Saturday, 1 June 2013

A thousand times more fair?

Kenji Yoshino, says the book jacket, is a "Celebrated legal scholar..." but I would also add that he's a top-notch Shakespearean scholar. He wrote a book called, A Thousand Times More Fair: what Shakespeare's plays teach us about justice.

In chapter 7, which he titles, The Intellectual: Hamlet, he writes:

Intellectuals may rejoice that the most canonical text of Western imaginative literature figures one of our tribe as its protagonist. Prince Hamlet is undeniably an intellectual, a student at the University of Wittenberg whose "inky cloak" (1.2.77) swaddles him not just in melancholy but in "[w]ords, words, words" (2.3.189). At the same time, we may be justifiably concerned that many believe Hamlet's intellectualism hobbles him from doing justice.

The central question of Hamlet is why the prince takes so long to avenge his father's murder. (p. 185)

I will concede that being an "intellectual" can be an apparent shackle and that we may justifiably be accused of being "not action-oriented" ("words, words, words," people have said of us in exasperation). But it's not always just "melancholic" navel-gazing - for that is just utter selfishness and unchecked self-indulgence/self-pity -  rather, this apparent darkness often stems from a realization that things are rarely as simple as they appear.

I've not always been successful but I try and turn away from melancholy concluding that such temperament is beneath me. Neither have I always been successful in avoiding self-justification/rationalization when I'm eventually forced to act. But what I think causes a pause is a compulsion to self-monitor as one imagines scenarios - I tell you there are some dark thoughts that occur and rise up naturally in the depth of pondering, some too dark to own up to, especially in light of having to think about things where the preservation of self-image and "dignity for all" figure large. And I think that this is what causes Hamlet's character to hesitate.

As a person wanting some spiritual meaning in my life, I've been doing a lot of self-monitoring: am I really capable of living up to my espoused principles; "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil"; "thy will be done"...truth to tell: I really do wonder sometimes if patience and wisdom will carry me.

I try and tell myself that the periodic ebb and flow of the tolerability of life (its joys and miseries) is natural, that, even in this age of always expecting instant gratification, it is unnatural to try and force things; the Taoist concept of non-interference is something I deeply believe in though some of its consequences are intolerable (ie, sometimes very hard to accept). And, I've tried to resist mightily and consciously policies and actions that would short-change my own prospects and those of others most of my adult life.

Having grown-up a nominal Christian (in a sense that I was baptized as an infant and tried to be a good Christian for a significant part of my life and am now trying to regain that Christianity) with the uncanny, undeniable aspects of Taoist beliefs of Inuit culture I can't help but be an admixture and I clearly do not see contradictions at least in the important aspects of these belief systems ("thy will be done" is a extremely difficult meditation in any case simply because the outcomes are not guaranteed to fall in one's favour).

In one meditation of this ebb and flow, a Charles Spurgeon writes:

What, then, my soul, is it best for thee to do? Learn first to be content with this divine order, and be willing, with Job, to receive evil from the hand of the Lord as well as good. (

Is this really "navel-gazing"? I think not. And the issue has to do with the fact that much of this meditation has to do with, at the bottom of it, distinguishing the difference between "bravery" and "courage". Being "brave" it is said often enough is fool-hardy at its worse, whereas having "courage" is the willingness to persevere even in the face of fear and uncertainty.

Whether I will succeed in this perseverance is another question. I stumble often in the face of fear and in my heart cowardice and evil thoughts are constant companions necessitating the need to pray for courage.


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