Socrates and the Problem of Democracy

A generation before Socrates; Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus; practiced their philosophical teachings, laying the foundation for social dialectic epistemology. In just a few generations, philosophers went from theorizing about Nature (primal elements), to focusing on human mental and social abilities to know truths. Philosophers were often used by leaders to build theories and machines to wage wars against other leaders. In this way philosophers were similar to priests, in how they often were paid to sway public opinions for political support using ideas. However, rather than using the traditional pantheon of magical mythologies as priests did, philosophers used new ideas that could be embraced by practicing an eastern love of Wisdom (Goddess Sophia), that involved rhetorical talk persuasion, and mental reasoning aided by inner spirits called daimons (acknowledgment of self-ignorance and commitment to continual self-knowledge through dialog). Knowledge is virtue, not because of any power it earns, but because self-aware humble piety is good; as with the best comedy, the virtue of knowledge is that it can save us from ourselves, if we use it wisely. This is where we ended up with Socrates, and his conclusions about epistemology still resonate today on the streets and in the minds of many people regardless of class.

Few scholars take the time to investigate how events led up to the earliest, best form of government by the people, democracy, being responsible for putting to death one of the greatest philosophers in history. I will attempt to reconstruct how popular events and ideas may have resulted in official public conviction to execute a man who’s main crime seems to be that he asked too many questions of too many people, which bothered the existing system too much. Put simply, Socrates was killed by democracy because he was annoying.

This is a summary of Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus, Socrates and the Sophists. Our main focus will be on how their philosophies related to their Greek politics and economics. Afterwards we will consider Plato’s Republic, and how the lessons of history can improve our current democratic government; based on the theory that ‘We the People’ can govern ourselves, and maintain civil rights economically and politically. This is why philosophical theory matters, because all our political and economic systems are based on people believing and practicing theories. Law and currency work because enough people agree that they have value. Laws are only suggestions unless they are enforced using ‘real’ actions. Money has symbolic mental worth to lives, which is used to get ‘real’ material property and control the minds of those that want it, so that they do ‘real’ work for a boss or client.

I’ve never heard anyone frame a talk on this before. To clarify the issue, it may be a conflict of disciplines is to blame for our collective ignorance on the subject. History, Politics, Philosophy, and Psychology are now treated as separate disciplines that should be legally kept divided so that a few professionals can make all the money, while keeping the public safe from those that might install ‘unsafe systems’ (AIA). Do not believe those false authoritarian dictates, whose laws mainly serve the elite few, and do not allow that even the poorest person may make good designs.

Professors usually skip through the ‘pre-socratics’, cover the basics of Socrates, and then move on to Plato’s responses; which of course was to propose the Oligarchy of the Republic because democracy had killed the wisest man, and because Macedonian emperors would soon rule Athens. Plutocrats tend to think they know best, simply because they have money which is power in a corrupt Capitalist system. The story of the trial of Socrates, should really be an invitation for all of us to put democracy on trial in a much larger way, and begin to resolve the problems of self-governing; which is not just about demagogue representatives, but more importantly about what ‘We the People’ want.

Democratic problems might be described as mass commercial competitive propaganda, and unethical majority mob bigotry; which can perpetuate cycles of unbalanced emotional vengeance. Those problems are not exclusive to democracy, but what makes democracy better than oligarchies is rule by the many, that everyone has a vote, and at least the majority rules. Why is it good for all people to have a say in how they are governed? It is important to empower people with the evidence that their vote matters, otherwise they will lose interest in supporting the government, and ‘representative’ government can easily fail to care about the majority of the population, regardless of whether those representatives were elected by the people or installed by only a minority of elites (oligarchy). Direct vote elections by the people needs to have power at the highest levels, not just the lowest levels, or risk complete system failure due to internal apathy and deceit. All people having a vote in democracy means that all people have a value in society, even if they are mentally or physically sick or disabled, homeless, or cannot provide for themselves in normal ways. Good political leaders are inclusive and represent proportionately majority and minority agendas, by proposing democratic laws that can get popular support from a majority of the actual population, not just corporate business campaign donors.

