The socratic method is something I employ in much of my writing – the willingness to challenge any point of view to garner information and improve any given position. It’s not Hegelian Dialectics (that would be a quasi-political choice/position that doesn’t interest me) – it’s the pursuit of knowledge in the name of functionality and fitter points of view that I deem crucial to a meaningful conversation.
Over the years I’ve annoyed and criticized liberals, conservatives, libertarians, moderates, the opportunistic and shifty, as well as the apathetic, the pious, the atheists and agnostics, and all kinds of dogmatists. I have a weakness for the doctrinaire, be they left or right, religious or not. Ideologues are great catches (they’re obsessed with the end of history, poor sods) and so are the self-professed pragmatists, such as total free-marketeers (is the totally free market not an ideology?). Laughter cue! I love honing in on any given cause, be it inclusive or exclusive – feminism that turns narrow-minded and power-obsessed, for example, or male fraternity that destroys more than it fraternizes with, or family values that have no compassion for others, hurting people in the name of kin. I have choice words for the fallacy of the majority, for the entitlement of the minority – especially when it rises against oppression, its causes often founded on counter-tyrannical principles – and can’t but hold up a mirror to those who crush in the name of creating, who crack down in the name of order, who have faith in the concept of atheism, who champion technology over religion with religious fervor … it goes on and on.
I have very very few friends as a result (critical thinking and smooth relations don’t go hand in hand) but enough about me and my self pity. That’s not the point. The idea is to trace out the need for relentlessly critical dialog, the willingness to keep pushing the limits of debate. The ability to examine any point of view from an informed angle so that we may improve it is my worldview of choice – how we challenge each other with the aim to come together. Sometimes we reach progressive conclusions, other times we find the need for more concrete and traditional outcomes. Sometimes we see the need for steady centralized positions while on numerous occasions the way to go is relativism.
Critical thinking and smooth relations don’t go hand in hand
The point is to never balk from critical thinking.
And when people claim that we’re annoying, let’s take it into consideration. If we’re pissing people off because we know everything, just because, that’s that, we deserve a smack or two, figuratively speaking for the most part. But if we’re annoying others with well-articulated arguments while at the same time allowing room for breathing and exploration, letting people try out this approach versus that approach in an effort to figure out what works, what doesn’t, how to improve things etc – if we provoke matters while also letting them happen, and for some reason people are terribly annoyed with us, let them. Know-it-alls will know everything they need to know to render themselves irrelevant in the long term.
And there we have it, the point of an examined life.
Thus spake Socrates, not verbatim but in between the lines. The paraphrasing is generous, perhaps even an appropriation of the man’s philosophy in the name of one’s pursuit of knowledge in the 21st century. But so what? Christianity appropriated wine from the pagans to create the sacrament, the hedonists appropriated wine from the Church in the name of heavenly gastronomy … Everyone appropriates. Everything is a result of something lifted and adjusted and recycled and shaped into something similar but different.
We call it culture.
Reaching? Maybe, but then again, who isn’t? If you don’t reach, you don’t gain.
Bottom line, it’s a pain to be alive and conscious, yet also a blessing, a tricky privilege we sometimes forget to apply in a manner that takes us forward, going round in circles instead. It stings to focus.
Socrates was the prototype pain in the neck, and what a sweet pain it is to expand on his MO in this volatile day and age, keeping the debate honest and our opinions under scrutiny, come what may.
From your socratic Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.