Sunday, September 9, 2012

8th September 2012

In one of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates debates the meaning of ‘bravery’. The first definition is ‘resisting the enemy and not running away’. Socrates shows that flight too can be brave. The second definition is ‘a certain endurance of the soul’. Socrates shows that this endurance must be wise, not foolish, though even so he agrees that a foolish endurance could be braver. But how could what is good (bravery) be at the same time foolish? The third definition is ‘knowledge of what is fearful and encouraging’. But how then can animals be brave, asks Socrates? Perhaps, comes the reply, we must distinguish between bravery and fearlessness. And so on. So before we call anyone ‘brave’, it might be a good idea to consider its specific application.[teaser]
Plato puts it another way in his Republic, arguing that democracies, where everyone has to be ‘equal’, are especially prone to re-evaluating human qualities: so ‘shame’ becomes silliness, ‘self-control’ becomes cowardice, ‘moderation’ becomes lack of style, ‘insolence’ becomes good breeding, ‘licence’ liberty and ‘extravagance’ generosity. ‘Disability’ now seems to have been redefined as ‘bravery’.
However slippery language is, the slope that its emotional misuse leads us down is far more slippery. How often have the media described innocent people killed by a terrorist bomb as ‘heroic’? Or a horse put down after a race as ‘tragic’? Or the efficient organisation of the London games as ‘world-beating’? Paralympians do not need the bogus accolade of patronising, hyperbolic epithets to make them feel good about themselves any more than Stephen Hawking does (or is it we that need them, to feel good about ourselves?). They are professional athletes. That is their job. Winning will do quite well enough.