“What a piece of work is man… how noble in reason...”

March 02, 2017

Shakespeare’s encomium on humanity which he put into the mouth of his Hamlet:

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!”

No wonder really; since in Shakespeare’s day in Shakespeare’s London so many who kept company with him were amongst a collection of astounding talents and abilities. When one is surrounded by, flooded with, excellence of mind and capability, humanity might just about seem to be ‘the paragon of animals’.

In the middle of all this astonishing talent The English Renaissance was happening, and Englishmen and women were being reinvigorated by a rebirth of learning and of new ideas come from Greece and Rome via contemporary France and Italy. No surprise such an encomium.

Yet Shakespeare has his Dogberrys and Bottoms and Antient Pistols; those who were termed ‘clowns’ but termed ‘clowns’ not because of their antics and tricks; but because they had very little education and very little wits to be educated. A ‘clown’ was originally a ‘country bumpkin’ a ‘hillbilly’, whose work was tending sheep or else menial rural tasks. The word transformed to mean a person of little wit and education in a general sense during the Elizabethan era.

Today we to have our ‘clowns’; some in high places.

Taking a look at our humanity right now I venture to say that ‘how noble in reason’ is an overstatement of our case. Most of us here in the UK have had a serviceable education and own serviceable wits; serviceable for the most part for the uses employers require those educations and wits to be put. Few of us are professional people; most of our populace is occupied in provisioning the nation with goods in retail, wholesale, manufacture, sales, marketing and so on; and in provisioning us with services such as phone and web networks rail and travel, utilities and so on; and a few percent of us are the accountants, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc who are the professional educated class.

Now one measure of how well our vaunted human rationality is being employed, I believe is to be seen in retail; in what we buy; where we buy; and how we buy. And I want to begin by introducing a concept - ‘shops which ought to have ceased trading decades ago’.

Such shops, I’ll call them ‘strangeshops’, are those which might often be household names, and they might have been trading for over a century; in fact such a pedigree fits ‘strangeshops’ quite well. There are two such large chains which operate across the British Isles which my range of experience has become familiar with; but I am without doubt that there are a lot more such chains and ‘strangeshops’ dotted about here and there.

The first chain is a chemists shop, what in the USA is called a ‘drugstore’. It is a national chain with a long history. It has celebrated a centenary. It advertises on TV regularly, mostly cosmetics, toiletries, healthcare products; but it also offers hearing and eye services, and its own house brand ranges of goods in addition to commercially branded products.

No doubt the continuous advertising on prime time TV keeps these shops in the public eye; and to some extent keeps the shoppers coming in; yet it is one of those chains of shops which sells items which might be bought for say at least two-thirds of the price at other less prominent shops in the same High Street and in the same lines of trade.

There is without doubt considerable saving to be made by just walking a little further down the High Street and buying there instead. The economic logic of Adam Smith just does not apply here; and the natural propensity of men and women to ‘buy in the cheapest marketplace and sell in the dearest’ is utterly suspended. Man and woman as rational animals are wholly out of kilter here.

I believe it is what traders name ‘Brand Loyalty’ which helps encourage shoppers to continue to frequent a shop and buy there even when to buy there is conspicuously not a good deal. Their mothers and fathers shopped there and so they do also. They have always shopped there and believe they can depend on the goods sold there even though the same branded goods at the same size, quality and quantity and from not out of date stock can be had down the road for much less money.

I have noticed that many shoppers have this sort of ‘homing’ instinct regarding their shopping habits in general. If questioned I believe many of them would not be able to articulate good reasons, or in fact any reasons, why they continue in such shopping habits as they do. Many of them appear to be on automatic-pilot as they walk through our town and do not seem to be involved in what is happening around them; but on some faraway isolated moon of Jupiter or some few thousand light years elsewhere.

Other persons passing them by are truly ‘ships passing in the night’ and frequently neither party appears to register that here is another human being just like themselves whom it is an interesting pleasure to look at, perhaps to pass a ‘good day’ with and a smile, and see and feel how joyous it is that others are in the world like oneself; and that we are privileged to be so and to be able to walk and exercise our free wills here and now.

There is another shopping chain; a stationers, with a store quite near to the drugstore outlet on the same High Street in my home city; and this stationer’s is crammed full of magazines and book titles which I consider should never have been published. Magazines have set prices and are the same cover price anywhere in the UK. Books are terribly expensive new and many new titles are thus often discounted by other shops.

But this shop carries titles which in the main might be better heating some elderly person’s room in a cold winter than them being offered for sale as items worth reading. Their prices are exorbitant. The actual stationery, the ink cartridges and the printer paper, the tapes and erasers, the cards and the pens and disks and all that paraphernalia are out of this world – lunar looney prices.

This chain does not advertise on TV but it is over a century established; as is the drugstore chain. It is on ‘everybody’s’ lips in the UK when one asks another person ‘where can I get a copy of Sleep Apnoea Weekly, or the latest novel by A Crashingbore. Where I can pick up a ream of paper or a pack of rewritable disks etc.

Somehow this chain has insinuated itself into the culture of the nation; almost without having any intention of doing so; as if it just happened; and it is a near institution here. Yet go down the road a score or more steps and the very same items are freely available at a considerably lesser price to pay.

