DIALOG # 6
Professor Plagno will be punctual. He always is. But he’s not due for another twenty minutes. I have arrived early to be alone on our park bench and mull my experience with Plato and Plagno and our Platonic friendship, and perchance to enjoy our park.
It is late in the year. In other places where I’ve lived, there would be a nip in the air and purple, orange, yellow leaves and perhaps some snow would have settled in drifts on the grayed-out grass stubble. But here it is languidly warm and the eucalyptus leaves are the same reddish gray, and will stay that way. Still one does sense that the season – and the whole world -- is changing, in transition, from known eager aureate summer into an apathetic and somehow threatening simmer.
Unseen because hidden just beyond the rise about a half block away, is a litter of ten or twenty protesters, mostly grad students, presumably strewn about on the untended grass, stuporous among the backpacks, garments, pizza crusts, and excreta. Thirty or forty protest signs are stuck in the ground, or serving as mats for snoring or yoga-ing students. A familiar background feature of this park, our grad students are normally a haphazard little flock, each doing his or her own thing, oblivious of each other and reality. But just about the time Plagno and I were finishing our last dialog on this bench, some months ago, they had, for no apparent reason, begun to cluster together like loner animals congregating for migration, only their mission was to protest and renounce all reality and, ergo, to urge or announce occupation of the park. They are still here, doubled or tripled in number and more organized and somehow in possession of an arsenal of megaphones, drums, and large protest signs meant to be readable on TV or iPhone screens. But at the moment the claque is in horizontal mode on hold, behind the hill, and not disturbing my mental review of past park bench sessions with Prof. Plagno, and my thinking – in italics ... and lots of ellipses, to wit:
Well, it has been fun bantering about Plato with my dear huggable (but never yet hugged) professor Plagno on this park bench, doing the Plato Polka, so to speak. Intellectual interaction itself is fun, as an end in itself. Debating is the joy of the young, in our case superannuated, intellectual, like jousting to young knights. Unlike Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, who are more at home in antique European universities or pubs, or Karl Marx whose ecological niches are the dank garret or murky seminar, or, yes, a park, although not for discussions but banging of drums, Plato seems to have been invented for discussing, on park benches especially. Plato is the thinking man’s Playdough, so malleable and moldable and so tactually pleasant. What may have driven our exchanges is that the two of us just naturally (even if it took fiction to do it) fall to urbane conversation, sophisticated, trying to sound like Plato and Socrates themselves, barbed and witty exchanges, flinging big words around like frisbees, like wannabe W.F. Buckleys, or...professors, at an aristocratic English country dinner party with the hostess and Evelyn Waugh and Winston Churchill insulting each other, or the Algonquin Table of literary wits. I don't talk this way at home, do I? -- does Plagno? And on a park bench yet! Well, that's what a park bench is good for? A long way from a dinner table, half way between a seminar and a blog, in a nicer setting.
Now then, just what has Plagno been trying to teach me? Time to wrap it up What stand out in my mind are (1) that platonism and agnosticism should be hyphenated; (2) long ago Plato sat down, -- he is famous for that, just setting in his chair and cogitating -- and figured out that there is no God, ergo, there is a tricky substitute, a hierarchy of necessarily vague entities with correspondingly vague names, the chief being Form, which does nothing but emanate while Plato sits and thinks, ergo, presto and voilà! – the waiting world has eternal platonic paideia, by which alone humanity is upgraded into infinity – great leaps forward, -- through upgrading all theologies, notably 3-4th century Christianity… and now, he claims polls show, Adventist intellectuals. I’ll coin a word for them: Metadventists. (3) Plato's overriding topic, and underlying concept was reality-unreality. What you see in front of you and can handle and feel is, Plato figures, is really unreal. What you (especially Plato) just sit down and think about turns out to be the really real thing. Fine. But just within the last month or so, too late to bring to our park bench, I've tumbled upon augmented reality, by which a computer, necessarily equipped with a headset that blocks out old-fashioned reality, can align quantum forces generated by a sports event, to name something with assigned if not Platonic reality, with computer generated forces -- or something like, or very unlike, that. How would Agno, and Plato, interact with that kind of reality? My bet is, with the same excitement as they met Christianity in the 3rd century.
