Writings of Khurram Ali Shafique
society carries two evils in its wake. The first is a desire for
conformity. The second, arising out of it, is a vengeance against
anyone who stands out as different. This is true of any society,
irrespective of its form of government. Be it a monarchy or a dictatorship,
people conform to the whim of the ruler, whatever it may be. In
a democracy, individuals tend to conform to their own lowest common
Athens, 399 B.C.:
Socrates opens his argument before the jury of 501 fellow citizens
of the ancient republic: "How you felt, gentlemen of Athens,
when you heard my accusers, I do not know; but I - well, I nearly
forgot who I was, they were so persuasive!"
The chronicler does not tell us how the honest citizens responded,
but they might have burst out in an uproar of disapproval as the
old man began to indulge in his proverbial irreverent manner of
speeches. Well, this one was going to be his last.
"There are two sets of my accusers," he observed. "Some,
who have been accusing me for a very long time and you who have
been brought up on their words. I do not hope to dispel in such
a short time the prejudice they have implanted in the minds of the
generations. ..." So much for the farce of justice and fair
deal. For a court can be fair when deciding a property claim. But,
how could humans have the arrogance to believe that they have the
ability, let alone the right, of judging another person's thoughts
and ideas. "And there are some new accusers, who represent
the stakes of the politicians, poets and craftsmen." All were
bent against him. "My first accusers have brought out the long
standing accusation against me: Socrates is a criminal and a busybody,
prying into things under the earth and up in the heavens, and making
the weaker argument stronger, and teaching these same things to
The intention of the accusers was just the opposite of how they
worded their thoughts. The Athenians wouldn't have resented him
so much if he had claimed to know more than others. They were angry
at him because he claimed to know nothing. In a society, where logic
was used to defend prejudice, and philosophy was no more than a
set of conventions, Socrates had simply demanded that truth be given
a chance to stand on its own feet, and that was a very unreasonable
demand. Nobody had made such a demand since the birth of civilization.
The best way to determine whether it was day or night was to ask
the king, if it were a monarchy. Or cast a poll, if it were a democracy.
To peer out of your window, and actually look at the sky was indeed
a criminal activity, and could fit the charge of "prying into
things under the earth and up on the heavens." The argument
that did not have the power of a tyrant or the tyranny of a majority
on its side was obviously 'weaker.' To prove that it was 'stronger'
by pure common sense was evil in the eyes of Greek society, just
as it has remained evil to most societies since then.
The new accusers had a different charge. "Socrates is a criminal,
who corrupts the young and does not believe in gods whom the state
believes in, but other new spiritual things instead." This
was an interesting one. When Socrates cross-examined his main accuser,
he said that in his opinion Socrates didn't believe in any god at
all. "Then, how can you accuse me of inventing new gods?"
The accuser had no answer. He didn't need one, in any case. He was
not standing on the power of his logic, but on the trust he had
in the herd's eagerness to preserve their old order.
"So far from pleading for my own sake," Socrates said,
as one might expect, "I plead for your sakes, that you may
not offend about God's gift by condemning me. If you put me to death,
you will not easily find another, really like something stuck on
the state by the god, though it is rather laughable to say so. The
state is like a big thoroughbred horse, so big that he is a bit
slow and heavy, and wants a gadfly to wake him up. I think God put
me on you something like that, to wake you up...!"
Some modern critics have argued that Socrates presented a weak defense
when he tried to use the same words that had brought him to the
trial in the first place. They argue that he should have pleaded
to the spirit of democracy that Athens was so proud to represent.
He should have asked for his right to say whatever he willed, just
as his enemies had a right to say whatever so they desired. Socrates
must have considered this option, because he preempted such apologists
many centuries in advance: "You are wrong, my friend, if you
think that a man with a spark of decency in him ought to calculate
life or death. The only thing he ought to consider, if he does anything,
is whether he does right or wrong, whether it is what a good man
does or a bad man."
He knew what it would imply if he said anything other than what
he had been saying all his life. The most obvious implication would
have been a denial of everything he had always stood for. He had
claimed that nothing could be true, no matter how many people believe
in it, unless it is proven true by logic. He was no altruist, and
this was not a case for the freedom of speech, but a case for the
freedom of thought. Both differ. People don't mind what you speak
as long as you think like the rest of them. "If you hear me
using the words to defend myself that I have been using in the market
place, please do not make an uproar on that count." This was
his last bow, and he had every reason to stand by any word he had
ever said anywhere. When he ended his argument, he had stamped his
entire life with an immortal seal. "And I know very well that
these same things make me disliked. Which is another proof that
I am speaking the truth... Whether you examine this now or afterwards,
you will find it the same!"
Out of the 501 Athenians at the trial of Socrates, 281 voted against
him. It is an amusing idea to question whether they passed a judgment
on Socrates or on themselves. Or whether it was Socrates who passed
a judgment on them for all times to come.
your comments or read others'
Source: DAWN The Review,
May 25-31, 2000. Karachi, Pakistan
Back to Top
Search the Republic of Rumi