Whether we like to admit it or not, we’re all sheep, bleating and following behind the next woolly ass in order to avoid judgement and risk being cast out amongst peers. We constantly seek approval. Socrates was an anomaly. He was an outspoken, unhygienic and allegedly ugly man who would walk the streets of ancient Greece barefooted asking people in the marketplace very profound questions. While he may have failed to conform to our notions of physical attractiveness and hygiene, his questions cut people like a razor. For this, some came to adore him for forcing them to think, others despised him for his unconformity and fear-inducing logic.
Imagine you’re shopping at a local Saturday morning market, latte in-hand, the other feeling for a perfectly ripe avocado to make guacamole you hope your friends will praise you for. (Enter approval seeking). Suddenly a decrepit, unshaven man walks up to you and asks you (very eloquently) to give your perceptions on the origins of morality. Chances are you’ll scoff and tell him to fuck off and find some shoes. Socrates stated that as sheep, we rarely step back to think about where we’re headed and challenged us to question our assumptions and eliminate those things that rationally made no sense (The Socratic Method) until we arrived at some truth. By insisting we know enough, rather than admitting our incapacity to understand everything, we already limit ourselves.
His student Plato carried his philosophy further by saying most of us live without an understanding the depth of our condition, content to take everything at face value, which is why ordinary citizens would shun the shoeless Socrates rather than answering his questions, because they had never considered them to begin with. By taking things at face value, these men advocated we are bathed in shadows, interpreting these as reality rather than the source of the object. To make a long story short, Socrates rubbed so many people the wrong way until those in power had enough and sentenced him to death, forcing him to drink poison. Luckily, 2,500 years later, his legacy and those of his pupils, Plato and Aristotle, remain strong, but our behaviour generally remains the same.
The thing is, as humans, we’re born into a conundrum. Of all animals, we have one tool at our disposal other animals don’t – REASON. It’s a tool all of us use, but not to its full extent, because beyond a certain point it doesn’t serve to improve our individual survival, which is ultimately what we care about. We like to eat, have sex and drown ourselves in the flavour of the week. This comfort inducing cycle creates such complacency that some of the most developed countries are depressed and have no idea why. Having money, a job, a house, good food, kids and the like is supposed to equate to happiness, right?
I’m not advocating that we need to come out of every comfort zone and think philosophically about every topic because this could even lead us to realize the human condition can be an ugly spectacle. However, the lack of self-reflection and elimination of nonsensical thinking as Socrates fought so hard for could be a genuine reason we’re in such predicaments we have no idea how we’ve gotten ourselves into.