Saturday, October 20, 2012

Yo, Socrates!


Time for another pseudo-script, this time for an upcoming lecture on Plato's Apology. Our scene begins after Socrates has rebuked his "first accusers." Now he faces Meletus and other Athenian citizens who condemn Socrates for various impieties and - even worse - accuse our hero of corrupting the city's youth. Plato may have called this piece a dialogue, but be prepared: The Apology is mostly a broadside by Socrates against those who would condemn him. 

Socrates: OK, you say I teach the youth not to believe in the gods – at least not the gods recognized by Athens.

Meletus: Worse. You don’t believe in any gods.

Socrates: Man, for someone who claims to “care” so much, you certainly don’t care to get your facts straight. You’re prosecuting the wrong guy. It’s either that phantom “Socrates” you read about in that play by Aristophanes, or it's that atheist Anaxagoras. I mean, sure, I dabbled in cosmology back in my youth. Come on, we all did! It was the early Fifth Century, for gods’ sakes. We were all hanging out with the Oracle of Delphi, getting high on fumes. But that doesn’t make me Anaxagoras! Here’s a hint, Care-Bear: We spell and pronounce our names differently. Get it? I may be many things, but I’m sure as hell no atheist.

Meletus: Like I said, you’re a complete atheist.

Socrates: And you’re nothing but a little pipsqueak. Look, you know I believe in divine things. So how can you say I don’t believe in those things that make them divine? You know, the gods? See? See? You must be joking, Meletus. You’re making a mockery out of this trial, trying to confuse folks with these petty charges. Admit it, dude; admit that you’ve brought me here for one reason and one reason only: You’re a tool of those fools who can’t handle my righteous Truth Bombs. Just admit it. I mean, if I’m gonna die for something, let me at least die for something worthwhile. Hey, remember Achilles? Yeah, that guy was brave. He didn’t fear death, even when he knew that fighting Hector would seal his fate. No, he didn’t fear death; he feared dishonor. And you know what? I’m kind of like that guy. Sure, I’m old now. But back in the day, I kept my courage in battle when other soldiers were soiling their armor. I wasn’t scared then, and I’m not scared now. Not of you. No, what scares me is the idea of running away from my duty. To quote that esteemed philosopher Eminem, “God sent me to piss the world off.” And I’m just getting warmed up. Really. So go ahead, release me. Let me go. Know what’ll happen? I’ll tell you what’ll happen. You may release me, but I won’t release you. I’ll come at you until every last Athenian knows that they do not know. I’ll do it because, again quoting Brother Eminem, “I'm sick of you little girl and boy groups. All you do is annoy me. So I have been sent here to destroy you.” And that’s exactly what I’ll do. But with love, the love of a momma cat whose barbed tongue cleans off the dirt from her kitties’ coats, the love of a philosopher who will strip away every last piece of ignorance from each and every one of you. Oh, you think you can hurt me? You can’t do a thing to me. Not a thing. "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Yeah, I'm quoting Star Wars. Deal with it. In fact, if you kill me, you’re just hurting yourselves. Think about it. I’m that alarm clock you want to smash in the morning, the very same clock that wakes you up. Remember The Matrix? Yeah, Dark City was better, but whatever. Wake up suckers! Know what I'm sayin'? Ring-ring-ring. Clue-Phone. It’s for you! That’s what I’m saying. And I’m gonna keep on saying it. And I’ll do it for free too. I’ll do it freely, even if it costs me. Check with my wife, my three kids. Am I around for them? Hell no. I’m always out there, helping you idiots. So now you ask, “But oh, oh, why won’t you become a politician, Socrates, why won’t you serve us that way?” Yeah, right. That’s what you need, another politician. There’s a little voice in my head – call it God, call it divinity; call it an undigested bit of beef, whatever – there’s that little voice that keeps reminding me that political life is a sucker’s bet: Have you ever noticed what happens to politicians who stand up against this mob you call a democracy? Huh? How does that work out? Screw that. I’ll keep my number private. I mean, sure, once I held an office. And when our government decided to use that office to punish folks unfairly, I told the government to bite me. “Bite me,” I said. I wasn’t scared. You think I’m scared of you? Oh, and one more thing. Let me remind you: Anything I ever said, I said for free. Free. That means, I wasn’t acting as a professional – like one of those loony Sophists. I was acting as a person, just asking questions. That’s it. That’s what I do: I ask questions, yo. I seek the truth. And look around you. See all those men here who’ve answered my questions? Are they corrupted? Are they injured? Yeah, maybe. If you consider truth to be an injury. And that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? We’re here because you don’t want the truth. You can’t handle the truth. No truth-handlers, you. So bring it on. Judge me according to the law, if you’ve got the guts.

[The Jury finds Socrates guilty]

Socrates: Wimps. But really, I’m not surprised. Well, I am a little surprised. I’m surprised it was this close. So now Meletus would have you sentence me to death. And me, I’m supposed to offer some sort of alternative sentence. So, OK, let’s see, what would be an ideal punishment for me? Hmmm, when you think about it, there’s only one proper penalty: free meals at the town hall. Yeah, punish me with free food. After all, I’m always trying to get you to stop thinking from your stomachs, to think from your souls. So fill me with Happy Meals, the least nourishing thing you’ve got. A stuffed belly: that’s a fit punishment for a good philosopher. Oh, but perhaps you think I’m kidding, like silly Meletus here who helped concoct this joke of a trial. So what else should I propose? Throw me in jail? Throw me out of town? No way. I won’t go. What kind of life would that be? Me, unable to do what I’m here to do, unable to help people examine their lives. So, should I pay a fine? Yeah, that’s rich. I have no money, people! Got it? No money. Well, I guess I could pay a small fine, one as small as my means – and as worthless as this trial. I’ve got rich pals who’re rolling in dough. A few tokens are useless to them, like this whole thing has been useless to me. So that’s my proposal, I guess: Take some money, for the good it will do you.

[The jury deliberates and selects Socrates’ punishment]

Socrates: Death, huh? Yeah, I figured. But, seriously, what do you think you’ll accomplish? My death needs no help from the likes of you. I'm like, 70 years old, remember? What’s worse, I’m not the one getting punished here. You are. You think I’m the last gadfly to bother you? Forget it. There’ll be others. And they’ll be younger than you. Kids may be my downfall, but they’ll dance on your graves too. So now I’m off to die. No worries here. But before I go, a brief word to those jurors who voted for acquittal… Remember that inner voice that has guided me all these years? Well that voice guided me to this moment; it led me here to die. And that voice has never steered me wrong. So I can tell you with some confidence that my death is not evil, no matter how unjust it may seem. In fact, death is likely to a good thing. Just imagine: Me, Socrates, wandering among truly great men and women in the afterlife, pestering them with my questions. “So, Mr-Epic-Hero, you think you’re so good? You sure? How do you know?” Yeah, that’ll be cool. And they’ll appreciate it, those who died like me. They'll be like, "Thanks, Socrates!" And I'll be all, "No problem, dudes." See? They’ll understand my value. As to those folks who condemned me, I wouldn’t blame them if they actually believed in the crap that tried to sling. Ah, but there’s no point in being bitter. I’m ready for my reward. Just do me this one favor: Take care of my kids. Don’t worry about their wealth or their stature of course. I never did. What I mean is, if you see ‘em acting a fool, if you seem ‘em putting on airs, promise me you’ll give ‘em a swift kick. They may complain. You know how kids can be. But that’s OK. If someone’s being an ass, ya gotta kick ‘em in the rear. In the end, it’s the kindest thing you can do.

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