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Athens city councilmember conceptualizes justice and plays the harp at Arts West

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Former Lawyer Pat McGee plays the harp

City Councilmember Pat McGee gave a speech Friday about the nature of justice at Athens’ Arts West.

City Councilmember, longtime student defense lawyer and part-time alchemist Pat McGee spoke about justice and performed medieval songs on a harp Friday at Arts West, the Athens community arts facility.

The speech — titled “The Alchemy of Justice” — was part of The Creative Mornings Athens, a multinational lecture series program with hundreds of global chapters.

McGee, who is running for re-election to his at-large City Council seat this fall, opened the speech by explaining how his former profession as a lawyer influenced his concept of justice.

“Asking a lawyer to talk about justice is a lot like, and I hate to say this, asking a prostitute to talk about love,” he said.

McGee is a recently retired lawyer from Ohio University’s center for student legal services, an office that provides students with a lawyer if they find themselves in legal trouble. He practiced law for 41 years.

He described the cynicism lawyers often feel toward the concept of justice.

“We tend to be so cynical in our profession, and it’s the cynicism that we have to be so careful about, because justice is ultimately the pot of gold that we’re looking for,” McGee said.

McGee’s speech, as its title suggests, related alchemy, the act of transforming matter (such as turning lead to gold), to justice. Alchemy is a precursor to modern chemistry.

“The alchemy that I practice, and I practice with the ‘family of fire,’ as it’s called, is often a personal transformation of matter into spirit,” McGee said. “So the alchemy that I’m talking about is about seeking something higher.”

The former lawyer revealed he partakes in a three day ritual, during which he and other participants chant, dance, sing, and spiritually open themselves up to one another.

“Basically, you have to do something that’s going to take the lead out,” McGee said.

McGee repeated that justice is the gold at the end of an alchemist’s quest for transformation. He then outlined the difference between justice and the law.

“The conflict here is basically because I’m a lawyer, and there’s a difference between justice and the law, and that’s something everyone needs to understand,” McGee said.

The City Councilmemeber also played the song “Ju Nus Hons Pris,” (English: No Man Who is a Prisoner) on harp, among other songs. This song was written by King Richard the Lionheart of England, while he was trapped in prison in the late 11th century.

The tune is a lamentation by the king on his captivity in prison and the sense of abandonment he felt at the hands of his subjects and family.

McGee related this to justice by addressing the circumstances of the song’s creation, and the indignation felt by the king.

“While the king of England was in prison, he wrote to his subjects asking them to ransom him,” McGee said.

Below is an excerpt of a translation:

No prisoner can tell his honest thought

Unless he speaks as one who suffers wrong;

But for his comfort as he may make a song.

My friends are many, but their gifts are naught.

Shame will be theirs, if, for my ransom, here
—

I lie another year.

Ultimately, McGee concluded that justice is an unattainable goal — an aspiration just beyond the grasp of humanity.

“Justice is an elusive thing that we will seek, but never find,” McGee said. “Conflict will always exist, tyranny will always exist, injustice will always exist.”

McGee ended his speech and harp performance with a message of wisdom for the audience:

“May you heal, may we all know justice, and may we learn that life is short and we have so much more to give to each other and for each other.”

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