A Meditation on Novelty

I’ve resumed commentary after a long hiatus, imposed not only by the preceding Lent but even more so by an exhausting work schedule. At the end of each day I spent so much time in front of a computer that the idea of leisure hours on electronic devices had little appeal. So I am gingerly making a foray back into blogging. Two readings that I sampled at random seem aptly suited to recent musings. The first is from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. As much as I’ve enjoyed that work over the years, I admit that this is one of my least favorite passages:

The task of the universal nature is to transfer things from one place to another, to change them, to lift them hence and take them yonder. All things are in process of change, so that novelty should not cause fear; all things are akin, and their distribution is, moreover, equalized (VIII.6).

We live in a world in which “change” is repeatedly over-hyped. Of course, change is a fact of our nature, and often beneficial and necessary; but so is continuity. Some cultures have gone to the extreme of preventing all development. A sense of permanency is important and even healthy (so long as it it does not devolve into nostalgia for its own sake). For related comments, see my post on Belloc and tradition. Apropos to a meditation on all that is new or trendy is this excerpt from Samuel Johnson’s essay on “The folly of creating artificial wants” (The Adventurer, No. 119):

To prize every thing according to its real use ought to be the aim of a rational being. There are few things which can much conduce to happiness, and, therefore, few things to be ardently desired. He that looks upon the business and bustle of the world, with the philosophy with which Socrates surveyed the fair at Athens, will turn away at last with his exclamation, “How many things are here which I do not want!”

As sages and saints realize, the desire for constant change is due to the limits of our being and our existential imperfection.

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