One Piece Ahead

     “Cadaver” is a Latin acronym for caro data vermibus – flesh given to worms – if you can believe Isidore of Seville’s “Etymology,” the first encyclopedia of the Western world (630 A.D., more or less).
     Braulio, bishop of Zaragoza, who told Isidore to write the book, claimed it contained “everything it is necessary to know.”
     I wouldn’t go that far.
     True, Braulio was an adviser and confidante of Chindansuinth, king of the Visigoths, but Chindansuinth was not exceptional in the brains department.
     Bishop Eugene II of Toledo called Chindasuinth “ever the friend of evil deeds: impious, ugly and wicked.” But Bishop Eugene was no prize himself. He banished the Jews from Spain in 636, though it’s hard to tell, 1,376 years later, whether the Jews did something to upset Bishop Eugene.
     You know how it is with Jews and bishops. It’s always one thing or another.
     But this has taken me away from my Main Topic today, which is philosophy.
     America’s greatest philosopher, Sam Clemens, said that anyone who is a pessimist before he turns 48 knows too much, and anyone who is not a pessimist after 48 doesn’t know enough.
     When children learn what death is, they worry about it for a while. Eventually, if they are healthy children with good parents, they stop worrying about it, except perhaps in the long hours of the night.
     There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s the price you pay for being alive.
     My favorite story about death, except for the death of Socrates, is Seneca’s story about Julius Canus, “an astoundingly fine man,” who told Julius Caesar, who had just sentenced him to death, “I thank you, noble emperor.”
     Seneca said he did not know what Julius Canus meant by that: whether he was glad to be released from tyranny, or meant to insult Caesar by telling him that death would be a blessing, but Seneca said: “Whatever he meant, it was a spirited reply.”
     Canus spent the last 10 days of his life “without any anxiety at all,” if you can believe Seneca. (Seneca himself was ordered to commit suicide by Nero, and did. Apparently without any anxiety at all.)
     Canus was playing checkers when a centurion told him it was time to die. Canus counted the pieces on the board and told the centurion, “You are a witness that I am leading by one piece.” Then he told his partner not to brag that he had beaten him after he died.
     Canus walked to his execution with his philosophy teacher, who asked, “Canus, what are you thinking about now? What is your state of mind?”
     Canus said: “I have decided to observe whether in that fleeting moment the spirit is aware of its departure from the body.”
     Seneca said: “No one ever pursued philosophy longer.”
     The reason I bring this up is this year’s presidential election.
     No respected philosopher or religious figure in the history of the world has said that being rich is important, or should be one’s goal in life. In fact, all the philosophers and religious figures, including the Nazarene whom American politicians pretend to love so much, said the opposite.
     Yet this year’s election, and every other U.S. presidential election in the past generation, has been about Who Can Make You Rich.
     It’s all bullshit.
     Of course we need money to stay alive, to feed and educate our kids.
     Yet the Republican Party, today’s main slinger of bullshit, claims that they can make you rich, though they claim at the same time that government’s real job, its true and patriotic job, is to ignore you, and let you sink or swim.
     And the Democrats, as usual, follow behind, saying, “We think so too, only not as much.”
     As you get old, you think about these things: Philosophy. The meaning of life. History, and what we can learn from it to, perhaps, make things better in the future.
     I do not think that life, or philosophy, or the impulse behind religion, is bullshit.
     But I believe – no, I know – that all we shall hear, from now until Election Day, will be bullshit.
     Lies from Republicans and cowardice from Democrats.
     Mark you, centurions: I am one piece ahead.

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