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More Socrates, Please

September 16, 2010

In considering modern politics today, we could use a few more Socratic characters. Too often, our country and our people fall victim to those who think they are wise. We have seen this especially in the past year. Oil companies feel their technology is too advanced to have faults. Corporations and high-power individuals have nearly limitless power in placing people’s money and time. Politicians make shady deals and assume their careers will go unscathed. Where is the voice of reason and truth? Perhaps if there were a member of society forcing these powerful individuals to take a second look at their actions, we would avoid all of the harm caused by those who fail to consider the consequences?

Society puts an overwhelming amount of faith in those that are regarded to be the wisest: the investment banker who makes six figures, the CEO of a large corporation, the elected official who plasters on a great smile. But I have to ask, why? What, other than their high status in society, makes them trustworthy figures? In The Apology, Socrates notes, “those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable” (22a). This summer I watched yet another governor (Rod Blagojevich) be sentenced to time behind bars, so this quote rings especially true. I often ask myself, “How and why do these people get elected to lead us?” And why, then, do we trust these individuals with possessions so valuable as our hard earned money, our environment, and our lives?

This post is not intended to discount the leadership of our country, but rather, to ask why we fail to question the wisdom of the leaders who seem to fail us all too often.

2 Comments
  1. britvand permalink
    September 19, 2010 5:45 PM

    Your post highlights an interesting point that I feel many people in the United States and throughout the world should consider. My response to your question about why “we fail to question the wisdom of [our] leaders” relates to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.”

    In the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King mentions “lukewarm acceptance,” which can be used to describe why many people do not question their leaders. While some people may realize that their leaders are not fulfilling their roles, the people simply accept or overlook the imperfections to avoid causing tension. Rather than confronting the issue, the people remain “lukewarm,” or in other words, do not speak up or act out in order to avoid a potential heated conflict.

    Is this “lukewarm acceptance” helping our society? As Dr. King eloquently states, people who revert to this acceptance are “dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” I happen to agree with him. While the people may be promoting peace at a superficial level by not standing up to their leaders, this peace is fragile. With one event, this peace could fall apart and create turmoil. For instance, if the president makes an unjust decision and people do not speak up, their moral rights could be taken away or they could lose their family members at war. If the CEO of a large corporation makes an unwise decision, stockowners could lose all of their money or company employees could lose their jobs. With potential occurrences such as these, people who are passive about their leaders are really harming themselves. The passive behavior is also harming future generations, as events that take place today affect what will happen tomorrow.

    What our society can learn from this is that we should not be afraid to speak up when we know something is wrong. We must not assume that those of high status are doing their jobs as they should be. We need to be proactive in our daily lives by defending ourselves and the people around us when any unjust situation arises. However, we must not promote evil by being cruel to those who are behaving wrongly. As Socrates said in the “Crito,” “one should not commit evil, even against evil.” We must respond in a way that is effective, but not violent or corruptive. While the immediate effects may include a kinked reputation and harsh words from those we speak against, the long-term effect is that we are improving our society. Or, we are at least preventing our society from regressing to unjust times. The benefits may not be noticed at first, but in the long run, they will be. It may take future historians to notice our accomplishments, as it did with Socrates, some Roman Catholic saints, and various other historical figures. However, we, as American citizens, have the freedom of speech, so let’s exercise this right and make a difference in our society.

  2. Will Butler permalink
    September 19, 2010 11:41 PM

    I very much see and agree with your point. Socrates values expertise so much, yet those considered experts have often led us into disastrous paths. However, I do have to offer a rebuttal. Consider right now the Tea Party and the general anti-incumbent environment in American politics today. Their “vote them out” rallying cry and disdain for anybody previously involved in politics gives them a similar dislike of political expertise.

    I personally feel that by electing those with little to no governmental or political experience, whether on either side of the spectrum, could be harmful to the nation. While experts may not always have made the best decisions, you would not hire a plumber to do you accounting and vice versa.

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