Thrasymachus vs Socrates or: How I learned to stop worrying and love oppression!

One of the most important tenets of a rational outlook is to change one’s model of the world in light of new evidence, or persistent failure. I was watching the Oscar nominated flick, Zero Dark Thirty last night and was appalled by the implicit racism towards brown folks in general, and “Paks” in particular, as the film deigns to call us. As it was, I was already saddened by Aaron’s death and then came this movie.

But then I had an epiphany: Socrates was wrong and Thrasymachus was right! Thrasymachus, contra Socrates, had said that justice is what the powerful decide: might is right. I realized that everything would be all right if we accepted the Thrasymachus version of justice, which is so thoroughly substantiated by overwhelming empirical evidence. I realized that my model of the world was wrong. In fact all my values (i.e., model assumptions) that I had acquired since childhood were wrong, and deserved to be consigned to the dustbin.

I finally grasped that the world is supposed to be like this. There is no use vomiting blood and burning your soul. They are right to look down on us. They are powerful and we are not. We are pathetic “Paks”; end of story. Admittedly, they have kept us down, and thrust the neo-liberal economic agenda on us, and supported military dictators, and helped crush popular movements, and fostered religious fanatics, and etc etc. All true–but that’s how it is supposed to be. They are powerful; they did all they had to do to consolidate and expand their power, while we were neither powerful nor clever enough to act in our own best interests.

But here, one could say, who is “we”: the common people didn’t benefit and were not part of the decisions. Well, the common people in the US are not benefitting either, and neither did the common people benefit greatly when the sun didn’t set on the British Empire. And there’s no use in worrying about all that either. The Thrasymachus model also provides guidance here: The people at the top get to the top because they are better adapted to the world. The ones who don’t reach the top are not.

What about all these murderous wars our massas have launched? Well, when we had the opportunity, we did the same. Remember our huge massacre in Bangladesh? Pakistan as a nation still has not apologized or even honestly accepted the grave injustices that we perpetrated against the Bengalis*. And weren’t we racist towards the Bengalis? Let me recall: “Black, short, hyper, troublemaking rascals”, something along those edifying lines, was it not? But in a way, there is nothing more to be said about all this apart from: we were more powerful, hence we did it.

So yes, the Americans have killed millions of people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Effects of chemical warfare include levels of cancer in Fallujah alone that are more than Hiroshima (yes, not reported in the US). Obviously it goes without saying that even apart from the geopolitical interests (the main motivation), there is a profound racism against Arabs in the US (the secondary motivation which adds much needed spice and color to things). Iraq reminds me of Vietnam. So the focus on Vietnam is always on the war. But no one looks at what has happened since then. Even now, in the year 2013, Vietnam is still severely reeling from the effects of the war. One of the effects of the chemical warfare is that millions of people are suffering right now, including babies who are born deformed, legless, blind, and retarded. The country has suffered such a blow that it won’t recover within the next hundred years. But what is the point of saying all this? The media does not cover any of this, and why should they? Vietnames are short statured, weak people. They are ‘Gooks’, much like we are ‘Paks’. They deserve their fate, as we do ours.

Palestinians are ‘cockroaches’, ‘crocodiles’, ‘beasts’, ‘grasshoppers’–epithets hurled at them not by ordinary racists but by various Israeli Presidents and Prime ministers. The fact they say all this brazenly is a testament to their rational thinking–their correct model of the world. They know what really matters: Power and power alone.

The Palestinians have had zillions of UN resolutions for their rights where they received support from the entire world but were opposed by 2 countries: the US (vetoing) and Israel (the entitlement of the veto power itself is a stark indicator of what really matters in our world). Forget other atrocities (which are huge), Palestinians are not even allowed to dig wells deep enough to get adequate water for agriculture. The amount of water that is used by a city dweller in Israel, is approximately the same amount that Palestinian farmers are allowed for running their entire farms, with all that is entailed in running farms. Please read the last sentence again. Result: farmers are giving up; the economy is in shambles. But it really does not matter to be honest. If the Palestinians had what it takes, they would not be oppressed right now. It’s their own fault. They are justly oppressed, as Thrasymachus would say. 

Aaron died protesting against the greed of the economic system. And it is not just free information, is it? Something as simple as food, perhaps? Many people in poor countries, following the neo-liberal agenda thrust upon them by the powers that be for decades, are severely malnourished and the result is that people are getting shorter in many such countries. This fits in with the model provided by Thrasymachus. Those who are not powerful enough to get what they want, deserve to keep getting progressively shorter till they finally disappear under the burden of their own inadequacies!

