Monday, May 10, 2010

The Last Days of Socrates

Four years ago when I spent my first winter camping here, one of our ACL readers began sending me books he was scrounging out of Cambridge, MA second hand stores. Many of them are American history but he sent a bunch of philosophy and political theory too. So every now and then I open one of Jason's books that look difficult, and I'm getting down to the topics I avoid because it's something or someone I've never studied. Socrates is one of them.

Many of us know Socrates was convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens and forced to drink Hemlock. I vaguely remember that from some source at least once in my life. I didn't seek out and read anything he said though. I don't remember ever wishing I knew how exactly he corrupted them. I just always assumed Socrates would be too hard to understand even if I did want to know. But, our thesis is about Hegel, so I knew someday I'd have to buckle down, grit my teeth and suffer through a bunch of writing that's Greek to me. I thought the ancient philosophers talked the same way the modern philosophers talk, in endless circles. Now I wonder if I was taught to think that because Socrates is so accessible and so, so relevant.

"Plato The Last Days of Socrates" by translator Hugh Tredennick is the version I have. It begins with Socrates' debate with Euthyphro outside the courthouse and moves immediately to the Apology he made to the court in his own defense.

Socrates did not talk in circles to manipulate the truth, not in this version anyway. According to Plato, Socrates believed his mission in life was to challenge people who promoted themselves as wise. He devoted his entire life to exposing frauds and liars, starting with politicians, then poets and then everyone. He wasn't a teacher, he went around motivating people to think about their empty lives by rebutting the lies they told to defend their lack of spiritual growth and wisdom.

The thing that grabbed my attention first was the fact that Socrates insisted on defining every term used in debates against him. He believed that definitions were essential to getting to the heart of the argument. I immediately felt a closeness to this man, because I too believed getting the definitions from the Seattle government was the only way to begin debating their program. It was seeking their definitions that led me to the guru Dr. Amitai Etzioni, and to the exact name for the philosophy he was using to "shore up" America. I found communitarianism because I couldn't find the definitions for "quality of life" and "livability." Maybe Socrates' legacy was part of my training or heritage and I didn't even know it.

So, I thought this was very cool, the first Socrates "debate" I get to read is one where Plato used a fictional character named Euthyphro to show Socrates making him define piety. " what is pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved?"

I also found his views on death worth putting at the top of my list of best theories about it. He was explaining why he could never agree to stop leading the philosophic life that he believed was his purpose for living. He believed his God through the Oracle made it his job to go around challenging liars. He never claimed to be wise, he proved nobody was. And that pissed a lot of people off. I get a double whammy from him on this part. Not only have I made a lot of people mad at me, I have never felt or thought I was wise enough to be the one writing about communitarianism. I kept hoping someone more qualified would relieve me of the burden of trying to understand things out of my educational range, or for someone who could make sense out of my hundreds of confusing articles. I used to feel very, very sorry for America that I was the best one we could get to do the deep background investigation that I felt was absolutely necessary and essential to exposing these liars.

Then, more than once, I was warned to "back off" from Etzioni because his connections to the Israeli military and special forces make him a dangerous opponent. Now I've also taken on the Luciferian aspects of the plan, another group some consider dangerous. Whether it's bravery or stupidity, I have never backed down from any portion of this work, not even when I learned there were taboos against it. I believe my God wants me to live honestly, to meet each day and do whatever He puts in front of me. I might argue God's wisdom in choosing me for battles He surely could find better men to fight, but I always give in eventually. He wins every time. :)
"To be afraid of death is only another form of thinking one is wise when one is not; it is to think that one knows what one does not know. No one knows with regard to death whether it is not really the greatest blessing that can happen to a man; but people dread it as though they were certain it was the greatest evil; and this ignorance; which thinks that it knows what it does not, must surely be ignorance most culpable. This I take it gentlemen, is the degree, and this the nature of my advantage over the rest of mankind, and if I were to claim to be wiser than my neighbor in any respect, it would be in this: that not possessing any real knowledge of what comes after death, I am also conscious that I do not possess it. But I do know that to do wrong and to disobey my superior, whether God or man, is wicked and dishonorable; and so I shall never feel more fear or aversion for something which, for all I know, may really be a blessing, than for those evils which I know to be evils." [p 60]


john said...

If you get the chance, pick up Plato's "Critias". Much of your research on the roots or philosophy of Communitarianism can be sourced directly from this text. The idea of a world government under the auspices and grip of an enlightened elite goes away the way back to antiquity.

the tent lady said...

I will look for that. I have Plato's Republic which I plan to read next, but was unfamiliar with Critias. I know my enemies studied the Greeks, Etzioni claims the theory is based on Aristotle too (another elitist). Etzioni uses the ancient "experts" often to stress his point about inclusive communities, as from the Platform:
"The ancient Greeks understood this well: A person who is completely private is lost to civic life. The exclusive pursuit of one's self-interest is not even a good prescription for conduct in the marketplace; for no social, political, economic, or moral order can survive that way. Some measure of caring, sharing, and being our brother's and sister's keeper, is essential if we are not all to fall back on an ever more expansive government, bureaucratized welfare agencies, and swollen regulations, police, courts, and jails."