Passing the baton

Our summer stroll through western civilization is nearing its last lap. I’ll miss it.

One of last night’s discussion topics was James’s description of Walt Whitman: “a sort of ideal tramp, a rider on omnibus-tops and ferry-boats, and, considered either practically or academically, a worthless, unproductive being… He felt the human crowd as rapturously as Wordsworth felt the mountains, felt it as an overpoweringly significant presence, simply to absorb one’s mind in which should be business sufficient and worthy to fill the days of a serious man.” 
A society of tramps might not work. Who’d run the buses and boats, if we were all just riders? But we agreed that a healthy society encourages the presence of a few “tramps” whose shared absorption in the passing scene provides an indispensable critical lens on our various complacencies and un-self-critical bustle and busy-ness.
We also agreed that there are no truly free markets, that those who live only for themselves are hardly virtuous, that George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” warning against totalitarian servitude must not be divorced from his commitment to social justice, and that our civilization depends on the continued civil conversation of opposites including Platonists and Aristotelians, empiricists and rationalists.
And then we rushed home to catch the President’s gracious, fearless valedictory and baton-passing. Shifting metaphors briefly, the relay race of civilization goes on. Strollers must occasionally sprint. But we’ll catch our breath again, and the conversation can resume. Believe me.

6:30/5:53, 75/79/71, 7:54

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