Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Complete Text (pdf) Here

1. Eden

What we know about Eve: like Adam created in god's image, given Eden's animal and plant inhabitants to tend to, possessed of eternal life but without knowledge of good and bad. Her life is good.

Then the snake makes a proposal: eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Eve says if she does so, she has been told she will die. Snake replies: Was she forbidden to eat the fruit from any tree? Eve answers, No, only from the knowledge tree. You will not die, says the snake.

When interrogated by god about her disobedience, Eve will respond: the snake tricked her. But is this true? The snake, by asking if she is forbidden to eat from any tree, is reminding Eve that the tree of life is there at her reach to recover immortality, if it should be taken away. (That immortality can be recovered is shown by god later saying he expels Adam and Eve from the Eden to prevent this from happening, for otherwise they would be like him, and that he does not want.) So the snake says: you will be like god once you eat the fruit and have knowledge, and it is not a necessary consequence that you die. All true.

So where is the trick? By telling the truth, getting Eve to disobey god? But she knew she was disobeying god. The snake doesn't trick Eve, he entraps her. He exposes her to his persuasion, at risk of her death. She who has no knowledge of bad or good, simply has a good life, she who has had no experience of persuasion. Persuasion is a kind of using another person as an instrument to your goal that is outside the interests of the person persuaded. It is a kind of acting your way, independent of the way of the person persuaded. It is to act in role, to achieve what your role specializes in achieving, and forming the other person into a complementary role.

Eve is then in need of knowledge and she complies with the persuasion which she is told will lead to her death, but does not know is bad (she has no knowledge of good and bad), but which may not lead to her death, but will, according to both snake and god, give her the knowledge of good and bad she needs to deal with this new world the snake has brought to her, the world of individuals being made the instrument of other individuals.

Eve's decision is logical, and almost inescapable: she needs knowledge, the old life of tending to the garden of Eden which could be lived without ethical knowledge is gone, now that she has encountered persuasion. She is in precisely the position Shakespeare places Hamlet in the beginning of the play. His good life as student and prince and lover of Ophelia is gone: he cannot live as he has been doing, no matter how hard he tries: the new king is suspicious of him, he feels himself hunted, he feels himself played upon like an instrument.

But he does not wish to enter into the world that is hunting him. He has no ambition, he says he is "poor", a "shadow". Equally, he may not stay out of that world, both because his old life cannot be returned to while he is being watched, and because he is impelled "to set it right".

He can't get himself to act, because taking up arms seems to him a kind of suicide. It means being trapped in the world of people acting in roles, using each other as instruments, which is a sort of death. He needs knowledge before he can take revenge, and must act to get knowledge. He can only get himself to act by deliberately provoking everyone around him, playing mad, making just and unjust hinted accusations, forcing the others to reveal themselves in their true role conduct, and in protection of their roles to attack him, and so provoke him to rashness, to lose himself, and enter into that world of role conflict.

Eve like Hamlet seeks necessary knowledge, which she can get only by acting bad herself. It is also, like for Hamlet, a kind of suicide for her: literal if god does sentence her to death and prevent her return to the tree of life, and metaphorically a suicide, an end to the former good life: which however, as Hamlet comes to understand, is lost in any case.

Then if she is acting like Hamlet, what is the good she is seeking to accomplish, at risk of her life? To set right the society of Eden. But like Hamlet, she will not know how to do this until she has knowledge, until after eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. She must take that rash, god-defying, dangerous, but fundamentally reasonable action.

Then, knowing good and bad, what does she see? Another story: In "The Republic", Socrates is pressed by his partners in conversation to go on describing a society he calls feverish and luxurious: a society where each practices a role that requires other roles for their mere practice: doctor requires patient, prostitute customer, etc., as opposed to a primitive society of clothing maker, house builder, small farmer who can do their jobs alone and then simply trade the products. Those in luxurious societies need others practicing other roles to make their products: their action in role is the product of the action in role of another.

