The Fundamentals of Education

A Socratic Perspective on
the Cultivation of Humanity

by Max Maxwell and Melete

Page 28

The anti-Socratic Talking Head
and The Problem with Endless Talk

When public discourse becomes an act of unending desire to persuade and to change the other, this form of closed-minded and inhospitable talk services the quest to dominate and subsume. Out of this quest, we are given another permutation of the problem of endless talk. Steiner illustrated the issues with endless talk in terms of the its impact on two broad social contexts. The rabbinic and Christian response was to put action to work to limit the amount and diversity of commentary. The rabbinic response sought to limit the impotence of human living that results from too much talk and too little moral or enlightened action. The medieval church response was to use political action to limit the schism inducing diversity of commentary. The modern anti-Socratic talking head does not seek morally enlightened action when she is working as a persuader and a pronouncer of values. On the contrary, she works hard to fill us with words. She is able to propagate talk with an ergonomic efficiency that exceeds the academic and historical issues Steiner discussed. For the anti-Socratic talking head, talk is even cheaper because the dominant characteristic is the need of the anti-Socratic talking head to generate talk that is not an act of creation, but faithfully keeps on point to predefined positions. Here, the parrot can repeat faster than the artist can create.

The propagation of increasing amounts of talk based on repeated talking points and the desire to preserve predictable positions is a manifestation of talk that does not provide the danger of too much diversity or creativity. This talk, being based on a careful selectivity of framing through secondary and tertiary discourse, is articulated through the repetition preapproved talking points and positions. This works to limit or eliminate a healthy diversity of talk. The innovation and creativity of a continuing diversity of talk does not die a hard death in the face of energies expressed through moral or political action as is the case with Steiner's examples of Judaism and the medieval church. The fertile diversity of genuinely innovative talk is programmatically preempted through the propagation of the endless talk of the anti-Socratic talking head, which fills the time slots of modern media with simplistically reiterated talking points. The amount of actual talking continues to increase, but the fertility of its diversity is sterilized through artificially constrained focus. This is the natural result of talk that does not seek to either communicate or to create, but merely exists to dominate and subsume all that it can. Innovating new solutions that work is replaced by the agenda of preserving existing functions. Talk devoted to creating new solutions is preempted in favor of talk that is designed to persuade people to choose from a preapproved list of options.