Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Socrates: “The Defense Speech”

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It was said that Socrates was the “Wisest Man” in the world.  Actually, Socrates was not that smart.  If he had been smart, he would have realized that teaching people to question authority was not such a good idea.  Socrates was the epitome of Greek philosophy.  He was born in 470 BCE and died in 399 BCE at the age of 71.  He died or rather was executed by taking the poison hemlock after being found guilty of “corrupting” the youth of Athens.  Corrupting should be thought of as a euphemism for actually getting the youth to “think for themselves.”  A characteristic no more desired two thousand and five hundred years ago than it is today.  (See my blog “Are Americans Brainwashed.”)

Hundreds of years later and schools are still not able to teach critical thinking skills to students.  I have been in education for over 45 years and I can testify to fact that rote learning is valued ten times more than critical thinking in any school in America.  True, there are many educators who will tell you how important critical thinking skills are.  However, when push comes to shove standardized tests, SAT tests, ACT tests, GRE tests, GMAT tests, LSAT tests, MCAT tests, diploma requirements and graduation exams all demand facts and data.  The quest for the holy grail of critical thinking goes down the toilet.

Socrates might not have actually been the smartest man or even the smartest philosopher, but he certainly knew the value of critical thinking.  The Socratic Method is still widely revered as perhaps the best method for teaching critical thinking.  Socrates did not leave a large body of writings or principles or admonitions for success and greatness.  Socrates simply left us the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions, also known as a dialectic.  The Socratic method accomplished this by questioning everything.  Wikipedia defines the method as follows:

“The Socratic method (also known as method of Elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate), is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.” —- Wikipedia

If I am sounding critical of Socrates, this is not my intent.  If any man in history was my hero, it would be Socrates.  Not only did Socrates value critical thinking and actually practice it with his pupils, but he had the audacity and courage to stick to his guns right up to the end.  To understand the integrity of the man, you must read and understand his Defense Speech given at his trial.

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The Trial of Socrates and His Defense Speech:

The fathers of Athens and the Athenian leaders had finally had enough of Socrates.  Socrates had created many enemies along the way.  Other philosophers resented his methods and his denigration of their supposed wisdom.  Prominent leaders thought he challenged democracy because Socrates believed that democratic decision making did not always result in the best decisions.  When it came to their children questioning them and their authority, this was the final straw.

Socrates was hauled into an Athenian court and charged with two counts.  Corrupting the youth of Athens and impious acts.  His impious acts involved questioning the Greek gods.  The Athenians did not have a strict separation of church and state.  Socrates really pissed them off by failing to respect their gods.  Even today, such disrespect will get you killed in many countries across the globe.

Now of course, no one has an exact transcript of Socrates trial.  It has also been generally acknowledged that despite Socrates being found guilty by five hundred Athenian jurors of both charges and sentenced to death, they were willing to let him escape to another country or face a voluntary exile.  This is where it gets really interesting and where you see the courage and integrity of Socrates.  His speech is a defense of everything Socrates finds important in life including his self-respect.

Most of what we know about Socrates and his Defense Speech is found in the following documents:

download“Primary-source accounts of the trial and execution of Socrates are the Apology of Socrates by Plato and the Apology of Socrates to the Jury by Xenophon of Athens, who had been his student; contemporary interpretations include The Trial of Socrates (1988) by the journalist I. F. Stone, and Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths (2009) by the Classics scholar Robin Waterfield.”  —- Wikipedia

I highly recommend the “Apology of Socrates” by Plato and “The Trial of Socrates” by I.F. Stone.  The following speech excerpts are taken from “The Apology” by Plato.  The Translation is by Benjamin Jowett.

“Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong – acting the part of a good man or of a bad.”

Socrates is declaring that virtue in life comes not from living or dying but from doing what you think is right or wrong.  Virtue does not come from living a long life but from living a good life.  If you suffer ill consequences from doing the right thing, it should not matter.  Your conscience is more important than your body.  Imagine for a second if the US Congress was full of men and women who adhered to this belief.