So dear reader, observe the potency, the brilliant relevance of this model. This is the only model in the social sciences that has withstood the test of time. To conclude, being a rational person, I have now revised my model, guided by that wise sophist, Thrasymachus. Only, if we could all get rid of this false veneer of niceness, mankind would be free from needless propaganda and then we shall oppress each other without any false pretenses. Then, we would be openly oppressive rather than saying nice things about human rights, and justice, and democracy, and all that nonsense. Fair is foul, and foul is fair / Hover through the fog and filthy air!

*Endnote: Those Pakistanis who, unlike me, do not agree with this model of ‘might is right’, should bow down in shame and acknowledge and analyze the heinous crimes, starting from the beginning, right down to 1971, that we committed against the Bengalis. Until we accept our crimes, we cannot and will not move forward.

And those Americans (and other ‘Westerners’) who don’t agree with this model–well they have to do much, much more. Since the US is still by far the most powerful country in the world, the fate of the species rests in the hands of US citizens. Otherwise, the way the powerful are operating, this entire colorful show–of the oppressors and the oppressed, and the powerful and powerless–might well end within the next hundred years. But hey, as long we go with a bang and not a whimper! A brown Pak signing off!


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I am interested in understanding the links between science models and engineering models, and whether we can design a "science" for fields that require interdisciplinary research. Specifically, my field is the design of techno-social systems. Such systems are not traditional computing systems and require an inter-disciplinary approach for their design. Generally, I am interested in modeling and simulation, and seek to apply my knowledge of the same in various domains including arts, politics, science and engineering You can reach me at Rameez Rahman

10 thoughts on “Thrasymachus vs Socrates or: How I learned to stop worrying and love oppression!”

  1. If we play along with the “might is right” position then, assuming one can not know for certain in advance who might win a struggle then doesn’t that mean that an action can only be know to be just in the future? In this sense nobody can knowingly act in a just way without knowledge of the future?

      1. Hi Francisco, but then how does one know what “might” benefit one? Surely you need some operational ideas as to how to select actions? And actions have to be taken in the “now” whereas benefits come in the future.

  2. At one point, I believe Socrates said that justice is that which is best for “the soul.” Think about what is meant when one speaks about “truth justice and the American way.” Then think about the idea of fairness, and imagine trying to adjudicate a divorce between two friends that you love equally. How would you split up the property and money? Using a table saw with a perfect 90 degree guide for cutting, will be of little use when it comes to their kids. There’s 365 days in a year, but what about leap years and life expectations of both parties? You can easily see with these ridiculous extremes how hard it can be to be “fair.” In reality, what usually happens, is that one of the parties gets screwed.
    So Socrates’ idea of fairness(in theory), usually, if not virtually always, ends up turning into Thrasymachus’s concept that justice is the interest of the stronger. As moral human beings we would like to think that we can pretty much always figure out a way to make everyone happy and satisfied that things are fair, but when “push comes to shove”(pun intended), “might makes right,” and “justice” really IS the “interest of the stronger.”
    When I was a kid, my father tried to explain communism by telling me that in Russia everyone gets to eat one bowl of slop per day. What size do you think Stalin’s bowl was? I suspect that they don’t even make Putin size bowls.

    1. Thanks for the long comment. We don’t even have to go to the level of Stalin (or numerous dictators backed by the US); as you probably know, 300 people in this world have more wealth than 3 billion people. From another angle, “the richest 1% on the earth have accumulated some 43% of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 80% of the planet’s inhabitants have just 6% between them”. I for one believe that something definitely can be done, as history shows us. In the era of slavery, the slaves were getting, in your words, “screwed” but we managed to get rid of slavery. That was a big achievement, and I am hopeful that despite agonizingly slow progress we (“moral human beings”) will achieve yet more (if we don’t manage to destroy ourselves first)

  3. As mankind strives for biological immortality, the meaning of concepts like justice, will create gray areas between black and white definitions. I hope that someday I will start to see “robots with hearts,” because I will know that mankind is evolving. Brain preservation, I suspect, is the next step. I’m glad to know that someone reads the things I post.
    If I remember correctly, I was angry when I made that previous post, and I am dealing with my own brand of injustice in my personal life, so I’m sure that tone was reflected in what I wrote. As an offer to the future readers of this post: Pleas read Neotech,

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