Sophists Shape the Sophisticated

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Sophists: Philosophical Mercenaries

In part One of this mini-series I asked you the question: Are You Primitive or Sophisticated? Did you actually track that out beyond just reading the article? What did you discover?

We also reviewed the Nature of Classical Greek society and the difference between free people and people in bondage. Slavery was not a moral issue, nor were slaves seen as naturally inferior to free men. Slavery was understood as a spiritual issue, a developmental challenge which the slave could or would not surmount, a refusal to push oneself into the self-willed transformation into response-ability that arises from self-mastery.

“Spirituality,” in the classical understanding, has nothing to do with “belief.” It has everything to do with faithfulness, which is trustworthiness

, and whether or not you are a reliable member of a community of free people, or whether you are a liability, a dependent, a person in bondage who needs someone else to be your bond, your guarantor and clean up your existential messes.

Slaves remain dependents who can’t take possession of themselves. They require an external master for lack of an inner one.

Lawrence alma-tadema, una lettura da omero, 1885
The Reading of Homer, Painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Greeks developed a culture of excellence and ease, designed to last. Population dynamics from throughout Afro-Eurasia and the Mediterranean basin changed that, however. Photo by Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Greeks put a premium on freedom and communities of response-able people, as do all Natural, Functionally-Adult Human Beings.

The Greeks, like all indigenous free people that I know, had a process to consciously and capably awaken these capacities. This is called liberal education, or “the leading out of the free and the learned, the attentive.” “Liberal” not only means “as befitting the free,” but it also refers to the capacity to read.

Many slaves in the ancient world could read words or, rather, spell and be spell-bound by the words of others. But the literacy of free people was of an altogether different nature than that which we moderns have been taught “reading” is: free people read reality. Our authority is the authoring of actual reality in its totality.

The Greeks recognized seven liberal arts which, in the Middle Ages, were divided into two parts: the Trivium (or three roads) and the Quadrivium (four roads). The Trivium were so fundamental and basic to the education of any free person that they were considered trivial, basic and foundational. These were covered in our article Tools for Being Free.

The typical, modern, citizen-slave of today will read that article and, having read the words, and acquired some new labels to parrot, will “think” that they now “know” about “liberal education.” Few will imagine that getting some basic competence in the Trivium will take at least two years, just to start, and a lifetime to master.

Mastering the Quadrivium is more than a lifelong study. It is the Science of entering into coherent relationship with the entire cosmos. This coherent science allowed Ancient civilizations to build their cities and their lives in coherence with the Living Universe. The lack of coherence in science today is precisely what affords us the illusion that we are “progressing” while, at the same time, even our water is increasingly contaminated.

Goat sacrifice Louvre K238
Hermes, the winged messenger, champion of philosophers, travelers, healers, and thieves, guardian of the crossroads.

Few imagine the marvels and the ease that such study will provide to them in all areas of life. The citizen-slave is programmed to always be busy, too busy to ever discover ease which, in Greek, is skholé, the word translated as “school” today.

What is the measure of ease in your life? Most people today will spend a lifetime without any true ease, without the conditions that optimize learning.

In the meanwhile, we are convinced that the ability to pile and modify definitions and descriptions, one on top of the other, constitutes “learning.” It does not.

To live as a free person, it is essential to not only understand the Nature of the Trivium, as it applies to the greater world, and not just language, but to apply it in our daily lives. There is much more to this than what I will cover in this article. I’ve already provided the Tools for Being Free to you.

If all you do with these articles is read the words, you are a slave and, of course, you will be offended that I called you a slave.  The free, however, instead of denying our slavishness face it, and then challenge and ourselves beyond our comfort zone to new levels of response-ability.

“European culture” as well as almost all of modern culture has its roots in Roman and Greek political, cultural, religious, educational and instructional templates hijacked by interlopers who were not only slaves but also had made a cult of enslaving other peoples, degrading cultures and corrupting the highest human values into the worst. As the Latin saying goes:

corruptio optimi pessima esta

“Corruption of the best is the worst”

There were other European cultures, vast and deep, but our memory of our ancestral lifeways, as Europeans, have been almost completely, and very intentionally, obliterated.  Many other Peoples, the world over, have offered us hints to recovering our functional adulthood, but we prefer to box them into our comfortably belittling definitions of “primitive people who haven’t learned to shit in their own water yet” and pride ourselves on all of our “advancements.” As a result, we learn nothing real of other Peoples, or of our own.

