Nikki Servos: Socrates

Brave New World
Happiness and comfort are contingent upon a loss of reality. The less one knows, the less he or she fears, hates, worries. Truth leads to power. In Brave New World, only few knew the truth, those in power.
The general population was living in a cloud of surreal happiness and were powerless to change, revolt, question, because they were inebriated with their happiness.
Today we are close to achieving our own Brave New World. How readily available Prozac is! When I went to my doctor last week, he said to me, "You look a bit down, would you like some Prozac?"
How maddening! No wonder everyone around us is living in this phony blissful state. They’re on drugs!
I had gone to the dentist to have a minor cavity filled, and he hands me two valium to ease my fears! After my car accident, I was given a prescription for Vicoden to "ease my discomfort." I like discomfort! Control me is what they want. Give me drugs and I’ll keep coming back for more! Give me drugs so I won’t scream, cry, hate, rebel! Give me drugs so I’m happy!
Our minds are dulled with drugs! We cannot fight against the state, we are happy! We have cars, nice homes, clothes; more material possessions than we need. We have drugs, we are happy!


Savage New World

John’s eyes fluttered open and he cautiously surveyed his surroundings. Where was he taken? Who knocked him unconscious and carried him from his solitude at the lighthouse? He did not have to wait long for his answer, when he saw his friend standing over him, shaking him to awareness.

"It’s about time you came to," said Bernard Marx, "we’ve been worrying about you."

Helmholtz laughed as he came around to the bed John was laying on. "Don’t look at us like that, Savage. We have good news for you."

Bernard wore a smug look on his face as he told John of their accomplishments. "We have met some of the most intelligent men of the world here at this island, and we found a way to overthrow this so called civilized society which has tried to subdue us one too many times. We destroyed all the soma in London, and right about now, all England is in an uproar. We were able to get you out in time; before anyone tried to come for you, you’re to blame for all this, you know."

"You’re a mighty unpopular fellow back in London at this moment, Savage," came Mustapha Mond’s voice from the corner. "But anyway, enough of this dallying, we have work to do."

As John rose from the bed, all that he was hearing started to sink in. Loss of control in England? That’s not what he had intended. The damage was done, though, and Mustapha was right, they had a lot of work to do. There was no time to waste.

The group consisted of one hundred fifty seven men and women who had been sent to the island because of their inability to follow the rules of civilized society, as well as Mustapha, Marx, Helmholtz, and John. Mustapha was the leader, of course, because he knew all the laws, and was a natural commander. Together, they planned to destroy the world’s soma supplies, and all the manufacturing plants.

Once the citizens were cut off from the drugs, they’d be more apt to become deconditioned. The next step would be to teach the world of meditation and natural herbs such as St. John’s Wort for wellbeing, and to detoxify and preserve their bodies using deep tissue cleansing techniques and fasting. Schools had to be set up; treatment and rehabilitation centers had to be opened. The people had to come back to nature. The human body has been chemically and hormonally abused and altered for so long, that people were no longer people, they were like machines. Their brains could not handle the daily traumas, so everyone was taking drugs to mask their psychosis and depression.

The world then divided into two societies. The Mond Party and the Bokanovsky Party went to war two years later. It took that long for the schism to occur, and for the Mond Party to convert the population. John’s popularity and Mustapha’s authority caused a lot of the people to turn against the Bokanovsky civilization. Also, they were no longer being enticed with drugs.

The war raged on for three long years, after which time all the modern structures had been destroyed, and there was nothing left but land and ocean. The few survivors lived off the land like their ancestors did five thousand years ago. There were no drugs, no violence, and no corruption. The biggest worries were finding food, shelter, and clothing. Their conditioning had completely been forgotten long before the war had ended.


Hand Colored Peonies

A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all powerful executive of political bosses and their army and their managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers.

By simply not mentioning certain subjects… propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have done by the most eloquent denunciations, the most compelling of logical rebuttals.

- - - Aldous Huxley, in his 1946 revised forward to Brave New World

While reading Red Azalea, Adolf Huxley’s words echoed in my mind. The stark reality of what he wrote seemed so foreign to me the first time I happened upon the mentioned quote. I did not take his meaning literally until I read Anchee Min’s memoir, Red Azalea, although I should not have been shocked, I have read of this political brainwashing many times before. How else could Adolf Hitler have the innocent population of Germany worshipping and following him so unconditionally? How else would these common citizens kill and die for him?

The best way for me to fully understand how one could succumb to the perverse desires of a politician is by thinking of Plato’s Simile of the Cave. In the seventh part of the Republic, Plato writes of civilization as people living in a cave. These people know nothing of the outside world. They know only what they see. They are naÔve to the true meaning of the world. They know only what they can deduce from their experience in the cave. Like Anchee Min and her peers under Mao’s rule, they believe only what is feasible based on their diminutive knowledge of life, and refuse to shatter their colored lenses to go beyond what they inadvertently believe as being the truth. They shunned the real truth as being corruptive and evil. They unknowingly remained in a state of indenture; refusing salvation for fear of ridicule or punishment.

