Sophism was a contributary factor in the decline of the Graeco-Roman empire. Sophism or intellectual sophistry is the clever use of reasons and explanations that seem correct but are really false, in order to deceive people. Politicians, diplomats and lawyers are experts in this line of activity. Like a British satirist and humourist, Jonathan Swift would say: “the law that lawyers know is the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black white, according as they are paid”.
Polemics is the practice of argumentation, disputation and making verbal attacks on ideas and opinions of others in order to discredit them and divert attention from the issue at stake. We know whose stock-in-trade these practices and professional malfeasance really are. A number of people are born with such ability while others acquire it through training, education and orientation. We are currently seeing evidence of a preponderance of this culture of sophism and polemics in Nigeria. We have also groomed lots of masters of rhetoric or glib talkers.
Solon was an outstanding ancient political philosopher who was concerned with applying morals to politics making him to repeal all Draconian laws because of their harshness and excessively heavy penalties. He is remembered largely for his remark that Dracos’ code was written not in ink but in blood. Draco was a very severe ancient lawgiver of Athens, about 623 B.C. Even now very severe laws or rules are referred to as Draconic.
In every society, ancient or modern, the essence of all forms of education is that the educated man should play some role and make positive impact in public life. Such positive role is not by acquisition of wealth without work; enjoyment of pleasure without conscience; having knowledge without character; doing business without morality; application of science without humanity; worship without sacrifices; practising politics without principles, or claiming rights without responsibility. Mahatma Gandhi of India backed his political doctrine with practical example through his life-style.
A rarely known Rusian philosopher, P. D. Ouspensky, raised a voice in 1972, after fleeing his country, that the earth was entering the last stages of the Dark Cycle, and that sophism, polemics and rhetoric would characterize political and religious activities. He stressed that man’s big error lies in a distorted perception of reality, thus fighting over unreal issues, disregarding the real problem of liberation from attachment to matter. He devoted a book titled Tertium Organum to the thesis that intellectual sophistry imprisons man in the sphere of matter, with politics being a major player in the downward drift of human consciousness.
It is not only politics that indulges in sophism, polemics and self-deception, keeping humanity earth-bound and asleep. Other institutions which should be agents of positive social changes have also been undermined by forces which seek to engulf humanity in darkness. How many institutions really know and can tell humanity the true source of the devouring plague responsible for current global ills? Emphasis often go elsewhere.
Major antics of the “giver of darkness” is to set striving humanity on a false trail, away from the real issue. Even when “corruption” is identified as Nigeria’s principal “canker-worm”, Sophism and polemics would define it in mis-leading concepts and prescribe remedics that would not hit the target. Politics would cleverly domesticate it in the temples of political enemies and device weapons and instruments that would hoodwink the unwary or naïve public. We can therefore practice voodoo politics, just as there is voodoo economics.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan can tell us in his book titled My Transition Hours that “Politics has a way of letting you know the inner recesses of the human mind”. Those who really know the inner recesses of the human mind would testify that human beings are unreliable and never good except through necessity. Consequently politicians and rulers who set out to change humanity for the better usually resort to Draconian measures. But do they succeed?
There is an affinity between politics and war. Does war not drive home the lesson of the transience of material things? Similarly, would any honest Nigerian tell you that he trusts any politician? There is a growing awareness that evil forces are working to destroy human freedom, calling on people of goodwill to be alert and not be hoodwinked by Sophists, Prevaricators and equivocators.
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer at the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.