Baseball, Football, and Society

Someone once wrote that everyone is entitled to three crackpot theories.  I take full advantage of this maxim; in fact I have to rotate theories.  In addition to crackpot theories, though, it seems to me that everyone should be entitled to three minor vices.  One of mine is watching sports.  Many of my friends are shocked when they find this out about me, as if sports were reserved for the semi-literate.  There are, to be sure, too many people who reserve their best energies for cheering for a team whose success they have nothing to do with, but this kind of drunkenness doesn’t legitimate a kind of teetotalism.

For a long time I thought that football was my favorite sport.  I’d watch every play with peeled eyes.  Baseball, on the other hand, I’d “watch” while taking a nap.  It was boring to me.  This attitude has changed in the past few years with the success of the local team, the Philadelphia Phillies.  This, along with the famous stand up routine of the late, great George Carlin, served as a beginning to my growing conviction that baseball is by far the superior of the two sports.  I don’t watch hockey, and basketball is irrelevant to me:  listening to shoes squeak on a hardwood floor for two hours would put me in a straight jacket.

The most general observation to be made about baseball is that the game and its rules are designed on a human scale.  So much in the game depends upon judgement calls.  The umpire calls balls and strikes, and the strike zone is based in part not on strict scientific measurements but on the proportions of the batter’s body.  The same is true for scoring hits and errors:  It’s up to the official scorer’s opinion, and the criteria involve a subjective evaluation of the fielder’s performance.  Any ball that is not fielded successfully which could have been fielded with “ordinary effort” is scored as an error.  Much debate can ensue about particular decisions, but the point I’m making is that this is all so human, based upon the given circumstances of the moment.

Anyone who watches football can already anticipate the difference I wish to highlight.  Football has become obsessed with scientific exactitude.  Even in “judgement call” situations there is a list of material requirements for the issuing of a penalty—grabbing a facemask or a jersey, or kicking a crotch, or something like that.  Then there is the question of reviewing plays, which baseball avoids except for close calls in home runs.  The football officials review tape obsessively in an effort to determine exactly what happened in a given play and on what molecule of the field the ball should be placed before the next down.  It’s all a joke, really; it’s impossible to be scientific with this.  And there is no way that the chain gang can be that accurate, either.  There is a Scientism, or you might say Objectivism, at work here which is only slightly more hilarious than the work of August Comte or Ayn Rand.

A football game is run based on a clock.  It’s like working in a factory:  After the first quarter, there is the smoke break; after the second quarter, a lunch break, and at the Super Bowl this usually features some pretty execrable entertainment for the masses; after the third quarter is tea, and then at the end of the game, everyone goes home.  Baseball is played until the requisite number of outs are achieved.  It is based on attainment, but at the same time it is more leisurely and less regimented.  “Aw, hell, let’s have a beer in the middle of the 7th inning.”  It goes along with something that happens in a park rather than a coliseum.  There might be execrable entertainment, but only for as long as it takes to sing the Nationalist Anthem or God Bless America, two of the most poorly constructed melodies in the history of music.  But I must add that baseball organizations seem to exercise at least marginally better taste in choosing performers than the football people do.  In any case the focus remains on the game; even at the World Series the music is merely a side show, and not the reason that half the television audience tunes in.

In keeping with its desire to appeal to the masses, football plays into the envious and egalitarian tendencies of mankind.  Corporate decisions are made in an attempt to “level the playing field,” which is Newspeak for making sure that no team ever has routine success.  It is an athletic income tax.  Penalties are issued for “excessive celebration,” which extend not only to tasteless mock moonings of the audience, but even to genuine expressions of delight at scoring.  In celebrating, players are not to leave the ground, a ridiculous rule if there ever was one.  This reminds me of the laughable rule in public school that you couldn’t bring in a snack unless you had enough to share with the rest of the class.

