THE GARDENER RETURNS, A DIALOGUE, PART NINE A

Gardener – How many Christians follow the example of the Good Samaritan?
Writer – Jesus never called him good; he simply said he was a Samaritan. Everyone commenting on the story has called him good.
Gardener – But we agree what he did was good.
Writer – That’s why everyone calls him good.
Gardener – It’s easier helping someone when they’re lying like that right in front of you.
Writer – The Pharisee and the Levite didn’t.
Gardener – We all have a bit of Pharisee and Levite in us.
Writer –We call it self–interest in the narrow sense.
Gardener – But you and I said the stranger from Samaria helped the wounded man because he had to!
Writer – He had no choice. If he ignored the stranger, he’d have carried the stranger’s suffering in the form of shame.
Gardener – Something the Levite and the Pharisee could manage.
Writer – We do it all the time, convince ourselves it’s not our problem.
Gardener – Especially when the stranger isn’t lying on the road in front of us but is a foreigner on a dusty road in some far off land.
Writer – The Samaritan was a foreigner.
Gardener – Doesn’t matter where he was from. We’re all the same species, Homo sapiens.
Writer – Only this human would have found it hard to live with himself had he passed by.
Gardener – You mean he’d be miserable, unhappy.
Writer – According to Aristotle, the pagan philosopher, happiness and goodness are connected. The ancient philosopher says in Ethics I:7, “the final good is thought to be self-sufficient.” He defines “self-sufficient. . . as that which when isolated makes life desirable and lacking in nothing; and such we think happiness to be; and further we think it most desirable of all things.” Like goodness, happiness is, to quote the pagan, “something final and self-sufficient. . .”
Gardener – In other words the Samaritan was self-sufficient, he needed nothing more when he helped the stranger.
Writer – I think the pagan philosopher means more than that. Being self-sufficient is possessing all we need to be happy inside ourselves, in spite of what is happening around us. The pagan mentions the shoemaker. . .
Gardener – Not the cobbler on main street?
Writer – Why not? After all every town has a main street where people are hard at work making a living. We’ve known the bakers and shoemakers Adam Smith describes. Aristotle knew them, too. He writes in Ethics I:10 “If activities are, as we said, what gives life its character, no happy man can become miserable; for he will never do the acts that are hateful and mean. For the man who is truly good and wise, we think,” my emphasis, ok, “ bears all the chances of life becomingly and always makes the best of circumstances, as a good general makes the best military use of the army at his command and” again my emphasis! “a good shoemaker makes the best shoes out of the hides that are given him; and so with all other craftsmen.”
Gardener – A man who’s good and wise will bear all the chances of life becomingly – he means stoically?
Writer – Let me put it this way: if a shipment of leather is of poor quality, the shoemaker will do whatever he must to continue making good shoes. He won’t pass the poor quality onto the customer. If he can’t afford to ship the leather back to the original vendor he will find a way to work the leather to produce good shoes, or perhaps it will be belts or wallets or purses. The same can be said for the baker, the butcher, and the brewer! They won’t cut corners. Their own integrity is tied to the integrity of their work.
Gardener – And so it is for the gardener and the writer!
Writer – “And if this is the case,” Aristotle concludes, “the happy man can never become miserable; though he will not reach blessedness, if he meet with fortunes like those of Priam.”
Gardener – Priam, like in the Iliad.
Writer – King of Troy, lost everything to the Greeks. In other words the self-sufficient person will make the best of any situation, no matter what happens to him.
Gardener – Which means, I guess, if we follow a good path through thick and thin we’ve a good chance of being happy.
Writer – At least content.
Gardener – Easier said than done.
Writer – I know. That’s why in Ethics, X:6, the philosopher qualifies by saying, “The happy life is thought to be virtuous; now a virtuous life requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement.” In other words, it seems those who’ve worked hard being virtuous, who’ve worked hard doing the right thing, are better prepared to deal with adversity, since they’re aware of their own failings.
Gardener – Being virtuous? In other words being good? Didn’t the Sisters of Mercy tell the Youth “ to be good?”
Writer – He failed, didn’t he? Let’s say, if we exert ourselves the chances of dealing with adversity improve. Some 1500 years after the pagan philosopher, the christian theologian, Thomas Aquinas, accepts the pagan’s understanding that happiness is “the perfect and sufficient good.” But he adds that “since happiness is ‘perfect and sufficient good,’ it excludes every evil, and fulfills every desire.” An impossibility for humans in this world.
Gardener – In a perfect world no one would ignore the stranger lying in the road. In fact no one would have robbed him.
