Why worry about consciousness when the political world is falling apart around us?

Isn’t it like “fiddling while Rome burns”?

On the contrary – says Plato – it’s the only practice that will make “Rome” endure.

In the Republic, Plato asks, “Who should rule?”

He answers, “One who has looked at the components of her or his consciousness and ordered them.”

Ordering consciousness: that is his definition of philosophy, philos Sophia, the love of wisdom.

The philosopher should be aware of the three components of his psyche:

“appetite” – desire for beautiful sensations

“spirit” – desire to be honored in the eyes of others

“reason” – desire to understand and implement what is ideal

The philosopher should spend many years in study and self-observation. She should train herself to loosen the control that appetite and spirit have over her behavior, learn to recognize the ways they distort perception, and escape the false world they create.

Someone who has not trained himself in this kind of philosophy is not fit to rule.

Such a person may approach the task of governing through the lens of appetite, asking in every situation, “What choice supports my financial gain?” Or they may govern through the lens of spirit, constantly defending themselves against challenge and insult.

Neither motivation makes it possible to consider what is truly just or good for a city, state, or country.

Both fail over and over again, leading the ruler to invest more and more energy into protecting his wealth or self-esteem.

Which fails over and over again.

Until the ruler becomes a tyrant: a person who sees scarcity everywhere, hunting him down. He builds psychic barriers to protect his fragile grasp on the reality he perceives, refusing to assimilate thoughtful criticism. Eventually he builds barriers to eliminate the people who might some time offer the criticism. He destroys his city as he destroys himself.

Tyrants kill.

And, says Plato, developing consciousness prevents tyranny.

Plato also says: each of us rules our own inner city.

And I add: we do not know in advance when life will call on us to serve as plumber, preacher, or politician.


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