Sunday, April 24, 2005

Alcibiades the American

A Dialogue on American Values

SOCRATES: If Alcibiades had been born an American, he would be the greatest American of them all. I am sad for our friend, Glen Wishard, that Fate has deprived his unfortunate country of such a stellar citizen.

GLAUCON: Very true, Socrates.

ADIEMANTUS: Right again, Socrates. You nailed that one right in the old nut locker. I, too, am moved to pity him.

GLEN: What? Are you crazy? How do you come up with this?

SOCRATES: Do you deny that Alcibiades would make a model American? Is Alcibiades not a paragon of every virtue that Americans ought to admire and emulate?

GLEN: What virtue? Alcibiades is pond scum. He’s a liar, a fraud, a thief, a traitor, a pervert, a bigot, a conceited pig, and a vicious drunken son of a bitch. A blind dog wouldn’t piss on him. If he were a Sherman Williams paint swatch, he’d be “Curdled Nazi Phlegm”. Alcibiades sucks.

SOCRATES: All very true, but I did not say that Alcibiades was a good man. Nor did I say that Alcibiades is a good Athenian, though it pleased a whimsical Fate to make him an Athenian. But men are ever judged by their own cultures and climes. The Persians value wealth very highly, and rich men are therefore great in their estimation. The Spartans admire simplicity and frugality, deriving the greatest joy from the humblest means, and they give their accolades to men who personify these traits. Some praise martial prowess above all --– to them, no man could be greater than the warlike Achilles. Others praise cleverness and ingenuity, giving their love to the subtle Odysseus. The Romans hold duty to gods and country in highest esteem. Pious Aeneas is their hero.

GLAUCON: How right you are, Socrates. The Welsh prize poetry and strong drink, and Dylan Thomas is a great name among them.

ADIEMANTUS: The French are very fond of garlic ---

GLEN: Yeah, I get it, already.

SOCRATES: It is an unhappy country that can find no men to praise, and it is an unhappy man whose virtues are not praised by his countrymen. It is tragic that Fate does not match man and country more aptly, but instead scatters men here and there like an unschooled farmer who does not know what seed will grow in what soil. Men who are scorned in Athens might be highly praised in other lands, and such is the case with the misplaced Alcibiades. He would have inspired great love in Glen’s strange country, like a rose growing in the stones ….

GLEN: I can’t wait to hear you explain why.

SOCRATES: Not because of the vices you listed, but because of the virtue you overlooked. After all, would Alcibiades dispute anything that you have said about him? Have we not all heard him utter obscene blasphemies against Hermes, Ceres, and Proserpine? Have we not heard him boast how he swindled old Callias out of an extra dowry for his daughter Hipparete, to cover the expense of the children she bore him, and how he plotted to kill the old man to gain the rest of his wealth? How he abused the highest councils of Athens and Sparta with the most outrageous deceits?

GLAUCON: No shit, Socrates. And when Glen said, “Who’s been using my blender to make meth amphetamine?” did Alcibiades not say: “Beats me, but I bet it was Adiemantus”?

SOCRATES: And yet the lie was so brazenly obvious that it served as well as the truth, and Alcibiades knew it. That is his particular virtue: Alcibiades is completely shameless, and that is why he would have been a great American. By the strange law that they have in America, the misdeeds of one man excuse the misdeeds of another, or “Two wrongs make a right,” as their Constitution puts it. Washed in this general bath of sin, Alcibiades would not only stand forth white as snow, but his own bad character would supply pardons to many thousands of others. In a normal country, virtuous men are valued because of the salutary example they give to others, but in America the opposite is true. The only crime in America is to make pretense of virtue, because Americans despise all virtue --– except for the “virtue” of embracing all depravity without shame. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,” says their sacred text. No man could surpass Alcibiades on that account.

GLEN: Okay, first of all, “Two wrongs make a right” is not in the Constitution, and “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” is not in the Bible.

SOCRATES: It is if you use your remarkable science of Deconstructionism …

GLEN: No, it isn’t. Secondly, you’re talking about the excuses that some people use to rationalize their own actions –-- which some people will always do, not only here but in Athens, too. It doesn’t mean than Americans despise virtue, any more than Athenians do.

SOCRATES: Hah! As you said of Alcibiades, so I say of you: What virtue? Do Americans revere the gods? Do they honor their ancestors? Do they love their country, and those who labor for it? Do they love duty, honor, husbandry, or wisdom? Do they love love itself? Or do they mock and scorn all who claim to have such love? In your country lying is so common that the honest man is a bore. Philosophy goes begging, science is sold to the highest bidder, and music and poetry are the amusements of halfwits ... present company excepted, I suppose, for the sake of argument at least. Justice is no different from vengeance, and vengeance is no different from jealousy, which desires harm even when no offense has been given. This leaves only liberty unexplained, for it is often said that Americans love liberty.

ADIEMANTUS: And it must be so, Socrates, for you have often said so yourself.

SOCRATES: But it is not liberty as other men understand it, for an American loves only his own liberty. He does not care for the liberty of others, unless depriving others of liberty would threaten his own. This is why unscrupulous men are so admired. Their bad behavior lends much license to others, and increases the fund of so-called liberty. Likewise, the virtuous man is looked upon as an enemy, because if his actions were to become a general rule it would diminish liberty. That is why Alcibiades –--

GLEN: Yeah, enough already. If I help Alcibiades get a Green Card, will you shut the hell up?

SOCRATES: Screw Alcibiades. Let him go hide at the court of Pharnabazus the Persian. I was thinking more of your good friend Socrates, who provides you with such wise instruction.

GLAUCON: And your friend Glaucon, who agrees with all of it.

ADIEMANTUS: And your kind servant Adiemantus, who could marry your sister if it will help.

SOCRATES: Though men such as ourselves, who love wisdom, will suffer much hatred and persecution in your country, we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for Philosophy. We are also willing to eat steak and listen to much “Pink Floyd”. For where should the doctor go but to the sick?

GLAUCON: Damn straight, Socrates.

ADIEMANTUS: Multiple independently-targeted heat-seeking dittos, Socrates. Slicker than snot on a doorknob. Nothing could be more completely proven.