Doug Smith: Diogenes and the search for a perfect man.

16 Nov
Doug Smith is an opinion columnist, historian and Associate editor for Free State Patriot

November 16, 2030


Diogenes and the search for a perfect man

Diogenes was an interesting Greek philosopher. Given the current state of public education, I despair that many know of him, but what some few may remember is the image of an old man carrying a lamp, looking for an honest man. It is worth noting that he did not carry a mirror.

He was among those who came to be known as cynics, (dog-like) for their philosophy. Curious that he went about with a lamp, so that when people asked why he could say “I am seeking an honest man”, then, looking at the questioner, sadly shaking his head, and walking away. Curious, because he was banished from his city of birth for debasing coins. He did it by reducing the silver content, rather than with a computer like our modern cynics, the Fed, but he was no more honest than they. (Reminds me of why I had to carry a coat hanger at my Chief’s initiation, but that is not suitable for a general audience. Other Chief Petty Officers will smile at the reference, and possibly remember. )

There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named.

First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads.

The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it.

The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy.

The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them.

(From: A History of Cynicism)

Diogenes, like many of our modern scolds, never worked, only begged, lived shamelessly, defecating in public and sleeping on the streets, and castigated those who did work, have money, and refused to give it to him. Blind or unconcerned with his own hypocrisy, he made a virtue of seeking in others what he did not find in himself. More likely unconcerned, for he was sure the Oracle at Delphi told him to debase the currency, and by extension, the values of the world in which he lived. Unconcerned that when he practiced business (coinage), he stole by deception, or that when he did not, he lived on the toils of others (begging).

But it is his supposed virtue of seeking and scolding in others for that which he lacked in his own right that makes him an object lesson for today. He, who was a cheat, justified his own dishonesty, while sneering at the failings of others, on whom he depended for his existence. He would be quite comfortable in some quarters today.

There is a closet industry or hobby of seeking perfection in leaders and innovators, both past and present. Perfection, that is, by the coffee house standards of people who haven’t a fraction of the accomplishments of those they feel qualified to castigate.

Dr James Watson was castigated and shunned by the professional community for asking, not stating, if there could be a genetic component to the history of African countries development. For asking the question, for suggesting it might be researched, he has been labelled a racist and a pariah.

But still, he and Dr Crick did discover DNA. Suppose we stripped out his accomplishments because by someone’s standards he falls short. Medicine takes a bit hit.

Magellan is roundly criticized for his character flaws and his treatment of primitive tribes he found. In fact, they did more than criticize him, they killed him. And he did not complete the journey he started.

But. He did find the way through the Straights that bear his name, and his surviving ships circumnavigated the world for the first time. Cut out those straights, and go back to Great Circle routes across the Atlantic, and the last 400 years of world history is very different.

I could go on, but you get the point. We have seen it over and over. People of little accomplishment criticize people of great accomplishment for not living up to the standards of an unemployed stand up philosopher.

It is part of the Utopian mindset from which Marx and the rest of the latter day socialists form their ideologies. And it is as old as man. Envy.

The socialist doesn’t want to work to improve his lot. He wants to share the wealth. And by that he means your wealth. Gaia forbid that he should work for it, save for it, and sacrifice for it. He is entitled to that $70,000 a year education. Nor should he have to pay for it! You should. Gladly, because now he is here to tell you how to think and act. And your society based on the work and sacrifice of you and many like you is evil. So give him his fair share of your evil money, and he will tell you how to live.

Envy and pride. It is a powerful combination.  And in history we see it play out back to Cain, the Tower of Babel, Agamemnon, and Robespierre.  It always brings misery, and poverty, and want. It never delivers its promises. It is always searching for that which it cannot find.

Like Diogenes, it misses the point. You want to find an honest man? Be an honest man.

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