Thursday, December 4, 2014


Human nature is timeless, and its study brings wisdom 

The Greeks knew it but left the knowledge pasted inside the pages of philosophy.  The founding fathers knew it and crafted a system of government based upon a keen insight into man's fallen nature.

The works of William Shakespeare are a goldmine of human nature on display:  Love and hate, lust, greed, anger, abuse of power...  it's all there.

Justice and Mercy 

In The Bard'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.
Isabella:  Yet show some pity.

Angelo:  I show it most of all when I show justice; 
For then I pity those I do not know,
Which a dismiss'd offense would after gall;
And do him right that, answering one foul wrong,
Lives not to act another. 
Be satisfied; Your brother dies to-morrow; be content.
That last line sounds callous, but the deeper meaning is that each of us should be satisfied when justice is done, even when it is done against us, for that is the cosmic order. Adam Smith, who no doubt was familiar with Shakespeare, summed it up succintly:   

"Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent."

 Abuse of Power

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 may 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
who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.
So it's not just an abuse of power and authority man engages in, but a usurpation of God's gifts that are loaned to us.  We forget we are "dust and to dust we will return."  Flush with pride and earthly arrogance, we forget we are fit for eternity, and we end up as angry apes who make the angels weep.  Were the angels mere earthly creatures like us, they would spare the pity and simply laugh derisively at us. 

* - Jove:  King of the Gods in Roman mythology, god of sky and thunder


Anonymous said...

I have always despised those who engage in the willful abuse power.

My military experience has only increased that those feelings.

Always On Watch said...

And yet, so often individuals and societies freely cede their power to one who will abuse power. Indeed, one could say that history tells that story as the main theme of human existence.

Silverfiddle said...

Trestin: The military is a great display of human nature. It's funny, but troops will always prefer a harsh but just leader over a weak and capricious one. Meanwhile, everyone hates an abuser.

AOW: Indeed. You've place your finger on a recurring theme. Echoes of Ben Franklin, "He who would surrender a little freedom for a little security deserves neither."

Most Rev. Gregori said...

The one thing that bothers me no end, is this liberal idea of showing mercy to the most vile among us. But I often wonder is it really mercy they are showing or is it the liberal's way of showing the rest of us that they are better then us because they have compassion?

Look at what their mercy and compassion has done to our society. Crime has run rampant. If people had just followed what God laid out in Deuteronomy, we would have a much better world. It is stated that rapists, kidnappers and murders should be put to death and if we followed those precepts, we would less crime in our communities.

Abuse of power is anytime that power is misused, used inadequately or for the wrong purposes.

Leticia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leticia said...

O, it is excellent to have a giant's strength;
but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.

That pretty much sums it up! Especially, true regarding this current administration.

Anonymous said...

The nature of man is such that it makes one wonder if even a limited democracy, as designed by our founders, can work? But what better option do we have.? How does one find the benevolent dictator?

Silverfiddle said...

Exactly, Conservative. Progressives and believers in big government completely ignore human nature, as they vest all hope into human beings who claim they can solve all our problems.

Anonymous said...

>a usurpation of God's gifts that are loaned to us.

I think that it's even an attempt to usurp God's throne (whether consciously or unconsciously). I think the prototypical story is the account of the Tower of Babel. Genesis indicates that the people were trying to build it to reach heaven, which hints at their real intent, but extra-biblical sources that relate the ziggurat story make it clear that it was a rebellion against God and an attempt to place themselves on His throne, so to speak. Some versions even indicate that the object was to fire arrows from the top to war against God.

In some reading today about the long-suffering nature of Jesus, I came across these quotes.

"Tyranny is a habit, it has a capacity for development, it develops finally into a disease...The human being and the citizen die within the tyrant forever; return to humanity, to repentance, to regeneration becomes almost impossible." (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in Notes from the House of the Dead)

"Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus, as 'the most flagrant of all the passions.' Because it can only be satisfied by power over others, government is its favorite field of exercise." (Barbara Tuchman, in The March of Folly)

By contrast, here's a quote about George Washington.

"In all history few men who possessed unassailable power have used that power so gently and self-effacingly for what their best instincts told them was the welfare of their neighbors and all mankind." (James Flexner, in Washington: The Indispensable Man)

I'm also reminded of something written by Joseph Smith.

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." (Doctrine and Covenants Section 121:39)

When asked once by a politician how he led so effectively, Joseph Smith replied "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."

I believe that humility--an accurate understanding of my place relative to God--is the preventive medicine to the lust for power.

WomanHonorThyself said...

and it is so seductive that most who enter politics get caught up in its web...nice read. hope ya had a nice weekend~!..almost

Silverfiddle said...

Bastiatarian: No accountability, unbridled power, the ability to reach into the taxpayer's pocket at any time... This has made our government arrogant, to the point its minions march in the streets calling the taxpayer greedy and demanding more.

Loved the quotes.