Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Milton, Shakespeare, and Schiff

The distinct realities and oppositions of perfection and imperfection are analyzed in the poems "When I consider how my light is spent," by John Milton, and "My mistress` eyes are nothing like the sun," by William Shakespeare, as well as in Stacy Schiff`s magazine article titled, "Know It All: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?" Although each work presents its respective argument from wholly different perspectives, a commonality emerges amongst the three. Essentially each work recognizes that perfection, whether it be physical or scholarly, is unattainable while simultaneously commending the pursuit of the best possible, or accepting that what may be viewed as a severe impediment is actually a mere bump in the road.
First, Milton`s poem talks of his own blindness and how it has affected his life. He resolves that despite this handicap, he is no less obligated to contribute to society, and especially to the work of God. This poem is appropriate to Jesuit education in that it incorporates the idea that one should offer what they have to improve the world rather than to dwell on setbacks. Milton mentions the parable of the talents, demonstrating that we should use what we have.
Milton`s theme of acceptance in the face of imperfection is mirrored in Shakespeare`s work, which describes one`s love for another, despite serious flaws in their physicality. The speaker describes a love that is so rare, that it does not depend on physical qualities whatsoever. This is the love makes the relationship unique. Despite possibly being a serious detriment, the speaker is able to look beyond imperfection, and view something that is actually perfect.
Schiff`s article takes a less personal approach to the discrepancy between perfection and imperfection. However, it is extremely relevant from a societal standpoint in that it describes the necessity of accurate yet flexible and up to date information. The popular internet information database, "Wikipedia," is discussed in depth. The founders of Wikipedia began the project as an attempt at perfecting a resource that was universally accessible, factually accurate, and limitless in capacity. Although they did eventually reach these goals, to an extent, the site remains far from perfect. Universal accessibility and a limitless capacity of information have been relatively successes. However, it is the factual accuracy of the information that is lacking, perhaps because of the successes in the other two aspects. Wikipedia has become a battleground of collective discernment. Unfortunately, too much subjectivity and immaturity plague the information. The most outstanding virtue of the site, which is the ability for any user to create or edit an article, turns out to be its greatest vice. Ironically, as the site became more universal, more restrictions, rules, and moderators had to be put in place in order to police the site and ensure that its ultimate goals are accomplished.
Unfortunately, like any attempt at perfection, Wikipedia is far from successful. The article cites research finding that for every 3 errors in Encyclopedia Brittannica, there are 4 on Wikipedia. Perhaps this is a lesson in discernment, that we need to learn how to incorporate the good from both sides. Although it is great that anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, this leaves too much opportunity for vandalism of truth. To go from the specific to the general, just as our informational sources are constantly striving to attain the perfect medium between flexibility and accuracy for the betterment of society, the Jesuit call for the development of the whole person for the common good echoes in the distance. Ignatian discernment is central to Jesuit and Catholic life, and an inexpendable resource in our daily lives, whether choosing how to get our information, or how we judge other people and ourselves.

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