Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ted Kennedy - What a Piece of Work is Man

I was watching a TIVO'd C-SPAN Booknotes episode ("Economics does not lie", on Gagdad Bob's buy list, looks very interesting and is soon to be in my library), and as it ended the news was on, and it was smack dab in the midst of the Memorial service for Teddy Kennedy, mid way into son Joseph's speech.

I have no remaining fondness for Ted Kennedy, my early hero worship of JFK & RFK long since eroded by understanding the meaning of their actions, they retain no aura to shelter him with in my thoughts, and he has generated a deep, deep guilt of wrong doings, political and personal, all his own. The words "Good riddance" comes tantalizingly to mind.


It brought home to me again, the importance of remembering that the principles you grasp, are not necessarily all of the principles involved; the facts you plainly perceive, are not necessarily all of the facts involved; nor is your perception - right though it maybe in its context - the only perception available and justified (though his son Patrick's sailing anecdote about his Dad's pursuit of the details of rules as a way around a rule, sums up my perspective of him, his party, and much more).

I doubt I have any need to detail the many, many points of disagreement, if not downright revulsion, I have for the figure I know of as Ted Kennedy, but it seems likely and proper to remind myself, and us all, that though he can properly be roundly condemned for his actions, he was a person, something which is captured neither well nor fully, in a profiles portrait, or in any series of pictures.

Watching the service, it is obivous that his children and family obviously saw something much more than we did.

(Ugh... Obama is on now... trying to get through without the TOTUS... reminding me of both what I dislike about him... and, yes, the point of this post at the same time.)

Because someone is obviously wrong, does not mean that they willfully turn away from the truth. Because someone does evil, does not mean that they recognize the evil they are doing. Because someone hurts and wrongs people horribly, does not mean that they did not also treat others with deep love and affection.

People are amazingly Deep creatures, capable of an infinite number of facets... and our philosophies will never thoroughly plumb those depths. A single misperception, unwitting or self deceptive, can mis-draw the world and what is Right and True, into an elaborate and seeming real cognitive illusion, every bit as apparently true, though actually false, as any mere optical illusion you could produce.

We are well justified condemning a person and calling them on accounts for deeds they've done, delivering whatever punishments are justified by their actions. We have no need to leaven our condemnation of him for those actions we are so well aware of.


But we are foolish, we deceive ourselves, when we think that we know all that there is, or needs to be known, about someone we know only from a distance - or even close at hand.

Truly, "What a piece of work is a man".


I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.


My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.


Why did you laugh then, when I said 'man delights not me'?


To think, my lord, if you delight not in man, what
lenten entertainment the players shall receive from
you: we coted them on the way; and hither are they
coming, to offer you service.


He that plays the king shall be welcome; his majesty
shall have tribute of me; the adventurous knight
shall use his foil and target; the lover shall not
sigh gratis; the humourous man shall end his part
in peace; the clown shall make those laugh whose
lungs are tickled o' the sere; and the lady shall
say her mind freely, or the blank verse shall halt
for't. What players are they?


Even those you were wont to take delight in, the
tragedians of the city.


How chances it they travel? their residence, both
in reputation and profit, was better both ways.


I think their inhibition comes by the means of the
late innovation.


Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was
in the city? are they so followed?


No, indeed, are they not.


How comes it? do they grow rusty?


Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but
there is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases,
that cry out on the top of question, and are most
tyrannically clapped for't: these are now the
fashion, and so berattle the common stages--so they
call them--that many wearing rapiers are afraid of
goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.


What, are they children? who maintains 'em? how are
they escoted? Will they pursue the quality no
longer than they can sing? will they not say
afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common
players--as it is most like, if their means are no
better--their writers do them wrong, to make them
exclaim against their own succession?


'Faith, there has been much to do on both sides; and
the nation holds it no sin to tarre them to
controversy: there was, for a while, no money bid
for argument, unless the poet and the player went to
cuffs in the question.


Is't possible?


O, there has been much throwing about of brains.


Do the boys carry it away?


Ay, that they do, my lord; Hercules and his load too.


It is not very strange; for mine uncle is king of
Denmark, and those that would make mows at him while
my father lived, give twenty, forty, fifty, an
hundred ducats a-piece for his picture in little.
'Sblood, there is something in this more than
natural, if philosophy could find it out.


julie said...

On the day the news broke, I was sitting with DH and asked if he had heard, and I callously followed the observation with "Good riddance."

