Deviating from Deviance

The Death of Socrates

Gadflies are named after the Teaching which balances them. Before a jury, Socrates defended his skepticism about the norms of his day by describing the State as a well-bred horse that is nonetheless sluggish and therefore needs a gadfly like himself to rouse it. This definition of social gadfly already acknowledges the dependency of gadflies on non-gadflies: what value do social gadflies have without a horse to rouse? When the court rejected his argument, Socrates reinforced the Teaching by rejecting the opportunity to escape his death sentence, insisting that his life would be meaningless if he did not honor the authority of the jury.

From another perspective, a story is told of a woman who spent her life trying to find the meaning of life. She came to the home of a particular guru she had been seeking for many years, and immediately began begging him to resolve her quest. While he boiled water for her tea, she spoke non-stop about the questions raised by her research thus far. As he poured the water into her cup, she did not notice what he was doing until it overflowed and burned her. “What are you doing?!” she protested. “Your mind is like this cup,” he responded, “so full of questions, there is no room for answers.”

Like Socrates and this woman, a gadfly finds balance by accepting limits to the progress that can be attained in the current moment. What kind of freedom does one have, if one cannot obey the institutions of one’s day, cannot empathize, and cannot desire? This Teaching can bring humility to gadflies, although it may be natural for them to discover it on their own. Any true deviant will deviate from deviance. When we see gadflies resort to violence, as in terrorism or Hitler’s Third Reich, it is tempting to suppose that this Teaching might have averted the disaster.

The preceding is an excerpt from Chapter 16 of GRIN Free – GRIN Together: How to let people be themselves (and why you should) by Christopher Santos-Lang.