Whatever Happened to the Socratic Process in America?

It seems that political discourse has devolved to people yelling at one another. The louder and more emotional the voice, the more it seems that "that voice" has won.  

People speak, but they do not listen.  They do not interact. They react.

Imagine if you can two men, both Adolf Hitler, in a room yelling at one another.  That seems to be what we have today in our political discourse. Idiots screaming at one another. Neither listening. 

Last week I was in a discussion with a man on political trends, and the issue of arresting and deporting illegal aliens came up. At one point, he said in frustration, "Los Angeles is 80 percent Hispanic, most of them are illegals. One day you will see that they will all get together and vote to make LA a part of Mexico."

"What?" I said. "Yes, you just watch, they will vote to make LA, perhaps even California, a part of Mexico!"  He was red in the face. I was simply amazed.

"That is absurd. It doesn't work that way!" I said. Then he said, "We need to make America like it was, we need people who will help our country, like people from Europe, not bring in poor, criminal, substandard people from Mexico and Latin America."

He was so emotional, and I was becoming emotional because it all seemed so absurd. I said, "What about Albuquerque, the vast majority of people in Albuquerque are Hispanic." He said, "Yes we should send them all back." I then said, "Then we would lose 80 percent of the population, and most of them are tax-paying citizens of the USA. He said, "That would be ok. It would lower our crime rate, murder rate, traffic congestion and we would again become America."    

I wondered what radio or TV programs he must be listening to. Then I realized that he was repeating words that had come from the highest levels of government in Washington, D.C. The conversation had devolved into a mixture of emotional statements, repeating half truths, ignorance, and rhetoric from political ideologues who broadcast their prejudices constantly through our media and internet.


Socrates created his process to make an environment where people really seeking truth could in calm respect pose questions and then step by step, point by point, analyze and seek out fact, logical truth and logical philosophy. The concept that we have today are people who scream out their opinions as if they were facts at another person who does not hear nor listen, who simply screams his opinions back, and there seems to be a perception that the loudest or most emotional one wins. Again, imagine if you can, two Hitlers in a room screaming at one another, and you have what seems to be political discourse in the United States today. 

Thoughtful dialogue, respect, seeking to "learn together" were methods of Socrates. He often pointed out that he was the least knowledgeable about the subject and was there to learn through deep questions that the participants shared. He humbly claimed, "I am here to learn."

Note this definition in Wikipedia: 

"Socratic debate is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions. It is a dialectical method involving a discussion in which the defense of one point of view is questioned; one participant may lead another to contradict themselves in some way, thus weakening the defender's point. This method is named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates and is introduced by him in Plato's Theaetetus as midwifery (maieutics) because it is employed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors' beliefs, or to help them further their understanding.

"The Socratic method is a method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. The Socratic method searches for general, commonly-held truths that shape beliefs and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs. The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic, exploring definitions or logoi (singular logos) and seeking to characterize general characteristics shared by various particular instances."

As a result of Socrates's humility, his approach to simply try step-by-step, level-by-level to find the essential truth, his method put the participants at ease and and attain an attitude of mutual desire for learning dissolved the need for yelling at one another.  They were all there to learn together ... not to mimic or quote the phrases of some ideologue or political hack. 

Our forefathers, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Monroe, all believed in this process. Again and again they attempted to shape and educate and direct the newly formed leaders of the United States to seek out logic, truth, ethics and balance in creating our new nation. Sadly, today, the Socratic process was somehow omitted from the educations of the new rich of the oil patches and the powerful manipulators of big business.

One of the results has been the election of poorly prepared political representatives who seem to know more about the manipulation and intimidation tactics of pure power than they understand about humility in search of truth.

Socrates claimed that the chief goodness consists in the caring of the soul concerned with moral truth and moral understanding, that

wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the state, and that life without examination [dialogue] is not worth living.

It is with this in mind that the Socratic method is employed. 

This is a time for educated and wise people to encourage and initiate the Socratic process again in the United States. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and Monroe all used it to bring depth of thinking to our political process. We seemed to have lost it and succumbed to "howling at the wind" process in political discourse. I urge us to return to logic, humility, deep questions and cooperative conversations to respectfully seek and re-discover truth.