Monday, April 28, 2014

`By Acquaintance Rather Than By Experience'

I’ve always felt buffered from -- not immune to -- the worst life dishes out. No athlete, I’m reasonably strong and unaccountably healthy. I’ve witnessed multiple deaths, some quite horrible, and the ravages of heroin addiction, gunshot wounds and multiple sclerosis, but my most serious diagnosis was a coronary anomaly without symptoms.  I could always find work and the company of interesting people. My three sons are healthy, intelligent and morally attuned. If I weren’t grateful I’d deserve to have it all yanked away. My sins have always outweighed my rewards, and yet every day I see good people punished by life and bad ones thriving. Theodore Dalrymple, as worldly and seasoned a writer as I know, writes this week: 

“My knowledge of tragedy is by acquaintance rather than by experience, as Bertrand Russell might have put it. This has never prevented me from complaining about my fate, not for a minute or a fraction of a minute. But thinking about the death of my wife’s friend’s friend will change all that. From now on there will be no self-inflicted misery or impatience in my life—until, that is, the next time the food in a restaurant takes too long to arrive or a train is delayed by ten minutes.”
We know what he means. Our moral vision is selectively microscopic and telescopic. Our pimples are tumors, their cancer is the common cold. In his Dictionary, Dr. Johnson defined “conscience” as “the knowledge or faculty by which we judge the goodness or wickedness of ourselves.”

1 comment:

Buce said...

Epicurus says that the proper stance for someone at my (sic) stage in life is gratitude, and if you aren't happy with what you have/had, why would you want life to last any longer anyway?