The ‘Wisdom’ of Claudius

If you had any doubts about the evils attendant on the concept of “mental health” and its embodiment in social practice, look no further than this.

Last night I was watching the Gershwin Award concert for the President on PBS, and when Jack White of the White Stripes appeared to perform “Mother Nature’s Son,” I blanched. I knew his music, but I had never seen his face before. From a distance, he was a dead ringer, not for my son, but for the man my son might’ve become had he not died by his own hand almost two years ago.

My wife and I talked long into the night, not to “process” it, but to see the hole in the world where this man who might’ve been was, to see that hole’s contours. For it was not merely a matter of my “loss.” I thought about this man’s future friends who would never know that he was missing, future lovers who would never know his heart, future fans who would never be touched by his music. Pain buys these eyes, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything… except that this man be alive, as he ought to be. No matter what happens to me, it will never stop being wrong that he isn’t here.

Claudius offers the following wisdom:

Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,
To give these mourning duties to your father:
But, you must know, your father lost a father;
That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound
In filial obligation for some term
To do obsequious sorrow: but to persever
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness; ’tis unmanly grief;
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
An understanding simple and unschool’d:
For what we know must be and is as common
As any the most vulgar thing to sense,
Why should we in our peevish opposition
Take it to heart? Fie! ’tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
To reason most absurd: whose common theme
Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried,
From the first corse till he that died to-day,
‘This must be so.’ We pray you, throw to earth
This unprevailing woe…

Well, he would, wouldn’t he? For he is a murderer who would rule, and would have those who mourn his victim more readily acquiesce to his power. Today’s board-certified Claudiuses do not murder men, but kill the truth that life is hard, the courage we need to bear it, the compassion we feel for the suffering of others, the honor we do to the fallen by memory, all in the name of pseudoscience and an ersatz “health.” It may be that the DSM committee’s move was a cynical one, to bamboozle the health insurance companies that wouldn’t compensate grief counseling otherwise, but that merely means that we are so committed to the “health” interpretation that there is no longer any other way to make possible wise guidance through this passage unless we pretend it’s a disease.

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4 comments on “The ‘Wisdom’ of Claudius

  1. Pam says:

    Thank you. Right here at my desk I have a picture of my Uncle, who did at 44. He had been an addict and an alcoholic. On the other side of my desk is an email from my Mom – the birthday reminder of that Uncle’s son, given up for adoption. My Uncle would’ve been 66 this year.

  2. DB says:

    Wow. And yes. And wow.

    I have lots of thoughts about this; none of them particularly coherent. Are you by any chance aware of the juvenile SF book “The Giver”?

    (“Pain buys these eyes”)

  3. poseidonian says:

    I’ve heard of the Giver but I haven’t read it.

  4. BV says:

    Yes, thank you for this. Makes me want to re-read Hamlet. 🙂

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