Something about Plato’s Cave and life

I

Previously he had been looking merely at phantoms; now he is nearer to the true nature of being.

Plato

They [fame, wealth] are, for the most part, phantoms projected by our culture onto the walls of our fragile and flawed minds.

Alain de Botton (explaining Plato)

II

White people are annoying.  I should know.  I’m white.  We just can’t seem to sit down, shut up, and listen.  If someone comes back into our cave and says “turn around (bright eyes)” we shout them down, dig in our heels and keep staring at the shadows on the wall.

Even when you show statistics that are pretty blunt people don’t generally draw any profound conclusions.  Students in my Year 9 class were looking at obesity statistics.  The easy-to-find stats go like this:

  • 32% of NZers are obese
  • 50% of Māori adults are obese
  • 67% of Pacific adults are obese
  • Poor people are 1.5 times more likely to be obese than rich people

When asked what this meant most (not all) of my students couldn’t make any particular connections between any of these things.  It takes a little maths I suppose.  And a little appreciation that the final point about wealth sits alongside the statistics about race.

Even if we do get there though the next question – “why are so many Māori and Pacific people poor?” – doesn’t generally get asked, and the answer to that – if people are ready for it – is how you turn into someone who turns around in the cave and walks out into the light.

III

Which is only one way of looking at things.  Another way of looking at it would be this way:

(A special shout out for the hairy man bottom.)

I’m not going to be the health professional who goes and tells Lizzo about her ideal weight.

I talked about Nicki Minaj in class on Friday because why not.  She has a new album coming.  Her last one brought us Anaconda.  It’s funny.  It’s sort of sexy (in a terrifying way).  Is it empowering?  Yes.  For some people.  Minaj is definitely in charge.  This quote though, from the book Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is what I always think:

Is it liberating  – and if she thinks it’s liberating has she simply accepted the ideology of the oppressor?

Which is: (1) a thought that ruins everything, and (b) something worth thinking about.

I err on the side of “accepted the ideology of the oppressor”; not only in how women are using themselves as sex objects for male viewing pleasure, but also capitalism.  Like the latest Beyonce and Jay-Z which pays homage to the status of Western art, and beautiful clothes and jewels; or how Cardi B’s rise to wealth and fame is celebrated.  I don’t know.  Looks a lot like greed and vanity to me.

Is it aspirational?  Should we aspire to that?  To be physically perfect, to be excruciatingly wealthy, to have a voice that only speaks in declamatory sound bites?  Wealth erases culture and race.

Yeah, yeah, sit down white man.

IV

I went out last night.  To a nice restaurant.  To see a band.  It was good.  The restaurant, the show, the company.

My mind is always pacing around though trying to wreck things.  My mind, once it notices something, won’t let it go.  Earlier in the day I had been at Eleanor’s netball game.  If you look around the netball courts on Saturday morning you will see an Aotearoa I am happy with.  It’s ethnically diverse.  Very.

Going out at night isn’t though.  The restaurant was Pākehā.  Almost entirely.  So was the gig.  Segregation always worries me.  It shouldn’t really be that just white people like Nadia Reid.  I don’t think music works like that.  It’s how it looks though at a show.  Once I went to see Mulatu Astatke.  It seemed a shame the audience was so white.  I guess I noticed it so much because I was teaching two Ethiopian-Kiwi students at the time and I thought how cool it would be if they and their mum were there.

Too expensive.

Back to money again.  In a society where everything is valued by money it’s easy to see past the rhetoric and understand what the racial makeup of poverty and the prison population and diabetes and NCEA fail rates means.

Well, “easy” is probably the wrong word.

V

Nadia Reid wasn’t that good.  The support act, Anthonie Tonnon, was.

Nadia is sitting too much in the pocket.  The guitarist plays the ringing spacious notes.  Nadia strums and sings.  They are loud.  They are quiet.  I can’t quite make out what she is saying.  It sounds intelligent.  I love it.  For a while.  Then it goes on and on.  The pace not changing.  The timing always the same.  The voice in the pocket.  The guitar ringing.  The chords in agreement.

Out of the pocket.  Disagreement.  Out of time.  Hopefully she can find her way there.  Else lies the way of anonymity from which we are all born and return.

In the middle of the concert I thought about all the songs I have written that I have now forgotten how to play.  They were nothing.  They were something to me.  Gone though.  That’s what I was thinking in the middle of the concert.  Something like this:

You can have it in your hands, pouring out of you in thick jagging bolts like arterial blood from a cut vein, unstoppable creative energy: and it can just end.  

VI

To me the Adam and Eve story is very simple.  It is about the moment when you are running around as a child and realise you are naked.  Or the moment you realise your parents are wrong about something.  Or the moment you realise your parents will die.  Or that you will die.  Or.

All of those things.

The mind though keeps disguising truth from you.  Have a drink, listen to a song, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Marlon Williams, everything will be ok.  There is no legacy to oppression.  There is no suffering.  Listen.  How the bass note tugs and dips and the singer rises into his falsetto?  Have a another drink buddy boy.  Rainbow, unicorn sisterhood of love is just around the next corner.

The turning from the shadows and walking into the sunlit highlands where the sunlit highlands have neither sun, nor height, nor help for pain.

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John-Paul

I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō