Happiness Machines and Stimulated Appetites

Tiffany Etesam, Caroline Farrar, Chris Fawthrop, Kiersten Forrest

Book VII

            In Book VII of Plato’s Republic, Socrates presents the allegory of the cave. The story starts with Socrates describing people who have been imprisoned in a cave their entire lives. Their heads are bound and they can only look straight ahead. As a result, they have never witnessed real sunlight. There is a fire behind them and some statues which results in shadows being cast across the walls that the prisoners are facing. There existed a “low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets” (Plato’s Republic). They name the shadows they see and believe that they are the true objects themselves, not merely shadows. To the prisoners, these shadows are the Real.

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Later, one prisoner is freed. The prisoner looks at the fire and back to the statues and feels disoriented. Gradually, the prisoner realizes that the new things seem to be the truest form, not the shadows. Next, the prisoner is taken out of the cave and (s)he sees the real world. The light is so blinding, (s)he can only look directly at shadows before gradually being able to look at the world around. These forms are far more real than even the statues were. When the prisoner looks up to the sun, there is a moment of realization when (s)he realizes that the sunlight is what allows for sight of these forms. Moreover, (s)he realizes that shadows are made by light that is partially covered by real forms.

Eventually, when the prisoner returns to the cave, (s)he has a hard time in the darkness and the shadows after becoming adjusted to the light and the truest forms. The prisoner tries to explain everything to the others, but they find all of the claims ridiculous. The allegory Socrates employs illuminates the importance of philosophy and education. Moreover, Plato employs this metaphor to show the struggle of enlightened philosopher kings who try to educate the rest of society in efforts to diminish their ignorance.

Plato, through Socrates, emphasizes the importance of philosophical understanding to one’s soul. In training philosopher kings, children with the right nature who are interested and work hard must be taught philosophy amongst other “important” subjects, like mathematics. The children who are the best go on to be the philosopher kings and they are tested repeatedly as they metaphorically continue to go to the cave and after attaining understanding and knowledge to share with the rest of society.


In Book VIII, Socrates introduces the reader into a discussion of four types of government: timocracy, democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny. He equates governmental character with human character according to the Myth of Metals (Book III). The Republic discusses the origin of division, equating class to metals of iron, brass, gold and silver. Iron and Brass wished to accumulate more, such as money and land, but Gold and Silver intrinsically held value and wanted virtue and order. The metals (or classes) fought a war between each other and in the end decided to divide everything among individuals. This society is posited as the imagined aristocracy that Socrates believes will dissolve. At this point, the dialogue steers towards the stages of dissolution and the subsequent governments that follow, stating that political change arises from divisiveness in governing power and that a truly united government will not change, however, everything will dissolve in time.

Timocracy is the first form of government Socrates discusses. Believing that timocracy, or rather a government motivated by honor, arises from an aristocracy. This is because in Socrates time, honor was gained through accumulating wealth, (think war). The timocratic rulers will not care for wealth in itself until they get old, because the ruler lacks philosophy and as such will give in to vice.

            Vice is what leads to oligarchy, the next form of government discussed. Oligarchy arises when the children of the timocratic rulers take over, and already having wealth and power from their predecessors have no desire for honor. Instead, they would rather maintain and grow their fortunes. The division of class based on wealth becomes clear with the rich becoming richer and the poor staying or becoming even poorer. This level of disparity leads to the wealthy lending money at high interest to the poor, while this might placate the poor for a while, eventually they rise up in anger to depose the oligarchs, leading to democracy.

            Democracy starts (in Socratic terms) when the poor use violent means to overthrow the oligarchic government and raise themselves to be in charge with the rest of the “impoverished class”. In Socratic democracy, there is no responsibility to other individuals or the state, the concept of honor seen in timocracy missing completely. Politics becomes a popularity contest, as such popular or “mob rule” becomes the way of governance. Socrates believes that the democratic man being void of honor (having no responsibility to the state), and not caring for wealth as their oligarchic forebears will live a chaotic existence. There will still be those that have more wealth than others, and they will be hated for it.

            Tyranny arises when the democratic rulers that have more wealth than their colleagues are accused of being oligarchs, and a violent individual is elected through the popularity contest to a position where they are able to enact violence against the rich who could compete against the Tyrant.  The tyrannical leader becomes paranoid and does everything they can to stay in power, to include acts that would be seen as immoral or criminal.

            Towards the end of Book VIII, Plato (through Socrates) asserts that what causes the changes and divisions between government and individuals is actually excess:

“the truth being that the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction; and this is the case not only in the seasons and in vegetable and animal life, but above all in forms of government.” (The Republic, Book VIII)

            Thus, while it might seem strange to the modern reader that Socrates believes democracy to be the worst form of government next to tyranny his reasoning boils down to what is gathered in excess, and here it is the link between individual and government character. In timocracy the ruler(s) covet honor above all else and will pursue policies accordingly that may not be the best for the rest of the population. In oligarchy all policies pursued are to gather more wealth for the wealthy, while democracy is the pushback to this. Democracy values freedom over everything else to the extreme, leading to the rise of a tyrant.