For most of the last two thousand years the overwhelming majority of people living in Europe were deliberately dumbed-down and forced to be illiterate of reality. Anyone who still knew how to read, write, heal or who still knew our history was labeled a witch and killed.

In the early twentieth century the financial and industrial powers decided that they needed to manufacture human beings in a deliberately dumbed-down version so that they would be useful human parts in the process of industrial manufacturing, and make good soldiers. The entire fabric of European and American life were adjusted for these specific purposes.

The “proletarian” was invented and manufactured. But this was only a more-recent iteration of an ongoing process in European life. Along with manufacturing the “proletarian” came the manufacture of “left” and “right” politics, both profoundly rooted in the notion that the function of humans is to tend to machines, and thus become increasingly like them.

Ezra Pound 1963b
Ezra Pound, a voice for lucidity.

Witch hunts, or the murder of people who know, has an ongoing history. The Khmer Rouge, in Cambodia, rounded up anyone who wore eyeglasses and executed them.

In the United States, such intellectuals as Ezra Pound, steeped in the classics of Europe and Asia, who denounced the entry of the United States in the second world war, was labeled a madman and tortured, drugged and imprisoned in St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital for denouncing the shenanigans of the banking elite who were profiting from both sides of World Wars and pressuring American politicians to get involved in wars in Europe.

To be knowledge-able, instead of only being caught in the spell of the words of others, one must learn how to take possession of one’s own faculties and respond capably in reality. Overlords are not fond of having this become a general habit and capability among people they intend to rule and exploit. Liberal education was abolished among commoners.

In societies of free people, however, liberal education was required to BE an adult. Without it one never truly becomes response-able and remains a liability to the entire society.

The suppression of liberal education is nothing new, historically. Most sophisticated moderns, including those who supposedly attended “liberal arts colleges and universities,” are completely ignorant as to what those arts are. Their context for understanding their experience is, precisely, modern, a term which comes from the Latin modo: “just right now.” Modernity is essentially a refined and rebaked Neolithic human livestock operation.

The Sophists’ contribution to tyranny was to understand how easily we could be persuaded to demand our own enslavement, through the lure of “benefits” that require no self-mastery. The slaves’ dream is to live at the expense of others.

In Part 1 we reviewed something of the nature of Classical Greek societies. Recall that these were small city-states, on the Mediterranean, at the heart of Afro-Eurasia. Tremendous human migrations and disturbances were happening all around the Greek people, flooding their societies with displaced and traumatized people from around the world. The indigenous Greeks were doing their best to continue the perpetuation of freedom, not only among the free, but also by educating people who entered their small, local communities as slaves and people whose neurologies were profoundly altered by the traumas and horrors that displaced, conquered and violated people suffer from. The Greeks were eventually conquered by the Romans.

Liberal education was essential to Sophia, wisdom.

Those who treasured and applied wisdom in their lives were known as philosophers, or “lovers of wisdom.” Sophia,  or the embodiment of Wisdom, is the Earth. To “find our way” we must “come to Earth,” literally.

Slaves, however, prefer to remain in the clouds.

If I ask you what the word “wisdom” points to, and not your own personal, mystical theory on “wisdom,” but the concrete, sense-able SENSE of the word. Can you lead yourself to the sense of it?

What is the sense of wisdom, simply, what does the word point to?

If you do not know the sense of the word, what it points to is Earth, as the Planetary Intelligence which rules Living Well, not just merely your, or someone else’s “ideas,” please take deep note of that. 

Wisdom, contrary to all of the mystified, quantum non-sense served up on the “spiritual” or “philosophy” section of your nearest library, is profoundly concrete and practical.  In all of the canon of so-called “Western philosophy,” and most of what I have read of “Eastern philosophy,” in translation, I have never, NOT ONCE, come across a sense-able pointing to it. 

