Post-theory: Plato After the Internet
My goal on this page is to develop some thoughts on the question of theory in the Internet Age from my perspective as a Plato scholar. The problematic of ‘theory’ is frequently shaped by the choice between justification or chastisement, a choice that overdetermines theoretical endeavor. Instead, I take “post” as a provocation that situates us in a relay (as in the old horse-drawn system of post-stage). What have I inherited from theory, and what course remains to be run?
Taking one of many possible routes, I turn to a passage in Book 5 of Plato’s Republic, a locus classicus of the roots of the English word "theory": θεωρός (theôros), spectator, envoy, and θεωρέω (theôreô), to contemplate, behold. As Socrates defends his unusually egalitarian proposals about women, he describes an essential element of the training of the future philosopher kings: “What we want to bring about, then, is a way of making the children theôrous (observers, "theorists") of war, while at the same time thinking of some clever means of ensuring their safety.” (467c). Theory is a practice of observing war, safely, to prepare for future rule. Nowhere is there a separation between theory/practice, theory/making, or theory/politics; and the bodies of children are (in this theoretical proposal) submitted to a reasonable risk. This is the vision of "theory" we inherit in the legacies of Plato and the post-structuralist (in)sight into the interlocking of opposites, through the primacy of the relation over the relata.
“Post-theory” asks: what do we need to “see safely” in the technology wars ahead?
Essential reading on this question includes this documentation on how UK secret services and their allies manipulate and manage reputations online. Here is a slide from their training manual laying out their "magic techniques".
What can Theory offer by way of helping us perceive and see through such subtle, omnipresent, and omniscient deception? Could our participation in networks protect us, as Plato found a safe sailing in the participation of Particulars in Forms?