Sunday, April 14, 2019

Plato, Pluto and the Whole Damn Thing

Peggy has been reading philosophy books and talking Plato lately. I got to sleep thinking how I must Google him one of these days to refresh my credential as a pseudo-intellectual even though I recall his Republic disinvited me with my poetic license. At 3:37 A.M. I woke with Pluto on my brain. I suppose anal-retentive Plato had trouble moving his vowel.

Pluto has had many lives. Probably my first encounter with him was as the Disney dog in cartoons. Then there is the faint memory of Pluto Water in my father’s drugstore. This was a laxative; maybe the one Plato used. However in the chronology in the Great Ledger the name goes back Greek mythology. Pluto was the early name of Hades who ruled the Underworld. He got the short end of the stick when the universe was divided among the three brothers, Poseidon (oceans), Zeus (above) and Pluto (below).

Of course, before any of that, but as yet undiscovered, was the planet Pluto. So named because it was dark being furthest from the sun. The first two letters of Pluto are also the initials of Percival Lowell, the astronomer who speculated there was a Planet X around 1905. Twenty-five years later Pluto was found and in 2006 it was un-found being drummed off the list and relegated to dwarf status. Imagine the humiliation. On the other hand it may be better to be the first among B list than the least among column A list.

The other notable thing about Lowell … all this between 3:37 A.M. and 5:23 A.M. …. is that in 1896 while pointing his telescope at Mars he inadvertently closed the aperture and swore he saw canals on the red planet which turned out to be the arteries on his own retina. However this spawned the fiction of H.G. Wells’, War of the Worlds and Ray Bradbury’s, Martian Chronicles. Art, said Picasso, is the lie that tells the truth….but does illusion spell truth? I don’t think so.

Unaccountable is the trace of the insomniac’s itinerant leaps. From there I went to Greenland or more accurately to the map of the place as it appears on the flat page of Mercator’s Projection of the world which was a sensation in 1569. How many school kids were raised to believe that Greenland was larger than Africa due to his distorted rendering as the latitude increases from the equator to the poles?  In fact fourteen Greenlands could fit into that land mass from whence we all came.

My rambling took me from the map to the territory. Namely what we now call Middle America or the Heartland or Fly-Over America….Trump Country. I know it’s a stretch but everything preceding this is gone into my pillow. The operative word is now Truth. What people believe often bears no relationship to the actual. Enormous Greenland. Canals on Mars. Plato’s shadows on the wall and Pluto, a planet no longer.

Aristotle had it right. The world is indeed in flux. But those in Trumpland won’t take that news without a battle. Where’s my gun?  Downtown is boarded up. Mom and Pop stores can’t compete with the Big Box. New-fangled gadgets. Folks don’t look like they used to. Money has gone off-shore. The Boy Scouts takes girls. Watch who you’re hugging. Better hang on to what is fixed….Bible class, the National Anthem, The Constitution as our Founders meant it.

And here’s the man with all the answers, the hollow man, who has no doubts, who tells it like it is, who promises to set the clock back to that old time religion. It was good enough for Grandpa and it’s good enough for me.

That got me to sleep. Wake me up when it’s over.  

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