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That peece of work

February 7, 2013

Isn’t it Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, who in the quaint English of his day says, “What a piece of work is Man…” Shakespeare couldn’t have put it more succinctly because Man, in the gender-neutral sense, has contrived with some help from Nature to melt the icecaps, walk on the Moon and describe the composition of the Universe within milliseconds of its creation. Yet he has never lost his essential humanity, being still perfectly capable of spilling soup on his shirtfront or breaking wind in church.

Jack O’Brien

Jack O’Brien

So how did he get so smart? 

Well, one of the smartest people once said, “If I have seen further than others, it was because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

Very modestly put, but premature, as his then-revolutionary theory of gravity turned out to be inadequate when it came to predicting the Transit of Venus. Which should be a lesson to us all to keep our cotton-pickin’ mouths shut when we get branded a hero. 

Indeed the ancient Romans, who had several good ideas, employed, at public expense, a slave to stand in back of a hero’s chariot as he staged his Triumph to whisper in his ear from time to time “Remember you are only human.”

In those days it was the custom to recognize great achievement by awarding suitable candidates the title of god, with a little g, big G being reserved for Zeus, the father of all things.

In these monotheistic times we have to be a bit more careful with how we use the term, although when the whole nation acclaims us for outstanding performance it is not easy to be humble. Which brings us to the question of Reward. 

Is it rational to compensate the CEO of a corporation, which has survived only by virtue of a Government bailout, by paying him $85 million a year? The CEO says “yes” because it was in his contract, and anyway he personally supervised the bailout, but we can scarcely refrain from pointing out that it wouldn’t have been necessary if he hadn’t been so incompetent or greedy in the first place.

Which brings us to the question of Forgiveness of Sins. 

This has always been a tricky argument, as we cannot hide our suspicion that it is just too easy to cheat when you know you will be forgiven, provided you choose your words carefully. 

I myself am of the opinion that you should be stripped of every conceivable advantage you gained, plus a stiff fine to encourage you not to repeat the offense. But others disagree, proposing a range of options from permanent incarceration to a reward for initiative. Perhaps, as one critic put it, I should hush mah mouf.

That about sums up the lesson for today, which is that we may well have been all born equal, but some are more equal than others, and we just have to put up with it.

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