Tuesday, January 02, 2007

One more swing around the Sun

We watch aghast as people around the world blow up themselves and others for grand sophistries -- religious, political, racial -- idees fixes that have no more permanent substance than a sand castle but nevertheless so concentrate the mind as to allow the self-certain pulling of a trigger upon innocence and beauty.

Never trust a truth, I say, that can be shouted as a slogan. Never yield one's moral sense to any man who thumps a holy book. Beware Capital Letters.

Trust instead in little truths -- this green gecko that as I write watches from the porch, its dewlap pulsing.

That old agnostic and social progressive Thomas Huxley, as he entered genteel retirement, became more convinced than ever that the little truths -- why the dewlap? why the pulsing? -- were the bricks that by patient accumulation yield a firm foundation for a life. Even as his physical and intellectual vigor declined, he affirmed to a friend that "the cosmos remains always beautiful and profoundly interesting in every corner." Attending to the minute particulars of nature's grandeur, he held, is the only acceptable worship.

As that late stage in his life, Huxley was widely considered an adornment of his age and nation, but not, it seems, by the family's new cook, who walked out upon learning that she was expected to serve in a godless household.