The Ring of Gyges (Glaucon.Plato): Justice as a Constitution

Would you rather do injustice but appear just or be just and appear unjust?

Think of the last time you went to a club. Imagine earlier in the day you met someone exciting and you hit it off with them, possibly exchanged contact information. That night, while out with your friends, you’re waiting in a long line. Two out, Two in (we all know how this goes). Suddenly, your new friend shows up and says ‘Oye! How are ya?‘ and, as a VIP guest of the club, they invite you to skip the line and join them inside. Do you? Everyone else stares back at you, standing still with wide eyes, sucking their teeth in jealousy. Your friends glance down at their feet, unsure if they are included in the invite. Do you leave them behind? Ask if their invited? Decline and stay with your friends?

Now think if you came to the club alone (Hey! maybe you’re the type) and you are standing at the end of the line. What if he’d caught up to you before you joined the line of onlookers? Do you sneak off and join him in the club? When no one would see you accept the offer, when there is no one to judge your decision, would you really decline?

For those who are more pious, that don’t frequent clubs like the rest of us, say you are trying to get accepted for a prestigious internship that will shape how quickly you move up in your career. You just so happen to be the niece (nephew) of someone on the board. They say they will put in a good word for you, write you a reference letter, donate money and set up a meeting with the Chair. You have the talent, skills and maybe a leg up, due to your own determination, working for you. You don’t really need his help. Do you do this on your own? Do you decline his offer (save for the required reference) and see how the board votes without the incentive?

Think of the opposite, when you could really use his help. Maybe your final essay wasn’t as strong as you would’ve liked. Maybe you weren’t as memorable during the last introductions.  Maybe you wouldn’t normally deserve the spot, just based on your performance. None of the other candidates would know. Do you accept his offer to get put at the top of the list? Would you risk your dreams for the sake of justice?

Glaucon talks about two important factors when discussing our willingness to do justice: Law and Appearance.  When law is not a factor, most people would do injustice. Why do you think The Purge was so popular? Looting during riots? Cheating on tests when the teacher steps out of the room? When there is no one there to hold you accountable for your actions, you act. Some say, you act out of character but if your actions are your own wouldn’t this show who you truly are? Aren’t you unjust on the inside just like the rest of us? Would injustice be apart of your constitution, a part that you hide?

Appearance wouldn’t be important if not for our judgy parents, coworkers who raise their eyebrow at favoritism or fellow customers you might cut in line. If we, as humans, weren’t so worried about how others perceive us or how we appear to others, we would all do injustice. Glaucon says that one only needs to appear just than to actually be just.

The story of The Ring of Gyges talks about a seemingly just person. A Shepherd discovers a ring of invisibility, which he initially tests on his friends. He then uses it to seduce the Queen, kill the King and take over the throne.
I remember a story told to me as a kid that has really stuck with me, I’ll tell it to you though you might’ve heard it before. An old man wanted to renovate two bathrooms in his home. Due to old age, and a previous knee injury, he is unable to finish cleaning residue and grime from the marble tile in the second. He calls for his grandson to help. “Please, have this done before the party tonight, even though this one often goes unused, I’d like to finish the project.” The grandson agrees and the old man goes about his day preparing.

A few hours before the party, the old man goes to check on the boy and opens the door, glancing at the tile before him. From this vantage point it’s beautifully polished and shines in the light. As he steps in to inspect it, he realizes the boy didn’t finish any of the tile hidden behind the door. “What is this?” he says. “Why have you not finished?
“No one ever uses this bathroom, grandpa. We can finish it later! I can help you with something more important.” The old man puts a hand on his shoulder, looks him straight in the eye.
“We must do things correctly, finish the tasks at hand, even if no one else will see it. That is no matter how big or how small, how important or insignificant the task is.” Reluctantly, the boy finished the tile just moments before the first arrival. Later that night, a toilet malfunction in the first bathroom rendered it useless and all the guest had to be redirected to the second bathroom. As guest complemented the beautiful marble the old man silently caught the eye of the young boy, who grinned back with pride.

Yes, this is very, very, very cheesy but it perfectly explains my point and the direction I took from The Ring of Gyges. The question stands. Would you do injustice if not for law and appearance? If not, are you including small injustices that we do daily? As stated in the reading, one can not be fully just without any injustice. Can they?

I plan to continue uploading my thoughts and inferences of the readings I get while in college. Let me know if you’d like to see more of these or if you are a fiction and novel reader only. I’d love to hear from you!

Good Readdance!

Jade

Allegory of the Cave (Plato) and How It Compares to the African American Community

Sometimes we are poisonous to our own people. 

