The punctilious say that justice must not only be done; but must be seen to be done.
This stands a little in opposition to Jesus’ recommendation to us that we ‘do our alms in private’; so that ‘the left hand knoweth not what the right hand doeth.’
Doing alms of course is not the same thing as is dispensing justice; although no doubt there is some close connection; even overlap between the two activities?
For my purposes here now today though these illustrations serve to shed a contrast and show therefore a great psychological difference between any one of us doing something in public and us doing the same thing but in private. Like as John Donne wrote in his poem The Undertaking:
“I HAVE done one braver thing
Than all the Worthies did;
And yet a braver thence doth spring,
Which is, to keep that hid.”
‘Braver’ here by the way means not ‘courageous’ but is perhaps nearer to ‘admirable’.
Other poets, notably TS Eliot have focused on this difference made to one one’s apprehension and actions and speech when one is being watched by a public whilst doing something; as opposed to doing the thing privately alone and without giving knowledge to others that you have done it.
TS Eliot says:
“adjust our watches to the public clocks” ………….and also
“They have the look of flowers that are looked at”
Again some explication. Nowadays there are few if any public clocks. All of us have mobile phones and/or accurate wristwatches which are reliable and not in need of adjustment in the same way as were the watches and timekeepers of a generation or two back. Thus most public clocks have been removed or have been allowed to stop; this latter fact being a telltale indicator of our times and societies, with their fragmented citizenries with their quasi-individualist ideas. My time is the right time say we all.
The second citation from TS Eliot has been rather more durable than his clocks observation; although for many readers I think his meaning here might seem obscured from their understandings? He means, I believe, that the flowers have been planted – in a garden – by a planter who has had a mind to laying out their presentation as a show to be beheld by observers. Thus they are set in the ground, situated, on purpose to be looked at.
With the clock citation Eliot is getting at how, even today and without us having public clocks; we all still tend to adjust our views and understandings accordingly as to how the news and views and current affairs programmes in the media comment and present stories to us. To be crude – when we are informed daily that say, Foreign Aid is a waste of public money, and that it should have its budget cut to zero; not only does such a sentiment spark and initiate a debate on the topic; but its arguments for erasing this budget tend as they are propagated to pick up followers and adherents amongst society.
This is not merely certain ordinary people being persuaded by the news and comment that it’s a good idea to abolish foreign aid. It can be often the case in addition that a figure or figures in authority has opened a debate (like hanging and capital punishment, and like bringing back National Service) which is about a topic which many people for many years have been wanting someone in authority to bring up; so as to allow those many people a certain ‘respectably’ to their views, for them to air them as it were ‘respectably’, say, for abolishing the Aid budget, (or for bringing back National Service and Hanging).
Overseas Aid, Hanging, and National Service, in fact are three issues which had the British a plebiscite on them right now then those decisions on these issues which Parliament has taken in behalf of its public repeatedly over a course of 30 or 40 years now, would be overturned overnight.
Thankfully we have representative government which has been able historically to withstand the pressures of the majority public mind on these issues. But as in USA so too in Britain things are changing and thoughts and ideas which were once felt too shameful to be broached openly in the public arena by their holders, are now becoming more acceptable in that public arena to be broached, and are even beginning to be felt bona fide legitimate issues for public debate.
UK Prime Minister during the 1990s John Major seems to me to have helped begin this trend when he ‘came out’ and denounced beggars as ‘frightening’ people and as ‘unsightly’ and as ‘nuisances’. I ask ‘To which of these three was that man neighbour?’
The flowers having a look ‘that they are looked at’ are my main concern here today however.
To go back to Jesus and almsdoing for a moment, let us see why Jesus recommended that we do not do alms in public. He said about those who did do their alms in public:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
If you bothered to read Jesus’ words, words which I am well assured are some amongst the most important ever spoken by any person ever; you will have seen how much he values what we might identify as being ‘integrity’ in a person; a thing which the Bible itself in KJV tends to call ‘uprightness’ (of character); a good old fashioned word which explains itself very adequately.
That ‘reward’ which Jesus speaks of for one using one’s integrity when doing one’s alms or else when praying or else in what you pray; a reward which comes from God; is in large part is encompassed in the old saying that: ‘Virtue is its own reward’; that is, its reward lies in that sense of having, as John Donne notes above, done a ‘worthy thing’ in private and to have ‘kept it hid’ and so having done ‘bravely’ the right thing according to one’s own conscience and sense of propriety.
Conversely, to have gone public with one’s almsdoing or prayers, as did those people of Jesus’ days who stood on the street corners and had men blow trumpets to catch public attention; this is to be sensed, by persons ‘upright’ of character, as being not a ‘brave’ thing but an ugly, self-referential, egoistic, road trip of a thing; one which salutes oneself rather than it does any honour to God or help to men or women.
Note the trumpets. They indicate that what is going on is a display; a performance; and bears a leading role starring ME. Every indication is that these grovelling almsdoers are aware of being watched, in fact they are beckoning passers by to watch them; and furthermore these almsdoers are having their fulfilment by their airing of their egos like dirty washing in this way; and in public, and so showing off their hollow generosities and failed pieties and so forth.
