Thursday, April 5, 2012
Driveway, Toilet and Mysterium Tremendum
Consider our specimen. This is a picture of a man in his driveway. He keeps it graveled and trims its border of tamed trees. It has not changed in many years. It runs along his place to a gate that gives onto the road. He understands his driveway.
He does not quite understand the road. Thirty years ago it consisted of two narrow lanes in deplorable condition known only to a handful of hicks. Then, by and by, pastures were sold and developers swooped. Housing tracts, apartments, strip malls sprang up and people piled onto the little road, which had to be widened into four lanes and traffic lights appeared. Traffic lights, he suspects, are alien machines that feed off human aggravation, but he understands the growing part they play in metering the flow of madness in the world.
He does not understand the world. It has too many problems, variables, enigmas, too many of which do not lend themselves to purposeful study. When he asks questions, he gets confusing answers rigged with dismissals that lie in wait with other subtleties. When he was young, his friends read self-help books to see if they were ok. He tried that, but felt left out because he could not develop a neurosis --he was ignorant and didn't know how. He thought a minute or two of quiet brooding sorted most things out. And so he grew older and had not examined his mental capacity. As a result, he was finally assailed by the suspicion that he was not very bright.
Despite all this, he has always hoped human affairs, by some amazing device, would become clarified. Maybe it will be a new wave of leaders, bosses and enlightened planners who consider humanity more than an exploitable infestation. Maybe it will be religionists who can reconcile chiliasm with our longing for free will, or justify evolution where there is no scriptural reference to Creation ever ending. Our specimen thinks about these and all sorts of reasons why we have become so mysterious to ourselves.
But over the years, he has simplified his demands upon himself. He may not understand everything that comes onto his property but keeps his car serviced and his gate in good repair. He understands these things. He also understands his commode, which is basic to sending some things off of his property. He knows how to lift the little brass piston out of the tank-valve and clear the grit that builds up in there. Certainly important skills, representing many that I have catalogued as his cultural anthropologist --a service I provide in addition to brushing his teeth.