Ethical fairness and justice for all, means that progressives must challenge existing laws which conservatives think are working fine. The Left Wing must constantly beg the Right Wing to not be so abusive to the majority, while the Right Wing must constantly tell the Left Wing it should be grateful that the majority are not abused more, because free-thinking liberals and war veterans are hard to restrain, and liberals and veterans do not have the economic power of corporate business campaign donors, so they should shut up and stop causing problems for the current oligarchy that got entrenched by laws they said were good for all, but lied about or were wrong.

The philosophical problem of democracy, or any political governing system, is also the psychological problem of individual minds. The natural self-destructive urges we feel, are also related to the problems of larger social systems (Freud). This truth is why Socrates not only put his accusers on trial, during his own trial, but he also put himself and everyone he met on trial, every day, for many years. Socrates was dedicated to the concept that we could make things better by actively and constantly pursuing knowledge, by admitting our own ignorance. This process was called philosophy, or loving Wisdom.

The historic context that set the stage for philosophy, was a Greece recovering from a dark age after the fall of the Mycenaean Empire. Whatever the reasons for the Greek system collapse, it happened. A society can be judged by comparing the property and power of their leaders with that of their people, regarding fairness and equality. Empires are not considered ‘just’ civilizations, because they tend to have plutocracies that perpetually wage war to keep the masses enslaved to their unfair system. Smaller countries tend to hold their leaders more accountable for their actions, and therefore successful leaders may be upper-class, but they can not own much more than average people, if they want to be beloved by the people as one of their own. Tyrants in city-states can be overthrown quicker than those controlling vast Empires.

During this dark age, Greece probably was dominated by constant violent despotic regimes, plagues, and famines. The diminished populations of the Dark Age abandoned writing, transitioned weapons from bronze to iron, many cities and towns vanished, and the redistributive economy collapsed. The Trojan War was long past, and the subsequent Western (Aeneas in Italy) and Eastern (Philistines in Palestine) settlement colonies by migrant veterans had dissolved into ‘native’ populations.

Most of our knowledge of the Greek Dark Age comes from burial sites, weapons, and geometric art on pottery, with no written records. Eastern empires began to grow and threaten Greece again, around the time that Greek writing was reborn (from Semitic), and philosophy began in Eastern Greece. Persians were just the latest large group of migrants that had come to power in Mesopotamia. Greece was a collection of city-states (polis) run by kinship groups and family households (oikoi).

Greek History leading up to Classical Age Athens

900-700 BC – Dark Bronze Age ends, Archaic Iron Age begins: Homer

600 BC – Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes – World Prime Element

500 BC – Classical Age begins: Heraclitus, Pythagoras, and Parmenides

400 BC – Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus – Universal Powers

300 BC – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – Sophists, Society, & Politics

Chieftains were the main leaders of villages, and they were buried in heroons (hero shrines). the main economic resource for each family was the ancestral oikos plot of land, the kleros (allotment); without which a man could not marry. Greek culture was very bardic, as so much of their lives revolved around mythical and legendary stories, songs, and plays at community theaters.

Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes created theories of the primary elements of Nature. Then Heraclitus, Pythagoras, and Parmenides argued about change vs non-change with Math as religion. Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus addressed universal powers like the elements of nature and love and discord. They were upper-class Classical Age humanitarians dedicated to education and love more than war. The groundwork was laid for the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to talk about laws, careers, epistemology, virtue, and metaphysics. The world was about to get weirder.

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Now let us review: Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus. (click on names)

So to summarize all of these pre-socratics, they were very dedicated to the first scientific inquiries that we have on historic record; and then suddenly, shit got weird, and the first democracy in the history of human civilization put a retired mason, an unemployed teacher by the name of Socrates, to death for wanting to learn the Truth. Next we will revisit the story of the famous Socrates.

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Socrates was from Athens, Greece circa 400 BC. He was a philosopher, stone mason, soldier, and mentor. He was considered a public gadfly because he would stand around the stoa and engage random people in his pedagogy by a ‘method of dialogue’ (elenchus) which involved asking questions to arrive at truths. Socratic dialogue uses deductive reasoning to advance epistemology. Although the Delphi Oracle said that “None was wiser than Socrates”, Socrates believed this was only because he was more aware of his own ignorance. Socrates annoyed prominent Athenians so greatly they put him on trial and sentenced him to death; which he eventually accepted, despite his suggestion that they pay him for his public services instead.

