THE GUARDIANS FILE: What you saw at yesterday's hearing!


Plato saw the same thing:
"It's not that easy being green," Kermit the Frog has said.

"People tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water." Or at least, so Kermit has claimed.

Was Kermit feeling sorry for himself, or did he have a strong point? We'll leave that to the historians! But at least within our failing society, it's also "not that easy" to cast oneself in the guardian's role—to play the role within our society which Plato prescribed long ago.

Years ago, sacred Plato said a just city would need leadership from a guardian class. Indeed, he said a just city might need to be ruled by such an elite.

According to Professor Lane, Plato's Socrates said these "guardians"—these "philosopher kings" and "philosopher queens"—would have to live simply and communally. They would have to be educated in certain ways. They would have to be "dedicated to what is good for the city rather than for themselves."

They'd also have to be philosophers! Or so Plato said!

Just this once, let's be clear! Plato lived at a different time—at "the dawn of the west." When he was voicing these prescriptions through the person of Socrates, he was discussing the way to create a "just city."

He wasn't discussing the needs of a large continental nation like our own failing state.

It's estimated that Plato was born between 429 BC and 423 BC—that is, during the fifth century BC. The bulk of his adult life was therefore lived during the fourth century BC.

How large was the Athens of this day? You're asking a significant question. The leading authority on this matter offers this overview:
Estimates of the population of ancient Athens vary. During the 4th century BC, there might well have been some 250,000–300,000 people in Attica. Citizen families could have amounted to 100,000 people and out of these some 30,000 would have been the adult male citizens entitled to vote in the assembly. In the mid-5th century the number of adult male citizens was perhaps as high as 60,000, but this number fell precipitously during the Peloponnesian War...From a modern perspective these figures may seem small, but among Greek city-states Athens was huge: most of the thousand or so Greek cities could only muster 1000–1500 adult male citizens each; and Corinth, a major power, had at most 15,000.

The non-citizen component of the population was made up of resident foreigners (metics) and slaves, with the latter perhaps somewhat more numerous.
When Plato imagined the structure of a "just city," he was discussing the needs of a city-state of this general size.

Plato held that this Athens should be ruled by the philosopher kings and philosopher queens who constituted the guardian class. In the modern context, one would more simply hope that various individuals and groups would step forward to play the role of the guardian, offering such expertise as may serve the public interest.

It isn't that easy being green? Given the nature of our mass society—given the situation experts are calling "the twilight of the rational animals"—it's virtually impossible to serve in the guardian role within our broken mass culture. Over the past thirty years, we've seen quite a few who have tried and failed:

We think of several efforts by Paul Krugman, including his attempt to encourage the mainstream and corporate liberal press to describe Paul Ryan as he actually is. Try and try though Krugman did, he couldn't get others to follow his lead, not even corporate liberals.

(It's an established part of Hard Pundit Law. There will always be a Judge Starr, a Ryan or a Comey who is being universally hailed as the nation's most upright person. Few Dems need apply.)

We think of Kevin Drum's attempt to present basic information about the recent history of lead exposure. Drum's attempts to spread information ran headfirst into the demagoguery of corporate clowns like Rachel Maddow, who used her high corporate platform to dumb the liberal world down as she kept selling the car.

We think, of course, of Gene Lyons' 1995 book, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater, which began as a full-length report in Harper's. Alas! By "the media," Lyons principally meant the Washington Post and the New York Times. For this reason, his reporting on the early years of the war which eventually sent Donald Trump to the White House was disappeared by the various corporate players we liberals foolishly think of as our tribal leaders.

We think of our own endless work of the so-called "war against Gore," the twenty-month journalistic scam which sent George W. Bush to the White House.

As with Whitewater, so too here. This ugly, stupid war was largely conducted within the mainstream press by leading "liberal" figures. For this reason, our own attempts to serve in the guardian role were destined to be disappeared by the various mainstream careerists who pose as liberal titans.