“They in their fear (of death) apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is there not here conceit of knowledge, which is a disgraceful sort of ignorance? And this is the point in which, as I think, I am superior to men in general, and in which I might perhaps fancy myself wiser than other men, – that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil.”

Years before Caesar noted that “Cowards die many deaths and heroes die only once”, Socrates was admonishing the Athenians to not fear death but to fear ignorance and to fear a hubris that was overly proud of knowledge and wisdom.  Socrates asserted that if he was wise, it was because he did not try to act as though the knew everything.  He was humble in the face of his own ignorance of the world.

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Consider today the experts that surround us and try to act like they are miniature gods.  Doctors, lawyers, engineers, military planners, intelligence experts and of course academicians all like to parade their wisdom and knowledge that in actuality is far surpassed by what they do not know.  Nevertheless, advice is rendered, fees collected and the sheep among us march passively towards a perhaps ignominious fate buoyed by a firm belief in whatever nostrum has been sold to them.

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“O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this?”

Socrates knew that money, honor, and fame often had little to do with wisdom and truth and the improvement of the soul.  Several centuries later, and we have a populace that has elected a leader because many of the voters believed that “A rich man was a wise man.”  Socrates knew this was false and so has every major prophet quoted in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every holy book every written in history from the Hindu Vedas to the writings of   Abdu’l-Bahá.

“He who hath knowledge and power will rather seek out the glory of heaven, and spiritual distinction, and the life that dieth not. And such a one longeth to approach the sacred Threshold of God; for in the tavern of this swiftly-passing world the man of God will not lie drunken, nor will he even for a moment take his ease, nor stain himself with any fondness for this earthly life.”  — Abdu’l-Bahá

It is amazing to me that the greatest works in history all tell us the same thing.  We must seek out the truth.  We must live a virtuous and moral life.  We must take success with a grain of salt.  We must not be seduced by greed and fame.  We must not judge others by how much they own or do not own.  Jesus said we must feed the hungry and take care of the sick.  Major religions all over the world are predicated on these basic ideas.  Yet, everywhere we look, we see adherents to these same religions practicing the very opposite of what their prophets have espoused.

“If this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply: Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy.”

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Socrates was more afraid of being a hypocrite than he was of dying.  He would not forfeit his integrity for his life.  Contrast that with the cowards and sycophants we see every day in the news, on TV, in the Congress and in the White House willing to forfeit their soul and anything they say they believe in to support lies, misinformation, disinformation and immoral intrigues that surpass anything imaginable.  People with more money than they can ever spend but still willing to accept bribes for power and position and more money rather than look for the truth or support a goal of knowledge driven leadership.

Socrates did not leave Athens even when his supporters offered to spirit him away.  Socrates saw such flight as cowardice and a repudiation of everything he believed in. Socrates was a martyr to integrity.  Fame for Socrates was not a fifteen-minute exercise in tweeting or attacking someone with less power than he had.  Socrates attacked the very heart and soul of all evil.  He attacked ignorance and offered a search for truth instead.

In Search of Stupid People

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Have you ever thought that there is an epidemic of stupid people?  Stupid people to the right, stupid people to the left, stupid people in front, stupid people in back of you.  You don’t have to go very far to find stupid people.  In the middle of a world-wide pandemic, we have people who still want to congregate with others.  We have ministers insisting on holding church services and encouraging people to hug and shake hands.  We have governors who deem golf courses and gun shops as “Essential” services.  I won’t dwell on some of the dumb things that our politicians have said as I am sure you have heard enough from them.

If you thought that there were easily enough stupid people to go around before, they now seem to be growing like the corona virus in exponential numbers.  When we are finally back to normal, I am going to suggest to my local college and perhaps high school that they offer a course called “Stupidity 101.”  I will also recommend that we change the name of our species from Homo Sapiens to Homo Stupidus.

Just last night, Karen and I were coming back from a trip to the grocery store and we had to stop at a railroad crossing to let a train go by.  Karen noticed that there was a sign along side the roadway that said, “Do not stop on the railroad tracks.”  She turned to me and said, “Who would be dumb enough to stop on the tracks?”  I replied that “I am sure there are enough stupid people in the world that need to be reminded.  Although I doubt that the sign would do them any good.”

