Thursday, December 30, 2010

Motivation … For Humility

At a conference ages and ages ago—the subject concerned remote reading of electric meters using computers, radios, and software—I asked the kind of question from the floor that speakers rarely get but usually enjoy answering. The speaker said: “You want motivation, do you? Well, I’ll give you motivation.”

In that brief preamble to his answer, the speaker indirectly informed me that among the hackers, to whose community I’d long actually belonged, the word “motivation” also meant “a rationale.”

This morning I woke up with a strong motivation for humility. The dreaming self is, too, capable of thought. And the thought on awakening was: “How can we who must pass liquids, solids, and vent gases at right regular intervals behave as if we were the lords of the universe?” Our behavior toward our bodies reveals the very paradox of life. How sacred we hold machines that need their batteries recharged at very frequent intervals, machines that we must aerate at the rate of 12 times every minute—or Katie bar the door. Cut me some slack, but I’m reading Montaigne’s Essays (Brigitte’s Christmas gift to me) and the French Stoic was not averse to delving into odd things such as this. He mentions his own extreme reluctance to reveal his private parts (“unless moved by passion,” as he puts it). We surround our eliminative functions in physical and mental shrouds. Even in public bathrooms, as we enter them, we put on mental gowns of privacy and sort of look right through all others present; we have no ears for sounds we hear next door; we do not see part of that shoe under the economically abbreviated partition which belongs to that odd sound. During a 1,400 mile round trip at 70-miles an hour—during which the smallest mechanical failure, if it happens to take place in the right place and at an unlucky time would render these machines of ours inert and bleeding masses of expiring protoplasm—such sights and sound do indeed occur. But all this we carry in a kind of special luggage labeled “officially invisible”—while our minds contemplate news of lithium monopolies from thousands of miles away or alternately listen to breathtaking arias recorded in the 1920s…

Let us be comprehensive by all means. Those breathtaking young things yearning for love in Jane Austen novels, ah, yes, they too. All of us. Prisoners of matter. But are we? Really? Ultimately? Aye, there is the rub.

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