Saturday, December 03, 2005

It Stinks to Be King

My brain is full of spacetime and the special and general theories of relativity this evening. I've been reading Fabric of the Cosmos. The text itself is blessedly free of maths, those are all consigned to the endnotes. However the endnotes aren't always about the math, sometimes they offer additions to the theory being explained in the text. So I feel compelled to read the notes. And laugh. Because Mr. Greene says things like "For the mathematically inclined" to serve warning to those of us who aren't that there will be numbers and formulas in that particular note. A very kind man is Mr. Greene. Also filling my head is snow. Here is what it looks like today in my backyard: IMG_0154 I tried to apply Einstein's theories of spacetime to snow shoveling, but it quickly became clear that I do not have a firm enough understanding yet. Maybe by the next snowfall. All this to lead up to Montaigne who has absolutely nothing to do with snow or spacetime. His essay this week is "On High Rank as a Disadvantage." High rank here being king, prince, or I suppose even president or CEO. Montainge "can wish as well as the next man" and "allow great freedom and indiscretion" to his wishes, but he has never wished for "imperial or royal rank nor for the prominence of those high destinies where men command." He declares, "I love myself too much for that." Instead Montaigne prefers to rank somewhere in the middle so that he is neither a "wretched nobody" nor "one who causes crowds to part with awe" as he passes. While the crowd parting thing would be really cool, I can see how it could get annoying after awhile. It is easy to disparage those of high rank and even take delight in it since it is unattainable. There is even a natural competition between the ruler and the subject. Each is bound together and each will always complain of the other. But the real disadvantage of high rank is that everyone always lets the prince or king, or whoever it may be, have whatever it is they desire. If it is a game that is being played, say polo or chess, the opponent will allow the person of rank to win. If it is poetry your prince has written, everyone will praise it. If it is new clothes, even if you cannot see them and your king looks to be naked, everyone will praise their cut and beauty. The problem is that "even such men's good qualities are dead and gone, for qualities are known only by comparison, and such men are beyond compare; they have little knowledge of true praise, being battered by continual and uniform acclaim." It is an unfortunate situation for individuals of rank. Not only are their good qualities dead, their defects and vices are also praised. It is also a difficult situation for those of us who do not have rank. If you are in a position to criticize someone who does, do you because it is the right thing to do? Or do you keep your mouth shut because you may be fired from your job or, in an extreme case, jailed? Seems like rank can put everyone at a disadvantage. On a bit of a tangent, the editor notes that the future Henry IV of France read this essay of Montaigne's and respected him for his outspoken judgment. Maybe it's what helped him be such a popular ruler. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On the Art of Conversation"