virus: KMO quotes Plato

KMO prime (
Tue, 22 Oct 1996 23:04:30 EDT

I'm concerned that objections and defenses of Richard Brodie's three
levels of thinking have spun themselves into such a protracted, and to my
mind unproductive, thread. This three-tiered taxonomy is a model to be
used when applicable and set aside when it is not useful. Like any
abstract system for classifying phenomena, there are borderline cases
that don't fit neatly into any of the proposed categories. Some people
seem to take such cases as proof that the system is bunk and those who
employ it are simple-minded or dishonest. The cases which do not fit
neatly into any category merely demonstrate that the system is a man-made
and that the borders are defined not by nature but by human interest.

The levels of thought model is not a scientific hypothesis to be
confirmed or refuted on the basis of empirical evidence. Wade charges
that it " sounds like parlor-talk intellectual pigeonholing." I'm not
sure what "parlor-talk" means. It sounds like it refers to something
done indoors, perhaps in an ivory-tower safely insulated from the "real
world." I seem to recall having discussed the topic in a moving car
once. As to the intellectual pigeonholing charge, that's exactly what it
is, but so is any system of classification. The labels, 'slacker',
'nerd', 'slut', 'nay-sayer', 'dreamer', 'over-intellectualizing tight
ass', and 'fashion slave' all mark intellectual pigeon holes. These
categories are not "natural kinds" of any sort. We make them up and put
people in them, but for each of those arbitrary pigeon holes we all know
someone who has earned the label, and if we were to describe that person
with the label we would be conveying useful information about them.

Richard Barbrook, Aaron Lynch's Brain Tennis counterpart, is the
quintessential Level 2 thinker. He can't see memetics as an alternate
framework to be used in applicable contexts and replaced by more useful
frameworks as conditions change. He sees it as incompatible with the
model he's accepted as the Truth, and so he has identified memetics with
a familiar concept which he sees as being safely refutable. "People are
free to make their own choices," he reasons, "and memes supposedly force
people to act in a particular way. Demonic possession involves entities
which invade people's minds and force them to do things they wouldn't
have done otherwise, so memetics is like demonic possession. Demonic
possession is mystical hogwash, therefore memetics is mystical hogwash
dressed up in scientific jargon."

That's level 2 thought, folks.

Plato was a level 2 thinker, and in book IX of the Republic (which, at
long last, I'm free to quote now that I'm in my new apartments and have
unpacked my books) he very clearly draws the distinction between level 1
and level 2 thinking. In the passage I'm about to transcribe Plato (in
the guise of Socrates) has just laid out three states of being. At the
bottom is unsatisfied desire, a step up from that is the temporary
satiety which comes from indulging bodily desires, and the highest level
is the true pleasure which results from the perception of the Truth which
is only possible via the exercise of reason.

"Therefore, those who have no experience of reason or virtue, but are
rather always occupied with feasts and the like, are brought down and
then back up to the middle, as it seems, and wander in this way
throughout their lives, never reaching beyond this to what is truly
higher up. never looking up at it or being brought up to it. and so they
aren't filled with that which really is and never taste any stable or
pure pleasure. Instead, they always look down at the ground like cattle,
and with their heads bent over the dinner table, they feed fatten, and
fornicate. To outdo others in these things, they kick and butt them with
iron horns and hooves, killing each other, because their desires are

I think I could make the case that Aristotle was a level 3 thinker, but
that will have to wait for another post.

Coming Soon: Kellogg's Raisin Bran

Take care. -KMO