Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Mar 27, 2012 in Guest Contributor, Law, Science & Technology, Society | 9 comments

Athena and the Jurists

Any astrologer worth her salt would tell you that there is not a lot of good that you can expect from a grand Supreme Court argument over the future of health care, held on a day when Mercury is retrograde, Saturn is retrograde, and Mars is retrograde.  And, since, like global warming, astrology is easily refuted, except by observation, allow me to make this observation on the madness of the zeitgeist.

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times conspired this weekend to deprive Socrates of his wits and reaffirm the verdict of Orestes:

There are numerous tales and stories associated with Pallas Athene, including her name, which was originally simply Athene.  One day she was sparring with her foster sister, Pallas, daughter of a local sea-god and more than likely a cousin of hers, when Daddy Jupiter distracted her, causing her to accidentally kill her sister.  As part of her grief, she set her name before her own.

She was seen as a protector of cities, a prophetess, and invincible in battle.  Mythologically, she helped Hercules with his labors, assisted Odysseus in his voyage from Troy, and gave Perseus a hand disposing of Medusa.  She also gave Athens the gift of the olive tree, beating out Poseidon’s gift of the horse.  To appease him, the gods deprived Athenian women of their citizenship, their vote, and the right to give their children their surname.  Thus, from that point on, women began to lose their rights and this was blamed on Athene.

This was further reinforced in the trial of Orestes, which boiled down to who the true parent of a child was, the mother or father.  Since Pallas Athene was born of a man, she testified that it was the male parent who was most important.  Apollo, who defended Orestes, also stated that the mother only provided a place for the seed implanted by the male to grow. Needless to say, this did not move feminism forward….

Which is, when you think about it, what we’re debating in the Forty-Nine states that have either passed or considered legislation that, in essence, enshrines that most important and sacred seed to the detriment of the physical choice of the women in whom said seed has been sprouted.

At least, the verdict of Orestes has been the template for the past few millennia —  although it is now under siege by that absurd idea that women are people, too. The oogly-boogly and mumbo-jumbo have been roiling over Health Care, so-called, by Luntzian Strategem, “Obamacare” so successfully that people refer to it as the latter and not “The Affordable Health Care Act,” as they refer to the Estate Tax — originally meant to keep America from becoming balkanized by an hereditary oligarchy — as the “Death Tax,” thus enraging millions who will never possibly have the slightest chance to be subject to the estate tax, since their estates at death will be worth considerably less than two million dollars.

Fewer and fewer every day, in fact.

Although today, the radio leads me to understand,  the issue at hand will be whether anyone has thus far been injured, thus rending the case moot for the moment, since the Supreme Court established long ago that it would not rule in hypothetical cases. Thus, the sophists will argue whether there has or has not been harm, and, given the astrological tenor, and the willingness of the Alter Boys to TAKE this case, the most spectacular of legal gymnastics ought to be forthcoming as the speechifyin’ ends and the deliberatin’ begins. Then, in their own sweet time, we shall learn if the case of the Angry Reaganauts Versus Health Care for All Americans (or nearly all) shall be adjudicated.

More fun that the lead plaintiff, the fellow tryin’ ter shove a stake through the black heart of Obamamamacare is Antonin Scalia’s former clerk, as is John Roberts, Jr., our Chief Justice, the former law clerk of the late William Rehnquist, he of the Golden Stripes, now residing in Hell in Roger Taney’s Circle. (Do not feel sorry for Wild Bill Rehnquist of Arizona, for, as Shaw said, the damned feel perfectly comfortable in hell; after all, it was made for them.)

But, to get to that, we should begin with this, from the New York Times:

… Drawing on ethnography, evolutionary theory and experimental psychology,

 sets out to trash the modern faith in reason. In Haidt’s retelling, all the fools, foils and villains of intellectual history are recast as heroes. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher who notoriously said reason was fit only to be “the slave of the passions,” was largely correct. E. O. Wilson, the ecologist who was branded a fascist for stressing the biological origins of human behavior, has been vindicated by the study of moral emotions. Even Glaucon, the cynic in Plato’s “Republic” who told Socrates that people would behave ethically only if they thought they were being watched, was “the guy who got it right.”

To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided

Which is, if you think about it, oxymoronic: if reason cannot be trusted, is merely a rhetorical trick, then the technology and brain research being invoked cannot be trusted, ergo, his arguments are undermined by his own arguments. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

But this is mere prologue. I will state here that I utterly oppose the chemical-mechanistic approach to human consciousness — the notion that we are merely survival machines, bearers of DNA, operating merely as a series of responses to environmental stimuli via complex chemical reactions. But the scientists’ conceit is, itself, oxymoronic. We return to Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” in the sense that the ONLY reality that any single human possesses is their individual, personal, subjective perception. “Objectivity,” is a paradigm, unless you can scare up an “objective being” which either takes us back to St. Anselm, or else into mysticism, and neither is the point here.

I only experience my own world, and you only ever experience your world. “Objectivity” is the bridge we build between them.