And yet, for example, the very word “Tao,” in Chinese, points to it directly. I read countless books on “Tao” before a Chinese gentleman kindly pointed out to me that I didn’t even have the slightest notion of what the heck I was reading about.  A Jewish gentleman pointed out the same thing to me after several years of studying “the Bible” and so-called “God.” The “non-believers” are as blind to their sense-less-ness as the “believer.” Both are faith-less; i.e. “not trust-worthy.” Both are sophisticated to the point of being absolutely sense-less to primary reality.

Most of us grew up in a culture where people have been very deliberately, systematically and institutionally sophisticated for over a thousand years. Sophisticated people can study “wisdom” and become “educators” without even the most remote grasp of what those words point to in our relationship to reality. This is precisely what constitutes a sophisticated person. I recently spoke with a university “professor of philosophy.” I asked him what the word, “philosophy”  and “wisdom” pointed to, in sense-able reality.  He had only ideas.  No reality.  Without a relationship to reality one comes to zero wisdom.

We spoke for an hour and spoke only of things which he “knew,” as words and ideas, and definitions, but had never been led to make sense of.  After one hour he said, “you are the first person who has shown me how to actually make sense of philosophy.” He was also confronted by how much his “favorite Western philosophers” were profoundly and insistently non-sense-ical. But he had made a “living” to make teaching “philosophy.”  I never heard from him again.

Slaves are instructed in “advanced knowledge” while never being given the foundational methods of coming into self-led, coherent and sense-able engagement with reality on their own.

Wisdom is knowing the condition of the ways, of the trails, of the paths in reality. Sophia is the Intelligence of Finding One’s Way ON EARTH. And the indigenous, free Greeks were “lovers of Sophia,” of “finding their way in LIFE.” As lofty as this may sound, it is the nature of any human being whose toes and whose toil are in the soil. ALL country people that I know have to be philosophers, just to feed themselves and their families: they have to “find their way in accord with the Greater Aliveness.”

Sophia was considered a Goddess for the Power that Finding One’s Way had in one’s Life. It is very hard for a modern sophisticate to understand the Nature of Divinity in the Ancient World. The Ancients did not believe or disbelieve in “gods” as disembodied “personalities.” They studied Reality, paying attention to the Nature of microcosmic and macrocosmic principles at work in reality and often personifying them as “gods,” in initiatic wisdom stories, so that the attributes of particularities, in reality, can be better appreciated by those learning to “find our way.”

Some of you, at this juncture, may have heard me say the word sophisticated enough that you may be wondering what being sophisticated has to do with Sophia, or the wisdom of Finding One’s Way.

If you grasp the answer to this question, not just as an idea, but at the very heart of how YOU relate to EVERYTHING in your world, you will grasp something that will change everything in your Way of Living and the invitation that you make to your future generations. It’s that important.

I am doing my best to smooth the Way so that you can find it, but you have to do the finding, in reality and with much greater effort than just reading this article and thinking about it.

Lovers of Sophia are trackers, observing the Beings that inhabit our reality, their tracks, and the consequences they engender. We are not just spell-bound believers in spoken labels. We take everything back to primary reality, to their actuality, the truth of what they ARE, as dynamic and consequent unfoldings of a fabric of consequences.

The free Greeks were lovers of Finding One’s Way. Their liberal education remains a precious legacy that can help us reconnect with the Reality of Free and Beloved People, but only if we love ourselves enough to free ourselves. To grasp the challenges that maintaining the Way of Life of a Free and Beloved People we have to understand that 82% of the population of Ancient Greece were slaves: people developmentally incapable of freeing themselves, often for reasons of trauma, conquest, and displacement from their homelands and communities of relationship.

Slave religion, spirituality and mentality are those of people who are fundamentally mystified and dissociated from sensible reality, responsibility and consequence. Slaves “believe,” or even “disbelieve.” But their powers of attention, reason and action are very limited.

Our impression of democracy, as modern sophisticates, is its almost perfect opposite. We have the Sophists to thank for this, as we shall soon see. Democracy was not majority rule, nor was it a system of voting.

