A social gadfly is a member of society who constantly questions the status quo, and causes people to doubt their own beliefs. It is a person who vehemently searches for truth and is seen often as more of a pain than a beneficial member of society. The term is most commonly known for being used by Plato in his book The Apology of Socrates. A gadfly is one of the most resented members of society, it is especially despised by those in authority. This is often due to the nature of the gadfly’s role; while those in authority often wish to maintain a tight clasp by keeping their “inferiors” ignorant, gadflies encourage thought provoking questions and individuality. Although it is often easy for a society to rid itself of a gadfly, it is very detrimental to do this since they are often heralds of change.
Social gadflies make people think for themselves and care about the pragmatism of others’ beliefs; they are symbols of profound thought and change. The Socratic Method, turned into a pedagogy today, was a way of engaging other people and provoking such thought. In this method, the gadfly would approach the people around him/her whilst feigning ignorance about a topic, he/she would then ask questions about the topic and let others give their opinions (usually in the form of hypotheses). As the conversation progressed the “victim” of the gadfly would be asked increasingly profound questions that would eventually poke holes in and refute the hypothesis/es initially made. This, although frustrating, was a good way to keep people thinking, for it raised awareness of the flaws in people’s beliefs, and aided in said ideas’ reform.
Gadflies have been the cause for mass change in the world, they have been instigators of revolution at certain times and wars at others. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, was a gadfly of great dignity and grace: he alone with his charisma and the profundity of his character could stir the Indian masses into civil disobedience, and eventually remove the British from India. However, Gandhi is just one example of the gadflies that have influenced societies as a whole. The gadfly is an active member of society that wishes solely to improve people’s way of life and the analogy made by Socrates explains this perfectly: “the State is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life.”
Gadflies although rare and irritating, sacrifice a lot for the good of their fellow man. Naturally, people wish to do what is in their own interest and that alone. However, with gadflies it is different. Gadflies are more martyr-like than any other member of society; to the end of inducing thought, they adopt a life of suffering and misery. They accept that they will be resented by their fellow man with open arms, readily. It is a tragic thing, to see those who care most about others be despised most by others. As irritating as it may be, and as unnecessary as it may seem, the gadfly is a hero guised in villain’s clothes. From Socrates who was killed because of a refusal to let go of his ideals to Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Ray Bradbury whose writings were banned, gadflies have struggled to provoke thought and discourage deference. Sadly, we only see the greatness of the gadflies in retrospect and by then they have already been persecuted.
Gadflies are provokers essentially: they are not meant to be liked, they are irritating and their words are inflammatory. Although this is largely true, they are a necessary to any society. As quoted by Socrates himself in Plato’s The Apology of Socrates to the people of Athens (who wanted to kill Socrates), “If you kill such a one as I am, you will injure yourselves more than anyone.” A society that rids itself of gadfly and believes that it is better off is delusional. The gadfly is often asked why he/she questions, and why he/she annoys and engages in “quibble.” People who ask this do not understand the concept of altruism, or do not see what a gadfly does as altruistic, but a gadfly’s devotion to its people is the same as the moth’s attraction to light: despite knowing that it’ll eventually burn it cannot resist flying near the light.
– Ahmed Abdelmaksoud