The Tyrant’s Go-To Insults (Summer in the Republic 36)

Some things change. Abraham Lincoln never sent a text to the Tsar of all the Russias. Some things do not change: tyrants losing an argument have some “go to” insults. These can vary, but a core of insults exist and they do not change for a reason. The tyrant believes he deserves to rule. 

As a result, he is rarely crude in his put-downs. Instead, he will write or talk as if he obviously is right, ethical, or on the side of history and then be shocked when people are offended. He is not crude. He calls nobody bad names. He merely argues for the truth, the rational truth, the truth that every educated thinking person knows.

Why are people so upset?

This continues until power is challenged and then the gloves are slipped off the hands and the openly violent attacks begin. Of course, the excuse will be that “they” (those uneducated, uncouth them) started the tough talk. We were merely being reasonable and “their” ideas did not even rise to the level of being wrong and so we did not discuss them. Why then are they so mad? We had ignored and patronized them, not called them bad names! We said nothing about their ideas, for good or bad, at the institutions they paid to build, yet they crudely resisted us, their betters.

Socrates, ugly stone cutter, was easy to parody. Go read Aristophanes The Clouds, though of course when he got too uppity about corruption in education, we had to kill him. Why couldn’t he be more reasonable? Before breaking out the hemlock, intellectual tyrants, the sophists who run things for money, will go negative.

Plato shows this when the educator for tyrants, Thrasymachus, gets irritated with Socrates’ refusal to lose like a gentleman. Instead, Socrates keeps looking for the truth and the persistence of Socrates is exposing the fact that Thrasymachus does not have that much to say.

Thrasymachus has a product to sell and if you get past the product, he has nothing. The good news is that Thrasymachus will get better, but before that blessed day comes, he will get nasty. Socrates is exposing him as a fraud and that is bad for business.

Thrasymachus snorts:

Because your nurse evidently neglects to wipe your nose and leaves you sniveling.

Socrates is childish, because he wants understanding and not just the answers that will be acceptable to the establishment. Thrasymachus wants the answers to magically be just the ones that those in power will pay him to deliver. Such a desire is adult, if by growning up a man means sucking up to the people with money.

Children want the world to be fair, the good people to win. They want justice if justice can be had.

The tyrants and their syncopants hate those who come to the Good as little children and will always attack the maturity of their opponents. Why? The sophist confuses growing old with maturity. They have learned the trick of placating the powerful, a mastery that takes time and a kind of sophistication. The child simply wants justice: “that’s not fair.”

And naturally the child must grow up, but if he is like Socrates, he will keep wanting justice and reject anything else. He will not “grow up” if that injunction means choosing what “is” (the rules of the establishment) over what “should be” (the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God).

Socrates is not childish, but like the child, Socrates wants justice. Look out for “grow up” when the command equals simply giving up to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Instead, become as a little child and look for justice, but do so with a grownup’s power!

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*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27. Part 28. Part 29. Part 30. Part 31. Part 32. Part 33. Part 34. Part 35. Part 36.


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