Don’t Ask Dr. Phil. Ask Socrates (Take Three)!

Agnes: Socrates! You haven’t been honest with me!!! (Tremors)
Socrates: Goodness, Agnes, have we done away with all human niceties that you simply pounce upon an old man as a lioness her prey!?
Agnes: You presume frailty to accompany old age, making my robust and eager mood a display of oppressive subjugation!
Socrates: I feel I shan’t get a word in edge-wise today! (Smirking)
Agnes: You may not be a lion, Socrates. That would be too overt a showing for what you do underwater. For I have heard it said since our last encounter that you resemble a torpedo ray both in appearance and manner.
Socrates: Do you suppose yourself to be so utterly defenceless that an old man, grotesque in appearance as you have confessed, would be a match for your veraciousness?
Agnes: There you go again, employing those eristic tricks in the hopes of getting the better of me!
Socrates: Well, if it is for the better you, why protest so vigilantly?
Agnes: You sting like a torpedo ray but you move like a snake, Socrates!
Socrates: Oh my, Agnes, tell me, is it in my manner or the ramifications of my manner that you take offence?
Agnes: Both!
Socrates: In my manner have I been untoward? Have I offended you as you have me?
Agnes: Well…not overtly, no.
Socrates: So covertly then?
Agnes: Indeed, if one can be trusting of the characterisations of you by others.
Socrates: You do not bear witness to these accusations yourself then?
Agnes: Huh?
Socrates: You seem to suggest that your manner is parasitic upon views expressed by others, so that your beliefs about me are as a result, let’s just say, less than generous.
Agnes: I said so from the start, Socrates. Is your memory failing you? (Still angry and defensive like)
Socrates: Not old, just desirous of clarification. So please, dearest Agnes, be blunt and place all your cards on the table.
Agnes: I was told that you are a great manipulator, Socrates. That you adopt an unassuming manner only to slowly numb your victims and finally acquire their assent.
Socrates: Was this your personal, first-hand, experience of our exchange?
Agnes: How can I be sure if what is said is true – that you are a grand manipulator.
Socrates: When a mother tells her child that “he can do anything he puts his mind to”, is she a manipulator? When a teacher asks questions she knows the answer to, is he being manipulative? When a storyteller writes a fairytale, is she manipulating her readers?
Agnes: I don’t see what mothers, teachers and fiction writers have to do with the issue at hand, Socrates.
Socrates: Do you place such high regard on motherhood and teachers that you resist the association or has this never been your experience?
Agnes: These are integral.
Socrates: You mean that your mother and teachers haven’t ever manipulated you and for this reason alone you hold them in such high regard?
Agnes: Yes.
Socrates: Is this high regard you place on motherhood so easily faulted that you would reject it were you to discover a mother wanting in the relevant virtues?  
Agnes: I’m not quite sure.
Socrates: Well tell me this. Do you think that all mothers embody the virtues of motherhood, so that anyone – anyone at all – simply by the act or fact of giving birth would automatically acquire these?
Agnes: That’s just ridiculous, Socrates.
Socrates: So one comes to acquire such virtues only after giving birth so that already being a mother she does not yet possess these virtues?
Agnes: (hesitating) I suppose I would have to agree.
Socrates: So she comes to acquire these through experiencing motherhood then?
Agnes: I suppose I cannot deny this to be true.
Socrates: And is this true of mothers only, or are we to say that teachers embody pedagogical virtues before ever engaging a neophyte, carpenters before ever handling a hammer or chisel and writers before ever writing a word?
Agnes: We shall say the same for all cases, Socrates.
Socrates: So is it fair to say that even when one falls short of pertinent virtues, one is not to be faulted for her shortcomings? Or do you not agree, Agnes?
Agnes: Indeed. I agree.
Socrates: Do you suppose that anyone, in whatever capacity, is perfect?
Agnes: What blasphemy is this, Socrates!? Of course not.
Socrates: So then you shall forgive even me when I fall short of perfection in my trials at communicating effectively with others even at my old age?
Agnes: Well….. um…yes. But Socrates, do you suggest that it is a failing in your communicative abilities that you have come to be perceived as manipulative?
Socrates: I do.
Agnes: Do you also not aim to manipulate your interlocutors?
Socrates: This is an unfair question, for you have not yet addressed my questions regarding the intent of mothers, teachers and poets!
Agnes: Do remind me and I shall reply to the best of my ability.
Socrates: Just this: do mothers not aim to manipulate their children for their betterment? Do teachers not manipulate their students into seeing a point? Do poets not manipulate their readers into adopting certain emotions?
Agnes: Manipulation is a bit strong, I’d say, for what it is they are doing, Socrates.
Socrates: Why is that, Agnes? Would you agree that manipulation is when one directs another to notice, draw, acquire beliefs, values or feelings not previously their own.
Agnes: Yes. But what’s most appalling about this is its secretive nature! Manipulation is a form of deceit, Socrates!
