Live from Thessaly: Necessity Sweepstakes!::
I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaukon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. I was delighted with the procession of the inhabitants; but that of the Thrakians was equally, if not more, beautiful. When we had finished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city; and at that instant Polemarkhos the son of Kephalos chanced to catch sight of us from a distance as we were starting on our way home, and told his servant to run and bid us wait for him. The servant took hold of me by the cloak behind, and said: ‘Polemarkhos desires you to wait…’
‘Why?’ I responded.
Because tor.com is giving away a galley copy of Necessity, the third volume of Jo Walton’s Thessaly. And there was a drinking party last January over at Crooked Timber, in which part of the discussion went:
Brad DeLong 01.28.16 at 2:50 pm:
Re: John Holbo: ‘What is Athene’s motive in dragging all those robots from the future to help build this thing?’
Aristoteles son of Nikomakhos of Stagira:
Let us first speak of master and slave, looking to the needs of practical life…. [Some] affirm that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature…. Property is a part of the household… no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided with necessaries…. [T]he workers must have their own proper instruments… of various sorts; some are living, others lifeless; in the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a living instrument….
If every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the [automated] statues of Daedalus, or the [self-propelled catering carts] of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, ‘of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods’; if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves…
But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right?… There is no difficulty in answering this question… that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule…
LizardBreath 01.28.16 at 7:27 pm:
But having Simmea have such moral sensitivity to slights to females, as a class, seems too liberal-modern. (If you don’t think I’m right that she seems American, at least grant me that hers seems to be a modern moral mind. It really shouldn’t be one.) She should tell Pytheas, calmly, that she knows lots of people think that way, but she doesn’t think he’s right just to assume the generalization holds true. Why not engage him in Socratic debate on the point? It shouldn’t seem like an intolerable taboo for Pytheas to have said it. And note: even if Simmea is weird that way, Klymene has the same instincts. She doesn’t mind being called, personally, a coward. She is furious that Pytheas so easily and carelessly generalizes that girls lack physical courage, relatively, as a class. This actually didn’t bother me, and I’m usually hypersensitive to that sort of moral/emotional anachronism. (I’m not going to argue with you that all the narrators sound more like modern Americans than they would in an ideal world; while Walton’s very good, that’s unavoidable.)
But in this case, Plato is a feminist — women are not supposed to be systematically lesser than men. And Simmea and Klymene have been yanked out of their home contexts, which were certainly not feminist, and where Simmea at least got raped a bunch, and been indoctrinated for a couple of years into Plato’s thinking on this point. They’re generally gung-ho converts to the theories underlying the Just City generally, and might be expected to be particularly attached to the elements of those theories that specifically mean they’re better off and more important than they were in their prior circumstances. Furthermore, this can be expected to be a somewhat touchy issue, because all or almost all of their instructors are faking it — they’re formally adherent to Plato’s thinking, and are going to paying lip service to it, but as shows up in other contexts, they’re not all the way on board.
So Simmea and Klymene could very reasonably be expected to be zealously feminist about this sort of thing, both because they’ve been taught that it’s right, and because it assures them of a level of status that is more than they had at home, but isn’t reliably respected even by their current teachers and peers….
Neville Morley 01.28.16 at 9:09 pm:
@Brad De Long #1: yes, I was wondering about that passage, via Marx’s sarcastic gloss on it (someone else will surely remember the precise quote, but it’s words to the effect of ‘who’d have imagined that we’d get self-acting spindles not to shorten the working day but to lengthen it so that a few people can become most eminent shoe-black manufacturers’) – but didn’t feel that it got developed in the novel as much as it might have been – and then by the second book most of the robots have simply gone.
Brad DeLong 01.28.16 at 9:58 pm:
Karl Marx (1867): Capital vol. I, ch 15, §3B ‘The Prolongation of the Working Day’ https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch15.htm:
’If,’ dreamed Aristotle, the greatest thinker of antiquity:
If every tool, when summoned, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it, just as the creations of Daedalus moved of themselves, or the tripods of Hephaestos went of their own accord to their sacred work, if the weavers’ shuttles were to weave of themselves, then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers, or of slaves for the lords.