Writer – That why christians believe in two worlds, our imperfect one, where, to quote the theologian, “every evil cannot,” my emphasis, “be excluded” and the one to come, which is perfect.
Gardener – In our world people do rob each other and people do walk by without helping.
Writer – “This present life,” explains the christian, “is subject to many unavoidable evils; to ignorance on the part of the intellect; to inordinate affection on the part of appetite, and to many penalties on the part of the body.”
Gardener – We don’t see our happiness linked to the man lying on the road, unless it’s to our financial advantage.
Writer – Narrow self interest inflicts a great deal of pain. It’s difficult for us to be happy when we think only of ourselves. For the theologian and other believers in after life, god is the supreme good and this good is the ultimate happiness of eternal paradise. When they die they hope to rest in god’s presence which is everlasting happiness. But this all depends on how they behave in the present life.
Gardener – This eternal life that many believe in. . .
Writer – And desire.
Gardener – Belongs only to believers who’ve died. I don’t care if there’s a heaven or not.
Writer – Me either. You and I can disagree on many subjects, but we both agree we must live up to our own standards of what is good because it’s something our hearts and minds demand of us now. We don’t do the right thing because it’s the key to everlasting paradise.
Gardener – We do our best to live a good life. . .
Writer – A virtuous life.
Gardener – Since this makes us happy now.
Writer – Unfortunately, for believers and non-believers alike, most of us can’t maintain a moral standard.
Gardener – It’s a roller coaster ride beginning to end.
Writer – Darrin McMahon in his excellent history, Happiness, follows the human search for happiness in the western hemisphere, from the early Greeks to the present. According to McMahon even John Locke, one of the pillars of the enlightenment, an influence on Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, and whose central concern was the here and now, felt that a reward of eternal happiness in the hereafter was the best inducement for being good now.
Gardener – But even if you and I aren’t concerned with this heaven. . .
Writer – It doesn’t concern us.
Gardener – We still have a problem. You and I may agree that the man from Samaria did the right thing.
Writer- Not just you and I, everyone. That’s why they call him good.
Gardener – What if the stranger lying on the road was the robber, you know, the “perp” foiled by the victim in his attempt?
Writer – It wouldn’t have mattered.
Gardener – What if the stranger had been raping a small girl and been caught and beaten by her parents?
Writer – There was no way the man from Samaria could have known these things.
Gardener – Nonetheless one person’s good is another person’s evil. What can this ‘perfect and sufficient good’ that we call Happiness mean to a child molester or a glutton or a drug addict? Or to a crusader or jihadist seeking everlasting happiness by killing others in a temporal cause. Or worse to a manager who makes billions off the misery of others? Do you think the Syrian ruling class believes in this hereafter?
Writer – Self interest begins with self preservation. The ruling class will do anything to stay alive, whether they’re Kings or their lackeys. They consider their own well being the ultimate good of the moment even if it’s not in the best long term interests of the common good.
Gardener – I’m sure Hitler wasn’t thinking of the hereafter when he decided to punish the German people after his hopes of conquering the world failed.
Writer – For all his global ambitions, his world was small. He couldn’t imagine a world greater than his medieval vision of Europe. What is frightening is how the imagination and drive of a single human can sweep up the random fears and frustrations of an entire nation and lead them to Armageddon.
Gardener – The cold blooded murderer doesn’t believe in divine justice.
Writer – As Giovanni says in the first scene of John Ford’s T’is a Pity She’s a Whore,
“Shall a peevish sound,/A customary form, from man to man,/Of brother and of sister, be a bar/’Twixt my perpetual happiness and me?
Gardener – That bloody play we saw in the Brooklyn Academy of Music the other night reeks of the voyeur’s world. I saw Charles Manson, Helter Skelter and that whole mad crew bubbling out of the cauldron of individual freedom in the time of the Youth.
Writer – You’re right! We could compare this Jacobean view of Parma to the final years of Age of Aquarius. Our wife, the English Teacher, gave me an essay to read from ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore: A Critical Guide edited by Lisa Hopkins. It was titled New Direction: Identifying the Real Whore of Parma by Corinne Abate, who describes the permissive environment of the city. John Ford wrote the play sometime around 1633. It’s as relevant today as it was then. The Cheek by Jowl production took liberties with the script but it illustrated our ongoing concern of the right of the individual to do as he or she pleases, even if the victim is innocent, like Giovanni’s sister.
Gardener – The Youth showed poor judgment; but unlike Annabella, he was helped by the true concern of older people.
