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Archive for December, 2012

Christmas reminds me of so many things.  Isn’t it a marvel that we are able to be reminded of things?  I mean, why on earth should stardust take the shape of a thing? a thing that lives and breathes ; a thing that does all the things that stardust cannot do ; a thing that remembers what it has done.  Remembers.  Remembers !  Why in heaven should stardust want to remember things?

But, if we are really made of stardust, then remembering things is what stardust does, for we certainly remember things.  I remember reading a most interesting article on the economics of farming.  It was many years ago, but the general scheme of the article still remains fresh.

If you look closely at a map of England (especially England) you’ll find that the towns and villages of any size are almost all medieval.  You know this (if you have Google Earth) because you will usually find the betowered stone church and its graveyard ; generally the hallmarks of the Middle Ages.

And the towns are spaced about fifteen miles apart.  Those who claim to know about these things tell us that this spacing is no accident ; the spacing means that a farmer needed to travel no more than about seven-and-a-half miles to his nearest market ; and that distance has been calculated as the longest that a farmer can travel economically in a day.  Any greater distance would take more time to travel, and he would face increased costs in feeding his oxen that towed the cart ; and the space that would hold the ox’s fodder could not be used to carry produce, so his sales turnover would be reduced.  Also he might have to pay for an overnight stay in town.  At least, those are two of the reasons given to explain that figure of fifteen miles.

Well, we are free to believe these kinds of explanations, or not, as our inclinations take us.  But they are useful, if only because they give us a little window that throws light on our human nature.

We might ask, “Why on earth should anyone be interested in why our medieval towns happen to be fifteen miles apart?”  Of what use is such information?  We might as well ask, “Why on earth should anyone be interested in how big the universe is?  or how old it is?  or how it began?”  Who cares?

But care we do ; and how shall we answer ourselves?  I think it’s because we have an insatiable appetite simply to know things ; even things that have no practical use at all.  In particular, we desire to know the truth of things.  We are not satisfied with just any answer that comes to mind.  We dig deeper, we think, we imagine, we debate, we argue, we even come to blows with those who disagree with us.  We seem to be driven by some demon into finding the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Well, let’s ask another question.  “If we are so keen and so well-equipped to seek and find the truth, why don’t we always find it?”  Name any subject – the right kind of food to eat : the way to grow cabbages : the tastiest whisky : the best way to treat back-ache : the causes of depression : the quickest way to build a road : the most comfortable car : the fastest aeroplane : the best time of the year to fly to Mars : the biggest known galaxy : the smallest particle : the way our memories work : the meaning of life -…. the list of subjects over which we argue about the truth is quite endless.  Even questions which ought to have been answered centuries ago remain unresolved.  And fought over.

And we must not be fooled by what we read.  It may well be the case that the theory of Professor Knuttekase, regarding the age of the universe, is published everywhere as the incontovertible truth which every respectable astronomer believes and every student is taught.  But we may be quite sure that there are dissenting voices ; soft voices which are never read about, because it would be professional suicide to publish them – even if a scientifically respectable publisher could be found.  It reminds us that what is politely known as peer review (peer approval) is in fact a kind of tyranny ; it ensures that there is little publishing, debate, or even thinking, outside the box of convention.  Peer review has an obvious purpose :  to preserve the reputation of Professor Knuttekase and the material wellbeing of his generously funded department.

So, when we return to the question of why the medieval towns of our country are fifteen miles apart, we might find the answer is much less complicated than modern minds make it to be.  Perhaps they are fifteen miles apart simply because King Knut decreed it (but forgot to make a note of his reasons).

It is apposite that we should think of things like this at Christmas.

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Transformations

May love lend wings

May love lend wings to prayers we send
In memory of those who fell ;
That they may fly, all hurts to mend
In hearts where evermore shall dwell
Remembrance.

And shall that love be felt, by those
Who know the pain of sadness’ darts ;
To draw condolence and repose
From understandings in the heart’s
Acceptance.

Let formless thoughts, that drift as mist
In troubled minds, so be distilled here
To form the stream of words that list
Coherent prayers designed for sheer
Relievance.

For there’s a purpose, suffering
In grief’s unholy mad disguise ;
That, discovered, shall surely bring
Fresh comprehension, wherein lies
Transformance

Jamie MacNab 2012

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