And Antipatros, a Greek poet of the time of Cicero, hailed the invention of the water-wheel for grinding corn, an invention that is the elementary form of all machinery, as the giver of freedom to female slaves, and the bringer back of the golden age.
Oh! those heathens! They understood, as the learned Bastiat, and before him the still wiser MacCulloch have discovered, nothing of Political Economy and Christianity. They did not, for example, comprehend that machinery is the surest means of lengthening the working-day. They perhaps excused the slavery of one on the ground that it was a means to the full development of another. But to preach slavery of the masses, in order that a few crude and half-educated parvenus, might become ‘eminent spinners,’ ‘extensive sausage-makers,’ and ‘influential shoe-black dealers,’ to do this, they lacked the bump of Christianity.
Brad DeLong 01.28.16 at 10:25 pm:
And I should bring Paul Krugman onstage:
Paul Krugman: Trekonomics Panel at New York Comic Con: Do we accept the premise of a post-scarcity society?… In Star Trek they have a replicator that can make any thing you want. But it can make any thing you want. Even now, we spend only 30% of our income on goods. We spend the rest–70%–services….
We can imagine a world where all services are provided as well. We have robots or something to do the services. But in order to do the full range of stuff we want they have to be very intelligent. In which case, aren’t those then people? The actual issue is: A world where you have servitors of some kind who will give you everything you want is a world where it’s very hard to tell the difference between servitors and slaves. So I think there’s–arguably–a dark side to the abundance theory.
Jo Walton 01.28.16 at 10:35 pm:
Brad: You’re going to love Necessity…
Brad DeLong 01.28.16 at 10:42 pm:
John Holbo 01.28.16 at 11:15 pm:
Good morning, everyone. Hi, Brad. Good point about the Aristotle quote. Should have caught that myself. Glad to meet you, Jo.
I’ll just address Lizardbreath’s criticism of my criticism. But just briefly, since it’s nothing I want to fight about. (If I feel the character is a bit too modern and you don’t, but usually are sensitive to that sort of thing, maybe it’s right on the line.) My view, per the post is: if Simmea (and Klymene) are good Platonists they should think 1) women aren’t inferior as a class but 2) it’s open to speculation which class lines do make for inferiority. Since 2), then disagreeing with 1), as Apollo evidently does, should not seem like violation of some moral taboo. The hypothesis that all men are gold and all women are merely bronze (and robots should do the silver work, or whatever) should be just one of those fun things Platonists argue about.
I feel a bit bad arguing about it with the author herself present, actually. It’s not like she is going to rewrite the novel to my spec. So it’s like being Socratic about spilled milk, if I’m right. But I do think that Jo’s (if I may call her Jo) choice to exclude a certain class of modern minds from her experimental Republic is interesting and worth thinking through. No Harry Potter fans. I joke about that, but that’s a serious decision, since there could have been Harry Potter fans. We get a mix of moral mind-types from all ages, but not so much from our own. We see the Victorian crossed with the ancient Greek. But we don’t see explicit engagement with 20th century-style critiques of Plato. Eugenics is a really bad idea!
But what am I talking about? I haven’t even read the 2nd novel in the series. Modern life is too busy. I’ll get on it.
LizardBreath 01.28.16 at 11:34 pm:
Since 2), then disagreeing with 1), as Apollo evidently does, should not seem like violation of some moral taboo. The hypothesis that all men are gold and all women are merely bronze (and robots should do the silver work, or whatever) should be just one of those fun things Platonists argue about.
Maybe not a violation of a moral taboo, but something that they’re in a position to take personally, was my point. That is, they’ve got the doctrine they’ve been taught (women are equal) on their side, and they have personal status (as equal citizens of the Just City) at stake and under attack. That seems like a situation where self-righteousness about feminism is pretty well explained, rather than an implausible anachronism.
I mean, the whole situation (being pulled out of a pre-modern slave market and brought to Plato’s Republic) is so wildly counterfactual that it’s hard to solidly defend in any direction what a realistic set of psychological reactions would be. But the line of thought/feeling that gets you to Simmea’s reaction seems pretty clear to me.