And was immediately chastised. DH has no love for Kennedy, but he was right. There but for the grace, etc. As loathsome as I find the man, nobody knows the state of his soul but him and the Absolute, and if I understand correctly there's a clause that says no matter how late in the day you arrive, you can still get paid. Better to hope that a man such as he may have had such a grace, for then there is hope for all of us. I think the Anchoress put it quite well, earlier this week:

"Thankfully, God knows more, and sees more, than the rest of us, because eventually we’ll all need to count on his mercy, as we face his justice. For all that we know of Kennedy, there is much we do not know."

Van Harvey said...

Well said Julie.

I was in mid-spite... when a catch in the throat of his son choking up while speaking, and his brothers nod of recognition, snapped me out of it.

Oh yeah... person, father, friend... slipped my mind.' Do I really dare assume that what I know of his actions, tells me all there is to know of the life and lives they are but fragments of? That doesn't excuse those actions I do know of, and they tell me I would not want to associate with him, but those actions I know of tell me very little else about the rest of his life, certainly not as much as his son's choking up, or the grieving faces of his family and friends did.

It doesn't excuse him, but it doesn't excuse me either... and hubris hunts us down through just such tracks as those we carelessly leave behind us.

"Judge not lest you be judged", doesn't mean that you shouldn't judge, but you'd better keep in mind that you will be judged as well. In society, of course we can and must judge a person by their actions, but it is perilous to assume that those actions are all there is to be known....

Van Harvey said...

Still though, with all of that being said, the public side of judgment which Mark Steyn presents, I'm in whole hearted agreement with.

Van Harvey said...

From the end of Steyn's piece linked above,

"The senator's actions in the hours and days after emerging from that pond tell us something ugly about Kennedy the man. That he got away with it tells us something ugly about American public life."

drills in a point Gagdad made today,
"Again, justice is universal, compassion is particular. A state can be just, but it cannot be compassionate in principle. This does not mean, of course, that it cannot engage in particular acts of compassion, only that this cannot be the guiding principle, for it inevitably ends in unfairness and lack of compassion. Institute racial quotas for blacks, and soon enough female losers want in on the deal. Then hispanic losers. Then homosexual losers. Then transgendered losers. Pretty soon you have a tyranny of losers whose only real power is the power of the state to discriminate against the worthy. "

While it is true that we must be diligent in making sure that we don't neglect compassion, if for no other reason than for the toll such neglect takes upon ourselves, we must be equally diligent in ensuring that we don't confuse justice with compassion, or neglect justice for compassions sake, for ruin and destruction, wide reaching and farther in scope than we can ever imagine, will surely follow.

Kipling's "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" come to mind,

"...And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

It's a delicate balance this business, this being Human is.

julie said...

Yes, it certainly is.

QP said...

Compensatory graces. I, too, have used Kennedy's death and the various public examinations for my own inner attunement.

Have you seen the text of a letter Kennedy sent to the soviets in an attempt to help them and himself defeat Reagan?

Mark 8:33. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.

Screwtape rejoices in the life and achievements of his esteemed minion, Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Van Harvey said...

QP, yes I'd seen that letter some while ago, I don't remember when and where....

Please don't mistake me, I would have, at any point, been thrilled to hear that a manslaughter case had been brought against him for Chappaquiddick. He (and Joe Biden) are more responsible for the climate in Washington (Bork hearings) than anyone else. His legislative 'legacy' is one of gradual enslavement of the people.

As a man, I have, had, no use for him whatsoever, and condemn him roundly, and would have had no problem with any number of charges, even bordering on treason, being brought against him.

For his actions, he deserved the legal 'rack'.

It's just that those actions I know him by, did not make up the totality of the person we know as Ted Kennedy.

I, We, are fully justified in condemning and reviling him, and we've to requirement to think of him as anything better than that - but I think we err, to our jeopardy, when we forget that what we know, is not all there is to be known.

Van Harvey said...

oops " we've to requirement " should be " we've NO requirement "

Ex-Dissident said...

Van, I always enjoy your posts and this attempt to show restraint on your part is very noble. Very charitable. I decided to get some things off my chest is a less noble manner, because I see how often our compassionate nature is being used against us. When Ted and his disciples speak of fairness, it is all an act. A lie, and I have grown tired of it.

Van Harvey said...

