Tuesday, September 21, 2010

America, Love It or Leave It – Said Socrates

It was a familiar bumper sticker to baby-boomers during the counter-culture revolution of the sixties. The phrase was embraced by those who felt under attack and despised by those who considered themselves to be cerebral. It was the perfect expression for the time: short, easily remembered, and notable for the visceral reaction of anyone who read it. There was no way to avoid the reaction. You could react one of two ways (as it asks you to) because there was no way to remain indifferent to the concept.

You either loved your country or you didn’t.

The Sixties aren’t over quite yet. In many ways, the counter-culture revolution is ongoing. Try typing that phrase into your favorite search engine and you’ll find the same opinions and reactions to it today. It’s the line that still divides us. The terminally hip among us, in their effort to appear intelligent and at the forefront of modern society, look down their nose at such a concept. To them, anyone who subscribes to that notion is a knuckle-dragging, Bible-thumping, bitter-clinger, hopelessly out of touch and quite possibly a product of inbreeding.

These self-described intellectuals would be surprised to discover that the phrase they smugly denounce was expressed by one of the worlds’ great thinkers, Socrates.

That’s right, Socrates.
In Plato’s Crito, Socrates is visited by his friend of the same name who has come to free him from prison. As you may know, one of the reasons why Socrates is considered one of the world’s great philosophers is that he was always seeking the good in everything. His discourses consisted of questions framed by logic with his eye fixed on positive results for the individual, his family and the state.

Here’s a short synopsis;

The exchange between Socrates and Crito shows the thinker unafraid to die and convinced that to allow himself to be freed from prison would show him to be a hypocrite for betraying his beliefs. Interestingly for the sports fan, Socrates also makes the case for an athlete needing a good coach. But I digress.

Holding in his heart the deeply held belief that he should do what is right regardless of the opinions of the masses, Socrates lays out the model of responsible citizenship along with an argument for goodness.

Goodness first…
Socrates. Are we to say that we are never intentionally to do wrong, or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought not to do wrong, or is doing wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying, and as has been already acknowledged by us? Are all our former admissions which were made within a few days to be thrown away? And have we, at our age, been earnestly discoursing with one another all our life long only to discover that we are no better than children? Or are we to rest assured, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm that?

Crito. Yes.

Socrates. Then we must do no wrong?

Crito. Certainly not.

And now citizenship, from the point of view of the city…

Socrates. … For, after having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and given you and every other citizen a share in every good that we had to give, we further proclaim and give the right to every Athenian, that if he does not like us when he has come of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him; and none of [our] laws will forbid him or interfere with him. Any of you who does not like us and the city, and who wants to go to a colony or to any other city, may go where he likes, and take his goods with him. But he who has experience of the manner in which we order justice and administer the State, and still remains, has entered into an implied contract that he will do as we command him. And he who disobeys us is, as we maintain, thrice wrong: first, because in disobeying us he is disobeying his parents; secondly, because we are the authors of his education; thirdly, because he has made an agreement with us that he will duly obey our commands; and he neither obeys them nor convinces us that our commands are wrong; and we do not rudely impose them, but give him the alternative of obeying or convincing us; that is what we offer and he does neither.

Sound logic, no? As they say, read it all.

And I just added another "P".

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