Was Shakespeare correct: is the fault within ourselves?

The Cobbe Portrait Of William ShakespeareCassius:
“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world.  Like a Colossus; and we petty men walk under his huge legs, and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves.  Men at some time are masters of their fates:  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

Historically, the interpretation of this dialog has been, Cassius, a nobleman, is speaking with his friend, Brutus, and trying to persuade him that, in the best interests of the public, Julius Caesar must be stopped from becoming monarch of Rome. Brutus is aware of Caesar’s intentions,  and is torn between his love of his friend Caesar and his duty to the republic.  Cassius continues by reminding Brutus that Caesar is just a man, not a god, and that they are equal men to Caesar. They were all born equally free, and so why would they suddenly have to bow to another man? On another level this phrase has been interpreted to mean that fate is not what drives men to their decisions and actions, but rather the human condition.
In this case, Cassius was arguing that the problems of Rome’s people were a result of the human condition.  And that if the avarice of Caesar, and his cohort, could be eliminated then the condition would itself improve.   This historical diatribe is truly the argument of the ages.  If frames the argument of many, if not all, of the issues of our time.

Whose responsibility is _________?
(fill in the blank with almost any word or phrase)

Is our health care – our responsibility or that of the collective society?  Is our survival in terms of food, housing, clothing, creature comforts of heat and air conditioning that of ourselves, or the responsibility of those that have more than we?  On whose shoulders does the success of our society reside – to each according to their need from each according to their ability/initiative – or – to each according to our ability/initiative and from each to those in need according to our humanity and generosity?
Looking across our political landscape, today, we clearly are a nation divided by our ideologies and views of how the world should work.  We seldom exercise compromise either, outside our ideological castle (see my article On Tolerance) or, it seems, even within it (see my recent article, Consider a Mugwump).  For quite a while, I have felt we were a nation of thirds:  one-third hard left, one-third hard right, and a third in the middle, the middle drifting either way based on the issues and ideologies at hand.  But is that really the case?
For those that confidently inhabit the edges of the bell curve, they have the utmost convictions that their ideological purity is what is important for solutions to be correct and just.  RINO and DINO labels tarnish anyone foolish enough to consider a position with even the slightest hint of grey.   To argue such a grey area can often lead to more than chastisement, but often to banishment. How have we arrived at this locus?  Is it that the middle is growing, and the tea-party despite the attempts at marginalization or reinforcement from both sides is representing a new and still defining set of values and frustrations?

Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
creeps in this petty pace from day-to-day,
to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!  Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Is it possible that the root cause of our problems is in fact ourselves?  That our economic and ideological problems are an extension of our innate nature?  Are we now so enamored with our own Colossus, that we believe we are due all?  That we should all have anything we want, whenever we want, and the consideration that achievement of these things rests firmly in the divine rights passed from the stars and our own demands and that all others who have should – no,  must – grant part of their ‘haves’ to the rest of us who don’t and remain wanting?  Clearly, for some, this is not the case – I do not intend to damn any segment of mankind in this discussion.
Is this who we are today?  If so, when did we change?  Did we ever change, or have we really been like this all along?  Interestingly, the discussion has been alive and in debate throughout recorded history.  From Socrates to Aristotle, from Shakespeare to Twain, all have debated the relative merits and shortcomings of man.  Are we improving, degrading or simply continuing our journey with lots of sound and fury – signifying nothing?
While for the most part, I do not know much – in the end, I do feel I know this!  With all the talk of the crushing federal debt, and for many states like California crushing state debt as well, and the debate over tax cuts for the rich, or the role of unions in our demise – or their role in our success, or entitlements vs. safety nets, or our trade deficit or competitiveness in the world – whatever the topic; we are doomed to the creeping and the sound and the fury if we don’t change our own dynamic.  If we continue to pay, as an example, $68 dollars per man hour to produce a widget in the U.S. that others in the world are willing to produce for $28.00 per man hour, we will remain an acquiring not supplying nation.  If we continue to demand ideological purity, then the best men, or women, for the jobs will never come into office.  If we abdicate our own responsibilities to ourselves and each other in favor of some small group, who will for the most part be corrupted like all who gain power and control are corrupted, we will end up as we are today and as it appears we have been for all time.
We can continue to allow our elected officials to flummox us with the same pandering, platitudinous, piffled phraseology like;

  • the deepest recession since the great depression; or
  • this will provide business the certainty they need to...; or
  • we will continue quantitative easing and strengthen the economy… (Fed-Res speak for inflating the currency)

Each of these phrases, and many, many more just like it, are geared to obscure, conflate and confound the public into continuing to creep in our petty pace from day-to-day and not upset the status quo.  But it is the status quo we must upset or we come once again to the sound and fury part.  Like a big circle, or perhaps a loop by Dr. Moebius, we always seem to be ending right back at the same point.
At the beginning I asked a question.  It is clear to me that I cannot answer the question for anyone other than myself.  I ask you to find your own answer to this question.  And if you find the same answer as I, then let us all change ourselves.  In doing so we may change others and perhaps cut through the creeping, the sounds and the fury and signify something after all!

5 Responses

  1. As Gandhi said, “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” Or, as John Lennon put it, “You make your own dream. If you want to save Peru, go save Peru. Don’t expect Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or John Lennon or Yoko Ono or Bob Dylan or Jesus Christ to come and do it for you. You have to do it yourself.”

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