We also think of the way the mainstream press reports domestic and international public school test scores. Returning to attempts by Krugman, we think of the way the mainstream press disappears the basic data concerning health care spending in the United States, which amounts to an astonishing form of looting.
For reasons which go unexplored/unexplained, it has been impossible to get the mainstream press to perform its normal duties with respect to such basic pieces of information. Those who try to play the guardian role with respect to such topics are destined to learn a basic sociological fact:

Performing this role in our mass corporate culture is, in the end, considerably harder even than being a frog!

In all these areas, "corporate liberal" speak-chuckers have reliably served the interests of corporate ruling interests. (Chomsky describes this process as "manufactured consent.") Meanwhile, make no mistake:

You've seen similar patterns in recent weeks concerning the liberal world's hapless attempts to address the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

In our next report from the guardians file, we'll take a brief look at Professor Wilentz's recent attempt to play the guardian role in this matter. For today, let's understand what you saw at yesterday's televised hearing.

Citizens, please! Yesterday's hearing was the latest iteration of a pattern as old as so-called humankind.

Yesterday's hearing can be viewed in more than one way, of course. Depending on which corporate channel you were being propagandized by, you were encouraged to react to the testimony in substantially different ways.

There are various ways to understand yesterday's hearing. But for those who principally saw a power elite rushing through a major power grab, we'll only say that yesterday's hearing was an echo of human experience during the age in which Plato lived.

Yesterday's hearing was the latest replay of familiar events from that earlier age. The leading authority on that era has thumbnailed the matter as shown below:
Before the first attempt at democratic government, Athens was ruled by a series of archons or chief magistrates, and the Areopagus, made up of ex-archons. The members of these institutions were generally aristocrats, who ruled the polis for their own advantage. In 621 BC Draco codified a set of "notoriously harsh" laws that were "a clear expression of the power of the aristocracy over everybody else." This did not stop the aristocratic families feuding amongst themselves to obtain as much power as possible.

Therefore, by the 6th century BC, the majority of Athenians "had been 'enslaved' to the rich", and they called upon Plato's ancestor Solon, premier archon at the time, to liberate them and halt the feuding of the aristocracy. However, the "enfranchisement of the local laboring classes was succeeded by the development of chattel slavery, the enslavement of, in large part, foreigners."

Solon, the mediator, reshaped the city "by absorbing the traditional aristocracy in a definition of citizenship which allotted a political function to every free resident of Attica. Athenians were not slaves but citizens, with the right, at the very least, to participate in the meetings of the assembly." Under these reforms, the position of archon "was opened to all with certain property qualifications, and a Boule, a rival council of 400, was set up. The Areopagus, nevertheless, retained 'guardianship of the laws'"...

Not long afterwards, the nascent democracy was overthrown by the tyrant Peisistratos, but was reinstated after the expulsion of his son, Hippias, in 510. This sort of aristocratic takeover "was ended by the appeal by one contender, Cleisthenes, for the support of the populace." The reforms of Cleisthenes in 508/7 undermined the domination of the aristocratic families and connected every Athenian to the city's rule. "Cleisthenes fixed the boundaries of the polis as a political rather than a geographical entity—boundaries which Solon had left permeable—by formally identifying the free inhabitants of Attica at that time as Athenian citizens." He did this by making the traditional tribes politically irrelevant and instituting ten new tribes...

A third set of reforms was instigated by Ephialtes in 462/1. While his opponents were away attempting to assist the Spartans, Ephialtes persuaded the Assembly to reduce the powers of the Areopagus: "in effect stripping it of all its controlling and supervisory powers and leaving it only as a court for cases of homicide and certain offences of sacrilege." At the same time or soon afterwards, the membership of the Areopagus was extended to the lower level of the propertied citizenship.

In the wake of Athens' disastrous defeat in the Sicilian campaign in 413 BCE, a group of citizens took steps to limit the radical democracy they thought was leading the city to ruin. Their efforts, initially conducted through constitutional channels, culminated in the establishment of an oligarchy, the Council of 400, in the Athenian coup of 411 BCE. The oligarchy endured for only four months before it was replaced by a more democratic government. Democratic regimes governed until Athens surrendered to Sparta in 404 BCE, when government was placed in the hands of the so-called Thirty Tyrants, pro-Spartan oligarchs. After a year pro-democracy elements regained control, and democratic forms persisted until the Macedonian army of Phillip II conquered Athens in 338 BC.
There's a lot to ponder there. Still, viewers of yesterday's hearing might consider the possibility that they were watching a TV rerun, in which they saw human history being relived. Consider:

"In the wake of Athens' disastrous defeat in the Sicilian campaign in 413 BCE, a group of citizens took steps to limit the radical democracy they thought was leading the city to ruin. Their efforts, initially conducted through constitutional channels, culminated in the establishment of an oligarchy."