The “objective paradigm” of the scientists refutes human reality. You don’t really think or reason: you are merely chemical reactions. The “automotive” approach to the body as a machine, whose parts you can swap out — as Dick Cheney swapped his old blood pump for a new one — and the entire movement from the psychology of Freud and Jung — which attempts to understand consciousness from inside — to the rat psychology of B.F. Skinner, which is preferred in our Universities, because you can turn subjective reality into objective numbers.

Quantification. But how can you measure love?

The con here is the trick that “objective” reality trumps human, universal, irrefutable reality.

Thus do our jurists play with the “objective” reality of the Constitution, as governance and law eternally attempts to codify and describe reality, “objective” — that is to say, sensorially reproducible results, like a mile, or hot, or tall or deep. But, if you’ve spent any time with humans, you will realize that this is a consensus, and there will always be ONE contrarian who will maintain that day is night and up is down and will die in defense of their interpretation of “objective” reality.

You see, Clarence Thomas — surely the deepest thinker among the Alter Boys, that five-justice Catholic majority that has gifted us with so many 5-4 decisions. I do not mean any aspersion on the Church or its politics, but shared consensus on subtle religious values is going to tend to create subtle consensus on “secular” values, unless there’s a type of human being that I have not yet encountered and no one’s told me about. Birds of a feather actually DO tend to flock together.

As I was saying, Clarence Thomas is on record as wanting to seriously modify the Commerce Clause, the Federal Government’s authority to regulate interstate commerce, the reason that Washington and Madison and Mason sat on Washington’s porch and contacted those who would eventually call for, get, write, campaign for and ratify a constitution.

This is an ideological point. It is a point of belief about the words in the Constitution and not the practice of the Constitution by actual human beings upon whose contractual basis pretty much all economic and human activity is based. The interpretation of those words is quite literally the foundation of the government, the bedrock on which all other laws are based or in conformity WITH.

And it is like unto the scientist who sneers at all subjectivity — for no slur in science is more cutting than “but that’s subjective!” when there is naught BUT subjectivity. And yet there is no perfectly “objective” world — unless you have mistaken the certitude of numbers for the uncertainty of subjective reality.

That paradigm of objectivity is what allows our civilization to function, just as money lubricates the gears of trade and commerce, when NEITHER exists. Money is sometimes paper, more often just numbers transliterated into the ones and zeros of binary code. And objectivity exists nowhere. It is, as well, a comforting fiction, that allows us to discuss the Great Issues of the Day which we, in our objectivity, “witness” via electronic and printed media.

The mile is experienced differently by every single human who experiences it, even if it is the same mile though the same valley on the same path.

And I fear that the Affordable Health Care Decision will be the Dred Scott of our age, and that tragedy will ensue. I don’t know what kind of tragedy, but it is in the air. To tinker with the interpretation of the Sacred Words of the “objective” Constitution, Clarence Thomas’ view might well push us off a cliff. There is no question that at least four Justices were chomping at the bit to hear this case, and I can make an educated guess as to which four.

In this case, the baby may literally be thrown out with the bathwater. Actual human lives will be irrevocably affected by whatever decision is effected. Things is bad.

As outside the courtroom the age-old question is being debated:

the trial of Orestes … boiled down to who the true parent of a child was[:] the mother or father.  Since Pallas Athene was born of a man, she testified that it was the male parent who was most important.  Apollo, who defended Orestes, also stated that the mother only provided a place for the seed implanted by the male to grow.

In this case, the seed is termed “a baby,” thus the contraception debate, the planned parenthood debate, et al and etcetera.

And that has to color the strange Gladiatorial (and, for the first time, sort of live on radio) reality show as four angry male Justices, specificially appointed to be “safe” votes to overturn Roe v. Wade in its latest iteration or any iteration to come, one swing vote — Anthony Kennedy of California — three female Justices — probably anti-ditto — and my favorite Justice, Steven Breyer — Breyer’s pragmatic approach to the law “will tend to make the law more sensible” — of San Francisco.

The theater of the proceedings will be magnified thereby, and one wonders what effect this newfangled media circus will have on the mysterious and secretive workings of the Court. Either way the coin comes up, there’ll be hell to pay out here in subjective realityland. They’re already screaming about how their last shreds of freedom are being stripped from them (which is, frankly, immoderate and frightening language virtually guaranteed to overamp some poor lost soul who treasures his Second Amendment rights.)

On the other side, lips are bit, as are fingernails, and pundits gravely assure us that the Supreme Court will behave rationally, and, as they all PROMISED, would abide by stare decis — “let it stand”– and respect precedent.

Them what did done lied before and I am not comforted in the assurance that them what lied before will not lie agin.

The aegis of Athena with Medusa’s head

Just as I do not believe that Plato’s Socrates sockpuppet was wrong,  nor do I read tea leaves, as seems to be the pundit class’ singular pursuit this evening. And the circus is in town. Let’s see how it plays, but I do not believe that it will be objective.

This is the first time that the Supreme Court has tried a case using the Reality Show concept.

Let us devoutly hope that our Supreme trial is under that aegis of Athena.

Or maybe not.

And as the Learned Nine emerge,
robed in black and primly trussed;
we’ll hear their wisdom on display
and measure if they’re truly Just.



A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.