The other day, Richard Dawkins had a go at Plato:
It’s not the first time. Dawkins has a thing for picking on Plato. He said this back in March:
For some years now there’s been some people who have written pieces encouraging folks to engage in “self-care” and other people who have picked at this concept from the left. The pro self-care pieces tend to give people practical life advice for dealing with the stress and anxiety of modern life. The anti self-care pieces point out that self-care puts the burden of coping with the failures of modern capitalism on the individual. We experience higher incidences of stress and mental illness because our economic system leaves us in precarious positions. We fear being outcompeted for an ever scarcer number of good, professional class jobs. This pushes us into an arms race to polish our resumes. The more we try to look good, the more everyone else feels they must try to look good. So anti self-care pieces frame the practice as a luxury open only to those who are already reasonably secure–it doesn’t address the fundamental structural causes of precarity and it doesn’t rescue people from those forces.
These are the usual arguments surrounding self-care. But today I want to make a different argument–I want to claim that self-care is itself a celebration of a behaviour ancient political theorists rightly associated with slavery.
On the left, we care a lot about equality. But we really, really don’t agree on what that means. Some of us want everyone to be an aristocrat. Some of us want everyone to be a peasant. Some of us want everyone to be a worker. Some of us want everyone to be middle class. Some of us want everyone to spend some time doing all of these things. We don’t talk about this difference very much, but it seems kind of important, because these proposals are not at all the same thing.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how some left-wing organisations act like churches–they are communities in which people come together to develop and refine their understandings of the good rather than strategic operations for achieving discrete political goals in the world. A few people wrote replies to my piece. The most interesting and recurrent counterargument I saw alleges that it’s fine for the left to be a church because people enjoy the sense of community churches provide and like the opportunity to come together with like-minded people to develop their understanding of what it means to be good to one another. These people deny that we ought to prioritise strategic efficacy, that it’s at least as important to become good people, and that left-wing organisations facilitate this personal growth. I disagree with this priority on the personal because I think it’s egoistic. But today I want to make an additional, larger argument–I want to argue that churches and other communities are not good devices for pursuing the good, and that the conclusions communities reach about the good are very likely to be deeply wrong.