Writer – Lydia Wilson played Annabella perfectly. Even though she was attracting everyone’s sexual interest, she jumped around like a tomboy. I thought of that black kid in Sanford, Florida, killed by the gun bearing vigilant volunteering for the police.
Gardener – The vigilante was blinded by self-interest. He wanted to catch somebody so badly, he knew exactly what that somebody looked like.
Writer – As if guided by fate, some of us are swept along by the chemistry of our body. In another fascinating book on happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt informed me in Chapter Two, page 32, how each of us is endowed with a particular genetic blueprint that describes how we will act in different situations. We may instinctively laugh at adversity or scream. In extreme cases some of us must take medicines to live normal lives. Sometimes I wonder if we can’t change the code in a crisis. I just read in our wife’s Nutrition Action, an article called Food And Addiction, by Bonnie Liebman. She says, in my words, that among addicts dopamine screams for happiness at the sight of something we want, but goes mute on delivery, leaving us totally dissatisfied. Are we slaves to our neurotransmitters or can we break the pattern of desire? In Sylvia Nasar’s Beautiful Mind we learned that the mathematician, John Nash, defied his schizophrenia by an act of will, once he understood it. That’s not the same thing as defying a chocolate cake, but we are talking about the genetic code and destiny. In a New York Times article, Can You Call a 9-Year Old A Psychopath the author, Jennifer Kahn, quotes Dan Waschbusch, of Florida International University, on the efficacy of treating youngsters diagnosed with psychopathy. He says “‘But to take the attitude that psychopathy is untreatable because it’s genetic (is) not accurate. There’s a stigma that psychopaths are the hardest of the hardened criminals. My fear is that if we call these kids ‘prepsychopathic,’ people are going to draw that inference: that this is a quality that can’t be changed, that it’s immutable. I don’t believe that. Physiology isn’t destiny.’” Essentially Haidt and all the rest agree with Aristotle, we must exert ourselves, some much harder than others because of our inheritance, to live good lives.
Gardener – Are you calling the vigilante a psychopath?
Writer – No, the word, psychopath, refers to the degree of effort needed by some people to make a change through choice. But whatever his reason, when the vigilante chose to carry a hand gun, his action that night when he killed the boy was pre-ordained in his psyche. Had he chosen not to carry a gun, it would have been different. He claims the boy attacked him. In that case, they would have wrestled around, possibly bruised themselves, maybe a broken arm, a concussion, but death? Unlikely. When he chose to carry a gun, he made that possible.
Gardener – That’s what I realized the morning I wrestled with that crazy driver on the overpass at 246th St. What if he had been carrying a gun? Neither he nor I were thinking of heaven!
Writer – Once Giovanni decides to seduce his sister – and the language he uses to describe his illicit love is gorgeous – he narrows his ability to escape his choice.
Gardener – Of his own free will, the vigilante gave up his free will.
Writer – Think of King Lear. Macbeth! All of Shakespeare’s tragedies begin with a decision.
Gardener – So much for the here after to curb the bloody minded in the here and now!
Writer – Annabella acknowledges her error and asks forgiveness. But in the end there is no one to snatch her from the madman’s revenge. Except for the Friar who has left town, everyone in Parma is jaded. She dies gruesomely, like Sharon Tate.
Gardener – We’re back to the robber barons and survival of the fittest. Our happiness imperfect.
Writer – On page 224 of Happiness, McMahon quotes from Rousseau’s Reveries “All our plans of happiness in this life are therefore empty dreams.”
Gardener – And yet the man from Samaria, a pagan, who lived without hope of everlasting happiness, did the right thing.
Writer – Because helping the stranger makes him happy now.
Gardener – Self-sufficient. He doesn’t need to judge the stranger.
Writer – Nor does he need the law of stand your ground to protect himself from those he judges.
Gardener – On the other hand, what I do for and to myself is my own concern.
Writer – That’s the essence of the Pooh Principle, which according to McMahon is Jonathan Stuart Mills’ philosophy as well. He quotes the philosopher on page 350 of Happiness, “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
Gardener – I must read that for myself someday.
Writer – Me too. The quote is from Mills book On Liberty.
Gardener – After a difficult day at work, it’s time for a little something! It’s an American Ideal.
Writer – I’d say doing what one wants to do is fine until it takes advantage of another’s weakness.
Gardener – Like shooting an unarmed kid.
Writer – Or forcing others to act against their will or their understanding. A pimp can convince a rebellious fifteen year old girl that hanging out with him is cool, and only later does this inexperienced person realize she’s been used.
Gardener – What if it’s the pimp lying on the road?
Writer – Without knowing who he is, we assume he’s innocent.
Gardener- What if the stranger is Hitler?
