I went to get a tattoo – three words down my right forearm
I don’t have some kind of seizure. I’m not. Now it’s over: Socrates. The philosopher, not the footballer. Two thousand five hundred years ago, he hung around Athens, having fun with other philosophers, politicians and what people in industry today modestly call “opinion leaders”.
Everyone would have an opinion about something, but not Socrates. Kind of. By all accounts – and there aren’t many – Socrates practiced what later became known as the Socratic method.
The Socratic Method sounds a bit like a self-help technique to help you visualize your billionaire goals or give you iron abs, but it was basically a way of interrogating an idea by asking questions.
Strip it down to the bare essentials, and Socrates would spend hours in the company of selfish individuals and unfold one word, over and over again: why? Each answer given prompted another why, until, too often, the answers revealed that their initial claim was nonsense.
Socrates is generally recognized as the father of Western philosophy, but the why technique is the one used daily by any four-year-old child. Both can get tedious. In the latter case, it usually ends with the parent distracting the child with television or crisps. In the first case, they finally put him to death.
There are accounts of Socrates’ life and death, but he wrote – annoyingly – none of it. Like an ancient Boswell, his pupil Aristotle scribbled down much of what he said.
Because of this, modern scholars have enjoyed themselves for decades challenging what Socrates might have said, rather than what others wished he had said; especially in relation to Socrates’ most famous quote: I know that I know nothing.
There are tons of works that show that, on occasion, Socrates claimed to know something: but in my opinion, such intense nerdism has nothing to do with the Why method. For each new dialogue, he tried to reform himself in pure ignorance: because that is the best place to learn.
Back to the crisis that I don’t have. She herself says that I am leaning on something. There’s the beard, a coat that she says is a bit gangsta, and then I went to get a tattoo.
I didn’t get it because I want to regain my youth. Rather the opposite: I am at an age where I can decide what I look like, without having to worry about what other people think. It’s liberating
If you don’t have them, they are quite difficult to obtain. One place told me they had no availability on a Friday. Never. Several others didn’t like what I wanted and suggested something else.
But eventually I found a place, and the experience was not at all what I expected. It reminded me of acupuncture. It hurts a little, but the pain forces you to let your thoughts drift. Admittedly, many of these thoughts were about the fact that the ceiling in this establishment really needed a good cleaning. Yet there was a stillness.
What I got was three words down my right forearm. The first letter is just coming out of my sleeve, which makes me look a little dodgy. Shady, but also pretentious. The words are scio me nescire: Latin because I know that I know nothing. (Yes, if Socrates had said it at all, it wouldn’t have been in that language, but I couldn’t understand the Greek letters.)
And I didn’t get it because I want to get my youth back. Rather the opposite: I am at an age where I will not apply for a job at the bank or run for office. I can decide what I look like, without having to worry about what other people think. It’s liberating.
It’s also liberating to embrace your own ignorance. At my age, I’m supposed to know stuff, but I don’t really know: and the tattoo is a permanent reminder of that. Scio me nescire talks about all kinds of sharp philosophical ideas, but it’s also a question of humility, of acceptance that we live in a largely confusing universe.
Much easier said than done, of course, but if a four-year-old can do it effortlessly, adults can try too.