That notion is not even remotely in the word. The demoi were the indigenous, free Greek, by virtue of their capacity to free themselves coupled with their descendancy from local people. No one was “free” solely by birth.

One had to learn to be self-ruling, self-leading, self-mastering, and self-responsible as an individual in society. This was known as kratos: “the art of self-rule” or the skills required of any functional, responsible adult capable of responding to his own, and his family’s concerns and requirements for well-being.

So kratos, when it is used as a regime-type suffix, becomes power in the sense of strength, enablement, or “capacity to do things.” This is well within the range of how the word kratos and its verb forms were used in archaic and classical Greek.”

Josiah Ober, The original meaning of “democracy”: Capacity to do things, not majority rule. (Recommended reading)

Slaves did not participate in democracy for the simple reason that slaves are not self-ruling. Their “choices” are not the choices of responsible individuals. Instead, slaves are mutually-enslaving. The citizen-slaves of today are participating in political structures that have them convinced that they are “participating in democracy” when in fact they, by acculturation and upbringing, are not demoi, nor have they ever learned and mastered the exercise of kratos.

Departure warrior Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2415
Warriors came from the People, defended their own communities and were honored.

The indigenous Greeks wanted to maintain their local culture and their freedom, instead of being overrun and bankrupted by the incredible flux of people being displaced around ancient Afro-Eurasia and being slowly integrated into their society.

Then something very upsetting to the free Greeks happened. A new form of war was invented by a gang of philosophical mercenaries; the Sophists, or Sophistes, (practitioners of Wisdom) in Greek.

We inherit our sophisticated way of life, our sophisticated “spirituality,” our sophisticated “politics,” our sophisticated “democracies”, etc. and our sophisticated state of permanently-infantile dependence on external authority as citizen-slaves from these sophistes.

Platón Academia de Atenas
Like so many writers in the Western tradition it seems that Plato had many of the tendencies of the Sophists, in his own right. It seems that there were various ” Platos” and most of the canon of Western thought was destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church and only came back to the West thanks to the Arabs who valued knowledge and preserved it.

In Plato’s work, Sophist, the first arguments used by Plato to understand the nature of sophistry is a distinction between hunting by chasing down an animal and killing him, and hunting by the tending of nets and snares in which, the animal essentially entraps himself by being lured by the bait of a benefit he thinks he will enjoy. Then he goes on to clarify that human beings are a huntable prey species and that war is a form of hunting humans which can be conducted, not only with swords, but also with traps and snares made of words creating impressions.

Then now, Theaetetus, his art may be traced as a branch of the appropriative, acquisitive family-which hunts animals,-living-land-tame animals; which hunts man,-privately-for hire,-taking money in exchange-having the semblance of education; and this is termed Sophistry, and is a hunt after young men of wealth and rank-such is the conclusion.

Plato, Sophist.

In a more contemporary version, we have the very impressive architect of tyranny, who most modern sophisticates only know as an “author,” but who designed and implemented the very system he described, giving us a modern rendition of the nature of “sophistication.” To interested parties, I highly recommend Jan Irvin’s investigation into the superlative sophistry of Aldous Huxley and his work in building the totalitarian control grid and helping to design both the British and U.S. intelligence agencies, the delusions of “the counter-culture of the 60’s,” and so on.  A fascinating study, indeed, and an impressive, ongoing contribution on Jan Irvin’s part.

“It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison, and yet not free – to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national state, or of some private interest within the nation, wants him to think, feel and act.

“The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people. His servitude is strictly objective.”

-Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited,  1958

One of the key elements here is that the slave operates by way of “belief” and “disbelief.” The slave has no commitment to any sense-able reality beyond “the freedom to do what s/he wants,” to whatever wide or narrow degree allowed by those whose identities they would rather ignore, especially since slaves are the ones most invested in keeping their own attention narrowed to “personal impressions.” The key to the enslavement perfected since the 60’s is to flood the minds of the general public with endless quantum non-sense in a thousands flavors of “reality is non-sense.”   Read Plato and you’ll begin to discover that it is an old trick applied by rulers and priests upon their subjects for a long, long time.

