Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quote Of The Month (Yes, It’s More Impeachment Analysis, And I’m Sick Of It Too, But This Is Important): Professor Jonathan Turley”

Sentence first

Here is Aaron Paschall’s Comment of the Day (he gets extra credit for the “Alice in Wonderland” quote) on the post, “Ethics Quote Of The Month (Yes, It’s More Impeachment Analysis, And I’m Sick Of It Too, But This Is Important): Professor Jonathan Turley”:

“Sentence first, verdict afterward!”

The nitpicking of “’Legally, due process only applies to life, liberty, and property,” she lectured. “A job is none of those.’” honestly terrifies me. This is the consequent of thought processes like the argument against Justice Kavanaugh: “It isn’t a ‘trial,’ it’s a job interview. Due process doesn’t apply outside a court of law.” Or the one which we see now extolled in defense of Facebook/Twitter bans: “Private companies can ban whoever they like – the government isn’t doing a thing. Freedom of speech has no bearing outside of the government.” In attacking Trump and more than Trump, they’ve whittled away virtually all defenses or niceties like fairness, decency, moderation, humility, justice, the benefit of the doubt and a million more. How they can bear to stand on such a barren plain of life and declare it rich and good is beyond me.

In C.S. Lewis’ “The Silver Chair,” Puddleglum the Marshwiggle was a gloomy sort. Near the end of their adventure, he and his comrades found themselves deep underground, with a fire emitting thick, bewildering fumes. The villain of the piece encouraged them to give up, that the surface world they were trying to escape to didn’t even exist – it was a figment of their imaginations. The sun, the sky, the wind – illusions, and one she was trying to save them from expending their lives in fruitless search of. At the last moment, when nearly everyone was convinced, Puddleglum stamps his foot into the center of the fire, putting it out – and filling the room with the scent of burnt Marshwiggle, which was not nearly so nice. And he addressed the witch with what is one of my favorite quotes ever:

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

It’s a fine quote in defense of Christianity, which was Lewis’ intent, but it also applies here. They may have succeeded in recrafting reality to one where laws don’t really matter, where due process is a nice to have, and where the Red Queen governs supremely and firmly against totalitarianism. Up may be down, War may be Peace, Racism may be Fairness, and Evil Good. But it’s a piss poor world they’ve crafted, and even if any alternatives are illusions, it’s better to die having wasted life in pursuit of a far more glorious reality than to let shoulders droop and accept the bland milquetoast existence they proffer.

6 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quote Of The Month (Yes, It’s More Impeachment Analysis, And I’m Sick Of It Too, But This Is Important): Professor Jonathan Turley”

  1. Thanks, Jack. It’s a joy to be able to have these conversations with such wise people. Thank you for maintaining the forum here, so we have a hope of keeping our heads on straight!

  2. There was talk by Disney of bringing all the Chronicles of Narnia to the big screen, and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did quite well Christmas 2005, but miscalculations regarding both interpretation and release timing caused Prince Caspian to do nowhere near as well, and, although Fox stepped in and did manage to get Voyage of the Dawn Treader onto the big screen for Christmas 2010, and set things up for the Silver Chair to follow, it never got off the ground, as the slow economy resulted in a lot of proposed big-ticket fantasy series to die on the vine.

    What Aaron points out is certainly a very key point of the story. There’s more that’s relevant to this discussion, though. The villain of the piece, a witch never given a name but known only as the Lady of the Green Kirtle (“LGK,” there’s an unresolvable debate as to whether she’s the White Witch brought back, but I don’t think she is), has kidnapped Prince Rilian of Narnia and keeps him bemused by what we fantasy writers would call glamour, using the eponymous chair, hoping to use him as a puppet ruler later. The child heroes of the story (for some reason C.S. Lewis always put children at the center of dangerous undertakings), together with their sometimes comically negative marsh-wiggle guide Puddleglum (actually based on a pessimistic gardener C.S. Lewis employed at one time), manage to free the prince, who promptly destroys the chair. Then and only then does LGK confront them, acting all shocked at the destruction of the chair, which she says was the Prince’s only instrument of salvation from a (nonexistent) curse. The Prince says:

