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If Socrates Debated an Anarchist Today

An Experiment in Socratic Dialogue

By Punkerslut

Image: Photograph by dev null, CC BY-SA 2.0 License

Start Date: April 25, 2011
Finish Date: September 2, 2011

Dialogue I: Specialize and Generalize

"...injustice creates divisions and hatreds and fighting, and justice imparts harmony and friendship..."
          --Socrates, ~360 BC
          "The Republic," Book 1, Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Socrates: "Generalization can never work! Everything must be centralized!"

The Anarchist: "I do not agree."

Socrates: "The state, with a king, is centralized, correct? The religion, with a prophet, is centralized, correct? The economy, with its rich noblemen, is centralized, correct? Why, then, would you say that things should be decentralized, that they ought to be generalized?"

The Anarchist: "Our knowledge, in order to go forward, must become generalized."

Socrates: "Absolutely not! How would you expected a prophet to be able to tell you the future, unless they had specialized all of their time and qualities in communing with that ultimate source? How would you expect the king to be able to be able to establish his order and put down opponents, except by becoming extremely specialized in matters of state? And finally, how would you expect the economy to become decentralized, as opposed to specialization? Do you not see that one worker does one type of work, another does another type of work, and so on? And by this progression in economy, the total output is greater than what anyone could have produced solely on their own?"

The Anarchist: "Perhaps the knowledge of king, aristocrat, and pope, however, aren't very good for either their possessor, or the society that homes the possessor."

Socrates: "What would you have in their place?"

The Anarchist: "Not a specialist of the state, but a generalist -- many generalists."

Socrates: "All the same generalists, each equal in their forms, and producing the same state? It cannot be so! We are specialized in society as a matter of competition; those societies that don't specialize cannot compete. Even if you were to pass laws forcing everyone to hold equal thought, equal ideas, equal hopes, you would produce a society that became the prey of every burgeoning empire, as everyone must slow down to the slowest motion."

The Anarchist: "Generalists do not have to hold the exact same ideas. Do Specialists, each of their own fields, hold the exact same ideas?"

Socrates: "No, that is the thing; they specialize in their own field, and allow other specialists to choose theirs."

The Anarchist: "Look closer; the architect, the engineer, and the builder, are these not all people who have specialized in the same science?"

Socrates: "Yes, true."

The Anarchist: "And, is it not true that some architects know round buildings better than flat, and some know pyramids better than flat walls? Isn't it true, essentially, that men can be specialists of parts of their specialty?"

Socrates: "True."

The Anarchist: "So, then, specialization is only a phrase for how much or how less someone has become masterful in their area of profession, correct?"

Socrates: "Yes, go on."

The Anarchist: "Don't you see that, by this, they are explicitly generalists and not specialists at all?"

Socrates: "No, I do not. Explain."

The Anarchist: "What would you call a man who decided to provide himself with specialized knowledge of the herbs and plants, especially with regard to the healing of the sick?"

Socrates: "I would call that person an herbsman, shaman, or witch doctor."

The Anarchist: "Okay, then. And what would you call them if they had decided to envelope themselves with another specialty? With if, on top of their ability to examine the use and value of plant life, they were also servants? What would you call them if they had generalized themselves to the point of being herbsman and servant?"

Socrates: "I would call them a moderate herbsman and a moderate servant, not being able to masterfully carry either craft to its maximum."

The Anarchist: "All right. Going on, what if this person took an additional specialty, or if they had gone even further in generalization? Imagine if they had learned so much from plant life, that they wanted to study animal life? What if they learned about the structure of the body, the functioning of the organism? What if they had taken up the small hobby of knowing animalkind?"

Socrates: "Then I would say you have someone who is a bad herbsman, a bad shepherd, and a bad servant."

The Anarchist: "But, my friend -- consider the person who is the bad herb gatherer, the bad servant, and the bad knower of animals; isn't it exactly in the badness of all of these qualities, that one attains the greatness of being the specialized position of Physician? Is not medicine solely that field which had made generalizations of what was before it highly specialized fields of knowledge?"

Socrates: "Yes, I do see that."

