Best not to think on that

The other day in the first-year honors seminar we were discussing the character of Satan in Paradise Lost. In Book I he resolves that he will resist God even though it's irrational and futile. And since God has cornered the market on doing good, Satan will simply have to do evil. He says,

To do ought good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to his high will
Whom we resist. If then his Providence
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
Our labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil.

I called this the Costanza strategy, as in George Costanza, the Seinfeld character whose instincts are unfailingly wrong. In one episode, George hits upon the strategy of doing the opposite of his natural inclinations, and for a brief time he actually avoids his schlemiel-like fate. Only two students understood the reference to Seinfeld. Two! I suddenly felt quite ancient. Then yesterday another student announced it was his birthday and I asked him how old he was. "Twenty," he said. Twenty? Good heavens, I have shoes older than that. I mean, really. These kids, they just keep coming semester after semester. All this reminded me of an old poem:

When you first heard a year was seven for your dog,
Did you wonder what his week was?
Figure the months in his days?
Did you calculate the number
Of years he’d slept away?
Then did your thoughts turn to tortoises?
Did you start to do the math?
Or did you drop the issue then and there?
Best not to think on that.

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