The establishment of an oligarchy! Especially in a mass society, citizens opposed to this type of human impulse are badly in need of the services of a capable "guardian class." They must hope that this class won't be undermined by the work of hidden corporate elites and their endless enablers.

A final note for today. In his famous Seventh Letter, Plato recorded his reaction to the ascension to power of "the so-called Thirty Tyrants." In this translation, we think Professor Lee has it just about right:
PLATO: The existing constitution, which was subject to widespread criticism, was overthrown...and a committee of Thirty given supreme power. As it happened some of them were friends and relations of mine and they at once invited me to join them, as if it were the natural thing for me to do. My feelings were what were to be expected in a young man: I thought they were going to reform society and rule justly, and so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. I found that they soon made the earlier regime look like a golden age. Among other things they tried to incriminate my old friend Socrates, whom I should not hesitate to call the most upright man then living, by sending him, with others, to arrest a fellow-citizen, and bring him forcibly to execution; Socrates refused, and risked everything rather than make himself a party to their wickedness. When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times.
The democracy was soon restored, but Socrates was brought to trial on “a monstrous charge.” His subsequent execution finished off Plato as well:

“The more closely I studied the politicians and the laws and customs of the day, and the older I grew, the more difficult it seemed to me to govern rightly,” he said in the Seventh Letter. “Nothing could be done without trustworthy friends and supporters; and these were difficult to come by in an age which had abandoned its traditional moral code but found it impossibly hard to create a new one.”

Plato abandoned his thoughts of a political career, deciding to spend his time dreaming up the perfect republic. Yesterday, we Americans saw a version of these events on our giant screens.

“Nothing could be done without trustworthy friends and supporters, and these were difficult to come by," Plato thoughtfully said. For "trustworthy," we'd substitute "capable"—and we'd say that he was seeking the intercession of a guardian class.

Our corporate liberal pseudo-guardians have been undermining progressive interests for at least thirty years. In our next report from the guardians file, we'll consider the recent attempt of Professor Wilentz to serve in the guardian role with respect to Kavanaugh's nomination.

Also, we'll raise the question we'll be pursuing for the next several months:

Let's consider the sweep of modern history, dating back to Lord Russell's work in 1901. Where have our logicians been during that expanse of time? More generally, through what means did our "philosophers" (our philosophy professors) decide to abandon their posts?

Tomorrow: The oligarchs' most recent rise


  1. We do not have the simple luxury of withdrawing from the wickedness of the times.

    Somerby can bury himself in musing about Plato and a time long gone, but we must continue to engage in the politics of our time. Somerby calls the Democrats "hapless" and his tone denigrates the efforts to oppose Kavanaugh. I don't know what more Democrats could have done. Today they have walked out of the committee (leaving a few to voice their opposition). That is not an act of abandoning their posts but one of standing up against wrong.

    Somerby is abandoning any effort to talk about anything meaningful. This rambling about Plato is unhelpful. He wants to say something but doesn't know what (or is afraid to cough it up).

    Again, my theory is that he is trying to drive away his audience so that he can discontinue his webpage. If so, it is easy to accomplish. Write these simple words "Goodbye" and hang it up.

  2. "our own attempts to serve in the guardian role were destined to be disappeared by the various mainstream careerists who pose as liberal titans."

    In what sense did anyone try to "disappear" Somerby's blog?

    Did those "careerists" force poor Bob not to finish and publish his book on Gore ("How He Got There")? Even though the "corporate" book publishing world managed to put Gene Lyons' books into print, where they reached a wide audience?

    Did those same "careerists" cause Somerby to viciously attack liberals for years in his blog and to refrain from even mentioning conservative "careerists" in any way?

