Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls...

Heraclitus

Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee. -- John Donne




Z had a thought provoking post on Muammar Khadaffi's bloody exit from this world. The comment thread was full of thoughtful comments as well. I'm glad I'm not the only one grasping for a way to sort this out. Few of us kick up our heels and celebrate at these events, and that's a good thing. He met a well-earned end, but violent actions devoid of law or justice are an offense to humanity.

On the face of it, the cries from the international justice types is pretty funny, demanding a full accounting of Khadaffi's death.  The man brutalized a population for 40 years, and they don't expect a little retribution, some catharsis? 

The jostled videos of the dictator being beaten, dragged by his hair and ultimately laid out dead was a glimpse into the dark reality of human nature.  The monkeys escaped and turned on the zookeepers, cracking their heads open with rocks and tearing them to pieces.

Wars, executions...It is all a debasement of humanity, and as such, a debasement of each one of us.  This is why justice properly ordered and properly carried out is so important, and why wars without end, even when conducted via pilotless aircraft from 50,000 feet, will eventually corrupt a people and blacken their souls.

We all know injustice when we see it, and it most often it flows from an abuse of power. 

Shakespearean Power Failure

In Shakespeare's play, Measure for Measure, Claudio is condemned to die for knocking up his betrothed before the nuptials.  In act II, Isabella, Claudio's holy and virginal sister, pleads for mercy to Angelo the magistrate. 

Angelo rightly reminds her that True Justice lies not in some sappy sentimentality or misguided empathy.  True Justice, God's Justice, Nature's Justice, is blind to emotional appeals and always balances the scales.

Counterpoised against a righteous exercise of justice is abuse of power.  Isabella laments how men harshly wield the power lent to them by God:
O, it is excellent to have a giant's strength;
but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.
Abuse of power is timeless...
Could great men thunder
As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be quiet,
For every pelting, petty officer
Would use his heaven for thunder.
Nothing but thunder!
She reminds us that God loans power and authority to man so that we many model our societies upon His justice.  But "proud man..."
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he 's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep...
Abuse of power is human nature.  We forget we are "dust and to dust we will return."  Flush with pride and earthly arrogance, we forget we are fit for infinity, and we end up as angry apes who make the angels weep.

WH - Power is the Most Abused Drug

32 comments:

Teresa said...

I agree for the most part about power corrupting people (or there is very much that possibility) but I also believe that sometimes war is needed to correct injustice also. Is it possible that those individuals who already have a tendency toward the dark and evil prior to war are the ones who will engage in such violent, barbaric acts during war?

Z said...

thanks for the mention, SF....I feel strongly that anybody's last moments are private, no matter what they've done. That is an interesting thread and most disagree with me; but I feel it in my guts; even when a monstrous murdering madman is being killed, his panic and pain needs not be broadcast for the world to see.
Killing him is one thing; God's justice on earth might have been done....but broadcasting what they did, I believe, would make angels weep.......

Silverfiddle said...

This is not an anti-war post. We were right in going into Afghanistan; we just stayed too long. Iraq, less so. WW II definitely justified.

However legitimate the cause may be, people increasingly perceive our GWOT to be a string of injustices and a gross abuse of our overwhelming power.

I don't think we're evil, but we have lost our legitimacy, rightly or wrongly.

Do we pause and reflect, or do we take the path of Caligula?

Yes, war is sometime needed, but there is always, always, a price to pay, even in victory.

Those who come back will never be the same. A just war can bind a nation, but actions that are increasingly seen as unjust can unravel and degrade a nation and its people.

Anonymous said...

Wow, SilverFiddle, you never cease to bring challenges into the arena that make it necessary to do some thinking and research, do you? It's all-but impossible to give a knee-jerk reaction to your posts.

Heraclitus!

John Donne!

Shakespeare's Measure for Measure!

Meaty stuff!

I wondered why you placed the handsome portrait of Heraclitus, who was just a name to me till today, in juxtaposition to the words of John Donne -- words I often refer to, myself?

I'll take the liberty of cribbing a truncated, lightly edited version of information found at Wiki with added emphasis to help give us better understanding:


Heraclitus of Ephesus ... (535 – c. 475 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. ... he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom.

From the lonely life he led, and still more from the riddling nature of his philosophy and his contempt for humankind in general, he was called "The Obscure" and the "Weeping Philosopher".

Heraclitus is famous for his insistence on ever-present change in the universe, as stated in his famous saying, "No man ever steps in the same river twice".

He believed in the unity of opposites, stating that "the path up and down are one and the same," all existing things being characterized by pairs of contrary properties.

His cryptic utterance that "all things come to be in accordance with this Logos" (literally, 'word', 'reason', or 'account') stands for [the need for] reason, order, or law in an ever-shifting world.

... Diogenes relates that as a boy Heraclitus had said he "knew nothing" but later claimed to "know everything." His statement that he "heard no one" but "questioned himself," can be placed alongside his statement that "the things that can be seen, heard and learned are what I prize the most." ...

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

He believed that Hesiod and Pythagoras, though learned, lacked understanding, and that Homer ... deserved to be beaten. ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraclitus

David Horowitz was on C-Span yesterday talking about his latest book the them of which is Redemption. DH is a poor speaker, but his touching on the well-worn cliché that we never seem to get wise to ourselves -- as a species -- despite the acutely accurate perceptions down through the ages of wise men who knew the score, thousands of years of brilliant achievement by rare individuals and increasingly complex and sophisticated developments in Science. Medicine and Technology -- as though that were some profound new discovery made me chuckle.

I'll say it again, since no one ever seems to remember:

"Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose."

"The more things change, the more they remain the same."

I guess that's what Heraclitus must have meant when he said "the path up and down is the same." Do yo agree?

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

I am struck once again by the idea that learning and understanding are two different things, and that of the two understanding is by far the more valuable.

It occurred to me a long time ago that all knowledge started with intuition and imagination -- Divine inspiration, if you prefer.

Einstein said that imagination was more important than knowledge.

Who are we that we should dare to disagree with him?

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Hercaclitus was really the first to observe that in the Universe "Change is the only constant?"

Conservatives are said to resist change, even to go so far as to hate it.

Does that mean we are at odds with Reality, and therefore, wrong?

Not necessarily. Basically, there are three kinds of change

-- 1) that which occurs naturally, and is, therefore inevitable

-- 2) that which is comes about because of great discoveries of truths and scientific knowledge formerly hidden

-- 3) that which is forced on us either by highly vocal, militant malcontents or by overly-ambitious individuals with a God-complex who seek to exploit the grievances of malcontents in order to rule over us -- ostensibly "for our own good."

While all forms of change are usually disturbing, and require us to adjust our lives in order to accommodate them, it is probably the last that those of a conservative disposition resent, resist and fear the most.

Personally, I resent change only for for the sake of change as much as I dislike anything. For instance the transition from analog to digital technology has made my life much more difficult. I neither needed nor wanted flat-screen TV's, whose reception I find more tenuous and less satisfactory than the old system. Trying to get help from the able company when things go awry is virtually impossible now. You just take what they dish out -- or go without. Don't like it? Tough!

The ol Bell Telephone System gave us absolutely dependable service, and the reception one got on those old. Heavy, solidly constructed black telephones was far superior to the static-filled, echoey, off again on again annoyance we have to deal with today. I do like having free long-distance service, of course, but what good is it, if conversations are constantly broken up with static, echoes, odd bit of music, fragments other people's conversations and what have you?

Also, I don't like to see people yapping away out in public completely consumed by their cell phones, smart phones, iPhones, Blackberries and whatever, while they seem oblivious to the flesh and blood of real life that surrounds them.

I hate "texting" on principle. It has already caused an acceleration in the the already-rapid degradation and disintegration of our language, and God knows how many lives have been lost by mindless addicts who text while operating dangerous machinery.

Am I a Luddite? No, but I so wish we could exercise a little prudence, use a measure of restraint and think through the potential ramifications before we implement any of these hot new discoveries. "Future Shock" is a very real, frankly horrifying phenomenon. The destructive effect unbridled advances in technology have had on society is incalculable.

Resisting change is probably impossible, yet it may be the only way we could hope to stay in touch with our sanity.

~ FreeThinke

Silverfiddle said...

I think he meant it more in the Aristotelian definitional sense. You can't define "up" without "down," and vice versa.

Heraclitus is an interesting figure.

Here's one from Western Hero, September 6th, 2009:

The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts.
Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day.
The content of your character is your choice.
Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become.
Your integrity is your destiny ... it is the light that guides your way.
-- Heraclitus (?535 BC-475 BC) Greek Philosopher

Ducky's here said...

We are modeling our society on Old Testament justice? You may be right but I certainly hope not.

The code of Middle East nomads may be a little dated.

Everything has been figured out, except how to live.
Jean-Paul Sartre

Ducky's here said...

The Catholic church hasn't been doing much lately to lay claim as a source of morality but I have come to a certain peace with much of it's pragmatism.

Was the publication of Qadaffi's death throes necessary to help establish social order in Libya?
If you answer yes then it was no sin. We often have to chose the lesser of two evils. That's life and anyone who is never faced with the task is so pathetically sheltered as to hardly be alive at all.

Jack Camwell said...

Ducky, justice is a finicky thing. Justice isn't just about natural order, but it's about the society feeling as though justice has been served.

This is why the death penalty is such a touchy issue. It's never a good thing when a human being meets a violent death, but if the people don't feel that justice has been served then the wound goes on festering.

It's an endless cycle to be sure, but it's one that human beings need in order to cope.

Silver,
Very well written and moving post. I think I understand completely where you're coming from on this one.

Really, everyone should be anti-war in the sense that we all understand that war is never a good thing, and should always be the very last resort. It would be great if it could not be a resort at all, but such is not the way of things.

War may be legitimate and justified in some cases, but that doesn't wash away the stain of blood and the stink of rotting flesh from the body of humanity.

You don't have to be a pacifist, but don't kid yourselves about war either. I think that's perhaps where you were going with that, Silver?

Silverfiddle said...

Jack: Exactly.

I heard someone describe justified killing, like war or the death penalty as having to put down your dog that has rabies.

It must be done, but it's still a sad moment.

Teresa said...

@Silverfiddle I didn't mean to imply that your post is ant-war because I don't think that it is. One should never want to go to war but sometimes war just has to be to bring justice to those who are experiencing injustice. I am in full agreement with Jack Camwell. Death and war is always sad. This kind of reminds me of having to punish your kids. No person wants to but you have to in order to teach your kids a lesson.

Silverfiddle said...

@Teresa: "...but sometimes war just has to be to bring justice to those who are experiencing injustice."

Indeed. We're in agreement!

Z said...

I wonder that it's tough for some to distinguish whether killing him was the right thing to do and whether showing the final petrified, agonizing death of anyone, no matter what he's done, is the right thing to do.

Mark Adams said...

The manner of justice by a over jubilant mob to be the judge, jury and executioner has turned a good victory in to a sad state of affairs.
Even Hussein got a trial for his brutality of his people.

Word out today is Libya will be ruled by Sharia Law.
I expect this and the US and NATO fell in to the trap.

Jersey McJones said...

FT, change is forced on us all the time. Whether we enjoy that force is really the only question for each individual. And the power to force does not come solely from governmental power, in fact, governmental power usually resists change.

Yes, there are different types of change, but just as significantly there are many types of power.

But we're talking about bad change, right? Change we feel is wrong and unjust.

One thing you libertarians seem to just ignore is the fact of life that money power is just as if not more corrupting than governmental power, or religious power.

There are three main ways to achieve power over masses of your fellow human beings:

Have a lot of money.

Hold governmental office.

Be a crazy preacher.

You can mix and match these as you will, but sure enough the end result is power.

Each type of power is not in and of itself bad. Money is not bad - it's the love of money that's bad.