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The train finally passed, and we continued down the road.  The street (named Battaglia) does not have a shoulder or streetlights where we were at.  It is a fairly narrow road.  Some movement up ahead caught my eye.  It was on the right side of the road and I swerved to the left to miss it.  As I went by what I thought might only be a post, I saw that it was a woman walking on the same side of the street with her back to traffic and half on the road.  She had on dark clothes and was barely visible.  I wanted to back up and tell her to either walk facing traffic or to wear more visible clothes or better yet, even both.  Karen was startled by my swerving and did not even see the woman as we drove by.  I told her why I had swerved.  I explained that it was just another stupid person who has a death wish.  I personally don’t care about her death inclinations as long as she finds some other way to do it besides me plowing into her with my car.

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This thought of stupid people kept echoing in my mind.  Why are there stupid people?  What makes people stupid?  How do we fix stupidity?  Is there any cure?  I went on the internet to research the subject.  As with any research we must first start with a definition of our problem or the entity we are studying.  Webster’s Online Dictionary defines stupidity as: “Behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgment.”  I thought about this definition and while it is not bad, I like my own definition better.  I would define Stupidity as “A denial of reality.”  Now, why do people deny reality?  What blinds people to objectivity?

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First of all, allow me to get off my “high horse” for a minute.  By now you are contemplating what an arrogant asshole I am.  “The whole world is stupid, but he thinks that he is the only intelligent one in the world.”  No, unfortunately, the world cannot be easily divided into stupid people and smart people.  All of us are stupid at one time or another.  I have my stupid moments and you will or have had your stupid moments.  What are some of the things that make us stupid?  My brief research shows an astounding number of things that make us stupid.  Here are some of the more common factors influencing stupidity:

  • Greed
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Ego
  • Arrogance
  • Short-term thinking
  • Power
  • Love
  • Religion

You are probably thinking “My god, is there anything that does not make us stupid?”  Even my brief list is enough to indict most of the human race at one time or another.  Take the issue of love.  Have you ever made a fool of yourself over an infatuation with someone else?  Or take religion.  How many religious zealots do you know who become so self-righteous that they cannot see the value in other religions or people who do not subscribe to their religious views?  Take any item from my list above and I am sure that you can find any number of examples to illustrate the ongoing stupidity of the human race.

Greed is a particularly interesting factor.  I once heard a quote that said, “Greed is not the worst of all sins, but it is the gateway to all others.”  Just recently we had a Lt. Governor who intoned that “older people should be willing to die for the good of the economy.”  Few older people I know have volunteered to take him up on the offer.

When we are children, we are all taught the story of the little boy and the cookie jar.  This is a great example of the stupidity that greed often leads to.

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Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived with his mom.  He was an only child and was quite spoiled.  His mother gave him everything he wanted.  One day upon his request, she made a batch of cookies.  When they had cooled, she put them in a cookie jar.  Most cookie jars are narrow at the top and wide at the bottom.  She told him that he could have one cookie each day.  As soon as she left the kitchen, he reached into the cookie jar and grabbed the biggest handful of cookies he could hold.  He then tried to get his hand out, but it would not come out.  He pulled and he yanked but he could not get his hand out.  He finally became frustrated with his efforts and screamed for his mom.

“Mom, please come quickly, I need your help.”  His mother came rushing back into the kitchen and looked at her son.  “What is your problem?”  “I can’t get my hand out of the jar.  It is stuck.”  “Well, let go of the cookies” she replied.  The little boy opened his fist and let the cookies fall out of his hand.  Immediately he was able to take his hand out of the jar.  The moral of the story is so obvious I will not insult your intelligence.  But think about all the people and companies and politicians who have their hands in the cookie jar and cannot get them out.  Stupidity is a derivative of greed in many cases.

So what can we do about stupidity?  Will my Stupidity 101 class cure the problem?  What would I teach in Stupidity 101?  Some people say that “you cannot cure stupidity.”  Is this true?  Are we doomed to stupidity as a race?  Can scientists help us?  Are they the people with the solution? Or do we look to philosophers to help us?