Many Sophists were itinerant teachers for hire who taught the liberal arts to any and all free men, much like me giving workshops and courses on liberal education, deep history, culture and relational dynamics.

They soon discovered that few “free” people were truly interested in self-mastery. So they went in search of new clients, and found them in those eager to wield power over others and convert them into “milkable” livestock.

Any Sophist who wanted to continue teaching what he was passionate about was soon challenged to find students actually interested in the scope and span of what he could offer. People in power were interested in using the liberal arts to dominate others.

A new kind of Sophist emerged, a kind of philosophical mercenary, Hunters, Masters of Subterfuge, Stalkers, Students and Perverters of Philosophy, and Wagers of Wars with Words who hired themselves out to people in power as democracy, or the self-rule of free people, was increasingly replaced by imperial governments who, nevertheless, continued to call themselves “democracies,” and maintained much of the external forms and protocols of “democracy.”

They concentrated power into fewer and fewer hands and used rhetoric, or the skillful use of words and logical fallacies, to create false impressions and the general conviction that tyrants were “protecting the people’s safety and security,” especially the safety and security of the inferior classes.

Plato - Allegory of the Cave
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is worth a close study of how people can be enslaved, and then insistently keep themselves and each other enslaved, in a world of pure impressions. By Veldkamp, Gabriele and Maurer, Markus [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Words were increasingly used to evoke emotion or morality (and not ethics) while the reality of what they elicited support for was of an altogether different nature. They set people against themselves by inducing false impressions. They used the art of rhetoric and impression-making to convince people that the illusory was real and that the real was an illusion:

In Plato’s terms, Sophists stressed the importance of “appearance” over “reality,” “opinion” over “knowledge,” or eradicated their distinction since the world is theoretically limited to appearance in sophist worldview.

Their arts got perfected all the way to today in ways that many thinkers and modern-day sophists have described in quite clear terms. The sophist legacy is carried and perfected, intact and invisible, in the relationship that almost every single one of us has to our own Health, Intelligence, Excellence and the Quality of our Care for our own Aliveness and of those whom we pretend to “love.”

But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.

Ludwig von Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity

We guide ourselves by “impressions and convictions” with no need for support from reality.

The Anatomy of Slavespeak is a primer on the nature of contemporary sophistry.

Some Sophists, who were “consultants” to psychopaths with imperial ambitions, helped demolish the city-states of free Greeks and consolidate them into centralized nation-states which soon became imperial. How they did it several thousand years ago is how they continue to do it today.

Soon we will explore the work of a brilliant psychopath who shaped the entire twentieth century, gleefully designing and implementing “public relations programs” that resulted in the deaths of literal hundreds of millions of people.

The Sophists took liberal education, the lifelong apprenticeship by which young people, arriving at adulthood, learn to engage and achieve mastery in their engagement with reality, and turned it on its head. Why?

The communities of free men in the Greek city-states were self-ruling men. They were NOT ruled by the majority, contrary to the impressions we have of “democracy.” They were self-ruling. Yes, some decisions were brought to a vote, but these were societies where politics was not a career path, but rather an unwelcome duty that rapidly passed from one person to another, generally by a lottery system.

The Sophists turned all of that around. Those who used sophistry wanted to dispossess the free Greeks communities of everything and put them under their rule. They discovered that they could seduce both the free and the slaves by allowing them to “vote” themselves into “benefits” that were to be paid by “someone else.”

They knew full well that the dream of a slave is not freedom, but rather to live at the expense of another; effectively making that other person their slave. They knew that slaves would unsuspectingly vote themselves onto the land, into the purses, and into the rights of their masters and anyone having any more property or capacity than they did. The last thing a slave would vote themselves into would be mastery or responsibility.

It is not enough to point at “slaves” as if we were pointing at anyone other than ourselves. The challenge is to see these same tendencies, this same sense of entitlement that comes hand-in-hand with claiming both “rights” and the “privileged status of victimhood” in ourselves.

The Sophists working for tyrants understood that, in order to create an empire of easily-submitted peoples, i.e. slaves, that would be self-perpetuating, all they had to do was offer slaves the vote. Being the majority of the population, they would not only overthrow the culture of the free Greeks, they would also vote predictably for any bait offered by political opportunists that “sounded good to them” and further enslave their own descendants.

