Though there are innumerable examples, one of the most memorable maxims of Freemasonry in my opinion is “Nature teaches us how to die”. Until that dreadful day, I am in the meantime discovering endless preambles to the final curtain, events and thoughts leading up to the moments in league with one’s dénouement. Among them is the adage – especially popular among old fogeys – that everything repeats itself (or words to that effect) meant to imply that there’s essentially nothing new in the world, that it has all been seen before.
Given the narrowness of our human experience generally it is difficult to dispute the theorem. Even the internet and all its mind-numbing technology is just a variation on the theme of telephonic communication or X-rays or whatever else once startled our corporate senses. If one were to circumscribe the limits of human activity it is not hard to imagine some elemental categories to which every possible permutation might be attributed, starting for example with the basics like health, food, clothes, ornaments and machinery, then graduating to the more atmospheric concepts of thought, religion, invention, prose and poetry. Of course there are endless ways to summarize life in its entirety but the point is that no matter how creative or varied one might choose to be, in the end it’s probably all going to be repeated one way or the other.
Although I haven’t any expectations or fears about anything as trite as repeating clothing fashions, I am however disturbed by the recurrence of my own thoughts. This is particularly so when they recur in the form of old or former conclusions. If nothing else being hounded by what you previously thought but no longer maintain for some reason is by definition unsettling. It suggests at the very least that the reasoning was either hasty or mistaken not to mention precarious. Such a fate is enough to encourage mental inactivity outright or perhaps foster such a highly diluted form of logic and certainty as to be completely inconsequential. Even more disruptive to one’s psyche is the admission that the recrudescence of ideas comes upon us with such fresh vigour that we hardly can imagine how shallow we must have been to think as we once did. This business of everything old being new again tends to trivialize what was formerly considered the most momentous and insightful postulations.
My late father cultivated an utter tranquillity about life, something I surmised was wrought by having survived World War II (in particular having been shot out of the sky by a German submarine in the North Atlantic where he and his mates bounced around in a dinghy for nine hours before being rescued by the British). To call my father’s disposition “tranquil” is more flattering than intended; instead I mean to imply either anaesthetized or detached. I always had the feeling that my father sensed he had seen it all before, that there was no longer anything entertaining (perhaps other than his grandchildren). That’s the problem with recrudescence, it hardens one to life. To appreciate the contamination, one need only examine the etymology of the word, namely “crudus” which means “raw” (hence the now popular French expression “crudité”). It’s one thing to start over again, quite another to start over again completely. The treadmill feature cannot be far behind.
If this condition were not so axiomatic it would naturally be far less forceful. But the frozen truth is that life – like death – is an unavoidable platitude. Colour the event any way you wish, it will ultimately boil down to raw repetition. And to make things worse, each of us is nothing more than an insect in this re-enactment.
“There has of late years been some slight recrudescence of the shaven face in polite society, but this is probably a transient and unadvised mimicry of the fashion imposed upon body servants, and it may fairly be expected to go the way of the powdered wig of our grandfathers.”
Excerpt From: Veblen, Thorstein. “Theory of the Leisure Class.”