    Are the corporate baddies forcing Somerby to engage in his pointless philosophical musings about Gödel and Plato at a time when something else is needed?

    Can it be said that Somerby's own blog served to undermine progressive interests? That case can be made, but Somerby apparently does not think so.

    He also seems to apparently believe that he has heroically done all he can do.

    Nice pipe dream, Bob, as you enter your golden years.

  3. I saw Republicans being the awful excuse for human beings I've always known they were.

  4. "Rachel ‪@maddow‬’s hour-long analysis tonight of the two key factual flaws in the Kavanaugh defense was absolutely brilliant and not to be found elsewhere. My urgent hope is that every Senator watches it before voting.8:49 PM · Sep 27, 2018

    --Laurence Tribe on Twitter

    1. Rachel weaves a story every day in that first 20 minutes of the show that connects dots, pulls things together, pulls historical references that really is just an amazing piece of work.

      And you come out of it smarter. It's as simple as that.

    2. Wow, @2:56. You're quite the fan, aren't you? How cute!

  5. David, when Chomsky called Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden radical right-wingers, that was irony. Keep listening. For your convenience, here's the link again.

  6. "The establishment of an oligarchy! "

    Is this what Somerby "principally" saw in that hearing? His language is veiled. Yesterday, his only comment was that Dr Ford may not be telling the truth.

    Granted that the corporate channels reported on it differently, was one of them closer to the truth?

    Can citizens view the hearings and make up their own minds, without allowing themselves to be told what to think by corporate channels? And how many of those citizens liked what they saw?

    Does he really think that philosophy professors can mount an effective resistance to the oligarchy? Has he considered the possibility that some subset of those professors actually supports the oligarchy?

  7. "an age which had abandoned its traditional moral code but found it impossibly hard to create a new one."

    "Traditional moral code?" Slavery was routine in ancient Athens. Just sayin'.

    Who is the arbiter of tradition and morals? Why, the philosopher king, of course. Except that advocates of "traditional morals" often turn out to be conservative.

  8. Not one drunken heterosexual 17 year old male would not grope a girl at a party he stumbled with into a room and onto a bed with his friend jumping on the bed with him.

    A view that this means a man who ended up in that situation forfeits his reputation and future is insane and evil.

    I don't have to weigh the possibility it happened because I don't care if it happened and I won't be voting for Democrats for a long time, if ever again after seeing where they went with this including at a philosophical level.

    Salem had nothing on these people.

    1. Impeach Grassley!

    2. Nothing says "owning libs" like approving of sexual predation.

    3. John Conyers, Al Franken, democratic politicians and of course Harvey Weinstein, a huge Democrat, are all mouth watering, serial sexual assaulters and abusers who left a trail of terrified and damaged women on a scale much bigger than the one presented this week. It could be said the Democratic Party is the party of sexual predation but to do so would be to forget all of human history which shows us that men are the gender of sexual predation and never, ever, in all of recorded history has there ever been a time when man did not prey upon and sexually abuse women and other, weaker men. This is what men do, darling. This is the cards that women have been dealt. They are forced to live in a world where the opposite gender of their very species are biologically, naturally dangerous sexual predators who will abuse and terrorize them if given the chance (especially since now words like abuse and terrorize describe groping.) That will never change and it has nothing to do with political parties sweetheart.

      The upside is that man will come to your house in the middle of the night and fix your plumbing or go to war and sacrifice their lives for you and stuff like that. History shows us that just as clearly. Men will do almost anything to keep you safe including dying. Yes, safe. I know

    4. @7:20, This is total nonsense. As if women don't fix plumbing and go to war etc. As if the deviant characterizes a gender. As if there is no such thing as culture, socialization, and all is instinct. As if mothers don't die for their kids. Untrue stereotypes hurt both sexes.

    5. Better trolling please.

    6. @3:27

      You don't get to tell lies and also be on the Supreme Court. If Kavanaugh had come clean and apologized for his past, he might have a chance but he decided to lie his way through the hearing. Some of his lies are so obvious that they amount to thumbing his nose at the values of the court. You can't put a guy like that on the highest court.

      Most guys have learned by the time they are teens that you cannot be whatever you want with women. It WILL come back and bite you in the ass, one way or another.

