Tag: philosophy

A Modern Ring of Gyges

I’ve been thinking about human behavior lately.  In Plato’s Republic he tells a story of the Ring of Gyges.  In the tale a man named Gyges is given a ring that makes him invisible by adjusting it.  Gyges then arranges to be a messenger for the King.  Arriving at the palace he uses his powers of invisibility to seduce the queen and help her murder the King, making himself King.

The point of the story is summarized by Glaucon in the Republic:

“And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.

For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.”

Socrates disagrees with Glaucon saying (summarized via wikipedia)” the man who abused the power of the Ring of Gyges has in fact enslaved himself to his appetites, while the man who chose not to use it remains rationally in control of himself and is therefore happy”

So Glaucon thinks without social constructs people would be unjust.  Socrates thinks he will chose just behavior out of mental health and happiness.

Here’s what made me think of this…road rage.  Is not road rage an example of the Ring of Gyges?  You would never exhibit such behavior in a face-to-face conversation with another human being but being in a sense invisible (or at least having invisible behavior) excuses the unjust response.

I think a lot of our modern world has become a Ring of Gyges experience.  Almost anything online can be done invisibly, allowing people to be far more mean and hateful than they might ever be in a social situation.  The other day I had a comment on my goodreads review that was brutal.  Here a human being I don’t know said I was ‘too ignorant to understand intelligent literature’ and followed it by more slander.  I have pretty thick skin but it bothered even me.  Part of the reason why I made this blog so open and honest is to avoid a Gyges experience.  If I was going to embrace social media it would be the true me, not some invisible, made up version of me.

And yet, the invisibility can bring out the positive.  I have had so much positive reinforcement from people I don’t know, have not met, nor likely to ever meet online and on this blog. I think Glaucon is wrong that ‘all men believe injustice is more profitable’.  I think a healthy group do but I do believe there are enough people who would use the ring for good that the world has hope- whether it is for Socrates somewhat selfish motives or true altruism, it doesn’t matter a great deal, good behavior would still result.

I’m reminded of an incident in college.  I worked for a teriyaki/sub place here in Utah called Hogi Yogi. This was a summer job but I tried my best to work hard and produce a decent product.  At this place you had to make a big pot of chicken at the beginning of the day and hope it lasted throughout the day.  Occasionally in closing shift you’d run out and so people could order steak, noodles, sandwiches etc.

At such a late hour a woman came into the shop, ordered a chicken meal and I responded.  ‘Sorry we are out of chicken’.  I will never forget her whole body squirmed up and she put her finger out to me.  ‘I’m so tired of this place not having chicken.  What kind of an establishment do you run etc…’.  I said ‘you could order beef or a sandwich.’   ‘Forget it.  I’ll get my chicken on University instead’ and she stormed out. (I’m cleaning it up a bit!).

I’ve always been amazed someone could get so unglued over chicken.  In this instance Glaucon is right.  She would never have behaved this way in a social environment with friends/family overlooking her actions.  Because she did not know me, she could be invisible and behave poorly.

We need to snap out of it and remember that whether they be a name on a website, a driver in a car or  a server in a restaurant, ALL people have humanity.  We need to try harder to treat others the way we wish to be treated (or at least the way we would want our son or daughter treated).

I know this is pretty philosophical but what do you think? Do you agree with Glaucon, Socrates or have another point of view?  What do you think of the Ring of Gyges story?  Do you see this modern invisibility and the poor behavior that goes with it as a growing trend?

Anyone experienced anything like my chicken incident or the mean review?  Why do you think people behave in such ways?

Ok.. Its not the Ring of Gyges but a close second


the philosopher's life...ah, the dream!


The philosopher Pascal said “All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room“.  If this was true in the 1600’s when Pascal was alive then how much more true is it today?  It’s hard for me to think of the last time I was sitting and purely pondering.  Perhaps at the temple or on vacation (particularly in Hawaii…Contemplation by the beach is the best!) but it is hard to think of examples from my day-to-day life?

As I work from home the temptation to answer emails, return phone calls and update spreadsheets at all hours of the day is strong.  There are always a multitude of projects that are left undone.  In fact, last Thursday I stayed up until 2 am and woke up at 6 am the next morning to finish a filing project which needed to be done to assist with sales tax filing.  Part of this was my own fault because I had put it off in favor of other more pressing assignments.  I am working to simplify my work life but it can still be very invasive of my time.  There is no 5 pm cut-off with my job- both its greatest asset and challenge. Fortunately I finished the filing project on time and commented to my boss how gratifying turning it in was.  Despite my long hours I feel like I’m always presenting projects that are ‘almost done’ or ‘nearly completed’.  Luckily my bosses (including my Dad!) are amazingly understanding.   In truth, almost all the work-related pressure I feel is self-imposed.  As part of my treatment of PCOS I am learning how to manage stress and anxiety better but its a process!

Anyway, all I’m saying is it is easy to take up free time with work….

Moving on.  As everyone who reads this blog knows my health has been a near-obsession over the last year.  This requires hours of my time in exercising, weight training, reading up on PCOS, studying diets, visiting doctors etc.  People that think major weight loss can be done easily or by only a slight increase in effort are crazy.  Today I was at the gym for nearly 2 hours. It is a huge time commitment.  Thankfully I have a job that is flexible and can move around all of these various responsibilities; however, when given a free hour I usually feel like I should be working out or studying up on my condition.

Then there is church.  There is the temple to go to (which I did last Saturday.  So wonderful).  Visiting teaching to do, scriptures to read, lessons to plan, activities to attend and more.  My ward is new and I sincerely love it.  If I could I would attend every activity and get to know every member.  I just wish there was more time.

Finally there are friendships to cultivate, books to read, entertainment to view, music lessons to practice (today was master class.  I did Gravity by Sara Bareiles and I think it went pretty well.), journals/blogs to write, loved one’s to call, and a semblance of a social life to keep in order.  (not to mention dating someone but who has the time? the list could go on and on)

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining because I’m not.  All of these things are huge blessings that I am deeply and eternally grateful for.  I’m just saying that I don’t have time to contemplate or meditate without feeling like I should be doing other things.

What do you guy’s do to find time for deep thought?  Surely I’m not the only person with such a fast-paced life?  Maybe part of being an adult is not having time for such things?   It’s kind of sad because when I was in college I LOVED my philosophy courses.  They made me feel alive in thought.  They taught me how to analyze the world and human behavior in new ways.  It’s hard to overstate their value to me.  Even now, nearly 10 years later, I still remember individual lectures in Ancient Political Theory (poli sci 201 with Dr. Holland), Modern Political Theory (poli sci 202 with Dr. Bohn), Theories on Human Freedom (with Dr. Bohn), Political Economy of Women (with Dr.  Hudson and Dr. Bowen), and Religion and Philosophy (with Dr.  Hancock) (to name a few). I also loved my classes on Chinese Politics (Dr. Heyer) and Japanese Politics (Dr.  Christensen).  I sometimes wish I could take classes like these again and be inspired with the wonder of the world…Although I probably wouldn’t find them nearly as impactful today.   I try to learn on my own but it isn’t quite the same as sitting at the feat of scholars absorbing their hard-earned knowledge, your mind all the while expanding with every word!

College was stressful and very busy but it was also one of the happiest times of my life.  It’s such a cliche but I really did find my voice in my classes, and their influence has never been forgotten.  I even studied Pascal which led me to the quote that spurned the idea for this post.  So, who says you never use what you learn in school? Now if only I had a second to ponder about it!  Retirement?

“I can well conceive a man without hands, feet, head. But I cannot conceive man without thought; he would be a stone or a brute.”  Blaise Pascal