This obsession with fairness simply doesn’t exist in baseball.  It’s just a bunch of men spittin’ their chew out onto the grass, like men are supposed to do, while they try to beat the other team in sportsmanlike but unapologetic fashion.  Baseball allows for the full spectrum of human behavior:  you can steal a base, but you can also hit a sacrifice fly ball on behalf of the team, and both are accepted as equally legitimate.  You can even argue with the umpire a little bit and not get thrown out of the game.  Criticize an official in the NFL, though, and you get slapped with a fine.

Finally, there is the issue of mascots.  Football mascots, in the main, are about death and destruction; baseball mascots are about being a hero, or at least being innocuous.  Football mascots are animals that eat flesh:  falcons and panthers.  Baseball mascots reflect local civic pride and virtue:  the Mets (Mutts), Giants, and Angels.  These appeal to the better nature of man.  There are exceptions to this, of course, but no baseball team is called the Cowboys, which is the most violent  and ignominious character of all.  If you think this is an exaggeration, just consider the recent hullabaloo over helmet spearing in the NFL:  players are indicating that they’d rather risk permanent, serious, life-altering injury rather than learn the good, traditional way to tackle.  Part of this argument, I’m sure, is that “the game has changed” and that the old wrap-up method of bringing down a player is no longer valid and can no longer be made useful.  It’s the Marxian view of history, dumb jock style.

It dawns on me now that society these days seems, unfortunately, to be built around the football model, a model of jealousy, violence, and bad entertainment.  It’s the world view which says, “Be nice to America, or we’ll bring democracy to your country”; the outlook which blames the successful for the problems of the failures; and the practically religious belief that science can solve every problem known to mankind.  What a mess of overpriced hot dogs!

Literary intoxication: Jeffrey Tucker’s Bourbon for Breakfast

In times like ours, when fair is foul and foul is fair, the proponents of good causes can often lead a dour existence and indulge in a crankiness which, if less than charming, is certainly understandable given the long odds they face.  Unfortunately this doesn’t do much for their causes, since people—even smart people, or, rather, especially smart people—don’t want to hear how dumb their ideas and tastes are.  What every good cause needs, then, is a force of positive energy, a source of joy to show the followers that cause x is not only worthwhile, but necessary for human growth and happiness.

Meet Jeffrey Tucker, the happy anarcho-capitalist.  Libertarians, like philosophers and artists of all stripes, are not exactly known for their joie de vivre.  We are seen as party-poopers, twits who are too attached to their intellectual ideas and not willing enough to “get with it”—“it” being some fad that has gotten swept up into the Zeitgeist.  The insufferably officious late William F. Buckley once chided us for worrying about stop signs when there were evil Russian peasants to murder.  I wonder, though, what Bill Buckley would do with the writings of Tucker, who, rather than get into complicated syllogisms like Murray Rothbard, or rather than writing ridiculous Objectivist creeds like Ayn Rand (who is only thought to be libertarian anyhow), simply finds the absurdities of the State and laughs at them, even when the autobiographical details show that he has suffered under its iron fist (though perhaps in these inflationary times the State’s fist is now comprised of zinc).  Tucker has every right to be bitter, but instead, he makes merry, and this is to his credit.  I would even say that this book presents a model of how to live a fulfilling, rounded life as an anarcho-capitalist.

It is impossible to read Jeff Tucker’s work and not come away loving life more.  Here is a man with a wide range of interests and intense curiosity.  I know this because I’ve known the author for a number of years now, so don’t expect this to be an unbiased review.  No writer is unbiased anyway; the sooner we take the masks off the more we’ll benefit.  Lou Holtz, in his account of Notre Dame’s last national championship in football, said that the difference between where you are now and where you are five years from now is the people you meet and the books you read.  In Jeff Tucker, I have someone who is now in both categories.  Jeff got me into running, Chartreuse, and shaving without cream.  (The latter subject is covered in the book.)  Now, after reading Bourbon for Breakfast, I have a few more things to do, such as figure out how to take that environmentalist wacko washer out of my showerhead.

