No easy answers. No . And that is why people are nuts.
The Royal Crown Cola Co. has begun selling its new sugar-free, caffeine-free cola drink called RC 100.
If you read the cast of characters on the label you are pleased to see it has calories 0, protein 0, carbohydrates 0 and fat 0. So far so good. Nothing to poison man or beast.
We have all learned of course, that safety is zero-based. And yet, needless to say, this new cola drink has something or other in it. Their marketing development people are not clever enough, yet, to have put out a product that has nothing at all, not even air, in it.
There are, thank God, no suspicious vitamins. Less than 2 percent (zero percent, if you must know) of the daily minimum requirements for any vitamin known to man or health store. There is some natural flavoring, reassuring indeed, and some caramel coloring and some preservatives and plenty of fizz water.
Use of this product (they go on, on the label) may be hazardous to your health.
Well, of course. We know that.
This product, they persist in their chatty way, contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
There mere fact that it may be hazardous to health, as it is, does not diminish the trimph that those old devils, sugar and caffeine, have been exorcised.
The company has received letters "pouring in" from customers in various stages of ecstasy;
"I now serve RC 100 in my best wine glasses . . ." as a perfect accompaniment, no doubt, to crown roasts of lamb.
But this is life: You rid yourself of evil caffeine, evil sugar, evil chemical colorations. Zero, zero, zero, and you say thank God, now I'm really living right.
No you're not. Even when you've given up everything , you will see, if you keep reading the label, "this product may be hazardous to your health . . . ycancer . . . laboratory animals . . ."
This is merely my first example of our general helplessness amid the tangles of the modern world. Now hear this:
In Alabama the woodpeckers are eating one wooden light pole a day. At the end of the year it has cost Alabama power companies $600,000.
We all love woodpeckers. Still $600,000 a year in just one rustic state of the Union.
Surely you can dust the poles with anti-woodpecker perfumes?
Ah. The power company fears the environmental impact of chemical treatment of the poles, they point out, somewhat self-righteously I thought.
They've tried plastic remedies. They don't work. Woodpeckers are bright lads, and if you cover one part with plastic, they just settle down and drill into another part. To sheathe the whole pole in plastic would cost a fortune, probably, and in any case it is astonishing that almost any animal can gnaw, drill, burrow, climb or otherwise, intrude itself through, over, or under any barrier you are likely to come up with.
You don't want to kill woodpeckers. No. Nor destroy the earth's air, water, zub zub. You also don't want to spend a trillion a year on birds chewing up light poles.
A further example of the nonexstence of good answers:
A gentleman of Mississippi, whom I cannot reach by phone though I have his number (and am determined to consult at length with him, eventually) owns a small ape that he brought a while back for a paltry few hundred dollars. The ape has been a joy around the farm. Feeds the cows their hay. Builds fences. Does a bit of plowing. The ape eats supper with the family. Dresses for those occasions, of course. Maybe a neat T-shirt. Maybe a little sailor suit with a whistle.
And now comes some fellow wanting to buy the ape for thousands of dollars. The farmer could use the money, and the return on the investment would be great; virtually irresistible. But how can he sell a member of the family?
If I may add another thing, what about Social Security, unemployment compensation. Can the ape be drafted for the Army? Is he being properly educated to become a sturdy steady citizen?
Some will say -- in the offhand snap-judgment way or superficial men -- the ape is an ape, period, and human complexities (Social Security, education, zub zub) do not apply therefore, and there is no problem.
Yeah. Tell that to the cows, whom the faithful ape has so dutifully fed hay to. Tell it to the family, whose loving circle this little furry stranger has graced with such unfailing sweet humor.Tell it to the fallow fields, barren unless he seize the plow once more.
Human is as human does. You don't escape realities, you don't escape responsibilities merely by defining them away or pretending they don't exist.
This little fellow is building America. He is running our risks. What if he falls off the tractor? Contracts gangrene, stringing barbed wire? All that?
And yet, there is no answer to define his status.
Again and again in our everyday life, we encounter colas and birds and apes that raise the most solemn questions. Sometimes we flippantly turn aside with a jest. We pretend these questions are not substantial.
We can pretend anything we like, but in our hearts we know these questions are not substantial.
And yet as this most casual glance at the problem shows, Solomon himself cannot know the answers.
Now then. This brings us to astrology, fortune-telling, crystal-balling -- all those lunatic activities with which the republic now boils.
Your instinct, perhaps, is to say lunacy is lunacy and maybe it won't spread. But it does spread. It has spread. Even people who have completed the third grade of school sometimes consult astrologers. Stay in the house when they're told the stars are bad outside. Buy Brooklyn Bridge when the stars say its a great day for investments.
Are all those who are guided by the stars merely mad?
If only that were so, there would be no problem, for the mad we have always with us, but astrology is rampantly on the increase. Why?
I have just shown you why. The plain decent citizen sets out to live right, but scarcely has he got out the front door than the answerless problems of modern life assail him fore and aft. He sees (for all humans are subtle, preceptive, not easily hoodwinked) there are no answers anywhere.
And yet this may be the only time he will ever be alive beneath the blessed light of the sun. What's he supposed to do -- go into paralysis like Hamlet, unable to act at all, because he can find no action that is rational or supported by all the evidence of all the facts?
No. He acts. He lives his life. He makes his decisions. Perhaps I should say we make our decisions. Flip a coin.
Astrology is flipping a coin. Palm reading is flipping a coin.
We yield to an authority outside ourselves (the flipped coin, the astrology chart) the responsibility for the decision.
Should we invest a dollar? Should we risk a trip to Virginia? Should we declare war? Should we eat a peach?
Flip a coin. Ask a star. Get it decided some the hell way or other. That is the basis of astrology and that is the basis of modern decision-making.
Irrational, yes. And it won't change until the underlying causes are addresed head-on, and worked out, worked through.
The cola, the woodpecker, the ape. Answers must be found. Attention must be paid.