Writer – Assuming we don’t know he’s Hitler, we assume he is good. We base our judgment on the stranger’s highest potential good. Supposedly in our judicial system one is innocent until proven guilty by a jury of peers. It’s a marvelous idea.
Gardener – What if we know the stranger is Hitler?
Writer – According to Traudl Junge, the youngest of Hitler’s Secretaries in the documentary directed by André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer, Hitler was sweet. A great many people were taken in by his gentle behavior.
Gardener – But we know what Hitler did to the Jews, and to the Poles and the Russians. We know how many died because of him. We must judge him. He’s a terrorist.
Writer – Even if we know the stranger on the road is Hitler, can you and I ignore him?
Gardener – Is there is no end here, no right or wrong, only what is good?
Writer – Look Osama bin laden is responsible for masterminding the killing of nearly three thousand people. To avenge three thousand people the land of the free went to war and millions more people were killed, people who had nothing to do with Osama bin laden. On the other hand King Union Carbide and all the King’s people and all of the King’s shareholders living right here in this land of the free killed 4000 people in a single night in Bhopal, India. In a New York Times editorial, here it is, dated December 3, 2009, Suketu Mehta wrote “Half a million more fell ill, many with severely damaged lungs and eyes. An additional 15,000 people have since died from the after effects, and 10 to 30 people are said to die every month from exposure to the hundreds of tons of toxic waste left over in the former factory.” So where’s the outcry here in the land of the free? Where’s the indignation? Twenty five years pass. King Dow of Napalm fame buys out King Carbide. When the victims finally have their day in court, the King’s people are each fined $2100. Lo! for Kings, that’s less than the tab for a night on the town!
Gardener – You can’t compare King Carbide to Hitler.
Writer – Why not? Everyone is comparing everyone to Hitler these days!
Gardener – For one, more than 20 million Russians alone died because of that maniac. Stalin was bad enough. Hitler makes him look like a saint!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties_of_the_Soviet_Union
Writer – And I guess you would agree that it’s unfair of me to compare King Carbide to Al Qaeda?
Gardener – Their intentions were entirely different. Bhopal was an accident. The Trade Towers was premeditated.
Writer – You’d agree that the collateral damage in all of these examples was tremendous.
Gardener – Naturally.
Writer – And you’d agree that most of victims in the trade tower were as innocent as the sleeping residents in Bhopal or the millions who died on the eastern front during Operation Barbarossa.
Gardener – They were all swept up by tragic events.
Writer – But you’d agree that all of them lived in terror.
Gardener – You can’t compare intentions.
Writer – I’m not! I’m simply saying the victims, if they had time to think, experienced sheer terror. In fact the actuaries at work on the Tower disasters figured it all out. Those legally connected to those at the top of the buildings deserved more money because their loved ones suffered more at the hands of Al Qaeda, than those living at the bottom of the buildings. I mean in dollars and cents some people who were legally connected to those who died made fortunes based on this accounting. We know one such person who in fact didn’t love her estranged husband!
Gardener – Yes, and we know of another who didn’t visit his son, then living with his mother in his grandmother’s house, until the boy’s mother died.
Writer – Imagine if we calculated an entire night of terror as the poisonous fumes settled over everyone. Imagine if we calculated terror lasting an entire winter of cold and starvation, buildings exploding. Imagine the terror of waiting 25 years for justice!
Gardener – An accident is still different than an intention!
Writer – Hitler’s intention according to a great many people both in Germany and in the land of the free was admirable. Many Kings admired Hitler’s organizational skills. He mobilized the people, and created a docile work force. And he was ridding us of Communism. What could be better for the land of the free. He just didn’t finish the job. One could almost assume he was one of the Kings’ vassals, only he got too big for his britches! Now Al Qaeda makes no bones about it. They’re out to get us! But King Carbide. Hum!
Gardener – The King mishandled the disaster. But. . .
Writer – But nothing. We need to look at this the way the Trade Tower actuaries looked at it. Profit motive seems to sneak its way into our democratic system the way sugar sneaks into all our food. We like the taste of it.
Gardener – The Pooh Principle.
Writer – Should we go into unscrupulous foreign managers overlooking safety codes in the King’s India operations to help increase profit? If the King and the King’s people were counting on making a profit in exchange for someone else’s labor, you know, calculating so many poor people in the third world working at such and such a wage, under poor conditions to make poison the King can mark up and sell at a much higher price, why I’d say that’s premeditated. Planning ahead to make profit is always premeditated. Cutting corners is always premeditated.
