Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Can I step back and test my impressions? What would I find if I did?
Reading this prompt, I realize I’m really a product of my historical training, which very much builds the practice of constructing an argument or a narrative based on fact and educated interpretation. I am a person trained to raid the footnotes, to follow up when something doesn’t seem quite right in order to understand the source, and to follow that breadcrumb trail even farther if need be. If there’s one thing I know for certain is that popular impressions of various historical events and people are often, if not outright incorrect or based on out-of-date information, certainly more nuanced.
What I sometimes forget is that most people do not operate this way. For me, my “gut” is more a brain inured to collecting and analyzing information, keeping an eye out for confirmational bias, and so forth. History, as a quote I saw this week noted, is not there to make you feel good about yourself or to prop up heroes. You always have to be ready to face the fact that your theory is bullsh*t.
The first thing I heard this morning was the news of the death of Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. He was 99, just a few months short of 100, which was quite remarkable–but it also meant his death was not unexpected. What was perhaps a little sobering was to realize he was born 3 years before my mom.
In any case, of course that immediately had people talking about the future of the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth is in her 90s now, and though her own mother lived to over 100, the clock does continue to tick. Growing up in the US, the monarchy for me was sort of an uber-celebrity family; it wasn’t until I moved to Canada that I realized how much a part of everyday life it still was, from the presence on our money to the office of the Governor General, still appointed by the Crown and still the viceregent and representative of the official head of government, the Queen. When I became a citizen, my oath was made to her and her heirs. When the infamous Harry and Megan interview came out a couple of months ago, people immediately started wondering whether it was time for Canada to ditch the monarchy. That’s not going to happen while the Queen still lives–she’s almost universally liked, loved in many cases. But even after–it would take a vote by all of the provinces, and an additional complication would be just how deeply the institution is embedded in Canada’s very-difficult-to-change Constitution. But her heirs–even the most popular of them–are not nearly as popular as she is. Charles is over 70 and is largely blamed for the breakup of his marriage (and the subsequent death of Diana). His brother Andrew is straight out horrible, although youngest brother Edward seems a decent enough sort. William is certainly more popular, but even his image has become a little tarnished over the years. But I think what most people are asking in 2021 is why elevate a particular excessively wealthy people to prominence like that? What does the monarchy actually do? I personally like the idea of a neutral head of state for the nation to rally around in times of trouble, but there’s nothing stating that that position need be hereditary.
That kind of thing aside, I think most people found a great deal to admire in the very long marriage–73 astounding years–between the Queen and the Prince. Theirs was an actual love match (and people worried a bit about whether it was a suitable match when they first got together). They probably expected they would have more time to prepare for Elizabeth’s role as Queen, but her father George VI died early, which would lead to a record-breaking long reign by Elizabeth II. Both of them served their country in WWII and afterwards with dignity and a certain humility (I love the fact that Elizabeth was a mechanic and drove a truck). While there were scandals aplenty with their children, about the worst that could be said about Phillip is that he had a tendency for verbal faux pas. The two clearly supported each other from day 1. Elizabeth called him her “strength and her stay.” I think that will do nicely as a final word.
I have found the perfect Shostakovich 5th. I mean, it’s not the perfect 5th in a technical sense, (it’s the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) and the quality of this recording isn’t anywhere near top-notch (because it’s clearly from an old videotape from 1988, and the resolution sucks and there’s parts with static), but watching Maxim conduct his dad’s work with so much intensity and passion is just…indescribable. (I don’t know, I think I do a lot of those same expressions when I listen.) Watch what he does with the third movement. Watch how he starts the 4th movement. And then watch what he does with the finale. And stay for the applause, because right at about 50:03 this performance becomes perfect.
This is the moment of perfection. This is what I stayed to the very end, not knowing whether he would…and he did.