Socking It To Socrates

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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A guy by the name of Christopher Phillips writes a book called "Six Questions of Socrates" (W.W. Norton, $23.95, but just $16.77 at Amazon.com). It recounts how he and his wife put their stuff in storage and hit the road in search of (what else) truth.

Phillips, an ex-journalist, is reaching out to "people at society's margins" with, of all things, philosophy. He travels around the world "to seemingly diametrically opposed cultures" leading discussion groups he calls "Socrates Cafes."

The topics are the six questions of the philosopher Socrates: What is virtue? What is moderation? What is justice? What is good? What is courage? What is piety?

Phillips hopes to prove that no matter how different people are they can find common ground through reasoning, and/or to "discover an array of timely answers" that might help us reach a new level of "human excellence."

Seems like a fairly noble venture, but I decided to test it right here at the Payson Roundup with a Socrates Cafe of my own. I head back to production where Jay and Dave, our two resident philosophers, reside -- two guys who are definitely "at society's margins."

After explaining the premise to them, the conversation went something like this:

JAY: We're not talking. There's a tape recorder in the room.

DAVE: I was just going to get a piece of meat.

ME: You guys are getting too big since I've been using you in my columns.

DAVE: See what you've done to us. [Pulls a bag of candy out of his desk drawer and holds it out.] Want one?

ME: Root beer barrels?

DAVE: I've got all kinds of stuff in there.

ME: You've expanded your horizons, Dave. You're not just a root beer barrel guy anymore. Anyway, I just want to try this from a Payson perspective. If Belinda and Mary (two of Jay and Dave's production cohorts ) have any thoughts, they're free to jump in.

MARY: Only if we don't have to have our quotes attributed to our real names.

ME: I'll give you pseudonyms. The first question: What is virtue?

JAY: I have no idea.

ME: You don't distinguish between good and bad?

JAY: Not in Payson. On second thought, good is Pete's Place.

ME: Now we're getting somewhere. And bad would be the absence of Pete's Place?

JAY: Yes.

ME: Anybody else? What is virtue in Payson?

MARY: Virgil? Isn't he one of the Haughts?

[Enter Marge, another production cohort, stage right.]

ME: Hey Marge, what's virtue in Payson?

MARGE: It sure isn't down there in Star Valley, that's for damn sure.

ME: Jay says it is. So much for "finding common ground through reasoning" and reaching "new levels of human excellence." But good and virtue are about the same thing, so we've answered two questions. What is piety?

DAVE: These are tough questions.

ME: But if we can find the answers we'll have a perfect world. Let's just say piety is the act of consuming pie. What is moderation, Dave?

DAVE: How did Dave get this one?

ME: Because this is your question. It has to do with beer drinking, I think.

DAVE: What is moderation? Hmmmm. Hmmmm.

JAY: You're asking the wrong person. Moderation is not a word in Dave's vocabulary.

ME: Let's move on. What is courage?

DAVE: Courage? I'd say probably doing an interview with you.

JAY: Opening your mouth around him.

MARY: Courage is "what makes the Hottentot so hot." That's what the cowardly lion said.

ME: What's a Hottentot?

JAY: They're a tribe of Africans and they got wiped out.

MARY: "What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!"

ME: Wow!

JAY: Wow!

MARY: It's just what I picked up from seeing the movie about 400 times. There's some great lines in there.

JAY: I like the flying monkeys.

ME: Flying monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz"?

MARY: They knocked the stuffing out of the scarecrow. They picked the tin man up in the air and they dropped him. They got Toto, too. If you'd just watch it, you'd have all the answers to Socrates' questions -- it's courage, a heart and brains.

ME: I had no idea all the world's problems were solved in "The Wizard of Oz."

DAVE: She nailed it with "The Wizard of Oz." [Holding out bag of candy again.] You want one. I got all different kinds.

ME: You're becoming a gourmet in your old age. Belinda, don't you have anything to say?

BELINDA: No.

ME: You're the one with the brain. Only one smart enough not to say anything. Wasn't Belinda the good witch?

MARY: That was Glinda. G-L-I-N-D-A. You really need to watch the movie.

And so philosophy came to Payson.

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