On True Believers vs. Socratic Ignorance and the Challenge to Stratfordians
In broad terms the history of ideas assures us once secure opinions, opinions held by the highest and
mightiest among us, change radically.
This is true whether the subject is the size and shape of the earth, the nature of the attractive forces, the emergence of intelligence, the circulation of blood, the cause of infection or the stature of political, religious and intellectual leaders. Millions of followers and thousands of elitists have held fast, to what have turned out to be, absurdly false opinions.
This applies, believe it or not, even to mathematics, as Eric Temple Bell, Professor of Mathematics a the the California Institute of Technology, has noted:
"It gradually appeared that mathematics is not the blurred image of an eternal and absolute truth, but is a technique devised by human beings to serve human needs. The unique certainty that had been ascribed to mathematics over all other activities and inventions of human beings seemed abut to vanish like a discredited myth of savages [c. 1940]. It must be emphasized, however, that this was by no means a universal experience among mathematicians; many, perhaps a majority, clung to their inherited faith that mathematics is the one image of the Eternal Truth vouchsafed to a purblind humanity by a parsimonious deity." (En. Brit.)
From this two things should be obvious. Our opinions aren't as important as to us as we believe, which means we are different and much larger than our opinions, particularly out tightly held ones. Secondly it arises from this observation a sense of Socratic ignorance about our knowledge seems a healthy state of mind. It frees us from being so secure in our opinions that we reject, unwisely, knew and superior knowledge and wisdom when it appears before us.
Yet on all sides we encounter otherwise brilliant and marvelous people clinging to their opinions with the same desperation that survivors of the Titanic must have clung to their life-boats, as Thomas Kuhn has so amply pointed out in his landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. If we think scientists are alone in their obduration and in their tenacious tendency to cling to out dated theories, we have not taken a similar Kuhnian survey of historians, theologians and grammarians. Let alone of our neighbors or our selves.
Socrates, the wisest man in Athens, found profound certainty and general ignorance so wide spread in his community that he was obliged to live outside an academic setting. Not far enough, as the record assures us, for those powerful figures he criticized demanded the ultimate price unless he capitulate to their mediocrity. Both Plato's and Xenophon's accounts of his trial assure us that Athenians would have released Socrates if he had followed Galileo's example. Capitulate.
Of course Galileo lived millenniums after Socrates, but Galileo had his Athenian counterparts, including Plato. For it should now be obvious to all that Plato held the opinions of Socrates, but escaped the consequences. Ergo, Plato had devised a solution to the wise man's paradox, which in a word was Platonic irony. (The wise man's paradox resolves as to how he or she moves safely and productively among the unwise and thus dangerous.) Irony in this sense is the cloak of the wise man, in which or by which he or she protects himself.
Just as obviously, the writer Shakespeare had managed to protect himself from public persecution and censorship in a grossly similar fashion. His works were so ironic, his position so secure, that persecution of him was infeasible and unthinkable.
With these examples before us, we must ask ourselves why do so few embrace Socratic ignorance and Platonic and Shakespearean irony as a way of life, while so many cling stubbornly to mediocrity?
The answers, Hoffer and Freud both assure us, rest deep within our selves. We are at root social creatures. Gregarious, herd-like creatures. We are most deeply comfortable when we are snug inside a group who espouse the same opinions and beliefs as we ourselves do. As Hoffer has pointed out, it make little difference what sorts of opinions and beliefs the group aspires to. Indeed for those so addicted, the group can change quickly, while the passionate state of mind remains essentially the same. This is why true believers can seemingly flip/flop often switching sides during political coups and religious schisms. The same needs are being fulfilled regardless of what beliefs are being ascribed to.
This then is the down side of Socratic ignorance. We must be willing to live alone and to hold no opinions more firmly than necessary to protect them from ignorant attacks. Socratic individuals are then, as Chamberlain mentioned, in a state of dynamic balance, where they have no personal or proprietary interest in their opinions. They can thus regard opinions with a more neutral and objective footing. Ideally they are willing to forsake any of their opinions, if new and contradictory evidence surfaces. As Hoffer as pointed out such persons are secure in their sense of self and do not mistake changes in opinions as changes in the health of their souls and/or psyches. They are ready for what he called "the ordeal of change," because they are strong and they know their center is not rooted in any particular opinion. They have learned that change, even radical, need not be a crisis in self-esteem. As the poet put it, they love changing from nothing to one. (L.Cohen)
I do not think these broad statements can be refuted. Anyone with a modicum of understanding sees that they are solid sensible observations, to which underneath we all understand and ascribe to. Just as Yanks do to apple pie and motherhood.
Likewise anyone who lives alone with only his opinions is missing an aspect of life that gives most of us our greatest satisfaction: group connectivity. So a personal balance must be struck. We know best of Plato's balance. He avoided openly the stigma that cost Socrates his life. With Shakespeare we cannot be so sure that this was the case, since it may well be that there was no flesh and blood writer to castigate.
But if there was, then his example should be studied above all others. For he would have managed to do what no others of the his period did. When Sir John Hayward was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned for life for writing a simple history book on King Henry IV. Hayward grumbled about his treatment for the rest of his life. Saying it seemed to be possible for men to write of distant events as fiction with impunity, while attempting to write of them as facts was prohibited. Hayward had not learned the virtue of Platonic and Shakespearean irony.
If Stratfordians are to sell their boy to the general public, they must make it perfectly clear that he lived an ironical life second to none. That his genius was so well cloaked in the guise of entertainments that none dared call them wise lessons. With one exception, the Queen of England, who knew she was Richard II. But did not know what to do about it.
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