It should not escape attention that at the meeting of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Regulations and Agriculture, held on St. Croix on Oct. 17, Committee Chair Allison DeGazon raised the issue of WICO board members receiving $1,500 — and the board chairman $2,000 — per meeting.
According to The Daily News report, Interim President and CEO of WICO Anthony Ottley responded to DeGazon that there should be a decrease in the annual $700,000 payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, the entity is mandated to pay (“V.I.’s BIG problem,” The Daily News, Oct. 18, 2019). He did not address the issue of the illegal, exorbitant payments to WICO board members.
Several appeals have been made for WICO board members to do the right thing and not succumb to the love of money.
Of course, no one in our community expects board members to place their lives in jeopardy in the search for truth, as in the case of the ancient Greek Socrates, some 2,400 years ago. However, positive action by WICO would set an example for others in the community who may be tempted to embark on similar disobedience of our laws.
The principles to be examined in this context are those espoused by Plato in “The Laws,” and in the mouth of Socrates in “The Apology,” when Socrates was eventually sentenced to be executed.
Born in 427 B.C., significantly, Socrates wrote nothing and what we know of him came mostly from the pen of Plato.
Motivation by pleasure or pain
Interestingly, “The Laws” by Plato describes a utopia that he named “Magnesia.” The visionary state was to be founded in Crete in the middle of the fourth century B.C. As Plato envisioned it, Magnesia was to be based not only on certain absolute moral principles, but also on adherence to the standards embodied in the law.
As part of his dramatic exploration of the principles he proposed for his imaginary state, Plato created a dialogue between his foil, Cleinias, and the protagonist, Athenian. The question raised by the foil in the proceedings is whether the laws of the state were designed to facilitate pleasure or pain. The Athenian responded in an unmistakable manner: It is not in the best interest of those who show respect for the law to seek pleasure.
Seeking more clarity, Cleinias declared: “The term ‘bad’ we apply, I think, to the victim of pleasure even more than any other.” He elaborated: “When we say that a man has been shamefully conquered by himself, we are all, I fancy, much more likely to be someone defeated by pleasure and not by pain.”
In responding, Athenian alluded to the fact that those who seek pleasure are not hesitant to violate laws to accomplish their goal. “This should not surprise us,” he opined.
Still unsatisfied with the protagonist’s answer, Cleinias inquired whether or not it would be a good thing to amend the law to facilitate the leisure seekers.
“No,” answered Athenian emphatically, who continued by explaining his position on the issue.
“The codes of law have been composed with reasonable success,” he said. “This particular provision of the law is excellent so why amend it. Consistency of the law is especially important for the younger generation to emulate.
“If our citizens grow up without any experience of the keenest pleasures, and if they are not trained to stand firm when they encounter them, and refuse to be pushed into any disgraceful action, their fondness for pleasure will bring them to the same bad end,” said Athenian.
Eternal adherence to the law
In 399 B.C., Socrates was brought to a public trial on an indictment by three Athenian citizens, Meletus, Anytus and Lycon. He was found guilty and sentenced to die. The principles extracted for the present purpose are from three speeches by Socrates during the trial and dubbed by Plato as “The Apology.”
Several times in his presentation before the jury, Socrates alluded to the corruptive influence of wealth. “Wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the state,” he stated.
Even though his strictures may have antagonized many members of the jury, he was determined to speak his mind and addressed them directly: “Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible?”
One did not have to wait long before Socrates implicitly indicated that he was religious and that his espoused principles were founded on his belief. “Gentlemen, I am your very grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you and elucidating the truth to everyone that I meet.”
After the verdict was rendered and Meletus proposed the death penalty for Socrates, the ancient philosopher was allowed to address the jury. Although the very law of Greece had led to his death penalty, he appealed for fidelity to the law in all circumstances.
“You must do whatever your city, your country commands, or else persuade it in accordance with Universal Justice,” stated Socrates.
The philosopher also made it be known that the law does not prevent anyone from immigrating to any other country.
However, Socrates informed the members of the jury that he was not in favor of banishment because the law sentenced him to death and it still should be obeyed. He berated them for showing no respect for “The Laws, whom you are trying to destroy; you are behaving like the lowest type of menial, trying to run away in spite of the contracts and undertakings by which you agreed to live as a member of our state.”
Without any intent at hubris, we may end this journey in thinking with a quote from Aristotle.
“For all men are persuaded by consideration of their interest, and their interest lies in the maintenance of the established order.”
— Eddie Donoghue, Ph.D, is a playwright and consultant on socio-cultural and political matters in the Virgin Islands. He lives on St. Thomas.