"I've been thinking harder than you have, and my thought experiment disproves your thought experiment."

Goethe’s Faust is a classic example of the folly of brains and intellect.

“The erudite Faust is highly successful yet dissatisfied with his life, which leads him to make a pact with the Devil at a crossroads, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The Faust legend has been the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works that have reinterpreted it through the ages. “Faust” and the adjective “Faustian” imply a situation in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success for a limited term.” — Wikipedia

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Tragically, Faust not only destroys his life in a sybaritic bargain for power, knowledge and lust but he nearly destroys the woman who falls in love with him in the process.  Marguerite is redeemed because she repents and sees the folly of her ways but for Faust there is no redemption and he goes down to hell for his deeds.  Stupid thinking by highly intelligent people is nearly as common as among those of lesser intelligence and intellect.  So the question still remains “Can we cure stupidity and if so How?”

See:  10 Most Famous Scientific Theories That Were Later Debunked

"Ulrich, that's bad science and you know it!"

I wish I had the answer to this question but alas, I have no solution.  Here are some comments from others perhaps far wiser than I am.

“The donkey heard the book gives wisdom and ate it.”  ― Ljupka Cvetanova, The New Land

“People think that whatever comes out of the mouth of a wise man is the choicest gem, sometimes it’s utter stupidity and rubbish” ― Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls Of Eternity

“I’m tired of being told it’s elitist to call stupid behavior stupid. Remember when you were just a tot and thought it might be a good idea to stick your wee-wee in the electrical socket? Hopefully, you had a mom who kicked you in the behind and called you stupid. There are times when mincing words and pleasant euphemisms simply don’t cut it. Sometimes, you need to call stupid by its given name.”  ― Quentin R. Bufogle, Horse Latitudes

“Wisdom is the distance between intelligence and stupidity.”  ― Matshona Dhliwayo

 

 

I Wonder Who’s Curious Today?

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I wonder how many great novels have started out with these two words: “I Wonder?”  Ok, I am curious, so I will find out.  “Google, how many great novels have started with the words: ‘I wonder’?”   Well, I found “Wonder” a great book about children who are different and Natalie Merchant’s beautiful song “Wonder” about the same subject, but no list of great novels.  I will try again: “Novels beginning with the words ‘I wonder’.”

Wow, now I have found a list of some interesting books.  Foremost among the list of books is “I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey: by Langston Hughes.

In I Wonder as I Wander, Langston Hughes vividly recalls the most dramatic and intimate moments of his life in the turbulent 1930s.

His wanderlust leads him to Cuba, Haiti, Russia, Soviet Central Asia, Japan, Spain (during its Civil War), through dictatorships, wars, revolutions. He meets and brings to life the famous and the humble, from Arthur Koestler to Emma, the Black Mammy of Moscow. It is the continuously amusing, wise revelation of an American writer journeying around the often strange and always exciting world he loves.

Now I am getting somewhere.  Although sadly, Mr. Hughes stole the title of my proposed next book.  But I will let it go.  I am sure I can think of another title.  But the point that I am thinking about is that wonder and curiosity is or should be the essence of our lives.  “Once upon a time” is probably the most popular starting words for many stories, but I propose that “I wonder” should be the start of any journey.  More stories need to start with “I Wonder.”

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I wonder why they do not?  I think I know.  Schools do not encourage wonder and curiosity. Schools encourage learning the right answers to pass tests.  Society does not encourage wonder and curiosity.  How many times have you heard “Curiosity killed the cat?”  Of course, the retort is “And satisfaction brought it back.”  But there is already the societal warning that curiosity can kill you.  Consider one of the most famous anti-heroines in history and her story about wonder and curiosity.

debfcabe3a329e58d451650b7bbe3120653267d4r1-299-371v2_uhqPandora was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus.  Pandora was a curious woman.  She was given a jar or box by the conniving Zeus with all the evils of the world.   Being a woman (sexism at its earliest) she could not resist peaking in the box.  So she opened it and inadvertently allowed all the evils within lose upon the world.  The only thing that did not fly out of the box was the spirit of Hope which remained in the box when Pandora put the lid back on.  Thus to this day, our world is full of evil but balance always by the ever-present Hope that things will be better.  Nothing could be more fitting than Hope for the times we live in today.