When Autumn Leaves was accused of bourgeois brainwashing, Anchee Min was asked to speak against her beloved teacher and friend to set an example for others who attempted a similar crime. She did so painfully, but she did so nonetheless. She did not follow her beliefs and protest Autumn Leaves’ innocence; she succumbed to the proletarian mind poisoning and lied outright. She even fought to believe that the Party’s belief was right in order to follow through with her testimony against her friend. It was a testimony against righteousness, against herself. She gave up her self to become another mindless puppet in the theatrical performance that was communist China; impotent in the hands of the treacherous puppet master.

The story of Red Azalea is just another example of the institutionalized subjugation of Humanity. Through manipulative teachings at school, work, in social groups, in the media and in the home, people are bred to believe that the road of the Chairman is the only road. Any other way would be less than civilized. Voluntary submission is quintessential in order to achieve the perfect society. Ironically, the average citizen would not take a path other than the path of slavery for fear of imprisonment. They did as they were told and told themselves that they loved it. Miss Min did her work on the Red Fire Farm and later in the film studio despite her hatred of it. They all recited Mao’s quotes, which were permanently etched in their minds. They were actors on a stage performing everyday. Nobody did as they wanted, they acted out a script. Anchee Min was a component in this production, she was another "screw in the revolutionary machine" doing her part in the community so that she could lead a "normal" life. Knowing as little as possible, because in knowledge there is absolute truth and enlightenment. People were taught only what the party wanted them to know. Anything else was considered bourgeois and could not be known. Any further knowledge would be fatal to the idealized community.

When Anchee Min broke away from the machine, she became a lonely screw. She withdrew from the State and transcended into herself. She started to search for reality; she questioned, she sought. Her threads had worn and she was no longer a necessary part of the society. While working at the film studio, her colleagues took turns in excluding her from the clique. She became an outcast because she had allowed her true convictions to become exposed. Just as in Plato’s cave world, when one member broke away and discarded the starched uniform of the state, that person would be eradicated.



To be perfect, we must be rid of our body. The body is a prison of our soul; it is our worst enemy, the cause of war, theft, rape, and crimes. The body hinders perfection, requires sustenance, clothing, shelter. Only in Hades can we obtain absolute truth, once we have shed the shackles of the flesh. This quest for truth was initiated by Socrates, one of the most beloved teachers of the ancient world and continued by Plato, his ardent student, thus the emergence of reason. Plato decided to spend his days studying concepts and trying to prove that they exist, that they are real. "What is truth? What is Justice? What is love?" he asked himself, and although he was certain that these concepts existed, he could not prove it.

In Politia, Plato takes these concepts, and tries to show that if they are applied to daily life, politics, education, and techne, a perfect society can be achieved. With Socrates as narrator, he goes on to describe in detail the elements which are necessary to achieve truth and justice. He categorizes the citizens of his republic into various groups and assigns to each a set of rules that must be followed. He controls the quality of education that each group is entitled to obtain, and claims that certain poetry must not be learned if it makes gods out to seem less than godly. Poetry must also be censored to avoid stirring immoral feelings and filling the minds of the population with silly nonsense, which is not useful in the society. Just as in Mao’s communist china, Plato feels that the individuals in the community must act as a whole. The citizens each play a role to benefit the production, which is directed by the Philosopher-King. Plato feels that the Philosophers are the only members of society suited to rule because of their enlightenment and understanding of the meaning



Because the Socrates of fifth century BCE Greece has left us no written work to analyze and decipher, we must study the disembodied Platonic Socrates, while keeping in mind Aristophanes’ shallow representation of this significant historical enigma in order to know the important contribution of the true Socrates to American society in the present. It is also important to learn who Socrates was, where he came from, his social status prior to his life as a philosopher, and the elements that contributed to the evolution of one of the best philosopher teachers in history. Although most of the texts written about Socrates are accurate, they are biased and mask a large portion of the truth.