Thanks for your comment, and I'm glad you enjoy the posts, and appreciate it. This part of your comment, however,

"... this attempt to show restraint on your part is very noble. Very charitable. "

... is something I find very interesting. And I don't want to launch at you, but at it, in part because I find myself assuming the same of others as well - but really - being charitable or 'fair' to TK, or any other person like that, is the farthest thing from my mind.

Seriously .

At the risk of repeating myself, right up to his dying day, I would have been unequivocably satisfied to have seen charges brought against him for any of the many ill deeds of his 'life's work'. I feel no, none, zero, sympathy for him, or feel that we need to show 'compassion' or fairness to him, or his memory.

I think the PC atmosphere of the last many decades are probably most at work here, and I reject it, and every altruistic manifestation of it. Checking into the modern meaning of altruism, btw, might be a good exercise, it has nothing to do with generosity, it was a creation of Auguste Comte who was seeking to devise a new secular, govt based, replacement for religion, and he meant it as being literally self-less - abandoning any value for yourself, and giving that self over to serving others. You'll find a great many philosophical and psychological pathologies growing out of it.

I, however, really did mean, that for us to forget that there is more to a person, even the most foulest, is to jeopardize our own conceptions of people and even of ourselves. We owe nothing, no consideration to TK, we owe it to ourselves. Anything that tends to conceal knowledge, information, tends to serve to impede us from grasping or considering the fullest perspective - limits us, and potentially leads us to false conclusions and suppositions, a self blindness, which can lead us into error and disasters we couldn't possibly foresee.

Spare no tears for Ted Kennedy. Just don't forget that there IS more to being human, than we often limit ourselves from seeing. Seeing his son choking up in his eulogy, reminded me of that, and it struck home that when we rule out the full range of human possibilities, it can only serve to limit our own thinking and considerations.

I'll extend this even to something like Hitler, to look at the flipside of the coin. We dismiss him as a monster, at our peril. He was a human being, and plenty of people along the way gave him the benefit of the doubt, because they thought him a charming, exciting, 'swell' guy, and so assumed him to be safe, even a wise bet to put into power.

We ignore the full range of human possibilities at our peril.

Van Harvey said...

Double oops, "enjoy the posts, and appreciate it" should be "enjoy the posts, I appreciate it"

Can't type today.

Van Harvey said...

And that leaves it a bit too sterile... what brought the post about, was that in writing him off as nothing more than the string of foul activities I associated with him, was to blind myself to the fact that there were plenty of people who didn't see that side of him, or who discounted that side of him, and who saw only the fully human traits, strengths and foibles which any person might have.

He of course still had that fully human range available to those who knew him, and they could, would, and did ignore or forgive his other actions on that basis. Even though we know he deserved condemnation, he was still human, and human to them.

You may have noticed that this is darned hard to express... something I'd probably better line up on my 'to post about' list.

But for the moment, I just mean that we cannot know all, or adequately judge, account for, all a human is capable of - if God is out there, that's his job. We, on this level, had better not forget, that just because someone is worthy of condemnation, doesn't mean that they aren't fully operational as human beings, and capable (maybe even deserving of) generating the full range of emotions and affections from others towards them. And we ignore that, forget that, at our peril.

Van Harvey said...

"... aren't fully operational as human beings..."

Yeah, that took the sterile taint off.


Sorry, trying to help with homework and cook and blog at the same time.

Ex-Dissident said...

Van, I appreciate your reply and there is always something worth learning from your posts and replies. The name blogdidact is well earned. And honestly, I was not sarcastic when I mentioned your approach of "taking the high road." I think it speaks well of you. I just got fed up with the radio talk hosts speaking well of Kennedy, as if all is forgiven and forgotten. So I tried to restrain myself initially but that didn't last long. It is intriguing why we spend such effort to avoid speaking ill of the dead. I think it goes beyound our religion.

JD said...

I am glad to be rid of him from office, I am sorry it was this way and I am sure his family misses him as I miss my dad.

He was also very good at his job, it is unfortunate he worked for the other side. . .

Van Harvey said...

Ex-Dissident said " I just got fed up with the radio talk hosts speaking well of Kennedy, as if all is forgiven and forgotten. So I tried to restrain myself initially but that didn't last long"

I fully sympathize and agree, and took no offence at all. Just following the same trail you mention here,
“ It is intriguing why we spend such effort to avoid speaking ill of the dead. I think it goes beyound our religion.”

Something’s rotten in Denmark, and I Kant resist trying flush it out whenever I catch a whiff of it.

Van Harvey said...


Yep, that about sums it up.