The Freeman's Physician
By John Taylor; 2010 Sep 23, 'Izzat 13, 167 BE
Reward and Punishment
In Ancient Athens there were two kinds of doctor, it seems, one for slaves and one for freemen. Slaves were treated by other slaves who had gained experience working for trained physicians. These slaves acted as field medics, quickly handing out remedies to patients who had no choice but to take the cure. A physician, by contrast, got to know his patients personally and the disease was diagnosed took the time to explain what it was and why the treatment was necessary. Plato compared these two types of doctor to those who write and apply the law. Then as now, laws were conceived and enforced not as physicians who are treating freemen but in the cursory, arbitrary manner of a slave doctor.
"...none of our legislators would seem ever to have remarked that they rely wholly on one instrument in their work, whereas there are two available, so far as the mass's lack of education will permit, persuasion and compulsion. Authority is never tempered in their lawmaking with persuasion; they work by compulsion unalloyed." (Laws 722c, Collected Dialogues, p. 1312)
Somehow, lawmakers need to pay a great deal more attention to persuasion. We need not only law enforcement, but law recruitment. In order to do this, Plato held, an ordered state engages citizens in such a way that the why's and wherefores of ethics and legal issues become popular topics of conversation. This was also part of the Law of Moses, whose words were to be spoken of "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up." (Deut 6:7, WEB)
We need to provide long explanations of the laws, which Plato called "preambles" to the law. This activity would make the law more like a freeman's physician, who is anxious to see to it that every cure is as pleasant and enthusiastically accepted as possible.
Unfortunately, the gap between "free" medicine and forensics has broadened since Plato's time. Medicine is permeated with science and the latest technology, and doctors are now being trained as "partners" in healing for patients plugged into the vast knowledge base of the Internet. Meanwhile, the electronic game industry has grown to be more profitable than sports, movies and live theatre combined. Its designers are ever more adept at introducing incentives into their games, to the point where a large proportion of the population is all but addicted to gaming. Advertisers are slowly adapting some of the rewards pioneered by games, but legislators remain untouched and oblivious.
Parliamentarians need to listen to Plato and learn to make the law more effective and popular. They can lure the most persuasive hawkers from the advertising industry; recruit the best minds in academia in order to make the legal system act more like the freeman's physician.
As in so many other areas, Comenius's ideas were closer to the ideal envisioned by Plato. In Panorthosia he postulated that as citizens become adept in providing rewards on the local level, especially within strengthened family households, the reward deficit will become intolerable, if only because children are so prominent there.
"Everything should be arranged truly and substantially not by speculation or contemplation, but by deeds and actions, so that our new Political System is not simply a shadow or Idea, but a living Body, held together so firmly by the bonds of law and justice, rewards and punishments, that it is a pleasure to do what is holy and honourable, and a dreadful offence to commit evil ... and therefore all things return to Unity as much as possible." (Panorthosia, Ch. 12, para 7, pp. 188-189)
In China there is an official called the "neighbourhood helper," often a retired grandparent, who acts as a guidance counselor and a buffer between officialdom and a prescribed neighbourhood, such as a block of homes or a floor in an apartment building. In the cosmopolitan condition these helpers might be adapted into a trade or profession in their own right. They can act as buffers, reducing friction among cultural groups and between minorities and the police. These groups already are being brought into closer contact with each another; we can expect that in the close quarters of the cosmopolitan condition the need for local helpers will become more intense. If the neighbourhood helper is trained to be a cross between a teacher and a police officer on his beat, friendships could be built up and conversations directed in such a way that wrongdoing is avoided before it takes place.
Research into traffic behaviour has shown that massive slowdowns and jams can be avoided by mixing in a small number of drivers practicing specific habits, such as maintaining a certain distance from the vehicle ahead. When this new factor is introduced into the mix, traffic flows much more smoothly and regularly. Analogously, a neighbourhood helper might promote affection for rules and laws simply by directing informal conversations in subtle ways. Well trained helpers could influence a populace to practice the compliance, discipline and respect for order that now is possible only in a totalitarian state. At the same time, they could promote the free expression and creativity that are rarely applied even in places that place a high value on liberty. In this way the law would help us, in Comenius' words, return to Unity.
The main tool in the hands of the neighbourhood helper is what we will be calling the escutcheon. This we will discuss in more detail next time.