Socrates: So you are saying that mothers deceive their children when they say, “you can do anything you put your mind to”? For surely, however desirous one might be to fly, a child will never accomplish this feat!
Agnes: A mother would never suggest that, Socrates!
Socrates: So is she lying, in fact, deceiving her child, when she says that there is nothing he cannot do?
Agnes: An emphatic, no! I am sure her meaning is quite plain to the child!
Socrates: Her meaning is not in fact literal but realised or understood within the context of the exchange?
Agnes: Umm….yes….I think that’s what I mean.
Socrates: (smiling now) And a teacher who poses questions to her students is also not lying when professing her ignorance?
Agnes: This seems different than the case of the mother.
Socrates: How so?
Agnes: Well the mother is not making any false claims. It is simply a case of employing language in a nonliteral manner to empower her child. The connotative message is clear to the child: if you put your mind to something you will accomplish great things.
Socrates: The teacher is lying then?
Agnes: Well, it is clear that she is not entirely ignorant; indeed, it is clear that she knows more than her students do. So in this regard, she is, in fact, lying.
Socrates: I somehow recall this man Freire who spoke of this “Teacher-Student” relation as erroneously dichotomous.
Agnes: I recall his point about the banking concept of education: it suggests a dichotomy between human beings and the world, so that a person is taken to be a (mere) spectator of the world, rather than an animate being that actively negotiates her world. But I am unfamiliar with the particular point you are addressing.
Socrates: Amongst other things he says: “In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence.” (The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter Two).
Agnes: Yes, I think I see where you are going with this.
Socrates: Please elaborate.
Agnes: It’s like we’ve said on another occasion. We are no more spectators of the world who simply record, passive like, the goings on in the world than students or neophytes are passive archivists. It is from a platform of vested or invested meanings that the world is understood at all. There is no world to speak of beyond or outside of human understanding really, is there?
Socrates: That seems as futile an effort as standing outside of one’s own skin, my dear. For understanding always presupposes a conceptual framework within which and for which one can be brought to bear upon the intellect meaningfully.
Agnes: I think I understand this better now. It’s like talking to a child about death short of the conceptual framework of finality, or oppression outside of an acknowledged sense of freedom.
Socrates: Well said, Agnes. So effective communication presupposes a common platform from which participants meaningfully engage so that neither parties are exclusively knowing or not knowing?
Agnes: Well, yes. But we cannot deny the advantage of the teacher without also at the same time negating what it is that she does and brings to the forum of discourse.
Socrates: Do you mean in terms of expertise?
Agnes: Yes. But knowledge also.
Socrates: Do you take knowledge to be absolute?
Agnes: All I can say for the moment is that from our present conversation absolute knowledge presumes omniscience, and we have already agreed that we are imperfect beings.
Socrates: Yes, yes. Just like mothers are not “mothers” except in name until they, through experience, and trial and error gain in insight and the practice of motherly virtues.
Agnes: Teaching and effective communication is no exception to this view.
Socrates: So one comes to acquire the virtues of effective communication through the act of communicating?
Agnes: Yes. I have seen this in myself. But also from communication I find that I have advanced in my understanding of all things. My conceptual framework seems larger somehow.
Socrates: Larger?
Agnes: I just mean that where previously I thought of, say manipulation, narrowly in terms of deceit, I now see that both manipulation and deceit were narrowly construed in terms of the truth.
Socrates: And now?
Agnes: Now I see that the truth is quite elusive and does not simply speak to (winking now) what one explicitly says.
Socrates: No?
Agnes: It seems that a “teacher” or counsellor has a more nuanced appreciation for everyday terms, their advantage having been won by years of experience in the negotiation of meaning amongst fellow negotiators.
Socrates: I shan’t contest this. What then is one to say about honesty and deceit?
Agnes: The truth is not something simply to be read off from words, as if they could just stand in for their representational objects.
Socrates: Indeed. I think we have seen how this could not be the case.
Agnes: The platform from which we meaningfully engage in discourse as the negotiators of meaning suggest otherwise.
Socrates: So I am not guilty of deceiving my respondents?
Agnes: I think not, Socrates. Indeed, I am both ashamed and relieved!
Socrates: For though I engage in a form of manipulation it is akin to the kind attributed to mothers?
Agnes: Yes.
Socrates: And though I have said, “I know nothing,” you now understand that my meaning was never literal? That the context in which this was voiced suggested an alternative, more nuanced, appreciation for my meaning?
Agnes: Absolutely.
Socrates: Indeed, every time I should find myself in the company of one such as yourself, inquiry is to be understood as the outpouring of deliberative discourse that engages a pre-conceptual framework?
Agnes: Could we take up this further point tomorrow, Socrates? For something tells me that we are about to embark upon a rather challenging set of meanings.
Socrates: Indeed you are right, Agnes. Until next time then!

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