Psycholagny, which according to the explanation on dictionary means the ability to reach or achieve orgasm without any physical stimulation and usually achieved through mental stimulation or fantasy alone, has been extraordinary popular in China recently, especially pervasive on the internet. Far more extended from its original meaning, psycholagny is generally used to describe the behavior that people, far from pursuing what they want in a tangible way, would like to gain satisfaction through imagination. For example, if I want to buy a computer monitor but do not have money currently, I may enjoy the feeling of owning that monitor simply by fantasy. Such action is metaphorically referred as psycholagny.
Saint Augustine’s Confession, since its publication, has been regarded as one of the most thorough examination of author’s soul. What are analyzed in this book is Augustine’s mental transition from youthhood to all the levels and periods in his whole life. Instead of exquisite usage of words or superb construction of sentences or author’s paramount loyalty to god, the significance of Confession is the unusual role of Augustine in his book. Compared with the authors of other masterpieces, Augustine is more like executing an anatomy, putting himself in front of god and waiting for a comprehensive dissection of every thoughts and ideas he has. Since he believes that god is omnipotent, then his confession towards god must be so sincere and true: what is the point for him to hide something in front of a deity who knows everything? With this basis, what exactly is confessed by Augustine to god is the central question regarding this book. Is it some kind of evil, a certain folly hidden deeply in mind, or a mistake which was committed repeatedly?
In book four, the episode in which Augustine and his naughty friends steal the pears has been so controversial, and is also one of the puzzles in Confession. The satisfaction gained from stealing something that is currently lacking of is explainable. However, as Augustine wrote:
I stolen something that I have in plenty and of much better quality. My desire was to enjoy not what I sought by stealing but merely the excitement of thieving and the doing of what was wrong. ….we carried off a huge load of pears. But they are not for our feasts but merely to throw to the pigs. Even if we ate a few, nevertheless our pleasure lay in doing what was not allowed. ( )
People stealing something they have plenty of is odd. However, once we perceive every element in this situation and try not to ignore any details, such behavior can be understood. Putting to much emphasis on “people stealing something they do not need”, Augustine does not mention an extremely important element in the above description—the role of garden keeper. Augustine and his friends, far from attacking garden keeper directly, choose to steal garden keeper’s pears thus make him suffering. Because of their incapability to hurt garden keeper in a face-to-face way (Augustine and his friends are just kids anyway) they decided to achieve the same goal in a more gentle and peaceful way—stealing pears, just like someone who is incapable of buying monitor would rather to immerse himself in the feeling when he use it. This action can be accurately characterized as psycholagny. Through such psycholagny, not only Augustine protects himself from being scolded by angry garden keeper, but also he achieves the success, not in a tangible way but in mind. Such method to gain spiritual victory was described interestingly in Lu Xun’s The True Story of Ah Q (I remember this satirical passage was collected in first year seminar’s reading list a few years ago).
When our miserable Ah Q was beaten by another guy, he did not beat back immediately, instead he only thought in his mind: “damn, I was beaten by my son again; it is such a turbulent and ridiculous world that son even is daring to beat his father.”
As to the reason why these children want to make a fool of garden keeper, we can attribute such behavior to the attraction for children to commit mischief and the nature for them to do something unusual which marks the disobedience of adolescence.
In book three, psycholagny in fact changes into a more generalized form. Instead of using imagination as a tool to achieve certain objective (such as a monitor, or the delight gained from beating other people), psycholagny starts to show up in a larger place. As Augustine starts to be obsessive with theater, especially tragedy, he writes:
I was captivated by theatrical shows. They were full of representations of my own miseries and fuelled my fire. Why is it a person should wish to experience suffering by watching grievous and tragic events which he himself would not wish to endure? ( )
With no doubts, ordinary people can hardly have the dramatic experiences as characters in a show have. For example, seeing the beloved died, experiencing bankruptcy, participating in a revengeful fight with enemy, or accidently being grant a huge amount of money as a mean of legacy, these legendary events, for a normal person who living imperturbably, are so precious. By sitting in theater and watching shows, people can put themselves in so many characters through psycholagny, thus enjoy the feeling of being a valiant knight who kills so many bad people, a conscientious thief who only steals rich people or a beautiful young lady who is falling in love with a handsome prince. However, the reason why Augustine and so many other people like tragedy also needs our concern. Compared with so many fabulous shows yet with happy endings, why only tragedy can successfully captivate Augustine’s mind? The main reason is probably people’s preference to difference between imagination and reality. Would you like to enjoy the feeling of being a princess who has everything you want during the show and realize you are no more but a desperate clerk who is upbraided by your boss everyday when the show is over, or the feeling of being a poor person who lost everything during an economy crisis but notice that you still own a lot, including your wife, two cute daughters and your profitable occupation after the show? The answer is very clear: everyone always values reality more then imagination, and enjoys the feeling of “returning from hell”. By immerse themselves in psycholagny which is full of agony during the show, people can definitely become more relieved in reality.
