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Maxims for Life, an Antidote to Hope: Part One

April 27, 2018


Indeed, owing to the egoistical character of the human mind (or human nature—it comes to the same thing) that is explained above, we are forever misperceiving and misrepresenting others so as to suit our own interests, whatever those may be. This activity is powerfully reinforced by the sympathetic bias of our intimates, “good people” that they are.

The Democratic witch hunt of President Trump—first in the form of a Russian conspiracy, then in the form of that tiresome whore Stormy Daniels—is a representative example of the strong tendency to distort reality to a selfish end. Needless to say, it would be foolish to believe this sort of thing is unique to Democrats. Democrats are now using Daniels in just the same way that Republicans used Monica Lewinsky. “Truth” or “justice” in the service of egoism is nothing new under the sun.

With this maxim I am, of course, on ground that others have trod before. “It is not clear to me,” writes Harold Bloom in his book Genius,

that anyone in Shakespeare really listens to anyone else. Othello is destroyed by Iago’s genius for suggestion and insinuation, yet if he listened more closely to Iago, he would be less persuaded. Macbeth, after briefly listening to his wife, is so immersed in self-overhearing that he scarcely notices her loss, first to madness and then to death. Rather hilariously, Antony and Cleopatra do not hear anyone but themselves. Poor Antony cries out, “I am dying, Egypt, dying. Give me some wine and let me speak a while,” to which Cleopatra responds, “No, let me speak.” Like Proust after him, Shakespeare has few illusions about either friendship or love.

I would add only that it is the tragic inability and, in other cases, unwillingness of human beings to understand one another that gives Shakespearean tragedy such a deterministic sweep. A series of terrible events is set in motion because men and women, having their own interests in view, do not—or will not—listen to or perceive others with empathy.

So it happens, for example, that Cordelia, King Lear’s one good and truly devoted daughter, gets hanged all because Lear, in his prideful ignorance and wish to receive a competitive display of love, did not recognize her true character. It is for the same reason that he becomes the dupe of his two wicked and manipulative daughters, Goneril and Regan.

As in the plays of the poet who held “the mirror up to nature,” so in human life generally.


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