In Praise of Socrates: Cancel Culture Sucks
Most people know the basics about Socrates— the Ancient Greek philosopher in a white toga, put to death for corrupting the youth of Athens. Many would recognize the famous painting, The Death of Socrates, which depicts the wise man delivering his last lecture surrounded by acolytes. They mourn the death of their beloved teacher as he dies from hemlock poisoning as part of his death sentence. The philosopher sits up with a finger raised in proclamation. It’s like he’s begging for a Monty Python finger pull-fart noise. Or a dialogue bubble near his head: “I’m not gonna pay a lot for this muffler!”
All joking aside, I was thinking about Socrates because his fate shares an uncanny resemblance to what’s now known as cancel culture. I don’t mean to sound trite talking about Socrates’ death. Instead I aim to point out what we may learn from his punishment by the State given our current cultural climate where obvious measures are taken to "cancel" others.
Although relatively benign compared to other societal problems, cancel culture disturbs me, especially as it relates to disparaging those who simply ask questions or introduce ideas. The Socratic technique begins with a question— his method of dialectical inquiry is designed to induce critical thinking. With dialogue, don’t both sides become more informed helping to shape more critical opinions? Those observing the dialectic may also learn more.
How is open inquiry not an intrinsic good? For instance, If one were to espouse a repugnant view, I say, let them! Let people hoist themselves by their own petard. Further, if one is truly sound in their views, why be triggered to the extent of muzzling or attacking a fellow citizen? Socrates hailed “wisdom that listens.”
Along these lines, I assert people should rigorously examine why individuals are attacked by the State or legacy media in a monolithic fashion— either through cancellation or character assassination. Those attacked are up against an entity fueled by harnessing religiosity towards certain beliefs. By “religiosity” I mean passionate devotion to a narrative to the extent of refusing to look at anything else.
This brings me to the exact charges against Socrates: impiety against the pantheon of Athens and corruption of the youth. Poor Socrates was literally up against religion— an eerie correspondence to the religiosity of today. It seems the modern day version of forcing someone to drink hemlock is trying to convince corporate donors to defund via character assassination, lest the corporations become maligned with them.
Socrates warned his accusers that if they sentenced him to death, “They would forever live in a waking slumber, forever remaining ignorant of their ignorance.” The philosopher maintained his innocence, refusing to be banished even though he could have lived; he felt there was nothing for him to be punished for. He accepted the hemlock with no resistance.
I shall end with a quote from the philosopher before dying. “I wish to prophesy to you who have sentenced me to death… I prophesy to you that after my death the punishment will soon descend upon you, a punishment far more severe than that which you have inflicted on me. You will have caused my death, helping in vain to escape from my critical questioning.”