I recently read Teresa M. Bejan’s “The Two Clashing Meanings of ‘Free Speech.’” She raises some good questions about the First Amendment, free speech, Facebook and Twitter, and no-platforming. She also makes mention of Diogenes the Cynic, a Greek Philosopher who told Alexander the Great to “get out of his light” and apparently “lived in a barrel [and] masturbated in public.”
My jaw dropped when I read the passage about Diogenes the Cynic. I had to look up and read the conversation for myself. It seems Diogenes only acquired “the Cynic” much later and was actually called Diogenes the Dog at the time of the encounter. He also left quite a positive impression on Alexander the Great. Fascinating stuff. I plan to read, and maybe publish something about this ostentatious and flamboyant character in the future.
For now, I’ll just focus on Teresa Bejan’s article. I encourage you to read it for yourself and make up your own mind. I’ll leave a link at the bottom of the post.
Below is my short reflection on the article, particularly focused on isegoria and parrhesia.
“In theory, isegoria meant … any citizen in good standing had the right to participate in debate and try to persuade his fellow citizens.” This theory sounds good on its face, but who decides if a citizen is in good standing? The majority? Well, the majority of Athenian citizens decided that Socrates, one of the fathers of Western philosophy, was too radical to have a platform. He died for his opinions. Today we know he was right and we’re able to criticize the “mob rule” that got one of the brightest minds back then killed. Another famous figure suffered a similar fate in Jerusalem less than 500 years later. Maybe there’s a lesson here.
It’s sort of like we’d rather be lulled to sleep with soothing half-truths than wake up and face the whole truth.Tweet
“Parrhesia was about liberty in the sense of license—not a right but an unstable privilege enjoyed at the pleasure of the powerful.” Basically, a license to speak truth to power. The sentence immediately evokes monologues by the late George Carlin. There’s something twisted about having to hear the truth about our society from stand-up comics instead of politicians, the people we expect to lead us. It’s sort of like we’d rather be lulled to sleep with soothing half-truths than wake up and face the whole truth. Maybe that says something about our society.
Read Bejan’s article in The Atlantic.
Here is a link to Diogenes the Cynic’s encounter with Alexander the Great.