There once was a young boy named Eric who dreamed of one day making it big. He dreamed of mansions and cars and freshly cooked Sunday night dinners. His parents worked hard to keep their family together and he was often left to raise himself in the downtrodden streets of the inner city. Eric spent the first year of high school skipping class and getting high in the bathrooms. He was good with numbers, they flew through his head like music notes and he used them to buy an entourage. His friends were soon like brothers in arms, fighting against the man and whoever else dared to keep them down. While they loved him, his parents cracked but never wavered due to a shred of hope that their hard work would soon pay off in that he would live past eighteen.

After a night of danger and sticky red hands left one friend dead and another in jail, Eric makes the decision to get his life together. His skipping school days are behind him. Books and highlighters become his new best friends and good times shooting ball on the courts fade away. His parents, still fighting their own beasts of debt, forget the pat on the back. He struggles and fails but is determined to achieve his goals.

Years later he graduates from high school with a higher than stellar gpa and scholarships  for college. He excels through college, graduating in the top of his class. His parents are older now with withered hands and sad eyes but finally proud. His heart breaks as cancer eats at his fathers pride but he keeps his head up and makes promises. His parents nod and smile, they know where they come from and no one they grew up with had ever made it out. The rays of the sun have beaten their souls and the shackles of life have torn them apart.

Eric started as an intern, with pressed collars and loafers. He learned the walk and took pride in his ability to stride. He rose through the ranks and soon a placard with his name etched in gold lines the door and desk of a corner office. He buys his parents a new house and he pays for their bills. Their eyes light up as the final grasps of freedom can be felt with their finger tips.

Back home, despite his attempts to give back to the community that raised him, Eric’s old buddies curse his name. They spit on his shoes and call him a traitor. How dare he make a better man out of himself? They ask him who he thinks he is and refused to take his so-called charity. Estranged family members, who’d dapped in between video game wins, now show up with hands out stretched and angry faces. You owe us, we had circumstances. Blood means give. After dishing out all he can bare to give, Eric is worn down and even though they see his bleeding eyes they keep asking for more. Eventually he retreats back to his office and donates from afar. He’s got places to go and promises to keep. Now with a family of his own, he’s the man in charge and makes sure his kids know what it means to give to others but not give until there is nothing left.

While reading The Allegory of the Cave, something really struck home for me. You might think that I would glean something about religion or believing the government’s lies but my thoughts went down another path. I thought about the prisoners in the cave as us, African Americans and the shadows on the walls as the so called truths we’ve been fed from others about ourselves. Outside opinions that we take on faith because it’s been ingrained in our upbringing.

We, as black people, have been oppressed, yes. We’ve been beaten down, run over and held back. We’ve been taught about the violence of our own people, warned against the false intelligence of our own people and suspicious of our own people. Generations trickled self hatred and ignorance. We poured the inability to rise above our limitations down the throats of our youth and branded anyone who squeezed through the cracks a deceiver, a Judas, an Uncle Tom.

For generations we have been stuck in this phase of anger. It is all the evidence we need to believe that we are stunted. We have a fixed mindset of what the truth is. To some, the truth is that we can not make it. We dream to, we aspire to but do we honestly believe we can? The shadows on the walls of our ancestors who couldn’t fight back make no noise due to their stolen voices. We watch them with our heads locked forward unable to turn away from the lull. When one of us dares to break free of his chains we smile and nod but block out the noise of their excitement. He will be back, we say and we continue to stare at the shapes stretching before us.

He begins his journey, continuously pulled down and degraded by his own people. As he struggles forward, he starts to believe. I can make it! No one believed me but I did it! He returns to the cave, staring up at the shapes of his ancestors, hoping to enlighten his peers. Look, look what I’ve done! I told you this could happen. Come, join me. They deny him.

Do we expect to fail? How many times do we trash our wealthy brothers and sisters just for making better decisions in life than we did? Especially the ones who come from our same streets. The ones that we can’t use the excuse ‘they had it better than me’. How many times do we say ‘I knew he’d be back’ when one of our own returns to the nest after failing their great try?

Another thing that hit me was that this goes both ways. Will he remember how hard it was for him to see others succeed? After he’s achieved his goals and reached the top tier, does he say to himself “I understand how they feel, I remember being that kid that would say ‘this old black man with his tailored suits just don’t get me!’ ” One thing that I wrote down while taking notes was “Eyes can be confused in two ways”.

Anyway, I know this was something different than what I usually do but I really wanted to share my thoughts on this. I’m not really one that will spend my time spouting about “The Man”, etc but this is something I definitely think about. This is one of the major reasons why I wanted to go back to college and finish my degree. I love to learn, to experience new things, new ways of thought. I’ve already opened my mind more than I thought possible and I still have far to go.

Please let me know what your thoughts are. Did you get this from The Allegory of the Cave? If not, what did you take from it?

Good Readance,
Jade