Socrates and World of Warcraft

I was reading the Symposium (Plato) and I came across the speech by Socrates which has come to be known as “The Ascent.” I was absolutely astounded by his insight. I read a similar description of this concept long ago by another author I greatly admire — C.S. Lewis, who was talking about the same subject – love. The idea is that all objects of our affection, whether they are people, places, things, causes, etc. are all pointers to greater objects. Once experienced, they appear to be not as wonderful as you thought them to be — their reality comes crashing down upon you and it is no longer so beautiful a thing as you once imagined before you had it.

In my life, I enjoy watching movies where the hero saves the world or at least a whole lot of people, and is practically invincible (most Arnold Swarzenegger movies, Lord of the Rings, etc.) I like playing video games where you play a hero who saves the world, one quest at a time — like World of Warcraft. Why do I like them so much? Because they both take me away from my own selfish interests to a point where the purpose of my life capitulates to a cause beyond myself — to take part in helping others and making the world a better place. There is great enjoyment and freedom in this purpose and I am caught up in its beauty, even though it isn’t real. Video games and movies are our generation’s vehicles for myth — stories that may or may not be true, but communicate deep truths directly to our spirits (not just our minds) better than any other form that I am aware of can.

Now to experience the myth is wonderful — it removes most of the reality that actually occurs in doing those great things but you still get to feel the joy that comes in taking part or witnessing them. If I were to take up such a cause in real life, such as freeing the world from the tyranny of evil and oppression and picking up my sword and going off to war, I would run very quickly into the problems. Reality would be the horror of war, the politics of selfish men in power, how power twists the spirit of the powerful, the reality of death, the realization that the enemy is just like me, a numbness to the beauty of life, etc. In the end, I would probably end up dead and possibly quite disillusioned long before that. But it was a noble cause – worth fighting and dying for.

At some point, when my own party of warriors is against me, my sword is broken, it is raining, cold, and I have no left arm, I realize that my cause is no longer worthy of being my reason for living – and I am hollow and broken again. This is the point where the ascent begins. There must be something greater than such a worthy cause, something more beautiful and wonderful then even this.

My real life is not so glamorous as the one I live in myth. I remember a time when I had 4 goals in life – to get a good job, to get a Mistubishi Eclipse, to live on my own, and to have an awesome girlfriend (who would eventually be my wife.) That’s all I wanted! Everything else in life I couldn’t care less about. One day came when I had 3 out of 4 of those things. All that was left was getting a girlfriend. I looked at my life to see how happy I was to have 3 out of 4… and I was sad and confused. I remember that night – just pacing around my apartment very confused – why was I not happy and eagerly anticipating the final completion of my happiness? It dawned on me that reaching my final goal would probably not make me happier than I already was. I had reached a crucial point of ascent in my life that I will never forget.

I am not saying that a just cause is not worth pursuing in real life, or that cars and jobs aren’t important, but I’m just saying that even after we capitulate – putting something or someone else as #1 in our lives, it will become a journey where each great pursuit points to yet a higher one — a path of ascent. Our causes, no matter how great, will never stand as #1 in our lives for long. We will always wake up one day and realize that we have saturated ourselves with a cause we love so much, but there is something greater still, although we don’t know what. Each great cause that we devote our lives to – helping others in some way, even devoting our lives to finding wisdom and truth, is sooner or later going to exhaust us and lead us once again to that point of ascent — to find a better master of our lives.

So it appears that the nature of all good causes and good pursuits is that they are shadows of something even greater. All great and worthy of doing, but in some kind of 2nd place in our lives. They are all pointers, to participate in them is to be inevitably lead to their superior – the Author and creator of the things that the greatest of us love and devote our lives to — truth, wisdom, justice, life, kindness, generosity, freedom, intrinsic value, and beauty.

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