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Seasons’ Greetings and an unsolicited obscene recommendation.

December 9, 2020

My friend Lindy sent me a Christmas card (it is my sad duty as an old curmudgeon not to send her one in return so this will have to do) which said “Joy to the World” on the front with a nice picture of a dangling decorative ball. “Bit of a tough request, given the state of it,” she added inside.

And I think I have to disagree: joy can be had very easily if you accept it’s always going to be transient. Bill Bryson in NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND (1) observes that the British have a knack for finding the small pleasures and making the most of them. You may see them out on a Bank Holiday, having trudged along the desolate sands of some alleged resort, drenched in the freezing cold rain and trouping as a family, mother, father and much put upon children, into a cafe. They have tea or maybe cocoa and some poorly toasted teacakes, served with butter in individual catering wrapped-in-paper pats that has come fresh from the deep freeze and cannot be spread for at least half an hour.

“Well,” father will say “this is nice, isn’t it?” Joy is his, all for having the right attitude.

What is hard I think, is faith and hope and I sometimes wonder which is harder to manage.

My usage of faith and hope is perhaps eccentric and I should explain. (2)

By ‘faith’ I don’t mean trust in any particular dogma or message, nor in any particular person, divine or otherwise. I mean a trust that the universe, the big picture, the overall thing is benevolent and right. Being human, mortal and limited we don’t get to see or grasp the big picture but if faith is with us we believe that things are right whatever the local state of things may be.

By ‘hope’ I mean the ability to apply that to yourself and to yours and to the particular situation you and yours find yourself in. That things are working out, not for the universe, but for the tiny bit you can see and care about.

Both are clearly irrational and probably have more to do with the state of neurochemicals than anything metaphysical but nonetheless they feel real and my distinction between them feels about right.

I wonder if you can have hope without faith. Are there people who think on that sort of level that the universe may be screwed but they’re all right, Jack. I don’t think so, not really but that may be more about my desire for intellectual consistency than my compassion for the rest of the cosmos.

And since our mortal nature is not going to allow us perfect faith can we have perfect hope? Which is another question which may have more to do with my own personal neurochemical balance than metaphysics. Never mind.

My neurochemical balance was briefly tilted towards Joy today when I got the download of the Oglaf books which I have ordered in printed form and may yet receive before Christmas.

OGLAF is a weekly web comic of filth and humour on a fantasy theme that I’ve been reading since my friend Drak pointed it out to me some years back. Every week on a Sunday I get a little jolt of filthy fantasy fun and I wanted a permanent souvenier of the story so far. I especially wanted a copy of the Early Years because like all humour providers it seemed funnier and filthier then. There was a particular comic I wanted to find and for some reason I could see for looking on the web site. I found it in the pdf though and here I provide a link to the strip that again made me laugh like a drain.

Not in the least bit safe for work or for your heirs to find on your computer when you pass away.

Take a look. You’ll thank me.

(1) I think I may have quoted this sentiment before but what the heck.

(2) And this too is something I have the feeling I’ve written before.

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  1. I don’t think that the overall thing is necessarily benevolent and right; to me that brings on questions of “if it’s good at the high level, why not at the low” and that goes into the labyrinths of theology with innocent suffering and ultimate justice and all the rest of it. (If your theory is getting increasingly complicated, to me that’s a good sign that the fundamental assumptions are wrong.) In the long run we are all a hot fog of iron nuclei and free electrons until the proton decay kicks in. It may be rightable though the long-term effort of many thinking beings but certainly it is not of itself right and I have no reason to think it will become so during my existence. So I don’t think I have faith in your usage.

    But I am determined to make the situation for me, and for my found-family/friends/random right-thinking strangers, as good as it can be. (As I have noticed this year with the number of things I’ve been doing for other people – running more games, operating a Jitsi server, offering a replacement for the SU&SD forums, etc.) I can’t make the universe better; I can’t even make the government better. But I can make things better in my vicinity.

    So is that 3b-hope without 3b-faith?

    (I second your recommendation for Oglaf.)

    • Well, by doing good where we can we are displaying Charity (‘caritas’: love of others) which is also felt to be important.

      I’m finding Charity other than giving a little harder nowadays. I am approaching old grumpy gitness and accusing other people whenever I get confused by the world’s ways. Yesterday it was the chap attempting to deliver a new toaster because he had a box containing a vacumn cleaner of a type I had already bought. I panicked deciding that I had somehow pressed a button on my computer and ordered it again. (My mental competency isn’t impressing me much at the moment.) I had a brief rant and told him to take it back. Then he told me, no the small box is for you, the big box is for one of your neighbours. I was not gracious to him and I feel guilty.

      But yeah, hope is good for you as well as other people. I’ll take what I can get of any of the three.

  2. Do you then go on to add justice, mercy, fortitude and temperance? (I think there are other versions too but that’s the one that lives in my memory.)

    The poor blighter who rings my doorbell may be disturbing me, but I am in a nice comfortable house with an easy job and he has a van full of things to deliver (or a list of meters to read, or whatever) for which he’s being paid a pittance, and the moment he’s surplus to requirements the company will throw him out. It’s like being rude to people on the phone: the bod in India or Aberdeen isn’t responsible for the problem I’m having with their company.

    (People who call me unsolicited, on the other hand, get whatever vileness I can come up with. I can be quite inventive.)

    • I could probably do with more temperance (my weekend holiday from my diet over-strained me a bit) and the pain in my left knee and right foot are requiring all the fortitude I can dig up at the moment. But I want mercy for myself and justice for others and I therefore lack a proper philosophical attitude. Tsk, tsk.

      The people who try my patience are the ones on the border of the service departments who call up and ask if I have five minutes to complete a customer satisfaction survey. I can hardly keep patience with the nonsense they ask me to say. And yet I know that people’s jobs may depend on them getting decent ratings because deluded persons in authority are trying to make themselves look good.

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