It is not so much the fact that prices are higher in these shops that I object to – it is the fact that most shoppers who use these chains do not realise – I mean they do know that down the road is far cheaper – but they do not realise that there is no, zero, added benefit to them by buying their goods at these far more expensive chainstore outlets.

Many of these shoppers I believe hang on doggedly to a prejudiced idea that somehow by paying more a product, they get a product that is somehow better than were they to have paid less for it.

Now what does this kind of thing say about our much-vaunted rational capacity as a species? When we deliberately tell ourselves as would-be-truths lies which cannot be substantiated but in fact can be proven to be lies quite easily by any impartial observer?

I believe many, many people are suffering from this kind of self-delusion, self-deception. Dug in and entrenched in an unshakeable set of prejudices which might be assaulted all day every day by truth to no effect and to no avail. In fact, this is the very stuff on which thrives product advertising, brands and designer goods, and much of what goes for news in our nation (and in many other nations also).

As a species we are adaptable, extremely so; which is our great weakness also; for it leave us wholly open to being malleable, manageable and manipulated. Such is this newly-christened ‘cognitive warfare’ going on in the US media and politics right now. Newly-christened but utterly nothing new about it at all.

I believe that for many many of us our rational faculties are unawoken; are never realised and lie dormant unnurtured – and I believe this is so, it is the case, because so many of those others whose rational faculties they themselves would say are awoken, even would say they are fully awake and functional, but which are in fact perverted and misshapen rational faculties; such types as these persons are happy that a good remainder of others are asleep, and profit upon the fact and encourage and maintain the fact of this great unawareness in so many ordinary minds.

These exploiters might commend the straplines; ‘What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over’ and ‘ Out of sight, out of mind’. My reply would be that this is a case of ‘the blind leading the blind’; that these exploitative would-be wiseacres are those of whom we should ask the question ‘Quo bono?’; and are as blind and unawoken as are their dupes from whom they are aggregating a huge wealth and power.

These exploiters would say in their own defences that there is no ultimate standpoint which is reliable and sound from which to judge the wisdom or otherwise of human choices, and judge human lack or otherwise of rationality. They would argue that their standpoints (which they would hold are as good as any other which might be a basis for an awoken rationality) are valid and sound.

But I say adamantly and with a full confidence of certainty that these guys and gals are wrong; wholly, utterly mistaken; and in their turn are just like their dupes, and are self-deluded, self-deceived; but this time by their own pretensions, aspirations, ambitions and conceit. By their own blind prejudices which favour themselves pretty exclusively and admires only that image they have of themselves over and above anything other.

Brand Loyalty might be benighted in its irrationality and so is mistaken – but it has a small nobility about it - in that it is true to a mistaken object, but one which is not, and stands outside and beyond, the persons themselves who show such loyalty; whereas these grandiose kings of the midden heap who crow about how enlightened they are and how rich famous and powerful their enlightenment has made them; they are those who build fanes and temples to themselves alone and do worship there bowing the knee to their own narcissisms. As the smartarse said to his teacher: ‘clever me!’

No, I am not that teacher, nor do I claim any special abilities or powers. That teacher is The Teacher; The True Teacher; of the gospels fame and glory. Just as God wil not be mocked; so these blindnesses and these claims to be awake and in control; all of which are based on a rarefied sort of self-worship; (one of the worst crimes against holiness itself), are crimes which will not be let to pass unnoted; but in the natural courses of things, and who knows, perhaps, possibly, even probably, hereafter also, they will find their due rewards and recompenses.

These rewards and recompenses are not, nor are to be, inflicted by a vengeful God; God is not, is never, vengeful; only they will occur as the inevitable and in the course of things natural result of the way things are set up in our world. Of this I am soundly convinced; and the Bible tells me also in many places that the law of nature is such that no ill-deed or thought goes left unnoted but that it enters into the fabric of being itself instead, whereabouts it follows a due process by which these words of Jesus are realised; ‘By your own measure shall it be meted out to you again’.

This is not vengeful me speaking; there’s no vicarious pleasures for me in me contemplating such apposite comeuppances; the pleasure for me is in knowing that such a natural arrangement is in place in the very fabric of things; in its wonder and its glory; in its foresightedness and in its power and usefulness to those who are lowly enough to heed its lessons. These are lessons set before us so as for us to learn a greater wisdom and so grow in Christ by way of the salutary exercises such lessons have upon us. As one of my olde worlde preachers I love to read says: What becomes for the ill-doer a stumbling block; for those who seek for the righteous path the same stone in the way becomes a step upwards.

Such wonderful wisdom as God has put in place in our world and in our lives, is I believe the subject of those hours the old Psalmists long ago loved to mediate upon on their beds at nights, those Psalmists were persons who witnessed to a full joy felt in the wondrous works of God and in the full wisdom of those works.

For myself to have been allowed a privilege to feel such thanks that I am in the world and alive amongst others like me, and amongst the wonders and the beauties of the natural world, is itself enough justification to me to have lived. Whatever else is likely or possible, or is to come after such a wondrous life will be an apotheosis beyond this life and it will be quite something to experience!

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