Also in book five, in which Augustine leaves his mother and departs for Rome, the idea of psycholagny shows up either. As concludes by Augustine, what is confessed by him to god is the evil of deception—the deception to an innocent mother. But when we are looking through the truth behind surface, the reason leads to deception is not mentioned by Augustine himself. He writes:
My motive in going to Rome was not that the friends who urged it on me promised higher fees and greater position of dignity, though at that time these considerations had an influence on my mind. The principle and almost sole reason was that I had heard how at Rome the young men went quietly about their studies and were kept in order by a stricter imposition of discipline. ( )
From his explanation, it seems that the reason for Augustine to commit deception is that the value gained from teaching in Rome is relatively greater then the lose in temporal separation with his mother. However it may not be absolutely true though this explanation constitutes some parts in the final answer. The decision made when people facing the dilemma between great goal and family separation has always been hard; and the people who choose the former has always been regarded as great men. It is such kind of special moral courage which roots deeply in almost everyone’s mind that make Augustine so steadfast, so resolute even with the cry from his mother. Through spiritual transition (imagination), Augustine fantasizes himself as one of many who sacrificed for what they believed. Even though the separation is painful, he still feels contended, for he, finally, can also be called a great man who disregards any obstacles, especially the constraints from family.
From these three most important instances, the answers to questions presented in the end of second paragraph are quiet easy to be understood if not absolutely and unequivocally true. What Augustine wants to confess, at least partly, is the action of psycholagny, which marks a deeply-rooted bad habit in people’s mind. Through carefully ‘anatomy’ and ‘dissection’, Augustine seems to yell to himself: stop psycholagny, if you want to make fun of garden-keeper, you should attack him directly instead of stealing pears; stop psycholagny, if you want to make your life colorful and marvelous, you should work harder and harder instead of dreaming in the theatre; stop psycholagny, if you really love your mother, you should stay with her instead of fantasying to be a hero who sacrifices the family to achieve great goal. However, we should also view things in a different perspective. On one hand, people view psycholagny with disdain, regarding it as a behavior not only embodies people’s incapability but also represents the ridiculous and awkward solution when people notice their incapability; on the other hand, they can not get rid of psycholagny unless they are monks, lamas or people who strictly abide asceticism. Maybe psycholagny is not a kind of evil at all. Lu Xun said in his essay: “Initially, there are no roads on the ground; it is people’s too much walking that makes roads.” If everyone makes the same mistake, then this mistake can not be called mistake anymore.
Interestingly, although Augustine made a great self-criticism about psycholagny in his book, the intention or reason for him to write such a book, to some extent, is also a kind of psycholagny. Only those people with the most moral standard can complete such a confession without any outside pressure. Augustine once again became a great figure by writing a sublime confession, which at the same time testifies the commonplace and omnipresence of psycholagny.
Gross Domestic Product, ever since its birth, has been the most important economical measurement in this world. Just as doctors can not precede the appropriate treatment without a comprehensive diagnose, the decision makers can not execute necessary national policies without fully and truly understand all kinds of index in national economy. Back to the naissance of GDP, it was because of the huge demand of information that led the people in Washington to come up with an all-around way to measure the economical index of this country which was in an awkward predicament because of the 1930s big depression. However, after more than 70 years since GDP’s creation, the doubts and questionings associated with it never stop. Can the decisions made by top economists really exhaust their utilities by depending on an index which simply adding private consumption, gross investment, government spending and the difference between exports and imports?