Book IX

The tyrannical man may be easily compelled by his unlawful desires, as those wicked desires often rule the tyrannical man. These vices are repeatedly referred to as ‘appetites’ as a result of the tyrannical man satisfying his appetites. Socrates argues that these unlawful desires, or lawless desires, are not exclusive to morally bad men, but rather can tempt any man. Lawless desires are followed by a lawless life, occurring when a tyrannical man least expects temptation. The tyrannical man is the offspring of the democratic man, however, the democratic man does not live a lawless life, but is still slave to his appetites. Furthermore, the democratic man, or the father, is the offspring of the oligarchic. The father determines that love is the ultimate cure for the tyrannical man in order to escape his lawless life.

            The tyrannical man had found himself insolvent as he indulged himself in love. He plans to extort and violate his parents in order to obtain their property. He became so absorbed with his desire of love that it evolved into his most formidable unlawful fantasy. The tyrannical man is alienated from everyone and everything, including himself.  He is living an embodiment of the tyrannical life. However, Socrates is optimistic that a public tyrant life may be a more troublesome life to live.

            The tyrannical man behaves in a wrongful, or unjust manner, as Book IX explained the feature of the most evil is “the waking reality of what we dreamed.” The tyrannical man and the democratic man are compared to the tyrannical state and democratic state, respectively. The comparison is used to portray happiness and misery between the two, as the tyrant and the tyrannical state are depicted as miserable, and therefore may be considered a slave to themselves or the state.

            In order to determine who classifies as pleasant, Socrates generates three categories of men: “lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain.” The lover of wisdom is the most ‘pleasant’ of all the categories, as he has the ability to utilize judgment. True pleasure can only be completely experienced by the enlightened and educated. Socrates produces this argument by metaphorically measuring pleasure and pain, correlating with the temptations of desire. True pleasure is the “pain from pleasure,” while experiencing pleasure does not prevail. That being said, the king represents true pleasure, while the tyrant will live in pain. To fully identify a pure soul, Socrates metaphorically utilizes ancient mythology as an illustration. The multiple headed monster, the lion, and a man merge together as one to form his argument. One who behaves wrongfully must envisage feeding the monster, which will ultimately invigorate the lion and undermine the man. A man does not have authority of the monster within himself, therefore he must praise the monster. The man is a servant to the monster within him, or perhaps the law. Socrates defines the reasoning of law, or divine reason, as the “ally of the whole city.” The ruling of divine reason establishes laws which may maintain those to act in a just manner and evade their wicked desires.

Video: Century of the Self: Part 1: The Happiness Machines

Moreover, the Century of the Self: Part 1: The Happiness Machines, begins by discussing Sigmund Freud’s invention of a new theory about human nature. He stated, “Primitive and sexual and aggressive forces hidden deep inside the minds of all human beings.” He believed that uncontrolled forces lead societies and individuals into disorder and demolition. Certainly, there have been individuals in power who have used Freud’s theories throughout the age of democracy in order to try and control a menacing crowd. In fact, his nephew, Edward Bernays, was the first to use his ideas to “manipulate the masses.” In other words, he encouraged the people to want things that they did not need and taught them how to satisfy their inner desires. Unquestionably, he was displaying how to control the masses by manipulating them.

Undoubtedly, Bernays was showing American corporations how to trigger these desires by connecting mass-produced goods to one’s unconscious desires. Further, Abraham Brill was one of the first psychoanalysts in America. He told Bernays that cigarettes were a symbol of male sexual power and if Bernays could come up with a way to associate cigarettes with challenging the power of males, then women would smoke them. Bernays convinced a group of “rich debutantes” to keep cigarettes hidden under their clothes during the New York Easter Day Parade. The women were then told to hold a protest smoking those cigarettes, lighting “torches of freedom” because he knew this would get the attention of the press; their actions resembled the appearance and meaning of the Statue of Liberty. In addition, this meant that anyone who supported gender equality must support women smoking. After the public viewed the videos of the women smoking and holding up the torches, the sales of cigarettes by women increased significantly. Overall, this was a major success for Bernays. He finally grasped how to use one’s unconscious desires to make them happy and in return, control the masses. Accordingly, Sigmund Freud was the founding father of psychoanalysis and Bernays created the profession of public relations. Conclusively, Freud influenced Bernay to alter how people consume. As an American journalist in 1927 expressed, “A change has come over our democracy, it is called consumptionism. The American citizen’s first importance to his country is now no longer that of citizen, but that of consumer.”

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Tiffany Etesam is an academic senior at Virginia Tech studying Political Science with a legal focus. She has been accepted into law school and plans to attend next fall. She is hoping to pursue health law to ensure equal access to both physical and mental health for all.

Kiersten Forrest is a senior studying Political Science with a concentration in National Security at Virginia Tech. She is also minoring in Sociology and in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. She plans to work in the national security field after graduation.

Chris Fawthrop is a senior studying National Security and Foreign Affairs at Virginia Tech with minors in History and War & Society. He is concurrently pursuing a Masters in Political Science with a concentration in Security Studies at Virginia Tech which he will continue upon graduation from undergraduate studies.

Caroline Farrar is a senior pursuing a major in Political Science, and a minor in Sociology. She hopes to either work in social justice or with a non-profit organization after graduation. Her studies in political science have fostered a particular interest in global inequality pertaining to the distribution of wealth, women’s rights, and racism in the United States.