To cover every subject in this review that Tucker covers in the book would be onerous, so I’d like to select my favorite subjects and start with one of the most pressing issues of our time:  toilets. About ten years ago, I took a new job, and shortly after my arrival noticed a sign above the toilet in the office:  “Please do not throw any paper towels into the toilet.  We have already had problems with this toilet.  Thank you.”  The sign seemed to suggest that said toilet was relatively new and not performing up to its expected capabilities.  More and more, I’ve noticed these signs over the past decade.  They are commonplace now.  Someone could make a lot of money by mass-producing a sign which says “Caution:  Toilets don’t work as well as they used to.”  Etc.

I never realized the culprit until I read Tucker’s articles on it.  The U.S. government, during the environmentally crazed days of the early nineties, passed legislation requiring toilets to use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush.  This, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is not enough to get the job done, unless it is one of those jetpack toilets that sprays dirty water all over the bathroom.  Tucker relates some of his own experiences with this State-imposed health crisis and rightly points out that if there is any effort on which resources should be liberally spent, it is on safely getting rid of human waste, which is one of the deadliest substances known to history.

Advocating the safe removal of crap from our toilets doesn’t exactly require a wellspring of political courage, but another topic that Tucker addresses does:  child labor laws.  When modern man thinks of child labor, he thinks of practical slavery, but the laws in this country didn’t come about until the early twentieth century, and then, as Tucker recounts, had a number of curious exceptions built into them, child actors most notable among them.  Commoner children could only work if they were making Christmas wreaths or something.  Moreover, these laws were conceived while the necessity for child labor was receding into American history; in other words, it was the prosperity created by capitalism, and not the benevolence of the State, which freed children from the necessity of sitting at a sewing machine for twelve hours a day, since adults were making more money and no longer required the extra household income.

Less honorable forces were at work, too:  Women’s labor groups, for instance, disliked the cheap competition offered by the children.  Many, including a number of church organizations, opposed the new child labor laws because they regarded it as the nationalization of children (what has happened since with respect to public education proves that they were right), and at least one congressman prophesied that the lack of work would make future generations lazy.  Well, now!  Tucker carries this ball the whole way to the goal line in “Generation Sloth,” which is a discussion on the dearth of working skills in some of the current generations.  Of course, we don’t want to get too Protestant and think that work is the be all and end all of existence—and how curious it is that in such a Protestant country laziness has taken over—but there is more than enough food for thought in these chapters.  One practical consequence of it all is that you cannot pay a neighborhood kid to fix your computer.

Anarcho-capitalists are not well understood by the general public and are often lumped in with all the apologists for the corporatist pigs.  This misconception is even easier to pull off these days owing to the vague illiterate socialism that seems to control the mainstream public discourse.  Tucker reveals the lie in all this when he discusses one of his foremost passions:  Intellectual Property.  He is one of the first libertarians, perhaps second only to Stefan Kinsella, who has come out against these supposed “rights” and shows exactly how the whole IP concept is inimical to a libertarian worldview which respects private property rights and free exchange.  Tucker admits that past libertarians had not thought much about this issue and that the default position was in favor of IP, but the new trend is reshaping libertarian opinion in this area.  Offering items for free online which would normally be controlled by IP, such as books, Tucker insists, is actually better for everyone in the long run, including the author.  I have personally witnessed Jeff transform the viability of causes with this approach, and every time a book is offered for free online, its sales at the warehouse skyrocket at the same time.  The trouble these days is that the publishers have everyone, including the writers themselves, under their thumbs, and so books and ideas—perhaps ones deemed too dangerous?—are left to squander while the giant book corporations refuse to put items back in print but demand to hold onto the “rights” to the material.  There is a long history here, which Tucker recounts succinctly.

