Stop the Platonist-Shaming!

It’s not for myself but for my students, and my students to come, that I must speak out.  Questioning conventional wisdom in public is not something that makes a person “immoral” or “atheist” or a “corrupter of youth.”  Too long the cultural momentum has been unquestioned, and it’s time to set some things straight.  Christian writers especially, folks from Brian McLaren to Russ Rohde and Paul Kurts and all sorts of popular-theology writers in between have been posing as superior, showing their own hypocrisy.  At times even scholars as respected as James K.A. Smith and Walter Brueggemann have fallen into this ugly pattern.  But those days are over.  The name-callers are on notice:

  • Just because someone acts in manners that seem “dialectically available,” that doesn’t mean that we have bad morals (though we might well ask what the nature of morality is) or that we’re “asking for” unwanted dialogue.
  • Being seen in public with truths exposed that your ideology prefers to keep hidden doesn’t mean that we’re “intellectually loose.”  We’re just liberated from the old expectations that the mind is only to be exposed in one’s private library or in the classroom.
  • We’re human beings with bodies just like yours (okay, maybe we spend too much time in the library and not enough in the gym), and you need to stop thinking of us as disembodied minds.

The question, I hold, is precisely what it would mean to be “born this way.”

In short, it’s time to stop the Platonist-shaming.

We all know that we’re conditioned, as a culture, to enforce this ugly double-standard: self-styled “entrepreneurs” get praised for their public “thinking outside the box,” but Christian book-writers and bloggers alike feel free to speak in blanket terms about “Hellenism” and “Platonism” and in general “Greek thought,” perpetuating the culture of subjecting those searching for truth, beauty, and goodness to public shame, calling them “idealists” or dismissing their “dead white male” tastes or, even worse, referring to us as “Platonists.”  But it’s time to start thinking not only about our own experiences but the kind of world we want our daughters and sons to step into, if they want some day to ask unconventional questions.  Now we’re taking that ugly term back, and we’re calling you out.

Platonist-shamer!  Platonist-shamer!  Platonist-shamer!!!

(Of course, throwing around the title “Platonist” to name those whose questions are not socially acceptable, though usually not precise historically, is not actually a term of abuse that has led to violence against philosophically-minded young people.  I hate to think that someone, some day, might coin some other “-shaming” lingo that gave middle-aged liberals license to call young women something truly hurtful and dangerous in online rants under the guise of scoring rhetorical points against enemies of their pet ideologies.  But I’m almost certain that would never happen.)

The message couldn’t be clearer for those who would want to enjoy their own minds and enjoy the feeling that our minds have their own beauty: you need to save your dialogues for your “private” life, and if we have the temerity to flaunt our follow-up questions in public, then we somehow deserve the unwanted intrusions into conversation, the hungry looks of people who can’t see past our intellects, who treat us as if we were “disembodied intellects.”  (Some are even so crass as to say that we think of ourselves that way.)  No, no, and no!  Those of us who have become victims of “date dialogue,” who have been publicly attacked for being “impractical,” and especially those accosted in public by aggressive diatribes, are not “asking for it.”  It’s your responsibility to engage in consensual intellectual exchanges, and we need to teach our own children that “I prefer not to” is as good for us as it is for Bartleby.

The days of Platonist-shaming are coming to an end, and it’s because we’ve started to call this culture into question.  (It’s what we do, after all.)  You’ve seen us in our “Platonist Walks.”  (Actually, we just walk to class with books in hand, but that sometimes itself draws disapproving looks.  Some days one just can’t win.)  You know that we’ve experienced what it is to liberate our intellects, and we’re not going back underground so that you’re not tempted to dangerous thoughts.

We’re going to ask our questions, and if that makes you uncomfortable, perhaps it’s time to know thyself.

1 comments
Charles H
Charles H

You sound like a dirty platonist.

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  1. […] of discussions, and I studiously avoid Internet neologisms that sometimes arise out of the same (though I’m not above lampooning them), but while teaching the Sermon on the Mount in conjunction with Plato’s Republic last year […]