socrates, keep your brains in
Blank Space Fairy Tales 2017
New York, December 2016
He is a teacher, he trains souls in the gymnasium. He feeds the hunger of young minds and teaches them how to open their eyes. “Take no ruler for granted, only search for the justice and good in your soul.” It’s a proud moment for him today, all his students are ready to depart. He taught them well all these years and they’re eager to take over the world. He is standing in the back of the room listening to the giggles of happy souls.
A group of young men approaches and thanks him for all he’s taught them, all the wisdom, all the constant questioning. They tell him all the things they want to do next, all the new roads they are ready to explore. Some of them leave the next day, some of them leave next month, some of them have left already. They are all so excited for their new beginnings! Athens is not the place for them anymore –especially with all the crises and the political instability–, they have big dreams and they’re full of potential. They can do so much more out there. He is proud. He taught them well.
Today though the contrast is striking: he can’t help to feel sad seeing so many young bodies trapped in this old decaying gymnasium. Erosion is obvious –almost dangerous. The structure might not survive the next winter, the walls are covered in scribbles, the wooden furniture was left for too long in the rain. The place where the next young minds will flourish is not a safe place anymore. But who’s left to help, everyone is leaving now.
Erosion got him too. His body is not the same as it used to be. His skin is changing and his legs feel heavier every day. He probably needs to take a walk outside, breathe the air, see the people, hear the sounds. He can’t stand the erosion anymore. He needs to get away. He needs to think. His needs to evaluate his beliefs. Could he be wrong?
Why does he care about some stones, some wooden pieces, and some paint on the wall? These are exactly the material goods he preaches have no value. The only true virtue is knowledge and the only true goal one must have in life is the pursuit of the truth. He still believes that. Right? Yes, of course he does. Look at the city that surrounds him: full of greed, ever-hungry rulers, all in the pursuit of money. All victims of their own ignorance. He needs to firmly oppose their greed.
But what about the gymnasium? What about education? The flame is slowly dying because no one stays to keep it alive. It must be kept alive! So many creative spirits, all of them fleeting. But he can’t ask anyone of his students to stay. That would be unprincipled. He would betray all the values he taught them. He can’t ask them to care about the rotten political system, the debt, the material goods. He can’t steer them away from their path of self-development. If only the two were coinciding. He is conflicted.
He walks for hours until he finds himself in the Agora. This place feels different every time, especially during this last unstable months. Merchants are selling their goods, while citizens gather to protest against the government. Wise men and philosophers spend their afternoons expressing their agonies about the society and the military decisions. It is never boring in the Agora, but he’s not always welcome.
“Look what you’ve done to our city, to the people, to our society. You corrupted the minds of the youth. You have filled their heads with nonsense and pushed them all away.”
“I teach them how to search for the truth, not how to live their lives.”
During his dialogues with students, he always tried to keep raw reality outside of academia. He would use it to draw examples and criticize it but not be involved with it. The search for self-development could not be poisoned by the outside world, the greet for money, the rotten government. His words and actions both inside the gymnasium and in the public realm kept irritating people, growing the pool of his enemies. Now, during these transitional times –when problems are exacerbated, they already know who to blame. They took him to trial.
“You claim to be loyal to this city but all you’ve done is cut the bonds between the city and its people. You claim to free their minds, but you’ve put them in the jail of diaspora. They could have been stonemasons, wood workers, metal workers, fixing our great city, expanding it, spreading the Athenian glory. But you’ve fed them words and took away their hands. We were lazy, we lost, we must pay our debt. We need them. Shame on you, Socrates. What a brain drain!”
He had to defend himself.
“I have a social contract with our city and I am honoring it: I am devoted in keeping the minds awaken, the souls in constant exploration, the hearts in the search for goodness. I stand by my beliefs, I know the good I’ve done to our city. Think of me as the gadfly who stings the lazy horse – the Athenian state. Without my criticism, our society would have drifted into a deep sleep and eventually die. Without my influence our youth would have been the muscle to pay our debts, to rebuild the city you’ve led to destruction. I think our youth is more than that. What is more, I still don’t know. I’m the preacher of a truth I haven’t still found. The oracle said I’m the wisest, but I am only the wisest because I am aware of my ignorance. And you’re not.”
The young are listening. The accusers sentence him to death.
His old students can get him out of there, they are creative and they’ve learned to pave the road themselves. They can find their way through the cracks of a corrupted system and make things happen. They don’t take the laws for granted, instead they make their own laws. By now, they’re all successful doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers, and politicians in every corner of the world. They know how to help. But he doesn’t accept their help. He lets them down. He pushes them away. He chooses to let academia die as a political infighting.
“I respect our laws and this was a decision made through the laws of our society. I will drink the poison.
He drinks, he starts to feel weak, they pinch his foot, –he only feels numbness.
“We owe a cock to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”
The numb feeling travel to his heart –he dies.
Young men and women are left standing there, a crowd unable to move, unable to act. They could see a million ways out of this situation but they are paralyzed in a reality controlled by others. It was easy for them to simply turn their back and look away from the problems –simply continue walking on the path for self-development. But something kept pulling them back. Maybe they find their truth by looking their city deeply in the eye. Perhaps they see hope in the ruins.
What a brain drain.