His ‘dialectic method of inquiry’ supported his assertions that knowledge equals virtue, questions lead to excellence, and knowledge of self, friendships, and community was more important than pursuit of material wealth. He refused to be a career politician because he did not feel comfortable telling others how to live, when he himself was not sure. He called his intuition on matters of courage and honesty his ‘inner daemon’.

Golden Rules of Socrates:

“I only know that I know nothing.”

“As the Delphi Oracle says: Know thyself.”

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

4 Virtues: Justice, Wisdom, Courage, & Moderation

“Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess.”

“Do not do to others, what angers you if done to you by others.”

“Be kind to everyone, as though they are fighting a hard battle.”

The Oracle at Delphi seemed to support Socrates. Apollo was the main god of Delphi, but the older tradition of interpreting the Pythia prophet was an ancient religious power which once dominated from Egypt to Crete, Greece, and Indo-European lands where priests and priestesses worshiped horned bulls and snakes. Christianity eventually destroyed Delphi, and Snakes were ‘chased out of Ireland’, but many religions still consider those animals sacred; and the history of those animal cults is very long.

Wisdom according to Socrates meant the use of knowledge, but also knowledge of ignorance. Even Socrates had habits and repeated or contradicted himself hypocritically as humans do. Yet he asked “what is the way we ought to live?”, and consciously and socially contemplated social norms, to improve life and gain self-knowledge (which is akin to self-love and ability to love others). We should examine life, and find out for ourselves ‘what good is happiness’? Wrong doing, even willful wrong doing, is a result of serious ignorance. Knowledge was virtuous if it could be used to balance courage and temperance, and Socrates believed that knowledge used wisely was equal to virtue.

A veteran of the Peloponnesian wars, Socrates had lived through the horrors of battle, famine, and plague. He had witnessed hoards of his fellow soldiers, men of Athens, be shipped to their slaughter abroad and massacred here at home. The greatest hero of Athens, Pericles, his mentor Anaxagoras, and the military generals too, all paid for their political ambitions which had built Athens up, and taken Athens to war, and brought it down. Socrates was not a fan of the rich Acropolis glitz that Pericles had insisted was needed to make Athens great. He had gone to war to serve his country, and the wisdom he was teaching appealed to the young men of Athens, who once ‘corrupted’ with a love of wisdom began resisting authority.

Review Plato’s writings about Socrates (click on link)

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It seems there were always economic incentives for political wars, and they are almost always based on irrational greedy ambitions, that far out-weigh any practical humanitarian morality or ethics. How do greedy people convince others that their ambition is better than being humble? Three main reasons for the success of Corporate greed spring to mind: first they use envious bigotry; then they use loyal patriotism, and finally it is obvious to all rational citizens that war reinforces the economic driving force of the system that employs most workers. Those reasons for war and torture however, pale in comparison with the reasons based on the best things in life which to the wisest are love, happiness, and peace. The best national dreams cannot be tied to a heartless, soulless system.

The system of ‘Progress’ defined as ‘always taking more and more’, is destroying our environment and causes wars. Call it ambition, greed, corporate marketing, commercial consumerism, or corrupt Capitalism. No laws yet tried seem capable of constraining beasts who are successful at the cost of countless others, and no free-market theory seems realistic at a large scale (ironically much like Communism). We know that unbound competition breeds hateful resentment in losers, and ruthless monopoly or egotistical pride in winners. It is proven that companies prefer to hire thugs like the Pinkertons or call in law enforcement, rather than bend to the will of the people. The natural truth of this can be realized when one considers how twins from birth may become like Janus opposites, if nurtured diametrically. The twin that is taught that they are good, and given rewards, becomes convinced they are good; and the twin that is taught that they are bad, and taken from, becomes convinced they are bad. Whether the twins are actually good or bad, may not matter if they are convinced they are those things, and they convince others that they are ‘truly’ those things. This is why to every above-board system, there will be an under-ground.

Yet we allow our rulers to wage war, and worse yet, we allow them to make us do it too, with purchases we make and taxes we pay. All it takes for bad things to happen in politics, is for good people to take no responsibility and allow bad leaders to make them complicit in national crimes against humanity. The tools of teaching and communication are available to the masses more now, than ever before in history; therefore it is more possible to have a more informed public than ever before, that is also more self-aware through network-hive complexity. It may be necessary to deconstruct our addiction to industrial consumption, commercial propaganda, and corporate consumerism; and relegate those obsessions to children’s cereal boxes, toys, and sports paraphernalia.

