Kids, The Republic, and the Power of Story
According to Plato we should prevent children from hearing “any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons… For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal.” As a casual person who’s written causal tales, this sentiment has caused me a moment of reflection. As a philosophy major, I came to like Plato. A lot. And not just because I have a thing for togas and an aversion to hemlock.
I suspect Plato was purposefully being ironic when he wrote those words in The Republic. If we could govern ourselves on reason alone (and achieve a purely rational republic in the process) our cringe-worthy gotcha candidate debates would be less TMZ and more C-SPAN. Possibly even C-SPAN 2. But the world isn’t going to allow itself to be organized along purely rational lines.
So all those storytellers, poets, and musicians in ancient Greece are simply today’s campaign engineers, meme creators, and TikTok posters. We are like children in our republic: unable to parse emotion from reason, quick to pick sides and throw tantrums, easily swayed by the authority figure promising rewards or threatening punishment. I think Plato would be in favor of the censorship now being hotly debated across our social media platforms as he believed the freedom democracy enables is the very thing that threatens its existence. Talk about a high-wire act.
So I interpret Plato’s warning as we adults need to grow up a little (maybe a lot) and stop believing all the fantasy being told to us as facts. Kids, on the other hand, should never be dissuaded from reading and taking the allegorical into their minds and hearts. I would be quite happy if my children pondered the words of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings when he said, “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.”