November 16, 2009

Another Dante moment

It's been a while since El Cabrero has discussed his old pal Dante Alighieri, but I've been thinking about a passage from his Inferno recently in the context of current political controversies.

In Canto III, at the outskirts of hell, Dante and his guide Virgil pass a large number of condemned souls driven eternally in circles and tormented by gadflies and hornets. They had it so bad that "They are envious of every other fate," which in Dante's version of hell is really saying something.

These unfortunate creatures are those who didn't take a stand for either good or evil during their days on earth and are equally unwanted in either heaven or hell.

What is interesting to me about this is that Dante also includes in this group those people who considered themselves too pure to get down and dirty in the real human world. He singles out Celestine, who was elected pope in 1294 but abdicated, leaving the spot to be taken by someone he considered to be much worse:

I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
Who made through cowardice the great refusal.

The Catholic Church didn't see things that way--Celestine was later canonized--but I see Dante's point. Holding out for perfection in an inherently flawed world can amount to choosing uselessness and allowing even worse things to prevail.

CAIRNS 'R US. This item from yesterday's Gazette is about cairns or rock structures found on a nearby farm and believed to be the work of American Indians. (We have some at Goat Rope Farm but they're not as big and could just be more recent rock piles.) When asked to estimate their age, Roger Wise, an archaeologist friend of mine gave a great reply. As the article reported,

"It's probably somewhere between 1750 A.D. and 10,000 B.C.," he said with a grin.

And you know what--I'll bet he's right!

INEQUALITY AND HEALTH. The social determinants of health, as in things like status and inequality, have been a frequent theme here lately. Here's an op-ed by a friend of mine on an issue we're working on in WV.

THEATER OF WAR. Greek tragedy has also been a favorite theme here. Now, the Department of Defense is taking a look at what some of the plays of Sophocles (Philoctetes and Ajax) can say about the problems of combat veterans.

(Has anyone noticed that it's been a long time since my last ancient Greek jag? I'm feeling another one coming on.)

GAME THEORY. This item looks at auctions and the psychology of commitment.

DEFICITS AND DEFICITS. In a post from his blog, Paul Krugman observes the following about politicians:

many, if not most, are perfectly happy to incur huge unfunded liabilities for the wars they want to fight, and/or to eliminate inheritance taxes for the heirs of multimillionaires. It’s only deficits incurred to help working Americans that get them all moralistic.


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