Following Socrates’ unjust death sentence, the great philosopher was faced with a dilemma. In the dialogue Crito, Plato tells us that Socrates’ friend Crito visited him in prison and presented him with an escape plan, ensuring safe passage to Thessaly, where he could live out his days in peace. In response to his friend’s well-meaning exhortation, Socrates replied:
“Imagine that I am about to play truant (you may call the proceeding by any name which you like), and the laws and the government come and interrogate me: ‘Tell us, Socrates,’ they say; ‘what are you about? Are you going by an act of yours to overturn us – the laws and the whole State, as far as in you lies? Do you imagine that a State can subsist and not be overthrown, in which the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside and overthrown by individuals?’ What will be our answer, Crito, to these and the like words?”
Placing the very laws and statutes of his country above his rights, reason itself, which was surely not exhibited by those who condemned him, and even above his very own life, Socrates tells his friend that one’s “country is more to be valued and higher and holier far than mother or father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding,” explaining that he cannot turn against it, even if this is expedient to his personal interest.
Similarly, the phrase “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is attributed to Voltaire. Despite the absence of any written documentation, the meaning behind the phrase expresses the spirit of tolerance he upheld as a general principle, proven by the manner in which he defended a treatise by his contemporary Helvétius. Interestingly, although Voltaire was critical of it, he nonetheless disapproved of the government’s censorship of it.
It’s worth remembering their paradigm in light of the abounding cognitive dissonance – the state of having conflicting beliefs, attitudes and behaviors – present in our world today.
This incongruence between theory and practice is characteristic of many politicians and other public figures, who display an abundance of eagerness to sacrifice their principles and ideals to serve their personal interests or ideological ankylosis.
For example, the entire world is watching the election thriller here in the U.S., amazed at America’s inability to adequately secure the voting process. As the issue goes to the courts, practically all the media are taking aim against President Trump, over his accusations of widespread voter fraud. Ironically, over the past four years, the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election seemed to dominate headlines. Now, amidst vast alleged irregularities with the novel system of mail-in ballots and voting machines (owned and operated by foreign companies, with ties to George Soros), most media are trying to downplay the issue as a non-story.
Similar behavior is being exhibited by social media, which now openly intervene to influence public opinion and exercise unabashed censorship. Accounts of users posting messages deemed inexpedient to their narrative are suspended, while posts are routinely removed or flagged.
These are the same outlets crying bloody murder as soon as their “rights” are violated by autocratic regimes in foreign countries. In order to defend their right to “do business,” they don’t hesitate to spur entire uprisings, helping to organize “color revolutions.” Sadly, when it comes to the rights of their users, like freedom of expression, they have no qualms repressing them.
Meanwhile, in Socrates’ birthplace, the strict measures being implemented by the government with the reinstitution of a general lockdown purportedly protect the population from COVID-19 (with a mortality rate below 0.2 percent for the general population and 0.04 percent for persons under 70, according to Stanford’s John Ioannidis), while vastly increasing its exposure to poverty, joblessness, and inadequate health, education, and other vital services. These restrictions are accompanied by heavy fines and accusations of police brutality. If they are extended well into December, it will be interesting to observe whether they will be equally applied and enforced in all instances with the same severity.
For example, Greece’s left-wing political parties attempted (and succeeded) in flouting the restrictions to commemorate the anniversary of the Polytechnic University uprising (November 17). To avoid cognitive dissonance, proponents of these actions would have to support every other legitimate petition to safeguard constitutional rights (freedom of speech, even if it questions the mainstream coronavirus narrative, freedom of assembly, not only for protests or events associated with the cash cow of illegal migration, but public worship by Christians). It is unconscionable that a mass populist movement would want laws to apply a la carte.
Especially regarding the Church of Greece, which is a national institution, government officials or opposition cadres are wrong to target church attendance and litanies, and look the other way on mass demonstrations. A simple glance at the crowds for mass transit renders any measures targeting church worship extreme and practically hostile.
The same stance should by upheld by Church prelates, who must not allow government hypocrisy to go unchallenged. Bishops vying for leadership in the post-Ieronymos era should put their duty to their flock above currying favor with the government.
In the face of such global hypocrisy, the voice of reason must echo wherever possible. Sooner or later, the degree of cognitive dissonance will lead to a fateful error. Nearly 2,500 years later, Socrates’ question remains ever timely. How can a state in which principles and decisions (Constitution, laws) hold no validity and are violated by any citizen who pleases (especially those in power!) stand on its feet and not be overthrown?
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