Around 400 B.C., Socrates was brought to trial on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens and “impiety.” Presumably, however, people believed then as we do now, that Socrates’ real crime was being too clever and, not insignificantly, a royal pain to those in power or, as Plato put it, a gadfly. Just as a gadfly is an insect that could sting a horse and prod it into action, so too could Socrates sting the state. He challenged the moral values of his contemporaries and refused to go along with unjust demands of tyrants, often obstructing their plans when he could. Socrates thought his service to Athens should have earned him free dinners for life. He was given a cup of hemlock instead.
We have had gadflies among us ever since, but one contemporary breed in particular has come in for a rough time of late: the “hacktivist.” While none have yet been forced to drink hemlock, the state has come down on them with remarkable force. This is in large measure evidence of how poignant, and troubling, their message has been.