Socrates Walks Into A Bar
His name was Dr. Theodore Webber. He taught social ethics at Emory University in
Atlanta. I never took a class from him, but he changed my life. In fact, I was merely
hired muscle. He was retiring and needed someone to move his boxes from his office
to his car. For some unknown reason, if there was some task that involved brute
strength and no skill, I was usually the first name on everybody’s lips.
After toting the last box in his car, I made small talk as I waited to get paid. It was
then that I made a huge mistake. The subject had turned to politics and, as a young
conservative, I remarked, “Ronald Reagan is the greatest president ever.”
He smiled and replied, “Why don’t we go back to my office and discuss that?”
Now if this had been a movie, there would have been a scene of him closing the
office door behind me. Then the next shot would cut to my severed foot in a tennis
shoe in some ditch somewhere. The camera would pan to some young officer
throwing up into a nearby bush as two veteran detectives lamented the brutality of
the crime scene they were perusing. “How could a human being do such a ghastly
He verbally ripped me apart like Mike Tyson on Evander Holyfield’s ear. I don’t
remember all that happened in the next two hours. I am pretty sure I might have
blacked out a time or two. I just know he shredded me. There were no rhetorical
tricks. He just used these awful things called facts against me. He even tipped me
afterwards, I am guessing, for the enjoyment of my humiliation.
I did not become a liberal that day. Something more important happened. I wanted
to be right and more importantly informed. I never wanted to be humiliated like that
again. That meant being open to other points of view, trying to gather as many facts
as possible, and asking questions of people with strongly held beliefs.
In our society this is incredibly stupid. I wanted these wonderful moments of
Socratian enlightenment as I asked questions of people with strongly held beliefs.
Again, stupid. What I discovered was if Socrates were alive today, he would have no
“friends” on social media, with the last one to drop him commenting, “You’re what is
wrong with the Republic. Drink hemlock and die. DIE. DIE, DIE, you bed-sheet
People don’t like their beliefs, be they political or religious, challenged. The
unexamined life might not be worth living, but at least you have friends who are as
ignorant as you. Plus, Socrates didn’t have television. Who wants to ponder the
questions of life when the Blacklist is on at 9 o’clock?
People usually hold the opinions and beliefs of those around them. If you are
foolish enough to engage them, most individuals, rather than want to reflect on an
issue, take out their stupid stick and proceed to beat you with it until you are left as
stupid as they are. The only problem is they are masters at it, and you’re still a
For the most part, I don’t talk politics or religion with most people, especially the
women I am dating. When it comes to my romantic life, I believe, if I wanted
someone who agreed with me on everything, I would live in a house of mirrors. I am
also not a handsome guy. I know that if I break up with a woman I am like a
Bedouin leaving an oasis. It might be a long, long time until I find water again, if at
(These were real conversations.)
Girlfriend: I joined PETA.
Trevor: But you eat meat?
Girlfriend: So? Why is your eye twitching?
Trevor: No reason.
Girlfriend: I am gluten free.
Trevor: You’re drinking one of my beers.
Girlfriend: So? Why is your eye twitching?
Trevor: No reason.
Girlfriend: I gave money to Trump because he is going to help people like me.
Trevor: You gave money to Trump?
Ex-girlfriend: So? Why is your eye twitching?
Trevor: I am trying to restrain the tears. I am pretty sure it is going to be a long, long
time until I find a woman who will go out with me again. Sorry, it hurts. It really
Still, there is this irrational fear among some people around me that I am going to
go off on some conservative dittohead at a party or social get together. I live in rural
Iowa. That is pretty much every male I know, except for the teenage box boy who
dreams of studying fashion design in San Francisco. His mother is just happy he has
such a good friend in his bodybuilding roommate Chip.
In the time of Trump, people are become particularly irrational. The last few
months I have felt like a prisoner being read the riot act before I go out. I expect to
have my room tossed as they search for some Chomsky, patted down for some
hidden Bernie Sanders shiv, and then put in chains. It is like I am “Cool Hand Luke”
and they are “The Man With No Eyes.”
Trump voter: You gonna get used to wearing them chains after a while, Trevor.
Don't you never stop listening to them clinking, 'cause they gonna remind you that
Barack Obama is not coming back. Donald Trump is going to make America great
again. What I been saying is for your own good.
Trevor: I wish you’d stop being so good to me, Cap’n.
Trump voter: Don't you ever talk that way to me. NEVER! NEVER! What we've got
here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. Trevor actually
believes that Meals on Wheels is a good thing, that Mexico is not going to pay for the
wall, that 24 million Americans losing their health care is a bad thing, that full
stomachs allow kids to concentrate in the classroom, that climate change is not a
Chinese conspiracy, and Barack Obama did not bug Donald Trump’s microwave.
Well, this is the way he wants it. I don't like it any more than you men.
It is like there is this worry that I will become like a leper. People will be shouting,
“Unclean, unclean,” as I pump gas at the local convenience store.
I will have to reply, “No, relax. I just believe Donald Trump is temperamentally
unfit for the presidency; his policies will, in all likelihood, lead to a recession; and
the measure of a nation is found in how we treat the weak, the poor, the sick and
outcasts among us, not on the size of millionaires’ tax cuts. I know that scares you,
but it does not rub off. You cannot catch it. Maybe the questions I ask will make you
think a wee bit, causing you to grow as a human being, which is a good thing. Will
you stop trying to sprinkle me with that holy water? It burns!”
For some of you, this column will challenge your beliefs and ideals, and I hope you
are open to that. You never know, something good might happen. Still, I will
promise you a joke or two along the way, at least until Socrates walks into the bar.