A hinge in Tucker’s thought occurred when he read Michelle Boldrin and David Levine’s book, Against Intellectual Property.  In this work they lay out the case for a freer dissemination of ideas.  It looks like something that ought to be added to my reading list, though I must offer a minor caveat based on what I’ve seen so far, and it concerns music, which happens to be my field of choice.  The authors posit that IP law is behind the stagnation in classical music over the past several decades.  This is entirely possible.  Musicians tend to be very territorial in their work in ways that are self-defeating.  A good example of this is the recent policy change by the American Guild of Organists, which now hides its job openings behind password protection, making it impossible for non-members to see one of the benefits of membership.  Twelfth century models like this are bound to fail.  All the same, I’d only add that the musical community itself often does everything it can to discourage normal people from liking classical music.  The fact that the term “classical music” makes us think primarily of stuff that is older than most countries rather than some of the truly great music of the past decade that has come from the pens of men like James MacMillan and Bo Holten is the foremost problem.  Add to that a pompously pious stern demeanor and you have the perfect recipe for total system failure.   The classical musical world is a caricature of itself.

On a more detailed note, Boldrin and Levine blame IP laws for the dearth of great music in England since 1750.  I am in no position to judge the laws in England of this time period, but I will say that much great English music has been written since 1750.  Could more have been written?  Quite possibly, but this is one quibble I must make.  Every time someone tries to assert that there have been no great English composers since Henry Purcell, I just want to scream, “Ralph Vaughn-Williams!”  And that’s only for starters. The twentieth century in particular saw a musical blossoming in those rainy lands; several of the composers, such as Charles Villiers Stanford, took after Brahms.  “No great music after 1750” is the kind of thing a musicologist would say so that he doesn’t have to study a school of composition that he doesn’t like.  It’s almost as laughable as the idea that anyone would actually want to listen to Purcell.

Speaking of Vaughn Williams, however, I will add a story here that strengthens Boldrin’s and Levine’s case.  John Weaver, organist, composer, and professor for many years at both Juilliard in New York and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, has written a wonderful little jazz arrangement of Vaughn Williams’ famous melody which is sung to the text For All the Saints.  He can’t get it published because—so I’ve been told by a reliable source—the heirs of the original composer find the piece to be objectionable and refuse to grant the necessary permission.  I can’t think of a reason why these heirs wouldn’t benefit from such a publication, and yet they use the IP laws to commit censorship.

Of course, laws of all sorts are used to harass people, and in the section on crime, Tucker gives us some pretty unpleasant glimpses of this ugliness.  There was a fateful stop sign in Jeffrey’s subdivision, mysteriously removed after causing much heartache and wallet damage, which serves as the main antagonist.  God only knows how many times he’s run this stop sign.  I’m tempted to take a pilgrimage to this fateful intersection.  Maybe we could raise money to erect a marker in memory of this red octagon which extols the virtues of liberty and the advantages of a rolling stop when no one else is around.  (I might add that South Philadelphians, including the cops, have perfected this art.)

Tucker begins this portion of the book by describing the harrowing experience of being arrested for failing to pay a ticket for running the aforementioned stop sign.  He forgot to pay it, no further notices were sent, and the next thing he ever heard about it was a dreadful knock at the door.  A probe into corruption on the part of local officials, which included FBI involvement, adds an interesting, if unsurprising, twist to the story, and the experiences of jail which he reports explode any myth of the accused being innocent until proven guilty.  In jail, you are an animal, as far as the Persons-in-Charge are concerned, and most people in the public go along with this attitude because they think they themselves will never be arrested for anything.

After discussing the pokey, Tucker moves on to a date in court to fight what is presumably a different ticket.  As he awaits his hearing, Tucker witnesses one poor person after the next being ushered in front of the judge to plead their case, only to lose big.  A particularly appalling example comes to us in the person of a woman who stole a pack of lunchmeat from Wal-mart.  For this petty theft she was fined $800 and had her license suspended.  In addition, she was banned from Wal-mart for life.  Interestingly, this was one of the few real crimes on the docket that day—some other poor chap lost his license for awhile for “public drunkenness,” even though he wasn’t anywhere near a steering wheel—but it was handled in perfectly unreasonable fashion.  The sad part is that the State has virtually stripped private business owners of the ability to handle these kinds of things in a more discrete and reasonable fashion.  Public access laws, for instance, prevent Wal-mart from banning this lady for a more reasonable time period, like a year or two; instead, they are forced to take the case to the State, which goes about blowing the crime out of proportion.  One wonders if this is an intended or unintended consequence of public access laws.   Anyone who thinks these laws are necessary needs to talk to a bar owner, who is one of the few businessmen left with much discretion over who patronizes his establishment.   “We don’t really get all the government that we pay for,” says Tucker, “and thank goodness.  Lord protect us on the day that we do.”

