Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Three Stooges

The blogger Burt Prelutsky recently wrote “Every day in just about every way, the world keeps getting spookier. Not necessarily in a Stephen King/Dean Koontz kind of spooky way, but more in a Three Stooges nonsensical sort of way.[i]  Perhaps it is just that in modern places like Hong Kong we are increasingly reliant upon technology that we don’t really understand or perhaps it has always been that way and we were too young, unobservant or busy to notice. It might even be a combination of the two.

A last option, one less comfortable to think about is that it isn’t the world that is becoming nonsensical but us.

Upon reflection it seems that the world has always been pretty much what it is. Rocks and trees and birds and bees and the whole mélange[ii]  that comprise nature seem to be pretty much the same as they’ve always been, at least in the last million years or so. Maybe it is people that have changed since I was a child.  The nonsensical thing is we don’t look any different but we are different; though I am not sure we are better for the differences.

You do not have to be very old to remember people not needing to have security gates in front of their doors or alarms on their automobiles; many people can remember a time when manners were the normal mode of behavior. It wasn’t a simpler time, just less electronic. It wasn’t a more innocent time because we all, every one of us, were beset by the same temptations faced by people today. It was a time when the world made sense.  Some of this is just growing older because I think almost everyone looks back on their childhood or youth as a golden-age. But, there is more to it than that.  

Perhaps the world appears nonsensical to us because we engage in nonsense. The Three Stooges are funny precisely because they react to events in socially, psychologically and morally nonsensical ways. The eye-poke, the pie in the face the saw across the ears are only funny because as much as we might want to act at least occasionally by poking an eye or throwing a pie we don’t. Our laughter is a nervous, hand over the mouth laugh while looking to either side, hoping that nobody else knows what’s in our heart.

We have all felt the appeal of the criminal. We can all secretly agree with H.L Mencken who wrote that:"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats (iii)" 

The late Mark Heard put it less humorously  when he sang; 

"Now and then the criminal in my skin lets out a sigh
He'd like to think he's innocent
But he cannot tell a lie
Truth is like a knife
And I'm crying again (iv)"

We may not throw pies at people as retribution for insults real or imagined but we do, at least sometime really wish we could.  Worse we sometimes act on those dark thought if not completely. There is a pirate in everyman desperately looking for his pistol, cutlass and parrot.  Most of the time we seek to repress these alter-egos. We all, everyone of us want to believe we are good people but, our deeds and motives betray. Deep down we are all crying not again but continually.

This is, I believe the actual font of what we perceive as a nonsensical world. We see the good, we do not do it; sometimes even when we want to. We desperately want to be good people even if we don't believe in absolute good. What we are left with is not so much moral relativism as  moral comparisonism. We know our flaws but at least we we are better than "X" or don't do "Y" or we tell ourselves that our intentions are good and hope that is enough. At the minimum we can say "I followed the rules."

When we cheat, just a little; when we get ahead by moral sleight of hand we have shown why we need the ethics and morality we were taught as a child. It is morality, ethics and culture that allow us to see that the world makes sense.  When we deny the evil before our face we make the world a nonsensical place. Maybe, we don’t need to simplify our lives as the psychologist are so found of telling us so much as to reform our lives. Maybe we should remember words like dignity, respect, courtesy and manners. Maybe we should make a better effort to live ethically. Maybe we should examine how we treat each other.  Maybe in doing so we’d be able to make sense of it all. I doubt it would make life easier.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger will try not to poke you in the eyes like Moe

[ii] a mixture often of incongruous elements