Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Societal Progress requires Gadflies

Societal Progress requires Gadflies

(The following is a paper written for my Philosophy Class. The class is specifically known as "Social and Political Philosophy". It outlines the requirements to create progress in Society.)

Visionaries are what we lack now entering the 21st century. Rather than people wanting to create a vision for the future and work towards shaping it, a new sort of rhetoric of compromise and moderation seems to have appeared. It seems now that the middle position between any two points, politically and socially, is deemed the one that's always correct. The other two positions are considered extreme and are demagogued as unrealistic or the work of idealists.

What has happened to our world where no one can see or even envision an America different than the circumstances around them? What seems to have happened is that we have lost all our gadflies. Socrates built the framework around an idea of a social catalyst whose very existence is to rile up and irritate the minds and emotions of people for social progress and social change.

Quoting him so he can speak for himself, Socrates explains the gadfly in Plato's Apology as such, "For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the God; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. And as you will not easily find another like me, I would advise you to spare me. I dare say that you may feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you are caught napping; and you may think that if you were to strike me dead, as Anytus advises, which you easily might, then you would sleep on for the remainder of your lives, unless God in his care of you gives you another gadfly." 1

Gadflies originally were the flies that flew around horses and irritated them for the majority of the day. This irritation is what Socrates seems to be channeling. To truly understand this irritation and how it works as a positive force, we can use the writings of Doctor Martin Luther King, as he eloquently explains the positive force that comes with this gadfly like effect in his letter from a Birmingham Jail: " You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and halftruths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood." 2

This philosophical argument all builds on two strongly held beliefs. Firstly is the premise that a random given society is rarely perfect and utopian in its morals or positions. It will inherently have evil customs, positions, or traditions that will need changing if the society is to progress forward and become more Just.

Secondly is the premise that the status quo has a characteristic of not wanting change or entropy and as a result requires a lot of energy before it gives way to new ideas or innovations. Just as it takes the most energy to get an object moving at the onset, a gadfly is needed to catalyze society into facing the injustices it has come to accept. That is the purpose of a gadfly and it's moral justification for creating tension given those two easily understandable premises. These gadflies I would label as visionaries.

Visionaries(Gadflies) don't see the world as it is but as it should or could be. They envision a better world and they seek to revolutionize the environment around them to help bring about that change and share their image of the future with the world. Economic visionaries like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs built products to bring into being this new world and had the forethought to know that we'd be using computers and Ipods before they even existed.

What about the anti-visionary? What of our current state of affairs? The anti-visionary brings about little to no progress living between tight and rigid views of where society is comfortable. If society has a social ill or problem of injustice in its midst, the anti-visionary will seek to solve it by bringing about as little change as possible and only what will be tolerated by the mass of people living in his society. There is no vision of the future and there is no radical changing of society for better or for worse. There is simply the status quo.

A number of issues today that we'd found outrageous were compromised upon decades ago by other non-visionaries; let their lives and choices be our guide and our historical lesson. People would argue for the abolition of slavery, for the right of women to vote, and for equal rights for all Americans during the Civil rights era. The anti-visionaries would be hesitant to accept these proposals and would instead ask for compromises to try to seem more rational and less "extreme" to the moral standards of their own society at that time.

But today the extreme position would be to deny women the right to vote, to deny all Americans equal rights, or to deny the emancipation of African Americans. EVEN a compromise would be seen as morally bankrupt and would shun anyone seeking to partially enslave African Americans, or partially limit women's right to vote, or partially deny equal civil liberties.

On a lot of positions the compromise or middle ground of an issue is morally unjust and unimaginable. Would people dare argue with the principle that we are never to kill innocent people? One day a non-visionary(non-gadfly) might well say there may be cases where such murder of innocent civilians is Just or moral. That is the problem with such people. Their longing to conform to their society's standards skew them from an understanding of the abstract values of good and evil, right and wrong, and justice/injustice.

If we want moral, social, or political progress in any country it will require gadflies. These visionaries will have a picture of a brighter future and will answer to philosophy's deeper abstract questions other people "sleeping" did not think to ask. They awaken us, shake us of the status quo, and in turn are rewarded by seeing their dreams become a reality.

That's what Dr. Martin Luther King was seeing when he wrote his famous "I have a Dream" speech. He was anticipating, envisioning, and creating a new world where Dr. Kings, "four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. " 3

Where our gadflies lay now is the question we must all ask ourselves. The loss of such great gifts of God in essence creates a stagnation of that society's progress. That in turn affects all corners of our lives.

To ask for the best in ourselves, our children, and our Society is to ask for God to send us Gadflies to awaken us when we have slept too long not pondering the deeper questions of our inner soul. There is a need to peer into the essence of our souls and question our deeply held assumptions. Gadflies help us to build a better world and establish a better life for us all. Societal progress hinges on such amazing divine blessings as them. Let us hope that one stirs us up soon and awakens us from a new approaching era of confusion, darkness, and doubt. It is all too clear that Obama in every way imaginable is no gadfly and we can expect no significant progression with him.

End Notes (Sources)

1. Platos Apology; Plato

2. Letter from a Birmingham Jail; Dr. King.

3. I have a Dream Speech; Dr. King.

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