Inequality of wealth distribution
The first problem of GDP is its futility to fully show us the living situation of people who living in an economical entity. Numerous examples have demonstrated that despite the galloping GDP of a certain region or country, there has always been a huge difference between such countries and other developed nations. Probably India and China, two biggest developing countries with the stunning increase of GDP, can genuinely present us such an unconventional but actually existed circumstance. According to the GDP ranking conducted by United Nation in 2008, China ranked third with 3,888,000 million dollars and India ranked 13th with 1,237,000 million dollars, but the real situations of these two countries were far pessimistic than the optimism presented by GDP. The inequality of wealth distribution between rich and poor has been the most significant aspect that GDP can hardly measure. While rich people’s wealth increasing dramatically, there isn’t a big change in poor people’s pockets. From the data in an annually report from National Bureau of Statistic of China, government treasure and corporation capital have taken approximate 35% and 45% of GDP while only 20% were left for agricultural and corporation workers in 2008. This phenomenon was a great embodiment of the inequality of distribution, which led government and corporation managers concerned nothing about economization and frugality.
I don’t know from what time that the label with a clear signal “Made in China” has been everywhere, but I know, as Thomas Friedman articulated in his best seller the world is flat, the concept of outsourcing, which commonly known as the trend of transferring the manufacture industries from developed countries to developing countries. Without doubts, such trend could bring rapid increase of GDP thus create the satisfyingly economical prosperity. However, while we enjoying the fruits of being the ‘world factory’, we should also be alarmed about the traps behind the illusive blooming. From the knowledge we got from the history and politics class in secondary school, the process of transferring manufacturing industries which leads the fast increase of GDP, can absolutely be helpful for developing countries; it leads not only the decreasing of unemployment rate and increasing of revenue as a form of tax, but also the rising export thus bring increasing of possession of foreign exchange. Yet this trend does cost something, such as destruction of environment or over-consumption of natural resources. The recent phenomena in so many developing countries is that in order to attract foreign investments, these countries tried their best to depress workers’ incomes, give foreign capitals some kind of tax exemptions, issue foreign investments export favorable terms and sell the land in a very low price. Moreover, some regions even view the accomplishment of attracting foreign investments as the criterion for government officers’ promotion. Seriously speaking, if such trend persists, the over-powerful foreign capitals will definitely defeat domestic capitals in such an unequal competition. And the miserable situation would be the expansion of foreign capitals along with the atrophic domestic economy, which makes developing countries lost their influences in global economy and gradually become the vassals of developed countries, not only economically buy also politically. Such GDP traps deserve the attention from all-around world, especially developing countries.
When we are arguing about the accountability of GDP and its real utility to help us make appropriate economical policies, people even sometimes question the authenticity of GDP. In an article posted on Wall Street Journal at April 10th, author Tom Orlik, who was the policy adviser of British Ministry of Finance, presented his concern about the authenticity of GDP in China during the globe economical recession. In his article, Tom said:
in the process of calculating GDP, National Bureau of Statistic of China (NBSC) still rely a lot on the data presented by local government, but the local public servants must be loyal to the local leaders firstly. Without the confirmation from these local leaders, statistic reports can not be submitted to superior. Because of the relationship between public servants’ promotion and the local galloping economy, there exists the possibility of artificially manipulated or changed statistical outcome. This may partly explain why, in the report carried out by NBSC, there was a huge discrepancy (1,400 billion which constitutes 10%) between the collective number of local GDP and the final report of central GDP.
Four days after this article was posted, Jiangtang Ma, commissioner of NBS, posted his comments on NBS’s website:
True and fair is not only the requirement fulfilled of our professional responsibility, but also the requirements of consciously accepting the supervision from social and public. Let us make joints efforts in all aspects to constantly promote data quality and credibility of China statistics.
He also participated in an interview, and directly admitted the problem associate with the process of calculating GDP; as he ascribed, method for calculating, technical problems, unnecessary repeating and overall unhealthy system were all the possible reasons. This critical issue thus leads us to another question—without the accurate GDP reports, how can we use GDP as the compass for decision-making?
