Saturday, September 10, 2011

And what is the worst...?

Among the many, many consequences of my experiences in recent years is that I notice now that I am not at all quick to judge anyone who stands in the public eye, accused of some crime or another. I have come to realize that "innocent until proven guilty" does not come naturally to the human animal. As a species, we prefer to bay for blood when it is offered, and we're not good at putting ourselves in the designated victim's shoes. That legal principle, a presumption of innocence, is woefully fragile.

I came across an interview in the Canadian National Post of Conrad Black, the ex news mogul brought low by fraud charges. He protests his innocence. (But they all do, don't they?) He has written a book. (They don’t all do that.) He claims “my contempt for almost all of them is almost, but not quite, beyond my powers of expression”. I know how he feels.

Black is a Roman Catholic, and also says: “I accepted [the Pope’s] view that life is a cruciform, and we all suffer personally or through natural disasters, though we don’t know why. And only those people who have some faith imagine that there is a reason at all. It is a stern message, but it need not be a grim one — because it shows that there is some intrinsically worthwhile aspect to coping with suffering. At a certain point, there is no practical alternative. You either resist it and fight on or you roll over and give up.”

I'm not sure that I entirely agree with this. It gets damned close to the approval of suffering, and I'm pretty sure there are some Roman Catholics, and others, out there who rationalize not being a good Samaritan on that basis. It seems to me that a humane duty is to do one's best to relieve suffering. On the other hand, I recognize Black's position as that of someone doing his best to make sense of a very painful phase of his life (and it is not over yet). I've been there. Again, I know how he feels.

Buried in the comments, I found this:

Conrad Black's story has implications for each of us that I haven't seen in the other posts here, so I'll mention one, the most important being what happens when someone you like/love/respect becomes embroiled in a difficult situation, suffering the loss of reputation.

Whether that person is guilty or not, friends disappear out of fear of association. Partners/associates run for cover. When someone you know suddenly falls from grace, or fails as a person, what to do? In the confusion of the moment one learns vital lessons about oneself, and life in general.

I don't mean to imply that I would run to the man's defence, if he were a friend. But I like to think I would, and Black's life is a lesson from which to learn either way how to react to such situations. It happens in ways to everyone.

The worst part must be to see people you thought were friends, or who thought they were, betray you, and behind your back. Still, we have the worst system except for all the others. Imperfect people don't create perfect institutions; they run them, and what can one expect? Injustice is virtually guaranteed at some point, along with justice.

What can one learn from the life of people like Conrad Black besides just guilt or innocence, which is not always clear? That is the question.


"In the confusion of the moment one learns vital lessons about oneself, and life in general. " And what do we learn? If we have an ounce of self-analysis, perhaps the limits of our courage, or that our values are profoundly informed by our self-interest, or that our integrity is as fragile as sugar glass in the face of our social fears. Some of us, a precious few, might find that we are worthy of the trust our friends place in us.

Is the worst part the betrayal? I have to admit, it was brutally wounding on each occasion, but in the long term, I am not sure if it is the worst, although it is certainly close. In the long term, I think the worst might be the knowledge of the total waste that is characterized by such an episode. Only real evil would be pleased at such a thing (while publicly decrying it, of course).

"Al" gives me some hope.

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