by the Editor, July, 2008
On Shadows and Realities in Education
When Plato's extended metaphor of prisoners in a cave is translated and applied to the condition of ordinary humankind, it makes very uncomfortable reading because it tells us that we are in prison. We are bound by mental and emotional chains forged by sensuality, sentimentality, "conventional" schooling, and public opinion. We are prisoners because we don't realise that we could be free. We are so accustomed to being in prison that we take it as being our natural state. It suits us to be in prison, because everything is made easy for us. Adaptation to prison life spares us the effort entailed in escaping, in accepting responsibility for ourselves, and in seeking to develop ourselves to the limits of our capacities.
It is our aim in these pages, as in Plato's, to see ourselves as specimens of stunted growth, to persuade ourselves and others that we have latent powers far beyond our impoverished imagining, and to realise that if we can escape from prison we may begin to evolve ourselves into far better people. We can break out of the egg and take flight as birds. [See Egg or Bird? Ed.]
Escape from prison is possible but not easy. Help is required from people who have already escaped and can give advice about how we may follow. Such people can also convey some idea of what we may expect to find once we are free. They tell us that the first requirement is to develop the self-discipline whereby we may persevere in our struggle for freedom despite many temptations to "relax and enjoy ourselves" and the contemptuous reactions of our fellow-prisoners which Socrates describes so well. They tell us that what we shall be embarking upon is not a quick "rehabilitation course", but a lifelong developmental endeavour, because full comprehension of the "idea of good" can be attained only with sustained effort. [See Prison. Ed.]
The Longman Modern English Dictionary (1978 edition) says that the soul is "the immortal part of man as distinguished from his body; the moral and emotional nature of man, as distinguished from his mind; the vital principle which moves and animates all life; personification or embodiment".
Because I felt uneasy about distinguishing between soul and mind, I looked up what the same dictionary says about mind and found it is the "seat of consciousness, thought, feeling, and will; the intellect; desire, purpose" ..., and a number of other invisible and intangible things which contribute the non-bodily traits by which we distinguish one personality from another. Hence I deduce that the soul must include the mind; otherwise, it could not be "the vital principle which moves and animates all life"
So I ask myself, What distinguishes the 'living' from the 'dead'? My reply is: 'Consciousness'. Introspection shows me clearly and distinctly that without being conscious, I could neither perceive anything, feel anything, nor understand 'how anything works'. Because I find the Universe 'understandable' or at least those fragments of it that I have been able to study I deduce that the most significant attribute of the soul is consciousness. I conclude that my consciousness (and yours, dear reader) are of the same nature as the consciousness underlying the structure of the Universe. In other, more traditional, words, our souls are of the same nature as the consciousness of God.
This is the idea underlying the first three quotations from Socrates (above). The fourth quotation points out that the intellectual aspect of consciousness works by comparing one thing with another. The intellect is an analytical engine which must take things apart in order to understand how they fit together; the emotional part of the soul then tries to restore the harmony of the parts thus divided in order to recover their essential unity.
It should be added that if the individual soul is a temporary copy of the soul of the Universe, the soulless computer supplies a useful analogy. Every individual laptop or desktop can share data with every other computer which has compatible protocols and operating systems, and it is now standard practice to make 'backup' copies to ensure that no data are lost when a machine 'dies'. Thus data are relatively immortal by comparison with the 'life' of any individual machine. [See Information and Technology, Part 2 Ed.]
But no machine is capable of converting data into information. Only conscious beings can do that. So we may legitimately imagine that the knowledge and experience acquired by our souls are 'backed up' in the cosmic system, ready to be 'downloaded' to individual bodies whose souls have learned how to gain access to the Universal Source. It is in any case obvious that souls are by no means equal in the qualities whereby we determine whether we should love them or loathe them, and it seems not unreasonable to suppose that such qualities depend upon understanding of and conformity to Natural Universal Law.
If such an hypothesis is accepted, then it becomes clear that:
As the word suggests, the chief aim of education is to lead out: to help the student realise the potential hidden in his or her soul, to draw it out, and to expand his or her consciousness of the modes of operation of the Universe. Education consists not in stuffing the student's mind with disconnected "facts" of dubious authenticity, but in penetrating through the sensed to the underlying idea, through the perceived many to the underlying unity, and seeing beyond becoming to absolute being.
The Socratic curriculum would therefore include:
We must never forget that justice is inseparable from personal freedom, and the main aim of education ahould be the inculcation of that lesson. Socrates himself says that "early education should be a sort of amusement".
Here in the UK, we have lost sight of that guiding principle. Overlong compulsory schooling has had disastrous consequences in the disaffection of a high proportion of the rising generation. Many adolescents cannot wait to leave school to enjoy the undisciplined licence which they mistake for freedom because they have had no opportunity to acquire the sense of personal responsibility needed to make them fit to be free. Compulsion has poisoned their minds against the continuous through-life education which is increasingly necessary to carve out a meaningful and fulfilling personal life in an ever-more-complex realised world.
British people, who used to be famous throughout the world for their love of freedom, now fear freedom more than anything else. Too many of our young people have become vandals and terrorists not because of mistaken allegiance to any dogma, but because they have not been brought up to appreciate what it means to be free and because we lack the courage to show them that love conquers fear.