This society assigns the basic behaviors to separate roles: the rational, the spirited or ambitious, the desiring or irrational. The society that includes them all represents, expresses and is the model of the individual man. Each role modifies and corrects the other, and this is a kind of justice in the state, and in the individual, supposedly. Only supposedly, because the author of this description in dialog, Socrates, has said he would prefer the primitive society. What he has done is to describe the ultimate in societies of roles, where the roles incorporate the basic traits of man, those that correct, those that need correcting. But there is no necessity that roles express traits. They can be practiced by individuals keeping a private life reserved from their lives united to others, each of whom also keeps a private life reserved. The roles are played with a practical intention alone, not as an expression of one isolated trait (rational, desiring, spirited). And in that private life the parts of self - desiring, spirited, rational - do not modify and correct each other. They are simply behaviors, each an instrument for the making of a good life.

How is that roles come to express character traits? Each job requires two skills, knowing how to do the work, and knowing how to get and keep the job. The first knowledge is not essential to getting and keeping the job, and is insufficient alone for finding work. It is an optional addition. Different jobs offer different opportunities for expressing various human traits of thinking, desiring, profiting. People with similar dominant traits become attracted to particular jobs. They get and keep these jobs through practicing a skill that is also psychological, or character related. So both differing opportunities for expression, and getting the job at all, cause a selection of character types to occur in the separate professions. Once a profession has concentrated a group of people of like character, each individual will act in a similar way in response to those practicing other dependent and complementary professions and roles, putting uniform pressure on those roles to select out specific character types as well.

If stability of all the basic traits results, this group of balanced and correcting character-trait selected roles then represents the character of a single complete man - a luxurious, feverish man, who wants too much of something and who requires the correction of other feverish, luxurious men to cure the resulting imbalance. This image of man in turn teaches individuals to see themselves as a mutually provoking and persuading alliance of parts. Since in the model of the republic the expression of each of these partial traits is dependent on the action of others practicing separate traits, what an individual learns from experience, both in society and personal reflection, is only how to manage a relation between parts. In the simple, primitive society, practice of a profession serves the making of a good life: a part of life is placed in service of the whole. But in the luxurious republic, work in a role serves only to establish relations between parts in oneself. After constant instrumental use of self-part against self-part, social role against social role, the memory of good life is eventually lost.

What Socrates has done is to make an extremely cunning provocation. By taking to extremes a society of trait-defined roles, he not only produces a society his partners in dialog would not want to live in, but also shows a sort of man (which that society is an imitation of) they should not let themselves become. In "The Apology", Socrates is seen provoking again, this time with his own life, not in art of dialog. Like Hamlet, he has ahead of him, now that he has been arrested and accused, a sort of life not worth living: life in which he will be prevented from having philosophic conversations. He says he has had a dream, in which a god tells him to practice art. This might be a reference to philosophy as an art, and an encouragement to go on with it, but maybe not, so he sets to work putting Aesop's fables into verse. Or, it may be his way of saying, that with good life over, he may allow himself to practice art, an inessential and sometimes dangerous activity which he has described variously as teaching, charming, strengthening, play, a reminder. Socrates makes a speech at his trial in which he acts immoderately, immodestly, out of character in some ways, in other ways completely in character - something like with Hamlet's madness, in fact. He provokes the jurors to act like jurors, not as individuals. That is to say, as jurors they expect abject appeals to clemency, and he gives them the opposite, provoking them to the most extreme response in role. (Persuasion establishes others in a role complementary to one's own, provocation leads others to defend their already established roles.)

Why does he do this? How is provocation an art? Hamlet provokes those hunting him, in order to find out what exactly the role is being played by those he provokes: was the king a murderer, his mother too? But Hamlet also is making a demonstration of role society itself. Like the republic, Hamlet's world, ending in the death of almost all the main participants, is not worth living in. Socrates, forgiving those who voted against his death, says Athens will get the reputation of murdering its best benefactor. Hamlet, before dying, asking forgiveness of the survivors, also is concerned that the true story be told. They are making demonstrations, telling stories that teach, remind, charm. Is Eve doing the same? Is she provoking, responding to role action - to the persuasion of the snake - with role action of her own? With the intention of making a demonstration?

