Hat tip: Professor Rufus Fears.
“The strong do what power allows. The weak accept what they must.” – Athenian envoy to the small government of Melos, with the offer to either join Athens’ empire with paying them tribute, or have all men executed, and everyone else sold into slavery. Melos politely declined Athens’ offer. Athens attacked, did what they threatened, and resettled the emptied island with 500 Athenian colonists. – Melian Dialogue of Socrates’ contemporary historian, Thucydides.
Carl: Socrates! Thanks for agreeing to a conversation!
Socrates: Carl! My pleasure; conversations are what I do!
C: Anything you’d like to say to our readers to begin?
S: Yes, thank you, on two topics. First: humans have made little progress in living virtuous lives since my lifetime 2400 years ago. Second: perhaps this lack of progress will make our conversation more helpful to the public.
I’d like to go into detail. Feel free to interject with comments or questions.
First, let’s consider the extent of human progress for truth and virtue in the last 2400 years. My life as the historical Socrates was a citizen-soldier under an Athenian Empire. Athens demanded tribute-taxes and slaves from dominated city states, which supported the beautiful public buildings I witnessed construction of on the Acropolis. Athenian empire through tribute and servility was our hubris, and despite civic attempts to educate the public through tragic plays to teach the fatal consequences of hubris, we fell into civil war with Sparta and her allies.
This history sets the stage of my historical dialogues with the people of Athens: to inquire into our best human responses for truth and virtue. The result of my vocation was public trial on charges that inquiry for truth “corrupted the young” and was somehow in denial to the Gods. Although my prosecutors offered no evidence other than baseless words, and I did my usual best to reveal these citizens didn’t know what they were talking about, I was found guilty in the first part of the trial.
There was a second part of the trial, Carl, to determine punishment for my guilt. By law, I was given first response. Do you know what I proposed?
C: I do, but you’re on a roll.
S: Thank you. I proposed that I should receive free meals for the rest of my life; the same reward given our Olympic Games’ winners! Ha! Before I was shouted-down, I told the jury truth and virtue seems at least as valuable as winning a sporting event. That really pissed them off, as you say today.
C: But Plato and other students talked you into offering a fine, right?
S: Yes, yes. I offered the standard amount for severe guilt of 20% of my wealth: 100 drachmae. Because I taught without charging anyone, Plato and others guaranteed a payment of 3,000. I wanted to refuse, but Crito made an excellent point: expose my prosecutors as wanting the literal death of truth and virtue rather than even excessive remission from a poor man’s family.
I think the point here, Carl, is that the public of my day were unable to recognize or appreciate commitment to truth and virtue. They’d rather destroy it to obey authority. It didn’t matter that authority had the weakest lies when they evoked public fear. (chuckles) But, Carl, this is surely a condition humans have evolved beyond in 2016, yes?
C: (one small chuckle) No. This makes your point that humans still largely obey authority no matter how outrageous the lies. It’s like the more recent allegory, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Are you familiar with the story?
S: But you are hopeful for a victory of lasting virtue, Carl? That’s the topic you wanted to discuss.
C: Yeah; here’s what I see: the difference between your time and ours is that everybody has the capacity to read today compared to perhaps 10% in your day. We teach humanist ideals you helped begin, with the US embodying many in our Constitution under strict limits to prevent abuse of power. Polling data are overwhelming that Americans sense something criminally wrong today in “leadership” and corporate media lies. These data show people will educate themselves with Internet alternative media. So, short-term victory seems inevitable from this awakening, but how peaceful transition will be is uncertain, and how long it would last.
S: Yes. The contest is for Truth.
C: It is, and whether the public’s recognition and passion for the truth you stood for has evolved enough to last. Any advice for this?
S: (chuckles) You’re asking the person who knows that he doesn’t know anything, right? That’s my claim to wisdom! (laughs)
Ok, ok (stops laughing), let’s look together, Carl. You’ve satisfied yourself on your path that absolute justice and virtue exist, and that’s why you’re able to envision them?
C: Yes, absolutely.
S: And that the whole of philosophy means its literal components: the love of wisdom, and that wisdom means to live your highest virtues, not to merely know them?
S: And that you live on a world upside-down, that those of us living for truth and virtue… well, we were called Sophists in my day: those who could make a good argument sound bad, and a bad argument sound good. That is, those seeking truth are called liars, and the liars in authority are presented as truth-tellers. Is this your experience?
C: Yes, Socrates.
S: Then that is as far as I can take you.
C: Wait, what?