The great majority of our politicians are themselves disguised terrorists who bully us into paying more in taxes than we can reasonably afford so that they can maintain the illusion that they are indispensable to the national welfare. They keep "talking tough", passing increasingly more restrictive legislation, giving more powers to the police and the "security" services, and advancing a multiplicity of fatuous excuses for making discrimination illegal. We may reasonably surmise that all this frenzied law-making is only a desperate effort to lull normally law-abiding citizens into a false sense of security lest they wake up and perceive that the unruly behaviour they fear is ultimately attributable to generations of bad government by incompetent politicians with grossly exaggerated ideas of their own importance. What they fail to realise is that endless tinkering with the law inevitably tends to lawlessness because there are too many laws and too many of them run counter to the Laws of Nature.
H G Wells wrote that "In the Country of the Blind, the One-eyed man is King". It would, I think, be truer to say that "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is a heretic". Not many people choose to break out of the "social prison"; and those who do are more than likely to be considered eccentric at best and, at worst, dangerous enough to be imprisoned physically as well as mentally. H G Wells was nearer the mark when he wrote: "The Social Contract is nothing more or less than a vast conspiracy of human beings to lie to and humbug themselves and one another for the General Good. Lies are the mortar that binds the savage individual man into the social masonry."
Gurdjieff's lecture on Distribution of Knowledge explains why not many individuals are likely to take the trouble to break free from the social masonry and why, when they do, it is highly desirable for them to combine their efforts with those of other "eccentrics" following similar paths towards the more realistic view of the world outlined in Consciousness, Laws, and Influences.
Do we begin to feel that whereas true education is inspiring, enabling, and ennobling, conventional schooling is too often stifling and stultifying? Do we even begin to suspect that compulsory "education" is intended chiefly to inculcate conformity to the status quo, because heresy always tends to overthrow the prevailing and the familiar, and makes the docile "faithful" feel uncomfortable?
I had just written the foregoing paragraphs when, in the course of two days, two unexpected items of heartening news burst upon the world.
On Wednesday, a craven House of Commons passed a motion to increase the period during which a suspect may be held in custody without charge from twenty-eight days to forty-two. We might in passing reflect that imprisonment for as little as forty-two minutes for no better reason than suspicion that the prisoner might possibly have been preparing to commit an offence flies in the face of the principle of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty of having actually committed an offence. But let us not for the moment distract attention from the eccentrically laudable reaction of David Davis. David had run a close second to David Cameron in a race for the leadership of the Conservative Party and seemed destined to become Home Secretary in a future Conservative government. He was so disgusted at the unprincipled methods by which the Labour Government had "persuaded" reluctant MPs to vote for the illiberal detention bill that on Thursday he eccentrically resigned his membership of the House of Commons in order to force a by-election in his constituency so that he might more effectively draw public attention to what he calls the 'drip, drip' erosion of the freedoms which used to be an essential feature of 'Britishness' and which too many of us fancy we still possess.
I must make clear that I do not agree with everything Mr Davis says: for example, I have no objection to suveillance by CCTV cameras because they save manpower and I am under no illusion that I can be private in public. But Mr Davis has the courage of his convictions, and has been brave enough to put his career on the line with but little support from fellow politicians, nearly all of whom dismiss his action as a "stunt". The most vociferous condemnation of his "futile gesture" comes from members of his own party, who obviously fear that his forthright example might expose their own timidity. Only frightened people fall back on draconian injustice when they lack the moral and physical courage to meet evil head on. Custody without charge, and therefore without demonstrable cause in the form of the commission of an actual crime, is nothing more than a feeble attempt to fight one form of terrorism with another. The longer such injustice is tolerated, the more the morale of the nation is undermined.
In the "olden days, when men were men and women were glad of it", the noble David Davis would have been granted an hereditary peerage. His heirs would have been assured of a stake in the future of the country and a significant voice in its government. The Labour Party lacks the collective guts to fight a by-election against him and risk discovering that a Yorkshire electorate is braver that they imagine; we must therefore expect that Mr Davis will shortly resume his seat in Parliament. Whatever happens, he enjoys the enthusiastic country-wide support of fellow eccentrics who wish to see him restored to even greater influence than before. Forty-two cheers for David Davis!
The remaining twenty-seven cheers are for the independence-loving people of the Irish Republic who, in a referendum, roundly rejected a "Treaty" which would have further subjected their small country to the tyranny of a European superstate cobbled together from twenty-seven so-called 'nation-states'. The Irish wisely wish to maintain a state of neutrality, and see nothing but harm arising from their young men (and, quite possibly, women) being conscripted to serve in a European army.
