If our favorite football team receives 150 yards in penalties, while our inept opponents receive a measly 10 yards, chances are, we will begin to wonder about the objectivity of the referees. As the yell goes in baseball after a called strike three: “You’re blind, Ump!” Referees are supposed to be objective, while we, as fans of a team, are supposed to be partial and partisan, though not to the point of unfairness.

We think things should be balanced and straightforward. Even life itself should be “fair,” we think to ourselves. But if it is, it sure does not seem so. As many a pundit has said, “The rich get richer and the poor poorer,” though the recent stock market has us wondering on this score. But even if everyone is getting richer, we feel we are getting poorer because our standard is comparative, not absolute. If I have $10 million, while my neighbor has $50 million, I do not feel particularly rich. The grounds for envy are infinite.

Recently, I came across an old “Peanuts” cartoon. Lucy was in her psychiatric help stand where she was willing to give anyone advice for a small fee. Linus hesitantly comes up to her. “I have a problem, but I’m not sure you can help me,” he tells Lucy who carries a very blank look on her usually lively face. In the next frame, Linus continues, “Wouldn’t it be difficult for you to treat someone in your own family?” he asks his sister, knowing her reputation. Judges have to recuse themselves in cases involving their own families or friends.

Lucy, however, lectures him: “Nonsense! I have learned to be completely objective .” She leaves all her personal prejudices behind her once she sits behind the desk. However, Linus should know her too well to be taken in like Charlie when Lucy holds the football for him to kick off.

Lucy then comes all the way out of the stand. While looking directly at him, she tells Linus, “Now you just sit right there and tell me what your trouble is.” This speech allays Linus’ habitual caution in dealing with his volatile sister. Next Lucy is back in her psychiatric stand, elbows on the desk, holding up her head in her hands as she intently listens “objectively” to Linus’ problem.

So Linus takes the bait. He thinks that now, after her protestations of objectivity, he can tell her the whole truth. “Well, most of the time,” he explains to her, “I’m a pretty happy person .” He then stands right in front of the desk and directly explains the problem to the objective Lucy: “My only problem is this sister of mine who …” All you see in the final panel is an irate Lucy reaching over the desk and “Pow!” She turns poor Linus over with a well-placed right hook to the jaw. So much for objectivity.

Lucy’s fans, of course, already knew there would be no way for Lucy to be objective in such a situation. In spite of her protestations to the contrary, that is not her character. We all reflect on Linus’s innocence before the vagaries of human nature about which he should have learned by now. The hint of original sin is never far from Lucy, nor, a pari, as the whole scene shows, from the delight of living in a fallen world, in spite of it all.

The word “objective” is a curious one. It comes from the Latin “ob” and “iacere,” roughly “to throw something at.” As a verb, “to object” can mean to oppose something either mental or physical. It can mean to feel distaste for someone or some thing. The lawyer says, “I object, your Honor.” His Honor is supposed to represent objectivity.

An old song that I recall went, “The object of my affection changes my complexion from white to rosy red .” In this case, “object” means that to which I direct my attention and my affection. It is that toward which we turn. Far from “objecting” to it, we actually seek it.

It is said that grades are supposed to be “objective.” Most universities have mechanisms by which grades can be “objected” to, something like instant replays in football or basketball games. In the old days, we had a referee whose judgment call, correct or not, was to be abided by. Only this allowed the game to go on. That was the rule of the game. That is, the game allowed for the possibility of erroneous judgments by never questioning the decision of the referee. The procedure made for clarity. When every call is challenged, the game soon ceases. Everyone figured that for every call against you, the chances were that over the years it would all balance out by the laws of chance.

The instant replay is an effort to eliminate chance or deliberate error, which is always a very dicey thing to attempt. Recently there was an erroneous call in the Chargers-Broncos game that cost San Diego the game. In this case, the rule itself did not allow a change in the call even though everyone saw it was erroneous.

Do we live in a completely “just” world in which all wrong calls are righted? Obviously not. At the end of our days, we will no doubt find that a good number of calls that went in our favor were erroneous, and, hopefully, many of those which went against us were wrong. This situation is what the last myth in “The Republic” of Plato is about.

Lucy, as I read her, is someone we love because she refuses to admit her own foibles when everyone else anticipates them, especially when she claims she does not have them. She is completely objective in everything that does not apply to herself. We would not have her otherwise. Without her, we could not easily explain ourselves to ourselves. “Normally, I am quite content. . The only problem I have is this sister of mine .” So yes, in case any one wonders, Schall is “completely objective.” You can tell a man from his friends. I love Lucy. Draw your own conclusion.

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is a professor of government. He can be reached at schalljgeorgetown.edu. AS THIS JESUIT SEES IT . appears every other Friday, with Fr. Maher and Fr. Schall alternating as writers.

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