Plato claims a copyright on pure thought and logical reasoning like postmodernists do whimsy. Adventist Christians, at least those that Plagno hasn’t converted to Metadventism, aren’t allowed to think, and don’t even want to, and avoid it like sin, proceeding only by faith, or so I’ve been hearing Plagno proclaim. Still, Plagno professes such great affection for us Adventists – and desire to assist us. But me, even after, or despite, or because of, Plagno’s best efforts and harangues I’m not converted. I’m all the more convinced that God expects full use and development not only of our senses whereby we behold His creation and thus Him, but also the faculties and talents He gave us, notably the frontal cortex and reasoning, (it’s not a fluke of translation that the Bible quotes God as saying, “come, let us reason together” and "he that hath eyes let him see"), active reasoning plus faith, faith and reason (say evidence) both functioning in unison as in marriage, supplementing, complementing, one taking over if the other falters.
Likewise for mindedness. To the prof, – how often I’ve heard him say or imply this – to be platonic is, by definition, to be open-minded; to be a Christian is to be closed-minded, and that's that. Being platonically open-minded is being inflexibly open to doubting, better yet disbelieving everything but especially the scriptures and God.
As to the platonic world-cosmic-view, thanks to Plagno I finally have handle on it. But the more I try to grab it the more slippery it proves. Like, what is tangible and perceptible by the senses is transient and ergo, evil, while the intangible is eternal, ergo, superior, notably Plato’s brain emanating the Form which emanates everything – it’s that simple. Is it THAT simple? The differences between Plato’s and the Adventist Christian's perspective, while to the subtle mind subtle at first glance, are impossibly divergent and deliciously ironic. To start with, we say that just because something is visible doesn't automatically render it evil. When God created things He pronounced them good. That things aren't good now is because of Satan’s emergence, the Great Controversy. But poor Plato, having forfeited God, has painted himself into a corner and has no other way to define evil. Further, at this point in the Great Controversy, both God and the Form are equally invisible and intangible and deniable. But Plato fashioned and formed the Form exactly to be the consummate unreality, confined to timelessness, assigned to naught but bovine emanation. Here the creator, Plato, is functionally if not doctrinally actually greater than his creature, the Form. On the other hand, by His very nature, what God is, does, and says is even now the ultimate reality, somehow to me palpably real, even though He Himself is seen only by the eye of faith. He shall become to our very eyes the consummate tangibility, like galaxies and molecules and bosons, and us, all of which He created by His planned and comprehendible word rather than mute emanation. Now we see through a glass darkly, and know in part, but then face to face – Paul said that. 1 Cor 13:12. And my God suffered death in order to redeem me. By platonism, what’s to be redeemed from, and by whom? Plato’s answer: nothing, not Satan anyway, and certainly not by God. But Plato does offer beauty as an alternative to his evil, equally applicable to you, you intrinsically evil creature, and a statue. Plus, in pure original platonism when you die your soul, heretofore trapped in your intrinsically and eternally and irredeemably evil body, your soul is simply reabsorbed without ado (in later centuries plenty of ado was added) back into the Form, wherein it regains the original nullity characteristic of the Form. Ergo, there's no death in contrast to what God says (shades of the serpent's declaration to Eve), for your soul is immortal, being only temporarily entrapped in your evil body. God offers promise; creationism offers beginnings; the Great Controversy offers the program and the ending. Platonism offers...what's to offer? Recycling of the soul, its liberation -- O that platonic liberation! Liberation from God, mainly. Ontology is a gem of Hellenistic philosophy and means 'the study of being." But, let’s be honest, when the ideal state of being is not to be aware of being, why bother? Ontology, like postmodernism, is circular, winds up biting itself in the tail, self-defeating. To the platonic unbeliever, God and Christianity are, acknowledges St. Paul, foolishness. Well, as it works out it works both ways.