EU membership leaves no room for neutrality because the chief aim of the EU is to sustain a mutually comforting feeling of collective security and material prosperity in the face of the "problems" arising from globalisation. It should by now be obvious that such an aim is no more than a forlorn hope. The 'haves' in the world have always been greatly out-numbered by the 'have-nots'; the new development is that the 'have-nots' of the world have become conscious both of their relative material poverty and of their vast superiority in numbers. Therefore, unafraid of hardship because they are used to it, they can see it is only a matter of time before they have by their own efforts consigned the much-vaunted 'superiority' of the Western nations to the pages of history. The signs of the decline and fall of the West should by now be clearly discernible even to career politicians, who should realise that benevolent neutrality is more likely than warfare to promote both collective security and material prosperity,
If there were sufficient wisdom in the ranks of UK politicians, they would seize this opportunity to make common cause with Eire and begin restoring the political unity of the British Isles. They would give the UK electorate an opportunity to reject the Lisbon Treaty and repeal sentimental "Human Rights" legislation which ignores human wrongs. They would withdraw British armed services from participation in misguided overseas adventures of which even the EU does not entirely approve. Like Eire and Switzerland, they would declare a state of neutrality which would reduce at least some of the fears which pervade a terrorised world. They would reduce the tax burden on the poor, remove some of the ridiculous restrictions on the healthily entrepreneurial young, and set the people free to concentrate on building a self-contained natural economy to sustain the next several generations.
The vandals, muggers, and terrorists are currently winning hands down because they do not fear or respect the public. Too many of the British people have been systematically politicised into timid creatures who are too dependent on government to help themselves. People whose first reaction in any difficulty is to bring it to the attention of the 'appropriate authorities' ignore the fact that the authorities are powerless without help from the public. It should not be forgotten that the "public", like all incidents of vandalism, mugging, and terrorism, are always local, not 'centralised'. Because of over-centralisation, the police and the "security services" (whoever they may be), are also demoralised through being bound by bureaucratic red tape. Until the public recover a sense of civic responsibility and the police are authorised to act on their own initiative at the behest and with the co-operation of the local public, all the "appropriate authorites" can do is devise new administrative handicaps for the "goodies" and make life easier for the "baddies"..
Take, for example, giving evidence in Court. Many potential witnesses refuse to testify for fear of reprisals by the accused and/or their friends and relations. For some time past, reluctant witnesses have been allowed to give evidence without their persons or identities being revealed. The Law Lords have recently and justly outlawed this practice, because it obviously handicaps the defence of the accused who are presumed innocent until proven guilty. A panic-stricken government is now attempting to rush through the House of Commons an emergency bill to legitimise the malpractice. What clearer evidence could there be that fear fosters injustice, or that courage is a quality of the soul?
Whilst it is sensible to fear bodily injury, it is illogical to fear the inevitable death of the body. Both kinds of fear should by any scale of justice rank far below fear of losing the freedom of our souls to express themselves without fear or favour, whether in private or public. Once we, the people, have lost the courage to perform our civic duties, our nation is far down the slippery slope to hell.
A major contributory factor favouring the debilitating fear of death is political obsession with making bodily longevity the ultimate criterion of the performance of that "sacred cow", the National Health Service. In a country which is already overcrowded and threatened with a dearth of food, fuel, and houses, it makes no soul-sense to pander to the infirm and the too-often-demented old at the outrageous expense of the healthy and energetic young. It should be obvious that only a significant increase in the global death rate can alleviate a disastrous population explosion. For the UK, this necessarily implies discontinuation of tax-payer support for all the sentimental socialist services which unnecessarily promote human fertility at one end of life and artificially prolong uneconomic individual survival at the other. Even if some persons and organisations realise a material profit from the associated industries, the nation as a whole is impoverished by them both materially and spiritually.
Our bodies die only once; and any physical fight against suicide-bombers and other terrorists has an infinitely better prospect of being successful when it is conducted on home ground where "hearts and minds" are overwhelmingly on the side of law and order. There is something grotesque about despatching the flower of British youth to die uselessly in Afghanistan whilst at great expense preserving breath in worn-out bodies at home. When my body is no longer able to obey the commands of my soul, it is surely justice for my soul to be liberated from my body rather than make it wait until my no-longer-serviceable physical envelope has rotted away in an "old-folks' home".
It is reassuring to find David Davis and the Irish people courageously exercising due vigilance. The rest of us should emulate them even unto death, fear of which is our most debilitating characteristic.
Justice suggests that Guardians who have been privileged to receive a Socratic education have a duty to carry the torch back to the cave, to release those prisoners who are willing to follow, lead them into the sunlight, and help their eyes to accommodate to its brilliance. They must therefore accept political responsibility even though reluctantly. For the best guardians are, as Socrates puts it, "those whom we shall compel to be guardians. They will be the men who are wisest about affairs of State, and by whom the State is best administered, and who at the same time have other honours and another and a better life than that of politics." Does Socrates here not describe people very like those whom we have elsewhere called "the landed gentry"?
The greater the proportion of such torch-bearers who can be persuaded to become involved in the government of the State, the happier all its people are likely to be. But before we can get them, we must first outlaw self-serving political parties. David Davis had to break party ranks to make his point. The Irish public had to reject the advice of their own political leaders. We must recognise that our own politicians, living in fear of ill-educated, sentimental, partisan public opinion, can do our souls more harm than can any foreign terrorists.
John Philpot Curran (1750-1817), Lord Mayor of Dublin, expressed it memorably. "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt."