Wednesday, November 30, 2011
A cowardly idle fool
We have no time to stand and stare? W. H Davies, “Leisure”.
Go to the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise. Proverbs 6:6
I’ve gone to the ant, considered her ways for the last fifty years, and no longer think her a worthy role model. Sluggardry suits me better now. I’d be the first to admit that I’ve become unfitted for gainful employment. Others might simply call me an idler. So when have I denied that? Check my profile. “Occupation: idler”, it shamelessly admits. “Many a true word is spoken in jest”: that’s eight true words for a start.
Out of the strong came forth sweetness. Judges 14:14. Who am I to judge, but I say “Out of the fool came forth wisdom.”
A worthy fool! Motley’s the only wear. (Jacques in As You Like It)
The fool in Shakespeare seems to be someone who says the first thing that comes into his head, and yet he’s a holy fool. That’s my role model! He’s treasonously irreverent to the King, but safe from beheading, for he’s the only one who speaks true. The others are fawning flatterers, whose advice is worthless.
Superficially, the concept of “saving the planet” seems to demand more ants and fewer sluggards for its proper implementation. Won’t everyone have to work harder for less pay and so on, so that together we can solve the debt crisis? Forgive me for oversimplifying but this site is not a place for incisive political and economic commentary. Let it rather be a haven of foolery, a simulacrum of honest toil, an excavation for fool’s gold: not the real thing but a catalyst to make someone see differently without knowing it. That is my kind of truth, not the rational-scientific kind, for which I defer to Bryan M. White and Steve Law (see below for links to their sites).
So, I propose, idleness is the only way to evade the frenzy of production and consumption which have brought this world to its current state. They say we’ve seen nothing yet. So, if I learn the graceful art of idleness, and embrace foolery while I’m at it, I’ll benefit the planet more surely than any action could possibly achieve. Proudly declaring my manifesto, I scotch the guilty feeling that I should do something. Then I start throwing all my energies into the most challenging pastime known to man: what the Italians call dolce far niente. Or if not sweet nothing, as little as possible, consistent with my temperament, which constantly seeks to prove and improve. As I said, my profession of idler is aspirational. It cannot be achieved in a day. That would be too much trouble.
My fool’s truth is to think no thought, till one arises unbidden from I know not where: a still small voice.
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (I Kings, 19:12)
I have no religion, but I aspire to be the servant of that still small voice, and to listen to the truth in every jest. To justify my cowardice, for instance.
The better part of valour is discretion: in the which better part I have saved my life. (Falstaff, in Henry IV Part I, V:iv.) The quotation has been so wrested from its context that we forget the jest. Falstaff’s “discretion” was a euphemism for cowardice. Instead of fighting loyally for his friend Prince Hal, he played dead on the battlefield the moment danger arose.
What reminded me of cowardice was an incident in the street, the other side of the playground, which my study window overlooks (see snapshot alongside). I saw three police there the other day, scanning the ground for clues, but I didn’t know why. Now they’ve sent a leaflet through the letter-box appealing for witnesses. A boy aged 16 had challenged a woman with an out-of-control pit-bull terrier. By way of response, her male companion broke the boy’s jaw with a metal bar. I’m sorry he had to learn such a harsh lesson. If he’s more careful, he’ll outlive me by many years, and tell his children that discretion is the better part of valour. It’s the better part of cowardice too.
Posted by Vincent at 9:55 am