Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Picking Ourselves a Pilot

In Book VI of Plato’s Republic, we see Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus beginning a discussion about who the rulers of their city should be. After a discussion of who is a philosopher and who isn’t, they agree that they must now have true philosophers as leaders. Socrates’ depiction of a sailing ship as a micro chasm of the city is a very powerful image in showing how leaders come to have power, and the concept of gaining power illustrated from this metaphor of the ship and pilot is a very relevant idea to politics in the modern day.
In describing the interpersonal dynamics of the crew and a deaf captain aboard a sailing ship, Socrates clearly illustrates how certain people gain power, and how those people are then viewed by the public or as Socrates calls them, the ruled. The pilot of the ship is the most qualified at reading the winds, the currents of the ocean, and the weather in order to navigate and run the ship smoothly and successfully through the rough water. However, because he has some physical handicaps, each member of the crew feels that they should be the pilot because they each want to hold that position of power and prestige aboard the ship. Their desire for this position is purely a desire for the status attained by being the pilot, not an actual desire to rule because they want to what is right for the rest of the crew and the ship. Even though they do not have the best intentions for the ship in mind, they do have their own interests in mind, and this motivates them to work hard to convince others they should be the pilot. In tricking the qualified pilot and becoming pilot themselves, these crew members are now in a position where they are not knowledgeable about running the ship and are not effective leaders. Their only perceived success is in becoming the pilot and giving off an image of confidently handling the ship, not actually being a skilled pilot.
The concepts shown by Socrates provide a basic cautionary tale about people seeking power, and those who will be ruled. The situation shows someone rising to power through deception and flash, but without any actual skills or abilities to lead effectively. The physically handicapped pilot was cast aside and marginalized in the running of the ship, even though he was the most skilled at the job of being pilot. Because he did not play the game of politics, however, he was replaced by a more agreeable, presentable, and convincing sailor who wanted to be pilot for their own gain.
This situation is much more relevant than it may seem at first read. Although in its context in The Republic, Socrates is using this image as a tool for knowing more about the philosophers they will pick as leaders for the ideal city, this concept of who actually becomes a leader is very important to our daily lives. In modern day politics, we often see the most flashy, outspoken, social, and emotionally convincing candidate run with vast support from the public, and often win, even though he is not the most qualified candidate on a skill-set basis. However, the ruled can often be deceived by people who really want to obtain power, and this is exactly what happens to the crew of the ship whose qualified pilot is replaced with a sailor who has his own gain on his mind.
A power grabbing situation as we see it on Socrates’ ship in The Republic happened yesterday during our class elections. Originally designed to be a system in which students can represent the interests of their class and clearly voice the opinions of members of their core group to the faculty and other classes, the student council elections are often filled with candidates running out of personal interest. While it is not the same for everyone what tempting personal benefit stands to be gained from having this position, many people see it as an opportunity for themselves. Instead of running with the best interests of the group in mind, many people in the class wide elections run because they just want to do it and be known as a part of the student government. However, when they are put into this position, it may become clear that being part of a government is not something they are qualified at, or they may be able to hide their incompetence by burying their faults into a complicated system of bureaucracy. As a member of the ruled, but very possibly in the near future being one of the pilots of the student body, I just hope that we were able to make the right choices in terms of substance and skill, not based on subjective opinions of people.


At 2:45 PM, Blogger Andrea Peterson said...

Open source needs governance
Open source: Sun Microsystems' opens source chief Simon Phipps says good governance should be templated and promoted throughout the open source community.
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