Friday, October 23, 2009

Desire And My Harper's Subscription

I bailed on my blog yesterday. Lethargy. Wednesday night I had dental surgery, which was painless but creepy. I took -- what else -- oxycodone for pain, but my reaction wasn’t as bad as it was when I cut my finger. I managed to draw the illustration for Wednesday’s trophic pyramid/food-web piece Thursday morning. I’d been planning it, so it fell into place, but that shot my bolt for the day.

The scan which sits in place of today’s illustration is from an article, “Final Edition: Twilight of the American Newspaper” by Richard Rodriguez in the November Harper’s Magazine. Rodrigues chronicles the rise and fall of his hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, and relates the decline in papers in general to a modern indifference to place.

Harper’s is a guilty pleasure for me, and I’m letting my subscription lapse. It’s a magazine whose writers seem to understand what’s ailing nation and world in the early twenty-first century, but I don’t think they know what to do, and I have an inkling. I’d rather spend my Harper’s time nursing that inkling, building a society and economy which will last the generations.

This paragraph from Rodriguez’s article is properly bitter. It says that we are encouraged to recognize the impracticality, the inappropriateness, of our desires by people who hope to realize the same desires. It makes me think of medieval bishops who scolded serfs about the sin of envy while making token comment to their patrons about the sin of greed.

I’m fairly indifferent to television-advertising scenes in vineyards and shopping on the Avenue Victor Hugo. But I do desire. Some of my desires are cupidinous. (Is that a word? I’m trying to form an adjective from the noun “cupidity.”) Some of my desires are noble, but desires nonetheless.

The Buddha wouldn’t make a distinction between desires for wealth and pleasure, and desires for relief for the starving and oppressed, or even a desire to personally live in harmony with my world. It’s the mere desire that’s the problem: If I want something, even some virtuous goal, not realizing that desire would be the source of my misery, and maybe someone else’s. But I’m not evolved enough to commit to that kind of detachment.

I have things to do. Desire is my goad, and pleasure rewards me for doing what the world wants. Human beings need to bring our endeavors into harmony with the web of life. Anger at being thwarted in my attempts at harmony, or at being contravened by superior inharmony are other motivators.

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