The Philosopher Plato was skeptical of the institution of democracy. So, too, was his teacher and mentor, Socrates. We read in history that in 399 BC the great man, then aged 28, left Athens for a brief sojourn in Syracuse, following the killing of his teacher for his criticism of democratic government. He was concerned that the democrats might kill him, too.
Socrates had refused to run into exile even when certain death beckoned and everybody – including the government – tried to help him escape. He preferred, instead, to die for his beliefs. The dividend in Plato’s comparative cowardice was his writing, which basically gives us Socrates’ original thoughts.
In an age when we fall over one another with the pronouncements of “democracy” on our lips, we must wonder why these great minds were critical of democracy. We read in Prof T Z Lavine’s fast-paced book From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest, “The many, Plato believed, can never know what is good for the state. They lack the necessary level of intelligence and training. They are concerned only with their immediate level of pleasure and gratification. And they are swayed by unstable volatile emotions which render them susceptible to clever demagogues or mob passions.”
Plato believed good people would find life impossible under such a state. Having spent much time reflecting on the decadence of public morality, the philosopher concluded that such important matters as who governs should never be left to the whims of ignorant mobs.
Nor should a mobster be allowed to rule. Only those with knowledge of true justice and the best form of government should rule. “Until philosophers become kings, or kings philosophers – with the same person uniting within himself knowledge and power – would just society be possible,” Lavine recalls. That was close to 2,500 years ago.
Does our democratic practice in the 21st century AD prove these ancient great minds right? From Brexit and Trump, to France’s close brush with democratic disaster these past weeks, we seem to demonstrate that the mobs rarely know what is good for them.
Men and women adept at controlling minds of the wretched of the earth have now perfected the art of manipulation. We read of firms that describe themselves as “psychological warfare firms” as having been behind Brexit and Trump’s ascent to power in the United States last year. The psychological warmongers collect hundreds of millions of shillings for making sure that the worst choice possible carries the day.
The Guardian newspaper, as quoted in the local press this week, says that one such a firm collected the equivalent of Sh705 million for the Brexit assignment. That is enough money to pay for 41 million packets of maize floor in Kenya, at the present price of Sh170 per two kg packet. And the country says it is hungry.
Even more horrendous is the news that two of the global “psychological warfare” organisations are in Kenya, working with a political outfit to give Kenya a Brexit and Trump experience. Jointly, they will be paid enough money to buy close to 100 million packets of maize flour. Do you begin to understand why the cost of food is now impossible in Kenya? It is the politics, stupid. A political giant spends 100 million packets of unga on offshore sourced propaganda?
Why is the cost of living in Kenya so high? It is the politics, stupid. Last year the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission issued campaign-financing guidelines, limiting spending to Sh15 billion for a political party. A presidential candidate may spend up to Sh5.2 billion. This is to say a party may spend at least 8.8 billion packets of maize flour on the campaign.
A presidential candidate is going to spend at least 300 million packets of maize flour on the elections. The two leading presidential contenders, President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, will spend at least the equivalent of 600 million packets of maize flour on this year’s presidential campaign. Voters are the same everywhere. The Platonic crowd in Kenya cannot understand why it is starving. The maize flour, the milk and sugar have been rounded up to pay for airborne choppers and billboards.
Paulo Freire has said of situations such as ours, “Oppression is domesticating.” The psychology of the oppressed is domesticated and subordinated to that of the oppressor. In the volume titled Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire tells us that the oppressed, therefore, learns to love the oppressor with amazing passion.
Beyond this, the oppressed fear freedom. Freire further observes, “Men and women rarely admit their fear of freedom.” This helps them to sustain the status quo, at their own expense. That is why those crying about the cost of living are also nervously waiting to vote for even the higher prices that will follow the elections.
Meanwhile, foreign experts are here at your expense, to help you further towards your damnation. As George Orwell concludes after the unbearable torture of Winston Smith in the book Nineteen-Eighty-Four, you are miserable because you love Big Brother, the author of all your problems. And Big Brother is watching you, helping you to love him even more.
- The writer is a publishing editor, [email protected]