Backward and in Heels
By David Snyder
It appears I’ve fallen into another of my obsessive spirals, this time on the great minds of Ancient Greece. The other day, I wrote a little essay about whether or not we’re all either a Plato or an Aristotle. As I wrote about those two brilliant, if rarely accurate in any modern empirical sense, thinkers, I couldn’t help but despair about the state of our own eggheads.
There’s no doubt that it’s unfair to compare anyone to Plato or Aristotle, except for Socrates, maybe; they were once in a thousand years thinkers, and it’s to our great benefit that they were alive and in touch at the same time. After all, everything we recognize as civilization rests upon their ideas. But who are the thinkers alive today that will be recognized a thousand years from now as truly transcendent? Three men immediately came to mind, and I know, it’s a sorry state of affairs when only men come to mind, but hopefully, I won’t seem too ill-intentioned in a moment.
The three men that popped into my bean were Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. The trouble with this lot is that none of them are alive at this particular moment, which sort of undermines the whole idea of trying to pick out the greatest minds alive. Still, the present can only reveal itself looking in the rearview, so I’m not sure who the great mind of our time is, but I know who a few of them from the not too distant past are.
Why these three? Einstein is the only obvious choice. The unfathomably brilliant physicist who always appeared to have just stuck a fork in a socket, Einstein changed the course of physics thus changing the way we all think about the very nature of existence. The man’s resume does a fine job of speaking for itself. Nietzsche and Jobs are certainly the two more controversial choices. Nietzsche, the troubled and nihilistic philosopher who died young. Jobs, the maverick soul of the digital revolution we’re currently living through; the man who’s vision was responsible for the keyboard I’m currently typing on. Those three men may not have won great wars or erected entire cities, but neither did Plato or Aristotle.
Now, I hope, you see why I chose three men. Since those that are alive today haven’t yet become legendary figures, I was forced to look to a time both recent and less-equal, a time when women were confined to the home and were rarely allowed jobs in the public eye.
Those three men, each completely void of simplicity, each worthy of a lifetime of study, have changed the fabric of society, technology, science, psychology, and have sparked countless debates over their credentials and accuracy. Those are the same boxes Plato and Aristotle checked 2,300 years ago. Those three men of the past century truly put a dent in the universe, as Jobs liked to say. But why is it that two men of the Mediterranean alive 300 years before of time of Christ still resonate so strongly? Two men who didn’t speak the same language as many of us, two men who were alive before Christianity and Islam, yet two men who inspired the great painters of the Renaissance and the great intellectuals of the Enlightenment. I don’t know why. Sometimes, when the wind is strong enough, voices carry across the ages simply because one or two resonated with the messages so strongly that they staked their lives on keeping the message alive. I suppose it’s up to me to do the same for my two favorite intellectuals: David Ortiz and E.B. White.
I’m not sure who’s alive at this moment that will inspire devotees 2,000 years from now, but I’m near certain that there are some, as there were some just a generation or two ago. I just hope that the next person whose name carries the weight of Plato or Aristotle isn’t some smelly old man, but is instead a strong woman, who does it all backward and in heels, ensuring that the next generation of ladies can do it forward and in sneakers.