Monday, March 31, 2014

Idle Thoughts Excessive Grief -- Xenophon vs Shakespeare

So here's some thoughts off the top of my head. Call me and we can talk about them.  Although this is unedited and barely proofread, I'm going to post it under idle thoughts. As a set of idle thoughts, it might be worth reading. If anyone else ever reads this, remember, it's barely proofread and not edited at all because I just don't feel like bothering to do those things today.

Okay, some thoughts on Hamlet. Well, here's Hamlet. He has two conflicting cultural pressures on him, both of which are very powerful. This is all taking place in Denmark, one of the homes of the Vikings. Revenge plays a critical role in an honor culture. Remember that in an honor culture if you lose everything you have even if you die and your family dies with you that's a good thing as long as it defends your honor. On the other hand, losing your honor and maintaining those things makes you weak and earns the contempt of everyone around you.

But by the time we look at Hamlet, the Vikings are long gone, still, the need for honor has a strong cultural hold. However, there's a contrary pressure on him. He is also a Christian. He is not supposed to seek revenge. He should be turning the other cheek. Revenge or forgiveness is a massive moral problem for him.

Of course, he could say that he's only seeking justice not revenge. But that just raises a new question. When does revenge turn into justice, when does justice turn into revenge?

Not to mention, the only evidence he actually has that any of this happened consists of two things:  First, the statement of a ghost who claims to be his father. For all we know it's an evil spirit who knows the ultimate result of seeking revenge will be everyone's death, which of course is what happens at the end of the play. Is this a father asking his beloved son to give him justice in the afterlife or is this a demon sent from hell determined to destroy the entire ruling family of Denmark? We don't really know.  Maybe he's the ghost of a king of Norway who wants to bring Denmark down.

The second piece of evidence he has is his fevered interpretation of the way the king reacts to the play which is supposedly re-creating his father's murder. Does the king really react that clearly in a way that shows he's guilty? Or is he just reacting because he realizes that Hamlet, who has been behaving insanely, obviously thinks he murdered his brother, Hamlet's father?

This supposed evidence wouldn't get an arrest warrant, or probably even get as much as an investigation in a modern justice system. Nevertheless, it's an enough for Hamlet to run around slaughtering everybody in sight.

The king's effort to kill Hamlet can be seen as an act of self defense. He's going mad, running around making wild accusations. He's destroying his country. It was no secret to Shakespeare's audience that kings and queens often did harsh and even cruel things in order to protect their nations from instability. In that light there is no real evidence contained in the efforts to kill Hamlet that the king was in fact guilty. He may simply have been a harsh but rational king.

Hamlet is almost universally regarded as a great character demonstrating the struggles and sufferings to which men are subject in times of great stress. I have to say I find him wimpy and feckless. He either needs to look the ghost in the eye and say how the hell do I know you're my father's ghost? You haven't offered any proof.  You look like him but disguises are easy for spirits to assume. Then he could simply let the whole damn thing go. Yes, the doubt might torment him, but you live with it.

On the other hand, if he really does believe the ghost and that his trap in the form of a play really did prove the king was guilty, why does he keep equivocating? Get the damn thing over with. As a member of the royal family assassination was a way to the top. I'm quite certain he could have arranged a palace coup and gotten away with it.  At least he would have had a reasonable chance of success, and in the process he would have maintained a stable nation.

Instead he whines what if this, what if that, what if this, what if that.  I don't like him. I don't respect him. I don't see anything to admire in him.

As far as I'm concerned, when he starts going on and on about to be or not to be I'm sitting there watching the play and thinking, do it do it do it. It would put an end all the blather.

Of course, there is a way which I rather do enjoy the play. Some of the scenes are really good especially alas poor Yorick If you remember that Hamlet was already acting as if he was insane before the ghost appeared as if he was obsessed with grief for his father, the play can make a lot more sense. If you assume from the beginning that Hamlet is in fact insane, his weird inexplicable behavior becomes explicable and understandable.
In other words, as a play of a man tormented by two conflicting needs and by doubts I don't like the play. If you look at the play as showing the dangers of allowing yourself to grieve too much and leading yourself into insanity it's not so bad.

