Delight Springs

Monday, September 26, 2016

Machiavelli & Hobbes, Osgood & Scully

What a memorable weekend, beginning Friday night with Ron Howard's Eight Days A Week at the Belcourt. The lads from Liverpool are timelessly, endlessly inspiring. Opie still impresses too.

Then there was Saturday's superior sushi at Sonobana. Try the crawdad roll, if you go.

Yesterday's departure of two grand old men, honeyed voices of the airwaves I've been making a ritual point of hearing my entire adult lifetime, was even more moving than anticipated: Charles Osgood, from Sunday Morning, and Vin Scully, from the Dodgers. Two more exemplary long lives for my collection, two more ringing endorsements of Theodore Geisel's smart optimism: "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." See you on the radio, Charley. And a very pleasant good evening to you, Vin. It's been good to know you both, though of course we've never actually met. The connective power of broadcast speech outpaces mere proximity, and shrinks the planet in the best way.

The lives they've lived stand as a strong rebuke to the low estimation of humanity we find in today's CoPhi philosophers, a pair of Power Politics proponents who expected the worst from people.

Italian Niccolo Machiavelli was all about appearances. He admired lions and foxes but seems in many ways to have been more like a chameleon, changing colors and stripes to suit situations, procure patronage, and manipulate people. Really, though, only the human animal is capable of the kind of duplicity and means-end rationalization he urged. Russell liked him more than I do, for his absence of "humbug." If "success" in a leader means simply staying power, a talent for deception, and a mania for winning, I vote for failure.

Brit Thomas Hobbes ("Tommy," my first PoliSci prof familiarly named him, "mainlining on utopia") was a peripatetic who derived great energy from his daily perambulations. Frederic Gros doesn't tell us that in his little "Energy" chapter, but Hobbes would certainly have agreed that the solid support of earth under foot makes realistic alliance with the pull of gravity. He thought we ought to build similar stability into our public institutions.

"He would go out for a long walk every morning, striding quickly up hills so as to get quickly out of breath" and to get ideas, which he preserved by extracting a quill from his walking stick. He seems to have been hail, healthy, hardy, and happy, living into his 90s (but not an optimist). Not the guy you'd expect to stump for a maximum state like his awe-inspiring mortal God "Leviathan."

Hobbes was a "rigid determinist" but something got him up and going each morning, out into the English countryside. Did it really feel involuntary? Does it? Not to me.

He didn't find any intrinsic  difference between religion and superstition, but thought the former might have its uses for the state. Like everything else, legislation governing what belief and conduct to allow in "utopia" is supposed to make life (not people, contrary to what a student once told me) less nasty, brutish, and short. Hobbes had nothing against vertically challenged individuals.

It's a good day to be thinking about what qualities we desire in our leader and our nation. I'm not holding my breath for an edifying debate tonight, but as Mr. Osgood always said: "we'll be watching." Too bad he and Vin aren't on the ballot. As Vin once said, we're all "day to day."

6 am/6:40, 67/74/51, 6:36

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