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King Lear and The King's Men - Lessons on the Slippery Art of Family Governance

King Lear: The History Revealed by Fintan O'Toole, reviewed in The New York Review of Books.

Family Governance for Governing Families. The role of the artist, under a patron. The role of the King's Man. Support, absorb, refactor, and subvert, for the greater good. More power than a Wise Counselor in the traditional Courtier mode. More power than Parliament. Only an all licensed Fool could do more. Were I a wise man I would join Wise Counsel, giving sage advice to families as powerful as our former Monarchs, before we broke from English rule. 

The Wise make good use of literature, as of everything else. If they were wiser yet, they would be Fools. And perhaps The Happy Tutor could show them how. He is a Secular Priest, or actually a real priest, educated at Oxford as a cleric, since under Primogeniture (how our august predecessors beat the proverb, ashes to ashes, and rags to rags), he had to go into the army, become a judge, or be a priest and scholar, with a parish, or a school, or if lazy, as Tutor is, and a drunkard, and carouser, he could set up as a Morals Tutor to his noble neighbor's brats. Mentoring the Heirs, as we now say. The Happy Tutor is also the Lord of Misrule. So are our Wise Counsel, today, if by Misrule we mean the rule of the richest forever. Fool is one thing, Coxcomb, or Villain is another.

In Lear, do we pity the pauper at the base of Fortune's wheel as it turns, or the King at the top who must inevitably fall? When the highest and lowest trade places, 'handy dandy' who goes in ermine, and who in rags? Change places, and who is the thief, and who is the justice? Who is the sighted one? Who is blind?  Who is sane and who mad? Riddle me that, Wise Counsel. But more importantly, can we like Shakespeare, speak truth in riddles to power, and still be awarded our four yards of red cloth to wear the King's livery at court? So far Tutor, buck naked in a Dumpster, must await future delivery. Advantage Wise Counsel.

If I were to write my own Book on Wealth and the Will of God, I would add the epigraph: "Wiser are the Children of Darkness." And believe me, I have learned that to my own cost. Let it be a lesson to us all.

The Scene of Family Governance when those Families Rule

Some slaves worked in the big house, some in the fields. The most trusted managed the less trusted. But in the hush arbor the "hands" could whisper on the premise they would not be heard by the Master, or those who enforced his will. In reality, it is easy to imagine Master strolling by, overhearing, and feeling quite contented and in charge. What is said "offline" does not count, even if overheard. To say it to Master's face is foolish. Hence, what James C. Scott calls, "the hidden transcripts of the oppressed." As these seep out, they become a tradition, a set of devices and variations, endlessly reinvented across civilizations under domination. If I were still in literature, as a critic, I could see creating an anthology. Not to study as one studies Greek, Roman, or Medieval, medical instruments (lancet, saw, gouge, clamps, pincers, restraints, gag, syringe, mallet, salt for the wounds, cauterizing iron, sponge, bucket, needle and twine) from a museum, but to learn the ancient healer's craft. 

Roman satire was hyper-masculine. The sadistic medical imagery above is Martial's. He once noted that surgeon and undertaker give the client a double deal. Either you survive the operation, or the burial is free.

Weapons of the weak may include women's traditional ways as well. The next step forward, for the field of family governance is not satire, but home economics, done with love, of the self in family, and of the family in community. Self cannot thrive without family. Family cannot flourish in an unjust community of which it is the ruler, any more than the head can be well if the body is ill.  The speaking silences in our field- when the wise women speak, the world will be healed. And then it will be us, the men who know it all, whose idea of wisdom is to pontificate, whose idea of virtue is ourselves, who will fall silent, listen, and obey. (Not apologize, that would be asking too much.)

The scene of family governance - board room? front parlor in the big house? the counting house? the surgeon's slab? hush arbor? or, kitchen? I vote for the kitchen. There the women, professionals who have mastered the professional canon and know it as well as any man, light the fire, heat the kettle, knead the dough, wrist deep, and tell who to pass what. And the wine and laughter flow. Until maybe we forget who is in charge, and who is a fine gentlemen or lady, and who is one of the noble serving professionals, and who is just rabble like us. Rabelais was a doctor. He loved women. He would understand. "Come, let us drink!" 

Lost and Found

"I love you and always will," that is the best possible use of the plain style. For the faithful husband it is a felt truth and a promise. For the seducer it is an effective means to an end. When a God, or the God, became man, and his message was love, he spoke in parables. You could say that the alternative was premature crucifixion, and that the style was meant as a cloak, or to keep the wrong people from getting saved, as St Mark says, they mustn't, but also because the natural language of moral truth is indirection. "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -- Success in Circuit lies," as Emily Dickinson wrote, as if to herself, alone in her room. Bearing witness: the best models say the moment of truth is best postponed, if only to the end of a stanza.

The Virtue of Torture

Taking the medical analogy seriously. What must it have been like to operate on a patient without anesthetic? To touch the skin with the scalpel, or saw, and feel the whole body stiffen under your hand, to hear the preemptive scream, and to go on and not be distracted. Given the effect of the satiric edge, would a kind person hesitate and draw back? What if it hurts the other? Keep going. If the purpose is to heal what is deformed or corrupt, it will hurt. Surgery was consensual. Public torture was not, at least not for one dismembered.  

Satire today may be as important for the health of the body politic as is judicial torture. Both require a personality type that some may find sadistic or psychopathic. But can we begrudge the professional the pleasures that come with an important social role?

Perhaps in the style of an old New Yorker cartoon

The headsman, in a black tunic, tight leggings, boots, a black leather hood, and his big belly hanging out, lies on the therapist's couch. The caption reads, "I don't know, I just don't love my work that much anymore." Imagine the cartoon, licensed to The Journal of Positive Psychology. It lies open to that page on the table in the therapist's break room in Wealth Bondage, or Gitmo. Imagine the Journal's prose, its bibliography, its peer reviewers..... Somewhere in this is a joke.

On Old School Satire

Another thought - What would bedside manner have meant for a Roman surgeon in 50 BC, when even the most willing patient had to be held down, or strapped to the table? A calm, professional, voice on which the patient might focus while the corrupted part is cut away? If we could recapture that tone, what good might we yet do? The problem is that I enjoy it too much. And it spooks the patient. Remember, this is for your own good......

Que Pasa?

Mr. Matrullo reflects on  Reinhold Niebuhr. To see the mote in another's eye, but not the beam in your own is an ethical failing. For that matter so is being blind to the murders traditionally committed by those in your station in life.  What is going on? Best not to see or say, lest you be the one to whom bad things happen in secret with nothing said and no appeal. How well Americans will adapt themselves to these blindnesses and insights remains to be seen. So far we are doing very well, I think, at least in the not seeing what is going on area of our social obligations. Philanthropy helps too in that regard being so polite and inoffensive. Leadership in selective attention is provided by our media. Who can blame us for not seeing what is really going on?

Deprogramming The Happy Victims of a Cult

On the polygamous sect:

An expert in children in cults testified Friday that while the teen girls believed they were marrying out of free choice, it's a choice based on lessons they've had from birth.

Whatever your views on this case, you have to admit that the expert's logic is faulty. What if the teen girls were in the mall buying stuff? Would we conclude that they were deluded, since their apparent choice is "based on lessons they've had from birth"? I am sorry that the girls in either case fail to confront their abusers. But members of both sects believe that they have chosen freely. And to suggest otherwise is patronizing? I speak as a deprogrammer myself. The hardest part of teaching my clients to be truly free is deprogramming the conditioning they received from birth in a capitalist society. Even the philanthropically inclined fight the onset of wisdom as if it were death.