Bellowing is not Good (Summer in the Republic 21)

Bellowing is not Good (Summer in the Republic 21) June 25, 2018

Don’t bellow. Do discuss, argue, be passionate. Unleash bellowing and you have let slip the dogs of war. If that happens, and it often does, then discussion ends, wisdom is lost, and only the strong will win.

Yet the strong without the rest of us are lost. . . Ending up alone, rambling about in decaying palaces, a civilization that is an incarnation of Miss Havisham’s cake.

I worked with a person who would get power by suddenly seeming to snap, bellowing to bully the group into compliance. This worked because decent people are shocked and by the time they recover, the bully has gained his point. He would laugh about it later, he had ‘won’.

If you love wisdom, you cannot deploy this strategy. Wisdom wants everyone in the discussion. Folly wishes to win by cutting people with good ideas out of the discussion.

I, of all men, need to hear this truth. I am so loud by nature that my mom could stand outside my college cafeteria and tell if I was in the room by listening. Teachers in grammar school could hear my very whisper. I bellow when I mean to be still. Quiet is better than bellowing unless one is loading lifeboats on Titanic. So far the truth is obvious (if hard to do): listen, do not use volume to muscle someone else. Yet a great thinker, try Plato, knew that even this loud, bullying man had something to say.

The lesson that we should not bully is important, but obvious. The truth that even a very bad man may have seen an error in our culture (and gone down a bad road nonetheless) is divine. Plato pictures Socrates (his master) as talking to bright young men when a very bad teacher, a tyrant interrupts:

Then he bellowed at us and the whole company.

What idiocy is this, Socrates? Why do the two of you behave like dolts, solemnly deferring to each other’s vacuous notions? If you really want to know what justice is, you should be able not only to ask the question but also to answer it. You should not try to score points simply by refuting your opponent’s efforts; you ought to provide your own definition. After all, there are many who ask but cannot answer. So now say what you think justice is. Say it at last with clarity and precision, and spare us your ponderous analogies with duty or interest or profit or advantage. They produce only nonsense, and I don’t put up with nonsense.

Thrasymachus is wrong to bellow, but Socrates should listen to what he says. That is very hard. Thrasymachus is wrong, obviously wrong, but now he will say the truth.

Socrates is a better man, but has fallen into bad habits. If you work in tyranny, you can forget faults other than those of the tyrant.

Thrasymachus sees genuine problems in education.

“Smart folk” defer too easily.

Thrasymachus bellows, so academics hide behind a passive aggressive attitude. They bellow in the footnotes. The intellectual “elite’” can end up being tyrants by being oppressive without being loud, bullying quietly.

“Smart folk” hide ignorance behind “Socratic” methods. 

If you want to bluff, then “asking questions” is a great way to hide ignorance. You may not understand much, but you can question what you have not understood.

“Smart folk” can be ‘talkie-men’ who say a great many words, but express little.

Here is a shocking fact: Thrasymachus is correct. Socrates has fallen into some bad habits. We must oppose the bully as a bully, but then stop, think about what he is saying, and learn the truth he is expressing.

Perhaps the hardest truth of just now is this: the ass is bad, but the ass may bray some truth we need to hear.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner


*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.

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