Socrates was born to simple artisan parents in the fifth century BCE. His father Sophroniscus was a sculptor/stonecutter and his mother Phanaerete was a midwife. This is evidence enough to prove that socially, Socrates’ family was looked down upon, as we know from Plutarch, "Labor with ones hands on lowly tasks gives witness in the toil thus expended on useless things to one’s own indifference to higher things." Socrates had followed the common ancient Greek tradition to learn his father’s trade, and he became a sculptor as well. He is actually credited with sculpting the Graces on the Acropolis. (Winspear II) This knowledge is imperative and gives us clue to believe that Socrates retired his trade because of his shame. Perhaps Socrates sought to abandon his lowly profession and preferred to starve rather than be enslaved in a job where he would never attain social respect. In Athens, there was a definite class structure based on occupation. Being an artisan was akin to being a servant to the wealthy, flighty upper class. Here we find evidence of the Socratic ego, which caused him to want to prove himself as being as capable if not more so than the rich Athenian community. This was probably the spark that ignited Socrates’ drive to rebel against and test the system that separated him from the Aristocracy and the so-called intellectuals, while at the same time enabling him to associate with and be followed by those same people. In Phaedo, Plato gives us evidence that Socrates set out to show that the mind is the most important element in a society. Bloodlines are irrelevant, as is the body, and "mind will dispose all for the best, and put each particular in the best place." Had Socrates been born to a wealthy aristocratic family, perhaps he would have never sought out to find the mind and its important role in society.

Of all the sources available on Socrates, the Clouds is one of the most important and causes the most argument. In The Clouds, Aristophanes’ main character, Strepsiades has a son who is spendthrift and stupid. Phidippides, being a gambler, incurred high debts, which his farmer father cannot pay. His father joins Socrates’ school in order to make wrong reason right and avoid paying his son’s debts. Strepsiades is taught by Socrates to believe and worship different gods, and is made to participate in foolish rituals. This comedy paints a comical picture of Socrates as well as education in general. The dialogues are all clever and humorous, especially an interesting part in which the two Reasons, Right Reason and Wrong Reason are brought out in cages dressed up as fighting cocks and argue with each other, while Strepsiades is watching. Right Reason represents the old teachings, prior to the invasion of the Sophists in Athens, while Wrong Reason represents the new sophistic teachings. The public automatically learns to hate this new explosion of education, and feels that it is intruding on their old accepted ways and corrupting society. Wrong Reason is made to appear powerful and evil, and it is fighting with the traditional Reason for the right to teach the stupid and impressionable Phidippides.

There are two opposing theories of the Socrates of Aristophanes’ Clouds. Plato’s theory claims that the comedy does not at all portray the philosopher as a person, but uses Socrates as the personification of the entire Sophist movement. Comedy is written to makes us laugh, to exaggerate and to make people and events out to be worse than they are so that they may appear more humorous. The Clouds is a contradictory piece, which was made to be amusing - not to be taken seriously, and when Aristophanes referred to Socrates, he did not intend for his meaning to be taken literally. Socrates, in this comedy represents philosophy in general. He represents the Sophists, even though Socrates was not a Sophist. Aristophanes’ plays were caricatures of true Athenian life and people, therefore, we must understand that his portrayal of Socrates is grossly exaggerated and that Socrates is used as the personification of the hate towards the Sophists and the entire movement. If this theory is accurate, then The Clouds cannot be seriously used as a historical reference when studying Socrates, and we would thus have to eliminate the source for our purpose altogether. (Montuori 41)

A. Boek introduced the other theory of Socrates’ character in Clouds in 1838 in his book, De Socratis rerum physicarum studio. This theory states that Aristophanes is a more accurate source of information on Socrates because he, unlike Plato and Xenophon, was present during the early part of Socrates’ life, a time when he was more concerned with the study of science and the nature of things. (Montuori 42) Aristophanes felt that Socrates was a social pest and a nuisance to the population of Athens and a negative influence on the youth. This second theory makes more sense, because apparently, most Athenians felt the same way. Why else would a comic playwright not write of a popular and amusing topic which many people agreed upon? His goal was to entertain, therefore, his work had to play on the thoughts of the society in order for it to survive. There had to be some truth, no, there had to be a lot of truth in it in order for Athens to understand the humor. Aristophanes expands and exaggerates the overall psyche of the classical Greek mind. He shows us a side of Ancient Greece that the historians don’t want us to see. Through Aristophanes’ Clouds, we see the Socrates that everyone in the Greek agora saw. The comical figure who wouldn’t buy shoes or new clothes; who wouldn’t earn wages to support his irritated wife. He is seen as a nuisance to society with his endless pestering and interrogating, a gadfly. He was a nosy know-it-all who interrupted all conversations within his hearing range with his Socratic badgering. The caricature of Socrates that Aristophanes drew with his words must have been realistic, because otherwise, the audience would not know who Aristophanes was referring to in his play.

