Ben Shapiro sits for an interview with Socrates.
Socrates: Hey, thanks for joining me today.
Ben: Happy to be here.
Socrates: I’ve been listening to your social commentary and find it lacking in a good measure of truth. You’ve definitely expressed one of the many facets of reality, but you leave much to be desired. If I compare reality to a well-cut diamond, you mention one facet but leave off all other aspects.
Ben: I say what I see. I usually say what I see so quickly that I make mistakes in my argumentation: I like to just jumble arguments atop arguments as a monologue alone: you should hear me in the shower.
Socrates: Well, why not take a page from my book and, instead of speaking in monologue, share your home truths via dialogue—or at least share your monologues from a particular perspective and, in so doing, draw in to discussion the subjectivity of your own position as a commentator.
Ben: Just because I’m one commentator with one perspective doesn’t mean that there is no objective reality.
Socrates: Of course; I agree, which is why you should draw into analysis your own position in addition to commenting about society. Your position is an essential element in any constructive analysis of reality and your readers should think about your position vis-a-vis other positions: that’s how a more holistic view emerges. We need an assortment of subjective views to compile a best-case version of objective reality. Where is Ben standing? From where is Ben speaking? Create the drama for us in your analysis and you’ll have a more persuasive power far beyond what you currently exert on the populace.
Ben: I can’t do that; most of my audience isn’t well-read and I have to produce sound bites or I don’t get traction. I can’t start doing weird theater.
Socrates: I understand the limitation of the society in which one lives: I would have loved to not drink that hemlock all those years ago, but I couldn’t pick up and move town like you might think. I recall just last week when a guy was reading my Apology, which records my last speech as I was about to drink the hemlock, and he just paused me mid-sentence and asked me point blank in front of all those angry Greeks why I didn’t just get on a boat and sail to Africa instead of drinking the hemlock. And, you know, it really made me pause for a moment and consider that, hell, maybe Athens isn’t all that great anyway and I could start a new life on a new continent. Maybe there would be a fate worse than death waiting me, but maybe I could just go to the next town and work for the enemies of Athens? But think about it, Ben.
Ben: Okay, I’m thinking about it.
Socrates: I was an unemployed philosopher with a large—a very large—harem of women who loved me and to just jump on a ship and show up in a different country tomorrow? Sure I would have been alive, but I would have starved or begged and at best become an advisor to a rich man in some sub-quality republic, but it would never have been my home and my girls—the girls of my harem—would not have come with me to my new city. How could they? They had all their stuff there in Athens. So, I had to die for what I believed.
Ben: You drank the hemlock rather than lessen your quality of life.
Socrates: Yes, that’s right. But, please know that my quality of life was Justice with a capital J. I mention all this so that you understand that I understand your issues with the Evangelical listeners who are making you so popular. I know you must despise them about as much as I despised my Athenian rivals, but your audience supports you: you are thankful, yet you hate them.
Ben: Evangelicals are one of my many burdens as a Jew; Fascists are another one.
Socrates: I’d like to read your fiction sometime, Ben, and see if you create a just and righteous world or if you fall prey to various of the weaknesses that poison, well, everyone who tries to write anything from a Modern perspective.
Ben: Sure thing, Socrates.
Socrates: If you could just write books that weren’t so essay-like, I think we would all be better off. Why not take a page from my book? I wrote my apology while I was holding the goblet full of hemlock. I spoke the whole apology directly to the Athenians and it is essentially an essay, but the whole essay is couched in the larger drama of my society and it is through this larger drama that one can apprehend the catharsis.
Ben: You think I should attempt to move my audience to fear and pity?
Socrates: That is the only way, Ben. To move the audience to fear and pity. Only through fear and pity will you express the injustice hurting your society. Without moving the right and the left to fear and pity, you cannot address injustice and stimulate your society to common action. No just society—no human being for that matter—can take action when her body is sick. Sickness has many forms, but the highest sickness is injustice. When you look around you at your fellow humans and you see that they are fighting one another, you know that their fight is because of an injustice, a sickness. You can take a side with the right or the left, or you can speak out about the deeper cause of the fight: the injustice that they are attempting—however ill—to correct.
Ben: Let me just get a pen and write some of this down.
Socrates: For example, you complain about Millennials. I’ve heard you; you complain that these Millennials want to eliminate school debts, for example. I agree with you, these kids made a bargain with the devil and now owe their souls to Fanny Mae for the next thirty years; why should they be suddenly made free? But you aren’t addressing the deeper issue: the injustice that has occurred? Didn’t whole generations of society go to school for free or nearly free and recently did so until this generation? So, why the sudden change and why the slavery of these young persons to financial institutions? Aren’t they right to fight the injustice? And if so, how should they fight? Isn’t their complaint the starting of a fight? And you tell them to shut up, but they are fighting injustice, injustice Ben. You should help them solve that deeper issue of injustice, which is not to say that their debts should be removed! The Law of Moses allows for debts to build up for seven years, but after seven years pass, the debtor is free. Couldn’t we apply some solution from the Law of Moses? You do like the Law of Moses, right?
Ben: Oh, yes, Moses was the bomb.
Socrates: What is a bomb?
Ben: Fire that explodes.
Socrates: Fascinating. Well, I hope you can see how your careless writing off of social issues—like this university debt issue for Millennials—can create further problems for society. You condemn your fellow citizens when they take aim at injustice; your role should be to help those citizens understand the deeper injustice, which isn’t the same thing as the debt qua debt. Okay?
Ben: I love how you make that into the Socratic Method by adding on an “Okay?” at the end.
Socrates: Do you?
Ben: Okay, so how would I make a play about all these social issues so that people can, one, watch it in twenty seconds on a phone, and, two, extrapolate out a sound bite so that my little drama becomes a meme? What you are suggesting would make for a completely different society where there is no social media at all and people just read novels all the time instead of flitting about from superficial commentator to superficial commentator.
Socrates: Well, yes, ideally your job no longer exists because you aren’t helping anyone do anything constructive. Step one might be to shut down your media company and instead write novels.
Ben: OK, I’ll do that; I’ve wanted to do that for a while now. Wait, but how will I pay off my own school debts if I do that?
Socrates: I guess you’ll have to put in advertisements into every other page of your novels and see if your readers will continue reading your stories even though you pause the story every page and hit them with a money-making scheme.
Ben: That’s a great idea. I can just insert advertisements from all my favorite companies into the middle of my novels.
Ben: Thanks, Socrates!
Socrates: My pleasure, Ben!
Artwork: Crown of olive leaves, 2022, marker on paper, Castelo de Vide, Portugal.