The Anarchist: "We may settle it, then. Specialization and Generalization are terms that mean things in regard to a particular science, which have made one a saint and the other a devil. Old sciences progress through specialization, until they are completely abandoned, and new ones that replace them, on their own, are the products of generalizations."

Socrates: "And, dear friend, from what mode of thought did you ever care to investigate the matter of generalization and specialization?"

The Anarchist: "For Revolution, my dear good listener. I am trying to make it into a science, so that it may succeed, as engineer and medicine have succeeded, by taking its practical lessons. And so, while revolution has been practiced for thousands of years, like medicine, I want to make it into a standard, discipline of learning. Yet, it requires so much understanding of psychology, history, and sociology, that the truly specialized revolutionary will be the truly generalized of all these fields."

Dialogue II: The Good and Evil of Civilization

"Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him."
          --Socrates, ~360 BC
          "The Republic," Book 2, Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Socrates: "So, a revolutionary is a psychologist, a historian, and a sociologist, then?"

The Anarchist: "Of course."

Socrates: "The revolutionary will combine all of these things?"

The Anarchist: "Like the physician who has combined so many other disciplines, the revolutionary must accept part of each field of study, to decline the rest. While the doctor knows what herbs heal and cure, like the gatherer in the woods. But unlike the gatherer, the doctor does not know the best way to uproot the plant to leave it fully in tact. It must be so, as well, with their understanding of animals and their ability to care."

Socrates: "So, what does the revolutionary take and leave from psychology?"

The Anarchist: "The revolutionary will take from psychology the understanding of how the individual will think and act; and, the revolutionary leaves behind them the doctrine that society is perfect and the individual is diseased."

Socrates: "What about history? What shall be taken and what shall be left?"

The Anarchist: "All knowledge of what rulers have really done shall, this is the revolutionary's history. From wars to slave camps to mass killings. The ferocity and viciousness of slaughter from war -- the revolutionary will know this from history. Beyond this, they may forget almost all dates, names, and places, so long as they understand the general trends of history."

Socrates: "Finally, what about sociology?"

The Anarchist: "Sociology itself is nothing more than a blanket phrase for all fields of study derived from the combined study of psychology and history. Economics, which is a sociological field, deals with the psychology of material goods, and the history of trade. Politics is that other brand of sociology, dealing with that other material of societies, blood. One is a matter of thinking about wealth, the other a matter of thinking about honor; and when one considers both influences, generally in equal degree, then one is considered to be writing a strictly 'Sociological' piece. Otherwise, it may be called Economics or Politics."

Socrates: "So, then, are you going to take politics and leave economics, or take economics and leave politics?"

The Anarchist: "Revolutionaries will take the same lesson from both, and ignore the same follies of both. Isolated power brings the mind of the individual toward unhealthy behavior, towards others and one's own self. Equal power brings their psychology to a mature state, where they must interact and exchange with others on mutual grounds to get what they need. By the premise of history, where one was in dominant control of the many, cruel viciousness comes with masters and the ignorant subjugation comes with subjects. And, by the premise of psychology, both of these feelings do not produce fully-developed, sympathetic, and otherwise, healthy and happy people."

Socrates: "In a phrase, then, what does the revolutionary leave from sociology, and what do they take from it?"

The Anarchist: "From sociology's ideal, the revolutionary leaves behind the old society to take the new."

Socrates: "And from it's science?"

The Anarchist: "We leave behind the wretched idea that the individual can reach their highest achievement under the subordination of someone else. We take the understanding that even the most intimate details of personality may be determined by the environment the person grows up in."

Socrates: "You had mentioned before that when a new generalization takes place, an old specialization must die. With a generalization of equality and liberty for all, what specialization of the past is ready to die?"

The Anarchist: "The one that has received more attention, development, power, and strength than all other institutions combined, whose name today is synonymous with authority -- the state!"

Dialogue III: The Master's Deception

"...being deceived or uninformed about the highest realities in the highest part of themselves, which is the soul, and in that part of them to have and to hold the lie, is what mankind least like; --that, I say, is what they utterly detest."
          --Socrates, ~360 BC
          "The Republic," Book 2, Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Socrates: "You would destroy that all-important temple of justice upon this earth, government?"

