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Merlin Nichols: Great in 2022

The tragedy of our times is playing out before our eyes
The Death of Socrates – painting by Jacques Louis David, 1787. Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, was convicted corrupting the youth of Athens, and sentenced to death by drinking poison hemlock.

merlinnichols​Throughout the long and turbulent history of this planet, there have been many souls whom we consider to be great; some were brilliant; all have passed on and have left us only memories.

We’ve had great military leaders who shaped the course of history for good or for evil. We remember J. Caesar for his conquest of Gaul in which he set the trajectory for bringing most of western Europe into the Roman Empire.

What some of us don’t know is that J. Caesar was also an accomplished writer whose book, The Conquest of Gaul, now rests peacefully in my personal library – among many other libraries, no doubt.

If you want a copy, you’ll probably have to do a bit of sleuthing.

But we don’t call him Caesar the Great.

Another military leader of fame and short life was Alexander, called the Great, only 22 when he led the Macedonian (Greek) army to an unprecedented and astonishing victory over the vastly superior forces of the Persians. If he had failed, the culture we prize today in the world influenced by Greece through Rome would be greatly different. We are the people we are, largely because of the Greco-Roman character of our heritage.

Other greats had nothing to do with swords and catapults, scythed chariots, and war horses. They dealt in the currency of the mind. Socrates in the fifth century BC stands out as a Great, though he is not so called. A teacher of Athens who could not be bought by flattery or sold by fear, he made an enormous impact to the third generation of those who respected him, and whose influence is felt in 2022.

Socrates was executed at the age of 70 by the city in which he spent his career. Uncompromising as granite, the crime for which he paid his life: teaching the youth of Athens to think! Imagine that! Thinking was a capital offense in fifth century BC Athens.

Hippocrates of Kos, the Father of Medicine, Euripides and Sophocles, the tragedians, Thucydides, the historian, Pythagoras, the philosopher, and Archimedes the mathematician-scientist (give me a lever long enough and a prop strong enough and I can single-handed move the world) – these are only some of the greats of ancient Greece whose thought and understanding have come down to shape our modern world.

Among other teachers of note, Jesus stands out as One whose life and teaching has shaped western life and thought for 2000 years and is still a potent mover and shaker of human minds.

But to call Him Jesus the Great. Not a chance! He would have rejected such an appellation out of hand. In fact, He taught that if one desires to be great, that one must be a servant of all.

Fast forward to AD 590 and we find Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome. From a wealthy Patrician family with large land holdings in Sicily and a mansion in Rome, he had a brilliant mind, thoroughgoing organizing skills, and a capacity to write prolifically. It was Gregory who laid the foundation for the church of the Middle Ages.

From Jesus, the founder of Christianity who had no home, no place to lay His head, and would not be called great, to Gregory the Great with enormous power over church and state and a papal miter on his head.

How things change!

Fast forward to 2022. Adherence to the various iterations of Christianity number more than two billion. That’s a lot of followers for a Man who had no home.

And still we don’t call Him Jesus the Great!

Socrates was executed for teaching kids to think.

Jesus was executed for teaching the truth.

Which seems to indicate that there are two things power cannot abide: truth and thinking. Which are the phenomena we are witnessing today.

Institutions of “higher learning” are dismissing for cause respected, long-standing professors who dare to question the established narrative (isn’t that what professors are supposed to do?). Highly credentialled scientists and physicians are cancelled without recourse for suggesting alternate measures.

University students are rewarded, not for thinking (Socrates, where are you?), but for parroting the party line – and for drumming out professors they don’t like.

And elected officials keep their ears to the ground to detect the faintest rumble of change in popular opinion.

We’ve seen all this before in other places and in other times, but to have change like this happening to Oh Canada as we sit here, to see our once-free country bowing to the lure of the “basic dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party,” as our Prime Minister called it, is heart wrenching.

To hear our news media, funded by the taxes we the people pay, repeating the same mantra and refusing to hold the government accountable also recalls other countries and other times – which did not end well.

The tragedy of our times is playing out before our eyes and in our ears.

The ancient proverb reminds us today that we are what we think.

Does that mean that if we don’t think we are cyphers?

Oh, Canada! Oh, World!

How have the mighty fallen!

Merlin Nichols lives and writes in Chetwynd.