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Parmenides in Paris

Updated on August 22, 2015
Paris during Parmenides's tenure;  Or perhaps Hemingway's...
Paris during Parmenides's tenure; Or perhaps Hemingway's...

He was a jovial man

with a warm smile who was supposed to be an accountant and it was for accounting services that I was seeing him….but something compelled me, after thanking him for translating a passage from the fragments of Parmenides, to dwell more so on matters of culture rather than numbers.

I don’t know what compelled him, thereafter to write an article titled “The Lost Generation”—was Parmenides an exemplar of the lost generation, or was it I? The former lived long before WWI and Hemingway (who coined the term) and I, much too late to be part of a ‘generation’ — unless of course, I would be part of that English speaking generation that fled nationalist Quebec in the 70s.

I neither fought in World War I,

nor did I flee down the 401. I did rent from a close friend of Hemingway’s landlord when I was living in Paris — the first time, but unless I soon win the Nobel Prize and move to Cuba the resemblance is a tenuous one at that, especially since my prose hardly resembles that of ‘Papa-Hemingway.’ And, since I don’t know anyone like F. Scott Fitzgerald, it is not too likely, that I will get an appointment with the president of (now, was it Scribners? Or Schuster?) and walk out with a two book contract…

No, my writing is terse and philosophical and compelled by music and meaning rather than by alcohol. And even though my grand-mother did make two suicide attempts, I’m not in Hemingway’s (suicide) class. But indeed, I would prefer to live in Cuba rather than Greece these days, and I would prefer to write and think rather than work in the mindless society we have created in the West where none of the real issues are being dealt with.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald
Hemingway and Fitzgerald

Parmenides championed something

we now translate as ‘being.’ Unfortunately, being is only a verb in English, and not a member of the “Hypostatic Table of the Elements,” that would rival chemistry’s table. We don’t have the rest of Parmenides’s poem so as to know what Being would include, nor do we now think like Plato who would populate it with Ideas — not to be confused with the modern notion of concepts.

Nor do we know which constitutions Parmenides authored — his real-time job — but we do know that the Greeks invented everything in an age when there was no copyright nor patents. They also created art, some of it stolen, most of it displayed abroad in the museums of other peoples who feel entitled to forfeit paying any royalties to the descendants of those Greek artists.

I am reminded of an Australian engineer who got royalties recently for inventing the wheel (Oh! Sorry. For patenting the wheel). If the loophole in the law had not been ‘filled in,’ Australian Greeks perhaps would be able to patent other ancient discoveries and send the proceeds to the cash strapped Greek government. ( Since there were no ‘holes’ in Being, I seriously doubt that Parmenides could have written the Australian constitution.)

I’ve been seriously thinking of late

that if our children had been educated by someone as brilliant as Parmenides — or, say, his student Zeno — they would be able to do their parent’s jobs better than they. And since, children’s education from grade one to twelve really amounts to only one year of learning, if we educated our children in the year preceding puberty when their concentration is at its peak — say 12 — then they could start working at age 13, the sooner they replace their parents the better for our world.

By this we could solve one of the great problems that Plato had; namely, how to inaugurate a Republic run by Philosopher-Kings. We don’t have to kidnap the children — who would be kings — as he proposed, nor do we have to sell the ‘constitution’ to a young tyrant who might turn around and throw us in prison (as Dionysius did to Plato). No siirreee! All we have to do is implant a school curriculum laced with the ideas of Parmenides and Zeno and let it do its job on the minds of our children.

Parmenides's student, Zeno
Parmenides's student, Zeno

We could call this

the “found generation” as opposed to their parents, the lost one, who would do well to stay home and study Parmenides, Zeno and Plato — especially those platonic dialogues featuring the ‘Eleatic stranger.’

Obviously, 13-year-old children could not be expected to run the world in all its complexity — that would take a few years to achieve. In the interim, the world could be run by centenarians doubling temporarily as philosopher-kings, since at their age, they would hardly have the same nefarious invested interests as their children or grand-children who would have already reached the age of sin.

I know what you’re thinking dear reader, would there be enough centenarians in the world to fulfill this mandate? I would not be proposing it if this were not the case. Modern living, medicine and sedentary life-styles have greatly increased the number of persons living past their centenary birthday. So this is easily doable.

The centenarian generation
The centenarian generation

Again, I know what you’re thinking,

dear reader. What would all those grown ups be studying at home all day? What’s so special about the pre-Socratics and Socrates’s student?

Indeed this question begs at least one example from a recent conversation I had with a young girl canvassing for our last election:

She claimed that I should join her party for many reasons, of which one was that her party was feminist. I asked her to enlighten me about what was so great about feminism, to which she proclaimed that her party and its ideology promoted the equality between men and women. I asked her, in fine Socratic fashion to define ‘equality’ to which she retorted by the example of “a women who achieves parity with men by climbing the social ladder.”

And indeed our own constitution in Canada protects the freedom of all Canadians to climb the social ladder though it’s rendered in more ornate language. Now it doesn’t take a 30 minute dialogue with Socrates to see a contradiction embedded here. Any attempt to climb the social ladder to become equal with somebody higher up than myself is a denial of equality not an endorsement of it; both of the a priori equal dignity we are born with and the so-called equality we must achieve by becoming un-equal with those we leave behind (if we don’t kill them outright by political machinations) to become ‘equal’ with those among whom we arrive at higher up the ladder.

And it was not only the idea of equality that was and still is self-contradictory — all universals are. The whole point of the Platonic dialogues as first year curriculum of the Academy was to lay waste to the propensity of the mind to establish ‘false’ unexamined universals, which is why in the so-called early dialogues Socrates gives no answers. He only destroys them. After that true learning can begin.


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