I had to look this quote up. I was sure it was by Zeno but it was actually by Xenophon, but I found it.

Excess of grief for the dead is madness; for it is an injury to the living, and the dead know it not.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Heil, Stalin! Aka, Vodka vs Bourbon

Watching C-SPAN's book TV, as I do every weekend, I found an interesting presentation by a man named Ronald Radosh. I had never heard of him before, but found his presentation amusing and interesting. He was talking about his new book, "Commie". His presentation, in a bright and witty fashion, demolished the bizarre, idiotic and even insane pretensions of the radical left. I knew as I listened to him that I would need to report on this in my blog because he so deeply reflects why I have nothing but contempt for extreme liberals and will not call myself even a moderate liberal.

I found little or nothing to which I could object in regard to any of the points he made, in fact I find them exactly in agreement with the points I make about the radical left. However, being a skeptic born, I found myself wondering if, since he was presenting himself as a reformed addict, he was actually reformed, or if he had instead, as I so greatly feared, merely substituted an equally poisonous, equally mindless, equally bigoted, right-wing extremism.

It didn't take long during the question-and-answer period to determine that he had done exactly that. Mister Radosh, who is so proud of having finally freed himself from the poisonous ideology of extreme left-wing liberalism in which he was raised, has merely substituted the almost identical poisonous ideology of extreme right-wing conservatism.

To put it succinctly, he is so incredibly proud that he is now a reformed vodka drinking alcoholic, but somehow misses the fact that all he has accomplished is to change into an active bourbon drinking alcoholic.

In other words, he has only exchanged one addiction for another. He is just as mindless, just as bigoted, just as determined to refuse to face any facts or realities which contradict him as he ever was. There really is no difference in his condition. He remains as sick as ever. He is the same person he always was. He is a sad, unfortunate, and helpless man. What he is helpless to do is to think clearly. What he is helpless to resist is his own mindless, extremist way of thinking. He is a slave to his own hysterical emotions. He poisons his own intellect.

To use a different analogy, let us go to extreme focus. There was a time in European and American history when people were presented with a forced choice/false dichotomy. Either you were a Nazi because you were anti-Stalinist or you were a Stalinist because you were anti-Nazi. Obviously, there was actually a huge middle ground between these two extremes, but many refused to see it. It has been noted many times by historians there is little difference between a Stalinist and a Nazi in terms of how they treat their citizens or run their countries. The only difference is in the ideologies which provide the justification for their brutal, extremist actions.

It is so sad to see what is clearly a brilliant mind poisoned by ideology. However, I also find this to be quite normal. We find ultra liberals who say they have freed themselves from ultra conservatism as often as vice versa. The real problem never lay in the ideology which this person once believed was so true. The flaw lay in the fact that they were always what Hoffer referred to as True Believers. That is, deeply flawed personality types that are incapable of facing reality and prefer to live in their warped dystopian fantasies.

Perhaps Hoffer should have referred to them as true followers. Although many of them have the intellectual capacity to lead, all too often they lack the emotional security and confidence which is required to understand and think independently. They prefer to surround themselves with the mass of their fellow apes in the troop. Let someone else be the leader. They are only content to follow, securely surrounded by their fellow travelers.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


A brief, but hopefully an evocative response to an LA Times editorial on homework:

-- principals should be required to do a thorough examination of the homework their teachers are assigning. --

One of the major purposes of homework, arguably the only important point of homework, is a give parents a view into what the child is learning at school and the opportunity to be a part of the process. Pointless drill should not be assigned, although it frequently is. Homework should be a time for children to explore their own ideas and apply them to the lessons they have learned in the context of their own lives and family.

IMIO (In My Infallible Opinion)