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Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Meaning of Thanksgiving

in Greek is εὐχαριστία (eukharistia) or Eucharist. 

There is a school of thought in the US, often called "rugged individualism" in which the individual (envisioned as "rugged", usually male and adult) claims that he stands in a grand and solitary isolation, owing no-but nothing to no one.  He is under no obligation to others, and words like altruism, generosity, charity, and so forth are hurtful to his ears. 

This is nonsense, of course. 
Well-advanced by Fred Nietzsche and others of the school of philosophical egoism, it is a consequence of 18th century atomism in physics and Rousseau's "social contract," both of which were in error (and the former may well have triumphed because of the latter).  Robert Heinlein once used the image of the rugged individual with his plow and his rifle -- but asked poignantly, who made his rifle?

As an SF writer, Heinlein naturally focused on the technical, but the matter runs deeper.  The rifle, after all, may have well been purchased and the argument could be made that the individual is in no further debt to the gunsmith.  Insofar as economics (in the restricted sense) runs, that may be sufficient.  But the rugged individual has nonetheless been gifted with an unbearable range of goods: from the language he speaks to the culture in which it is spoken, from the laws which govern his contracts and his morality to his very life and limb.  All of these were gifts freely given and inherited without any merit on his part.  He has done nothing to deserve these things, and to show a lack of gratitude or thanks is at best blind and at worst churlish.  Heinlein was fond of the expression "pay it forward," which is as nice an expression as any of the debt we owe to others. 

Rosy-fingered dawn, crimson sunset; a landscape of clouds; a sky filled with stars; wild violets on the meadow; the cries of children echoing through the neighborhood; a touch of snow on Thanksgiving morning; being vertical and above ground one more day; breakfast with your father or (if you are so fortunate) your mother; a clasp of hands; a good friend - or even a good enemy; work to do; difficulties to overcome; the inverse square law. 

There are reasons enough for Thanksgiving, for Εὐχαριστία, that it seems mean to do so only one day a year. 

Maybe we could do it every week. 

5 comments:

  1. RAH's "paying it forward" was for specific acts of kindness done to specific individuals by other specific individuals. It does not apply to government, to compulsory taxation, or socialist welfare redistribution of wealth. Charity is only charity if it is voluntarily given.
    Secondly, the arguments about all the benefits we enjoy of modern civilization that we receive freely, your comments operate under the false assumption that its all due to government, the "you didn't build that" BS we hear from the left and the "president" these days. The contributions to civilization over the eons were done by INDIVIDUALS, who made their contributions voluntarily, received more often than not, reward to varying degrees for their innovations and contributions typically via market mechanisms and voluntary participation in society and trade. The assumption that all this depends on government is based on the false conflation of society and the state. The two are not the same thing, they are diametrical opposites. Society is what happens when you and other individuals voluntarily engage in various activities of social, recreational, artistic, scientific or commercial natures, and are free to cease said participation at any time. Government, conversely, is the use of the unbridled aggression of the state to compel people to do things they do not want to do, to give up things they do not want to give up, and submit to the unjust rule of a majority, or even of a minority of elite rulers, who decided that they are better able to decide whats good for you than you are.

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  2. TOF, I think you forgot insecurity as one of the hallmarks of the rugged individualist.

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  3. I'm trying to figure out where Unplugged Brain found some tribute to the State in this five-year old essay. (Five years old!) As far as I can see, the State is nowhere mentioned. The only item that comes close is that for a man to make a contract for purchase of his rifle, he presupposes a rule of law that recognizes and honors contracts. Generally, rules of law entail a State, as when the plebs of Rome forced the patricians to write all the laws on the Tablets and post them in the Forum. Otherwise, in the essay we speak of giving thanks "to others", including the Other who gave us "rosy-fingered dawn, crimson sunset; a landscape of clouds; a sky filled with stars; wild violets on the meadow" and even "the inverse square law." Anyone who thinks anything was invented by solitary individuals probably thinks Galileo was "the father of science" and needs to be waterboarded at the deep end of history.

    Anyone who thinks the State did these things should be right beside him.

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  4. I fail to understand anyone that thinks the definition of rugged individualism includes this sentence. "He is under no obligation to others, and words like altruism, generosity, charity, and so forth are hurtful to his ears." That is half right. He is under no obligation, however altruism, generosity and charity are music to his ears. These are all voluntary things. Just because a man fights the state when they come to take his money in the name of charity does not mean he is against charity, it is simply that charity at gunpoint is... I don't know... WRONG!

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    1. I must have missed the part of the post that said otherwise.

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