Sophisticated, sophisticated, sophisticated. If it’s true that the third time you repeat a word it becomes flatus vocis (that is a mere name, word, or sound without a corresponding objective reality), it’s all the more true in this case. This word is empty - really empty. As empty, to be clear, as the eyeballs of a Greek statue in the eyes of those who don’t know that the coloured pupils were taken away by the millennia. Even Kanye West, without disturbing the ancient peoples, after destroying a Maybach 57 just for the sake of seeing it on fire, with screeching tyres and loaded with models, raps: “Sophisticated ignorance / write my courses in coursive” - as if to say that he’s teaching a lesson, and that the first thing to write down is this: sophistication is no less than a predicable adjective of ignorance, a specific type of all of the possible types of ignorance.
When witnessing such a show, our judgement is inevitably negative. If the cursive on the notebook, the skid marks on the asphalt and the sparks of the blowtorch on the car body are really going to be the only things left of the notes taken… in other words, if sophistication is empty, it makes no sense to practise it, and those who still do are immoral. If you think about it for a second, you will realise that its motive is profit: of course, the car that was dismembered for no reason was donated to a charity for the famine in the Horn of Africa, but what happened to the money that Kanye West and Jay-Z have made on Otis Redding’s dead body (musically speaking)? While he was singing wholeheartedly Try a Little Tenderness, the poor guy definitely didn’t expect it to be mistreated (sampled) to such a degree.
But has it always been like this? For once, the answer is surprising. By going back to the etymon of the word “ sophisticated”, five centuries before Christ, at that time indeed men called “Sophists” lived in Greece. They were brilliant rhetors, beloved for their job and paid to teach it. They were also philosophers, as they deliberately had to ignore nature in order to be able to talk freely.
Take the most famous among them, Gorgia. He said that: “Nothing exists; even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others”. This way, he could talk safely, free from the obstacle of truth, that is without having to account for some reality principle. His only truth was the power of his language. He only had to take his light feet from polis to polis and, once he had arrived at the square, support a thesis and its antithesis. The crowd applauded him, aware of the trick, yet convinced in both cases with the same effectiveness.
Therefore, Gorgia, just like every Sophist, wasn’t what we would call a “relativist”. More simply, what interested him weren’t the world, nature and the elements, but rather man, the motives and his emotions. All of which he could examine with the persuasive power of words.
Not that he wanted to take advantage of this: on the contrary, at the peak of his career, he even dared feel a little affection for Helen - all of the Greeks shared hate for her - to whom he dedicated an Encomium that would absolve her from the responsibility of causing the Trojan War. “I have removed by my speech a woman’s infamy, […]” he wrote “I have tried to end the injustice of blame and the ignorance of opinion; I wished to write a speech as an Encomium on Helen and an amusement for myself”. An amusement that has made Helen, Paris’ whore, the first woman in history to be sophisticated.
Then when was it that the Sophists’ blissful ignorance - the programmatic ignorance of nature that they didn’t hide from anyone and that should have made them the first humanists in history - became immoral? Plato took care to sell it as such. He did this by condemning the Sophists for their habit of teaching against payment, and since then, like him, we condemn sophistication too.
However, if we really want to be honest, we must admit that when facing sophistication, even before immorality, what scares us is emptiness. Money is not the first thing to come to mind, but rather its presumed irrationality, the abyss that instantly opens in front of what we cannot understand. Emptiness, fear, accusation of immorality: that is the trajectory.
Therefore, there is a suspicion that, on the pretext of a few silver drachmas - with which Plato himself was rich since birth - he didn’t just initiate the group’s eternal accusation, but also, more profoundly, the fear of emptiness. He didn’t understand that emptiness was a shared method, just like the darkness in the cinema so that attention is focused on man and nothing else, and since he couldn’t understand it, he feared it. So, if Plato’s disciples, when hearing the word “sophisticated”, are gifted still today with the disgust that protects them from fear, we can only hope that they wrote to the sophists’ pupils-clients in cursive: in that case, they would at least be left with a beautiful handwriting.
Therefore, those who wish to interrogate a sophisticated person about sophistication shouldn’t expect an answer. They are sophisticated because they are sophists and sophisticators of themselves, and they would find it amusing to say everything and its opposite. Instead, go beyond the hidden moralism and, when you feel distressed, don’t give in to fear. Remember that, as the Greeks before Plato knew, it’s all a game, and that the only thing to do is enjoy it. After all, the quality of man that is experienced in sophistication is indeed motion.