The Clouds has been overanalyzed and used as the reason for the execution of Socrates. It is clear in the original Classical Greek version that the play and the trial, which occurred over twenty years apart, were not in any way related. The play was written good-naturedly and it was well known that Socrates and Aristophanes were on friendly terms at that time and Aristophanes only used Socrates as the central character in his play because he "was not only witty himself but the cause of wit in other men." (Starkie vi)

In Apology, Plato recounts the trial of Socrates. Since Plato was present at the actual trial, we can assume that his account is accurate. Socrates was accused of many things, and he states each accusation during his defense, and gives us his version of each actual accusation with reasons why he is innocent. He in turn makes his accusers seem foolish, and points out that each one is not wise, yet they think they are, and so he is wiser than they because he is not wise, and knows that he is not. First, he explains that many people throughout his adult life have been spreading rumors of him being a man who "speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause." He claims that these people say falsehoods about him out of jealousy. He goes on to question Meletus using the Socratic method. Meletus has accused him of not believing in the Gods, and Socrates confuses him, makes him falter and twists his meanings. He answered Meletus’ charge as being nonsense, and in his special way, made Meletus contradict himself. He then continues to explain that he cross examines people the way he does because it is God’s will for him to do so, and by killing him the jury will be sinning against God. He claims that the oracle stated that he is the wisest man, and because he wants to prove the prophecy wrong, he goes on to interrogate the men who claim that they are wise, only to find that they are not. By doing this, he insults many men of power, and gains plenty of enemies. He also lets it be known that he is not a Sophist; that he does not teach for money, and his impoverished state should be enough proof of that. It was customary in Athens for the defendant, when found guilty, to choose his punishment. Socrates insulted the state by saying that he should be honored, and allowed to retire with the Olympic athletes, as he was worthier of praise than they. In turn, the furious jury issued the death penalty.

In Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates’ friend, Phaedo visited Socrates in the prison where Socrates was confined until his death, and reported these last days. Phaedo notified Plato of this meeting and inspired him to write Phaedo. A group of Socrates’ friends had arranged for his escape, but Socrates refused to participate out of respect for the laws of the state. He said that he welcomed death because "after death he may hope to obtain the greatest good in the other world." Phaedo is a dialogue between Phaedo and Socrates in which Socrates shows his friend that only after death can truth and beauty be obtained, because once we leave our bodies we can obtain perfection. The body limits the soul, and the eyes and ears hide and obscure reality. Once our soul leaves the prison of the body purification is found. Socrates’ last words are to Crito "I owe a cock to Aesclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?" Then Plato ends the dialogue by saying, "Such was the end Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest, most just and best."

Plato’s Crito is a dialogue between Socrates and his friend, Crito. Crito goes to Socrates’ prison cell to notify him that death has come upon him and to persuade him to escape, and Socrates refuses him as he did Phaedo. Socrates lectures Crito on honor and justice, and tells him that he cannot escape because the voice in his head tells him, "think … of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another if you do as Crito bids."

Plato’s goal in writing The Republic was to answer the question, "How can society be reconstituted so that all individuals may know happiness and justice. His Academy was established to answer this question as well as to train the future rulers of Athens; Rulers who would incorporate Socrates’ standards and beliefs into government and would base this government on philosophical thoughts and principals. The book was written to show that only a philosopher was fit to rule. "Socrates develops the true meaning of justice and describes an ideal society in which justice has been made real."

Plato is a very biased student of Socrates, and his work must be read with the understanding that he had an underlying motive when writing his books. Because after Socrates’ death there was so much turmoil and instability in Athenian society, Plato had to write his books with extreme censorship to avoid causing himself to be ostracized by the public. He colored Socrates’ ideas and presented them as facts, when in fact they were not! He painted a picture of Socrates as being less controversial and quite brilliant to not be victimized as his teacher was. He tried hard and succeeded somewhat in showing that the people were wrong in executing Socrates, but his portrayal of the philosopher teacher was phony, a front to the public. He claimed that Socrates was killed because he was the scapegoat. Politicians in Athens blamed Socrates for their defeat in the Peloponnesian wars. Athens was a bigoted, narcissistic society and could not accept their loss easily. They contributed their ruin to the brainwashing of young men by Socrates. According to Athens, they did not lose the war because of their own ineptness, but because Socrates’ thoughts had befuddled the minds of would be soldiers.

Aristophanes is satirical in his portrayal of Socrates, but he does not have the need that Plato has to create imaginary ideas to protect himself or the philosophical movement in his work. He makes it evident that Socrates was very talented in his "gift of gab." There is a feeling of respect for Socrates, which is evident in his work as well as a more human, realistic picture of the man. Whereas Plato creates a God, Aristophanes jibes a real man. He even mentions in The Clouds that Socrates was responsible for sculpting the Graces on the Acropolis, which Plato deliberately avoids because he considers it as being shameful. There is no doubt that Aristophanes’ comedy is the better source for finding the true Socrates.

After reading through the work of Socrates’ contemporaries as well as the books of modern Socratic scholars, we can conclude that we are still asking the same question that we asked at the beginning of this research: Who was Socrates?

. . . one may say of Socrates

that just as he journeyed through life

constantly between caricature and ideal,

so he continues to wander between them

after his death.

Soren Kierkgaard, The Concept of Journey

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