Friday, July 21, 2006

They Really Meant It

July 21

It's pretty easy to reap fruit that comes from seeds planted long ago. All you do is give it time, and then, passing out baskets of fruit, you can act as if it was all your idea.

There are times when the tree has grown to reveal an unexpected variety, as when ten years ago my brother planted satsumas that turned out to be something else. He took a sample fruit to the experimental station where he had bought the seedlings, and said, "What kind of a satsuma is this?" and the response was, "You've got yuzuquats!"

Yuzuquats, it turns out, are a hybrid kumquat (crossed with the yuzu, a mostly inedible citrus grown for its flowers), with an extraordinarily tart -- one might even say sour -- flesh, and an edible skin which is much sweeter. We learned over the years that if allowed to stay on the tree for several months, the whole fruit is tasty and adaptable to most citrus recipes. But they ain't satsumas.

We have it easy here in Fairhope. The work was done long ago, and whatever blemishes on the original concept we can say, "They probably didn't mean it to be that way anyhow."

In today's world people seem to think they are experts on everything. A professor emeritus of Yale named Harry Frankfurt wrote a book on the glibness of today's superficiality and instant specialists on all subjects, entitled On Bullshit. The professor says in interviews -- and here I go, I haven't read the book -- that because of mass media and all that air time to fill, people who are being interviewed on a topic they might be expert about are asked to expound on something else. So we develop an ability to finesse the situation by throwing around a few slick words that mean nothing but sound profound. Someone watching thinks we are smart and well-spoken, which is the main point. Make it look good; never mind if it's not quite right. Nobody will know. Our fifteen minutes are almost up anyway.

Is it so hard to believe that it wasn't always this way? Well, it wasn't -- not even as recently as a hundred years ago. People were educated; they learned to use their own minds. They were not exposed to the fast quip or the sound byte. They didn't have to be expert on difficult topics, they just had to perform in their own field. And sometimes it was a field of Baldwin County potatoes.

E.B. Gaston, founder of Fairhope, knew his economics. He wanted a town that would prove a theory. He knew what he meant, and he meant what he said. His followers had thought about it. They all believed that their experiment called Fairhope would grow up not to be just a pretty settlement by the bay but a guidepost to change the world. With Henry George's Progress and Poverty as a reference, they didn't see how anybody could disagree.

Marietta Johnson was a schoolteacher who had a way with children. She wanted to understand the nature and needs of a child and incorporate that nature and those needs into the educational system rather than to provide an adult-driven, curriculum based, regimented army of little adults in uniforms. She knew what she knew, and she made it happen.

Both these individuals made it happen in Fairhope. Today we can be lazy about applying their principles to the institutions they founded a hundred years ago, because neither of them is around to check. But their trees will bear strange hybrid fruit, as they have been doing in recent years. You don't see many idealists these days. But let me tell you what idealists acting on their ideals means: It means they really meant just what they said.


beenandgone said...

Finding -- Your remark about the idealist saying what he or she really means is valid. If it were not that way, they would be something different, usually ones with hidden agendas.That's why you have to respect even religious fundamentalists' openness about what they believe and their willingness to espouse it. Whether there is any accuracy to what they say is not germain to the discussion of sincerity.
And in that vein, we should have an obligation to ourselves and our thinking to place out into the winds of reality our thinking to see how it withstands the buffeting.
However, that is really not a requirement to get through life, as seen by the countless numbers who salute the flag of "Don't confuse me with facts. My mind is made up."

Finding Fair Hope said...

Thank God we still have a few open minds in Fairhope!

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