However, from a single perspective to explore the two-sidedness of problem would be superficial, even fatuous. As Greg Mankiw, the great macroeconomist and also the chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economical advisors, used to say: we should not worship GDP, but GDP is also not in the situation of dilapidation, as some people commented hopelessly. GDP does not measure people’s health and education, but the country with high GDP can definitely provide more comprehensive health-care and education system. GDP does not measure our knowledge, integrity, wisdom and the loyalty towards our own country, but when people do not need to worry about the starvation, those good features would be earlier to develop. GDP does not measure the beauty of verse in our culture, but the country with high GDP can help more people to read and appreciate poems.
1. How well does Congress represent American people and its interests?
Ever since the establishment of Congress which originated in the conflict between big state (
With the specific clause in Constitution, Congress member indeed can be praise as the most fundamental path for people to express their opinions (practical speaking, if they don’t do so, their reelection would be jeopardized). Congress members always leave
However, the criticism of the futility for Congress member to really represent American people never stops. Firstly, even though the election of Congress member is public and direct for people to participate, the money for a citizen to be elected as Senator or Congressman is still astonishing. With this financial obstacle, not only can ordinary people easily reach the seats in Congress, but also it is difficult for those “elite” Congress members really understand people’s problems and concerns. Secondly, even though the seats of both House and Senate has been diversified a lot, the demographics of Congress is still far from being equally distributed among all kinds of people with different religion affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, and education level. For example, African-Americans which constitute 13% of
2. Why is the federal budget so often in deficit, and how is this subject so controversial?
Deficit measures the difference between revenue and spending. In order to understand the reasons lead to the stunning deficit, we should explore from two perspectives—why revenue decreases and why spending increases.
From revenue perspective, heavy deficit always occurs during the time of economic crisis, which has been the primary reason lead the increase of unemployment rate, decrease of people’s income and decrease of consumption, thus make the revenue, which constitutes largely by tax, shrink. Politicians’ role in economy, especially during of the time of heavy deficit, is also of great consequence. In order to win election, they would rather to maintain a relatively low tax rate, so that the revenue can hardly stop decreasing.
However, the astonishing spending, compared with decrease in revenue, definetly plays a more important part in the situation of deficit. With the background of national economic crisis, government has to stimulate the derelict economy by allowing the passage of huge stimulus package, which made up of both spending and tax cut, and dramatically made the already heavy deficit more incredible. Also, expenditures such as social security and Medicare & Medicaid’s proportion in Federal budget are growing faster and faster; the recent reform of health-care system carried out by President Obama, if pass by Congress, with no doubt will bring more deficit to the national economy. Another factor which played an indispensible role in such situation is the increase in U.S defense budget. This budget, which excludes both the expenditure in
Deficit has always been so controversial for it direct links to a country’s economical dependence (National debt has been the primary solution to conciliate deficit); also it is a measurement of economic prosperity.
3. How do the politics of health care illustrate broad themes in American politics? (As part of your response, be sure to refer explicitly to constitutional provisions, as discussed in the Federalist Papers and elsewhere.)
Health-care has never been a new problem. Ever since President Truman proposed the idea of establishing a health-care system which gives everyone coverage, the endeavors of turning dream into reality never stops. However, the efforts paid by many administrations to fulfill such blueprint, such as JFK, Lyndon Johnson and
Firstly, the legislative process of establishment health-care system clearly shows us the idea of Check and Balance. Explicitly illustrated in Constitution article one two and three, president, Congress as well as Supreme Court act respectively as executive branch, legislative branch and judicial branch; and each branch plays the role of surveillance and checks towards other two branches. In this specific case—health-care, it mainly presents the interaction between Congress and the president. Without the consent from Congress (the agreement from half seats in both Senate and House of Representative), Obama can never let his dream come true, despite his ambitious speech and confident promises. The people in Capital Hill also have their own concern. Although the majority party shares the same party affiliation with president, Congress members still need to reconsider their votes, for an unwelcome vote could lead the dissatisfaction from their constituency, thus make them lost reelection.
