Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Hymaneus

I wanted to do something on the attack Mark Hyman made on college teachers that aired just before I went out of town. I apologize for reaching back a ways, but I thought it was worth touching on.

However, when I started thinking about it, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin. I could point out that the adjunct community college teacher Hyman attacks for his views of the Iraq war made his comments in the context of an email response to a student, not something he said in class. And I could point out that the appropriately named Arthur Butz, whom Hyman says was honored by Iran for denying the Holocaust, is actually an electrical engineering teacher whose views, loathsome as they are, have nothing to do with his teaching (and, in fact, Northwestern always schedules extra sections of the courses Butz teaches so that no one will have to take his classes). And I could point people to
the previous posts on Dr. Georgia Persons in which it was revealed that she had been set up by politically motivated students intent on playing “gotcha.”

But what more could be said about this that hasn’t been said before? Fortunately, I came across a (very) obscure dialog by Plato recently that, as chance would have it, spoke directly to the issue at hand. So, without further ado, I present to you the little-known Platonic dialog: The Hymaneus. Its words are as true today as when they were written!

Along a road just outside Athens.

Socrates: My dear Hymaneus! You look flushed and out of breath! What perturbs you?

Hymaneus: I have just come from the agora, where I have spoken out forcefully against the enemies of our state.

S: Against our enemies! Well, that is certainly an understandable reason for your passion. But tell me, who are these enemies against whom you spoke?

H: Why Socrates, it is none other than the teachers!

S: The teachers? And what do these teachers do that harms the state?

H: They teach hatred.

S: And to whom do they teach hatred, Hymaneus?

H: The youth, those who are their students.

S: Indeed. And what sort of hatred do they teach?

H: Hatred of all sorts! They profane our armies, mock those who are different from them, and receive tribute from our sworn enemies.

S: These are truly terrible things, Hymaneus! I was not aware of all the harm teachers were doing to Athens. Surely we are blessed to have you to defend us! And what did you propose we do to defend ourselves from the teachers, Hymaneus?

H: To hold them to account for their words and pray to the gods that they may be struck down by impotence to prevent them siring any progeny.

S: If it is true that teachers do all that you say, these are certainly wise suggestions you make! But tell me, do all teachers do these things, or just some?

H: A great many, I believe.

S: But not all, correct? For example, I am a teacher. Would you accuse me as being an enemy of the state?

H: Oh, no, Socrates! Not you! Of course, you are an exception.

S: Thank you, Hymaneus. So there is at least one exception. Perhaps there are others. Against how many teachers did you speak, Hymaneus?

H: I spoke against three.

S: Three? Indeed! But you would agree, would you not, that there are a great many teachers in Athens?

H: Most certainly.

S: And, being taught in mathematics, you would acknowledge that three individuals only comprise a minute fraction of the total number of teachers?

H: Yes, it would seem so.

S: And what might be true of these three may not be true of most other teachers or even any, yes?

H: Perhaps not necessarily.

S: For you granted that what was true about the three you spoke of would not be true of me, correct?

H: Most certainly, Socrates.

S: And if you met a foreigner who said he had known only three Athenians, and they were all men, and he concluded that Athens must be peopled entirely by men, you would think him quite foolish, would you not?

H: Ha! Yes, Socrates, very foolish indeed!

S: Or if he said that the only three Athenians he knew were incredibly ugly, he would be mistaken to believe that there were no beautiful youths in Athens.

H: Thankfully, yes. He would be in error on that point.

S: So we know that it is foolish to judge an entire group on the basis of only three individuals, yes?

H: I am compelled to acknowledge this point, Socrates.

S: But let us put that aside for a moment and speak of the three teachers you spoke against.

H: Yes!

S: They are to be reviled because they say hateful things to their students, yes?

H: Of course.

S: So it is principally on the grounds that they are corrupting our youth that you object to them. After all, you would agree, would you not, that in a democracy, any citizen is free to hold whatever beliefs he wishes and to express them.

H: It is one of the glories of Athens, Socrates.

S: So it is. So your objection is not to the views themselves or even their expression, but to the fact that they are abusing their position by corrupting students, who are vulnerable and impressionable. Am I correct?

H: Indeed you are.

S: So the wickedness you spoke of, the defaming of our armies, the mockery of those who are different, and accepting tribute from our enemies, these are all things they do in their schools, with all their students present, yes?

H: Not precisely, Socrates.

S: Please explain, Hymaneus.

H: The teacher who spoke against our armies was speaking in confidence to a single student, not speaking in class.

S: Indeed!

H: And the teacher who mocked those who were different did so in jest, and only after provoking by students, I must admit.

