Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ordinary Pain

You are speeding along by yourself on an Interstate when a really great song like Stevie Wonder’s Love’s In Need of Love Today comes on, and you turn the sound up as loud as it will go.
What is a nice guy or girl? Cordelia wasn’t nice because she didn’t say what Lear wanted to hear. Goneril is definitely not nice. Oracles are not nice. Soothsayers like Calchas are not nice. The Sphinx is not nice in Oedipus because it only proposes riddles. You have to go through hoops to answer what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?
Lionel Trilling dealt with this subject in a series of essays called “Sincerity and Authenticity.” But what do these terms really connote? Are the Cordelias of the world better than the Gonerils, or are they merely seeking another kind of gain, i.e., martyrdom and moral superiority? One way to get ahead in the world might be to ask for things, another might be to propose self-deprivation. Though Augustine repudiated earthly desires, he made it (by the worldly standard of fame). Gandhi had a good run of success, as did philosophical kindred like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, who used passive resistance to achieve their aims. Is the man of peace better than the warrior? Is Mother Theresa saintly in comparison to Clausewitz, who argued that war was merely “the continuation of politics”? We are all imperialists, both on ontogenic and phylogenic levels. We all want to control and dominate, whether it’s a person, a class, or a society of people. Was Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik fundamentally more evil than the politics of conciliation that might be advocated by organizations of doves?
So is it all a matter of presentation, The Presentation of the Self in Every Day Life that Erving  Goffman described in his famed sociological tome. Is it all public relations? Is personality a series of conscious and unconscious decisions with a pubic face, but no moral scorecard?
Now you are speeding down the same highway and Freyda Payne’s disco classic Band of Gold comes on the oldies station.


  1. "...Is personality a series of conscious and unconscious decisions with a pubic face, but no moral scorecard? "

    All my pubic faces are morally scored.

  2. Surely manifest content is significant. the mask I choose to wear, the costume I dress up in on Halloween is a declaration. Whether this declaration has moral compass is subject to debate. Enlightenment philosophers would certainly agree with you, but the darker determinists like Nietzsche who believe in the triumph of the irrational (Beyond Good and Evil) would not be so sanguine about your moral scorecard. Where are you now? I would be happy to call your cell phone and debate this very question. Best Francis


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.