One of the things that everyone should know about Jeffrey Tucker is that he’s always pushing the people around him to become better than they are.  In fact, there is a  Facebook group called “Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Jeffrey Tucker.”  One area in which I need to improve is dress.  Tucker’s remarks on this subject make me feel like a veritable slob; he contrasts the sharply dressed hobo on a park bench during the Great Depression with the polo-clad, cubicle-bound nincompoop of the past two decades.  I want to be better at this, but the effort is just overwhelming sometimes, and I feel like I’m trying to climb the proverbial greased pole that H.L. Mencken talks about.  Just the other day I ruined a shirt while ironing it.  It wasn’t the classic mistake of leaving the iron in one place for too long; it was far more complicated than that.  But it made me feel like a failure much like the inability to drink copious amounts of alcohol in the evening makes Tucker feel like a failure.  (This subject is also covered in the book.  The time to try this, he says, is when you are young and your body can handle it.)  It turns out that Jeff was in clothing retail and knows quite a bit about how to dress and how the clothes should fit, and he even knows how to find good deals on sharp outfits.  Read his advice carefully.  I just might have to follow through on this.  In the meantime, I plan to sound him out on why nine out of ten articles of clothing these days would do better as washrags.  I’ve noticed, for one thing, that even smaller-sized clothing assumes that the wearer will have a potbelly and a wide posterior, making me look like a floating cloud of whichever color it is that I’m wearing.

Tucker closes this compendium with a number of reviews of books and movies.  The depth of his comprehension is sometimes astounding; he can remember more from watching a movie once than many can from watching it ten times, and his book summaries are so excellent that he might want to watch out for the IP police.  Tucker’s discussion on Garet Garrett’s novel The Driver got my undivided attention.  The story features Henry Galt, a Wall St. financier who tries to wrest control of a failing railroad company.  This might not seem like much, but it’s certainly more exciting than late twentieth century novels about public housing projects.  A motif in the book is, “Who is Henry Galt?”  Tucker notes that many have speculated that Garrett’s novel inspired Ayn Rand’s character John Galt.  I think that’s putting it mildly, or perhaps putting it in a way that will keep all concerned parties out of court.

By now many are probably wondering what the title, Bourbon for Breakfast, has to do with any of these subjects.  On a basic level, and perhaps most importantly, it seems to indicate a worldview, an approach that would be sanctioned by diverse characters such as Richard Weaver, Joseph Pieper, and Murray Rothbard:  the idea that leisure is an important part of a life well-lived.  Tucker sat down at breakfast one morning with a Bible scholar friend who offered him some coffee—and then offered him some bourbon to go with it.  Mornings, to this man of Hebrew and Greek letters, were for contemplation, and not to be rushed.  Contemplation, or leisure, is necessary for freedom.  It keeps one’s mind from falling into a trance on the treadmill of the corporatist State.  More than that, though, a morning drink says, “I will celebrate; I will enjoy life and not let the taskmasters run me down.”  The State gives us to-do lists, but the morning drinker asks the real questions about life and reminds us of how good we really could be.  The morning drinker, unlike a messianic bureaucrat, doesn’t take life or himself too seriously.  He knows that if there is tragedy, there is also comedy, and sometimes the best way to ward off a demon is to laugh.  Nor does he feel the need to preach endlessly about the big, abstract issues.  He realizes that to know what the government is really like, we only need to observe how its agents act around toilets, stop signs, and stolen lunchmeat.