Secondly and also the most importantly, health-care reform shows the ideology of “small government, big society”, which buried deeply in American people’s mind. Ever since escaped from the domination and control by British aristocrats more than four hundred years ago, the funding fathers of this new nation had tried their best to maintain people’s rights being inviolable. From Federalist Paper to Bill of Rights, such concern has been time after time emphasized; and inside such concern, the appropriate relation between government and general people has attracted the most accurate and fierce argument. “An over-powerful government can be even more hazardous then a tiger”, which articulated in the Mickey Edwards’s book Reclaim Conservatism, can perfectly illustrate American people’s fear and qualm towards ‘big government’: people do not like the excessive intervention of government in private issues. Once Obama’s new health-care system is established, not only will intervention of government be more comprehensive, but also the private insurance suppliers will be kicked out because their adversary is
Qinshiuang (the first emperor of ancient China) asked;
Lewis XIV asked;
Meiji emperor asked;
Alexander Hamilton asked;
Mao Zedong asked;
Obama also asked;
“Democracy means we can express their idea freely, can elect the leader who they trust, can enjoy the necessary rights which protect us.” People answered.
The sentence printed on my anthology—“what does it meant to be human in the year 2009 on an abundant and fragile planet, with memory and possibility, with people like ourselves and different, with affluence and squalor, hope and despair, with mountains and rivers and trees, with herons and cyborgs, music and noise, with art and TV and infinite space?” has touched my conciousness and emotion every time I open it. Eating, sleeping, talking as well as moving, these fundamental elements which make human lives happily and normally are indispensable. But in what way can those living-rights be protected? What if those rights are deprived from our life? Those questions lead to another important concept, which is also the topic I am going to talk about—government.
People select their leader though election, both public (in American) and indirect (in China). And the chosen leader organizes his or her assistants to work with. So this is the simplest idea about how government was created and works. However, the power of government is something that is hard to control. As George Orwell articulated in his famous 1984, an omnipotent government can even scare, monitoring people’s life and restricting their movements. But its counterpart—a government without too much power, is always tardy and ineffective when addressing urgent problems. Chinese government, the biggest government in the world, which is constituted the stunning more than 24,000,000 public servers and huge national structures, has always faced the dilemma between effectiveness of problem-solving and the l ignorance of individual’s rights.
One day in June, when I was watching television and my father was cooking in the kitchen, the news review which was made by a Hong Kong company suddenly shocked me. The title in a relatively lower place of the screen clearly showed ten words: Patriotism is the only way to testify history. I rushed to the kitchen, yelling to my father: “see the news review, quickly”. My father got surprised too when he saw the title. A few minutes later when the review ended, dad and
I sunk into a long, suffocating silence and contemplation—today is just one day before the 20th anniversary of that tragedy happened in June 4th, Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
I said: “such an interview, after all, can only be produced by a company located in a place that strictly does not belong to mainland China.”
“Right” my father agreed: “but it must be under a lot of pressures. Anyway, the political atmosphere indeed changed tremendously, compared with the past. This interview itself is a progress”
Tiananmen Square, which means ‘the gate to forever happiness’ in Chinese, has always been a place full of conflicts and turbulences. In the feudal age, the general people always gathered in front of Tiananmen to confide their most painful encounter with injustice to the empire, and during the time when ancient feudalism met the outcomes of modern industrial revolution, the democratic parade in front of Tiananmen directly led the May 4th movement, even the establishment of Chine Communist Party (CCP).
But why the democratic students who demonstrated their anger in 1919 and most of whom did become the pillars of CCP, at the time of 1989, became the targets for people to demonstrate? The reasons which led to the incident were pretty complicated and hard to explain, but the most significant linchpin is in fact very simple. The confrontation of planned economy (everything was given depends on need) between Prime Minster Deng Xiaoping’s blueprint of opening the market, created two price lines for Chinese economy: one is the official price and another is the black market price. So many “civil servants” used their power buying products in one price and selling them in another price. Those dark transactions as well as the stunning inflation finally made people angry thus led them to use parade as a way for solving problems.