S: Quite so.

H: And the teacher who received honors from one of our enemies did so for beliefs which he is not even allowed to mention in his school or in front of his students.

S: So these views and the honors he receives do not touch upon his role as a teacher in the slightest?

H: I confess it is true.

S: Ah, Hymaneus! I am compelled to think you have not only spoken falsely by attributing the qualities of three individuals to the whole class of teachers, but also by falsely suggesting that their private words are reflective of what they teach in general.

H: I am ashamed to admit you are correct.

S: Do not feel so badly, Hymaneus, for you still may have a sound argument in general.

H: Yes?

S: Indeed! For you rightly point out that those who speak hatefully to a wide audience do harm to the state. That is your position, is it not?

H: I do assert it with all my heart, Socrates!

S: And the broader this hatred is spread, the worse the offense, because the more individuals are infected by this hatred, the more corrupt the state becomes, yes?

H: Without doubt!

S: And those who speak out against our soldiers, who mock those who are different, and say things that encourage our enemies are guilty of spreading hate, correct?

H: Most assuredly!

S: So, for example, anyone who would slander the heroic service of a brave Athenian soldier and tell falsehoods about him merely for political gain would be guilty of such hatred, yes?

H: Absolutely.

S: And anyone who refused to do honor to the brave youths you laid down their lives in service of Athens and mocked those who did pay homage, what would you say of such a person?

H: Truly, I would strangle the cur with my own hands, Socrates!

S: And anyone who mocked groups of our citizenry because of their heritage and belittled their desire for equal treatment under the law would be guilty of spreading hatred, correct?

H: No one could think otherwise.

S: And in particular if anyone were to equate those immigrants who come to Athens with the hope of becoming citizens and making a better life for themselves with those who would come here to do violence against our citizens, that person would be guilty of spreading the most grievous of hatreds, yes?

H: No doubt!

S: And if anyone advocated to send our navy and army to foreign shores under false pretenses and stirred up enmity among those who admire us the least and alienates those who we once called our allies, that would be even worse than receiving any empty honor from a foreign potentate, would it not?

H: Indeed, Socrates! It could be called nothing other than treason!

S: And if the person who said all of this said it not merely to a small group of students, but said it publicly in the agora for all Athenians to hear, surely his offense would be far greater than that of any teacher who speaks only to a handful of youths. Would you agree?

H: None could argue that point.

S: Therefore, such a person would be deserving of the very punishments you advocated for teachers, wouldn’t he?

H: Deserving of that, and so much more, Socrates! There could scarcely be punishment enough to erase such offenses!

S: But Hymaneus, have you not lied about an Athenian soldier for political reasons?

H: I have.

S: And did you not discourage all who would listen from honoring those fallen Athenians who died in battle?

H: What you say is true.

S: And have you not openly mocked certain classes of Athenians, and accused those who come to our shores to find employment of being no more than assassins?

H: Indeed, I cannot deny it.

S: And have you not spoken out countless times in favor of foreign wars that have depleted our treasury, weakened our alliances, and forged hope among our enemies?

H: Honesty, but nothing else, compels me to confess to it.

S: So, Hymaneus, what conclusion must we come to?

H: Oh, Socrates! My face burns with shame! May Zeus curse my loins that I may never bring forth such a foul wretch as myself! What is to be the fate of a hatemonger such as me?

S: Calm yourself, my dear Hymaneus, and walk with me. I will be able to help you, for I am of that class of people that dispels ignorance and brings people hope and greater understanding

H: And of what class do you speak, Socrates?

S: I am a teacher.

And that's The Counterpoint.


At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic. Just Fantastic.

At 2:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece Ted, and keep bustin' Hymaneus!
Mike B. in SC

At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great counterpoint, Ted!


At 11:53 AM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Thanks much folks! I appreciate the kind words!


At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


thanks for the dialog.

It's ashame how "foreign" it sounds.. that is, an exchange of logic.

At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, it is really pretty depressing to think how incredibly rare it is to see a civil, constructive, dialog on tv or radio. Most everything is yelling or -- more probable -- the pitting of two extremists positions... with the host organization in on the fix: they never really expect any true conversation between the extremists.

Meanwhile, Rome burns.

Could we imagine a society in which there was public evidence that people actually wanted to work together, to reach logical compromises, and reach solutions?

I went to a local bookstore and saw a lot of "current events" books that illustrated the malaise.. all sorts of book titles that basically say, "the opposition doesn't deserve to live".


At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a political studies student, I loved reading Plato's The Republic. Thanks for using this form of dialog to make such a strong point about the rhetoric Hyman uses. I really enjoyed reading it.


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