Monday, July 23, 2012

Burying Caesar

There are so many circumstances in life where some of the first words that come to my mind, to frame my response to a given situation, are those penned by Shakespeare.
As the continuing tragedy of what happened at Penn State over several decades unfolds, heroes once held high are thrown down and their memories trampled on.  With the sanctions decree of the NCAA being announced today, the words of Mark Anthony came to mind.

As with so many of the long speeches Shakespeare penned for his characters, this one is filled with nuances.  It gives, and it takes away.  I could almost read this speech and substitute Paterno's name for Caesar.  I don't know who would fill in for Brutus, for there have been many who have rendered judgment, sometimes in hopes of claiming higher moral authority than what they believe Paterno possessed.

Paterno has now been cast as the villain.  I don't know if he was or not.  It is all an ex post facto indictment to my thinking.  Since we know the outcome, we look back and at each step where we think Paterno "could have or should have" we render judgment as though he knew the end of it all, even at the beginning.  Of course, that is not possible.  Paterno himself indicated that he wished he had done more.

The Freeh report has painted Paterno as virtually all-knowing and complicit in every way from the beginning.  I am not convinced.  Reading a trail of emails, with indefinite references at times, can cause the reader to reach false conclusions, and having reached those conclusions can then give the reader the framework upon which to build a searing indictment of culpability. 

One administrator writes "after talking with Joe..." and the Freeh report concludes that Joe then knew.  But did he?  Do we trust the third hand report?  Too many questions. 

In case you have forgotten the Mark Anthony speech that you may have memorized in school, here it is.  You can substitute Paterno for Caesar, if you wish.  There is a certain resonance in doing that.  And while you are substituting, perhaps the name Freeh stands in for Brutus.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.

He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Social Contract

It's been a long time since I studied philosophy, and I have no intention of trying to explain the nuances of the concept of the social contract in this post.  But, given that it is the Fourth of July, it seemed like an opportune time to muse a bit on the way in which we interact and support other humans.

The essence of the social contract is as follows:  "Social contract theory.... is the view that persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live. "  (Source--Social Contract Theory)  To form society, people agree to be governed, and to not always advance only their own selfish interests.  They agree to "all just get along."

One of the most stirring speeches I ever heard was when the late congresswoman Barbara Jordan delivered the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic Convention.  You can read her words here, but nothing can replace hearing that stirring sonorous voice ring out again and again as she asked:  Who then will speak for the common good.

1976 seems like ages ago--far more than 3 decades.  It seems like centuries ago.  Barbara Jordan's call for the common good has been replaced with disciples of Ayn Rand who advocate a heartless sink-or-swim approach to human needs.  These voices dominate the political discourse today.

During the Republican primaries in this election cycle, we heard various candidates asked questions about whether we have any obligation to mutual support--say, as in the concept of health insurance.  In one instance, a candidate was asked a hypothetical about a young man who chose not to purchase health insurance and then becomes sick.  The question was--should we (i.e. society) just let him die.  What was really stunning were the loud yells from the audience crying out--YES, LET HIM DIE.

Now that the Supreme Court has determined that the Affordable Care Act is "constitutional" we see the sides lining up again.  The presumed Republican nominee is vowing that "what the Supreme Court didn't do, I will do on my first day as President."  How sad--that to appeal to a segment of the electorate we have a man who accomplished, while governor of a state, the very kind of affordable care approach now ensconced in what has been dubbed Obamacare.   That's not a flip flop on Romney's part--it's a loss of his soul.

How did we get here?  When these UNITED States were being formed, the best minds at the time began the document on which rest all our laws with--WE, THE PEOPLE.  

I hear various people yelling about "freedom"--as though the definition of that word is that no one can tell anyone what or how to do anything.  Freedom?  I'd say that's anarchy.

Here's a little rabbit side trail--I am struck with the irony that many people who identify themselves as conservatives disdain the theory of evolution.  And yet, these same folk seem perfectly content to practice social Darwinism--survival of the fittest is just fine.

OK--we're back.  I ascribe to a philosophy that we are all inter-connected.  We all have a responsibility to the other--we are our brother's keepers.  John Donne captured the sentiment of our inter-connectedness with his famous Meditation XVII--"any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

Oh, and if you really want to celebrate what the Fourth of July is all about, go read Barbara Jordan's speech.

Here endeth the sermon.
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