The Orrery

Joseph Wright of Derby made the drama and magic of science a fit subject for art. The Orrery, showing the motion of the solar system, is named after some lord or other because only one man can stick food between slices of bread for the first time. Just as in An experiment on a bird in an air pump, the scientist here is an entertainer in the red robes of a learned man,

irritated by the note-taker,

who is not writing down that Saturn orbits outside Jupiter, but stealing his material.

I love the children’s wonder.

The two young people are gazing at the planets, not each other.

Limits on freedom

Joseph Wright of Derby- an experiment on a bird in an air pump 2

Joseph Wright of Derby- an experiment on a bird in an air pump 3Comment, here: As there is no right dependent on labor and efforts of others there is no right to healthcare. The ACA forces people to pay for something for others, doesn’t really matter what the thing in question happens to be, it’s a violation of individual liberty.

The stark purity of extremism is attractive to a certain type of mind. I prefer messy bodges, myself: I might not produce a rigorous argument, but I know what I like. Or I am special pleading: obviously, people in a position I can imagine myself in should not suffer X. That comment was about birth control, and an American company’s refusal to pay for a health insurance plan for its employees which includes a morning-after pill, which it claims is abortion.

First, the morning-after pill. I don’t see much practical moral difference between preventing sperm reaching a fertile ovum, and preventing a fertilized ovum from implanting. However there is a moral difference between preventing implantation and aborting an eight-week foetus- the mother should decide when she needs an abortion, but the longer she waits, the more traumatic it is for her. Alternatives are banning impulsive sex- good luck with that- or insisting that women take large quantities of artificial hormone. All the alternatives are worse, but the ignorant rationalist, who likes verbal arguments, says morning-after pill is an abortion, so wrong.

My justification for limits on freedom is the need for society. I recognise that not all people have the same felt need for society- Kim Jong Un seems happy with his rigid controlled state of hate and fear, based on ancient Chinese philosophy, which I like to think I would find unbearable, even were I in a position of power.

I observe that Great Britain, where the Industrial Revolution started, did not have democracy until 1918, when 60% of adult males acquired the vote. It had limits on free speech in the law of sedition, and on freedom of assembly in anti-Union law. The Joseph Wright of Derby- an experiment on a bird in an air pump 1freedom of the capitalist to set up large companies with cheap labour contributed to industrial growth, and someone with the talent of Beethoven growing up in a pit village would still go down the mine. That sort of freedom limits human flourishing. If it were necessary in 1800, with the wealth of the world it is not necessary now, and restricting the freedom of billionaires to do what they like, in order to benefit billions of poorer folk, is worthwhile.

A Christian libertarian will have heard the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus points out he rescues a man who will die without help, and this is a Good Thing. The link between that one charitable act and society, through taxation, paying for the health care of all, is obvious. If the conservative Christian cannot see it, he suffers moral blindness, a mental disability which diminishes his humanity.

Joseph Wright of Derby- an experiment on a bird in an air pump

Is it funny?

I was waiting for my girlfriend to come round.
I had hit her really hard.

This was told at an Edinburgh Festival comedy event, and there was a debate on Woman’s Hour (yes, it really is called that, it has been going since the forties) about whether it was funny or not. Jokes about hitting women are not funny. And- it works as a joke: set up an expectation, subvert it. Ideally subvert it on the last word, which is not done here, but I did not “get it” until after the end, so it works.

On stage, one may be in character. What clown tells it? The stressed, anxious clown, life is always too much for him? I would introduce another voice in the middle of my act if I said such things- Geoff, the psychopath. Thick man, violent, monstrous even. End his part with, “Geoff, the men in the white coats are coming. Run!” And- the clown is part of me. What else might Geoff say? Geoff is not for the stage. Right now, he is in a dungeon with thick iron bars. The only light is a candle, far in the corner of the outer room, where the guards can go.


I decided to try centering prayer. The word I chose was “self”. I mean, “Organismic self”, the whole being, my own link to the Unconscious, all my responses and instincts. My theistic/spiritual  and atheist/materialist sides agree that the way to the highest self is through the unconscious- and I am not sure I can claim that Christ or God is linked through any part of me.

Half an hour is a long time, but I have the time, and it is better spent that way than at Solitaire- three hundred “games” now, and counting. And- there is no good or bad, no success or failure in sensations of frustration or “deep peace and calm”- there is just Doing it. The mind wanders. Bring it back, with the Word.

Valerie Brown quotes Basil Pennington: when we become aware of our thoughts, if we continue to dwell on them, we leave our prayer and become involved again in the tensions. But if at the moment of awareness, we simply, gently return to our prayer word, the thought or image with its attendant tension will be released and flow out of our lives… we very truly die to our superficial selves, in order to enter into our Christ-being in the depths. We “die” to all our thoughts and imaginings, no matter how beautiful or useful they may seem. We leave them all behind, for we want immediate contact with God Himself, and not some thought, magic, or vision of Him- only the faith experience of Himself.

So I do it, and at the end pray-

 Lord God, or Christ, or whatever is

down there

let me be my whole self

Perhaps “Christ” is a better word, a possible word. The leap of faith is to say that what is “down there” is Good, that there is no line which is the border between me and Christ.

And the wandering mind can be a healing thing: I Reikied myself, and found I was thinking about all sorts of things which have made me cry, and not crying. There may be no “good” state in a practice, but there can be a healing state. And I do not do this to do it, but because it might make me feel better or function better.