Plato’s Retweet: Plato’s Retreat To The Retreat of Aristotle

My first thought was “This is dancing?”

Free-style dancing.

Free-style dancing.

It brought back to me all the thoughts I have had over the years at weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties. When the “adults” rise to dance after being badgered by the emcees, bandleader or DJ they perform strange rhythmic motions lacking any sense of precision. 

This is yet another “blessing” ma ma ma my generation has given the world: the dance floor of spastic atomized individuals. 

It is troubling to realize that what we all take for granted, as normal would have been shockingly weird not just to our grandparents, or great-grandparents, but to everyone in every society that preceded us within the grand panoply of Western Civilization!
I do not begrudge President Obama the pleasantry of society on a summer’s night. It is political knavery to make an issue of his dancing while chaotic Mesopotamia descends into, well… into more Mesopotamian chaos. Communication technology to connect him to anyone anywhere anytime renders his actual locality irrelevant. I imagine FDR enjoyed society while waging WW2 across two oceans and four continents. 

But it is the dancing that aroused my attention. This is the President of the United States of America. The grace of General, and then President George Washington on the dance floor is legendary. Certainly the Francophiles Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were adept at the latest European dance styles. John Adams the cranky old Puritan lacked grace but knew the steps. As probably Abraham Lincoln was able to waltz or minuet Mary Todd Lincoln clumsily yet serviceably around the inaugural balls. 

There were actual dances that conformed to actual steps, which had to be learned. It is only ma-ma-ma-my ge-ge-generation that discovered that dancing must be an ecstatic Dionysian experience of release and abandonment to the throbbing music. 

I recall the snide commentary about our new style dancing made by those oldsters over thirty. “Like rutting animals.” “Barbaric and tribalistic.” And surely someone with intellectual pretensions must have sniffed out loud the phrase “ecstatic Dionysian”.  We however thought they were just square.  What did they know?

So now, we the parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles at the weddings and B’nai Mitzvah parties are sat at balloon festooned tables.   With hip hop music loud enough to make even the water in the crystal glasses dance we lean forward and shout, “So I hear your new summer house was broken into?”  And the look of “what did you say?” elicits a louder repetition of the question; the question the answer of which is of minimal interest to begin with!

Strained conversation with faces seen only at similar “parties” or funerals becomes thankfully unnecessary as well as impossible, so we turn to look at the dance floor.
OMG! Could it be? It is the Bar Mitzvah girl twerking with a professional party facilitator. Didn’t she just finish telling us how important her Jewish values were going to be to her entire life? Who knew she knew how to so faithfully mime the movements of copulation? Who knew? (The trendies love to ask.)
Free-style, just moving with the music has replaced formal ballroom dancing; with the latter now becoming more of a competitive sport on a par with say ice-skating duets. Much as bicycle riding has been transformed from the means of independent transportation for kids to a dedicated activity in and of itself, the pleasure of the social dance is now just another hobby.
“Dancing” is a category, just as “Music” is a category. I personally had played around with guitars off and on for years. I wanted to learn to play the guitar. In retrospect I failed at becoming a real guitarist because I never learned to play particular songs. I erroneously believed in a Platonic category “Guitar Playing” that could be learned without learning particular songs.   This is the equivalent of dancing without any concrete form. To generalize even further, it is like the category of “Learning”, without the benefit of particular knowledge. Further it is this Platonic metaphysic that underlies most of the worst of the illiberal post-Moderns. How often do they speak, think and act as if the categories we devise have an actual existence, and can be handled as if they were physical objects?
The great debates in the political sphere are predominantly between those who treat categories as real things and those who do not: Plato vs. Aristotle. The example that comes to mind is Economics. The phrase “the economy” is the name of a category. Categorical names are mere abstractions. “The Economy” is shorthand for the entirety of all human trading; not the sum of all transactions, but all transactions, EACH one. “The Economy” is not a real thing. All the debate about using Government to effect the Economy is but Platonic scribbling. It is dangerous to confuse categories with particular objects that have an independent existence. There has never been a time when I desired to do an economic transaction. If I waited until I felt like it I would be waiting as long as I waited to learn guitar without playing particular songs. The Economy does not exist outside of my deciding to buy a quart of milk.
I don’t care if the President is dancing. It is a matter of “optics”. And “optics” in this new political sense is by definition form over substance. It is pathetic that the Media now demand the President to mind his optics!
I do care that the President appears to be as casual as a beachgoer on the dance floor. The conceit that one can dance IN GENERAL without bothering to learn the particular steps (upon which of course, individual expression may embellish within certain parameters) is the Plato in the President.
Plato is the father of mysticism.  In our time he is the father of Marx.  Aristotle is the father of science and the particularities of all existence.  He is the father of the Moderns.  The Modern Age forced Plato’s Retreat.  The Post -Moderns are forcing Aristotle’s retreat.

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