Of course, the idea of contemplation can become a double-edged sword, especially in the hands of the hopeless, who can turn isolation into pure anti-social misery.  Under the supervision of Jeffrey Tucker, though, it is a fountain of energy.  I don’t know how he accomplishes everything that he does.  I’ll grant that I’m a bit envious of the way he tackles seemingly lost causes with all the enthusiasm of a champion fighter; I myself, when it comes to expending energy, am like a finicky, health-conscious old woman in a buffet line.  There are days when I’m tempted to give up, to sign back up with some kind of limited government program, to find a local Kiwanis Club and live my life getting along just fine with Boobus Americanus.  But after reading this book I am just as convinced as ever that the struggle for a free society is not only worthwhile, it is worth engaging with a sense of joy and wonder and love of life.  In fact, it is the only way we will win the battle of ideas.

The Art of Strolling and Other Countercultural Leisures

Typically I’m a very fast walker.  In former times it wasn’t uncommon for people to beg me to slow down.  At this point in time I was using walking as a form of exercise, but since I get that in other ways now, I have begun to slow down.  I have learned very quickly what I’ve been missing and what I’ve failed to notice in my haste.

A few weeks ago I got restless at 3am and headed out for a stroll around the neighborhood, deliberately setting a snail’s pace.  It took me an hour to go less than a mile, round trip, and I learned more about my own neighborhood in that hour than I had in the previous three years.  I did not know, for instance, that there were two or three doctor’s offices right around the corner from my apartment.  (They tastefully blend in with the surrounding residences, elegant retorts to modern zoning laws.)  Nor did I fully appreciate the innate beauty of many of  the old houses around here.  I previously had some idea, but not a complete idea of their handsome architecture.  It is one thing to look; it is another thing entirely to see.   Cornices are not at street level, perhaps because man is not meant to spend the entirety of his existence in the gutter.

A solitary walk such as the one I’ve described has a way of putting you back together, of making you an integrated person again.  I dare say this is considered a seditious act by modern society, which prostrates its laptop computers in front of the altar of function.  A “good citizen” is someone who gets stuff done and eschews leisure.  The worth of a man in America has an almost direct correlation to the number of widgets he makes, unless he’s a government employee, in which case he’s a “public servant,” even if his work is actually deleterious, such as papering over the truth with dishonest statistics at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or profiting from illegal wars of foreign aggression.  But I digress.  A wholly integrated man is fast becoming a lost art.  I have lived my entire life in the Age of Utility, and sometimes I wonder if my generation’s existential angst doesn’t have something to do with this fragmentary existence.  A man who is merely an agent runs the risk of being a persona rather than a personality; a man with an office but not a home.  Such a person cannot know who he is, and he is therefore more likely to be tossed about by every wind that assails his ship.  A man who takes time to put himself back together is more equipped to resist ill-advised trends and is therefore useless, and even dangerous, in the eyes of the social engineers.

There is a poignant scene near the end of the movie Shawshank Redemption.  Brooks, who’d been in prison for decades for I-don’t-remember-what, is released, gets an apartment and a job bagging groceries at a local market.  Unaccustomed to the sped-up ways of the modern world, he laments that everyone went off and got themselves “in a damn hurry.”  He ends his life hanging from a rope.

I saw reference once to this scene on another libertarian website, and the author of the post didn’t seem to have much sympathy for Brooks, who, in his mind, couldn’t get with the program.  There was meant to be some sort of lesson viz. capitalism in these remarks, but it seems to me that capitalism becomes dangerous when its proportions are allowed to become inhuman, when we cease to run the market and the market instead runs us.  This is not a call for regulation; it is a reminder that capitalism gives us the freedom to say no, to insist that we have the leisure that we need in order to keep ourselves in tune.  Heaven knows that this isn’t possible with highly centrally planned economies, in which every citizen has a material measure on his “duty” which must be lived up to.  But the question remains:  Why do we let the market run us?  No government intervention into labor law could do half as much good as a populace that finally decides that it isn’t worth it to work three jobs just to have the condo or the SUV.

