by Van Bryan, Contributing Writer, Classsical Wisdom
Long time readers may recall Classical Wisdom’s former Managing Editor, Van Bryan. This week we are treated to a guest column by him – asking whether Joe Rogan is like Socrates? He makes his case below… Please bear in mind, we are a broad church here at Classical Wisdom, with many different opinions and perspectives. Over to Van:
Today, I rise in defense of a surprising subject…
It’s none other than podcast extraordinaire and gladiator commentator Joseph Rogan.
No…seriously… I mean it.
Mr. Rogan finds himself in hot water. The allegations are grave: He believes in strange gods. He’s corrupting the youth. He speaks to Alex Jones!
But I have a soft spot for misfits and rascals. And Mr. Rogan reminds us of a classical rascal near and dear to our heart.
You may recall that our beat is the classics. We share the literature, history, art, and philosophies of the classical age.
The classics are more than dusty books that people lie about reading during undergrad. They’re a map. A guide through the calamities, faults, and false starts of our world.
The classics have much to teach us. You need only show up for class.
But Mr. Rogan—so far as we know— won’t be found in the classical canon. He led no hoplites into battle. He didn’t study at Plato’s Academy. And we’re pretty sure “The Joe Rogan Experience” isn’t required listening for freshmen antiquity classes.
But history is a funny thing, dear reader…
Sometimes it rhymes. Sometimes it repeats. Sometimes it hits you over the head with unmistakable parallels.
As we write, allegations have been levied against Mr. Rogan. The most serious is that he spread misinformation about the dreaded plague. The consequences are swift.
A group of presumably qualified professionals “slam” him. The Twitter Robespierres ready the proverbial guillotine. Neil Young takes his music off Spotify!
But I’m not so sure Mr. Rogan deserves such scorn. And we can’t help but think (no matter how hard we try!) that I’ve seen this somewhere before…
The year is 399 BC. And Socrates—the grandaddy of Greek philosophy—is on trial for his life. He is charged with “corrupting the youth” and “believing in strange gods.”
But the philosopher believes his crime is far worse. He’s embarrassing powerful people.
From Plato’s The Apology:
Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed to him – his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination – and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me.
Prior to his trial, Socrates had embarked on a series of examinations of classical Athens’ elite and powerful. The examinations were intended to tease out answers to profound questions.
What is justice? What is piety? What is love? These dialogues can still be read in Platonic works like The Republic, Euthyphro, and Symposium.
Socrates views his role as that of a “gadfly” that might spur Athens to philosophical greatness through his incessant—and uncomfortable—questioning.
I am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the Gods; 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.
But the consequence of these inquiries is that Socrates shows that powerful men of his time maybe, possibly, potentially… don’t know what the heck they’re talking about.
He’s spreading ancient misinformation!
Or to put it another way:
There was no Twitter in classical Athens. So, the accusers de-platform Socrates the old-fashioned way.
They kill him.
After drinking a hemlock potion, the most influential classical philosopher dies amongst his friends in an Athenian prison.
The great legacy of Socrates is his method of inquiry that now bears his name, the Socratic method. And there was a time when we admired such inquiry. We taught it. We encouraged it. We took pride in practicing it.
And this type of thinking used to be common throughout the polis. We were curious. We were skeptical. We said heretical things like “Well, how do you know that?” or “Um… are you sure?”
We believed in strange gods. And we were better for it.
But such thinking is…well… ancient.
We now live in an age of prophets. We Know (capital “K”) the eternal and unquestionable Truths (capital “T”).
It used to be that only the gods were omnipotent. But thanks to “independent fact checkers,” we’ve stolen that gift like Prometheus and the fire.
There is no answer unknown. No more mysteries in Heaven or Earth. No room for doubt, or questions, or Socrates…
It’s all been settled, you see.
We Know, for instance, that the origins of the plague could not possibly be from a lab.
We Know that cloth masks definitely, totally, absolutely work and we should put them on all our toddlers for hours on end.
We Know that it is utterly impossible to contract or spread the plague once you have taken two doses of the sacred elixir.
Even more impressive… We Know all this without any humility, embarrassment, or sense of humor.
And dear reader… If you believe otherwise—even if you question it—you’re probably anti-science. Or a bigot. Or both!
It’s true… an independent fact checker told me so!
Socrates isn’t here. But Joe Rogan is.
Mr. Rogan may not be a classical scholar, but he can deploy the Socratic method with the best of them. And every episode is a symposium in its own right. Sometimes right. Sometimes wrong. But always curious.
Says the man himself:
I’m interested in finding out what is correct and also finding out how people come to these conclusions and what the facts are.
I want to show all kinds of opinions so we can all figure out what’s going on…
Like Socrates, the man has become a gadfly upon the haunches of some great beast. And like the philosopher before him, the archons of Athens wish to fix him a hemlock cocktail.
But it is only by asking the uncomfortable questions—sometimes at great personal risk—that we ever move closer to The Good, as Plato would call it.
We used to believe that. We believed in strange gods. We listened to our daimon. We can again.
Socrates isn’t here, dear reader. So, for now, we’ll have to make do with a podcaster.