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“It Ain’t Necessarily So”

“It Ain’t Necessarily So”

by William H. Benson

September 27, 2001

     George Gershwin was born on September 26, 1898, and thirty-seven years later, almost to the day, his musical Porgy & Bess premiered in Boston.  One of the big hits from that musical was a song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”.  The lyrics suggested that some of the things that we are told are true early on constitute a core assumption that we then later discover is faulty or even mistaken.

     It has been said, that the easiest was to avoid becoming a bore is to startle people by challenging some of their cherished assumptions.  (It is also an excellent way to make an enemy.)  However, there are certain things that human beings assume are true actually fall into the category of “It Ain’t Necessarily So”.

     For example, certain institutions tell us that we have to or we must or it is imperitive that we  believe a particular political or philosophical or religious belief as a path to personal happiness, a better life, or a future salvation.  But “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”  As a corollary, those same institutions tell us that if we do not totally commit ourselves–heart, soul, mind, and body, to their particular package of beliefs, we will experience life-long misery or, worse yet, an eternal hell.  But “It Ain’t Necessarily So”.

     When we take that set of beliefs–a hand-me-down version, without questioning all of its implications and far-reaching results, we perhaps bypass virtue and the moral good.  We have to believe that human beings possess enough intelligence to question passed-on and -down assumptions, and that humanity will not doom itself with a worn-out, torn up, washed out, and full-of-holes box of crazed beliefs that damages and kills human beings.

     To believe privately one way or one thing or another way or another thing is our own business, but when we as humans “act” upon those beliefs, those actions can then be either good or bad, benevolent or malevolent.  To translate belief into criminal actions misses the important thing–grace, the magnanimous action that benefits others.  To crush others, to inflict pain upon others, to enmesh others, and to trap others simply because they do not believe as we do is morally evil.  It necessarily is so.

     An example from Shakespeare.  Othello loves and then marries Desdemona.  In the wings waits Iago who despises the newly-weds’ happiness, and so he promises to “enmesh” them all.  Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful, and acting upon that deception, the jealous Othello smothers his innocent bride, who, realizing what is happening, cries out “Lord! Lord! Lord!” and then dies.  When others inform Othello that Desdemona has not been unfaithful, but that Iago had lied, Othello can only cry out, “O! O! O!”, and then falls back onto his bed.

     This scene from Othello lets loose an intense pain that has stunned every audience each time it has been performed for the past four centuries.  There are perhaps some 600,000 words in the English language, and all Othello could say was “O!” three times.  At moments of excruciating pain and sorrow we hear or we offer up platitudes: “words fail us” or “words cannot express”;  Othello understood that, for speechless he was.

     Before his final act–suicide, he wanted to know “Why?”  Why had Iago deceived him?  Why had he lied?  Iago turned cold and said “Demand me nothing; what you know, you know:  From this time forth I never will speak word.”  And he never says another line throughout the play.

     On September 11, 2001 President Bush called “these folks . . . faceless cowards.”  They were Iago’s come to life to terrify our very existence.  Staring at the television screen that day all I and every other American could mutter was “O! O! O!”, while smoke billowed across lower Manhattan, and two skyscrapers collapsed, and knowing that thousands of Americans were trapped and doomed inside.

     Promiscuous hatred and envy does exist in human nature, and we want to know why, and we probe, wanting to know why this Iago is so hateful toward us.  Samuel Coleridge explained it best, “Iago is motiveless malignity hunting for the motive.”  In other words, Iago possesses no motive, no reason.  In his acts of rage and calculated deception, he is hunting for the reason, for the motive.  Iago’s hatred surpasses all possible explanations.  He simply does “dirt on life”.

     Because the characters on the stage of real life were so trapped and the ending was so very painful and so intense for them, we watched dumbfounded, speechless, and haulted in our affairs.

     Tuesday a.m., September 11, 2001.  Belief — actions — trapped — doomed — “Lord! Lord! Lord!” — dirt thrown into the very eyes of life — WHY? — “O! O! O!”.


     It need not necessarily have been.