Why They Killed Socrates

by Krishna on April 8, 2009

In his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, Neil Postman wrote

At the opening of Socrates’ defense, addressing a jury of five hundred, he apologizes for not having a well-prepared speech. He tells his Athenian brothers that he will falter, begs that they not interrupt him on that account, asks that they regard him as they would a stranger from another city, and promises that he will tell them the truth, without adornment or eloquence. […] as Socrates knew well, his Athenian brothers did not regard the principles of rhetoric and the expression of truth to be independent of each other. […]

To the Greeks, rhetoric was a form of spoken writing. Though it always implied oral performance, its power to reveal the truth resided in the written word’s power to display arguments in orderly progression. […] To disdain rhetorical rules, to speak one’s thoughts in a random manner, without proper emphasis or appropriate passion, was considered demeaning to the audience’s intelligence and suggestive of falsehood. Thus we can assume that many of the 280 jurors who cast a guilty ballot against Socrates did so because his manner was not consistent with truthful matter[.]

Postman suggests that we are different today in that we are suspicious about rhetoric. But I think it still matters how you present arguments. Rhetoric may be a dead art, although politicians make use of it all the time. However, someone who cannot present arguments properly will not be taken seriously even if he or she is speaking the truth.

Those who justify Socrates by saying that the Greeks were too dumb to understand him miss the point. Socrates was a master at creating enemies particularly through the use of the confrontational Socratic method which is highly overrated in my opinion. The problem with Socrates is that he made anyone wishing to argue with him look foolish. He wallowed in his paradoxical greatness (he was wise because he understood his ignorance) and kept antagonizing people even when he knew his methods were ineffective.

Too many people are like Socrates. And I don’t mean in a good way. Their way of winning arguments is counter-productive. They put people on the defensive and invite them to strike back. They assume bad faith on the part of others. Quite often, they end up shunned by others and not achieving what they wanted.

If you want to get things done, it is never useful to correct people. You can never teach people lessons that they have refused to learn in the past. The best way to achieve results is to ignore the past in any discussion and focus on the future. Don’t be obsessed with winning. Let people save face and get their way sometimes, if it isn’t critical. The key is building trust that will result in good things for all.

The ego-centric Socrates never understood this.

{ 1 comment }

Teresa November 17, 2010 at 11:56 am

“They” really didn’t kill Socrates, it was his choice… albeit via a denial to offer his own suggestion of punishment by making wisecracks, and then later suggesting a hefty “fine” resulted in the final decision/ruling. If he was as smart as he pretended in all his years, he should have offered to go live in Sparta under the “Rule” he so often defended. Socrates killed himself. He worked his way to his position, he grabbed the cup and he drank purposefully, proudly, and “smiling”. Socrates was nothing but a modern day Republican. A man who believes life and equality is only deserved for the rich. Everyone else is considered substandard and not worthy of peace, love and happiness.

Right now in the U.S., 2% of Americans own 70% of all American dollars. The Republicans are working to give them the remainder, thus giving them the control of all American men and women within the near future. They are ego maniacs, just as Socrates was an ego maniac. I don’t want to hang around long enough to watch the revolution when people finally wake up and realize what they did this past election day.

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