Socrates, you will recall, was sentenced to death for “corrupting the young.” He did this by pointing out the hypocrisy and flawed ideas of those around him. Worse, he did it in such a way as to be immune from the pressures of society. He shared his knowledge and wisdom for free, whereas the Sophists insisted upon payment for their educational endeavors. Like Jesus, or The Peace Pilgrim, Socrates lived his life free of worry and with a burning passion to share the Truth. Since refuting Socrates was impossible, and no bribe or threat would work, the only way to silence him was to accuse him of a crime. It was the same specious complaint that would put Jesus on trial five centuries forward. People want others to commit murder on their behalf, while keeping their own hands clean.
Two millennial after Jesus’ trial, Orwell would introduce us to the term thoughtcrime. While the First Amendment gives a right to Free Speech, it is still up to individuals to discern fact from fiction, truth from lies, wheat from chaff. It is common for opposing political sides to accuse each other of thoughtcrime. While a courtroom or the application of violence may declare or secure a win, the foundation of democracy is in the labor to forge a consensus, expel hypocrisy and build trust.
I have never been a fan of the suggestion to ‘agree to disagree,’ and often describe it as the most dangerous idea in the world. Part of believing in God is accepting that a Devil exists who seeks to divide man. Agreeing to disagree is an idea straight from Hell, as it institutionalizes a wedge that can be leveraged in the future. Constant pressure is applied so that the gaps between people continually increase. Bad ideas are as fruitful as good ones, and adapt and multiply over time.
Many revolutionaries adopt the divide and conquer approach. Bolsheviks and al Qaeda both mock the idea of reconciliation, and used it only as part of a strategy of deception. Today we can see it play out within the GOP and the various attempts to censure those who voted in favor of impeachment. There is thoughtcrime, which is expected by the opposition, and then there is betrayal, when one of your own takes a contrary position. DINO or RINO (democrat in name only or republican in name only) are generally accused of thoughtcrime for attempting to forge or find a consensus, aka the Truth. Betrayal always cuts deeper. Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s vote for impeachment led his family to accuse him of being a part of the “devil’s army.” The opposite of ‘agree to disagree’ is not necessarily consensus, but to increase the heat of the hot divide, from the frying pan into the fire. Jesus said he brought a sword that would divide brother from bother. Some will seek the truth, some will only reject it.
I would be remiss, however, to fail to point out that a consensus is not the same as compromise. If the Truth compromises with a Lie, the Truth is weakened and a Lie is strengthened. A proper consensus is when the Lie is discarded and the Truth adopted. Unfortunately, in practice, we often get the opposite, when the Truth is discarded and a Lie is adopted, particularly within a particular group. A group, almost by definition, shares too narrow an outlook. When a group forms an exclusionary consensus, or splinters within itself, in both cases it makes a consensus difficult and bad expedient compromises likely. America has been experiencing this cycle for hundreds of years, and pretty much all religions as well. It reflects how we grow as individuals. We migrate from naive youth to a greater awareness in adulthood through an endless cycle of epiphanies. Those slouching towards wisdom generally have less friction than those moving in the opposite direction.
When Socrates said, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living,’ it was about holding ourselves accountable to higher standards, to test our own beliefs with a greater rigor than others. Why? Because, we have full control over our own faults, and only by example and witness can we help others with theirs. It is easy to accuse others of being wrong, but it takes wisdom and courage to recognize and admit to being wrong, and effort to explore how one went wrong. Everyone’s experience is unique. All our enemies are self-defined, which is why Jesus said to “love your enemy.” By doing so, one would discover how an enemy was created out of thin air. Evil begins at conception.
QAnon has adopted many strange theories of history, fact and the future. They are consumed with worry over things which do not exist. That is the nature of fear. It distorts everything and masks the Truth under multiple layers. We have seen this bloom of delusion many times in history: the German fear of the Jews, the Capitalist fear of Communism, the Communist fear of Imperialism, the Religious fear of other Religions, Democracy versus Monarchy, Jim Jones in Guyana, 9/11 and so on. A mustard seed of inaccuracy grows into a rigid monstrosity. Every group is self-defined with a self-defined nemesis, and often with a charismatic leader. It’s 1984 over and over again. Good hero against bad hero is always an internalized divide externalized. Man exists in a perpetual fight against his reflection, as both the victim and the crime.
How many fights can we wage at once? The political, economic, and religious theories each on their own have a multitude of facets to explore, then there is the challenge of life and family and aging, the good or bad luck of place and circumstance, nature’s demand on our bodies and security. We can have as many enemies as we desire, but to survive and thrive we can only have none. To ‘agree to disagree’ is to fail at the outset. We must ‘agree to agree,’ to elevate facts over opinions, investigate new ideas and not blindly uphold traditions, to try to understand and not to ignore what we don’t understand, to help rather than to oppose. The strange montage of the word ‘fight’ at the trial reveals how much we need to change the daily rhetoric.
Some see the world as divided between good and evil, and always think themselves good; others see the world as divided by the weak and the strong, and always seek to be stronger. How do you see the world, and yourself in it? What is True and what is a Lie?
If you never heard of The Peace Pilgrim, you can learn more about her here: https://www.peacepilgrim.org Her motto was: Overcome Evil with Good, Falsehood with Truth, and Hatred with Love. The attack on Capitol, the people’s house, by self-described ‘patriots’ should be a wake-up call for everyone that our established political habits need to be abandoned for something better. Otherwise, we will be like too many countries living with extremism, and each body we pick up or imprison will mark our failure of consensus.