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Carnival, St. Patrick's Day, and similar festivities as a safety valve



Cameron Sawyer expostulates: "My, how dour we all are. Is it not a coincidence that Marxism and Calvinism (I would never call you a Calvinist, Ronald! I was only referring to the argument) both disapprove so much of the common folk having fun in public?

There is an argument, perhaps interesting to this group, that this is not a coincidence. It was Martin Luther, breaking with Aristotle, who developed dialectic sub contradictio as a style of argument, taken up with enthusiasm by Hegel, and providing the philosophical toolbox for Marxism. This is not the only common line from Luther to Marx - the most striking is the belief which both held in common that mankind is oppressed by an evil cabal - in Luther, the Jews; in Marx, Capital - both described in the same way and with the same arguments, and both in the same spirit of medieval anti-Semitism - and of course, Capital was and is disproportionately in the hands of the Jews, who actually invented capitalism . . .

And according to both lines of thought, the common folk ought not to be having fun in public - they ought to realize that they are oppressed (or inadequately saved), and be fighting to change society.

To which I say - neither human beings nor society are capable of being perfected, they can only be incrementally improved. Why should we begrudge rural Spaniards, for example, their carnivals - as hard as it may be to imagine for dour moralists of either the Marxist or Calvinist tendencies, the life of rural Spaniards (say) does contain many and profound joys, probably as many or more than our own lives, and perhaps carnival is merely an expression of this? We made it through another harvest (or winter) - thank God!

Ronald so elegantly closed the discussion of that television show about diplomats with the observation that one ought not to get too carried away - "it's only television." Well, similarly, I would say - it's only politics. The broad mass of people, perhaps wiser than we, do not think that life revolves around politics, and oppressed or not, don't mind celebrating life in public from time to time.

As usual on this there is more wisdom in poetry than in philosophy (particularly political philosophy):

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say:
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

Well, let it take them! What have we to do
With Kaikobad the Great, or Kaikhosru?
Let Zal and Rustum bluster as they will,
Or Hatim call to Supper--heed not you.

With me along the strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan is forgot--
And Peace to Mahmud on his golden Throne!

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

Look to the blowing Rose about us--Lo,
Laughing, she says, into the world I blow,
At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw.

And those who husbanded the Golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes--or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face,
Lighting a little hour or two--is gone.

That is of course the great medieval Persian poet Omar Khayyam in FitzGerald's brilliant translation.

My dour (?) retort: I agreed with Omar; I survive thanks to the humblest of red wines. But would Cameron justify the Russian mankind's besotting itself with vodka to escape the miseries of Russian life? I would recommend that opium of the people, religion. As for my being dour, I am like Fontenelle. A lady said to him: "You never laugh, M. Fontenelle!" He replied : "I often laugh, but I never go "Ho! Ho! Ho!". I cultivate the Christian habit of joy. Speaking of religion, why is the Catholic Church always blamed for anti-Semitism? What about the Lutherans?

Ronald Hilton - 3/18/02


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