Friday, May 18, 2007


I’m reading a bit, from time to time, in a collection of John Updike’s essays called Odd Jobs. In Updike’s critique of the Library of America’s volume of Franklin’s collected writings, imagine my surprise to come across an idea of Ben Franklin’s which very much predates one of my own conclusions.

It seems that Franklin was for a time a vegetarian, then, one day he was confronted by a piece of tantalizing cod. He writes, “When the Fish were opened, I saw smaller Fish taken out of their Stomachs—Then, thought I, if you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you…. So convenient a thing to be a Reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

Such a sly wink in the words, eh?

It’s only in the last few or many years that I’ve concluded that reason is nothing more than an empty talker, a wheedler and excuse maker for, a justifier of the feelings which we try to pretend are not the true drivers of human behavior. All the endless hours of TV talk and newsprint spilled and book and magazine words arguing this and that, and all of it only to justify one’s feeling threatened or safe or to, as Franklin so nicely put it, justify one’s doing what one has “a mind to do” anyway. In short, there is no reason for doing anything except that one has a mind to do it.

But where Franklin wrote, “a mind to do”, I think we must all be honest and say that we have a “feeling to do”, even though we now all know that feeling is not in the heart but in the brain, in the limbic system. I’m serious here—we all pretend there is reason for everything we do, but I think we, most of us, act first and think later, or, at least, spend a lot of time trying to reason ourselves out of behavior and feelings we are bound to feel anyway. Can’t we always spot the man who’s just talking and we know that we can’t trust him further than we can spit a boulder? Wasn’t I a man much like that myself? That’s why you could trust President Carter when he said that, sure, he’d lusted in his heart after other women. He was admitting to having a “feeling self” which was not always in line with his spoken self. Any man who says he hasn’t lusted for a woman other than his wife is either a liar or totally out of touch with himself. And that’s a man to stay clear of—either way.

In the same collection of Updike’s writings is his critique of a many-paged volume of selected entries from Leo Tolstoy’s diaries. When one reads some of Tolstoy’s agonizing over the battle between his instinctual self and his reasoning, moralizing self, one understands that an honest man must conclude that his reason is no more than a nice piece of background music, elevator music, for the rising and falling instinctual urges of his animal self. Even if one does not act upon his feeling self, it’s usually the feeling of fear or some other feeling that suppresses the dangerous action contemplated. Then, of course, his good old wheedling self will come up with a noble reason for his not having done what he was afraid to do.


Something has come over me. I don’t understand it. I can’t explain it, but it must be something I want to do. Since for nearly three weeks now, I am walking every day, as much as an hour and a half a day, sometimes as little as 40-50 minutes, but every day I walk. I’m not even power walking; I’m just strolling, strolling down by the river (see photo) or all around Vancouver Central Park and Historic District near Fort Vancouver, or through the streets of downtown Vancouver which is a pleasant place without too many tall buildings. As the lady at the Visitor’s Center told me—tall building aren’t allowed in downtown Vancouver. Portland’s airport takes off and lands up the river from Vancouver, and there’s a small public airfield right on the edge of downtown Vancouver. According to her, that busy airspace controls the heights of buildings in downtown Vancouver.

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