Thursday, December 29, 2005

But Let Us Cultivate Our Garden Posted by Picasa

But Let Us Cultivate Our Garden

The trouble with seeing all sides to an issue; well that seems trouble enough. Ah yes, the trouble is committment; being willing to sustain an idea long enough to truly flesh it out. Jesuits and Communists are often stellar scholars. In America it's the clarion call is against moral relatism: "People today just don't want to hear about right and wrong." Yes, and I'm afraid I'm one of the people they're all so steamed about. It's embarassing really, but at this stage in my life what am I going to do about it?

I've been encouraging my friends to start their own blogs. To my great pleasure some of you have taken it up. With a friend in Kampala we decide--maybe I decided and told him about it--to have a blog that's a dialog. My friend is a humanist and recently has become interested in World Transhumanism. I haven't been able to muster as much enthusiasm for Transhumanism as my friend. But I know that he wants to engage many more people in conversations about there in Uganda and have suggested to him that blogs could be instrumental in that. So our dialog blog is sort of a practice blog.

It's off to a slow start, and to get things started I posted a couple of "Sunday Sermonettes." These are a sort of blogging tradition, rather like "Friday Cat Blogging" practiced just enough to qualify as "tradition" but no so much as to be truly grating. The traditon of Sunday Sermonettes is to highlight freethinkers.

Sunday came around and I thought to post, but I couldn't find reference to what I wanted to post about. The result was getting lost surfing pages about freethinkers. To my delight I came across a bunch of Anti-Work--Pro-Leisure Web sites. Now that's my kind of freethinking! At CLAWS (Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery) there's a handy page with answers to the impertinent question: "And what do you do for a living?" My favorite:
I need so much time for doing nothing that I have no time for work. --Pierre Reverdy
Too many freethinkers to choose from, the trouble was that none of them were Africans. What I was looking for was a dialog I saw somewhere that featured an English missionary debating with a Ugandan in the latter part of the 19th century.

I don't want to be patronizing. My freind knows I respect him. But it's quite tricky sometimes due to my cultural presumptions, or maybe presumtuousness. ('Cause we are the champions is blaring in my head. Did you know that Freddy Mercury was born in Tanzania?) It's hard to negotiate conversations intended to reveal cultural differences with people you're very much interested in being friends with; no matter, the differences show up in the darndest ways.

Perhaps on Sunday I'll write about Voltaire, if not then and there at least here and now. It's the end of the year time when the seed catalogs arrive--even though I didn't buy a single packet mail order last year--and it's time for all those grating "Year End" lists.

One of the problems that always having to be worked out in a garden is: What to do in the meantime? So much of gardening is timing, and for many perennials, trees and shrubs, that means a long time. In these latitudes we have the advantage of wintertime for reflection, and pouring over catalogs. I do want to mention one of my favorite catalogs: Nichols Garden Nursery.Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Keane McGee keep the catalog down to Earth, and I can't think of a better compliment for a seed house. For a gardener there's always next year.

Oh yes, Voltaire. "But let us cultivate our garden." are the closing lines to Voltaire's Candide. I suppose it's still required reading in schools these days, and it ought to be. And in the spirit of year end lists, high on my list of favorite essays this year is, VOLTAIRE’S GARDEN: The philosopher as a campaigner for human rights by Adam Gropnik in The New Yorker.

Gropnik writes:
“Candide” is not really, or entirely, a satire on optimism. It is an attack on organized religion...

The point of “Candide” is that the rapes and disembowelments, the enslavement and the beatings are not part of some larger plan, not a fact of the fatality of life and the universe, but fiendish tortures thought up by fanatics. They may be omnipresent; but they are not inevitable. Voltaire thinks optimism merely silly. It is the flight from failed optimism into faith that he fears.
There is so much I like about Gropnik's essay, but most of all that it's an essay about gardens and the subject of torture which has made me at times despondant this year.
By “garden” Voltaire meant a garden, not a field—not the land and task to which we are chained by nature but the better place we build by love. The force of that last great injunction, “We must cultivate our garden,” is that our responsibility is local, and concentrated on immediate action.
Gropnik notes that "free-thinking, which inspired Twain and Mencken, has almost vanished from our world." I wonder whether the deference we pay to religion is really the result of pluralism and liberal notions of tolerence? I also wonder why religious people in America feel under assult by secularists? But Voltaire is wise indeed to say: "But let us cultivate our garden." A garden is still an occupation humankind can peacefully undertake.

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