Two Eighteen

In the United States, the third Monday in February is Presidents’ Day. Every few years, like this one, the third Monday in February is also my birthday. So in a nod to a president I actually like and as a reminder to myself, a couple of things:

First, Lester “Prez” Young and his famous television appearance with Billie Holiday in which twenty years after their heyday and months before they each died, they proved they could still wow each other (longer version here).

Second, some sound advice on life and how to live it from Randolph Bourne:

It is good to be reasonable, but too much rationality puts the soul at odds with life. For rationality implies an almost superstitious reliance on logical proofs and logical motives, and it is logic that life mocks and contradicts at every turn. … Perhaps men have thought that, by cultivating the rational virtues and laying emphasis on prudence and forethought, they could bend the stubborn constitution of things to meet their ideas. It has always been the fashion to insist, in spite of all the evidence, that the world was in reality a rational place where certain immutable moral principles could be laid down with the same certainty of working that physical laws possess. It has always been represented that the correct procedure of the moral life was to choose one’s end or desire, to select carefully also the means by which that end could be realized, and then, by the use of the dogged motive force of the will, to push through the plans to completion. … Life was considered to be a battle, the strategy of which a general might lay out beforehand, an engagement in which he might plan and anticipate to the minutest detail the movement of his forces and the disposition of the enemy. …

[F]or the rational ideal we must substitute the experimental ideal. Life is not a campaign of battle, but a laboratory where its possibilities for the enhancement of happiness and the realization of ideals are to be tested and observed. We are not to start life with a code of ideals in our pocket, with the principles of activity already learned by heart, but we are to discover those principles as we go, by conscientious experiment. Even those laws that seem incontrovertible we are to test for ourselves, to see whether they are thoroughly vital to our own experience and our own genius. We are animals, and our education in life is different only in degree, and not in kind, from that of the monkey who learns the trick of opening his cage. …

In place, then, of the rational or irrational life, we preach the experimental life. There is much to chance in the world, but there is also a modicum of free will, and it is this modicum that we exploit to direct our energies. Recognizing the precariousness and haphazardness of life, we can yet generalize out of our experience certain probabilities and satisfactions that will serve us as well as scientific laws. Only they must be flexible and they must be tested. Life is not a rich province to conquer by our will, or to wring enjoyment out of with our appetites, nor is it a market where we pay our money over the counter and receive the goods we desire. It is rather a great tract of spiritual soil, which we can cultivate or misuse. … [T]he life that I live depends on my courage, skill, and wisdom in experimentation. (“The Experimental Life,” 1913)


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