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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Knowing Your Limitations

Most adults pride themselves on "knowing their limitations." They believe their acquired skills, intellect, and habits have been internalized and evaluated through experience to set a unique base of learned personal standards applicable to ever-changing environments. People apply their concept of limitations to simple or complex activities such as driving (five miles over the limit), drinking (one drink an hour), working (40 hour work weeks), or relationships (one at a time). The old adage "Everything in moderation. Nothing to excess" seems to be a reasonable guide when people's limitations have yet to be tested. But what about excess? Might it have any redeeming qualities? W. Somerset Maugham once quipped,"Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit." Certainly, Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry would have been considered radicals during their time. So, it's safe to assume most believe nothing is wrong with being a radical for the right cause or breaking limitations in the face of harm or injustice. Personal limitations do not always conform with limitations demanded by government or limitations demanded by present society. I, personally, believe so many Americans have been molded into a mainstream mentality of moderation that very little "above board" pride in individual rights is exhibited. Fearing they may offend someone else by displaying anything but "namby-pamby" behavior, Americans prefer to whisper alternate views to trusted individuals in private. Public free expression is suffering the consequences while muted behavior breeds distrust. Knowing one's limitations is now, more than ever, trusted to those who set the public rules of conformation while looking down from the "catbird seat." An individual, equally good alternative of limitation, in the meantime, is dismissed or criticized as dangerously subversive. So, many Americans tend to cower and wait silently for the next restriction. Being forced to conform to any one set of standards can prove dangerous, indeed. Reality is often foreshadowed in fiction. In Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451, the fire chief, Captain Beatty explains why pleasure and non-thinking are desirable goals for society. As the fire departments in this futuristic society burn books to prevent the spread of individual thought and action, Beatty cites historical evidence of the need for forced censorship due to the supposed harm to the population of any diverse thought. “Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!… Authors full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did.” — Captain Beatty, Fahrenheit 451 Beatty, explaining the history of censorship and periods of education further states, "Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more." He defends the moral aims of censorship as he continues, "Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against." How much limitation in 2009 is set by governmental and liberal philosophy eerily similar to the fictional world created by Ray Bradbury? People have gone overboard with their insane, media and social driven definitions of total acceptance and justice for all. (Justice for the rich? The famous? The infamous? The meat-producing animal?) Despite the many good outcomes associated with "namby-pamby" legislation and beliefs, people must never be limited in their rights to set intelligent, well-meaning, unique limitations on their own thoughts and behaviors. In conclusion, the poem "Namby-Pamby" was written in 1725 by Henry Carey as a satire of Ambrose Philips, a Whig writer. Then, praising or condemning Philips was a political as much as a poetic matter. The poem sold well and has been used as children's literature since Carey's day. Namby-Pamby
"All ye Poets of the Age!
All ye Witlings of the Stage!
Learn your Jingles to reform!
Crop your Numbers and Conform:
Let your little Verses flow
Gently, Sweetly, Row by Row:
Let the Verse the Subject fit;
Little Subject, Little Wit.
Namby-Pamby is your Guide;
Albion's Joy, Hibernia's Pride." -Henry Carey
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