Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Plato, Pig Socks and Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Theresa
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Now I don’t often mention the same person, in this case Mother Teresa, in a blog within a two or three week sequence because it seems to me a tad tautological to do so. But this time, I suppose, I have to, because two things happened this week that made me think of Platonic forms. One had to do with socks that a football player Colin Kaepernick wore during a recent game. The apparel in question portrayed police officers as pigs. For the sake of clarity, I quote here from Josh Peters’ USA Today article that records the words spoken by the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, Bill Johnson:

“It’s just ridiculous that the same league that prohibits the Dallas [Cowboys] football club from honoring the slain officers in their community with their uniforms stands silent when Kaepernick is dishonoring police officers with what he is wearing on the field.”[1]

Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick

It seems to me that I needn’t quip, “He has a point.” I imagine that is self-evident to any sound thinking person. Rather, let me quote Kaepernick’s Instagram response:

“I wore these socks, in the past, because the rogue cops that are allowed to hold positions in police departments not only put the community in danger, but also put the cops that have the right intentions in danger by creating an environment of tension and mistrust.”[2]

I shall leave Mr. Kaepernick’s misunderstanding of the proper use of commas aside for the moment; to point that up would be petulant. Rather, let us look at what he is saying. He seems to me to be stating that the exception is more important than the rule. Put another way, he is suggesting that the particular is more important than the form. And that worldview also explains why he won’t stand for the national anthem. The exceptions to the basic goodness of his country have, in his mind, become of greater weight than the idea or ideal that the country could possibly represent. Even any semblance of such an ideal is absent. It’s gone.

Where did it go? I suppose it followed Hemley Gonzalez to India, who went there in 2008 “to take some time off and get in touch with [his] compassionate and creative side.” How thoughtful of him. Hemley (if I may) “decided to split [his] time in India between backpacking and volunteering, giving them two months of [his] time and energy; it was then that [he] discovered the serious medical negligence that had been taking place for quite a while inside the organization [Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity[3]] and began to document and report the abuse [he] witnessed.” Now I can only imagine that our friend Hemley hitherto had enjoyed very little familiarity with a third world nation. Hemley had probably not gone backpacking through Ethiopia. What a novel concept: touring a place where people are dying every day from starvation. And, then, just to ensure that he’s done his part for humanity, good-deed-doing Hemley documented the “abuses” of those trying desperately to help the starving and afflicted. Novel indeed.

Portrait of a Gentleman by Bartolomé González y Serrano, perhaps a forebear of Hemley? There may be a lesson in this portrait for the younger Gonzalez—just sayin’…
“Portrait of a Gentleman” by Bartolomé González y Serrano, perhaps a forebear of Hemley? There may be a lesson in this portrait for the younger Gonzalezjust sayin’…

I need not go on. Our friend Hemley made in 2008 the same mistake that Colin Kaepernick is making now merely by putting on his socks in the morning and sitting through the national anthem. Both decided, at some fundamental level, that the form of goodness (in Kaepernick’s case, merely the country, but in our friend Hemley’s case, God Himself and the vicar of God on earth—in this case Mother Teresa; wow!) is less important than the particular exceptions to the rule. Hemley found among the abuses that the heirs of Mother Teresa (for she was no longer living in 2008) perpetrated was their dearth of adequate utensils for the treatment of the very ill of Calcutta; they were discovered to have reused some of the equipment that had not been sterilized to Hemley’s satisfaction. I can just imagine Hemley’s version of Jiminy Cricket, perched right on his shoulder saying in his ear, “Good heavens, Hemley! What abuse you’ve stumbled upon! Report it! Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere! Yea, even from the Himalayas!”

I can only hope to sit next to Hemley the next time I fly. He reminds me of a business man I once met on an airplane. I got a one day pass to a fight club and, in my mind at least, I smacked him: but you’ll have to go back to another blog for that account. In the meantime, I recommend to our friend Hemley that the next time he wishes to get in touch with his compassionate side—which side is that, right or left?—or his creative side, that he simply go to the local humane society for the former and an art exhibition for the latter. As for our quarterbacking friend, I think he needs to grow up. (As an aside, may I say that I would love to have been lucky enough to be the patriotic blitzing linebacker that has him in his sights the next time they step on the gridiron together?)

More importantly, I would wish that both gentlemen take the time to read Plato’s Euthyphro, for they both are Euthyphro. They have particularized the moment. They have forgotten that there are ideas that transcend any individual event. And, perhaps they are emblematic of the way many of us, in America at least, think today. So I close with that thought, not a one day pass to the fight club, but simply the notion that too often nowadays we are so quick to wish to glut ourselves with an ephemeral “correction” of a particular instance of injustice that we lose sight of the greater good, the form of Justice itself. This Labor Day, which represents the hard work of our citizens rather than any particular instance of it and is therefore a Platonic holiday, may we think about something nobler, something ennobling, something to which to aspire that we might inspire others. Mother Teresa did that and tomorrow, though she was merely a fallen human being like the rest of us, she will be made a saint. Let us look to the hills whence cometh our strength. Hemley come down from there! Like Mr. Kaepernick, you’re simply out of your league.

Colin Kaepernick sacked

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/49ers/2016/09/01/police-reaction-colin-kaepernick-pig-socks-san-francisco/89715672/

[2] https://www.instagram.com/p/BJ0vPsQAGZQ/

[3] http://bigthink.com/daylight-atheism/hemley-gonzalez-the-truth-about-mother-teresa; see also the recent CNN article http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/31/asia/mother-teresa-controversies/

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