"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Too Soon Old, Too Late Schmart–It’s Never Too Late To Figure Out What’s What But Why Bother?

There is a saying among older men which, more than any other, better than ‘You got what you bargained for’, ‘Better late than never’, and ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’, say it all - ‘Too soon old, too late schmart’.  However much alte kockers may try to figure out what’s what before it’s too late, the farther away the goal always seems.  

Why should it be so hard, after all, since there is nothing new under the son, human beings still perform in the same predictable, disappointing, ways.  Human nature is hardwired from birth; and regardless of the odd bits and pieces of strange genetic material from Great Grandfather Isaac, we all seem to play from the same deck.

So familiar are the hands dealt and so often are they played, that anyone old enough to remember Truman has given up on politics. Besides, there are never any takeaways that might add insight or knowledge.  World War II was fought for the same reasons as The War of the Roses.  Men and women committed adultery, murder, fraud, theft, and deception in the courts of Henry VIII and the Vatican of Urban II as much as they do in post-modern America.  

It’s not that we haven’t learned a thing. It’s that we can’t help it.  Until the human genome is completely recombined and reconfigured to alter human nature, we will all win half the time and lose half the time.  Of course the ones who will do the genetic tinkering in an attempt to make a better, more compassionate, more understanding and tolerant human race, will be still wired with the old codes, so the post-human generation will not surprisingly look pretty much like the old one.

Image result for images the war of the roses

Many older people, still feeling that one can indeed be schmart before it is too late, turn to literature, religion, the arts and philosophy for insights and answers.  The plays of Shakespeare, for example, setting human drama on a very large stage, might well illuminate the human condition.  

Shakespeare, however, knew as well as any historian or philosopher how history repeats itself in boringly repetitive ways, and the only thing of interest is how characters react to them.  Goneril and Regan played out the age-old melodrama of family greed, jealousy, and ambition, but were wonderfully evil in their attempts to dethrone their father, rule his kingdom and take his fortune.  Tamora, Dionyza, Volumnia, and Lady Macbeth are delicious villains, all about protecting their own, getting what is rightfully theirs, and confiscating especially what is not. 

Philosophy, then, may be the answer.  Parsing the works of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, and Nietzsche must offer some hope of resolution to life’s conundrums.  Yet Berkeley’s phenomenology, Hume’s metaphysics, and Sartre’s moral purpose never satisfy.  Aquinas and Kierkegaard were barking up the wrong tree when it came to proving whether or not good can exist in a morally questionable world.  Of course they can and do.
During one service in a wealthy synagogue, the rabbi got carried away. Falling on hands and knees, forehead to floor, he said, "Oh God, before thee I am nothing.” The Cantor, not to be outdone, also got down, forehead to wood and said, "Oh God, before thee I am nothing." Seeing this, Levy, a tailor in the fourth row, left his seat, fell to his knees, forehead to floor and he too, said "Oh God, before thee I am nothing.” With this, the Cantor elbowed the rabbi and sniffed: "Look who thinks he's nothing!"
This is what eventually happens to people of a certain age.  There is no meaning to life so stop looking.

D.H.Lawrence is famous for his belief in the transformative nature of sex.  True union, the perfect coming together of man and woman in sexual intercourse, is spiritual.  At the moment of orgasm everything but the climax is irrelevant – marital discord, social inequality, money, ambition, children, propriety all are erased in that one elegiac moment.  

Of course his characters are just as spent and discouraged by what they see after sex – the wallpaper, linoleum, and stained armoire – as anyone else; but at least they have partaken of something more elevating and are better off for it.

Image result for images d.h.lawrence
Q: What's the difference between a Catholic wife and a Jewish wife?
A: The Catholic wife has real orgasms and fake jewelry.
Older men barely remember sex at all let alone any sexual divinity.  Little in their memory is Laurentian – a first kiss perhaps, but most everything else has been so mediated by Hollywood that they have no recollection of any real romance other than bits and pieces of sexual paraphernalia.  If anything they remember the sex they never had.  

D.H. Lawrence notwithstanding, sex was never all it was cracked up to be and certainly provided no answers to any existential question.
Sadie, an elderly Jewish lady, is leaving the garment district to go home from work. Suddenly a man who has been walking towards her stands in front of her, blocks her path, opens up his raincoat and flashes his wares in all their sordid glory. Unruffled, Sadie takes a look and remarks, "This you call a lining?"
Religion perhaps may offer answers to life’s conundrums.  Tolstoy, a non-believer, spent most of his adult life searching for meaning.  His character Konstantin Levin in Anna Karenina wonders how God could be so cruel. He created man with wit, intelligence, creativity, insight, energy, humor, and ambition; lets him live for a few insignificant decades, and then consigns him for eternity in the cold, hard ground of the steppes.  

Tolstoy studied history, philosophy, mathematics, science, and religion for answers, but found none.  At last, much later in life, he finally gave up.  If billions of people have believed in God over the millennia, he reasoned, why shouldn’t I?

Image result for images tolstoy

The history of Christianity is as fascinating for its historical evolution as for its spiritual principles. Theologians fought for four centuries about the nature of the Trinity; whether Jesus was both God and Man, one or the other, or only God.  Although the Church began as a simple household affair, early Christian leaders realized that without some kind of central authority, the very principles of Jesus himself might become so distorted that they would be unrecognizable; and without authoritative principles and doctrine, the Church would be no different from that of the Gnostics. 

One can learn as much about institutional organization, management, and marketing from the history of the early Church than anything more uplifting.

What about science, then?  Certainly the fundamental laws of nature are inalterable and as permanent and profound as any principle. Yet cosmology keeps changing with the times, mathematical theory evolves with each generation, Einstein and Darwin will soon be put on the shelf. 

The arts? Not much hope there in an age of personal identity and personal expression.  The paintings of Francis Bacon and Anselm Kiefer offer some insights into the human condition, but they are overwhelmed by abstract installations and concept art.
The Goldbergs went to pay their respects to their good friend who had just died. They filed past the coffin. "How good he looks," remarked Mrs. Goldberg, "how relaxed, how tanned, how healthy!" "And why not?" replied Mr. Goldberg. "He just spent three weeks in Miami."
For many people old age is exactly that – winters in Miami with no excuses or complaints.  For others it’s grandchildren and a few meals out.  We all get over our anxiety about figuring things out sooner or later. We either wear out like Tolstoy, get the picture quickly and don’t bother, or just play the cards we are dealt even though we know they have been dealt a million times before to people just like us. In the end we all end up dans un tas pêle-mêle, all jumbled up together in the same place, so why worry anyway.
Schwartz is sitting in his room, wearing only a top hat, when Steinberg strolls in.
“Why are you sitting here naked?”
“It’s all right,” says Schwartz. “Nobody comes to visit.”
“But why the hat?”
“Maybe somebody will come.”

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