Saturday, October 15, 2016

Honor and Honorarium

I’ve never earned a penny for making a public speech—but presumably they weren’t altogether free. I spoke as a representative of institutions that thought they benefited from any kind of positive “exposure” to the public; I was merely the instrument of delivering that exposure. There was also the personal “honorarium” consisting of basking in the attention of mostly strangers for twenty minutes or so; and there was, of course, the intangible value of that sometimes rather perfunctory applause.

We live in a world of intangible concepts. What is “exposure,” for instance. It isn’t something one can deposit. How does one “profit” from “publicity”? The profit isn’t measurable; it’s in the same category as the weight of my soul. And what exactly does “honor” mean? Since honor also belongs to an immaterial category, the “honorarium” should be in the same class; it should be praise, never a check. Too rudely physical that. Praise is just words—not deeds. And when crass words turn into crass deeds, or when honor turns into fungible honoraria, we’ve crossed some kind of invisible barrier between order and disorder—whatever those intangible concepts mean.

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