With no doubts, the superiority of big government showed itself clearly in the night of June 4th. People were ‘asked’ to remove themselves from Tiananmen Square. And such a chaos, which lasted for more than two months, spread in almost twinty provinces, and seriously obstructed people’s lives, was shot down quickly and firmly. Demonstration stopped, but it did give government a warning, and led more people to think about China’s future, including the power-holders—how to find a midpoint between an over-powerful and a lack-power government.
Michel Foucault said in his Docile Body which discussed in one part the ways to reach maximum forces by arranging people’s behavior appropriately:
“First, the individual body becomes an element that may be placed, moved, articulated on others. Its bravery or its strength are on longer the principle variables that define it; but the place it occupies, the interval it covers, the regularity, the good order according to which it operates its movements. Second, the various chronological series that discipline must combine to form a composite time are also pieces of machinery. The time of each must be adjusted to the time of the others in such a way that the maximum quantity of forces way be extracted from each and combined with the optimum result. Third, the carefully measured combination of forces requires a precise system of command. All the activity of the disciplined individuals must be punctuated and sustained by injunction whose efficacy rests on brevity and clarity.”
In his words, the people, or specifically the soldiers are mercilessly described as machines, and the words such as ‘must’, ‘no longer’ appear frequently in his essay. Foucault did acknowledge the fact that body, in such training, is manipulated, shaped, which obeys, responds, and thus achieves the level of docility.
Also, American politician Huntington suggested in his The Soldier and the State：The Theory and Politics of Civil Military Relations the question that in a democratic country which believes liberalism, what relationship should the government establish with military which represents conservatism, based on the fact when President Truman dismissed general MacArthur because of his openly disobedience in 1959.
“From military prospective, a democratic country can act more excellently than a monarch country. But when facing the enemy who in believe of conservatism, democratic military is always lack of the necessary efficiency.”
The theory of docility of body (relationship between commander and soldier), obviously, applies to government politics (relationship between government and general people). Let’s go back to the time of World War 2, in which time the governments’ power reached their peak because of the extensive war. During the war time, Hitler and his administration changed Constitution which enabled them to use special rights when country facing the imperative emergency, thus made Hitler monarch despite the impediment from Federal Parliament. In America, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 relocating 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast into internment camps for the duration of the war. The personal rights, liberties, and freedoms of Japanese Americans were taken away from them by their own country. Although such unbelievable act was criticized by most historians and Americans later and the Congress did apologize to Japanese-American, a lot of people in fact were in favor of it in the war time. Put the specific case in war-time to a larger stage, it appears to that everytime the country facing emergency, the governments’ power would increase dramatically, no matter such emergency is economical, political or ideological. During the New Deal of 1930s, the time which marked the initiation of Big Government age, FDR strengthened the federal government’s power over state government, and increased the regulations in free market. In recent years of terrorism threat, general people also face the dilemma between national security and personal rights. In a file which was published by Department of Justice in March, president’s power was significantly enlarged, which enabled Bush administration to monitor personal phone calls and gave him a larger space to deal with terrorism suspects. “If the president is working for anti-terrorism” the file claimed “the fourth Amendment of Constitution, which contains the clause about restricting illegal search and holding, is futile”.
However, the demonstration or parade against the ignorance of people’s diminishing rights never disappears from the world. Today, I sitting in my dorm in upper state NY, thinking about another parade happened in 1960s America which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr.—the march on Washington. With no doubt, the March was successful. It not only made every person in America familiar with MLK’s symbolic speech ‘I have a dream’ but also articulated the darkness took place in southern states. The march did, clearly, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public school; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for Washington, D.C., then governed by congressional committee. As MLK sail in his the Letter from Birmingham Jail, where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were their voices when Governor Wallace gave the clarion call for defiance and hatred? The government’s role in southern states did deteriorate the situation of African-Americans. Openly disregarded the judgments carried out by Federal Count (the infamous governor of Arkansas used national guards to stop nine African-American students from going to school) and setting obstructions to limit African-American’s rights (the notorious only the people who passed the education exam can have the rights to elect or if a people want to elect, his or her grandfather must have use the right of election before the Civil War) are all examples of the government malfunction.