Looking back, our dialogs have been perhaps shamefully unscholarly. No direct quotes, no source references, no footnotes, as required in a doctoral thesis or academic exchange, or adversarial lectures. Maybe at the beginning the professor had such intentions, but as it worked out he gave up on PowerPoints, to my relief, and we settled simply for making our positions clear by means of frankly overwrought and, may I say, silly soliloquies, OK, harangues. The professor and I have spoken from two pulpits, like Obama and Netanyahu in the Rose Garden, with as much or less agreement. I've quoted the Bible a few times, far more rarely than in the classical Adventist Bible study. I happen to know quite a number of verses by memory, and they come to mind, so naturally I quote, or paraphrase, them. Actually, I’ve never given a Bible study to anybody, and I’m not now. In their day platonists are more evangelistic than the children of God, alas. I wonder, those SDA scholars Plagno has converted to platonism, did he, upon bestowing them their doctorates and in preparation for their return to Adventist universities, counsel them to hold and teach their upgraded knowledge over old Adventism, or maybe extract an oath to that effect? Anyway to me Plagno has certainly been zealously evangelist, something else I could learn from him, if not, as it was meant to be, Him. In my case what resulted from Plagno’s zeal, unforeseen by me and unintended by Plagno but very possibly intended by God, my Adventism has become as embedded in me as Christ's Christianity in the preNeoPlatonic apostles. And in the park-bench process I've come to know Plato more personally – this to my relief and the professor’s delight,-- and also – to the shock and disappointment of the professor – Jesus Christ. Looking back, I must admit that in my youth my friendship with Christ was at the most platonic. Now, indirectly through Plato, in a way similar to C.S. Lewis's conversion to Christianity through literature and myths, it has become, yes, real.
So have we run Plato into the ground? Where would we go next, via our magic park bench? Whom or what discuss? Ayn Rand? Richard Rorty? Postmodernism? But postmodernism is simply a re-run of platonic relativity by a mod name. What's left to discuss? ... The Oscars? Dodgers? -- the very thought sets off a string of merciful ellipses ... ... God can, should, be discussed in a park, on a park bench and a stroll in the park, or at home, places He created, but increasingly He isn’t. … I don’t believe parks were planned or tax dollars spent primarily to fund Plato, or protests, and not at all for drug trips or fertility rites, or human sacrifices whether ritual or self inflicted by vodka or imposed by a knife or AK40, but rather for little children laughing and romping (to an old man the shouts and shrieks of small children are somehow especially delightful, with or without hearing aids) trying to get squirrels to eat peanuts out of their hands, and sliding down long wavy iron slides polished by seats of little pants and skirts, and not slithering through giant grinning bloody plastic skulls – the moving of little muscles and zooming through shrubs and trees and the blue sky above is exciting enough,-- and there’s a dad playing catch with his little son, and a teenager with a good camera snapping the mallards in the pond just at the proper instant, and there’s a 20-ish med student sitting on a small canvas stool splashing a water-color painting, and picnics and family reunions, .. and there’s a small boy, 5 years old I would guess, with lots of hair (I wonder how much he’ll keep), feeding dried kernels of corn to the mallards – oops! Splash! He fell in! No crisis, his dad easily reaches over and fishes him out, ...and I can sit on a bench and watch all this, and think. Are there any such parks left? Speaking of questions, it would be such a relief not to have to compose every sentence as per the Socratic Method, in some form or other, usually the rigged form. … And I’m tired, really tired, of reciting John 3:16 and being rear-ended by “prove it!” If that’s Platonic Friendship, well… As to the Platonic Friendship brass plaque, it can be recycled into some Form, er form, or other. …
Do I hear drumming in the distance? I turn down my hearing aids. I can see the tops of the protest signs, heretofore sessile, starting to rise higher over the hill.
Right on time Plagno materializes. We greet each other with the usual pretty sincere “dear doctor” and “dear professor,” and I ask him what dialectical mood he’s in, our usual Plato and Socrates, or our usual Abbott and Costello, or Trump and Rubio? He chuckles, obligingly, I think. No guffaws today.
After a while, still not exactly talking to me, he muses: “I wonder.. could Facebook friendships be more sustainable than platonic friendships?”
“Ergo, of more value?” I suggest.
“Nothing comes from platonic friendships, they say,” he says.
“Hmmmm…. Are you, my very good friend, saying that ours is over?”
“Yes. That’s what I’m saying. You’ve hacked our friendship.”
“Me? Me a hacker?”
