Know thyself– so Socrates told his followers nearly two and a half millennia ago. This advice has been passed down throughout the history of Western civilization.
Of course, one can say: what is there to know, the self is an illusion. Or that ‘you are what you are’ as the saying goes – therefore, how can one not know oneself? Both are true, to an extent. But there’s something to be said about one who knows the many layers of their skin, from biases, to reflexive inclinations, to habitual thinking to embarrassing anxieties.
Yet sometimes we clearly do not know ourselves. Sometimes it is as though when we speak to the world, we forget who we are.
This tends to lead one to condemn behavior that they themselves practice. We can call this hypocrisy, and no doubt it is. Yet it stems from the lack of an inner eye that rests amidst the amorphous self.
And examples of this absence of self-knowledge abound.
Medieval Church leaders urged Frankish knights to retake the Holy Land, in part, to protect Christians of the Middle East who Pope Urban II claimed were “killed and captured many.” The killing undertaken by Frankish knights eclipsed any supposed Muslim crimes against Christians in the region. As a stark example, in 1098 in Ma’arra, present day Syria, the crusading knights boiled Muslim adults and impaled children before cannibalizing them(p. 39).
While the British took over much of South Asia to increase wealth and expand their empire, it was often rationalized by “freeing” Hindu women. Though the Raj banned sati in 1829, women did not gain suffrage until 1918 in Great Britain.
Although Reagan claimed to be supporting freedom in funding weapons and money to the Afghan mujahedeen, it was a Machiavellian effort to bring about the Soviets’ own ‘Vietnam’. Simultaneously, at elite U.S. prep schools, young women were subjected to yearbook embarrassment (if not all), where popular young male athletes would claim to be “Chairman of the Bored” of the “Renate [Dolphin] Club.” This and outright aggression towards women were common behavior of young men during the time.
Two decades later, among a plethora of shifting justifications for the Iraq War, Bush claimed the Iraq and Afghan wars were fought to bring about liberty in the Islamic world. This drive for so-called freedom abroad occurred during a time of rampant securitization and diminished civil liberties in United States.
Since 9/11, a common rationale for the U.S.’s Middle East intervention and Islamophobia has been the purported oppressed condition of Muslim women. Meanwhile, among those in power in the U.S., from business executives to Hollywood notables, sexual harassment and assault against women has proven to be widespread.
In 1957, Bo Diddley invoked the Socratic know thyself sentiment in his lyrics, “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.”
Certainly, take a look. Not that the rest of the world is perfect – far from it – but nor is the United States.
And, too, Brett Kavanaugh – know thyself.
When he lashed out at Democratic partisanship during Senate testimony, as if auditioning for Fox News opening, his own political biases became blatant. Such unbridled political bias is supposedto be absent from all judges, not least from those on the Supreme Court. Was he completely unaware of his partisanship when he condemned Democrats?
Whatever else can be said about Clarence Thomas, his testimony stood in stark contrast to Kavanaugh’s. Where the latter completely lost all calm and composure (tellingly he avoided Mazie Hirono’s question to him of whether temperament should be quality sought in Supreme Court Justice), Thomas remained stolid and judge-like. Though Thomas claimed Anita Hill’s accusation was a “high tech lynching,” he avoided displays of flagrant political partiality that inundated Kavanaugh’s testimony.
Both Kavanaugh and American leaders would do well to take heed of Socrates’ counsel to know oneself. Kavanaugh would then realize that the judicial branch is ill-suited for him, and American leaders would clean up shopbefore looking abroad for monsters to destroy.
But, alas, the vote’s now in. We can say goodbye to the Fourth Amendment and Roe v. Wade. And hello to an unhinged partisan replacing the swing vote.
Anthony Kennedy – couldn’t you have held off retirement until after the midterms? Then someone with a more moderate legal jurisprudence may have been your replacement. Or do you know not know yourself either?