Love of power is bad too.

Unfortunately, people these days are far too enamored with rich, crazy preachers. And they have a lot of power.

I hope Obama somehow wins next year. I don't trust the right to govern competently right now. They've become too populist, to low brow. I'm watching a one-hour interview with Herman Cain right now on Piers Morgans right now, and Cain sounds like the Voice of Reason compared to the right-wing crazy goofballs holding power in office these days!

JMJ

Anonymous said...

”True Justice lies not in some sappy sentimentality or misguided empathy.  True Justice, God's Justice, Nature's Justice, is blind to emotional appeals and always balances the scales.”

Perhaps, but if that is the case I think it would probably be better to let God mete out Justice in His own good time -- as surely He will when He deems it appropriate.

Once the matter of taking someone's life becomes direct and personal -- when you have to look the "target" straight in the eye -- when you see the terror in his eyes -- when you fully realize that despite his evil deeds, he is a man just like you -- it becomes an act of barbarism to pull the trigger.

I know I couldn't do it if push came to shove, and I'm not the least bit ashamed to admit it.

Over at GeeeeeZ Pris said something profound:

”believe in the death penalty, but I don't believe in public executions. To my mind it's a step back, regressive, and a step closer to bloodlust, which is further removed from a civilized society.”

Yes. We are not so far removed from the Coliseum as we'd like to believe. In 19th century England children were routinely hanged in public for such heinous offenses as stealing a loaf of bread. They weren't given the mercy of a quick death by opening a trap door beneath their feet either - it provided great amusement for the crowds who gathered to jeer and chortle as they swung kicking the air eyes bulging out of their heads, faces turning blue as they slowly strangled to death.

Giving way to Schadenfreude, sadistic fantasies and bloodlust are signs of a precipitous slide back into barbarism. "Reality TV" is a mild-but-definite form this sick phenomenon.

To take pleasure in the discomfort and suffering of others speaks very poorly for one's own character. To persuade oneself that this perverse pleasure is in any way righteous is frankly monstrous. When the practice becomes institutionalized -- an ever-present threat lurking just beneath the thin veneer of Civilization -- it becomes a vice. A society that celebrates the humiliation, degradation and sadistic punishment of fellow human beings is a society that is, itself, worthy of extermination.

”Vice is a creature of such fearful mien
As to be hated needs to be seen,
Yet seen to oft -- familiar with her face --
First we endure, then pity -- then embrace.”


~ Alexander Pope


If we allow ourselves to become inured to horror and comfortable with cruelty, we are no better than the villains we seek to destroy. TV's ceaseless exploitation of all that is evil, perverted, demented and worthless -- and the sick videos that pollute YouTube and the like are signs that point to the imminent demise of our once-great society.

If God saw fit to destroy Sodom and Gommorrah, imagine the charming fate He likely has in store for us!

~ FreeThinke

Most Rev. Gregori said...

Sadly, Silver,the present administration is shredding our Constitution and Rule of Law. Yes, G.W. Bush started the ball rolling in that department, but Obama took off running with it.

When we as a nation allow our government to murder American citizens, on just an accusation, without a trial, are we then any better then the rebels in Libya? Yes, Awlaki was a real piece of work, and most likely guilty as hell, but as an American citizen, he did have the Constitutional right to a trial, with a jury of his peers having the say of guilty.

When we have a president, congress, and Supreme Court, that allows an American citizen to be summarily executed with out a trial, but will grant non-citizens (illegal immigrants) more constitutional rights then Awalki, that should cause fear in every American because there is now nothing to stop our government from killing Americans without trial,right here in our own country. All they have to do is declare them to be a TERRORIST, an enemy of the State.

ecc102 said...

"...angry apes who make the angels weep."

To use aline from Terminator 2:

"It's in your (our) nature do destroy yourselves (ourselves)."

Hence, Jesus is relevant, and Salvation is The New Covenant, and God is not mocked.

Jersey McJones said...

Reverend,

If a conservative president did the same thing Obama did regarding Awlaki, would you have the same opinion?

