Good’s dead?

Harry Drabik

Walking past my old high school last Saturday I was struck. Left foot was ahead, right behind, when I recognized “I, too, am a migrant.” These days the migrant category appears generous enough to include flight from any form of oppression. I felt oppressed by the fantasy nature of living on the shores of tourism lulu land, so here I am an unexpected migrant. Ah, but don’t expect me to pick strawberries (unless grown at eye level) or ask you to pick them for me. Along with developing a realization of the unreal uselessness of life based on tourist transience came a building sense of hard work reality in mines, forests, and the transport of product. My old high school shook weekly when the Erie pit or St. James mine shot rock to begin its non-holiday trip out east to Pittsburgh. Being a migrant has a fine contemporary feel I recommend for intellectual merit blended with the back-to-reality call of whistles signaling RR cars of ore on its migrant trip to a new life in manufactured product.

It happened that walking near the old HS reminded me of its library. (Do the upper lever schools near you have libraries with Dante, Ovid, Van Loon, Montague, or Plutarch or do they favor day dreamy fare?) A mid-teen bearing the woes of oddity (it is not ever easy to be eccentric) I was a frequenter of the shelves. I’d struggled with Dante and wasn’t ready for so much when dumb (I know of what I speak) luck led me to Nietzsche famously infamous statement. And again more ever reliable stumbling luck brought a refreshingly mindless response to the philosopher. It was but teen cockiness and iconoclast sparring that brought about my logical riposte. If Fredrick N. is correct then “Good” is dead along with “God.” Earned or not a fifteen year old can have their moment of philosophical purity. Mine was no more than a puberty-like growth spurt telling me that outside of our use of them abstractions do not live at all. Goodness, loyalty, or charity (etc.) do not live and die as living beings do. But we can give such things energetic or mummified life depending on our attention to them. If good is dead in me it’s because I’m directing my vision elsewhere.

A person need not be a committed athlete to feel the power of the humid locker room full of sweat, sweat sock, and soapy odors. I felt it. I just didn’t feel or respond to it as others did. On the other olfactory the scent of books kept shelved for decades gave me the opium dream high I imagine might inspire a budding jock entering the locker room representing their world. If I recall correctly I was first to sign out The Inferno (or maybe Paradiso) and felt luckily blessed as one making an impossible throw that the book was there waiting patiently over decades for me to take it out to be gaped over by ignorant adolescent eyes. Dante was a challenge to understand.  I was by no stretch up to grasping the content. My Latin skills counted for nothing and in honesty I never before heard of the Styx, its boatman, or the coins needed by the dead for the crossing. But we all start somewhere. For most of us that is at illiterate diaper filling base zero. We, each of us, have common and uncommon denominators. You go WOW at something, and I go Huh?

Having walked away from one orthodoxy do I want to replace it with another? Change is not always for the better. Some of us remember (it’s not that long ago) when Iran was an ordinary nation headed by a Shah. The swap from Shah to Ayatollah was a change; for the better or for an opposite? No room here to get deeply into that or the long history of Iran. The well-intended urge respectful recognition of other cultures. Good idea, but do we have the time and knowledge to do that? Does anyone think it realistic for American schools to have students knowledgeable on the Sasanians of approx. 1,000 years past to appreciate its desire to become a rival to Roman power in the region? Persians and Medes were in to much the same roughly 1,000 years before that. A simple understanding of that one nation is beyond the reach of most of us. When is the last time you and yours discussed the role of Cyrus the Great as a Mesopotamian ruler and law-giver? Cyrus was important, but we kid ourselves if we invest much energy in him rather than on an effort to understand much less in the west; say the few hundred critical and important years from the reformation in Europe to 1776. We might be able to do something and get somewhere with understanding our foundations. That can be set aside to study China instead. The Dan Ming time is interesting, but tackling those thousands of years of Chinese achievement means less attention spent elsewhere.

Good isn’t dead and neither will reasoned inquiry be unless we walk away and abandon it to lesser gods. It was and is one of my peeves that our major leaders have for so long and so well been in versions of political lulu. They all do it. This one and the last have shown remarkable skill being useless on hard topics. Actually, due credit, the previous administration was above the curve with suppositions that sadly added to Middle East problems. Understanding others does not grow by knowing less about ourselves. The past administration showed that in making policy based on linking the US to the inquisition and crusades. Dismal inaccuracy of fact doesn’t make for wiser decisions. Reason and debate are not dead unless we abandon them. Over the millennia world powers made decisions on the geopolitics of gods, grain, land, etc. A populist democracy, the US has avoided much of that by being American. Before opining on Iran, China, or the rest of the world we should look with deliberation at the where and why of the US now.