Here is a great song to listen to about Pandora’s Box by David Francey

Now, I have been teaching since 1975, on and off. I have taught every grade from preschool, to elementary school to high school and up though grad school.  There are trends and fads in teaching like in business and society.  Many argue every year about what the “core curriculum” of a school should be.  Some say math is essential, some say English is essential.  Some want civility to be added to the curriculum and some are still fighting over the dreaded “Sex education.”

One of the most popular subjects today is “Critical Thinking Skills.”  Every single teacher in America believes that “Critical Thinking” should be part of every curriculum yet less than five percent of any curriculum is allotted to these skills. There simply is not enough time to teach everything that people want to see taught.  Particularly, when we have standardized tests to prepare for and a believe that what was good for the Greeks and Middle Ages is still valid today.

Here is a great song for the curious:  “Be Curious” with English lyrics by Humood Alkhuder

I could leave every one of these subjects behind.  It is my belief that schools should only teach one thing.  That thing would be “wonder and curiosity.”  I doubt if anyone would agree with me.  I can hear the arguments now: “Schools must prepare children for life.”  “Schools must prepare children for jobs.”  “Schools must prepare children for society.”

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Just think for a second.  What if schools actually did teach children to be more curious?  What if they taught children to wonder about the world, to wonder about life, to wonder about people?  What would anyone imbued with a sense of wonder be like?

5 Benefits of Being A Curious Person by Leigh Weingus

  1. It can strengthen your relationships.
  2. It can help protect your brain.
  3. It can help you overcome anxiety.
  4. It correlates with happiness.
  5. It can help you learn pretty much anything.

You will find many articles about the virtue of curiosity on the web.  You will also find many of the components of curiosity.  Whether or not we can teach curiosity is perhaps another issue.  I have seen little in my many years of education that show we have the desire or knowledge to teach children to be curious.  If anything, I think curiosity is an innate trait which rather than nurture we do the best to kill.  Children ask fewer and fewer questions as they progress through our school systems.

‘Schools are killing curiosity’: why we need to stop telling children to shut up and learn – The Guardian

Imagine if you will that kids were not taught answers but were taught questions.  Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that they are the most curious little creatures on the face of the earth.  But right from childhood on, we do our best to extinguish this innate curiosity.

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Imagine if kids who asked, “who made the world?” or “why do I have to do that?” were given the quest to investigate and come back with their own opinions.  Imagine if children who asked, “why are some people racist?” or “why do people hurt other people?” were told “Well, I don’t really know, but can you research this and come back and tell the class what you have found out?”

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Imagine if we had leaders who asked more questions and looked more to experts to help solve social problems rather than political polls.  Imagine if politicians were curious about life and wanted to explore life rather than control it.  Imagine if stories written in newspapers and the media were less biased and more honest about what is known and what is not known.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.  — —”Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'” LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p. 64” — Albert Einstein

Once Upon a Time, I thought I knew Everything.

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The older I get, the less I know.  Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?  A friend of mine, Jerry, gave me this quote from Bertrand Russell the other day “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”  The Greek philosopher Socrates was once proclaimed to the wisest man in the world. The day before he died, Socrates declared that he knew nothing.  On that same day, the Oracle at Delphi was asked “Who is the wisest man in the world?”  She replied “Socrates is the wisest man in the world.”  This was reported back to Socrates who said “When I was young, I knew everything but now I know nothing.”  The Oracle, who was never wrong, was asked “How can Socrates be the wisest man in the world when he knows nothing?” She replied “Only the wisest man in the world would know that he knows nothing and have the courage and humility to admit it.”

