Thursday, January 21, 2021

'The Original Motive of Almost All Our Actions'

“Others there are yet more open and artless, who, instead of suborning a flatterer, are content to supply his place, and, as some animals impregnate themselves, swell with the praises which they hear from their own tongues.”

This sentence composed by Dr. Johnson presciently contains the seeds of a common and anatomically unlikely American obscenity. Johnson drew metaphors from many disciplines including, in this case, what he would have called natural philosophy; that is, biology. Taken from the issue of The Rambler published on this date, January 21, in 1752, the essay is yet another reiteration of Johnson’s obsessive theme: the vanity of human wishes.

In this political season, it’s natural that we should be thinking of egotism, self-seeking, conceit, braggadocio and, ultimately, vanity. This potent compound is the fuel that powers social media, advertising, voters and, in particular, politicians. As Johnson writes in his Rambler essay: “Praise is so pleasing to the mind of man, that it is the original motive of almost all our actions.”

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