Thursday, October 04, 2007

Jon Stewart made me do it

I was going to quit. I really, really was. But then a lot of things happened, and I started to reconsider. The truth is, your comments made me do it. And if you want to berate me for rising from the dead, well, I can only say I really meant for this blog to "die." But I took care of the dead that were haunting me, instead (it was all in my head, anyway). So enough of that.

Jon Stewart is a good reason to return, too. This is too good to pass up commenting on:

Probably you've seen that. The next night, it got even better, as Stewart opened by apologizing for being antagonistic, but not for being ethical.

That's right; ethical. As he is quoted in this marvelous appreciation at Editor and Publisher:

"But there has to be some core of soul in there," Stewart replied. "There's nothing in this book about, 'Be good, be competent.'"
A bit later, he told Matthews:

If you live this book, your life will be strategy, and ... you'll be unhappy."
Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics:

Let us examine this question, however, on another occasion; the self-sufficient we now define as that which when isolated makes life desirable and lacking in nothing; and such we think happiness to be; and further we think it most desirable of all things, without being counted as one good thing among others- if it were so counted it would clearly be made more desirable by the addition of even the least of goods; for that which is added becomes an excess of goods, and of goods the greater is always more desirable. Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of action.
Aristotle set out to define what behavior would bring happiness, and then advised pursuing that behavior. It's not too much of a diminution to say his book is about how to "be good, be competent." That is the chief goal of ethics (and the distinction from morality is a subtle one, but the terms are not necessarily coterminous). And that is all Stewart is complaining about: that Matthews has written an unethical book.

Behold what a controversy it stirs, however. Matthews is irate; Ted Koppel comes on the next night and stirs the ashes. Stewart has clearly overstepped the bounds of polite discourse. Why? Because he dared to be ethical rather than, like Mr. Koppel (a protege and fan of realpolitik practitioner and war criminal Henry Kissinger) another person for whom expediency is all.

E&P notes what Stewart noted; the similarity between Matthew's position and that of Machiavelli. It's an apt parallel, not least because Machiavelli was not advising "The Prince" on how to be happy, but merely on how to maintain power. And when power is not all that matters, power is bewildered as to how to respond.

Amazing this is coming from a comedian, no?

No, not really. Stewart may be Shakespeare's Fool; but then, who is Lear?

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