Facts

We go to school to learn many facts and figures.  We study history to learn the story of humanity, we study physics to learn the theory of the cosmos, we study biology to learn how animals grow and develop and we study science so we will know how the world really works.  We learn more and more and are coerced into theories and opinions and positions.  We become more and more certain that we are wiser and smarter.

The more degrees that are conferred on us, the smarter we are supposed to be.  If we are really smart, we begin to feel that all of these facts and data bits are not really helping us to understand the world.  The older most of us get and the more learned most of us become, the more we suspect that there are no truths to the world.  We begin to see that there are always truths behind the truths that we think we have found.  Our profundities become curiosities as we age until at some point they wither away and become obsolete.  How many theories have you seen that were proven wrong?  How many times have you had to eat humble pie because something you were absolutely positively sure about was proven conclusively wrong?

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I remember seeing a picture in the paper the other day of a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl.  He was accused of pedophilia and charged with a felony offense.  I took one look at the visage staring out of the paper at me and promptly proclaimed “If there were ever a guy who was a pedophile, he sure is.”  A few weeks later, a more complete investigation proved him completely innocent of all offenses and the young girl admitted that she made the story up for some unknown reason.  I was beyond having egg on my face.  You would think that at my age, I would have learned to avoid a rush to judgment.  I can make no excuses for my blatant stupidity.

Every few months, the media finds some new tragedy or murder case to focus on.  A few years ago it was the Trayvon Martin case.  It seemed that every day we were confronted with some new facts that supported a change in who the media wanted us to think was guilty.  Trayvon initiated the encounter.  Zimmerman initiated the encounter.  Trayvon provoked Zimmerman.  Zimmerman provoked Trayvon.  Trayvon was a good kid.  Zimmerman was a good guy loved by all of his friends.  Trayvon was a racist.  Zimmerman was a racist.

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Tapes, witnesses, photo enlargements, medical information, acoustic information, video tapes, the entire gamut was presented daily with one expert after another telling us what they think.   This same scenario plays itself out over and over again in the media.  The “crime of the century” has been replaced by the “crime of the week.”

Right Way

Each day regardless of what news we read or what cable show we watch, it appears we know more and more about less and less.  What are we doing here folks?  Are they looking for truth or are they selling papers?  Are we voyeurs to some weird witch hunt?  Are we taking sides so we can become right?  If so, we will truly have become a Roman Circus instead of a civilized society of laws and courts and presumptions of innocence until proven guilty.

If we can somehow get pass this media circus that pretends to convey the truth,  there are lessons that we need to learn.  If you remember the famous story Rashomon, you may realize that truth is often a matter of perspective and not hard cold facts.

Time for Questions: 

What can you help do to overcome the types of bias and prejudice that the media often promotes?  How can you avoid your own “rush to judgment?”  What does it mean to “judge not others, less you be judged yourself.”  How often do we see the mote in others eyes but ignore the pole in our own?

Life is just beginning.

“We live in a culture where everyone’s opinion, view, and assessment of situations and people spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, much of it shaped by mindless meanness and ignorance.”  — Mike Barnicle

Irony, Paradox and Serendipity or why a Donkey knew best!

Once upon a time, back when animals could talk and people did not rule the world, there was a donkey named Isaiah.  Isaiah was the wisest animal in the land.  He knew everything about life and death.  All of the animals, even the owls came to Isaiah when they had a question they could not answer or when they had a key decision to make.  The most intelligent people in the world would also come to Isaiah when they had a problem they could not figure out.   Isaiah was not only  intelligent but he was kind as well.  Now that might seem like a paradox to some.  Can we be intelligent and also kind?  Were not managers at Enron the “smartest men in the room?”  Maybe, but Enron’s senior management would hardly seem to qualify as kind when you consider the damage they did to the lives of their employees.   In truth, it often seems that the greatest paradoxes of all time, involve the harm done by “highly intelligent people.”  The world is full of examples of smart people who do great harm because they care little for the feelings or welfare of others. Fortunately for the world, Isaiah was not this kind of creature.  He was the epitome of wisdom because he combined intelligence with feelings and empathy for others.

