freedom, philosophy, religion, Uncategorized

Four Sons: Four Responses to Problems

Tonight Jews celebrate the Passover holiday by having an ancient Greek drinking party.  The ancient Greek drinking party, as we know from Plato’s “Symposium” (from the ancient Greek word “symposium” which means drinking party from drink plus together)  required a topic of conversation that each participant would address in turn.  In Plato’s symposium the topic was “What is love?” which is an excellent topic if you are drinking with your friends and some of you are in love with others of you.  For the seder the topic is “What is freedom?” which is an excellent topic for a party with parents and children, since children are unfree in relation to their parents but we are all hoping are on a journey to freedom.

The children are more-or-less unfree and their parents are asking them to discuss freedom.  This will naturally result in a mixed range of reactions — ambivalence and sarcasm (are you kidding me?) spring to mind.  The Haggadah (the guidebook to the seder) singles out four, assigning each one to a “son” — although today it would include daughters (pictured above).

The four responses enumerated in the hagadah are:

1)Asking for an explanation

2)Asking “What does this have to do with you?”

3)Asking “What is this?”

4)Silence.

The author of the haggadah has (or claims to have in order to be provoking) strong feelings about these responses, labeling the first “wise” and the second “wicked” and saying the older generation should be happy about response (1) and hurt and angry about response (2).  But if we think a little more deeply we can think about situations in which each of the four responses is appropriate.

A water crisis in Syria leads to a civil war and we are having a feast while the refugees from the crisis starve.

THE “WISE” SON

Why did this happen?  A water crisis.  Why are there water crises?  How can they be prevented?

THE “WICKED” SON

What does this have to do with you?  How can you sit there and lecture me on freedom when people are not free?  Are you doing all that you can?  If you’re not doing all that you can, how can you expect me to do so?

THE “SIMPLE” SON

What is this?  People are killing each other in a civil war.  What is a war?  What is a “civil war”?  What is a nation anyway?  What is this life of ours where this happens?

THE SON WHO IS “UNABLE TO ASK”

Silence.

Maybe freedom means the freedom to ask the hard, intellectually challenging questions, to ask the questions that challenge the authority and integrity of those in charge, to ask questions which are so hard because they seem so easy, and to be silent — with shock or awe or joy, or wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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fiction, philosophy, religion

Fathers and Sons

i

I signed up for Google Life Recorder when i was in high school because I was thinking of becoming a writer and I thought it would be useful to be able to go back and review every moment of my life.  It was.  I was able to write much better things about my first heartbreak when I looked back and relived the first time she and I met, kissed, slept together, fought, broke up.  And I was able to write much better things about the formation of my self-consciousness when I was able to go back and re-experience the first time I went back and looked at my first heartbreak.

I never thought my son of eighteen years would stand before me and ask me for my Lifetape.  But why wouldn’t he?  He wanted to write as I had wanted to write.  He wanted to know himself as I wanted to know myself.  He needed to get clear what hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations, sexual fantasies and religious yearnings within him came from him and which came from his old Pa.

We met in the office a month later.  “There’s a lot I have problems with.” he said.

“Tell” said me.

“I don’t like the way you backstabbed people at work in your 20s.”

“Neither do i, but thanks for bringing it to my attention.”

“You eat too much, masturbate too much, and have fantasies about killing and eating Mom way too much.”

“I’m sorry.  But thoughts come unbidden.”

“Fair enough, Dad.  But I did not like, really did not like the way you forced yourself on Mom and fucked her.”

“Well I get that but you see if that had never happened, where would you be?”

“I see but I don’t like it.”

ii

I took my son to the Hall of Documents to read something his great grandfather had written.   Grandpa Eddie had among his other accomplishments (silver medal track star, mafia lawyer, teller of tales in children’s nursery schools) been the discoverer and translator of a lost manuscript by the Norse poet Snorri Sturluson.  Snorri was the poet of the old gods — Thor and Odin and the Fenr Wolf — although he wrote the eddas at a time when Christianity was supplanting the old religion.  (Snorri, as it happens gave JRR Tolkien the names for his dwarves in The Hobbit).

Grandpa Eddie had translated the following

DIALOGUE BETWEEN MAN AND THE ALLFATHER

Man: Allfather. I wish to read your book.  The book of your lives and where you came from and what you are about.

Allfather; Read.

Man: (Having read) Why did you make man to suffer?  From plague and earthquake and war?  Why make a being for pain.

Allfather: Good question.  When the giants stormed Valhalla and caused much rapine and suffering and pain they wished for something that would wipe away their gigantic guilt.  The only thing I could do was to create a world where they could suffer.  For their vainglory they learned to be low.  For their brutality they learned fragilty.  For their egotism they learned love.

Man: Okay, but why did you make giants lusty for storming Valhalla

Allfather: What kind of question is that?

Man: What do you mean?

Allfather: Who would even think to make a world without giants?

iii

My son said “I think you wrote that.”

I said “I did not, but you are close.”

My son: Who?

I said: You.

You wrote it without paying attention to it but it is in your handwriting. You are writing so many things that you don’t even understand yet.  Brilliant things. Wonderful things. I’m so proud of you.  I’d do a milion more brutal shameful things to give you something to be ashamed of and something to write about.

My son: But how did I write it?  Why isn’t it in my Google Life Record?

I said: That old thing?  You are rewriting the rules of your language every moment to make your past tell the story you want to tell.

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