Gardener – It doesn’t always work out as planned.
Writer – Of course not, Hitler didn’t expect to bog down in winter! When everything is going according to plan everyone seems to benefit. If the means to profit, by cutting corners in safety, or other unscrupulous measures, accidently kills 4000 people and mains another 15,000, can’t we call that premeditated terror?
Gardener – Everything gets fuzzy here.
Writer – No, we’re back with the shoemaker and his leather. The King’s people didn’t do their best under the current circumstances. They ran away! According to the actuaries something along the line of a financial settlement is required to make an honest person out of the King – you know, to make the King feel good. If we can put a financial value on the victims in the Trade Towers terrorized by Al Qaeda, don’t you think we should do this all the time, you know, value all life? I don’t think the actuaries ever worked on any other disasters, Oklahoma, Hiroshima, Hanoi. I mean I’m using the same accounting values that were used to return people to happiness in regard to the Trade Towers tragedy. Imagine suffering 25 years with ruined lungs. With birth defects. 25 years! Imagine 40 years, a good biblical number, suffering the affects of Agent Orange. That makes a 110 story building a piece of cake!
Gardener – You’re cynicism is getting on my nerves.
Writer – I’m only pointing out that there are two accounting books, one for Kings and one for Terrorists. . . No, that’s not the right word since we’ve seen that Bhopal was sheer terror. Let’s just say one book for Kings and one for those they don’t like.
Gardener – I’m no supporter of Kings, but to put them on the same level as Hitler or Al Qaeda is unfair. The cold bloodedness of Hitler or bin Laden, defies comparison.
Writer – No. Who profited from all the guns that Hitler needed, who made money on the poisons for his torture chambers and the analog computing machines that kept all the records straight, you know, this many killed in this chamber, that much gold extracted from those teeth! Hitler is gone, but the Kings always remain. Napoleon is gone but the Kings are still here. Stalin is gone, and Khrushchev and all the rest of them but the Kings have reemerged there. Need I mention China! I mean the King promised the citizens of Bhopal jobs. Instead the King brought terror. Why can’t King Carbide make them happy?
Gardener – You’re mocking everyone who suffered. It’s childish, don’t you think, demanding happiness from Kings?
Writer – Then why do we do it? Believe everything they tell us?
Gardener – Because we’re tired. I’m tired. The long winter is over and I’m still sitting here with you, debating our rights to happiness. And why hasn’t the big Norway Maple leafed out? The others have.
Writer – I’ll tell you why. We still feel we were created in a god’s likeness. We still feel we were cheated at the gates of Eden. We believe the Pooh Principle is an inordinate right. And all along those who’ve been terrorize simply want a normal day.
Gardener – When will it rain? It hasn’t rained in months.
Writer – Thomas Jefferson summarized the beliefs of the Enlightenment when he claimed that the pursuit of happiness was an unalienable right.
Gardener – The hypocrite!
Writer – Aren’t we all?
Gardener – If he believed we were all created equal why didn’t he liberated his slaves?
Writer – As McMahon’s points out in his history of Happiness, the equation for happiness is resolved when we add the word pursuit. I suppose Thomas J never felt comfortable about the idea of equality. He realized from the start he could never be happy, that is self sufficient, but he could pursue it through his many mercantile projects. In Ron Chernov’s Alexander Hamilton, page 212, I learned that of all the slave owners at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, George Washington was the only one who liberated his slaves. And I think I read in the same book that when slavery was outlawed in New York, thanks to the efforts of people like Alexander Hamilton, many New York slave owners, rather than take “the loss” by liberating their slaves, sold them to the sugar plantations in the Caribbean.
Gardener – Ok, so all of us are hypocrites.
Writer – A month before the Continental Convention in Philadelphia, The Virginia State Constitutional Convention ratified their own constitution in which our landed fathers of democracy stated that no government could deprive us of our natural rights which included, and I’m quoting from McMahon’s history of Happiness, chapter 6, page 318, “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” Apparently this wasn’t unique to Virginia.
Gardener – They just couldn’t bring the idea into focus, could they, the inalienable rights of all men and their own right to acquire property, including people.
Writer – Which is why we must blame Adam and Eve! Whatever perfection we seek, we’ve already experienced it, somewhere in the past, our first breath of fresh air, our first taste of sugar; the sweet scent of honeysuckle, the bright color of the blue sky, the first time ever; none can be repeated again with the same intensity of that first experience. That’s our Garden of Eden.

