Is anxiety really the fountain from which all blessings flow? God forbid. And besides, I doubt it.
Still, there is no human I had rather hear in an argument than Daniel Boorstin, the librarian of Congress, and if I know he is going to hold forth I try not to miss it.
Recently he addressed a group of scholars on "The Fertile Verge," which sounded to me like just the sort of topic that would let Dr. Boorstin range widely and unfettered, and this proved to be the case.
The Library of Congress, in one of its happy brainstorms, decided to conduct a seminar on "Creativity," and to that end brought many notables to town, and Boorstin himself delivered the opening talk to a packed auditorium.
Unlike most packed auditoriums for lectures, that audience went away pleased with itself and with the lecturer.
Now. Dr. Boorstin began by saying God only knows how to explain the creativity of individuals and he confessed right off the bat that he could not explain creativity of the sort mentioned in the Book of Genesis.
But, he went on, he would indeed try to comment on "social creativity."
You know, government and transportation and economics and all those great things that American society is preeminent in.
A cloud no bigger than a man's hand passed over my brain as I perceived he was going to speak on the genius of our American civilization.
You instantly wish to wisecrack. Still, when you get down to it, which other nation, which other social creativity, would you wish to flee to?
Besides, Boorstin on any topic at all is likely to be rewarding and he never bores the socks off people. Furthermore, "The Fertile Verge" struck me as a gorgeous title that would allow him to avoid specific little flaws in our court system, for example, or other fields in which our social creativity has harvested a few gourds.
And sure enough. This fertile verge turned out to be any place, any frontier, any landscape in which one set of things meets a new set of things.
If you land on a new continent, for example, there is the coast, the littoral, and back of it is the wilderness. This was the case of our country in the 17th century (and still, of course).
As you leave the known coast and venture into the interior, full of savages and bears, it is a great shock, perhaps. You must change your way of looking at things.
But of course it's not just geographical verges that Boorstin spoke of. There is the verge -- the anxiety-ridden meeting place -- of the civilized man and the barbarian. (For example, not that it is Boorstin's example, the reader of The Washington Post suddenly faced with The Chicago Tribune.)
Or the rural fellow plopped down in New York. Or the Republican (another of my own examples) suddenly forced by reason and virture to become a Democrat.
A farm economy turned into an industrial economy. A rural population suddenly an urban population.
Whenever these quite different landscapes meet, there is anxiety. The pain (and man and boy I have met more verges than anybody) may be intense.
But one goes on, full steam ahead. The American saga, like my own, has been a series of pains surmounted.
An unspoken moral of Boorstin's point of view is that America ought not to fear too much the tremendous changes, in which all familiar moorings are left behind, but should remember it is precisely on the anxiety-ridden verge that social creativity is most likely to flower.
The beauty of Boorstin's theory, of course, is that it covers psychological verges as well as geographical ones. If you find, say, enormous social creativity in Virginia (not that anybody ever has perhaps) and argue that the verges there are all 300 years old, Boorstin could duck and say ah, but there was a sudden new shift in economics, or education, or law or something.
He could find a verge to account for it.
He has also found, in these verges, the grounds for certain American characteristics. He may be right -- I am almost sure he is -- that "self-awareness" is an American trait.
Anxiety, changed circumstances, frightening new horizons, may all be good for you.
The prosecuting attorney's office has declined to prosecute a Maryland bakery that sells gingerbread persons, though Maryland's Moral Majority sought to have the bakery fried.
The gingerbread persons (cookies) allegedly depict in dough form the stylized anatomy of the human body, including some of the reproductive parts.
The Moral Majority, led by James Wright, said the cookies might be all right in a pornography shop as novelties, but hardly in a regular bakery where (innocent little) boys and girls could see them.
The prosecutor's office, however (represented by Frederick Paone, assistant state's attorney), said all that struck his eye was gingerbread men. He did not, he said, regard them as portrayals of sexual organs.
My own understanding is that the prosecutor did not find the gingerbread men titillating or prurient.
My own view is that the cookies should be judged within a larger context than the narrow one of pornography. Even if (I would argue) the cookies are in some narrow sense pornographic, should adults be prevented from purchasing their gingerbread men merely because little children might, in some cases, be offended?
Surely parents have some responsibility for guiding their children -- perhaps frank discussion -- in the purchase of gingerbread cookies?
Even these cookies, the ones complained of, may have some socially redeeming value. They may, in fact, be art.
I assume the Moral Majority will raise the case anew. As perhaps they should. But in court, I trust the greater questions of redeeming social value will be considered.