Posted in moral philosophy, tagged Benny Thomas, cause and effect, collateral damage, fallen state, l'affaire Dreyfus, moral compass, moral imperative, Napoleon, no man's land, waterloo on November 4, 2015 |
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In the previous post we discussed about no-man’s land where old rivalries and unfinished business of history are filed away. For anyone who studies history it shall become apparent no war has ever finished with a clean cut. A battle would require some ten thousand little skirmishes which may not catch the headlines. In the ignominious defeat of France in June.1940 lay the devil-seeds of the unsettled business of 1793-94 coming to fruition. The nation that set out to bury the Bourbon dynasty will grovel themselves before imperialist ambitions of Napoleons. Having lost the moral compass what do such genuflections mean? Some glory! some shameless antics!
Napoleon had lost the battle of Waterloo even before it was waged. Napoleon Bonaparte who assumed the title of the emperor of France showed by a series of victories he was worthy to be included among the immortals such as Alexander and Julius Caesar. His brilliant victories created such a condition he could not have sat idle with such a powerful army battle hardened and disciplined under his command. Thus he was caught in the crest of a wave that took him to his Russian campaign. Disaster was the result. What went wrong? Napoleon was weighed in the balance of humanity and was found wanting. Like the king in the book of Daniel.
Morality of man is not without reason compared to a compass. It covers the entire spectrum of man’s conduct through time and place. When Napoleon’s humanity,- and it can only be judged in his interaction with others, there was a serious problem. His ambition did not see people as people but as means to aggrandize himself. (Same mentality can be seen in the manner the French Army threw Captain Dreyfus to ignominy in order to protect its avaunted ‘gloire.’) This moral fault is worse than blindness. Your soul is affected. Physical blindness robs you of vision but leaves the harmony of celestial spheres in tact. It paints in fact colors that the world with its lurid colors can never match. Moral blindness is terrible. It makes you miss your place in the moral compass. You look at it and whatever you see there is anything other than your own humanity. It is almost a hell you have created even before you gave up your ghost, to use the expression in the Bible.
Each of us is like man with one foot in the sticky mess of morass of our own making. On a moral plane our culpability is that of being part of humanity. ‘No man is an island’ as Donne said it famously. This is collateral damages we need accept on a moral plane. In terms of Christian theology we need see it also refers to our fallen state.
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Soul has its own special language and its contour always will be a fit for the individual. Moses will thus being brought up in the household of Pharaoh and familiar with Egyptian folklore,arts, jurisprudence, lay down the Hebraic legal system drawn from ideas already extant. Similarly St. Paul taught at the feet of Hebraic scholars,- notably Gamaliel, will lay down in his epistles a curious form of theology , a fusion of Old and the New. In the story of Soul’s Vocabulary the mentally challenged boy formulated a new way of counting that was more in keeping for his milieu. Soul of the individual is paramount and one may wonder how Moses would have viewed the Pauline epistles. Let Paul take care of his soul as Moses his.
Moral of this is that you may convert a man to your belief-systems but shall never succeed quite completely. Can leopard change is spots? Or salt acquire the sweetness of a sugar crystal?
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Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) was described by his first teacher as ‘impenetrably stupid.’ Balzac similarly was written away as useless.Einstein was not expected to set the world on fire either. Many more instances could be cited where those who were in authority so lightly dismissed those youths who didn’t fit their mold. Are lives of men and women such stuff, as simple and regular as some rock specimens to be labeled and put away?
Naturally Oliver Goldsmith in the eyes of his peers might have seemed ’stupid’. They might have in the past predicted similarly and were found right. The only difference between Oliver and other boys was in this: other boys compromised with the opinion of the elders while he didn’t. Oliver Goldsmith explored his life despite of his uncommon clumsiness and many failings, to find its common center. His creative output (among which ‘The Vicar of Wakefield ‘She stoops to conquer and many poems are literary gems) gave his life its compactness.
I have made a fool of myself many times. I might again make mistakes. But these are nothing compared to the one I could if I go by opinion of others. They might write me off from mistakes. But how right they are to put a seal on my life for good or bad? My growth is not driven by my mistakes but from my life force . It is such I could use it as a straw or as a steam roller, which coupled with my character shall smash to powder every negative aside of others that is not truly part of me. These mistakes are incidentals due to my trust misplaced in others or my inability to change shapes of my words to counter false friends. I came across the case of art dealer Lawrence Salander, 59, who was arrested at his New York home on Thursday, when he and his gallery were charged with 100 counts, including grand larceny and securities fraud. So far, authorities have identified 26 victims of Salander’s scheme, including McEnroe, who lost $2 million after investing a half share in two paintings, which was sold at the same time to another collector. ( It is learned that McEnroe never recouped the money.)