Over the years, I've seen icons of the right do some pretty questionable things, but yet comfort themselves in the rationalizations of right-wing ideologues.

Democrats and liberals are certainly not comfortable with the very aspects of the Obama administration you're complaining about here. You guys created this problem. Figure it out.

JMJ

JMJ

jez said...

This post made me smile, Silver. Thanks.

MK said...

If it was up to the human rights types gaddaffi would not even be executed after a lengthy trial.

Far as i'm concerned ol' gaddafi got what he deserved, many who suffered long and hard because of him would say he got off easy.

His kind often showed no mercy and gave no quarter to those they deemed as damned and didn't lose a second's sleep over it. He is lucky they hauled him out of a sewer and beat him to death.

Silverfiddle said...

@ FT: Once the matter of taking someone's life becomes direct and personal -- when you have to look the "target" straight in the eye -- when you see the terror in his eyes -- when you fully realize that despite his evil deeds, he is a man just like you -- it becomes an act of barbarism to pull the trigger.

Yes. Every violent death is like Kadaffi's on youtube. We ask our forces to do it everyday, but even when it is against bad people, you're still asking human being to kill other human beings. Even when the war is just, we still pay a price, borne by those who've done our grim work.

Those who've never been there are shocked when their bliss is shattered by a video of a violent death. Man is the most dangerous animal.

Silverfiddle said...

Jez: Is that a smug smile at how crazy we are?

LSP said...

Great post - always good to see a little Donne up there.

"Wars without end" - surely one of the characteristics of a just war is that it must have an end.

We seem to have lost sight of that, then again, maybe our idea of justice has become a little tenuous...

jez said...

Certainly not. I also silently enjoyed your treatment of the Awlaki assassination.

Anonymous said...

I've just heard that Khadaffi's last words were:

"Soon I will be Donne a wid de troubles ob de world. I'm goin' to lib wiff Allah."

"OUCH!

I'll bet even Hell doesn't want to welcome him.

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

And yes, SF, Walt Kelly really got it right.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Good old Pogo!

~ FT

Silverfiddle said...

Jez: Thank you. After Christopher Hitchens and Bono, you are my favorite liberal. All Brits... Hmmm...

I don't understand why you enjoyed my stance on the Awlaki killing, since I took the legalistic position vice the moralistic one...

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call Christopher Hitchens a liberal anymore, SilverFiddle. He certainly started out that way, and has never completely recanted his youthful ideological misperceptions and indiscretions, but in recent years he has publicly admitted on many occasions the failure and fundamental lack of logic in Socialist doctrine, and has been every bit as critical of liberals as he has been of their opposites.

He's an enigma and a remarkably fine example of that moribund rarity -- the true individual.

In short Hitchens is a maverick. He has at least one foot firmly placed in both camps, and prides himself on being inscrutable and sometimes maddeningly unpredictable.

I love him for his magnificent use of the language and for his passion when he gets pissed off -- a state of mind for which he is justifiably famous.

I am so very sorry he is, apparently, dying of cancer.

He wants us to believe he is an enemy of religion, but I doubt if God regards Christopher as one of His foes. Hitchens has displayed too much integrity for that.

I hope when he leaves us that flights of the angels he doesn't want to believe in will sing him to his eternal rest.

~ FreeThinke

jez said...

Bloody hell, that's pretty high praise Silver. Thanks!

(Bono isn't British).

Initially I enjoyed the Awlaki piece for the fact that it wasn't as hard-line non-interventionist as what some libertarians would promulgate, but eventually I liked it for that legalism. There is no easy moralistic answer to this type of question, so legalism is our only recourse.

Silverfiddle said...

There is no easy moralistic answer to this type of question

So true. And thanks for the correction on Irishman Bono. Sloppiness on my part. I've been a U2 fan since around 1984...

FT: Hitch is still a liberal, more of the classic variety than modern-day.

His hardline stance against Islam does not spring from being a neo-con, but from his righteous anger against anything that would threaten the liberal traditions of western civilization.