RE: virus: Looking for blame in all the wrong places

TheHermit (
Sun, 2 May 1999 19:54:21 -0500

> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf
> Of
> Sent: Sunday, May 02, 1999 6:29 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: virus: Looking for blame in all the wrong places
> In a message dated 5/2/99 2:37:36 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
> writes:
> > Socrates was offered the choice of exile or hemlock. He
> chose the poison.
> > Which factor do you think is most to blame for the
> Socratic tragedy?
> >
> > Radical Greek philosophical notions promoted extremist beliefs.
> > Violent arguments about the nature of society leads to
> more widespread
> > violence
> > His parents failed him by not taking responsibility for him.
> > Experimental theatre promoted anti-social behavior.
> > Poison was just to easy to find.
> >
> > No! No! No! A thousand times no! The reason we respect him
> today is that he
> > committed suicide because it was the only ethical protest
> he could make in
> a
> > society that forbade other forms of protest.
> >From what I have read, Socrates had recourse to public platform and
> opportunity for moral suasion during his defense and as I
> recall it was
> weak, suggesting as you and other scholars imply suicide was
> a deliberate
> choice. Are you also implying it was a political act? If so,
> was he a
> pacifist? It seems that in exile he would have had opportunity to act
> politically more effectively. If it was a matter strictly of
> ethics, right
> and wrong, his act was a surrender. It seems ironic that his
> pupils were able
> to use his methods to their own ends ( revolt and power being
> an extremee
> form of protest ) yet Socrates himself failed.
> I hope I have not infected anyone in this my first posting to
> this list.
> Irena
> >

Welcome to the list. How could you offend? Even if we are all gods, or if we are all the gods there are (which is not that different).

Socrates was executed for "Corrupting the youth", "making the weaker argument stronger" and "offending the gods". He chose consistency over survival. Any other choice would have been unethical. Making it a strongly ethical decision. That is why his greatness is still recognized today. I doubt that it could be considered a political act, and Athens was a city of immense turmoil. I doubt that anything his "pupils" did in a political sense could be construed as deriving from his teachings.

Just as I disagreed with the two young men who shot up Littleton, I disagree fundamentally with Socrates, and yet I fail to see the difference in motivation between Socrates and Harris and Klebold. Bear in mind as you read this that Socrates was 70 years old, had already lived a full life and did not wish to live in exile. I think he sought death as an affirmation of his life. Placing principle before self. This is frequently cause for greatness, yet even more frequently cause for tragedy (if anyone can tell the difference). As it was in Colarado. I have tried to summarize what I consider to be the relevant concepts from the trial of Socrates below. (You can read the full trial at )

..I examined this man, for I won't speak his name; but he was a politician, and I had this experience:
discussing with him he seemed to be wise to many people and especially to himself, but he didn't seem so to me; and then I tried to show him that he thought he was wise, but was not. So as a result I was hated by him and by many present; going away I said to myself, "I'm wiser than he is; for probably neither of us knows anything good, but he thinks he knows something but doesn't, while even though I don't know anything either, I don't think that I do.

Therefore I went away a little wiser in this respect, that I don't think that I know what I don't know."
Then I went to another who seemed wiser than he, but to me it seemed to turn out the same way; and there I was hated by that one and by many others.

After this I went to one after another, perceiving that I was hated, and grieving and fearful; yet I thought I should make the divine most important. So considering what I thought the oracle meant, I had to go to all who thought they knew. And by the dog, to tell you the truth, Athenians,
I found that the ones most esteemed seemed to me to be almost the most deficient, but others less esteemed seemed more reasonable...

Also the youth accompanying me, who have leisure because their parents are wealthy, enjoy hearing people examined, and they often imitate me and examine others; then, I think, they find many people who think they know something, but know little. So then those examined by them become angry at me, instead of at themselves, and they say, "This is that damned Socrates who corrupts the youth."When someone asks them what I do and teach, they don't know what to say, but in order not to seem confused, they say what's handy against all philosophers, "the things heavenly and below the earth" and "not believing in gods"
and "making the weaker argument stronger."

For the truth, I think, which they don't want to say, is that it's being made clear that they don't know what they're claiming to know. So many of them being ambitious and stubborn and speaking violently against me both now and before have filled your ears with violent slanders....

I've told you the truth, Athenians, without concealing anything or holding anything back. I realize that I'm making myself hated by doing this, and this is an indication that I am telling the truth. For this is the prejudice against me and its causes. If you investigate it now or later, you'll find it so....

So, Athenians, I'm not wrong on Meletus' charge, and I think that little defense is enough.

