17 March 2010

thus spake sartorithustra

Sartoris was Colonel in the Confederate Army from Yoknapatawpha County. After the Civil War the place was devastated--property destroyed, the leadership discredited, young men killed and maimed, the socioeconomic system turned upside down trying to resurrect itself into viability, and a heavy burden of racism. The leading men of the County were cruel and dishonest as they could be with a legal system which was slack regarding their skullduggery.

About a month ago I had coffee with a man whose great great grandfather was an officer in the Confederacy who died at the Battle of Vicksburg. He told us a story about him laying there wounded, knowing he was dying, and writing a last letter to his son. Drops of great great grandpa's blood on the pages. A message about honor and decency and integrity, about what matters most of all. The fellow speaking to us was not from Yoknapatawpha County, but his father might just as well have been. The man's father is a native of northern Mississippi, and what happened to Faulkner's fictional county after the Civil War was widespread through that entire region. The letter is still in the family; an older cousin considers it the family's most precious keepsake and will pass it to his oldest son.

While the man was telling us this story at coffee, he was deeply moved. Others of us were moved. I was not moved. I was thinking about Will Varner in The Hamlet, passing time at the ruin of the old Frenchman's place, telling curious passersby,

"I wonder what would drive a man to think he needs to own all this crap."

The irony is that Will Varner is more acquisitive even than Flem Snopes; and Flem Snopes' barnburning escapades were nothing on the scale of skullduggery to which Will Varner ascended.

My father's hometown is not a topic I ever use with acquaintances. Never. Apparently the storyteller at coffee saw fit to consider us intimate friends. I changed the subject. I talked about this guy we all know who participates in Civil War battle reenactments. Aristotle tells us there are three types of friends.

First there are friends with benefits. Aristotle did not mean the modern usage--those would fall into category two. Friends with benefits are people who help you move, let you borrow their truck, sell you their childrens' fund-raising candy bars. You do me a favor. I'll do you a favor. That is Aristotle's meaning of friend, benefits.

Secondly there are friends with whom you share pleasures. Friends you go to coffee with. Drink beers. Dance. &c. Friends, pleasure. Your modern friend with benefits would be a friend, pleasure.

Aristotle's third and highest form of friendship is based upon virtue. The rare person is such a fine example of a human being and your relationship with them is such that they inspire you to be your best.

That guy at coffee was trying to make a friendship III maneuver. He was trying that by way of his family's story about a horrible war and pointless premature personal death. My mind is still boggled. I am not going for coffee with him again any time soon. In case you are wondering, this was a group of employees. My coworkers. Yes I read that diatribe on slashdot,

"Didn't you guys learn anything from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? You do not have friends at work."

I do not agree with the slashdot ranter. You can have friends at work. It is identical to any other environment in this respect: some of the people there have boundary problems. You only have to avoid the people with boundary problems, just like you have to avoid those people everywhere else you go.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.