A Letter To Every South African who can Think!

2013-11-04 12:12

At the end of the 17th century the first dictionary of the French Academy defined a philosopher as "one or all of those things: a free thinking man; a wise man who lives a quiet life, a man who by free thought puts himself above the ordinary duties and obligations of civil life".

The key word in the definition is "free thinking". Free thinking outside organisations and institutions.

Every South Africa can think. To that end every South African in my assessment, is an intellectual in the most proximate potency.

My fellow compatriots the kind of thinking that is demanded is free thinking outside the confides of political organizations that often make free thinking immature. Political organisations will always be interested in the welfare of the organisation and their liberation history. They have a bout of god-complex. They often believe that the world is out there to serve their narrow insularities. They believe that they are a point of all considerations. In them resides and acts what Paul Krugman aptly identifies as a “belligerent sense of entitlement” .

In order to understand the role of free thinking and how such thinking shapes lives and changes society, we can consider the first breed of free thinking individuals back in history in ancient Greece in the city of Athens.

Around 500 years before the birth of Christ,  a group of individuals appeared in Athens in Greece. These individuals were free thinking. Free thinking meaning that they have no attachments to any organization or government. They were individual thinkers. They were eventually called sophists. The word sophist meant either one who makes wise, or one who deals in wisdom.

The sophists shared one key factor about them; they were prepared to follow an argument whenever it might lead them without no concern of what government or traditions say. When you go all out after truth you cannot tell in advance that the truth will be what society would like it to be. That is how dangerous they were.

Socrates, was probably the most notorious of the sophists even though he did not consider himself to be sophist. He never accepted pay for his teaching like other sophists. Thinking to him was just enjoyment, fun and a pleasurable nice time. Socrates was not a big man or a man of honour.

According to the respectful Stanford University Encyclopaedia   "Socrates was very ugly, with bulging eyes like a crab; a flat, upturned nose with flaring nostrils; and large fleshy lips like an ass". He went about barefoot, unwashed and stinking; carrying a crooked stick and looking arrogant. He never changed his clothes; the same clothes he was wearing during the day was the same clothes he used when sleeping throughout.

And yet this insignificant fellow on the streets and pavements of Athens was to change the course of history. His ideas laid the foundation of western traditions and civilization that is dominating our lives today.

Socrates questioned everything ordinary people took for granted or preferred to leave unquestioned. He told ordinary simple people to listen to their own conscience - the inner voice within their hearts that tells them what is truly right. "And if you don't know keep asking questions of yourself until you find out", he told them.

He challenge young people to examine their lives - telling them that the unexamined life is not worth living for.

Though Socrates never wrote down his thoughts, a young man by the name of Plato who used to listen to him on the street corners ultimately wrote the conversations Socrates used to have with the youths around the streets of Athens.

Since Socrates, History has shown that those who carry the weight of free independent thinking for their societies have been the bedrock of social change and progress for those societies.

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