    “Madam, there will be no more need of that chair. And you, who have told me a hundred times how deeply you pitied me for the sorceries by which I was bound, will doubtless hear with joy that they are now ended for ever. There was, it seems, some small error in your Ladyship’s way of treating them. These, my true friends, have delivered me. I am now in my right mind, and there are two things I will say to you. First – as for your Ladyship’s design of putting me at the head of an army of Earthmen so that I may break out into the Overworld and there, by main force, make myself king over some nation that never did me wrong – murdering their natural lords and holding their throne as a bloody and foreign tyrant – now that I know myself, I do utterly abhor and renounce it as plain villainy. And second: I am the King’s son of Narnia, Rilian, the only child of Caspian, Tenth of that name, whom some call Caspian the Seafarer. Therefore, Madam, it is my purpose, as it is also my duty, to depart suddenly from your Highness’s court into my own country. Please it you to grant me and my friends safe conduct and a guide through your dark realm.”

    Initially unfazed, LGK throws some kind of magic powder on the nearby fire, producing the sorcerous smoke already mentioned, and starts to play a monotonous )also probably magical) thrumming on a mandolin-like stringed instrument (usually rendered in radio plays as slow, creepy-sounding arpeggios on the harp). Then, as these start to work what’s obviously hypnotic magic on the heroes, she starts to tell them, in a sweet, hypnotic voice, at one point compared to the coo of a wood pigeon from the high elms in an old garden at three o’clock on a sleepy, summer afternoon, she tells them that everything they believe does not exist, and there is no world but hers.

    Here is where things get insidious. At one point the Prince says that there is a sun, like the lamp but bigger and hanging in the sky, rather than from the ceiling, and LGK asks what it hangs from, and says:

    “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story.”

    It’s actually a relief to the characters to acknowledge that rather than try to fight it.

    The heroes try again with a lion, comparing it to a cat, but LGK says “we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion. Well, ’tis a pretty makebelieve, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But, first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.”

    That’s when Puddleglum puts out most of the fire, killing the sorcerous smoke, and tells LGK off. Her response is to promptly change into a great, poisonous-green serpent and attack, only to fall (rather too easily) to the swords of the heroes, who hack off her head.

    The insidious part of this sequence is that LGK is feeding the heroes a line, ever so sweetly and with the aid of feel-good magic, that anything and everything they believe in and have faith in doesn’t exist, and is just an imagined better version of some rather mundane thing. She also chides them for believing such things, saying it’s the kind of thing only very young children still believe, and that she can use mature people for important and significant work. However, when her illusions are finally pierced, she reveals her true, horrific appearance and tries to kill the heroes with brute force. Sound familiar at all?

    CSL was really taking a swipe at atheism here, saying that atheistic arguments are just reductionism (“you just invented a bigger and better father and called him God”). However, as a WW1 veteran, brother of a career military officer, and witness to WW2 and the Cold War, it wasn’t have been lost on him that tyrants used the same arguments to make ordinary folks see things their way, and turned to brute force when those arguments were challenged or seen through. In fact he comes back to that theme in the final book, The Last Battle, but I’m afraid I’ll have to leave that for another time.

    The main point I’m trying to make now is that these reductionist arguments sound a bit too suspiciously like those being made by the Democratic Party and their allies in the media. Freedom isn’t freedom, it’s just some myth the other side peddles that prevents an orderly society. Due process isn’t required, it’s just something that slows down the results we all know need to happen. Historical figures weren’t significant, they were just benighted bigots stumbling through a benighted time. And you? You aren’t that significant. You don’t need to carry weapons, or speak your mind, or try to start a business and succeed, or do anything other than what the government tells you to do. Life is life, and you’ve just invented a bigger and better life and called it freedom. History is just generally bad, but you can’t face that, so you made up all these mythical heroes like Columbus and Washington to convince yourself it isn’t. But, seriously, all this imagination and pretending and storytelling is really only for those very young children who still live in that wonderful world of make-believe that a certain bear in a red shirt and his friends inhabit. You grown-up folks can and must do better than that. In fact you can and must do a lot better than that. So take a rest, think, and when you are ready to give up this foolishness and unify with those of us who work in the real world, you let us know. We can always use more people, but only those whose heads are in the real world.

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