FOOTNOTES:

1) Aristotle, Ethics I:7,
http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html

2) Not the cobbler on main street?
The Gardener Returns, A Dialogue, Part Four

3) Aristotle, Ethics, X:6
http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.10.x.html

4) Thomas Aquinas On Happiness
http://www.op.org/summa/letter/summa-I-IIq5.pdf

5) John Ford’s T’is a Pity She’s a Whore http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/ford/john/pity/act1.html

6) New York Times, Can You Call a 9-Year Old A Psychopath

7) What if he had been carrying a gun?
2: WHERE THE GARDENER OFFERS A DIFFERENT STORY IN WHICH HIS LUCK IS PROVIDENTIAL

8) The Pooh Principle,
The Gardener Returns, A Dialogue, Part Six

9) Traudl Junge, Blind Spot, directed by André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Im_toten_Winkel

10) New York Times editorial, December 3, 2009, Suketu Mehta, Bhopal

11) Bhopal Victims, . . . the King’s people are each fined $2100.

12) WWII, 20 million Russians died http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties_of_the_Soviet_Union

13) Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness, an unalienable right.
http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

14) many New York slave owners sold them to the sugar plantations in the Caribbean.
Slavery In The North, Emancipation In New York, 12th & 13th paragraph
http://www.slavenorth.com/nyemancip.htm

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