The con artist’s scheme, which lasted from 1994 to 2007, included luring investors who paid cash in exchange for shares of ownership of works of art.Why did he do it? He ‘needed’ the money to fund “an extravagant lifestyle” of lavish parties and private jets. Most of the artworks, which are yet to be valued, are being held in the custody of a bankruptcy court in Poughkeepsie, New York. Many of the investors have filed civil claims against Salander and his gallery, which filed for bankruptcy and closed in 2007. Was such a charade really necessary? What scandalous times do we live in where a man would rather be known for a crook than as one whose word is his bond and as straight as an arrow. What is Madoff now worth for?(It seems a Milwauee man won at Lotto $1500 by using his prison number. It is is the only good it has done in his case.) Who cares for Madoff’s philanthropic works now by hindsight are equated for trapping the unwary investors. Even now from two examples cited above we may understand that fraudsters get their comeuppance sooner or later.
Our lives are blank pages where what is written must be the truth of our character that met the challenge of our circumstances and like the white plume of Cyrano de Bergerac remains unsullied. It s panache of the highest sort.
Tailpiece: In cases where doubt exists the best course open for any is to prove by his or her deeds.
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A FORENOON AT THE PETRO BANK OF JIBAL ©
“Neither be a borrower or a lender be.” The Bard of Avon must have had lost his onions as he penned that! I said as I surveyed the cool efficiency of the Petro Bank of Jibal, which was no where epitiomized more than in the President of the bank. He sat before me, genial, his jewel encrusted fingers hooked to a gilded machine out of which uncoiled the print-out to the accompaniment of low clicking noises like that of castanets.
“Ah, here we have come to the parity.” He mused aloud and switched off the machine.
Seeing my surprise he said:”Nothing like a small war before lunch to keep the oil moving. We are expecting a war with Lebanon.”
“2 Million BBLS of Oil which flows through our net work per day is not mere drop in the ocean”, he added philosophically.
“So you mean to say that you’d prefer a small war to ease the slump in the oil market?” I said my middle class moral attitudes stricking out like a dirty handkerchief out of a saville row suit. Mentally I pushed them out, a task which was hastened by the magic circle of high finance drawn before me, in the midst of which sat the president like the High Priest. The whole scene had a surrealistic touch.
“My dear sir”, said the banker, pressing a buzzer, which in a trice brought his secretary. Taking the folder from her, he told me:”We don’t go in for a war as diffuse and protracted war like of Vietnam. it is a bad risk.”
“Then, what kind of war do you favor?” I asked him playing up to the hilt of a hard bitten cynical correspondent.
“Just a 50 megaton job,” he said with a straight face that nipped in the bud whatever queasiness I felt rising within. “It is dropped under fool proof conditions that not a life more than what is absolutely necessary is thrown away.”
Laying the folder open he traced his well manicured fingers against each 50-megaton job he had financed with the cool efficiency of an accountant who balanced a book down to the last cent. Hardly an error, like the snow white kaffiyeh, which fell over his shoulders, not a fold out of place. His clinical efficiency was apparent in the figures which he had underlined in red and the onyx stone, set in a platinum ring on his index finger, seemed to turn red, from the ruby studded cigar box casually laid aside.
“Are they the number of dead?” I asked.
“Yes” said the banker. “You will be kind enough to notice the column here.”
“Miscellaneous expenses”, he added. “What of it?”
“To every war widow we send flowers and a gift coupon.”
“That’s right. She is allowed a cool 50% discount on the gasoline she buys for the next financial year.”
“Rather a thoughtful gesture” I murmured.
“My dear sir, we have had a bad rap, as war mongers. But the truth remains, we are business men with our hearts in the right place. Why, we feel pain as much as anybody else.”
It was my turn to be surprised. I could not, for the life of me, imagine such display from one who, like Midas, turned every drop of oil into gold enough to buy the whole globe.
So we were chatting, the red light on the console in front of the banker flashed.
“Here it is!” he gushed excitedly and took the incoming message.
When he was through he had the look of extreme satisfaction. He beamed and gurgled:”It is war! Just what we wanted… a quick war before lunch!”
“Poor Lebanese!” I could not help exclaiming.
“What do you mean, poor Lebanese?” the banker said with a touch of asperity. “Leave Lebanon out of it. They are not biting, not yet.”
“Then who is the sucker?” I asked.
The banker seemed not to have heard it. So I said:”Who is at the receiving end?”
He evaded my question once again.
I could notice him casually flipping over my visiting card. His lips silently went over my name.
‘Ephraim Mandelbaum, accredited correspondent for Sheol News Agency. Tel Aviv.’
“Ah, dear sir” he wrung his bejewelled hands “No hard feelings! Shall I ring for liqueur. 1868 vintage? Or a cigar?” He pushed the bejewelled cigar box solicitously.
“If you don’t mind I am rather curious to know whom you have conned into a war!”
“It is……. er ……. with your country!” he said, in one breath, feeling a little embarrassed. “No hard feelings” his hand on my shoulder now.
“You can sit around. Here you are among friends.” The banker added soothingly.
“The war would not last longer. A war before lunch. Ha!” I mimed him in my mind.