This performance of theirs uses tropes of rhetoric; tropes which serve to impress with eye catching psychic fireworks those who witness their actions; their actions which cannot but be modified and adulterated and diluted from obtaining anywhere near ‘uprightness’ by their use of these rhetorical tropes so as to point up not the alms and God, but the almsgiver and the public show.
Such performances then are changed, affected, and steered elsewhere by the very act of their being done in public. The doers of them are intensely aware of the fact that there is an audience to be had and that that audience is watching them. Thus they will modify their performance to suit its beholders, so as suitably to obtain maximum worldly ‘kudos’ from the approvals of their audience.
Let us move up to the present day now and so look at how this scenario pans out in our day.
We have a reality show on TV here in UK and it is called Gogglebox. Simply viewers of TV are filmed at home whilst they are watching TV and whilst they are offering comments and criticism on events as these unfold on their TV screens.
Of course either more or less so everyone being filmed in this way whilst watching TV is her/himself giving a bit of a performance; one which they would not have given had they been at home but without the cameras being there to film them. In short they too are conscious, like the guys doing alms with the trumpeters in the streets, that there is an audience watching their moves and actions and listening to their words and expressions.
But this is all OK with Gogglebox because it’s a trivial and inconsequential bit-of-fun show. Nothing much hangs on it such as ‘worthiness’ or ‘uprightness’.
Let’s come now to politics. We in UK have two politicians who also sit well within the category of popular celebrities: Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. Both are taken as stand-up comedians by many of us; some of us are favourable, some appalled; but all are engaged in a kind of Reality live show whenever one of these two makes an announcement or speech or an appearance on TV – A bit like Trump in the USA, for whom we here have a daily show, which is in part, variety performance trying to be seriously political. It is billed as serious politics as a show; but this indicates how dismally serious our politics and media situation have become.
Rees-Mogg and Johnson both like to capitalise on this music hall celebrity they have achieved having had the aid of a media which is set on following and setting this trend of futile and levitous disgrace found in our governing persons. They are demagogues, and they court the idle entertainment-seeking people who have no sense of what ought to be propriety within political life.
Thus both Rees-Mogg and Johnson, as does Trump, are playing to the gallery.
Politics has always used rhetoric and persuasive powers; since Pericles and Demosthenes right up to Hitler and Roosevelt and beyond. Politics has always been in part a performance, an enacted drama, a presentation of the self before a public audience and in a favourable light etc. Doing down one’s enemies and pushing recommendations for one’s own pet policies and ambitions.
Right now however, the boundaries between serious business and entertainment are severely blurred and this difference is being challenged – by and in the media and by and in the circles which ought to know better; the rulers in government. Too many are happy to be felt to ‘have the look of flowers that are looked at’ and to value this above any professional sense of public duty or welfare.
Thus, for all thinking people, types like Rees-Mogg and Johnson are considered to have their integrities severely compromised, by their own desires for advancement and by their vaulting ambitions for themselves; and there is little doubt that these desires of theirs are why they are playing themselves to the galleries.
Just as says the Bible that flowers are creatures of a day and so in the morning they spring up and in the evening they are withered; so too I expect our fickle and degenerated tastes and fashions and natures are going to say farewell to Johnson and Rees-Mogg in a few months or years down the way, and then move onto something equally or even more degenerate and fickle; and this is the sickness I am so angry and anxious about for my children’s futures and for all our children’s futures.
Even our news media on TV, not a commercial station which subsists on advertising and on catching people’s attention by trumpeting in the marketplaces; but on the British BBC, once famed for gravitas and for measured pronouncement; now yesterday in a news magazine programme, fairly ballasted stuff one would have hoped, but no: there was a poll taken on a variety of public individuals who were stopped in the streets and asked to share their opinions on Rees-Mogg. Were such a poll not sufficiently out of place in a news programme; since it does no more than speculate that a dozen or so people are thinking thoughts which might represent a nation; this frivolousness was compounded by a madly dinning thrash metal musical background running pell-mell throughout the public individuals being shown interviewed.
It’s the kind of thing that is so annoying as it is normally used on the TV channel 5USA; where it advertises their US action and thriller shows of fictitious violence intrigue and atrocious crime. On a news show it is ludicrous if it were not dismal that it should seriously be entertained by producers to be appropriate.
Generally it is another contribution to the popular and demagogic performance art of media and politics in the real, and also (in the unreal) on the radio TV and in the newspapers and news magazines. Everything is sinking down further into ‘anything goes’ and nothing is any longer inappropriate; except for those fixated phobias of the hour, such as Charitable workers liking to have sex now and then, and the consequent victimisation of women as alleged by women who have the affluence to be so particular.
Possibly these accusers might well ask themselves what have they ever done for a destitute country that compares well with going out there and for some years contributing daily and constantly to relieving the suffering and distress in such places.
It is all very well to sit and to talk and to condemn; often condemning for the sake of flagging up a women’s liberal movement at home; but such pointing fingers do little to help, and much to destroy what is good that is emerging daily from such charitable foundations and their works abroad.
Cut the overseas aid budget altogether maybe? I suspect this news story on wicked men involved in charity works abroad has been floated in part to shore up this ‘cut the foreign aid’ budget coterie as well. Two shibboleths with one first cast stone?