This Insubstantial Pageant
I have a friend who told me this story: A guy came knocking on his door and was an evangelist. After talking to him the guy asked permission to pray for him. My friend later told me he laughed because the guy began ‘talking to no-one’.
My friend was not the first person to be fooled in this way; Polyphemus the Cyclops when blinded by Odysseus came running looking for ‘no-one’ (Nemo); the name Odysseus had presented himself to him under.
Like Polyphemus my friend had been blinded; and when an opportunity to make an act of faith came his way he said like Polyphemus that the person he was to seek was no-one.
His laughter was a sad and appalling thing, because it was the ridicule of a spiritual guy and of the guy’s mission; and in its own quiet way it takes guts to knock on doors and preach Christ to those who have not yet found him.
My friend has no problem with valuing money. He has no problem with being loyal to certain Brand names. He has no problem with extolling The Premier League. He has no problem with a world and a life filled with values and with their evaluations.
The title of this article is taken from Shakespeare’s final play The Tempest; a drama which is his last word on and his summing up of his assessment of his extensive life experience. The insubstantial pageant Shakespeare is referring to is ‘the great globe itself’; and this is not just the theatre and stage on which his dramas were played out, but the world, the earth, the whole human experience.
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself—
Yea, all which it inherit—shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
It shall dissolve and leave not a trace (‘rack’) behind. This is a racing certainty, of earth’s eventual dissolution; and it is our starting point for us talking a little about value in this article. It serves as though to remove the firm ground from under our feet for any certainty about anything; because when nothing is left of those things we value, what can we say about the permanence or the substantiality of value and of our evaluations themselves?
I have quoted Dr. Samuel Johnson before now; how he ‘refuted’ Bishop Berkeley’s contention that the Universe is a manifestation in the mind of God; a very novel and canny Idealist philosophy, and one which is neither provable or refutable logically-speaking. Dr Johnson kicked a small boulder hard with his boot and roared ’’I refute it thus!’ He was always big on the value of ‘common sense’.
Another and a greater philosopher than Bishop Berkeley noted perceptively that the bases on which our ideas about evolution are rested are not very sound. Now all of us (nearly) see the idea of evolution in the natural world as another racing certainty; as a sort of building block of our world-views and a building block which is rock-solid and not likely to be shifted from its place there. So now we are getting to the matter in hand; the blindness of my friend who was laughing at the guy at his door praying.
The great Karl Popper was a philosopher of science; he saw that the idea of ‘the survival of the fittest’ was at best an hypothesis and could not be a theory. A hypothesis is like a voyage of adventure, whereas a theory is like a routine journey.
Karl Popper saw that the argument in the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ is what logicians call ‘circular’. This means that the argument runs that ‘to survive an animal has to be of the fittest; and to be of the fittest an animal has to survive’. When we use the idea we are saying in fact that we judge an animal to be fittest because it has survived. But when we are asked why it has survived, we can say no more that that it has survived because it is fittest.
In an exactly parallel way religious would people say something like: ‘God is in all things’. When you asked them to prove it, if they were to say to you; ‘Because all things are in God’ you would not be content with this answer. You’d say it was bullshit.
So things are just not as they seem to be, and there is more to learn; and to unlearn; about life.
Now: to spend a minute on Brand names, The Premier League and money. The Premier League is a Brand name; and The Premier League as a Brand name is about money.
I had a colleague who travelled to Ethiopia to give expert Branding advice to coffee growers there. Coffee growers there were growing coffee of a quality which was (and remains) in high demand among richer people in developed nations. Before my associate went out to Ethiopia, the coffee wholesaler companies in developed nations were buying this coffee from the growers and packaging it and branding it, and then retailing it in developed nations at a premium price. Much of the high value placed on this coffee was being turned into generous income for the coffee wholesalers in developed nations. The growers were not getting the money benefit of its high demand among the richer people.
My associate went out there and set up a Brand name for the coffee and registered it as a Trade Mark and this Trade Mark was owned by the growers. The growers clubbed together under this Brand name and began to market their coffee under it, to the wholesalers and also directly to stores in richer nations. Under this regimen the coffee growers began to enjoy much more income from their coffee growing and its sales, and this situation was thought to be a fairer distribution of the money value of the coffee than was previously the case before the Branding of it was done. The Branding also generated in itself more value in the coffee and this was seen in the increased revenue income generated by its trading
The ‘moral’ of this story is in the ability of Branding to create value – from out of nothing – like God is related in St John’s gospel to have created ‘all things’. What was not there yesterday is suddenly here today. And we people do not question this creation out of nothing of value, not at all. In fact we accept it with much eagerness and with ample ease.
(The money value ‘magically’ lost, evaporated, in an instant when a sudden financial shock hits the Stock Markets, like the crash of 2008 or the recent China currency devaluation, is the inverse of this creation out of nothing. We all consider these events to be destabilising, and real and significant; and they affect our lives because we take this great notice of them and of the meanings we place on them)
In the same way as was the Ethiopian growers’ coffee Branding, the Brand name The Premier League was created ex nihilo for identical reasons; so as to create value which attracts and amasses money. There are no essential differences at all.
Then there is money itself. Money value we assume resides in things like promissory notes (banknotes) in cheques and in debit and credit cards, in loans and in debts, and in coinage. None of these things is the money itself; they are each tokens which represent the value they proclaim. Likewise a bank when it makes a loan to you – it just writes in a ledger book (so to speak) kept in its vaults that you can spend say $500 and that the bank will honour your debits (cheques written, banknotes withdrawn) up to that amount of $500. Again value (in money terms) is just created (ex nihilo) out of nothing by the bank, at the stroke of a pen in a ledger book. In the same way as God created all things out of nothing.
Yet you do not believe the one; and yet you stand rock solid adamant about the certainty and importance and value of these other things, about these insubstantial pageants, which we have spoken a little about in this article.
The original article is located at our metanomalies blog: http://metanomalies.com/this-insubstantial-pageant/