And the lunch while it lasted with all the sniveling courtesies of a desert dweller’s hospitality by the host, these were mere frills to the main course a crock of camel turd. But as a guest I had to play my part: I complimented him for his food and refuse politely second helpings ladled out as though there was nothing of a war or haste. After the tables were cleared he poured the first rate vintage of ’68 I had (the shame of it) forgotten that there was a 50-megaton war in my backyard we were supposedly enemies at least before lunch.
Only later I realized how deadening were habits and politeness that I could sit with my enemies as though my moral sense was cast iron proof.
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In one of my earliest posts I had given an anecdote on Matisse. A woman acquaintance of the artist called on him and after looking at the finished work she observed that he made her arm too long. She relied on her eyes. Whereas he had presented as what she represented to him. Both relied on their subjective feelings. At a moral plane of Truth there must be a common centre to which the sitter, the artist and the woman were trying to rest their conclusions as to their reality. The sitter has an opinion of herself and so has the viewer whether it is her portrait or the real. With such differing viewpoints is it necessary for Matisse to represent his sitter in any other way than what she represents to him?
How does the artist make his perception clear to others? He would probe beneath her physical appearance and place her on two dimensional plane: he delineates a higher truth in terms of line, color, texture and composition. Had it been her exact copy that was intended an artist might as well relied on photography for the purpose. An artist destroys the illusion of physical reality which is ephemeral so he may bring out the inner reality as perceived by him. A Scientist who from evidences arrive at a theory is in search of truth. An artist merely uses the two dimensional plane to describe a mood that whether it a live model or a landscape transcends the visual symbols he employs. There is an inner logic and truth which is outside the reality he is looking at.
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Oneness of things allows so many factors to come into play where no nation can for long brutalize others for their own ends. No nation may foretell from where their destruction shall come. Nature plays her part and also wars are means to bring about the nation’s downfall. Again we see England in the post WWII, all their glory drained from them. From cause and effect what lesson can we draw? Is it not that there is a moral factor in the manner the might of nations are brought low?
God’s judgment on Babylon was as much a political necessity as well as His providence on a nation under oppression.(Dan 5.) Once again we see the state of Israel being plucked out of holocaust. When I see the oppressed turn the oppressor themselves, in the way Palestine is treated I can very well imagine: the nation have invited a moral judgment on themselves. Who shall serve as God’s instrument is not for me to say.
Historical necessity is often a synonym for moral imperative.
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We shall see a nation is not so much as good in setting any lasting value either in morality or in public good as an individual. The rise of Mafia is a case in point.
The Mafia was originally comprised of a few families who migrated to the USA from Italy. Soon they established contacts in their adopted homeland and also gained political strength. They could pull strings and get what they wanted. In the era of gilded age money opened doors. So they prospered and drew strength from the mass exodus of poor Italians to the USA at the turn of the 20th century. The poor immigrants hardly spoke English and didn’t possess the necessary social skills either. They had to compete with the Irish community that had already established in Chicago. Besides Police force was filled with members from the Irish community. Mafia offered the newcomers their protection and found them jobs a service that, of course, came with a price tag.
After Mussolini came to power in Italy in the late 1922 he muzzled in the Mafia. In the USA Thomas E.Dewy in his role of District Attorney succeeded in sending the powerful Mafia boss ‘Lucky‘ Luciano to jail but the WW II intervened.
At a time Nazi Germany had sent their U-boats to create havoc on the Atlantic shipping lane Mafia secretly succeeded in scuttling Normandy berthed off the NY harbor. U.S government asked Navy intelligence to cooperate with the Mafia since labor unions backed by them effectively controlled the ports. Before the Allied invasion of Sicily the U.S government struck a deal with the mafia chief. As part of the deal ‘Lucky’ Luciano was released. Italy lost the war that proved as a shot in arm to the fortunes of Mafia.
Edgar J. Hoover was the FBI chief from 1920 for a period of 50 years and Mafia as reports go, was blackmailing him. His sexual predilections are not of interest as how much he contributed to the phenomenal growth of Mafia during his tenure as the head of FBI. In 1957 at Palermo a few clan chiefs including ‘Lucky’ Luciano, Joseph Bonnano and others held a meeting where an important decision was taken: Mafia would henceforth deal in heroin. It was a very lucrative business. As a result of that meeting shortly thereafter heroin was flooding into the streets of USA.
If anyone is interested to know the figures of hard drug users before 1957 and after one only need to go through the figures that are in public domain.
Moral of this narrative is that nations preach moral values but statecraft is often in breaking them than scrupulously keeping their nose and hands clean. No nation has ever achieved the perfection it so vociferously trumpets from rooftops. Even under the most tyrannical regimes like Third Reich or the Soviet empire (under Stalin) rules have been broken with impunity. Why? The reason is simple: a nation is run by men. If a man in a very sensitive or vital point for example J. Edgar Hoover or Lavrenti Beria, the secret police chief, NKVD (a notorious pedophile) can be influenced, the entire chain of command is at risk.Then policy makers need to ensure that they are reelected ; so they often take shortcuts for short term remedies than sticking to any moral principles.
Now the question is: is the conscience of an individual( and his freedom to exercise his judgment) of paramount importance or that of a nation?
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