    7. It is overwhelmingly men who fix toilets and fight and die in wars and who created the systems that modernized the world and emancipated women from dependence on fathers or husbands for survival and it is blatantly obvious men have been and always will overwhelmingly be the devients despite any well intentioned attempts at socialization. Read your history.

    8. Fuck off @12:31. You are too ignorant to be worth the time spent trying to educate you. Cherry-picking the parts of history that support your arguments isn't discussion. It is masturbation. Enjoy yourself.

    9. Cherry picking? I am saying in all of history there has never been one time when men were not overwhelmingly the predators against a women and in all of history it was men who rose up and defended civilizations and communities large or small when they were threatened. Never once in history was there a situation where women rose up and defended their community from attack while the men stayed home. I'm not cherry picking. Men and women are biologically different you must realize in order to adequately deal with these offensive male transgressions.

      But there's no cherry picking here little lady.

    10. If you believe that only men fight during wars, you don't know anything about war or about history. I don't have time to educate you.

    11. I believe what I wrote and you should address it directly if you intend to be taken seriously. At no time did I say only men fight during wars so I can see I am dealing with a furtive, intellectual slacker. Too bad, I would like it if you would educate me although I have no idea what the topic would be. Let's start here: Do the biological differences between men and women matter? Educate me on that little pumpkin.

    12. The biological differences matter to reproduction and very little else. They do not have strong cognitive impacts and do not dictate behavior, as you claim. Societies have defined sex roles to differentiate men and women but this is part of culture, not biological. If there were strong biological differences, societies wouldn't have to work so hard at separating and defining the sexes (which are not biologically dichotomous but occur with variability and on a continuum). Cultures vary widely in the ways they differentiate males and females and anything you can find in one culture that is considered male, can be found in another culture assigned to females. Western culture has dominated the world for a while now, so that makes it seem like there is more uniformity than there has been geographically and over time. Sociobiologists say otherwise (contradicting anthropologists and cognitive psychologists), but they have a lot of speculation and not much evidence backing them up as they tend to confirm gender roles asserting the superiority of men and the stereotypes you seem to favor.

      You are an uneducated hick who shouldn't be calling anyone else patronizing names. Go read a book.

    13. Strait out of the Sociology textbook! Thanks for helping me understand and change the social world! How are things on campus this semester? What is missing is empirical substantiation.

      The biological differences between man and women don't dictate behavior?According to who?

      "Anything" considered male in one culture can be found in another culture assigned to females? Like what? Tell me so I know. Men raising children? Women fighting war? Is there a culture where the men are emotional and nurturing and the women are mathematical and protecting? Tell me some these interchangeable "things" of which you speak so I can understand.

      Tell me the names of the sociobiologists who claimed to confirm gender roles that asserted the superiority of men?

      Interesting lesson. Thanks.

    14. You are embarrassing yourself. You don't know the difference between sociology and anthropology. Both are empirical, which means lots of evidence. Women do math and win chess championship s in Eastern bloc countries (try Romania). Men are chefs, write emotional music, nurture their kids. Women are sabras in Israel and other cultures. Sociobiologist = David Buss, E.O. Wilson.

  9. The Republicans have put two sexual deviants on the Supreme Court!
    Life is good.

  10. I don't think today's philosophy professors are the best analogue of the philosophers in Plato's day. IMHO some of the pundits come closer to that role. E.g., Thomas Sowell provided decades of wisdom about economics (his specialty) and also a wide range of other subjects. His books were all well-reasoned and based on actual research. At one time the New York Times had a group of regular pundits who provided wisdom and clear thinking.

    1. I knew I was missing something.

    2. Sowell?
      Show me the money.

    3. I don't have the time or the inclination to read Sowells's economic treatises. I did look up a while ago a sample of his op ed columns - where he came across as a typical right wing hack, very shallow and disingenuous.

  11. Here is an analysis of whether Ford and Kavanaugh answered questions or dodged them:

  12. the crux of the 2+2 puzzle lies in the symbol + . + is a very simple concept. i.e. numerals from 1 to 9 are shorthand for +l. For example "2" doesn't exist except as 1+1.

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