Materialism is an obvious culprit here.  I hesitate to use the word because it is routinely abused by the Temperance Union types who still fret routinely that—in the words of H.L. Mencken—someone, somewhere may be having fun.  But there is no good substitute for this term when discussing a culture that would rather buy toys than have a reasonable amount of time each week to take a few leisurely walks—or, God forbid, read a book.  There is a delicious irony here, though.  Both the materialists and the Professional Frowners of the Modern Era seem to conflate materialism with happiness and joy, but it seems to me that they are, if not mutually exclusive, certainly not necessarily related.  Modern life is more like a frenzy or an orgy, more akin to the storm that takes place in the mind that has been seized by passion.  How much genuine happiness is really to be found?  Go ahead and dismiss this question as a mere reflection of the author’s own misery, but remember to ask it again the next time you’re faced with a sidewalk full of blank faces walking from the blue-grey cubicles of our nondescript skyscrapers to the moldy tunnels of the subway.  At the same time, while we buy all this crap that we fill our houses with, the art of celebrating festivals fades into history.  Just the other day someone pointed out to me that Thanksgiving is now a “minor holiday”:  After the Halloween decorations are taken down, the Christmas trees go up—and we all know what Christmas has turned into.  The atrophy of feasts began by the 15th century at the latest, when English businessmen and landowners griped about all the Holy Days (holidays) on the calendar, during which it was illegal to work.  Ever since then there has been a fairly steady progression, through Protestantism, to that contemporary sensation that we are all unwilling passengers on a giant conveyor belt which pauses only a few times annually for President’s Day, Earth Day, and—-what should I call it?—the Winter Solstice.  This is not joy; it is a self-imposed slavery so that we can—pace George Carlin—buy more stuff.

Never mind the big festivals, though.  Most of us can’t even stand the thought of one day of rest per week.  It is not uncommon for me to offer to friends the unsolicited advice that they need one day a week that belongs solely to them—or to God, if they’re so inclined.  A complete day off seems to many people to be a total waste, and by a day off I don’t mean a day of running back and forth between Target, Wal-Mart, and soccer practice.  I mean a total day with nothing in particular planned, with the possible exception of a nice dinner.  This is rank heresy in the modern milieu.  When you take a day off yer’ not gittin’ stuff done, and that’s un-American and a traitorous act towards whichever cause you’ve adopted for life.  Since I’m a musician I know many workaholics like this.  The devotion is beautiful; the consequences are not.  And people wonder why they end up with a bad drinking habit.  The curious thing is that a society like ours, which bases so much of its pride on the stuff it gits done, has completely lost sight not only of the value of non-material things, but also of the law of diminishing returns:  an overworked man not only has no time to make creative space for himself and to ponder the meaning of his own existence, he also is less effective in his functionalism.   Materialism eventually devours itself.

In situations where most of life’s happiness is focused on sensate pleasures, “discipline” can often be considered a dirty word.  There may be another way to look at this concept, however.  Discipline is not just about doing enough push-ups every morning or studying hard enough or putting in the requisite number of overtime hours.  It can also be employed to secure right proportion in the way one’s life is lived.  There is a very famous piece of Gregorian chant which begins, Gaudete.  That is Latin, and it is the imperative form of “rejoice.”  There are no conditions or delays attached to it:  Rejoice.  Now.  The proper cultivation of joy is essential to a life well-lived and it takes effort in any era, even in one of relative health such as ours.  It cannot be guaranteed by anything and can only come into being if we are willing to do what’s necessary to get off the conveyor belt of cubicle servitude, soccer practices, and the concern du jour pushed by the news media.

None of these remarks should be mistaken as a tract against material progress.  The labor saving devices invented since the industrial revolution are great tributes to the ingenuity of mankind.  We can get so much more done in so much less time, and yet our ancestors seemed to be better at the art of leisure than we are.  Material wealth be damned; they took time for the soul.  Thanks to modern technology we would not have to pay as high a price as they did, but it remains for us to take advantage of the opportunity and to build lives that are duly proportioned.  This applies no less to yours truly than it does to anyone else.

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