Antigone

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He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, in defense of free speech

Years ago a teaching colleague asked me to address a gathering of Presbyterians on the topic of "A Sociologist view of Christianity." As I was neither a Sociologist nor a Christian and as I knew this group of Southern Presbyterians represented the ruling elite of the community I was surprised at both the invitation and the chosen topic. I thought how broadminded that such a group wanted to hear the point of view of the enemy camp. I assumed they knew the trinity of  Sociology was Marx, Durkheim, and Weber and that their methodology was warmed over statistics mixed with mumbo jumbo interview techniques. Naively I accepted the invitation. The Presbyterians and I were all in for a big surprise.

The gathering took place on a Sunday evening in the basement of the oldest and richest church in town and there was, of course, a pot-luck supper after which I was introduced by my colleague. Not long into my presentation I noticed the smiles began to fade and were gradually replaced by frozen stares. When I realized my terrible mistake it was too late to reverse course, my boat had already run aground. All I could do was quickly finish and hope for the best. They were all very cool, but all very polite. The only consequence was I was never invited back and the unfortunate incident soon forgotten.

Years later another teaching colleague at a Midwestern college asked me to make presentation at the end of his production of Antigone. The play by Sophocles has been produced over the last twenty five hundred  years with many different takes. Jean Anouilh's version was first performed in Paris on February 6, 1944, during the German occupation. The rejection of authority (represented by Antigone) and the acceptance of it (represented by Creon) was so balanced that both the French Resistance and Nazi censors approved the play.  My college presented the play as a romance, emphasizing the love between Antigone and her dead and unburied brother. This is a rather trite point of view, but it was his play. At the end of the play I came on stage and attempted to show that Creon also had a point of view, society has to have law and order as well as idealist. This provoked the ire of the audience, a woman rose and denounced me as a "male chauvinist" - they were having no part of the legitimacy of another point of view. I made a hasty retreat.

These two incidents are indicative of something I find disturbing about many liberals and conservatives.   Not that some have closed minds, that is obvious, but their disregard for even the humanity of the opposition is chilling.  To the liberal mind Creon was not just wrong, he was evil incarnate. Donald Trump is not just unqualified to be president he is a fascist pig. Even the German censors realized Antigone, probably a misguided hysteric in their minds, had a point of view. On the other hand, the Presbyterians were dismayed by my talk, but they listened and were polite; nobody called me a communist, but they too were not pleased to hear a different point of view.

At the end of a tragedy by Sophocles staged in ancient Athens the entire audience would be weeping, having experienced catharsis.  Catharsis is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics comparing the effects of tragedy on a spectator to the effect of a cathartic on the body, a purification or cleansing. There was no rejoicing that "Creon got his comeuppance" only tears for the human condition and a cleansing for their collective guilt.

The final lines of Antigone are spoken by the Chorus:

 "There is no happiness where there is no wisdom; No wisdom but in submission to the gods. Big words are always punished, And proud men in old age learn to be wise."

This would seem to place blame squarely on Creon, but Creon did yield as soon as he became aware that Tiresias spoke for the gods. Creon and Antigone are opposites in many ways: old/young, male/female, powerful/powerless, rational/emotional and so on. For Heraclitus conflicting powers of opposites, including those of elemental bodies, make possible the world and all its variety; without that conflict we would have only lifeless uniformity. One fragment of  Heraclitus is translated as, "Opposites collide  and from themselves they gather themselves." The clash of opposites in Sophocles play may have been the source of Hegel's dialectic; which is about examining a concept and finding how it contains its own opposite within itself and the contradictions which cause that particular dialectical opposition to be transcended. This is too often shortened into, thesis-anthesis-synthesis.

The woman who accused me of being a chauvinist is representative of American politics today. There is no synthesis, but continuous conflict of right v. left. To apply the final lines of Antigone to present day America: there is no happiness because there is no wisdom. Wisdom is to leave judgment to the gods, we play god when we attempt to place blame and identify a victim. In the US today neither political party seems interested in seeking compromise, but only in vilifying the other party.

The chorus says "Big words are always punished" and that brings to mind the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 which punished the German nation for causing the war. Most historian agree that Germany alone did not cause the war, but they all agree the treaty was unjust and lead to Russia falling to the Bolsheviks and to World War II. When we play god, we only bring more misery into the world...big words are always punished.

And the final line, "And proud men in old age learn to be wise" seems to indict not necessarily the young, but the hot headed as the problem. Which implies the question, can humans learn to get along or are we caught in a never ending  cycle of conflict and blame?
manners
        Mind your Manners!
As we say in the south, "Don't show out." This means, mind your manners and return to modesty.

October 1, 2017

This issue is always with us.  This time not with individuals breaking a law, but expressing a personal opinion; some NFL players are "taking the knee" when the National Anthem is played or sung before a game. So let's review the recent American history of the issue.

 

pledge
This is the way I was taught, until somebody noticed the resemblance to the Nazi salute, then we placed a hand over our heart.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in 1943, is a decision by the Supreme Court  holding that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protected students from being forced to salute the Flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. The Court's 6–3 decision, delivered by Justice Jackson, is important for its forceful defense of free speech and constitutional rights generally as being placed "beyond the reach of majorities and officials."

It was a significant court victory won by Jehovah's Witnesses, whose religion forbade them from saluting or pledging to symbols, including symbols of political institutions. However, the Court did not address the effect the compelled salutation and recital ruling had upon their particular religious beliefs but instead ruled that the state did not have the power to compel speech in that manner for anyone.

In the dissenting opinion Felix  Frankfurter said that the court was overstepping its bounds in striking down the West Virginia law. He said, too, that freedom of religion did not allow individuals to break laws simply because of religious conscience. Frankfurter argued that "Otherwise each individual could set up his own censor against obedience to laws conscientiously deemed for the public good by those whose business it is to make laws."

Hmmmm, I have think a while on this. -JJ

(later)

Well, I have given it some thought and my conclusion is about the same as before: manners.  We learned in kindergarten not to push, whine, pull hair, and so on. On the other hand we should say please, share, and above all take a nap in the afternoon.  That's about it.

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