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> What Is Best?

What Is Best?

Recently I re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and found this nice passage right near the start that I liked. (There were plenty of other things I liked, but I didn't keep track.)

What I would like to do is use the time that is coming now to talk about some things that have come to mind. We're in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it's all gone. Now that we do have some time, and know it, I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important.

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua—that's the only name I can think of for it—like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. “What's new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and “best” was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of its own internal momentum. Some channel deepening seems called for.

There are many excellent ideas tangled together in there.

  • I don't think I've said this anywhere yet, but I'm all about not being in a hurry. I like to have plenty of free time; and even in my non-free time I like to take the time to do things right.
  • The idea of wondering where the time went and being sorry that it's all gone is the flip side of the idea that there's not enough time.
  • The Chautauqua concept has special appeal to me because one of the last physical Chautauquas exists right here in Boulder. The main building is this big old wooden thing that you'd have to see to believe. And, they still have concerts and things there, my favorite being the silent movies with piano accompaniment. You can read more about all that here.
  • Picking on television is always fun; see List of Principles.
  • The stream metaphor reminds me of Carlyle's, even though the subject is completely different.
  • I completely agree with the point about what's new. “An endless parade of trivia and fashion” … exactly! That's another thing I don't think I've said anywhere. I'll have to come back to that one later; for now, you might like to look at Seek the Original.
  • The point about what is best is also pleasing to me, because it reminds me of one of my purposes, The Good.

 

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@ November (2005)