YANA DJIN

LETTERS FROM AMERICA

yana djin

HAM OR HEMLOCK?

Moscow News

March, 2002


         It is Easter  Sunday. I am sitting in one of the numerous Starbucks in one of the numerous Washington suburbs which could be differentiated from another only by its name. The vista spread out before me leaves much even to our imagination, cluttered with objects and subjects that are not necessary, yet made ubiquitous by repetition, an ideal more steadfast and contagious than any proposed by the Saviour whose resurrection is celebrated today. 
         Before me I see a concrete slab of a parking lot and attached to it are brand name stores (Safeway supermarket, CVS drugstore, Dalton’s Bookstore), symbols of American daily life that are designed to instill in their visitors the air of self-satisfaction and fulfillment. It is no small consolation that today is a rainy, chilly day whose grayness subdues the near-frenzied passengers of the now-also-ubiquitous SUV’s trying to squeeze their rather fat behinds into an available parking spot. The frenzy is easily explained: today is a holiday, or a holy day, depending on your temperament, and as such it must be distinguished with the consumption of fantastic amount of food, preferably of the kind that was once alive and walked on four legs. 
        Every country has its own tradition of devouring animals: the Turks, for example, prefer to express their joy by slaughtering sheep, the English prefer to boil parts of cows and talk of weather or the Royal family as they commemorate the Almighty, the French are more inclined to creatures that once had tentacles. We in America are partial to pigs. Easter Sunday is when the most quantity of ham is consumed in a single day in the country of plenty. The near-frenzied SUV drivers are undoubtedly emergency shopping for another can of pickled pork to feed an  unexpected Christian visitor: hence their rush and frustration. 
        We are all in a hurry to get to heaven on turkey wings and pig’s feet. I believe that their enthusiasm is futile, for if Jesus did rise from the dead, why would he come back to Earth when there are so many other planets where he would be more at home if only because there  he could live in anonymity? The answer is that he would not, for as soon as he reappears on these shores, he would be immediately booked on the Oprah Winfrey show, where its plump host would heartbreakingly beg the Messiah to divulge his secret of maintaining a slim figure and happy disposition for her curious audience, primarily consisting of bored housewives and prison inmates. The ratings will skyrocket and if Jesus decides to sell out, he would die not as the poor Jew sprawled on the cross, but in Beverly Hills mansion surrounded by blond nymphets who would abandon him only for a personal trainer. Not exactly your regular “Magdalenes” but not as demanding either. 
       The trouble with Christ was, that like most revolutionaries, he suffered from the lack of self-irony and he took that “LOVE” fixation of his much too far. Our former president Clinton could have taught him a lesson or two in survival: after a humiliating encounter with an intern who also had very little in common with Magdalene, he is touring around the country and collecting $100000 for each speech. What did Christ get for the sermon of the Mount? Just some sarcastic remarks from ill-smelling fishermen. What Jesus needed was for a happy and long life was an PR agent and the reckless, zealous Judas didn’t do the trick: he just didn’t have the required managerial acumen.
       Come to think of it, Jesus was not the only one of the great men of history who lacked managerial skills. Take Socrates, for example. Granted, there are no holidays commemorating this great Athenian, - but do not despair! - these days we have Socrates’ societies and cafes multiplying in America with the speed of suicide bombers. Today’s trained philosophers, tired of the bland and isolated academia, are reaching out to the people, or as our current president, G.W., likes to refer to them, the “simple folks” and are rearranging the face of philosophy both literally and figuratively. 
        The brilliant idea of introducing the likes of Socrates and Nietzsche into the daily lives of suburban dwellers, who never even suspected of the emptiness of their existence, first came to a Dutch-born philosopher, Jos Kessels. Kessels was motivated, no doubt, by the emptiness of his pockets and in order to fill them up decided to call himself a “dialogue consultant” and convince the unsuspecting masses of the emptiness of their brains and souls. His first, major money making venture consisted in bringing the Socratic method  to the Amsterdam sewage company which suffered financially due to diversity of opinion. 
        Being a true follower of the great philosopher, Kessels found a way to unify the hearts of the sewage company’s mid-management with a single slogan: “More reflection, less argument, less money down the drain!” I say, move over Plato! Socrates has got a new disciple truly worthy of his teachings and his death. Philosophy is finally becoming fashionable and useful here; naturally, mild alterations of biographies and teachings of the great philosophers are to be expected if we are to offer them up, along with pickled ham, for the consumption of “simple folks”. Thus, a recent seminar on Nietzsche, held in a New York caf? and costing $100 a pop, resulted in a somewhat disgruntled customer of female persuasion. She demanded her money back as soon as she learned that the legendary German recommended “to carry a whip” each time one visits a woman. She was later reassured that Nietzsche had his sadomasochistic, Russian lover, Lou-Salome, in mind, not the truth-searching and self-assured woman as herself with whom the philosopher would have undoubtedly preferred to discuss the fate of morality. 
        Countless books are being written on the subject by philosophical entrepreneurs, the most famous of them being Alain De Botton, whose “How Proust Can Change Your Life” and “Consolation of Philosophy” were on a bestsellers list for weeks. Personally, I believe De Botton is to philosophy what Bic Mac is to fine dining, although his book on Proust did awaken the frenzy for madelines (Proust’s favorite cookies)  among the local yuppies. For curiosity’s sake, I visited one of these philosophy caf? seminars on the Internet where virtual philosophers gathered to deliberate on the following topic: Egoism or Altruism? A woman from Ohio had the following dilemma: would Socrates approve if she sends her ailing mother to a nursing home to finish off her days? Most virtual giants of thought replied that Socrates, being logical and pliant, would vote for getting rid of the old hag. I couldn’t resist but to write: “Hemlock, anyone?”

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