This isn't another post addressing some variant of the Cocktail Party Question (How can you defend those people?). I've done that repeatedly and at length in recent months. I'm after something else now. It's more reflective, more philosophical, more literary, more fundamental.
The Cocktail Party Question asks about how and why we do it. This is the more bottom-line issue: How do we get up in the morning and go forth?
Norm Pattis raised it earlier today as he looked back at a year of defending and forward to what lies ahead.
For many years, Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost was hero enough for me. "Better to reign in hell then serve in Heaven," he told his dispirited ranks as they descended to Hell. The proud defiance energized me. Yes, I thought, far better to be in Hell -- with all my friends. But I didn't realize that Hell was a real place, a place filled with broken people who pay their fees for counsel in lumps of sulphur.Yes, that's a view. Marlowe understood Hell better even than Milton. Mephistopholes explains in Dr. Faustus.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'dIf we are Satan, we are lost, however much we plod on. Norm again:
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be:
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that are not heaven.
Somehow even now, Milton's Satan summons. But is it enough? Is it enough to say with Satan: "So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,/ Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost"? Frankly, it is not. But as the new year dawns and old wounds continue to fester, I have little choice.Nobody's ever accused me of being a glass-half-full sort of person, but I reject Norm's view. We are not (at least, I'm not) affirming Edmund's command in King Lear:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!Instead, I stand up for clients. Some might be bastards (I speak metaphorically - many are in a literal sense), but that's of no moment. My role is not abetting the evil. It's standing up for what's right. And that's the business of defending. (OK, you can't completely ignore the Cocktail Party Question here.) But it's not about whose side I'm on. It's about whether I'm really on that side.
William Blake (famously, but many others, too) thought Satan the true hero of Paradise Lost, and for just the "proud defiance" Norm tried to channel. But Blake (and the others) are wrong. Heroism for Milton isn't defiance. The Miltonic hero isn't defiant, he's loyal. He doesn't bend or yield. Attack is for Satan. The hero defends.
In Paradise Lost, that hero is Abdiel.
Among the faithless, faithful only hee;To stand with Satan is to assume you're on the wrong side and actually to be on the wrong side. We can admire his defiance and pride, but pride is one of the sins - the chief of them, in fact, that Norm wants to associate with crime.
Among innumerable false, unmov'd,
Unshak'n, unseduc'd, unterrifi'd
His Loyaltie he kept, his Love, his Zeale.
To stand with Satan is, ultimately, easy. The angels who join Satan in rebellion in Paradise Lost, like all who give in to temptation, are in fact giving in. They take the easy way out, though of course they end up suffering for the choice.
To stand with Abdiel is harder. We resist the blandishments of the State. Plead to this. Admit that. Confess. Allow us to search. Don't object. Don't defend. To that, we join with Abdiel in saying, "No."
The demand that the government prove guilt is the demand of the resistor. Of the hero.
It's hard, of course, as all that is valuable is hard. The government's blandishments are real. But the strength comes in response.
Defending the damned isn't the work of Satan. He led them to damnation. Defending them is the work of Abdiel.