The new sophistication

IMG_9646The sophist is always canny, master of doublethink. He can convince you that up is down. He will point out that really there is no up or down, as we bob around in cosmic space and it is all in our head, those tiny vestibular bones, this notion of up and down. And he believes he charms you as he cons you into being convinced. He converts you in fits and starts, he is not high priest of vaudeville, a proselytiser, he aims to be less obvious.

The sophist thinks he has the courage to rehabilitate a perpetrator or perp by being clever enough to reframe his objectors as moral prudes. In this confrontation with moral prudes, he thinks he is all by himself, brave in his solitary endeavour. What the sophist doesn’t realise is that he is Everyman, someone that casts himself as the lonely supermind fighting, of course, the cretinous moral prudes. In the world outside the mind of the sophist, Everyman is furtive, has done this before and will continue to do this. He just has to bide his time to resurrect the perp, sometimes himself, herself or others, waiting for the moral prudes to imbibe the opium of forgetfulness.

The sophist needn’t have bothered with courage, as the perp has the benefit of doubt. Except for blips in history, the perp is always rehabilitated, with the help of time, profit, effective manipulation and the blinders of success. Many leaders and wizards were perps that survived their unmasking, or were never unmasked. Doubt on the other hand destroys the victim. It is the victim that needs the whisky sip of courage, but won’t get it. The victim has many detractors, detractors with doubt, people that ask how they allowed themselves to be used in that way, and why they took so long to complain, when what happened to them was much more than a plaint.

Anthropologically, culturally, humanity has unofficial antipathy for victims. Evolution ironically designed us to lack empathy for the things we prey upon for survival; when we do feel for the things we eat we over-compensate into vegan evangelism. The furtive disdain for prey has extended into our culture and even into our civilisational existence these last five thousand years and more as various members of humanity have endured onslaughts from other humans, and history has tended to ignore the people that were cruelly eliminated.

In a history of victors, we are inclined to ignore the first victims that speak up, to dismiss them as playing victims, the first anthropomorphised chickens in a slaughterhouse that tried to make a break for it. Empathy is not instinctual, it requires re-education and learned compassion to force ourselves to feel for things that we do not have time for, like the arrogance of the precocious. We are culturally inclined to celebrate steady courage and denigrate weakness. We are uncertain about the dithering courage of those who hesitate in the face of thin-skinned doubt.

Modern notions of civilisation have tried to act against these evolutionary, cultural forces. We have learned to act against our better natures, a tribal better nature that nods its head surreptitiously to acknowledge the victor predator. To protect the rights of the weak against the will of the mighty we may have over-compensated into compassion.

When the tide turns, it feels to the sophist as if this is an over reaction, and the ones speaking up have it easy, because for a moment in history people heard them. That’s also the moment in history when the loudest of these voices are labelled moral prudes. With increasing volume from the unheard comes the charge that their volume is evangelism, and the sophist will hint powerfully: it is not all as it seems, and leave it at that. Just because the sophist looks to be furtive and he knows volume will be mistaken for pulpit-speak, he will leave it at that. To the sophist, defending the undefendable is game for good literature, the rest is easy activism.


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