Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

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Rise of the Sophists


Surprisingly this is not a post about a new Terminator movie. It isn’t even a post about the rise of Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson; but let’s mention them for the bonus clicks. This post is actually a short essay I wrote last year as part of a philosophy course I did on Soren Kierkegaard. As you will see there is quite a bit of relevance to the current political and media climate, although looking back as far as Socrates reveals that not much has changed: sophists have undue influence on our society.

What did Kierkegaard learn from his study of Socrates?

Kierkegaard saw parallels between his time and Socrates’ time. Once again there was a rise of Sophists in society, people who knew very little but pretended they did. While it could be argued that the Socratic Method is always relevant in society, Kierkegaard came to see certain aspects of Socrates differently to his peers. He was interested in using the negative as well as drawing people into argument by asking questions from feigned ignorance. These tactics could be used to expose those who were lacking knowledge or understanding.

Kierkegaard expanded upon his interpretation of the Socratic Method and has subsequently influenced many, both in the field of philosophy and thought, as well as wider society. Notably his ideas have influenced things like existentialism and post-modernism, which have influence into such diverse areas as the arts and science. But Kierkegaard was a precursor to modern philosophical movements, as he wasn’t trying to educate or enlighten, but rather stimulate and encourage people to look for the truth.

There is a downside to Kierkegaard’s influence on society. In our modern age we have seen the rise of those who would use Kierkegaard’s negative and questioning as a tool, rather than for helping others find the truth, but for harassment. While the idea behind aporia and maeuetics is to question what we and others know, there is a point at which this stops being about questioning knowledge for understanding and starts being about someone just trying to annoy others.

Obviously this comes down to the intent of the person: are they trying to help others understand, or understand themselves; or are they more interested in having an argument, or annoying someone. But is it subtler? Is it a progression whereby someone has engaged in discussion only to run up against something they disagree with – due to whatever personal bias – and thus use the questioning as an attack or avenue to annoy others? Regardless, those who are trying to annoy are not following the intent of Kierkegaard, nor Socrates, and will miss the essence and benefits of aporia and maeuetics.

Why is this connection between Socrates and Kierkegaard still relevant in the world today?

Much like the parallels Kierkegaard saw between his time and Socrates’ time, there exists a similar parallel today. Once again in the modern age we see the rise of the Sophists. They are our elected officials, they are our media, and through technology they have the ability to reach more people and influence the world.

With more information available more easily than ever, people have come to receive that information in bite sized pieces. Often a headline – which may have been designed more for attracting attention than providing information – will be as much as a person will read about a topic. Our leaders and elected officials are reducing their policy statements to sound bites that can be easily remembered. And while we have this overly simplistic form or information presented to us, we are seeing less critical assessment of the information.

Kierkegaard was correct to look at the rise of Sophists in his time and act to apply Socratic methods to their arguments. By taking the approach of “knowing nothing” and questioning the person presenting information, it can be revealed how little the person actually knows. This is something that our media, and we, are failing to do. By taking the negative position it is possible to force the Sophist to explain themselves.

The most interesting aspect of Kierkegaard’s connection with Socrates is how comedians are applying it today. Irony was something Kierkegaard regarded as an invaluable tool. Today we see comedians such as John Oliver using irony – and other comedic devices – to dissect topics and arguments in the public space. It could be said that the modern Socrates or Kierkegaard comes in the form of the satirist news programs. Their viewers are noted to be better informed about news topics, and this comes from the use of Socratic tools.

A little more on Kierkegaard from The School of Life:

Recycling Jokes

I realised today that I’ve become guilty of recycling my own material. It is one thing to steal someone else’s jokes (Dane Cook, Dennis Leary), it is another thing to retell the same jokes hoping to have a new audience to the material. But it is really sad when you trot out the same joke again and again.

What was this joke, you may well ask. Well, voice in my head, it was a little satirical one-liner poking fun at pro-gun advocates. The first time I used the joke in question, it was after a recent shooting.

Police in Idaho say a two-year-old boy shot and killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart store after finding the weapon in her purse. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/30/idaho-toddler-shoots-kills-mother-walmart

To which I responded: If only there had been a good toddler with a gun to stop the bad toddler with a gun. This went down a treat with the other news commenters.

And then I used it again, less than a month later when this happened:

A 46-year-old man in Davidson County, North Carolina was shot in the neck on Thursday when his 3-year-old grandson found and fired an unsecured weapon. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/north-carolina-man-steps-out-of-shower-and-gets-shot-by-3-year-old-grandson/

This is just terrible. My joke that – as highly original as it is – plays on the famous quote from NRA president Wayne Compassionate LaPierre, is going to wear thin very quickly. Despite how appropriate the joke is, capturing the ridiculousness of the pro-gun response to senseless and preventable tragedies, I’m going to have to write new material.

At least these things aren’t regular occurrences happening with surprising frequency:

Federal data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children age 14 and under died each year in unintentional shootings. By this measure, American children are sixteen times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries. http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

A tragic young army mother was shot dead by her three-year-old son as she changed her 10-month-old daughter’s nappy. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/mummy-shot-words-toddler-who-4697433

NEW YORK: In yet another shooting incident in the US involving a toddler, a 2-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while playing with a handgun. http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/2-year-old-boy-shoots-and-kills-11-year-old-sister-in-us-505473

Boy, 2, accidentally shot and killed by his 3-year-old sister in fourth death in the U.S. this month caused by a firearm finding its way into the hands of a child.
The 3-year-old Utah girl accidentally shot her brother with a rifle that had been left in the living room of their parents’ home.
In South Carolina, a 6-year-old boy accidentally shot a 22-year-old woman with a gun he found in the back of his mother’s car.
Also in South Carolina, a 7-year-old girl was fatally shot by a 5-year-old boy who thought the gun he was holding was fake.
11-year-old Jamara Stevens was killed in Philadelphia when her 2-year-old brother accidentally fired a gun the kids’ mother’s boyfriend had left in the home. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2609758/Boy-2-fatally-shoots-3-year-old-sister-fourth-death-U-S-month-caused-firearm-finding-way-hands-child.html

A Kentucky mother stepped outside of her home just for a few minutes, but it was long enough for her 5-year-old son to accidentally shoot and kill his 2-year-old sister with the .22-caliber rifle he got for his birthday, state officials said. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/01/us/kentucky-accidential-shooting/


The news can be funny

Usually the news does little to inform us, but sometimes it can bring us laughs.

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