This is what she does. She eats the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and like Hamlet playing mad, accusing wildly, like Socrates outlining the luxurious republic and provoking his jurors, she is doing something bad after being pushed to it. And then: she passes the fruit to Adam. Now like god she has immortality and knowledge, and is acting for good, presumably, like god has done. In this she imitates god: she is making Adam in her image, as an immortal and new knower of good and bad. And she is surpassing god in her creation, since both she and Adam were made as images of god but not really like god (they lack knowledge), and Eve's re-creation of Adam makes him in reality like god.

With this important difference: unlike god, their immortality and knowledge are not permanent. These possessions must be reached for, taken from a tree access to which can be denied; they are the result of personal action, not gifts. When they both have eaten, they are ashamed of their nakedness. This first shame reflects their new knowledge of the instrumentality that sexuality can lend itself to, that of seeing the other as instrument of our pleasure. And they know they cannot rely on themselves acting on the knowledge they have, rely on keeping their knowledge: they fear themselves. Then God approaches, and they are afraid of the death he has threatened them with.

God asks Eve why she ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. She answers, as we know, the snake tricked her. She is trying to persuade god, as the snake persuaded her, trying to use god as the instrument of her survival. She is suggesting that in the interdependence of roles, where one role corrects or modifies another, she is not guilty, unless the whole society is guilty.

Adam picks up this response, saying the woman that god gave him, gave him the fruit. God answers: Did not Adam hear what Eve said to the snake? In other words, wasn't he also potentially responsible for her response? Could he not have prevented it? God rejects Eve's reasoning based on mutual dependence.

Yet god is provoked to a response of deepening the roles and their mutual dependence. This after dismissing Eve's defense based on the existence of mutually dependent role society. The players in Eden, described using Plato's basic roles, are: snake - ambitious/spirited; Eve - reasoning; Adam - desiring. All we know of the snake is that he wishes to make a change, to persuade Eve to make a change. All we know of Eve, is that she is intelligent enough to catch the subtle reasoning of the Snake, and then to use the role-dependence that arrives with the arrival of the snake in her act of persuasion. All we know of Adam is that he follows Eve's lead in his answer to god, is subordinate, as the irrational is subordinate to the rational.

When god expels Adam and Eve from Eden, he jumbles up these roles: Eve is made subordinate to, and to desire Adam, Adam is made ruler, sentenced to work in a feverish condition by the sweat of his brow, and the snake is designated simply as an eternal enemy to man.

If Eve, provoked by god's placing the snake in the garden, has in return provoked god by her imitation of him and in her passing on the fruit to Adam, god again provokes by imposing roles, in a society of fixed role relations, that do not match the original traits of the persons playing the roles. Is this not like Socrates building his republic into a place where no one would choose to live?

God will go so far as to select the best of men to personally wrestle, assault, torture. In the story that immediately follows the expulsion from Eden, Cain is upset when his sacrifice is not appreciated by god as much as his brother's. God reproaches him, saying, Do what is good and I will be pleased. The subordination that god creates by expressing his preference results in Cain's murder of Abel, and Cain receiving a mark fixing him in the role of one excluded.

God seems to be demonstrating in story after story that he is not interested in particular laws which regulate social behavior, that is, role behavior. When Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit of knowledge, and they feel the need to cover themselves, they face god, answer god. It seems that this is what god wants, right here. The turning away from a bad behavior, not to any particular rule or role of behavior, but to good as represented by god's intentions towards his creation. In the cave myth of "The Republic", those who had been imprisoned within the cave and able to learn only about shadows of puppets, turn around and look away from imitations of imitations towards the real world. Adam and Eve, ashamed of their potential behavior with each other, and already in passage from being mere images of god, to being temporary possessors of god's attributes of immortality and knowledge of good and bad, turn around looking for more, looking to god for more, preparing to answer him as participants in the demonstration. He has provoked by sending the snake to them. And as they know now that even their own bodies provoke, they look at god warily, and return his provocation, as they are allowed, since they were made in his image. As Adam and Eve cover themselves for each other, they disguise themselves in their relation to god, as he has disguised himself in his relation to them. God covers himself in seeming to do bad, in order to teach; man covers himself in returning the provocation, for the sake of learning.