Unfortunately, MLK paid for his desired freedom, using his life, as did the students paid for their desired democracy in 1989, China. When the students standing on the Tiananmen Square used their bodies to stop the invasion of powerful national machine, when MLK standing in front of Lincoln Memorial used his words to stimulate the strength of African Americans, they must think the same, just as did Antigone think when she openly disobeyed the idea of her uncle and buried her brother: I must sacrifice for what I believe.
After the whole passage’s objective writing, why don’t I end up the essay with a philosophical ending, to stop heated dispute and argument? Confucius said: there are no absolute wrongness and rightness in this world, just as there is no absolutely good government or absolutely wrong people. Neutrally, we should limit our blame about governments for their restriction of human rights; also we should limit our praise to those people who dedicated themselves in protecting rights. Adam Smith said in his The Wealth of Nation: “there is always an ‘invisible’ hand that controls people’s life and manipulated the happening and ending.” Shuren Chou said in his essay: “Initially, there are no roads on the ground; it is people’s too much walking that makes roads.”
It is still a mysterious and cryptic world.
As soon as Socrates ended his speech, an unpleasant noise which seemed to be created in front of Agathon’s house, for certain, disturbed the unisonous conversation between those most prominent sages in the city of Athens. “It is Alcibiades” someone exclaimed, “and he is drunk.” Another one added. Though there was a tiny displeasure in mind, the conversation participants still remained unruffled for the cumulative reputations of being magnanimous they have maintained for so many years. As many people known, Alcibiades was not a good guy, he does not follow the common rules, neither does he ever do something really helpful for general people; some elder in the city even doubted his loyalty. “What is he doing here?” except other people’s qualms, Socrates appeared to be more nervous when Alcibiades shouted:
God, what’s this? Socrates? You have been lurking there waiting for me—and this isn’t the first time: you are always suddenly popping up where I least expect to find you. What are you doing here this time?
This dramatic scene, as Plato wrote in Symposium, did lay some questions regarding the integrity and righteousness of Socrates, for Alcibiades had always been the representative of corrupted youth in the city of Athens. Also, according to the historical record, the most prominent Greek philosopher Socrates was tried and convicted by courts of democratic Athens on a charge of corrupting the youth and disbelieving in the ancestral gods in the year of 399BC. How satirical it was, for what Plato wrote in his masterpiece, that a victim of corruption declared the war against the person who corrupted himself. Also, what made this conversation more significant is the fact that it was a relatively private talk; despite the social restrictions which made people to ponder before open their mouths, what ideas or thoughts presented by Alcibiades in this night were with more freedom. So, for a conversation in which necessary people, appropriate location and theatrical time coincident dramatically, can people who wanted to accuse Socrates use Alcibiades’s speech as evidences? Can Symposium really be considered the proof for the trial?
Back to the first sin committed by Socrates, which was corrupting the youth, the idea of how philosophical education made people to disobey the existent rules or convention in Ancient Athens was clearly presented. It even seems to me that the same idea was articulated metaphorically in another great creator Aristophanes’s comedy Clouds. He used the way which were full of satire to describe a simple story—Strepsiades, an elderly Athenian who faced with legal action for non-payment of debts, enrolls his son in The Thinkery so that he might learn the rhetorical skills necessary to defeat their creditors in court. The son thereby learns cynical disrespect for social mores and contempt for authority and he subsequently beats his father up during a domestic argument, in return for which Strepsiades sets the Thinkery on fire. More significantly in this story is the fact that Socrates was the one who took charge of the Thinkery, which literally made Socrates more inexcusable. With no doubt, the rational thinking pattern which introduced by philosophical study can lead the students to challenge the fixed rules in the Athens society. However, standing as a strong advocator of Socrates, why Plato included the episode of Alcibiades’s speech, which not only seems to disturb the original harmony in the eulogy of love, but also could possibly jeopardize his teacher?