S: Yes, that’s it. I don’t know any more about being human than the search for truth and virtue isn’t taken very seriously by the public, and opposed by those hiding empire with lying sophist rhetoric. I believe the modern term is Orwellian.
C: So what can people best do about this condition?
S: Whatever they want. I found for myself that following my own “small voice within” was helpful to prevent me from doing something morally wrong. But in this world, the only outward help it brought were a few friends, meager possessions, and not even enough public support to prevent my execution by jury vote! (laughs) I mean, literal hundreds of my fellow citizens would rather kill me than see me challenging ignorance and hypocrisy! (more laughter)
Do you really expect more for anyone challenging authority today?!
Wait, before you answer: I have a relatively new friend I enjoy talking with who you knew as Dr. Martin King. How did his experiments with truth work for him?
S: So what advice would you offer those asking?
C: We can honor ideals of truth and virtue, express them as best we can, offer this path to others with no expectation, and leave the rest to our Faith in virtue in what we agree is sooooo much that humans cannot know. Surely, Socrates, you see value on this path from unexpected and unforeseen benefits of your life: Plato becoming a primary teacher to literal billions of humans?
S: Indeed, some benefits came of this.
C: And of just the second example you mention: you agree that Martin’s life inspired anyone looking for leadership in truth and virtue in recent history?
S: Of course.
C: And Socrates, what of Martin and your deaths? Did they not expose the empires’ goals to destroy truth more than any of your words or actions ever could?
S: To those who can see, yes.
C: Then there we have it. (smiles)
S: Yes. There we have it. (smiles) May I leave your readers with a story?
S: You’ll discover your future with your fellow humans’ collective steps, of course.
C: Of course.
S: Please know you’ll discover so much more than you are capable of imagining. Humans are as creatures on the ocean floor, seeing themselves on top of a world below them. They gaze up into cloudy waters, seeing little above, and with no idea of amazing worlds beyond their view.
C: (smiling, but said with a little bite) You liar, Socrates; you do know more!
S: Do I? (chuckles, and with empathy). I do. But you’re the ones who agreed to live as humans, with intentional limits for what you can see and know. You chose this adventure with only human tools in your power.
Keep moving forward. You already know that virtue is its own reward.
Gotta’ go. I’m looking forward to wine, a meal, Roman hot bath, and conversation with my interesting friend, Seneca. Yeah, things didn’t end well with his work for virtue and dance with the Dark Side! But there is Divine Justice, Carl and readers, and what happened in history were under conditions always changing with all our experiences and input. What you think, say, and do always influence the future!
You have more friends than you know, and every step forward invites so many more of your brothers and sisters to join you. Trust in divine justice; it is the law!
That’s all I can tell you. Time for me to drink, eat, and relax!
Peace out, as you say.
3-minute Wisecrack video: Who was Socrates?
- 2016 interview with Socrates on human ‘progress,’ winning the endgame of today’s exposure of unlawful empire (1 of ?)
- 2016 interview with Socrates: US today is Athens’ empire of hypocrisy and hubris; will US public stand for obvious justice or remain oblivious to evil? (2 of ?)
- 2016 interview with Socrates: I was Athens’ ‘wacky conspiracy theorist’ for honoring my military/citizen Oath: are people today to live as educated humans, or remain obedient sheeple? (3 of ?)
- 2016 interview with Socrates: ‘Golden Age of Greece,’ my Aesop! But you can have one for all Earth now if you want (4 of ?)
- 2016 interview with Socrates: Standing for Truth, Love, & Technology on a planet of lies, sadism, & slavery (5 of ?)
- 2016 interview with President John F. Kennedy: who assassinated me and why, American public’s opportunity today to cause peace
- 2016 interview with Martin King: Justice demands peace, ending poverty, arrests for my assassination by US government
Note: I make all factual assertions as a National Board Certified Teacher of US Government, Economics, and History, with all economics factual claims receiving zero refutation since I began writing in 2008among Advanced Placement Macroeconomics teachers on our discussion board, public audiences of these articles, and international conferences. I invite readers to empower their civic voices with the strongest comprehensive facts most important to building a brighter future. I challenge professionals, academics, and citizens to add their voices for the benefit of all Earth’s inhabitants.
Carl Herman is a National Board Certified Teacher of US Government, Economics, and History; also credentialed in Mathematics. He worked with both US political parties over 18 years and two UN Summits with the citizen’s lobby, RESULTS, for US domestic and foreign policy to end poverty. He can be reached at Carl_Herman@post.harvard.edu
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