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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    JustynTyme

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham
    Editor-in-Chief

    Have you ever noticed that whenever you say that something isn’t as good as it used to be, the person listening will invariably agree with you?

    No matter whether you’re talking about movies, music, politicians, the gold standard, candy bars or furniture, if you say “”It just isn’t what it used to be,”” the other person will reply with something along the lines of “”It’s so true. It’s hardly even worth buying furniture anymore.””

    I’m not sure whether this is because everything really is worse than it used to be or simply because it’s easier to agree with someone than to argue with them.

    But while reading Plato’s “”Republic”” for a class this weekend, it suddenly occurred to me that all writing is nowhere near as good as it once was. While I naturally expect you to agree with me, I will explain for the benefit of anyone who happens to be immune to the disease of automatic agreement.

    For those who never had to take a humanities course, the “”Republic”” consists of a series of arguments between the wise and infinitely clever philosopher Socrates and an assortment of other philosophers who were considerably less wise and clever than Socrates. Not surprisingly, Socrates usually wins the arguments.

    Despite the complexity of his ideas, Plato remains widely read, as philosophers go. Apart from college students, few people bother to plunge more than a few pages into Kant’s “”Critique of Pure Reason”” or Sartre’s arty-looking but impenetrable “”Being and Nothingness.”” Who wants to spend 40 hours of his life listening to a dry, archaically articulate shut-in explain to him why existence is meaningless?

    But, like most philosophers of his time, Plato delivered his sophisticated ideas in the form of fast-paced and scintillating dialogues, often based on real people but embellished with all manner of rhetorical twists and turns. The dialogues, by mimicking the very process of thinking, are easy to follow.

    What if modern-day writers decided to follow Plato’s example? News stories, political treatises, almanacs and even encyclopedias could all be vastly improved by the change.

    What if, for instance, editorials consisted of imaginary arguments between two people making the best possible arguments from two different viewpoints? Wouldn’t that make for a better, more enriching experience than simply reading one viewpoint at a time?

    What if album reviews, which presently only give us one necessarily limited viewpoint, gave us imaginary dialogues between one person who loved the album and another person who hated it? I think it might go something like this:

    DILLINGHAM: This new Ashlee Simpson album is terrific, Socrates.

    SOCRATES: So I am told, my friend, but why would you say it is so?

    D: Well, the songs are outstanding.

    S: What is it that makes a song outstanding?

    D: The lyrics are good, the melodies are catchy and the production is great.

    S: Can you explain to me why a good lyric is good, or why a tune is catchy or what the difference is between a great production and a poor one?

    D: No, Socrates.

    S: Then I must regretfully conclude that the lyrics are not good, the tunes catchy, nor the production great.

    D: How do you mean?

    S: All things that we believe to be true are only so because we believe that we know what is false. Without such a distinction, such statements as “”the lyrics are good”” are only so much meaningless babble.

    D: Very well, Socrates, but how am I to define what is “”good”” and what is “”bad?””

    S: Did you not criticize an album only last month for containing tunes that you found “”annoying?””

    D: I did.

    S: Well, what is to prevent another person from finding those tunes “”catchy?””

    D: A tune can be both catchy and annoying.

    S: Indeed. But if you mean “”annoying”” as a pejorative and “”catchy”” as a compliment, then saying that something is both annoying and catchy is to say nothing at all about it that I did not already know, any more than saying that “”It could rain today, or it could remain sunny”” would serve as a useful weather report. Therefore, there is no discernable difference between voicing an unproved opinion and simply remaining silent.

    D: I’m beginning to see why they executed you, Socrates.

    S: Don’t be so uptight, my friend. I for one was quite the fan of Ashlee’s last album.

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