The progress of anything is due to the generation of new ideas pertaining to it and the introduction of new perspectives on that topic. This idea of how progress comes about can be applied to anything, but is most aptly applied to society and its constant innovation. One of the oldest examples of someone questioning the society they live in and forcing it to make significant progress during their lifetime is Socrates. His application of the Socratic Method to the common man and society helped to inspire change throughout Athenian life.
Socrates said, “I was attached to this city by the god… as upon a great and noble horse which was somewhat sluggish because of its size and needed to be stirred up by a kind of gadfly” (Plato 33). This comparison very aptly describes his role in Greek society and the influence he had on it. The Apology, by Plato, is Plato’s account of the speeches that Socrates gave at his trial for corrupting the youth and being impious in Athens. Socrates doesn’t apologize for his actions, he only justifies them using the Socratic Method and countering the accusations made against him.
He is sentenced to death as his use of the Socratic Method made people detest him for proving their beliefs wrong. He accepts death opposed to the possibility of exile because of his love for Athens. In this speech Socrates states why his critical thinking attitude and examined life are critical for society along with many other great insights. For any society’s continuous progression, those who lead examined lives must be at the forefront of change and initiate societal changes. A gadfly is a person who causes change in their society by living an examined life and evaluating all aspects of society.
These gadflies are people who apply a style of thinking when reviewing information they are presented with that helps them to understand societal truths. Firstly, gadflies lead an examined life in respect to their own lives. During the defense of his crimes in The Apology, Socrates says, “…I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living for men…” (Plato 39). We must evaluate our own actions and seek deeper information about why we do them.
Those who lead an examined life don’t do what they are told before they evaluate it to understand the deeper meaning and purpose behind the action. Only after understanding the purpose of it do they decide to take action. In addition, a gadfly evaluates what society considers to be fact, searching for misconceptions that are blindly accepted in the society that they live in. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn, Kuhn writes, “Whatever he may then see, the scientist after a revolution is still looking at the same world” (Kuhn 129).
We all see what is fundamentally the same thing, but failure to examine this object can lead to the propagation of fallacies in our world. It is only when one evaluates the object and the information given to them that they see what they perceive as the truth. Differing perceptions of these objects can contribute to new ideas and revolutionary theories that alter how we view a discipline. Never taking what you’re told as the truth until you evaluate it yourself is a major facet of the gadfly.
Lastly, gadflies must also try to approach problems that we are facing or have faced with new perspectives that may never have been tested. In Michel Foucault’s Fearless Speech, Foucault writes, “And what I wanted to show you was that if Greek philosophy has raised the problem of truth from the point of view of the criteria for true statements and sound reasoning, this same Greek philosophy has also raised the question of truth from the point of view of truth-telling as an activity … Who is able to tell the truth? ” (Foucault 169).
Questioning who has the ability to tell the truth leads us to believe that one can only find the truth for themselves. To truly live the life of a gadfly in society, one must never take anyone’s word for what is the truth and always evaluate what is presented to them. An example of this is when Socrates is told by the Oracle of Delphi that he is the wisest man in the world, but he searches all of Greece to find someone wiser than him because he cannot take what anyone tells him for the truth, no matter the status of the teller.
Thus, not only can anyone who adopts these qualities can begin to motivate change in their society, but they can impact the world on a much larger scale similar to Socrates. Socrates is the basis of what we use to consider someone a revolutionary for ideas in their society, a gadfly, because of his thorough questioning system and his desire for education. First, in Plato’s Euthyphro, we see the Socratic Method of questioning being applied in a discussion between Socrates and Euthyphro. Plato writes, “Socrates: … Is the ious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods? Euthyphro: I do not know what you mean, Socrates. ” (Plato 11). This method of questioning and critical thinking is what Socrates applies to all the issues that he is faced with, which is why it’s referred to as the Socratic Method. This method does not only apply to words or ideas, it can be applied to anything to find the deeper reasoning behind every belief. The Socratic Method is one of the most important aspects of Socrates’ lifestyle that causes him to act as a gadfly to society.