But how could anyone say this society is good, which the good-making god has created? Like Plato's undesirable republic, the mass deaths of Hamlet's kingdom, the execution of Socrates, the good comes out of the teaching, the demonstration. The story of Adam and Eve continues: their descendants will make a compact with god, not with each other. They will continue to break the rules, and break out of their roles, and god will continue to provoke. And there are other compacts made, each directly with god. Face to face, man and god, society-making artist greets society-making artist, masks of art lowered only to be taken up again, the stage reset by the conditions of the new compact.

Defined as they are as having both immortality and knowledge of good and bad, with either or both these possessions lost, or liable to be lost at any time, yet the regaining of both within reach - rules are useless to Adam and Eve in their attempt to regain and hold onto what they can have, to make the best of their situation. Obedience to rules is a forgetting of immortality: it is action taken under threat of death! (There is no immortality when faced with the prospect of its loss: that precisely is mortality.) And obedience depends on the persistence of our knowledge (of rules, of good and bad) on which persistence we know we cannot rely. The stories seem to be saying this: Neither immortality nor knowledge will ever be lasting. But knowledge and immortality can be regained, by turning away from bad and facing god, having participated in his demonstrations.

To regain immortality seems paradoxical: your either are not ever going to die, or you are. Yet in the story logic, with god there to keep changing your status, it is possible. Still, what really is achieved with the return, if we know god can at any time end the immortality - and doesn't the story teach us to expect god to do this? Though what if immortality is never lost but only forgotten, and the actions we take are to recover the memory? This would make our action of learning to be the action of recollection, a primary position of Plato. His argument for the immortality of the soul can be seen as an expression of the logic of this particular situation: something is destroyed only by what is specifically bad for it - hot destroyed by cold, wet by dry. What is bad for the soul is ignorance. But ignorance does not destroy the soul, just as the loss of immortality after expulsion from the garden of Eden does not preclude a return. What is learned is how to make the return, and this skill is the result of experience. The knowledge gained takes the form of a story of personal action in the world of provocation and being provoked, a world built and dismantled simultaneously. Our knowledge is no more of something stable in the world, a world order, than our immortality is located in the moment of time in which we have brought ourselves into condition to re-experience our knowledge of it. Like god is not located in the world he has created and interferes with, nor the time of the events in the world have any meaning in relation to his (timeless) immortality.

Turning away from our own bad action, we know good and bad from our own experience, not from obedience to rule, and we face god's immortality with no reminder of our own mortality, rather knowing that we are like him, and have been following him in our action.

God teaches us through our personal experience to see his and our immortality. But the world in which we learn is something - let's not say illusory, rather fictional, or even better, mythical. It is a world created by immortals presuming themselves to be mortals. What value as truth can that sort of world have? Is there a philosophy to be found in this story?

As in general the pre-Socratic philosophers described the change we find in our experience as variations, misleading or illusory, of an unchanging element: air, fire, water, the all - this story can be seen as describing the illusory variations of our unchanging personal relation to god (or to man as like god). This is consistent with Socrates' wish to learn to love with the aid of philosophic discourse, with personal relations in life-story taking a subordinate place to love itself, or love of good. And especially fits in with his doubting the possibility of human wisdom concerning things of the world, while allowing himself to make strait-forward claims to speak truly and to know what it is to act justly.

The advantage of expressing a philosophy in a myth, a story of unaccountable origin and so of uncertain reason of composition and validity, is that the necessary act of interpretation involves accepting that there is a mystery, that in a way you are lost. Charmed, reminded, playing, you prepare yourself to understand what others have done when similarly lost.

In the Greek and other ancient myths multiple gods frustrate each others actions, have this passivity or lack of power in relation to each other. God transfers this passivity to man, lets himself be treated by man as other gods have been treated by their fellow gods. At this time in history there was no presumption that a god must be all powerful, and need be none for us, so we do not ask why a well intentioned god could not have come up with a painless method of instruction.

There is the question of when and for how long and how often we need to learn this lesson. We can imagine that temporary returns may be made to Eden's tree of life, and then we are back to learning god's lesson under sentence of death.


Complete Text (pdf) Here