“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart……. Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work or device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.”
Ecclesiastes Chapter 9 verses 7-10
I’ve been reading a review of a book by Iain Sinclair, called London, City of Disappearances, a collection of the regrets and recollections by some sixty-odd contributors. They talk about long-gone people, bookshops, locations, urban myths and memories. But one huge, vanishing aspect to this swarming beehive of a city, and one that pains me, is the disappearance of public manners and consideration for the feelings and convenience of others.
When I was growing up, visiting my grandmother in Notting Hill Gate (a London village at the time), the shopkeepers knew her, the neighbours greeted her, and people stepped aside for her with a smile and a tip of the hat on the street. There were fewer people then, and warfare had had the effect of bringing people together. Older people were to be looked after and others respected. Now, gaggles of youngsters walk at you blindly, forcing you onto the roadway, loud-mouthed people yell into cellphones, people wearing I-pods barge into you, lost in the wonder of the music. Noone knows where anything is, has the time to pause and direct you (or can speak grammatical English if you speak to them). There just too many people, too much hurry, anxiety and frantic activity.
Surely, the day of the Epiciurean must return. Consideration and thoughtfulness for others has to be the stamp of civilization, and thus must be a modern keystone of Epicureanism. Capitalist free enterprise, as interpreted by Anglo-Americans propagandists, may have positive merits, but civilizing it is not. If you doubt it, and you can remember what England used to be like before Thatcher and her grabbitariat took over, experience it now. Sad. Hunter-gatherers, for all their lack of education, were very probably more civilized than modern city-dwelling man.
Instead of popping vitamin and food supplement pills (some have nasty stuff in them, others give you an overdose of some vitamins), what we ought to be doing is protesting against fruit, vegetables and processed foods with minimal nutritional value.
It makes an aspiring Epicurean weep. We have just bought an electric, portable piano. We went to some expense to build a suitable retractable shelf for its predecessor, so that we could tuck it away out of sight when not required. The new version is about an inch (25mms to those outside the US) higher. It thus fails to fit the slot allotted to it. So what, you ask?
Surely you have noticed that products of all sorts are being made bigger, and are designed with many of the features of a spacecraft, as if they are destined for Mars - bulbous, swollen, curvy, ugly. The most obvious examples are les défis SUVs, the bane of the environment and the necessary appurtenance for every chatterbox with a cellphone. But even cookers and fridges are being made bigger, more rounded, more aerodynamic, and furniture, much of it gross, won’t fit in most houses that are more than fifty years old.
Don’t blame the Chinese. They only manufacture these modern devices. I am sure they wouldn’t have thought of packing electronic items in bubblepacks you cannot open, either.
But the product design is done in the West, at a time when we are supposed to be conserving the resources of the planet. What do we do instead? We use more resources on products of all kinds, to make them bigger, more blown up, puffed up, swollen and distended. Far be it from me to criticize the taste of the average consumer, who presumably enjoys the look of these items. But the extravagance is what gets me. Are products designed to reflect the looks of the over-weight and curvy people who buy them? Epicurus told us to do things in moderation.
Steve Grand, in his book, Creation: Life and How to Make It, invites his readers to “think of an experience you clearly remember, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you are really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place….Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that doesn’t make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important.”
What idiot thought of bringing frankincense and myrrh? They sent the wrong wise men, who picked the wrong presents.
What the Arabs did was very clever. They got the perfume from Araby and India at a knock-down price, adulterated it, and sold it to the Franks (alias, the Christians) at ten times the price. The Franks never knew the difference. Nowadays we treat this typical bit of oriental free enterprise as something near to mystical and holy. Just shows. If only the Franks had done some research. Meanwhile myrrh was for embalming people. It is best to embalm them, and most effective, when they are still just alive. Once they are cold, their bodies are more likely to putrefy. Poor Jesus! The little mite must have been terrified.
When you are old, think about the good times you have had. That will make up for the annoying pain involved in getting older.
Of the many sins of the past Congressional leadership, perhaps their greatest one,was to wrap themselves in the cloak of "godliness"— to give them claim to own patriotism. "Faith-belief" is no longer accepted as excusing incompetence in public affairs. This is a very significant shift in public opinion.
It is very encouraging that a goodly number of "intelligent design" (ID) proponents lost handsomely. These include DeVos for governor in Michigan; Blackwell for governor in Ohio; Santorum for Senator in Pennsylvania; Katherine Harris for Senator in Florida (who infamously stated that "only Christians can be trusted to be in government"); Steele for Senator in Maryland. In Kansas, the Board of Education was reclaimed from creationists by reality-based members to make a 6-4 majority (although two of the worst creationists won); in Ohio, in elections for the Board of Education creationists and IDiots lost.
In our past, we have had three eras of religious and moralistic fervor, called by historians the "Great Awakenings". These were times of religious demagoguery, when priests and pastors attempted to capture the power of government to promote their views (and not incidentally, their prerogatives). We have been in a period of a "fourth awakening" of religiosity, which I call the "Great Darkening", since about 1995. The election shows that the pendulum always swings, and the evangelico-politico darkening is waning.
I think the climate is noticeably better for preservation of separation of church and state after the elections. This does not mean that we can give up on vigilance. The temptation to equate personal faith and public display of piety remains. The temptation to equate a faith in a god with the good of the country remains. Democrats are not immune from this.
We are seeing the end of the Great Darkening. The seduction of public display of piety remains. The emerging political leadership have to be encouraged to affirm First Amendment clauses and sound science.
Written by Ellery Schempp and posted on his behalf
As a 16-year-old, Ellery Schempp initiated what would become Abington v. Schempp, which ultimately outlawed mandatory reading of the Bible in public schools. November 26 marked the 50th anniversary of the complaint that Ellery sent to the ACLU in Philadelphia.
Religion teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.
“Haute cuisine” outside France and, maybe Italy, is all too often gimmicky, uses far too many weird sauces, juxtaposes too many inappropriate ingredients in a dish (surf and turf? Oh, dear!) and can sometimes seem like an elaborate joke by the chef at the expense of the diners. For a wonderful take-off of “adventurous” and less-than-successful cooking you must read “Cooking with Fernet Branca” by James Hamilton-Paterson, an Englishman living in Italy. It is hilarious! And very imaginative. You will laugh out loud. $10.61 from Amazon.com.