No matter what the problem, Isaiah would always consider the potential damage and impact on others of his decisions and choices.  Whenever he reasoned out a problem, the morals and ethics of the problem were just as important to Isaiah as the solutions.  A solution which caused damage to anyone was not seen as a good solution.   Many of the people and animals were skeptical that Isaiah could always find a win-win solution but somehow Isaiah always did.  Most people find that the key decisions they make result in ironic outcomes that they would not have been able to predict.  This was not the case with Isaiah’s solutions.  His outcomes were never ironic.  Isaiah seemed to have the ability (like Merlin) to foresee the future.  Within the unlimited possibilities of various time-lines that the future laid out, Isaiah could always find the optimal path.

Once when one of the animals asked Isaiah how he managed to construct such robust solutions, he attributed his ability to serendipity.  According to Isaiah, his ideas were often happy accidents which surprised him with their elegance and simplicity.  But how could serendipity be the answer when his batting average was 100 percent.  Thus, another paradox, how could serendipitous decision-making result in outcomes that are always beneficial?   Luck may favor the prepared mind but even luck has its limits.  Isaiah’s abilities seemed to be more of the miraculous nature than of a serendipitous nature.  If so, this is truly ironic, since Isaiah did not believe in ghosts, gods, angels or miracles.

However, as with all good things, they must eventually come to an end.  Isaiah grew old in years and tired in body if not sometimes in spirit.  He had less energy for solving the problems of the world and gradually the animals and humans stopped coming to him for solutions.  The various species retreated further and further from each other.  Humans started building houses and walls and fences to keep themselves in and animals out.  Ironically, the further they went from each other, the more they mistrusted each other. Fear led to mistrust, mistrust led to suspicion.  The once harmonious relationship that existed between animals and humans dissolved in a mist of animosity and betrayal.

Friends started killing and eating friends and inexorably neither side could trust the other side.  Excuses for killing others became the norm and a human declared a theory called “Survival of the Fittest.”  Within this theory, might became right, power made the rules and the “fittest” could dominate those deemed as less fit.  Whole species were seen as suitable for consumption or slavery by other species.  Everyone was a commodity.  Anyone with no commercial value went to the bottom of the economic pie.  Human Resources became the norm in business and English Majors, History Majors, Art Majors and Philosophy Majors were paid less than high school dropouts.  Those who were loyal to the economic engines of society were given status and high paying jobs.

Sadly, Isaiah saw all this, but could find no solutions to the problems or trends.  Eventually, though he lived for many hundreds of years, people just regarded him as that “dumb old donkey” who did not say much.  As time passed, most people and animals even forgot that Isaiah had a brain or could speak.  Isaiah did not feel the need to disabuse anyone of their conceptions and so he just kept to himself.  At the age of 5887 years Isaiah died.  His body was sent to a glue factory to be processed.  He left no legacy of writings, nor any erudite body of knowledge, nor any great poetry nor any glorious music to be remembered by.  Just another old donkey that croaked, so who cares!

Some, if they had known Isaiah might have chided him for not posting his ideas and thoughts on Facebook or YouTube.  At least that way, he might have achieved some measure of fame if not fortune.  Ironically, or paradoxically, or serendipitously, (choose one), it never occurred to Isaiah to become Internet or Google savvy or famous or rich.  History may someday rediscover his genius and perhaps he will yet be remembered in homage to his major contributions to world peace for thousands of years.  Stranger things than that have happened of late on the Internet.

By the way, it is generally believed or was at least “once upon a time” that Isaiah (and not Euripides or Aeschylus or Sophocles) was the Father of Irony, Paradox and Serendipity and that these concepts were widely used by him in his conversations and discussions with other humans and animals. Thus, while the words today bear an etymology that derives from Greek vocabulary, their usage in practice and ideology must be attributed to Isaiah the Donkey.

Time for Questions:

Can you give me an example of irony or serendipity or paradox in your life?  What do ideas matter anyway or do they?  What if everyone was a philosophy major?  What would happen if more people practiced kindness instead of hate?  What value do animals have?  Are they just commodities?  What if we were all vegetarians?  Would it make any difference to the world?

Life is just beginning. 

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