Save me from Socrates!

Or: How a little Heinlein in the diet can save a lot of time in philosophy class

I wasn’t allowed to read Heinlein growing up. No, that’s not true. If I’d discovered Heinlein on my own, I don’t think they’d have taken the books from me. But my mom threw out all her copies before I learned to read. She decided Heinlein hated Jesus. Growing up, I got the sanitized version in bedtime story format. (What, you didn’t get Space Cadet at bedtime?) My first Heinlein that I actually read was sometime after I turned 20.

It’s probably best to save Heinlein until after you’re an adult, because he always seems to have an agenda. There’s always one character whose job it is to lecture the reader, usually by having a very one-sided conversation, in which the opposing view says, “Well, gee boss, I hadn’t thought of that.” If you agree with his point, it’s great. Wow! Look at him hit that one out of the park! But if he’s preaching on some note that you don’t see eye-to-eye on (say, free love), you’re stuck watching an idiot get slaughtered in a one-sided debate.

After a while, you get a little wary of the set-up. You can see it coming and you start preparing better counter-arguments in your head. Of course, whoever is standing in as Heinlein’s preacher can’t stand against your arguments either, since he can’t hear you. So he keeps rambling on. Eventually, you have to learn to let it roll, or throw the book across the room.

Now I’ve finally gotten around to reading a little Plato, and let me tell you, the minute Socrates opens his mouth, I got an old familiar feeling. This guy is totally copying Heinlein. No wonder they called him the gadfly of Athens.

And just like Heinlein’s preachers, some of his positions are good, and sometimes… just… stupid. All he needs is somebody to come along with a reasonable counterargument. Maybe from a Christian. Because most of the time, his arguments just sound… pagan.

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