Village Theater, Westwood, March 5, 2014
- Sir! You can't pass here. The intersection is closed.
- You can pass.
- What do you think of this? All these kid trying to get to school, finding you and dozens of other guards dressed in banker's suits blocking sidewalks and streets.
- Girls! Street Closed! You have to pass on the other side.
- Can we J-walk?
- Yes, but be careful.
- No! You girls are too small. We're instituting a height rule, drivers behind all those sport utility vehicles can't see you. Cross at the corner.
- I know this isn't the way it should be. This is my third job. I'm struggling.
- Where are you from?
- Chicago. I came here six months ago. For the first two months I slept in my car, saved up five thousand dollars so I could get an apartment. My late night job is guarding a downtown parking lot. The job is about taking care of everyone who's slipped in to sleep, I clear them out like zombies after the apocalypse. People in government think that if they raise the minimum wage to ten dollars an hour I'd be rich. I just survive. I'm thinking about going home. Go back to school, the University of Chicago.
- Good idea. Get away from here. The people in the limos will let you die without a thought. They couldn't care less about you.
- Why don't they care? What can they do with five houses, ten cars?
- Why should they care? Why should they place importance in the life of a stranger? What is it to them? Should we all care about each other?
- Hell, yes.
- Can you convince anyone of that? What would you say? You aren't part of their lives, how are you going to convince them to make you part of their lives? What have you to offer?
- I'm a human being like they are.
- Not enough.
- We live in the same society.
- Society. Once you start arguing about better and worse society you are seeing society as a thing to be made better or worse. Try to convince someone in society to make it a better thing, and you bring to mind other things that person could be making better instead. Better possessions, better protected family, etc. Why should they care about public things more than private things?
- What's the answer?
- The answer is as old as democracy itself. People don't care about a public thing called society. People get together when they see cooperation makes each individually more powerful.
- They're thinking of themselves, not society.
- Right. We're on our way to an answer. Now I'll ask you something else. Do you know what power is?
- No. Do you?
- Power comes from self observation, self knowledge. We look at what we have done in the past, put our different kinds of actions into different categories, we look at the different kinds of results also put into different categories. For Plato, the best kind of actions were those that lead you to be able to love the beautiful. It was best to teach yourself to do those things which put you in a relation to the world we call happiness, a general readiness and confidence that problems would and could be taken care within a constant appreciation of the beauty of life. The great discovery was that people gave each other the power to be happy. Conversation and cooperation taught them to love beauty.
- We shouldn't try to make society beautiful but our lives beautiful.
- It is beautiful to know the alternatives. To know that acquiring things makes you feel safe in their protection and inattentive to, sometimes even antagonist to the important things in life when choice between them becomes necessary. It is beautiful too to know that attachment to the public thing of society brings exactly the same dangers*. It is beautiful to exercise the power to chose between alternative lives based on knowing. But to someone not exercising that power of choice, to someone unacquainted with the beautiful possibilities of life, then, to get back to your question, since society is just another kind of possession it is natural that such a person prefers his own things. Let's imagine though that this person understood in theory the power that people give each other to be happy. Would he then be interested in the suffering of the unknown people around him?
- Why not?
- He doesn't need the power gained from cooperating with you. His money protects him from you and he does plenty and enough cooperation among his own people. The difference between him and you is he doesn't want to cooperate with just anyone. And in fact he doesn't really believe you do either, only circumstances force you to pretend you do. But perhaps turning his back on you harms his ability to know himself and so exercise his own power privately. Maybe in his private life he needs to be continually reminded, needs the model, the piece of art made by helping a stranger on his way to happiness. What do you think?
- Needs me for what?
- Maybe founding the power of cooperation on this division between yours and mine is no power at all.
- Why not?
- Because maybe every glance and thought of "not mine and not my problem", each act of turning away turns us back to the weaker alternative we observed when we looked at ourselves. Sets us back on the path of fearful repetition established by hiding within the same things among the same people.
- Is that true?
- We have good reason to think it is. Even a harmless lie plays havoc with memory**. If it is true then we can answer our question. We know why they don't care. They would care if they knew the danger to themselves of letting themselves not care, but once they have set down on that path of not caring they are carried away, desperately holding onto private things. Inattention and fear of the public replaces sight of the beautiful and power of cooperation. Strangers are either feared or invisible, they have nothing to offer. It is better for us to care about each other, but to care we have to know ourselves, and when we don't care, we stop knowing ourselves and can't care.
- You're a real talker. You're good, I never heard this before. Say it again.
- They don't care because they can't care, it's futile to ask them to do what they can't do.
- And they run our society.
- Ignore society. It is a question of our own power, of who we cooperate with and who we don't.
From Beverly Hills Stories
* Danger of totalitarianism. See: How To Read Plato's Republic
** See The Mathematics Of Stupidity and Machines That Think