We can look at the so-called “democracies” of the West today to see how a culture of slaves has evolved over several thousand years, at the insistence of the slaves, now called “citizens,” always and predictably demanding “rights” of others. They dodge any personal responsibility for the “benefits” they are so eager to receive at the expense of “others,” conveniently ignoring that those “others” have consistently been their own descendants, yoked to the growing bonds and debts their own fathers and mothers saddled them to, in pursuit of whatever “benefit” sounded “good” to them.

Many of you might object to this portrayal of “democracy.” A few will appreciate and pay attention to what it is pointing to, in and all around you.

Only YOU can lead YOURSELF to gain the tools with which free people free themselves. Only YOU can challenge YOURSELF to study further and to contextualize the roots of democracy instead of only idealizing, opining, moralizing and emotionalizing on the basis of what you “like” and “dislike.” I can practically guarantee that few, if any, of you will actually dedicate the time and effort to learn how, precisely, to free yourselves.

We’ve been programmed to believe that slavery is something somebody else does to the slave. That’s a small part of the equation. Slavery, more than anything, is a matter of what slaves refuse to do for themselves.

If you want to get clear on what a free human being does for the sake of being free, I suggest you read the autobiography of Frederick Douglass and, in the reading, compare the vocabulary and clarity of a self-educated free man born in chains to that which you use today. Then you will not only learn about Frederick Douglass, what a free man does for the sake of his freedom, but you will also begin to appreciate your own nature and WILL to freedom, or lack thereof.

We are in a very sophisticated form of slavery today. You have access to all the tools for freeing yourself, but a hammer never built a house.

That requires a human being who will. In six years of traveling around the world and working with hundreds of people, I have met very few individuals who WILL actually take up that road of self-liberation.

I’ve met hundreds of people who wanted to, but wanting is precisely the hallmark of slave. The slave wants, but WILL not, and does not.

The nature of the WILL of the slave is that it won’t.

The free DESIRE, WILL and DO.

Slaves are very sophisticated; they always have a thousand reasons, and excuses and delays between what they say they want and what they actually WILL and DO. A slave has no WILL but he has a herd of fellow-slaves who will back him up and applaud his surrender to his own incapacity to make any choice that no slave would make. Slaves always have plenty of company.

The free, however, have to learn to become much more primitive, to go to the essential reality of things, including their own slavishness, and learn to not only want, but to WILL and to DO. In a culture of slaves the free will soon find themselves quite alone by virtue of willing and doing what slaves won’t, and don’t, and convince themselves they can’t.

The work of those Sophists has stood the test of time. They laid solid, even cozy traps. I began to appreciate their artistry more and more as I traveled the world and saw how insistently the vast majority of people choose their own dependence, diminishment, and insistently demand that others do for them what they refuse to do for themselves.

Learning to free oneself is the hard and lonely choice. Choose slavery, however, and you’ll never lack for company.

What do you choose, in reality? To choose is to WILL and to DO. Freedom and response-ability are not consumer sports. No one can give them to you. They are only mastered through practice, contact and commitment.

Gather Seeds

Of Wisdom,

Which is Way-Finding

That You May Live the Life You Love

By Loving and Caring Fully

For the Aliveness You Are.

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3 Responses

    • Journeyman O

      Hello Carol! I’m glad you’re enjoying it. There’s a lot there that is absolutely germane to your studies of Sophia, if you go beyond “believe,” or “disbelieve.” I’m delighted that you commented and are reading this. To study, from the Latin “studium,” is to bring application and care, like the bear does when he catches the scent of honey on the wind, like the honeybee does when the flowers are in bloom. To “study,” with our Natural Intelligence, is a Natural Connection to the Greater Aliveness, and discovering Her Ways, Her Wisdom, which is Natural, all around and inside of us. I had you in heart-mind, specifically, when I wrote it, including a conversation we had in Boulder about wisdom. I send you a Good Feeling, like the bear with honey on the wind, like the bee with the blossoms in bloom, like me with a friend I delight in.

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