A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Timon of Athens and the UN


Timon of Athens is introduced in Act One as the archetype of a generous friend. When friends of Timon ask for loans, Timon doesn’t hesitate, and the question of repayment, between friends, is one that Timon himself considers beneath the level of their friendship.

Tim: “Noble Ventidius!
Well I am not one of that feather to shake off
My friend when he must need me. I do know him
A gentleman that well deserves a help.
Which he shall have. I’ll pay the debt and free him.”

I will select the United Nations to stand in for Timon. It is worth recalling that the UN was changed utterly by the decision of President Truman to allow one vote per nation, regardless of whether that nation’s UN representative was A) truly representative, that is, chosen by a government that was chosen by the people, or B) the friend of a group of thugs with guns who held control over that nation. By permitting both A-type representatives and B-type ones to share the same dignity on the floor of the UN, its fate, in Bardseye’s view, was sealed. Here is the generous and good-hearted UN, the one that would have been created if Truman had insisted, for example, that democracies have votes – just as their peoples do – and that autocracies may attend and speak, but not vote, extending its generosity to third-world supplicants in need of aid:

Tim: “Why, I have often wished myself poorer,
that I might come nearer to you. We are born
to do benefits and what better or properer can
we call our own than the riches of our friends?
O, what a precious comfort ‘tis to have so many,
like brothers, commanding one another’s fortunes!”

Well, that all changed when the regimes became equal within the UN to truly representative governments. The Timon that emerges now, portrayed in one decade by Boutros-Boutros Gali and in the next decade be Kofi Annan, has a far less noble attitude toward the world. The world to this Timon is a place of rapacity and greed only, where no government has legitimacy, and thievery itself is the purpose of existence. This Timon, like the UN, has gold, but he sees it not as a source of assistance to those in need, but as a pirate’s treasure owed only to whoever has the strength to steal it. Timon, like Annan and today’s corrupt UN in general, finds comradeship only upon encountering two thieves intent on robbing Timon himself. Here at least are beings he can relate to. Is the UN’s con game of tricking money out of the wealth-creating democracies to hand over to corrupt, kleptocratic regimes that control and oppress their peoples any different? Timon extends his fatherly advise to the two bandits (con means offer; composture means manure):

Timon: Yet thanks I must you con
That you are thieves profess'd, that you work not
In holier shapes: for there is boundless theft
In limited professions. Rascal thieves,
Here's gold. Go, suck the subtle blood o' the grape,
Till the high fever seethe your blood to froth,
And so 'scape hanging: trust not the physician;
His antidotes are poison, and he slays
Moe than you rob: take wealth and lives together;
Do villany, do, since you protest to do't,
Like workmen. I'll example you with thievery.
The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea: the moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun:
The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
The moon into salt tears: the earth's a thief,
That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen
From general excrement: each thing's a thief:
The laws, your curb and whip, in their rough power
Have uncheque'd theft. Love not yourselves: away,
Rob one another. There's more gold. Cut throats:
All that you meet are thieves: to Athens go,
Break open shops; nothing can you steal,
But thieves do lose it: steal no less for this
I give you; and gold confound you howsoe'er! Amen.

This assumption of moral ugliness, of the universality of such moral ugliness, lies at the heart of what the non-representative UN represents. A self-confident community of representative nations, of governments who know they represent and speak for their peoples and who hold properly in contempt regimes who do not, would close this institution's doors and start over.

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