There’s a character in Plato’s Republic called Thrasymachus who acts as a foil to Socrates by presenting a series of comments and arguments the old philosopher has to debate and counter. He (Thrasymachus) is based on an actual historical figure, a Sophist from the fifth century BCE. It’s unknown if the views Plato has him voice are those of the real person, or simply a literary device to advance Socrates’ (and thus Plato’s) arguments.
Of late, I’ve been reading Alan Bloom’s translation of The Republic. At the same time, I’m listening to the Great Courses 36-lecture series on Why Evil Exists, in which Thrasymachus is discussed (in only one of the lectures so far, mind you). He seemed very familiar to me, perhaps a stereotype of people we know of locally.
Thrasymachus seems to me like he would make the perfect member of The Block on Collingwood Council. His rigid views, his refusal to be swayed by reason, his disdain for others who have different ideas – at least as Plato describes them – are remarkably similar to those held by The Block. Or at least by its leader, since most of the rest are merely meat puppets with no real thoughts of their own. Thrasymachus states:
Listen, then. I say justice is nothing other than what is advantageous for the stronger.
The basic argument Plato has him make is against Socrates’ assertion that justice is important in a society, that justice is served for the greater good. Thrasymachus, in Book I, counters by saying justice is nothing more than the advantage of the strong over the weak. What’s good for those in power equals justice. In other words: might makes right.
…in all states there is the same principle of justice, which is the interest of the government; and as the government must be supposed to have power, the only reasonable conclusion is, that everywhere there is one principle of justice, which is the interest of the stronger.
Which is exactly how The Block govern. They have the might (a majority of seven out of nine council members), so they vote in rigid lockstep to accomplish subversive goals and further their private agendas regardless of the impact on the public, on residents, on taxpayers. Regardless of whether what they do is actually the right thing for the community. Their concept of right is simply what is good for them. They don’t care a whit for justice unless it empowers or entitles them. Might even allows them to continue to pursue personal vendettas at the public expense. Great expense, too.
As Cliff’s Notes website says of the argument:
Socrates then argues that rulers can pass bad laws, “bad” in the sense that they do not serve the interest of the rulers. Thrasymachus says that a ruler cannot make mistakes. Thrasymachus’ argument is that might makes right.
Thrasymachus argues that rulers are infallible. Just like how The Block feel they are infallible: unable to make mistakes, that everything they do – no matter how harmful or hurtful – is the best decision.
Socrates counters by saying that a ruler’s main interest, main job should be to tend to the interests of his/her subjects, just as a doctor’s interest should be the welfare of the patient. A ruler’s main purpose, he says, is to rule, not to make money or take advantage of ruling for personal gain. Which The Block have done. The Block would have disdained Socrates’ arguments, if they bothered to even listen to them: they’re all about what’s good for themselves, not the community.
Thrasymachus is also acerbically argumentative and dismissive of Socrates, belittling and mocking him in a way very reminiscent of how the interim CAO and the deputy mayor treated the hospital board representatives when they made public presentations. Like Thrasymachus, The Block resort to petty badgering and insults in their attempts to gain advantage when they cannot succeed by logic or reason. Which is pretty much all the time, since reason and logic require thought, not simply the sort of hypocritical bloviation and mumbled incoherencies they give us.
Thrasymachus praises tyrants, preferring them over more virtuous, and more ethical rulers. Since The Block are devoid of both virtue and ethics, Thrasymachus would praise them, too. They have, for example, retained the interim CAO in a position that in classical times might be called despotic, of which I’m sure Thrasymachus would approve.
Thrasymachus also argues that for the people, obedience to the state is the proper course (the ‘just action’). In other words: do as you’re told and don’t question us. Very Block-like. One of the reasons The Block like to conduct so many discussions and connive their business behind closed doors is to avoid being questioned about their actions, motives and behaviour. Scrutiny invites questions and so The Block despise scrutiny. The very thought of openness sends them into apoplexy.
Thrasymachus also claims that if a person who commits injustice goes undetected, he (or she) is always happier for it. In other words: lie and connive but don’t get caught. The Block conduct all of their important discussions in camera, out of sight and hearing, so their harm often goes undetected by the media and the public. They have a deep dislike of public scrutiny.
Thrasymachus argues that people in power are like selfish shepherds – they fatten their sheep for their own benefit, not for that of the sheep. The Block, too, think people are sheep to be fattened for The Block’s benefit. Think of how The Block hiked your taxes in the last three budgets, while voting salary raises for themselves, and granting an unlimited expense account for Councillor Jeffrey to pursue her personal political goals out of town at your expense. Think of them killing hundreds of high-paying jobs at the airport, killing the hospital redevelopment and its potential jobs, trying to sell our public water utility to a for-profit corporation without any public discussion or input, just because they felt like it, and the numerous sole-sourced contracts handed out to relatives and friends. You, dear reader, are to them merely sheep for the fleecing.
In the end, Socrates manages to defeat all of the arguments and counter-arguments Thrasymachus makes. But it doesn’t matter to the latter. His is a rigid ideology that brooks no opposition, cannot accept other views. He cannot tolerate challenge or dissent – he holds to his opinions regardless of any facts or logic presented to disprove his beliefs. He goes off in a red-faced huff, unconvinced and unrepentant.
Just like The Block. They refused to heed any facts that might counter their bizarre mythologies about Collus-PowerStream, the utility share sale, the shared services agreement, the water utility, the Collus dividend, staff salaries, the hospital redevelopment, the sale of Block 9, the airport development, the retention of the interim CAO at $225,000-plus a year (more than the province’s premier makes)… the list is long. And, yes, they have been given actual, verifiable facts and data that easily prove their conspiracy theories are puerile fictions. But, like Thrasymachus, they refuse to accept that anything from anyone else has merit. Theirs is a world of alt-facts into which they allow no reality to intrude. Donald Trump and Thrasymachus would also get along, I suspect.
Of course, the parallels between Thrasymachus and The Block aren’t perfect. The historical Thrasymachus was well-educated, well-spoken, inventive, subtle, witty and widely renowned for his speeches. None of The Block can lay claim to any of these attributes. They are far more like Plato’s straw man. But Plato’s subtle point was that it was people like Thrasymachus who ordered Socrates to kill himself: ideologues who destroyed the good in Athens, killed the best and brightest among them. And that is a parallel to the damage The Block have done to Collingwood.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how human nature really hasn’t changed much in the past 2,500 years since Plato. Some people are still as shallow, secretive, conniving, arrogant and disdainful now as they were then. There’s a lesson in the portrayal of Thrasymachus for all of us: don’t be influenced by his false beliefs or selfish goals. Use reason, logic and facts to counter them.
It’s just unfortunate that we got saddled with so many of them at once in our own council. But don’t despair: 2018 is coming and we can soon replace them with people who actually care about the community, who actually do good for everyone not just themselves, who are not so focused on their own private agendas that they instead advocate for and champion things that benefit others.
Collingwood deserves better. And in 2018, we will get it, once we vote The Block out of office. No more Thrasymachus in our council!