NEXT LECTURE: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – Sophists, Society, & Politics

Also let us not forget about Diogenes the Cynic (circa 410-320 BC)!

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Why this lecture is relevant now in 2017 – Trump

I had been putting off writing this essay because the complexity of the setting, subject, and topic kept me exploring the mysteries involved. Mysteries lost in time like myths, are hard to grasp. The legends of Socrates were certainly told in different ways when they were first written. The comedy plays that depicted him were caricatures, similar to our political cartoons in newspapers, comedy shows on television, and tabloids all wrapped up into live theater performances. This essay means only to introduce novices to these mysteries, and suggest that an epic movie could be made that covers this period in Greek history. Every area of human life could be addressed in the telling of this story.

SCOD member Sir Jeffy the Psychologist Astrologist, said he was getting more interested in ‘street epistemology’ and the art of dialectic or philosophical dialog. I told him that is the reason that Socrates is so famous and loved by people continuously; his dedication to challenge people to share what they think they know with others, ask others what they know, then to reconsider what they think they know, and to think for themselves by repeating this process as often as needed. This dialectic method makes for intensely deep conversation, and is not just playing ‘devil’s advocate’ by arguing opposing ideas for no reason, the goal of true knowledge is important. We should not just accept what others tell us is true. Thinking and evidence was not even enough for Socrates, as his search for truth led him to actually confront others face to face, and directly challenge their intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom on any issue, and at any time they were in public. This dynamic socratic theory does not allow its practitioners to successfully submit to authorities, like average industrial age workers are expected to, as is the case in modern Greece where workers continue to unionize against bosses.

The problems inside humans are often the same problems in politics. Problems manifest socially, often before leaders catch on, just as internal problems in an individual go undetected and then avoided. Then of course, there is the problem of Power, and the tendency for psychopaths to be attracted to power. Psychopaths are too egotistical and vain to care about other people. Sociopaths at least care about those they can control. There are hybrid psychopath-sociopaths, like Dexter, and they can be highly functioning politicians. When the psychopath cannot handle their own psychosis, we might call them schizophrenic, as their ‘break with reality’ becomes evident and unacceptable to themselves and other people. Internal discord is the root cause of narcissist tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Nixon, and Trump. They cannot be nurturing or loving for long enough to convince anyone who has a free-will, that they should give up their freedoms to serve them, so they must use bully words and brute force. These worst of demagogs of mankind, must be questioned publicly using socratic method, and exposed as frauds. False and untrue leaders should not be allowed to rule, and democracy must meet this challenge by constantly striving to be correctly informed, and question its own perceived truths.

THE END?

*   AUDIO RECORDING of Lecture

References:

Encyclopedia Britannica*, Socrates to Sartre, and other philosophy books

Dr. Sadler’s Philosophy videos on Youtube – thank you Greg!

Jeff Milette – SCOD “psychological astrologer” aka rehabilitation counselor

West Virginia Coal Mine Wars – Corporate war against workers is real!

Socrates’ criticism of democracy*

“Socrates’ analysis of the hatred he has incurred is one part of a larger theme that he dwells on throughout his speech. Athens is a democracy, a city in which the many are the dominant power in politics, and it can therefore be expected to have all the vices of the many. Because most people hate to be tested in argument, they will always take action of some sort against those who provoke them with questions. But that is not the only accusation Socrates brings forward against his city and its politics. He tells his democratic audience that he was right to have withdrawn from political life, because a good person who fights for justice in a democracy will be killed. In his cross-examination of Meletus, he insists that only a few people can acquire the knowledge necessary for improving the young of any species, and that the many will inevitably do a poor job. He criticizes the Assembly for its illegal actions and the Athenian courts for the ease with which matters of justice are distorted by emotional pleading. Socrates implies that the very nature of democracy makes it a corrupt political system. Bitter experience has taught him that most people rest content with a superficial understanding of the most urgent human questions. When they are given great power, their shallowness inevitably leads to injustice.”

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