The Anarchist: "Yes, of course. Since everyone was generalized with liberty and land, opportunities for development and the development itself, there would be no need for the specialization of law, courts, prisons, and armies."

Socrates: "Justice must have an edge, though. It must be focused and central."

The Anarchist: "And why so? Are we not agreed that all of man's knowledge is a transition of generalization to specialization and then back again?"

Socrates: "Yes, of course."

The Anarchist: "Then why must power be centralized, when it represents justice? Politics, or 'the study of justice,' may suggest to us that a decentralized society better fits human needs. If we were truly to centralize politics, wouldn't that mean centralizing the main idea of politics: liberty?"

Socrates: "The purpose of politics is sound administration of society."

The Anarchist: "Doesn't the sound administration of society involve liberty?"

Socrates: "Yes, of course."

The Anarchist: "Then, if politics tells us that liberty is the ideal, and we are going to centralize politics, doesn't that amount to centralizing liberty? And how could anyone centralize liberty, except by decentralizing power?"

Socrates: "Liberty could be centralized by a single state that grants all their liberties."

The Anarchist: "But then, if all were granted their liberties, it would cease to be centralized at all. The very nature of liberty entails that it must be decentralized and spread toward all. Otherwise, it can only be a half-liberty, where some dominate and control others, and this is no liberty at all."

Socrates: "Well, what if the state didn't give out any liberties, but kept them all centralized within itself? What if the state was able to keep a truly centralized liberty, by doing everything for everyone?"

The Anarchist: "Well, what is liberty?"

Socrates: "It is the capacity to behave in a certain way, according to how I fancy or think at a certain time."

The Anarchist: "And what does it mean to centralize this?"

Socrates: "It means to combine liberties into one single entity that possesses the freedoms of everyone else -- it can force obedience and compliance from any of its members."

The Anarchist: "And what would you call that?"

Socrates: "An authority."

The Anarchist: "Does centralizing liberty produces its exact opposite, authority?"

Socrates: "That is true."

The Anarchist: "So, is it not fair to say that when liberty is centralized, it is simply a phrase for authority?"

Socrates: "Yes, I will admit that."

The Anarchist: "And were one to decentralize authority, and to spread power in the hands of the many, does this not necessarily mean creating liberty?"

Socrates: "Yes, true, indeed."

The Anarchist: "Liberty, when it is centralized, loses the fact that it is liberty; and authority, when it is decentralized, loses the fact that it is authority. Is this true?"

Socrates: "So far, that seems to be demonstrated."

The Anarchist: "Then you are not creating any liberty at all through centralization, and your system of justice has failed in its objective, which entails the freedom of all. In a society where someone is either an administrator or a subject, always taking orders and never acting on their own, in this society, liberty has been completely vanquished. By making freedom a centralized premise of your government, you have completely evicted it entirely. The government, by its design, fails in its intentions. And you cannot have liberty from a contradiction."

Socrates: "Can a generalization destroy a specialization? Can Anarchists really overthrow the state and government?"

The Anarchist: "It can surround it, suffocate it, and finally dilute it to the point where it is fully surrenders and absorbs into the rest. The transformation slowly of a state, with its thorny leaders and peculiar rogues, into a stateless society will come through slow wars of attrition against power. It will be like a rock that is swallowed whole by a green fungus -- at first, it contains particularities and sharp edges and the ability to become a weapon, but then slowly, it comes to have equal, spongy green all over it, dulling any edge that might have be used to hurt someone. Anarchy is possible, but it's going to require organizing against the state according to a social organization that will eventually replace the state."

"A revolution is more than the destruction of a political system. It implies the awakening of human intelligence, the increasing of the inventive spirit tenfold, a hundredfold; it is the dawn of a new, science--the science of men like Laplace, Lamarck, Lavoisier. It is a revolution in the minds of men, more than in their institutions."
          --Peter Kropotkin, 1892
          "The Conquest of Bread," Chapter 16, Part III


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