Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Discussion with a Colleague

I had an interesting discussion with one of my co-workers yesterday. It started off with him telling me that it was International Doughnut Day (or some such thing-- I can't remember what exactly, and I can't find out on the internet, but it was one of these silly made-up occasions-- not that I have anything against them.) 

That got us to talking about holidays and remembrances, and (predictably enough for any of my readers!),  I started talking about memorials which were being forgotten, and how sad this made me. I told him about Oak Apple Day, and also mentioned the increasingly neglected Guy Fawkes Day. 

"Doesn't it make you sad that such things are neglected?", I said. (Obviously this dialogue is not verbatim.)

"Not one little bit", he admitted.

"But a connection with the past is lost", I said. (Or something.)

"The past is whatever we need to take from it", he said. "We use whatever is useful from it. We let it go when we don't need it anymore."

"I'm not saying we should hold onto everything from the past", I said. "That's impossible. But it's a shame to lose things that have become traditions. They've survived a long time already, why give up on them?"

"Because the reason they were given up was because they're no longer meaningful. It would be completely perverse to hold onto them when they're no longer meaningful."

This stumped me for a while, and my reply was something like this: "But that's part of the reason they're so great. They become an encounter with something alien, something outside our current preoccupations. They become an encounter with the sublime."

Or something like that. I've always noticed that peoples' accounts of their discussions, arguments and debates with other people tend to put them in the role of Socrates. Well, I am never Socrates. I usually come away from debates and discussions feeling I've not acquitted myself particularly well. But this exchange seemed of great significance to me.

Looking back, I should have said something like this: The very fact that we thought they were important for a long time, and cease to consider them important, makes them valuable, because it's a part of our history or memory or identity which is going into eclipse. It makes it all the more valuable to remind ourselves of it, once in a while. Not for any utilitarian reason, necessarily. Simply for the experience itself.

Of course, another reason to hold onto them is because, even if they are no longer meaningful to us, they might well be meaningful to our descendants-- or to ourselves in future years. But I didn't think of that.


  1. People today take pride in their historical ignorance or see the past as a dark age we have escaped from. It is a deeply arrogant and stupid but widespread modern prejudice. Maybe we are the ones who are making the mistakes of abandoning traditions and custom?

    1. I certainly agree with that. This guy wouldn't have such an attitude-- he reads a lot and is by no means dismissive of the past per se. But he didn't understand why I would be sad about particular traditions disappearing.

  2. i can understand special days for special things, even if it's just trying to save a particular species of animal. but donuts?
    we should have an international abstain from donuts day

    1. Every day is International Abstain from Donuts Day for me. It sucks. Maybe I should just be fat and happy.

      It wasn't actually International Doughnut Day, I just used that as an example, but there is such a day-- I looked it up after your comment. It's not just about doughnuts, though, it's a charity thing.