Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Accidental Platonist

It could be said that I wouldn't be writing here at all were I not suffused with some sort of melancholia, but feeling robust enough that I could bother taking it public. But rather than plumb the details of this melancholia (the origins and nature of which are probably as elusive to me as they might be to you), I'm instead going to focus on something that's striking me just at this moment: that my dissatisfaction with myself implies that I do hold some idealized notion of what self is; that my dissatisfaction with the world, with art, with friends (or shortage thereof--not to discount those who remain loyal, supportive, and ever at my side), with religion likewise implies an ideal world, a perfect art, a perfect notion of [P/p]latonic friendship to which the real should conform (though it may never actually attain such heights).

What interests me, here, is that as a self-proclaimed nihilist--even a self-proclaimed ethical nihilist--I've essentially denied the existence of Platonic ideals (though not all small "p" platonic ideals; hence the grammatical chicanery above, wherein I allow both the existence of platonic friendship--that is, friendship without eros--and, grudgingly, of Platonic friendship, or perfect, ideal friendship). Good and beauty have no objective existence; they're constructs we impose on what is. And for good reason: What is will not likely organize itself into what's useful and edifying if we don't impose our "arbitrary" limitations on it. But once you assume that good and beauty exist independently of what we feel or agree is beautiful, or that love is something other than a collection of responses, agreements, and sacrifices, you assert, by default, that there is theos, or deity.

I'm not necessarily holding this out to any of my Christian readers (I do have 'em), though I'm not exactly withholding it from them either; it's safe to say that they would answer, "Well, YEAH!" Not that they'd admit to being Platonists (they tend to hate it when you suggest that Judeo-Christian conceptions of God tend to combine Greek pantheism with Greek anthropomorphic theist mythology), but they'd suggest my "accidental Platonism" is some whisper of the divine in my ear. Indeed, I may not be looking for an answer at all. Hell, I don't even know what the question is.

What I find interesting, I guess, is that for all my claims, I am still both driven forward and held back by the notion that there is a better me--gentler, kinder, more consistent, more potent, less selfish, less frantic, less insecure, a better artist, a better husband, a better son, a better mentor, a better student, a better friend, a better being--and that this better me will live a better life--more edifying, more focused, more altruistic, more moral (whatever we take that to mean). Driven forward because the desire to improve, to reach these ideal conditions, gives me reason to function (because function, when I'm down, is very, very difficult); held back because I have a blinkered view that keeps me from seeing alternate paths, alternate states or conditions that might be equal to, even preferable to, the notions to which I've chosen to devote myself.

I think even a radical individualist must be a Platonist, to some degree. Once you've defined the ideal condition of "individualism," you've already lost the battle. If, as an ethical nihilist, I believe that we must invent our own ideals (being presented with nothing but raw chaos, punctuated by random pockets of order, by the universe itself), then I'm suggesting that we must still, like Plato himself, hold that there are conditions transcendent to the real to which the real should aspire.