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 -- Plato's Playdough if you one-click order from Amazon, -- so malleable and pliable and the process 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 our idea of urbane conversation, sophisticated, trying to sound like Plato and Socrates themselves, with penetrating questions and barbed and witty exchanges, so to speak, 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, isn't that 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.
Looking back, our dialogs have been perhaps shamefully unscholarly, but that's the kind of platonism a park bench evokes, in contrast to a lectern which comes equipped only with lectures, nowadays PowerPoints. But at the beginning of our encounters, the emeritus professor and chair, old and maybe a bit, you know, inflexible, couldn't shift gears and carried on as though still under klieg lights rather than sycamores. But he awoke to platonic reality and gave up on PowerPoints and we settled simply for overwrought soliloquies, OK, harangues, so to speak. 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. Rather, a park is for -- at least the kind of park I'm thinking of -- is 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, yes, there are those two old geezers still frozen over a chess board. All together a bit of Americana, a park is, or was. Unsung, those old time parks, hardly as hyped and Hollywoodized as speakeasies and big bands. Park benches are not acclaimed as seats of learning like Harvard, but in some strange and ignored way as fundamental. God is hard to find, the thought is amusing, in a gothic stone or Gropius glassed temple of learning, but among the camphor, sycamore, and oak trees, ash or maples, the pansies and tulips, mallards and squirrels, chatting mothers, shouting children and immobile old chess players, He's closer -- just look around. Sigh... the park I'm looking around at exists only in my memory. Are there any such parks left? ... Speaking of questions, it would be such a relief not to have to compose every question as a penetrating Socratic device terminated by a questionmark? … And I’m tired, really tired, of reciting John 3:16 and being rear-ended by “prove it!” If that’s Platonic Friendship, well…
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? But despite all the hype, augmented reality, or by other names, is nothing new. It's as old as falling in love, bacchanals, LSD, or séances.
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 desires to assist us up into the real, relevant world. 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. What is tangible and perceptible by the senses is transient or, as our ecologists would say, unsustainable, ergo evil, unsustainability nowadays being the evilest of evils. Isn't it wonderful how platonist concepts have proved indeed to be the amoeboid sustainability model? Only the intangible is eternal, ergo superior, most notably the Form which emanates bovine nullity – it’s that simple. Is it THAT simple? Ontology is a gem of Hellenistic philosophy and means "the study of being." But, if the ideal state of being, the Form being the consummate ideal, is not to be aware of being, why bother? … The differences between Plato’s and the Adventist Christian's perspective, while 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, and are subject to death and thus are temporary, is because of Satan’s emergence. But poor Plato, having forfeited God, has painted himself into a corner and has no other way to define evil than by being unsustainable. So the creator, Plato's frontal cortex, is functionally if not doctrinally actually greater than its creature, the Form, Plato's substitute for God. That's well put if I do say so myself, though Plagno would not agree. On the other hand, Adventists say that what God is, does, and says are even now the ultimate reality, somehow to me palpably real, even though He Himself is at this stage in cosmic history seen only by the eye of faith. Now we see through a glass darkly, and know in part, but then face to face, and then He shall become to our very eyes the consummate tangibility, like the galaxies and molecules and bosons and us, all of which He created by His planned and comprehendible word rather than mute emanation. … And my God suffered death in order to redeem me from death. By platonism, what’s to be redeemed from, and by whom? Plato’s answer: nothing. Not from death, not from Satan, and anyway not by God. For in pure original platonism, at your birth, we would say conception or at some point during embryogenesis, your preexistent soul becomes entrapped within your platonically intrinsically and eternally and irredeemably evil body, from which, when you die, it is LIBERATED, that is, simply reabsorbed without ado back into the Form, wherein it regains the original blessed nullity characteristic of the Form. (In later centuries plenty of ado, involving heaven rather than merely the Form, was added.) Ergo, the soul is immortal, ergo you never truly die. Anyway Plato, not offering deliverance from death because the soul is immortal, does offer beauty as his equivalent of redemption from his equivalent of evil, equally applicable to you and a statue. Rather a letdown, seems to me. … Shades of Satan in the Garden offering Eve liberation from the suppression and oppression by God who had created her, and from the death that God had warned was potentially a real thing, contingent upon departure from His commands. That's the way Satan put it, the original con job. But God offers eternal liberty, an ongoing status, as well as liberation, which by Him is the release of prisoners from the dungeon of sin and death. The "Liberation" Satan offers is a momentary basically rebellious action against God or, rightly or wrongly, the prevailing law, or escape into anticlimactic nullity, that winds up slavery, liberation from which can come only from God. The Great Controversy offers the scenario, the beginning and the ending. Platonism offers...what's to offer? There is no beginning or ending, only temporary entrapment and liberation by dissolution. Recycling of the soul, so to speak; its, er, liberation -- O that platonic liberation! Liberation from God, mainly. O What grief that “liberation” has brought the race – death and real enslavement! … Hmmm… I’d better keep that thought to myself and not hit my dear professor with it or he might transcend red wrath to disintegrate into tangible fiery nullity! If Plagno can flatly accuse God of enslaving humanity, or worse, and I can accuse Plato of promising liberation but delivering slavery, we’d better not both say so out loud on the same park bench. If this is 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.
"who says, Plato? He ought to know," says I. "Then he must have invented friendship to be as vague as the Form he invented. But, Hmmmm…. Are you, my very good friend, saying that ours is over?”
“Yes. That’s precisely what I’m saying. 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. I'm sick to my soul with your incessant quoting of the Bible. Oscar Wilde or Virginia Woolf or Jane Austin are the enlightened quotes of the day. You're so retarded I'll bet you pray, verily thou prayest day and night, in King James Elizabethan English."
"How'd thou guess!"
"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 no fun, unsustained and unregulated, heretics and books would be burned, and women still in shackles but deprived of earrings, could never vote, certainly not ordained. Did you catch what I said?”
“Something about 19th century Adventists oblivious to this world, right?” Plagno nods. “Right, 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 this 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, the Oscars, the Super Bowl, the Burning Man Festival, the World Series (strike that one; nobody's interested any longer), 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 and -besot whimsy. We are indeed preoccupied with another world, and, as migrants, simultaneously occupy and cry for and pay taxes in this one, which, were we to change it according to God's design, would bear no resemblance to the way you assert we want it, so different from the increasingly appalling way it increasingly is." So how would Plagno respond to my heavenly harangue, so to speak? Knowing him, I venture he’d say something like, "This world of yours – who wants it! No fun! The only thing going for it is that it is NOT this planet. Eurocentric, male-centric, theo-centric, patriarchal, homophobic, racist, sexist, imperialistic, repressive, intolerant… no liberation no debates no protests, not a drop of fun! -- Nobody wants it!"
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
Note to the reader who has, to my astonishment and delight, actually read and finished these dialogs: you might also be interested in my larger site which considers a full variety of topics and items, lots of essays about various topics, and, my special interests, poetry and art, including my own painting and drawing. It is aptly named, "I esSAY THERE," more technically, < www.iessaythere.com. >