As I said before, the great hatred from many against me, is what will convict me, if I'm convicted,
not Meletus nor Anytus, but this prejudice and envy, which has convicted many good men and will again;
there isn't much chance of it stopping with me.

Now perhaps someone might say, "Then aren't you ashamed, Socrates, of doing something from which
you're now in danger of being executed?"

To this I would make a just argument, "You don't speak well, sir, if you think a person, even of little merit, should consider danger of death, rather than looking only at whether one's actions are right or wrong and good or bad works...

Wherever one stations oneself, believing it is best, one must stay there, as it seems to me, without considering anything before disgrace....

For no one knows whether death is the greatest good, but it's feared as if one knows it's the greatest evil. And isn't this ignorance most reprehensible? But I differ from most people on this point in that, even if I were to say I'm wiser, it would be in this, that not knowing about Hades, I don't think I know. But to wrong and disobey the best, human and divine, I know that that is evil and shameful. Thus before the evils which I know are evil, I'll never fear nor flee what I don't know, since it may turn out to be good....

So, Athenians, either be convinced by Anytus or not, and acquit me or don't acquit me, but I will not do anything else, not even if I have to die many times." Please don't interrupt, Athenians, but listen, for I think you'll surely benefit by listening. For I intend to tell you some other things at which you'll perhaps cry out, but please don't. For be aware, if you kill me, I being what I say, you'll not do greater harm to me than to yourselves; for neither Meletus nor Anytus can harm me, since I don't think it is the divine will for a better person to be harmed by a worse. They might kill though or banish or disenfranchise, and they might think somehow this is a great evil; but I don't think so; rather a much greater evil is what they're doing now, attempting to put someone to death unjustly.

So, not just on my own behalf do I defend myself, as some may think, but on your behalf, Athenians,
so that you may not make a mistake concerning the gift of God by condemning me. For if you kill me, you'll not easily find another, to say it in a ludicrous way, attached to the city by the god, like on a lazy horse that needs arousing by a gadfly; so the god seems to have fastened me to the city
to arouse and persuade and reproach you, and I don't stop all day settling down all over.

Thus another like me will not easily come to you; and if you believe me, you'll spare me.
Yet perhaps you might possibly be offended, like the sleeping who are awakened, and believing Anytus,
you might strike and kill me; then the rest of your lives you may continue sleeping, unless the god caring for you should send you another....

Don't be offended by the truth I'm saying; for the fact is no one whatsoever is safe either in honestly opposing you or the assembly or in preventing injustices and state illegalities; but it's necessary in really fighting for justice, if one wants to be safe for even a short time, to do so privately rather than publicly....

I never willingly wronged any person, but I didn't convince you of this; for we've conversed with each other for a short time; yet I believe, if you had a law, as others do, not to judge about death in only one day, but in several, you would be convinced; it's not easy to be freed of great prejudices quickly.
Really convinced that I never wronged anyone I certainly won't wrong myself and say I deserve bad, and propose any such thing for myself....

I think that Socrates, an aged man, chose a quiet death because it suited his temperament and confirmed his philosophy. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were young and angry, and their deaths were anything but quiet. Yet I think that perhaps they too were raging against "injustices and state [society's] illegalities" and certainly against "great prejudices".

If this is so, who are we to say that the reasons they acted as they did were wrong?

Lest you get the wrong idea, if I had been at Littleton, I would have attempted to stop them. I think that whether through youth and inexperience, or poor teaching, or psychological imbalance, they made bad choices. But even if I had been there and had needed to attempt to kill them in order to stop them from implementing the choices they had made, I would have done that and still respected their right to make choices. I would look for the anguished "Why?" that lead to their actions rather than trivializing their decisions and ascribing it to "inherent evil" or "outside influences". Surely they may have been influenced in the "how" and "what" they chose to do by their environment, we all are. But to look at the "how" and "what" and ignore the "why", which is what polls like that I replied to are doing, ignores any good that can come of this, and as I said earlier, will undoubtedly lead to repetitions of this tragedy.

"Good that can come of this", you may ask? Yes. If the people blaming these youths would stop and look at the mindsets that I think they were protesting against, I believe they would recognize that it is their own attitudes, prejudices and actions that were being attacked by Harris and Klebold. If that leads to a change in society it would vastly outweigh all the harm that their actions caused. And perhaps (I know I am stretching here, I suspect that one reason they exploded into violence is that they could not express these thoughts) this idea was one of those which motivated their actions. To quote them again, "We want to be different, we want to be strange and we don't want jocks or other people putting us down."

Is what they wanted so wrong?