The Good

Recollection returns the admiration Dr. Tew expressed for the single, solitary bee during some long ago assembly of Ohio beekeepers. He was awestruck that this individual would exit the colony where there is the support of her fellows, and the safety of numbers, to fly off into the great unknown. I guess it stuck with me by the way he presented it, rather analytically from a scientist’s perspective – someone who has spent his life studying bees. We tend to knee jerk anthropomorphize anything not “like us”. Forgotten is that butterflies, bees and other insects don’t “know” what is out there. Off they go into the very, and always, immediate unknown.
My neighbor is not right. No, not in an argumentative sense, rather he has been unlike his fellows in thought, behavior, and socialization since birth. Today I guess he would be described as challenged, or severely disabled though he gets around and lives alone. Many of us who live around him would describe him as a pain since it is almost impossible to communicate with him. He demands, and if the demand is not met, he curses loudly and vehemently (disabilities are not always as portrayed by Hollywood). Of late he has deemed himself to be our self-appointed evangelist. Have you gone to church? No matter what the response, he condemns you to hell (perhaps he’s lonely?). The latest is asking what is written on a piece of paper in his hand (which the committed do-gooder is more than willing to read for what he believes to be an illiterate. Not!). The scrawl spells “dread”, and of course, a sermon on going to hell with a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of assorted gospel invectives follows.
In The Gleam Of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson (2005) Naoko Saito tries to show the close connection between Dewey and Emerson, through some of the writing on this matter by Stanley Cavell (who considers the opposite). Emerson’s influence appears in Dewey’s early work and then in his later writings according to Saito. She addresses a major criticism of Dewey in a chapter entitled The Gleam of Light Lost: Transcending the Tragic with Dewy after Emerson, something both Emerson and Cavell address and wrestle with but Dewey is considered to have elided (all problems can be solved through a sound pragmatic approach). Curious insights that speak to our time arise out of the considerations of these various thinkers that Naoko brings together. Emerson (and then later Dewey) mourns/bemoans the “lost individual”, asleep to the life within/without ( Shades of the unexamined life is not worth living!). The emphasis with Emerson, and later through Saito’s interpretation of Dewey, is on setting forth, struggling to create/achieve meaning, to learn, to grow. Of course, no apparent end is given for all this setting forth, learning and growing. In contemporary times, this has been perverted as “process” – i.e. process art, or “the learning process”, etc. (but not processed food). The “process” has become the end (something Saito points out is NOT the case by referencing the role and place of imagination with morality in both the writings of Emerson and Dewey). Saito works hard to stress the difference between the valorization of today’s “process” and the role or place of struggle, setting forth, growth, etc. with Emerson, et al. She writes: “[T]he good is anything but guaranteed in advance; it is to be created ahead, as “consequences” in the future, or as Cavell says, proven only on the way. Potentiality is not “a category of existence” that is being unfolded. Instead, “potentialities cannot be known till after the interactions have occurred” in terms of “consequences”” (pg. 116).
And so the bee returns to the hive loaded down with pollen and a gut full of nectar after her adventure in the great unknown. Its fellows will be nourished by this contribution achieved with such great effort and peril. The future of the colony will be determined by this struggle with what it knows not. I think this is what Saito is pointing at. The scrawl of today, held up with any considerations of democracy, education or growth (taken in whatever sense), spells out “dread”. Forgotten is that a known outcome, a machine determined inevitability is not exactly how things happen. “The good is anything but guaranteed in advance; it is to be created ahead, as “consequences” in the future, or as Cavell says, proven only on the way.”

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