“Yes. I took you for an intellectual with intellectual open-mindedness. Turns out you’re a closed-minded anti-intellectual. I'm so darn disappointed in you. 'Heaven' (excuse the term) knows I've tried! I've offered you mankind's best thinking, the juiciest apple ever grown, and LIBERATION, mankind's desire. I didn’t ask you to drop your Adventism, just lighten it. Indeed, you must keep on being one, platonism insists on it, thus to join your fellow enlightened Adventist intellectuals who stuck with the church if only, so to speak, as cultural rather than doctrinal Adventists, pleading that the Adventist tent be enlarged to accommodate them. Of course the platonic tent is already as large as the Rungrado Stadium, commodious enough to seat all open minded scholars, thinkers, etc. etc. etc.... of all stripes. Just when I thought you were going to take it and bite hard into it, you chickened out. How...offensive! F- is your final grade, no question, no appeal. I'm sorry for you.” He slumps onto the bench in despair, and as instantly perks up. "But," he proclaims cheerfully, "I haven't given up on all Adventist intellectuals who are so much more open-minded than you, my dear gormless Dr. Wes."
Then suddenly both of us are conscious of louder and louder drum beats – hypnotizingly regular war beats interspersed with wild rock riffs, amplified megadecibels, taxing my hearing aids and sanity,-- and advancing towards us are several hundred students, many of whom Plagno recognizes despite their zombie-painted faces, most of them swinging huge protest signs (“power to the 99%”), many shaking clinched fists to the drum rhythm, all screaming. I wonder how many future Adventist University presidents are among them.
Revived and energized by this pandemonium the Prof shouts into my hearing aids, “Ah… HAPPY DAY! You’re history, but these intellectual youth, fighting for a better world, are my new hope!... Straight out of Plato’s Republic!”
Pragno was shouting so loudly into my hearing aids that I actually caught most of it, and I shouted back, “Plato’s Republic? Exactly what your new hope, the 99%, most despises – 1% elitism!”
"Pufggh! I didn't expect you to actually know the thrust of the Republic...You're taking him too literally, so to speak. Plato’s Republic was but the launchpad that launched all philosophies of government, the swamp from which Marx and Madison evolved! Even if a bit wrong like Aristotle and his earth-centric cosmos, without Plato youth would not be marching for a better world, a utopia, as we speak!" Or try to speak -- against the cacophony, I thought to myself. "You Christians, You old-style Adventists anyway, are 100% other-worldly. Were you to prevail, this planet would be unsustained and unregulated and women could never vote. Did you catch what I said?”
“Something about 19th century Adventists oblivious to this world, right?” Plagno nods. “But only half right. That we are preoccupied with another world, is spot on. How could we not be, when the Bible admonishes and promises us to set our minds not on things of this earth but on things that are above, things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard nor entered into the heart of man, a new world thanks only to God, not to any man, not even Plato? But by the same token Christ Himself prayed that His followers not be taken out of the world, but minister to the world as if ministering unto Christ Himself, not for their own glory. And to proclaim to the whole world the news of Christ and Salvation and the promise of that better world to come, the Kingdom of God; to proclaim and themselves live by His commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself, the Golden Rule, not survival of the fittest, necessarily turning the present world into a truly better, and truly liberated, place, a healthier and safer world of good citizens who respect and obey civil laws, conscientious workers working for the joy of it, without protesting. No, we're not hellbent on achieving some strange utopia in this world, in truth a pseudo utopia, a concentration camp disguised as a theme park, a dead end. We do not dedicate our whole lives and the fires in our bellies, or on our shoulders, to politics and protests, political correctness and thought control, laws and more laws, regulations and restrictions that make God’s Commandments seem easy and a joy to work with. Nor are we obsessed with platonic unrealities like galas, masked balls, entertainment however virtually real and mind-blowing, platonic reality shows, Plato's Retreats, nor with vegan and vodka, LSD and free marijuana, the ever burgeoning cornucopia of award-winning mind-capturing drugs, free contraceptives and sex changes – the most hyped things this world can offer. …And... we try -- I should try harder -- to steer clear of futile debates and debate-begot whimsy." So how would Plagno respond to my heavenly harangue, so to speak? Knowing him, I venture he’d say something like, "This new world of yours – who wants it! Eurocentric, male-centric, imperialistic, repressive, … no who-can-yell-loudest debates or protests, -- no fun."
But Plagno, having dismissed me as a disciple, wasn't hearing any of my anticlimactic epilogue. Having leaped from our bench, the professor, like a many-armed Hindu god, is simultaneously waving wildly, saluting, gesticulating, flinging bits of brie into the crowd like peanuts to monkeys, tweeting hashtags into his iPhone, and shouting into a megaphone something about full college credit towards doctorates … and then he is engulfed by the mob and vanishes. Without a hug.
Unnoticed, and without any plans to return, I walk away, out of the park.
END OF DIALOGS
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