April 04, 2013

Ashamed before the blade of grass

The theme at Goat Rope these days continues to be the life and thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson, with a focus at the moment on his famous essay Self Reliance, which is a call for and declaration of spiritual independence.

There is a pretty good bit of irony in today's selection, which involves quoting from a bit of his essay that opposes quoting other people. I beg to disagree with Waldo here. I love finding examples of people who say things better than I ever could. It happens all the time. But the paragraph also contains some good insights into the difficulty we have of living in the present.This is another example of how Emerson's ideas both reflected his interest in Buddhist thought and anticipated elements of it as yet unknown in America. And you can quote me on that.

Here's goes:

Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.
A GOOD IDEA. Here's economist Dean Baker with a column on how the US could improve its employment picture with a more extensive use of work sharing, which involves reducing hours rather than cutting jobs and letting affected workers draw partial benefits for the lost wages. El Cabrero and friends have tried to push this idea in WV. It actually made it through one legislative committee this session despite the irrational hostility of the state Chamber of Commerce for a business friendly measure and an equally bizarre attempt at sabotage at the state workforce agency.

ONE MORE LINK JUST FOR FUN. Here's a look at some of the whackiest things televangelist Pat Robertson has said. I'll bet it was hard to whittle it down to 10.


April 03, 2013

A foolish consistency

I've been blogging the last stretch about the life and thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who exerted a huge influence on American literature during and after the 19th century. I have to fess up to a love/hate relationship with old Waldo. Sometimes he seems like a pompous windbag. Sometimes I have no idea what he's talking about. But sometimes he's right on. One such case in point is a passage from Self Reliance about the dangers of consistency. Sometimes we stick to a bad opinion or course of action just because we don't want to seem to change. His advice: get over it.

Here's a great passage with one of his more famous lines:

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them. 
But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity: yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
SAD NEWS FROM WV. I'm in Vermont at the moment and was saddened and shocked by the news that Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum was gunned down outside the county courthouse.

STILL SAD THREE YEARS LATER. Here's Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo on how we continue to fail coal miners by not enacting tougher safety regulations.

April 02, 2013

Do your work

During this busy season, I've been blogging off and on about the life and work of 19th century American literary giant Ralph Waldo Emerson. Right now I'm on his most Emersonian and American essay, Self Reliance.

Contrary to the associations such a title might bring to mind today, Emerson was not an intellectual predecessor of the vile Ayn Rand. Rather than exalting greed in the economic sphere, he was exhorting us to spiritual, personal and intellectual independence. 

The passage I'm highlighting today reminds me of the Hindu classic the Bhagavad Gita, a favorite of Emerson's. In that scripture, the god Krishna admonishes Arjuna to follow his own dharma or path of duty in the world, saying "It is better to fail in your own dharma than succeed in someone else's." In other words, do your own work and become yourself.

Here's a dose for the day:

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible-society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers, — under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are. And, of course, so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. 

JUST ONE LINK. I couldn't join this massive rally by members of the United Mine Workers union in Charleston yesterday, but I was there in spirit. I hope they win justice from Patriot coal for union retirees.


April 01, 2013

Poisson d'Avril

I think I've found the special purpose of my life. It will be to attempt to plant in West Virginia the French custom of "poisson d'Avril" or Fish of April. It is an April Fools Day prank which today involves sneaking a paper fish somewhere onto the body of unsuspecting people. 

Except I want to do it Old School style. That would involve sneaking real anchovies or sardines into the pockets, clothing, purses or other possessions of unsuspecting people. The smell would give away the prank sooner or later.

I can think of no greater contribution to the progress of the human race.

NOT A PRANK. Here's a great op-ed by Davitt McAteer and my co-worker Beth Spence about what has and hasn't happened in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster of April 5 2010.

PRISONS. And here's an op-ed by yours truly on WV prison crowding legislation.