A while ago a reader asked me to devote a column to the concept of a civil society. For a number of reasons, the time is ripe for me to oblige. To look at civil society we need, I figure, at least two experts. One can be Plato, who is an old guy who had too much time around the 4th century BC and remains the undisputed expert on the subject of creating a perfect state that can never exist. The other expert is my Polish grandma who came to Canada two months ago and is currently living with me, making sure I eat enough beets.
Here’s what the two of them would probably say if they got my reader’s inquiring email.
On human relationships
Plato: As the root word of platonic love, we can all pretty much surmise Plato’s position on romance. Plato wants to abolish families and have the human race reproduce itself by way of a rigged lottery whereby the government gets to pick who gets to mate but pretends it is random so the guys who are losers don’t feel bad.
Grandma: In theory, grandma is in favour of women and men getting together. In practice, grandma knows this kind of thing often leads to babies. Seeing that she has two daughters and five granddaughters, grandma also knows that she has no Plato-like mechanism to weed out the guys who are losers. Instead, grandma simply does things like make garlic cream cheese, salmon and onion sandwiches for my lunch every day. This certainly keeps the losers away. Actually it keeps everyone away. Hmmm …
Plato: The world should be governed by an elite class of guardians who were selected from birth, trained and educated in such a way that they know what is best for the society. Everyone should listen to them and stay in their proper place assigned at birth.
Grandma: Is it the Russians? Is it the Germans? No? Then it can’t be that bad.
Plato: People should practice gymnastics and moderation in order to maintain good health. Those who are chronically ill in body we should let die and those who are chronically ill in spirit we should kill.
Grandma: Beets. Beets. Beets. And ginger (she read about this in some woman’s health magazine). If you eat enough of these two things you will never die.
Plato: Justice is the sum of all virtues. A just society is one governed by reason, which in turn checks passion that is moderated by temperance. In short, only the boring and old can reasonably be just.
Grandma: Justice is when a woman, after finding out her “nogoodnik” boyfriend is only using her for her wealth, plans a romantic trip abroad and abandons him in Moscow without any money or identity papers. (I don’t even know where she got that one).
On material goods (and eating)
Plato: No one should use more than they need. Moderation is the key to happiness and the pursuit of wealth and unnecessary goods only leads to strife.
Grandma: Lived through the depression, WWII and three decades of the Cold War on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain – there’s nothing you can say to this lady to convince her that we don’t have to wash, fold, hide in drawers and then re-use saran wrap. However, when it comes to food, Grandma’s policy is eat what you can get, when you can get it. You can go on a diet the next time the Russians invade.
“The beet goes on” by shava 23 from creativecommons.org