Strange Brouhaha

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"Gentlemen, Let's Improve Our Minds!"

...or whatever it was that Jack Nicholson grinningly said in "Batman" before he and his goons broke into the museum.

Lani and I went to her church today, and since I, um, kind of wasn't looking forward to the speaker this morning (nothing personal), I stayed down in the basement while she played with the other kids. I sat right down next to the bookshelf--now *that's* church, if you ask me.

Bookshelves are potluck suppers for the mind. Where else can you pick out "The Tao of Pooh," a 1948 edition of Plato, and "Succulent Wild Woman" by Sark? I highly recommend the 1948 Plato because of its introduction by editor Scott Buchanan. He makes this effortless analogy between the human mind and "Don Quixote"--we have an inner Don and an inner Sancho Panza, an inner dreamer/genius/madman and an inner pedant/list-maker/dullard, and our intellectual fate depends on which one gets the upper hand. (Many readers of Plato, you see, gave in to their inner Sancho and ended up "riding a donkey"--becoming "Platonists" rather than *students of Plato*.)

That's a lot of thinking packed into a very short, tight analogy. It made my morning. I wish I read things like that more often.

Included in the Plato was "Phaedo," an account given by the somewhat lesser-known philosopher of the execution of Socrates. Socrates was allowed to have friends at his execution, which was a model of humanity compared to today's barbaric spectacles--but then on the other hand, Socrates would not *be* executed today (in most parts of the world anyhow), so I guess it evens out. Anyhow, Socrates was allowed to have friends at his execution, but he sent his wife away, because she was actually in touch with what was happening. She said "This is the last time you [meaning he and his friends] will be together!" and began to weep. Can't have that! Socrates dismissed her at once so he would not be discomfited by her grief. He and his friends had a last symposium, then he drank the poison--and the men could no longer deny what was happening, and began to cry out in grief themselves. Socrates upbraided them, saying that this was exactly why he had sent "the woman" away, and could they please suck it up so he could die in peace? Phaedo reports that they instantly became "ashamed" of their tears (their anguished understanding of what was really happening) and returned to acting like nothing was going on. Socrates uttered his famous "I owe a cock to Asclepius" line and died.

I thought about that for a long time. Courage is, in a sense, so cowardly; and yet in another sense, it really is brave. None of them (least of all Socrates) had the balls to fully accept that Socrates was being forced to drink poison and that they would all be separated forever. They were embarrassed by the "display" of the woman who did accept this, and despaired accordingly. They couldn't admit how bad things truly were, or how deep their own grief was. And yet--when you think about it, why should they? Why give the guards, the bad guys (and there were bad guys), and the universe, that kind of satisfaction? Why die in despair? Why not just pretend that you were going along as normal and then got hit by a bus?

"The Tao of Pooh," "The Te of Piglet," and "Succulent Wild Woman" rounded out my morning. I looked on, and people really don't like "The Te of Piglet," finding it preachy, negative, and deeply ironic, since author Benjamin Hoff vents his spleen on--you guessed it--people who are negative. Every single Amazon reviewer pointed out that, even as Hoff criticizes the gloomy Eeyore, he *is* an Eeyore--someone who sees the gray cloud under every silver lining. He goes around predicting ecological collapse and telling us that our computers will give us cancer. Ordinarily, he would be my kind of guy! Lord knows I like to get on here and scream that the sky is falling ("China is buying our utilities! The rich are getting richer! The poor are getting poorer! The continent of Africa is poorer now than it was twenty years ago! MAIDS FROM SRI LANKA GET BEAT UP IN SAUDI ARABIA!!!").

But after reading Hoff, I've resolved to turn over a new leaf. Screw the Sri Lankan maids (not really). If I ever have something non-negative to say (and lord knows I have no idea what that will be), I'll say it here. Other than that, I'll leave it to Rob. Although I do reserve the right to rant about George W. Bush and anyone who has ever been associated with him in any capacity--any time, any place, and for any reason.


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