We admire Socrates as a fearless, relentless seeker of truth. Yet if, today, he were to walk among us again, interrogating us as we take our morning stroll, shop, hang out in public places and leave places of worship, we, no doubt, would be impatient, irritated, offended and angry.
And as he continuously questioned those in power, occasionally on CNN, President Trump would rage on Air Force One, his hair aflame and Nancy Pelosi’s makeup would melt with pique. Fox News and MSNBC would call him a dangerous provocateur. Opposition to his questioning all beliefs would finally result in his losing his security clearance and being deported, drinking hemlock on a bus to Mexico or a flight to Guatemala.
With the gadfly for truth finally gone, we would return to our safe, comfortable truth nests where we hatch slogans and propaganda to defend our beliefs. We each love our nest of truth, in its tree of like nests of truth, where we tweet our versions of the truth back and forth. In unison, we twitter intolerantly and loudly toward trees with truth nests that differ from ours.
If among us, Socrates would not pontificate. As he did with his young millennial friend, Euthyphro, he would simply question us about our opinions on cultural, political and religious issues. “What do you mean by making America great again?” he would ask. There would be, of course, a look of puzzlement, perhaps incredulity, that he wouldn’t understand something so obvious. As we gave an answer like “The best in the world,” he would ask us to define “best.” “Really,” we would think, “best means more powerful and wealthy than other countries.” He would smile and ask, “Why are power and wealth best?”
At this point, irritated and tired of his questioning every response, we would look at our smart phone and say, “Hey, Socrates, got an appointment and have to run.” And as we walked briskly away, self assured that our unexamined beliefs were ruffled, but still intact and valid, we would think, “He really needs to get a life and a new pair of jeans.”
Yes, we admire Socrates, but at a distance where he should stay, entombed as a beloved martyr for truth. Of course, we think that if he walked among us we would not condemn him as did the Athenians, but, doubtless, we would because he would force us to examine the meaning, facts, history and logic of our fundamental beliefs about life. “OMG,” we would tweet from our truth nests, “Socrates corrupts the youth and denies the gods of America!”
So, let Socrates, that avid, driven seeker of truth, not be a live, prodding voice, but one heard only in philosophy classes. And if we should happen to hear, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” we will ignore it as we confidently rest in our cozy nests of truth.
Jack Hernandez is a retired director of the Normaln Levan Center of the Humanities at Bakersfield College. The opinions expressed are his own.