appearance-lovers. Why did we allow our social and political order to regress to the Middle Ages? Did everyone suddenly re-read Book V of Plato’s Republic (in which the details of the theocracy of the Good are laid out) and have a conversion experience?
The short answer is fear. It seems that fear can bring out truth, and the truth that emerged in the past eighteen months is that the liberal adventure of “choose your own good” was nothing but a facade. As long as nothing life-threatening was at stake, the postmodernist play-acting of private bourgeois self-creation and the secularist public agnosticism about Reality and the Good could continue along. IXXI was a significant interruption to the liberal status-quo, after which the fear of terrorism saw our ecumenical non-judgmentalism and liberal tolerance morph into a fundamentalist theological crusade against pure evil—with bombs. After the buildings blew up, millions of frightened American children (adults who regressed) were initiated into Reality by their President-Father: Islamic terrorists (who didn’t know how to fly airliners) destroyed two buildings (turning them to dust in mid-air), and terrorists were now hiding in every town in America. Just like today, all dissent from the government-media narrative was forbidden and punished, and agreement rewarded. But secular life in America (apart from airports, perhaps) essentially remained the same: the Good/Real was still a private matter. And though on IXXI geopolitical reality was dictated on to us from on high, there was still much of the Good and True that we were still permitted to work out for ourselves. As long as “we killed them over there so they wouldn’t kill us over here,” we were safe in our cities, our homes, and in our bodies, and so we were happy with the liberal status quo
But this episode of medieval atavism was only a prelude to the full-scale regression of the entire globe. If fear brings out truth, pathological fear is magisterial. Prefaced by an incessant onslaught of horror propaganda, beginning in April of 2020, we were initiated from on high not only into the new political reality of “the new normal,” but also into the new physical reality: Every air molecule in the whole world was now toxic (except the air molecules in the restaurant or plane as soon as you take off your mask to eat and drink). Our healthy, non-symptomatic neighbor’s very bodily existence would certainly kill us if we didn’t interpose six feet and a piece of cloth. Staying inside one’s home and shutting down the in-person economy was the only way to avoid certain death. And now every child on earth needs to be injected with an untested experimental drug (even though children don’t die from the disease, the drug doesn’t prevent or cure the disease, and the drug is killing more people than the disease). Did I forget to mention that the human immune system no longer exists? Yes, we obeyed Reality as it was revealed to us day by day by the medical priests and bureaucratic bishops. We listened and believed because we wanted to know the True Good and the Really Real, and we wanted to know it together. C. J. Hopkins:
The New Normals — i.e., those still wearing masks outdoors, shrieking over meaningless “cases,” bullying everyone to get “vaccinated,” and collaborating with the segregation of the “Unvaccinated” — are not behaving the way they’re behaving because they are stupid. They are behaving that way because they’re living in a new “reality” that has been created for them over the course of the last 17 months by a massive official propaganda campaign, the most extensive and effective in the history of propaganda.
It is well known that people in a psychotic state of fear will believe anything, no matter how absurd and destructive, if it promises to give them a way out of the torturing fear. Every would-be totalitarian knows this, and that is why totalitarianism is most effectively ushered in by a mass-trauma event followed by an arbitrary assignment of blame, a scapegoating campaign, and a recipe for fear mitigation. If you follow Reality by first believing this horror story (now you have an object for the free-floating anxiety caused), scapegoating these people (now you belong to the community of the righteous), and following these mandates (now you have the cure), your loneliness, fear, and guilt will cease. But I think there is a deeper explanation for the transformation of so many postmodern relativists into medieval dogmatists. And here we return to Plato.