Saturday, January 3, 2009

Congratulations. You have just stumbled into an unlikely place: a blog of a quiet man who would much rather be outside, be alone with a good book, or talking with a friend or loved-one than troubling with cyberspace.

It was only because of a dear friend that I was somehow convinced to make the effort. Where this will end up is beyond me. Whether or not it survives more than a couple of posts is likewise uncertain.

It is certain, however, that this will be the last place you will want to visit for chitchat or the news. Small talk and staying up-to-date have never been high priorities for me, and I’m not that good at them. There are things, however, that do mean a lot to me: beautiful things, ennobling things, truthful things.

By beautiful I mean something that can cause an aesthetic quickening within me. My wife is beautiful. The pale pink trifle on the junco out back is beautiful. A rich harvest of cherries is beautiful. The crimson posturing of an autumn maple in the gloaming is beautiful.

Art may or may not be beautiful. At a basic level, art can be anything that is made. To me, however, it is more what A.R. Ammons says, as “the conscious preparation for the unconscious event…”. This unconscious event can sometimes be beautiful. It can also be something quite different. Most of Picasso’s paintings, for example, are not beautiful to me. But as a representation of the travesties of war and of a broken world, they are very truthful. I prefer beautiful art.

By ennobling things I mean magnanimous things – things reflecting true greatness of soul. Magnanimity can mean enduring tactlessness with mildness. It can mean bravery without pride. It can be just, benevolent, and refuse revenge. To Aristotle it was the crowning virtue.

We hardly hear of magnanimity anymore. It seems to have been absorbed, unfortunately, by the word “ambition” which used to be strictly a negative trait. This was the case when the positive meanings we recognize today were associated with magnanimity instead. Today, our word “ambition” is used for both the positive and the negative meanings. This is a significant loss.

While this makes it possible for ambitious people to aspire to noble ends, it also allows them to hide their pride and greed under its cloak. The sad truth is that the cloak is no longer even bothered with these days. We seem to think that greedily amassing things is good – especially if it creates more jobs. One of the most telling truths of our time is that greatness of goods (or the accumulation of things) is more admired than greatness of soul.

By truthful things I mean adherence to first principles. I sometimes get accused of knowing a lot of trivia. I suppose this is inevitable considering my enjoyment of taxonomy, and its basis in Latin and Greek vocabulary, and my love of words. Most of this information, though, is factual. And while it is true that facts fall under the umbrella of truth, they are hardly diagnostic of it. In fact they can, and often do, blind us to what is truly important.

Richard Weaver wrote that, “The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction. Since the time of Bacon the world has been running away from, rather than towards, first principles, so that, on the verbal level, we see “fact” substituted for “truth”.”

Such truth is rare in our world given to relativism. It has been outlawed from the public square for years. Its disappearance is perhaps the greatest tragedy of our time. Fortunately there are still a few enclaves where it still survives. These enclaves are certainly worth looking for. When occasionally they are found, in the form of noble and beautiful souls, we even begin to have hope again for the world. Such should be the effort of true husbandry – to find and protect the enclaves.

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