Saturday, August 26, 2006

On Being Old

Anyone over 90 who says they never give their age a thought is not being truthful. Every day I wake, I give thanks and check my pulse. Then I go to the front door and get the papers, and get six dollars in coins to put away never to be spent (I will get back to that another time). Then I attend to the first pills of the day before I eat and listen to the morning news on TV, which is always bad these days, with various religious persuasions infiltrating and killing each other in and around the Holy Land. I want to keep up, even though I am old and do not have to do anything about it all.

Somewhere along the line I have suffered osteoporosis, and my back hurts if I have not laid down for more than five hours or so. So after lunch I do lie down for a half hour, which can easily become two hours. After that is when I do things I should do every day, like this page of comment, which would be better done first thing in the morning, with orange juice.

This brings up the subject of habit, about which I will write again. Long ago when I was in the tuberculosis hospital, I learned that three weeks of doing the same thing at the same time each day forms a habit, especially if it displaces another one, and you will feel guilty if you do not do it. As you grow older, forming habits helps to make up for the loss of short-term memory, which is inevitable.

Now that I have gotten started, again, on getting old, I could go on indefinitely, but at least I have several topics, related, I can turn to. I meant to write a page, and I have, and I will be back.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Wars, News, Sports And The Herd

Wherever we turn to read, listen or watch in our multimedia age, we are faced by belonging and not belonging, i.e., herds of various sizes and kinds for various reasons and of various origins. Young versus old, native-born versus immigrant, colour versus colour, accepted "history" versus accepted "history", gated condos versus all outside. The possibilities, indeed the probabilities, are endless.

We might put it all down to improved means of communications, the Web, the computer, the transistor, the now-nearly-obsolete vacuum tube, the alternating current, the direct current, the early physicists like Ben Franklin and his kites in the lightning storms, and we would not be wrong.

In various isolations, living material, that is ourselves, imbeds variations into varying DNA, and biology repeats in miniature our customs, hatreds and loyalties. Despite this, we have forgotten prophets like Trotter, with his Instincts of the Herd. With communications increasing at an increasing rate, we now have collisions of herds which over long ages went their calm separated ways. We have been told we are becoming, or already are, One World. Are we, or are we becoming shells of concentric worlds which will react vertically by shell rather than horizontally by geography, or whatever?

I do not know who said it -- it might have been myself -- but I hate to die; I want to see how it all turns out!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Copycats By Instinct

Human relationships are so varied that they seem to defy explaining, let alone any reasonable basis which will survive hostile or even objective examination. However, some social phenomena, like style and popularity, can be understood as pretty much the same. Some can be paired or grouped around fear, of practical consequences or social rejection.

The behaviour of animals can readily be ascribed to instincts, while for ourselves we look for "reasons", as if we are governed by intelligence rather than instinct. However, there is a case to be made for much of our strange behaviour being grouped under instinct. A book, now about one hundred years old, made this case very well. The author was King George V's official doctor, Sergeant Surgeon to His Majesty. His own specialty was sub-cutaneous enervation. His lasting fame rests on an essay in sociology, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War.

This column is for the single purpose of urging my readers to read it. The author's name was Trotter. I have read it myself several times a year for over thirty years. I'll stop this now, and you go read.