Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Self: Drinking, Robert Bolt & Seamus Heaney

Over at The Blog of the Moderate Left excerpts from his post, Farewell Power Hour, followed by my questions:

"Via Flash, more legislative stupidity:"

Does legislative ineffectiveness equate with stupidity? Foolishness with stupidity? Ineffectiveness in general terms equates with stupidity?

"First of all, the only effect this would have on preventable deaths due to excessive drinking is to time-shift those deaths by approximately 24 hours. "

How do you know this? Seems reasonable, must be so...? What are some of the other possible effects? Using what criteria did you assign them all a value of zero? And, "time-shift those deaths"? These are inevitable deaths? Is that why the legislature is "stupidity"?

"I've been along for a few power hours, and guess what? Not one of the people I was with was enjoying their first drink."

Is this a large enough sample from which to draw conclusions? And is your conclusion, "They did it, but they didn't like it?"

"These people aren't trying to drink eight beers in an hour--they're just enjoying being able to drink legally."

Are you now saying the people who weren't enjoying their first drink are now enjoying which drink.. number 6, number 14?

"For what it's worth, I continue to be dumbfounded that we believe people are capable of driving at 16, voting and dying for their country at 18, but incapable of dealing with alcohol until 21.

Are you saying the age for all these privileges and rights should be changed to 16? To 21? Insurance companies typically give drivers a price reduction at 25 or 26. Should that age specific bright line be changed to 16? Or all the others rise to 26? There is ample of evidence of incapable driving at 16. Electing representation and electing to defend their country at 18 I agree with. That on their 21st birthday someone would elect to drink 21 drinks in an hour sounds to me like "someone incapable of dealing with alcohol."

"Yes, drinking and driving, blah blah blah."

Huh? Are you saying the problem of alcohol related accidents and deaths are insignificant? Just so much blather?

" But everyone agrees that drinking on campuses is far worse than it was a generation ago."

Everyone agrees? How do you know it is worse? By what measure? On which campuses?

"Let's see...A generation ago, legal drinking age was 18...No, I can't see any connection whatsoever."

Perhaps the drinking age should be lowered to 5? "Set 'em up barkeep, I wants muh 5 whiskeys, right now!"

What is going on here? Why the excesses? It is part of that search for one's own identity. The search for oneself. At age 21, the great arrival at last, the symbolic yet uncertain launch into the undiscovered country of the self meets alcoholic cloudiness and excess . Free to legally drink, more drinks equals more free? Is this what it mean to become an adult? The giddy beer haze and loosened inhibitions accompanying it feel liberating but are not especially helpful. Even more so next morning. Searching in bars is not revelatory except to show us we need search elsewhere. One might ask, "How to achieve this?", or"Where do I look?" How and where indeed. These ask the wrong questions. There is no thing to achieve, there is no where to look for our own Self. Conundrums and paradoxes here. The self cannot be uncovered by thinking about how to uncover it. In the far off recesses of my memory I hear," He that would find himself, must lose himself. "John Paul II worked in a rock quarry in Poland under the Nazi occupation. Albert Schweitzer once suggested to a German student, before tackling the intense thinking his Doctoral in philosophy would require, to engage himself, as preparation, in the hard physical work of road building. Was he suggesting hard physical work itself? I think not; but rather that physical work would take him(self) to an entirely different place, a not-thinking place. Confusing to be sure. Words describing what is being described, all crossed out and scribbled together. Conundrums and paradoxes here.

Self, noun, your consciousness of your own identity. Note: self is used in the formation of innumerable compounds, usually of obvious signification, in most of which it denotes either the agent or the object of the action expressed by the word with which it is joined, ...Or it denotes the subject of, or object affected by, such action, quality, attribute, feeling, or the like...Such as:

self-abandoning, self-editing, self-absorbed, self-condemned, self-evolved, self-exalting, self-excusing, self-inflicted, self-mastered, self-improving, self-sustained, self-love.

The poet Seamus Heaney, in his poem, Personal Helicon writes:

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing
. (italics mine)

In the play by Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons, and film of the same name, (see the version with Paul Scofield), More is talking with Norfolk about More's refusal to give in, abandon his self, and sign the act of succession making Henry VIII Head of the Church in England. He has refused to sign, and refused to say why he will not sign.

More: Howard, you must cease to know me.
Norfolk: I do know you! I wish I didn't but I do!
More: I mean as a friend.
Norfolk: You are my friend! (snip)
More: What's to be done then?
Norfolk: (With deep appeal) Give in.
More: (Gently) I can't give in, Howard. You might as well advise a man to change the color of his eyes. Our friendship's more mutable that that.
Norfolk: Oh, that's immutable, is it? The one fixed point in a world of changing friendships is that Thomas More will not give in!
More: To me it has to be, for that's myself! Affection goes as deep in me as you think, but only God is love right through, Howard; and that's my self. (snip)
More: I will not give in because I oppose it-I do-not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do-I! Is there no single sinew in the midst of this that serves no appetite of Norfolk's but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise my lord!

We live in a society and culture which sees any constraints as impediments on the freedom of the Self. We'll embrace and tolerate any hedonism, accept any vice, suspend any criticism, just to demonstrate our open mindedness. Does this bring us any closer to the self? To some self-awareness? It is just further postponement. Responsibilities are split off from rights and privileges. "You cannot legislate morality" we say. (A tacit understanding that morality might be a good thing?) Nor can we legislate self-awareness. Only an individual can choose, or not choose, to make moral choices. That a few do not, and these deaths, however few, tell us that Freedom is not the abolition of all restraint, and the Self cannot be found by tossing down 21 drinks in an hour.

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