Socrates was Smart

Day 55: Friday

Good morning Zak,

Under the present circumstances I am reminded of something the wise old Socrates once said: “there is nothing more annoying than someone who quotes the wisdom of Socrates on almost every occasion.”

Maybe you don’t remember that one.  There’s a long tradition of falsely attributing things to Socrates, so it’s hard to know what the dude actually said.  For all we know he might have said that.  He might also have said, “come on guys, stop pretending to quote me all the time.”

Can you imagine being Socrates?  This is one of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about.  I mean, how frustrating would that be.  Like, one of my students represents me and my views however he wants in his books, and then those books get read for millennia after my death.  And I’m just supposed to be cool with that?

Zak, you raise a serious moral question. 

“Thinking about healthcare as a business feels kind of grimy at times — you are making money off of those who desperately need help, many times in order to live.”

This is the sort of thing that could keep a person in your shoes up at night.  But to me, it’s just a mildly entertaining intellectual exercise.  I’m not in your shoes.  Your shoes are like, ten sizes too big for me.  But in the face of an issue like this it would be nice to have access to some real wisdom…

The other day I walked past a mom with two boys practicing their multiplication facts:

“Tre per quattro.”

One of the boys was literally jumping up and down with energy, anxious to beat the other to the answer.

“Quindici!” “Dodici!”

We train little people to be very fast at these kinds of things.  I remember those days of training myself.  They might as well have thrown us circus peanuts when we got the answers right.

Some people know other things in the same kind of way.  Things besides math facts.  Many of us haven’t outgrown the habit.  For grownups in higher education, the fastest and loudest person… to identify the source of a Shakespeare quotation… wins the smartness contest.  That’s why we have standardized testing.

But, Zak, something’s just occurred to me: when thinking about a moral issue like healthcare monetization, the ability to quickly recall a large number of Shakespeare quotations is actually not that helpful.  I mean, I’m trying to remember… did Othello ever say anything smart about medicine?  Maybe if we recite the lines loudly enough the answer will come… “O THAT THIS TOO TOO SULLIED FLESH WOULD MELT!”

“The sages there were marked with dignity
And grave authority their faces showed.
They spoke infrequently with gentle voices.”

-IV.112-4, Inferno

One day, Zak, we’re going to make ourselves a nice little locus amoenus, a “pleasant place.”  You’re going to build us a library like you always say, and we’ll find one or two friends who will sit, read, and think… especially think.  That’s really all one could ever ask for.  Nothing beats rich conversation (well, nothing except for the fast, loud person who beats it).  For as Socrates himself once said, “the answers to the modern public health crisis lie in proper legislation and systemic reform.”

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Suspected bibliophile

Day 44: Thursday

Morning, Tim!

Tim, It should be obvious to long standing Thily Fin readers that you are quite the avid reader. Not only do you regularly write and cite poetry, you also go into roots and philology. Hopefully you don’t (regularly, at least) fall prey to the Etymological Fallacy

What readers may not know is that I have (outside of Thily Fin) accused Tim of liking old books (note to readers: if you did know this…well I guess I don’t want to think about that scenario). Tim has adamantly denied that he likes old books simply for the sake that they are old – it is the content that matters. In other words, he wouldn’t judge a book by its old cover…

Now Tim, I came across this article and found it particularly intriguing. You see, a man checked out some library books throughout the year, similarly perhaps to how you and our readers might use libraries. He was a bit different, though. To paint a fuller picture, he checked out over 2300 books!! That’s quite remarkable. Importantly, his motive was a bit paradoxical. Because books infrequently checked out fall prey to algorithms (blast you, technology!) which help cull dated material to create room for the new, he was checking these books out to ensure they did not leave the shelves. However, he also wanted these books to be read by future patrons – to get taken off the shelves. I’m sure the authorities pointed out this wonderful logic “WHICH IS IT?! DO YOU WANT THEM ON THE SHELVES OR NOT?! Guess he couldn’t make up his mind…

That’s a silly little spew of consciousness. The other, perhaps more interesting take on the story, is a warning. Tim, when I first saw this story, I immediately thought the culprit might by you, secretly embarrassed by the voracity with which you bring to learning. Unwilling to confess your secret, you created this story to throw everyone off the scent, only to have it backfire with repercussions. Thankfully I realized it couldn’t possibly be you — 2300 books is way too few.

Until tomorrow,

Zak