Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dolorous Haze

It's the silly season in American life, with politics, outlandish accusations and bogus statistics filling the airwaves.  Sometimes you just want to take a long, slow bath after reading the latest transparent lie in the paper.   It's maddening that we’re expected to treat with respect the brazen claptrap of climate change denial, fantasy budget proposals and the endless ad hominens and false analogies.

It reminds me of a scene from the third voyage of Gulliver's Travels.  Gulliver is touring the Academy of Lagado, an institution filled with obtuse theorists and barking mad inventors. Among the crackpots he meets is a political scientist who claims to be able to discern political inclinations by examining people's stool samples.  It's satire, but not by much when you can turn on any TV or radio today and find ostensibly serious journalists parsing the spin and the intentions behind the spin that everyone know is a bowl of shite.

Perhaps the only way to preserve a sense of human decency is to ignore the news and politics as much as you can.  Today, you’ll know what’s going on through osmosis.  You can’t escape it.  It screams at you and in ever more hysterical voices.  But if you limit your exposure and treat what gets through with the right amount of contempt, maybe you can find space enough to feel good about this life with its small pleasures and rewards.  After all, there were probably a few pleasant afternoons as the Roman Empire went down the long slide.  Anyway, I plan to spend less time reading political blogs and partisan tirades this fall and more time fishing.

In the essay "Walking,"  Henry David Thoreau wrote, "In one half-hour I can walk off to some portion of the earth's surface where a man does not stand from one year's end to another, and there, consequently, politics are not, for they are but as the cigar-smoke of a man."  

It may be harder to escape the dolorous haze of political cigar smoke these days, but time spent on a trout stream is a close substitute.  Those fish in the stream have no awareness of presidential politics.  For them nation states, viral videos and I-Phone apps do not exist.  There is only the flow of water, the cycle of insect hatches and the diurnal rhythms of the sun and passing seasons. 

I'm not naive.  I realize what's at stake in politics.   Even so, we could all do with a nice long walk.  Solvitur ambulando!  Thoreau recommended about four hours a day spent walking, but just think of the benefits if everyone in America walked for an hour a day: no TV, no I-pod, no twitter feed, no staying abreast of the latest 24-second news cycle.  Just an hour spent alone contemplating the actual physical world that is around them all of the time.  Just one hour a day consuming nothing, earning nothing, saying nothing, doing nothing.  And people ask, "Why do you work so hard to catch fish when you are just going to put them back in the stream?"

Sometimes a waste of time is the only sane antidote to a time of waste.

Not fighting, but joining...

I've spent the past two semesters trying to get my first-year students to measure their success by something other than their grades.  ...