Of Human Freedom, August 2011

“Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it,
which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will.
Intelligence, wit, judgement, and the other talents of the mind,
however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as
qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many
respects; but these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad
and mischievous if the will which is to make use of them, and which,
therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good. It is
the same with the gifts of fortune. Power, riches, honour, even
health, and the general well-being and contentment with one’s
condition which is called happiness, inspire pride, and often
presumption, if there is not a good will to correct the influence of
these on the mind, and with this also to rectify the whole principle
of acting and adapt it to its end. The sight of a being who is not
adorned with a single feature of a pure and good will, enjoying
unbroken prosperity, can never give pleasure to an impartial
rational spectator. Thus a good will appears to constitute the
indispensable condition even of being worthy of happiness.”

Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

Listen!

But thou didst not leave his soul in hell, nor didst thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption. I somehow knew that the only answer to my personal financial disasters of the past year (unexpected job loss and consequently massive debt) was “fuck or walk” so I did what I had to do on my own: find every coin in every pocket and hump it to work. And then my Father, although dead, laid his heavy surgeon hand on my shoulder from his recent grave, for thou didst not leave his soul in hell. He had a good “will” in two senses of the world. It stretched out from the grave. It changes…everything, probably.

I am settling my financial affairs properly with HSBC one day at a time. Hong Kong banking regulators no longer allow them to take a haircut from a creditor and last spring I signed a ten year agreement straight out of de Maupassant’s The Necklace.

I did so calmly. I thought of what Calvin Coolidge said when told of Briand’s and Lloyd George’s complaints about onerous war debts to the United States: “they hired the money, didn’t they”. That is precisely what my father would say.

And I keep on thinking of the decency and dignity in the belly of the beast: how I went to Olympic on the MTR, got through security and up to the loan resolution department, and signed the only possible agreement with a nice Chinese lady not empowered to do anything but offer me an agreement fortunately at simple interest.

I say to the gracious ghost of my Dad, Lieb Vater! Listen! Thou may’st tranquil be!

And he

“In my mind’s eye, Horatio”

merely smiles and says, like Paul Henreid in Casablanca, “play the Marseillaise! Play it!

Since that time, things have apparently…changed. Apparently and independent of my own will, for the better. But we cannot know the future. All we can do is know ourselves. If things again go non-linear it shall be on my head that judgement falls, and mine alone: I take full responsibility.

Furthermore, I remind myself, this is the East, where the best is like the worst. Toytown and a city of fear where things don’t fit together as you might expect, where you have neither youth nor age but dream of both.

I am looking at a set of new options but somehow and for now, the present path is the right one. For now. I was returning yesterday from a successful class in the downmarket community of Long Ping.

Next to the bus station in heat and fumes were a number of inexpensive open air restaurants, and nearer the MTR was a jumble of indigenous buildings and an abandoned multi-family, multi-generation Chinese house in the old style. The Random Piles of Useless Junk that Chinese rural folk like to accumulate. The heat was intense and somehow, everything seemed right.

One of the children in the class had drawn a thank you note. Others had asked if I would be their Teacher in the fall. I’m thinking, this is a fabulous job. I mean, in software, they are always asking you when it will be done and why is it so complex. In finance, they are asking you why you did not exceed your target by the targeted amount that you were supposed to exceed it and why you let the creditor give you a buzz cut.

In teaching they say “how to spell” and you can tell them how to spell. They say “I gotta go to the toilet” and you let them go (after warning them about the Toilet Monster who will “get them” if they are using the toilet as a break and you don’t have to Go).

Here’s the thing. My Father (mein Vater) sojourned on Earth (das Erde) just long enough although I wished him to be like the Yellow or Huang emperor and stick around for ten thousand years.

Unbeknownst to him, he sojourned during my time of struggle here when I demonstrated to myself that I could handle getting canned with no notice and massive debt. And then I came into a small competence…which may or may not last given the debt. The point being that I know now what to do no matter what. I didn’t let der Alte rescue me from my folly with my ex-wife in 1981, mostly because I didn’t want to hear him piss and moan and as a result, I transformed my fool ass from a mere Cobol programmer at Baxter Travenol to a Silicon Valley guy who knew the inventor of Powerpoint, so there.

This past year I got to do all sorts of fun things such as be Karl Lagerfeld’s double out of taking-responsibility.

In short, all things shall be well and all manner of things be well.

Man’s Fate:

“And when man faces destiny, destiny ends and man comes into his own.”

– Andre Malraux

Listen!

Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.
O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee;
But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.
Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.
The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.
The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

Psalm Sixteen AMDG

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