June 16, 2009

No easy way out

Iphigenia by Anselm Feuerbach (1862), by way of wikipedia.

One of the things that makes Greek tragedy so compelling is its stark realism. For all the gods, heroes and mythological elements upon which it draws, its basic themes of inherent and unavoidable conflicts are all too common.

In the words of Martha Nussbaum, writing in The Fragility of Goodness,

Greek tragedy shows good people being ruined because of things that just happen to them, things that they do not control. This is certainly sad; but it is an ordinary fact of human life, and no one would deny that it happens...Tragedy also shows something more deeply disturbing: it shows good people doing bad things, things otherwise repugnant to their ethical character and commitments, because of circumstances whose origin does not lie with them.

Even more disturbing, however is the fact that tragedies

also show us, and dwell upon, another more intractable sort of case--one which has come to be called, as a result, the situation of 'tragic conflict'. In such cases we see a wrong action committed without any direct physical compulsion and in full knowledge of its nature, by a person whose ethical character or commitments would otherwise dispose him to reject the act. The constraint comes from the presence of circumstances that prevent the adequate fulfillment of two valid ethical claims. Tragedy tends, on the whole, to take such situations very seriously.

In popular parlance, it looks at situations in which you're "damned if you do and damned if you don't." If you've never been in one, may your luck hold out.

WHAT ABOUT THE ALREADY POOR? Here's an opinion piece by Barbara Ehrenreich about a group left out of much recent media coverage of the recession.

MORE FALLOUT. Here's the Boston Globe on the recent US Supreme Court decision on a judicial travesty in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.

INTERESTING IDEA. High altitude wind machines could generate a lot of clean energy.

BEGINNINGS. Here's an interesting item on the origin of life.


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