What relation between knowledge, guilt and power?
A dialogue between Mickael and Charmide the deer and Socrates the stick. In general, Charmide and Mickael prefer to flee than to fight. Charmide thinks that temperance is the best rule of life; Mickael is wary of power which always seeks to enslave. Socrates knows he does not know anything and this leads him to ask many questions. He then carefully examines the answers.
Mickael: Charmide, I think I hear someone coming.
Charmide: you are right my friend, let’s run away.
Socrates: deer, wait, where are you going?
Mickael: Socrates, it’s you! What are you doing around here?
Charmide: we thought you always stayed beyond the Outer Reaches
Socrates: I like to vary my outings and I just met Niccolò.
Mickael: ho, yes, he is often in the leaves at the bottom of the path; he plans his future misdeeds.
Charmide: have you managed to see him? In general, he is discreet.
Socrates: he was sleeping in the sun, he did not hear me coming.
Mickael: that’s his problem, despite all his tricks, he lets himself be surprised.
Charmide: so he strikes and it does not help his reputation.
Socrates: he told me what happened with Eve; he is still very contrite.
Mickael: don’t believe everything he says; he wanted to control her, he succeeded.
Charmide: and now humans mistreat us because they think they are superior.
Socrates: dear Mickael, how can you say that he controls Eve when he himself has lost the main of his greatness.
Mickael: his speech set a new standard in her and in humans in general. They knew they had disobeyed and they felt guilty. But guilt and power go hand in hand because this allows the accuser to take the position of the just, even if he is not, and to condemn others. Niccolò introduced confusion and dissension and he knows how to use that.
Charmide: humans have become susceptible and aggressive because they have started looking for answers without finding them and without even being able to agree among themselves. After the paradise where nothing gave cause for concern, it is difficult. Some believed they had answers and began to dominate others. Those who disagreed were blamed for their ignorance. All take revenge on us who do not have the means to defend ourselves.
Socrates: but he is no longer the beneficiary of this guilt.
Mickael: think again, dear Socrates, it is enough that it exists for him to benefit from it. He always generates fear and makes you uncomfortable. Those who meet him wonder what they did to make them feel threatened by his presence so they run away from him as soon as possible.
Charmide: it is more effective than direct threat and it allows him to carry out his underground transactions.
Socrates: it’s a subtle means of social control that I hadn’t thought about, but some humans are aware that they know nothing. How then could they be charged or feel concerned?
Mickael: do you mean the unruly? The freelancers? The crazy ones?
Charmide: those who seek temperance and moderation?
Socrates: yes, the very ones who question opinions and seek the truth. Because if we manage to find it, we all will be in agreement and it will make dissension unnecessary. It is therefore a commendable search.
Mickael: these will be overtaken by the culture of their time! You talk to us about universal culture but it is a delusion. There is always a particular order which maintains the organization of the moment and any order supposes a dominant power which will never accept to be questioned. Those who do will be imprisoned, sidelined, punished if nothing else is done but first, they will have to fight against social pressure. It is a very strong power of standardization. This is why we stay away from ponds. We run away from influences that don’t suit us.
Charmide: wisdom is certainly a laudable ideal which brings measure, but it requires living alone because it cannot enlighten everyone at the same time.
Socrates: my friends, intimate knowledge of the world beyond appearances would allow us to be all united again.
Mickael: this knowledge would become for humans a new tool of power, my dear Socrates. You believe in a human nature which could regain its original goodness but nature does not exist for them. It is only their history which shapes their characters and develops their ideas. Since the fall, their story has always been that of a struggle between classes and species.
Charmide: as far as we are concerned, we are looking for peace and tranquility in this corner of the forest, but when humans arrive, it’s better to run away.
Mickael: we cannot be friends with those who want to dominate us in order to feel that they exist.
Charmide: because of Niccolò, they forgot everything that came easily to them in the garden.
Mickael: he sowed in them the will to know but he did not tell them how this knowledge should be used.
Socrates: yet Gottfried loves them and you, you are friend with Niccolò.
Charmide: oh, he doesn’t have a lot of brains, that’s all. As for us, Niccolò has nothing to gain from us and we leave him alone so why would he threaten us?
Mickael: Gottfried is a city bird. By relying on the goodwill of humans, he lost his freedom. We are not dependent on Niccolò so he can be our friend..
Socrates: so you see that your knowledge also gives you the power to decide.
Mickael: yes, because we don’t feel guilty and accountable for anything. If we don’t try to please and share our knowledge, nothing can be used against us.
Charmide: humans forgot that things are done in due time and that one has to be patient and attentive, this gives us our chance when they hunt us. Otherwise we would already be trophies on their chimneys.
Socrates: you are right, wisdom is a long apprenticeship.
Mickael: those who, like Gottfried, no longer make the effort to hunt, they get fat and become dependent.
Socrates: it’s true that he’s a little fat at times, but I like him and he’s always happy.
Mickael: it’s the joy of the ignorant…
Charmide: come on, Mickael, he is not so ignorant as he has figured out how to live easily!
Socrates continues here the reflection initiated in the previous dialogue, “How to keep the peace?”. The actions of Niccolò the snake are mentioned again but they are now commented on by the deer.
For Charmide, the thirst for knowledge is likely to move away from temperance because the one who knows often wants to dominate those who do not know. But temperance knows that power is a lure which also enslaves the one who uses it. Mickael goes on to say that those who have power define normality as the possession of this knowledge and make feel guilty those who do not possess it, but it is a constant effort. Niccolò is responsible for this state of affair because it has alienated humans from intuitive knowledge. Knowledge that generates neither guilt nor power is the knowledge that allows one to live apart and not depend on anyone.
Socrates says that the knowledge to be sought is that which is knowledge of the nature of things. Synonymous with wisdom and universality, it is a source of unity and equality. It does not generate guilt but unites.
What is the power of words?
Why did kings have a madman near them?
Want to think a a little more? See Discipline and punish, the birth of the prison where Michel Foucault shows how the definition of deviances allows effective surveillance of all.
Want to contribute to these dialogues? Write your comments and questions below.
Want to know more about the tastes of Socrates, Charmide, Mickael, Niccolò, Gottfried? Their favorite books are in the domain library.