All the questions and doubts in mind still need us to seek answer through the original passage. Starting at 213a and ending at 222c, the description of Alcibiades’s atitude towards Socrates had been witty and ambivalent. On one hand, Alcibiades looked like an outrageous guy for he persistently exposed the ‘dirtiness’ and ‘hazard’ of Socrates; on the other hand, what our complainer said, from another perspective, did increase the forcefulness and persuasiveness of Socrates. Did Alcibiades really resent Socrates? No for sure. It was simply because Socrates’s wisdom was too radical and didactic that made ordinary people hard to accept, thus created the impression that he was so “brutal”. In the 215e, Alcibiades said:
Whenever I listen to him speak (Socrates), I get more ecstatic than the Corybantes. My heart pounds and tears flood from my eyes under the spell of his words. I’ve seen him have the same effect on plenty of others too.
Ostensibly, what this speech unveiled was the miserable condition when Alcibiades and other people heard the voice of Socrates and he even portrayed Socrates as Sirens. But in fact, it not only showed the admiration from Alcibiades towards his teacher, but also helped us to experience how impelling the ways Socrates use to speak are. Powerful argument, accurate pointing and merciless exposure are the indispensable features of them. Moreover, the points in Alcibiades’s speech arranged by Plato showed the pith embodied in Socrates’s teaching method, which commonly known as the most important contribution to Western thought. His dialectic method of inquiry which he largely applied to the examination of key moral concepts such as the Good and Justice, is in order to solve a problem, it would be broken down into a series of questions, the answers to which gradually distill the answer we seek. What Alcibiades said, far from being a profound revealing of Socrates’s contemptible behaviors, in fact more resembled to the exhibition of Socrates’s teaching accomplishment—even in the condition of drunk, Alcibiades articulated his points clearly and systematic; his appearance definitely showed us how to behave like a successful orator.
From another perspective, what Alcibiades said in his speech also showed us the integrity and muscularity of Socrates. His valor in the battles of Potidaea and Delium was highly appreciated and highly venerable in the city of Athens. As Alcibiades recounted, Socrates even saved his life in a battle. Such description in Symposium, with no doubt, will lead us to think about the courage and spirit when Socrates faced the impending execution. Socrates stated when he refused his friends’ rescue: the escaping will let me betray the principles I have believed for my entire life. The death judgment was ruled by a legal court, even though the judging process was biased because of the untruthful description of accuser. If I escaped, then my behavior can be nothing but the giving-up of sublime citizenship.
Finally, the inclination of Plato’s arrangement of symposium stopped at Alcibiades’s love towards Socrates. With the background information that there was a trend of love between males in ancient Athens, the love between Alcibiades and Socrates deserves more of our attention for its relationship between lover and beloved reversed to some extent. Unlike the common situation that adult male seeks the love from adolescent boy, in symposium it was Alcibiades who acted the role of lover. However, Socrates was neither rich nor handsome. Why Alcibiades finally chose Socrates, whose appearance presented through not only symposium but also other books was merely a white male whose youthfulness had already abandoned him and always face the lover’s hospitality with contemptuous scorn? Wisdom, the thing which Alcibiades yearn for but currently lack of, as to Plato, is the only explanation of such puzzle. Alcibiades wants to be as erudite as Plato, as knowledgeable as Plato, also get as much enlightenment as Socrates; and then his aspiration made him a steadfast fan of a person who was older than himself for almost forty years. Plato once again used his protean techniques to indirectly affirm Socrates’ s incomparable accomplishment.
Plato was smart anyway. His wisdom in Symposium, which superficially recorded the evidence of Socrates corrupting youth, at the contrary helped Socrates to exculpate himself from such crime as the courts of democratic Athens had tagged him. Plato was a philosopher himself; while he enjoying the pleasure when immersed himself in the exploration of value, atitude and hierarch, he firmly resisted the fetters the society had given him and other scholars. “The social convention should go to hell”, Plato thought, thus he wrote symposium, “so should the jury consisting five hundred male citizens”.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche used to say: “in the history of Athens there were two of the most beautiful flowers but were nevertheless corrupted by Socrates and one of them was Alcibiades”. But what Plato wanted to say in symposium is far from corrupting youth, Socrates taught them how to behave like an independent thinker, how to use a dialectic perspective to explore the world and how to be strong in front of difficulties.