Second, Socrates’ strength in evaluating information was admitting his ignorance when it came to what he didn’t know, while others attempted to act as though they already knew the answer to the problem. In The Apology, Socrates writes, “… It is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know , neither do I think I know” (Plato 25). The acceptance of his ignorance allows for him to seek the truth and find it for himself rather than accepting what others tell him.
He acts as a gadfly in the inquiry process of others because is forcing them to think critically about why the piece of knowledge that they know is the way it is. This is similar to how a gadfly forces the horse to do things that it should be doing. Lastly, in Plato’s Crito, we see Socrates submit to the state rather than escaping and disobeying its laws. Socrates, when asked to escape prison, says “I cannot, now that this fate has come upon me, discard the arguments I used; they seem very much the same” (Plato 46).
Socrates understands that if he goes against what he previously has done it will ruin the impact that his previous work had and the functionality of the state. If he leaves, he will be doing something similar to a gadfly killing a horse, because it no longer has anything to force to progress and Socrates would no longer have a state to progress and evaluate. The selfless choice of death contributes very well to the impact that he has had on society because it shows that his beliefs were worth dying for and will hopefully inspire others to think in the same way that he does.
Thus, although Socrates was one of the largest motivations for change in Athenian society and acted as a gadfly would on the horse in society the role of the gadfly is still extremely pertinent in our society, as demonstrated by Julian Assange. Julian Assange plays the role of the gadfly on the public’s trust, of both large corporations and governments, and the issue of free speech in our society. First, Julian Assange’s creation of WikiLeaks informed the public about the possibility of transparent governments.
This new perspective on the function of government revolutionized what people thought of information that was published and their desire for these leaks to know what was actually going on in their government. These ideas and desires were new to many people and Julian Assange was the gadfly that caused progress in this stagnant discipline. In addition, Julian Assange’s publication of classified U. S. government war documents from Bradley Manning also acted as a gadfly on a slightly different issue. The publication of these documents caused the public to desire more of something that before the publication they didn’t even know they wanted.
These actions showed the world its need for whistleblowers in all governments to expose the dirty details of what they do without the public’s knowledge or approval. Julian Assange again acted as a gadfly to wake this dormant field and influenced both people to desire a greater flow of information and other citizens to become whistleblowers, to provide the public with this information. Lastly, Julian Assange’s biggest feat was not forcing some small level of transparency on large governments by taking matters into his own hands, but rather forcing the topic of free speech to be discussed.
What so many people considered a guaranteed right, and something that everyone should have, is something that is being turned on those utilizing it for purposes of showing the world what is really happening. These people are told they committed terrible crimes when, in reality, all they did was utilize their right to free speech. Julian Assange acted as a gadfly on these issues by causing the public to debate the topic of free speech and what it actually permits, which before his intervention was an unheard of issue in our society.
Thus, while Julian Assange may be thought of as a villain, he acted as the gadfly that revolutionized the blind trust of governments and the necessity of free speech in our lives. Society doesn’t progress and make great innovations by itself, it requires people to propose new ideas and alter the perspective that society looks at issues with. These people have a similar role in society to that of the gadfly on a horse, biting it to keep it moving forward and progressing.
Along with these ideas many great people have followed, each motivating society in a unique area, but all in the same method, by proposing new ideas that change the world. These people have been in society from ancient times, such as Socrates, to modern day society, such as Julian Assange, and each of them have contributed to progress in the society that we live in. The perspective of an outsider is a necessity in all systems to cause sufficient change in a society, because they are able to suggest ideas that may or may not go along with the generic ideas of those within the society.
Those who live an unexamined life may accept what society gives them for the truth and not think critically about it, but those who evaluate it become those to lead the innovation present in our society. The lack of a gadfly in our society will cause innovation to stagnate, which could cause chaos and anarchy in our society due to the stagnation of economic and ideological progress in society. The progress of society fuels basic human life and without it not only will our society suffer but so will our species. ?