15. Without shivering in its shoes modern society bears down on its Second-Highest Good

In the attic, right under the roofridge, lay what had been piled up over years and wasn't needed for the time being. In case it might be of some use again.
For example: if you had forgotten how the straight thrust of a piston was translated into rotation, or vice versa, you just had to go and fetch the old steam engine from the attic and let it demonstrate this immensely useful transformation.
Last time he had seen it somewhere close to the Christmas tree decorations, in a plastic crate with a lid...
-Ruth, when did you last see the old steam engine?
-We gave it to the church jumble sale three or four years ago.
-Did we really? I had forgotten that altogether.
Harry couldn't help feeling a little crestfallen. Had the ancient knowledge of how to transform a combination of transversal and longitudinal action into pure rotation been locked up in one of the church's reliquaries as a consequence of that? It couldn't be that bad. He had a faint notion of how it should be done; the piston should be excentrically attached to a wheel, and the wheel had to have some inertia in order to be able to overcome some dead point on its own. He grabbed a pencil and sat down at the kitchen table in order to reinvent the flywheel of the steam engine. Watt, who had himself drawn on past achievements, wasn't likely to be offended, and besides the patent rights belonged to the past by now.

Still the thought troubled him a little; that abilities and insights might get lost. Worst of all was the possibility that you had become oblivious to the matter itself, had arrived at an impasse, where you couldn't even mention the missing thing by name. The Ancient Greeks had realized how things were, but you yourself weren't even capable of wording the issue. It could be taken for granted that the entire historical documentary soap was in some way collecting points and insights prior to the final round, and the finale might turn out in the shape of a domestic enquiry, where the assets stored in the attic would come in handy. Then, confronted with the vital question of the Highest Good - would the task be too much, would the flywheel of thought stand still because you had lost all contact with The Ancient Greeks?
'Simple as that', the opponent would answer (the customer that you would want most of all eliminated, voted off the team, crushed, annihilated). 'The Highest Good is Luxury, as was well known already to the Ancient Greeks.'
Again you had to bother your brain: wasn't it the Ancient Romans who possessed that patent? Wasn't there an Ancient Roman in the attic as well, in some corner? Damn, what if you had given away all your Highest Goods to the church's jumble sale! He must exhort Ruth: from now on nothing in the attic to the jumble sales, not a single thing.

In this particular case, the question was quickly and deftly settled in an ad break, confronting the television viewer with a jacuzzi super deluxe that could be purchased through thirty-six monthly payments, free of interest. The eye immediately discerned the origin in the thermae of Emperor Tiberius, no doubt about that: it was the Ancient Romans who had first seen through the nature of the Highest Good. From the centre of Rome the insight had dispersed to the periphery, with Holmbom's bath-tub as the Highest Good of Ultima Thule, the jacuzzi at the end of the world. In this rapid elucidation a moral was contained, a reason to keep up to date with the messages of advertising; it was always well grounded in philosophy, unerringly keeping the compass of the citizen directed towards the Highest Good.
Harry called to Ruth and Jenny, who were making sandwiches in the kitchen: 'We should get ourselves a piece of the Highest Good.'
'Then we would have reached the finale of history,' Jenny suggested.
'And what is the Highest Good? To be precise.'
'A jacuzzi. Free of interest, thirty-six monthly payments.'
There was silence in the kitchen.
'Don't forget the best!'
Harry deliberated and finally suggested: 'A jacuzzi heated with geothermal heat. Free of interest until you retire.'
'Hear, the man escalates when he feels the pressure! But he keeps forgetting the best,' Jenny repeated, swinging round a corner with the sandwiches on a tray.
'I heard that one before,' Harry muttered, squirming with uneasiness. 'It's an old chestnut.'
'But I haven't,' Ruth interposed. 'What is it that I haven't heard, and what is the best that shouldn't be forgotten?'
'It goes like this: Early one morning a poor woman was on her way to church with her child. It was her only child, and the child was her greatest treasure in life. On her way to church she passed by a mountain. When she got there she saw much to her astonishment that the mountain wall had split open; through the crack she could look into a large hall, full of sparkling gold, silver and gemstones. The woman said to herself: 'If I only had a little of what's in there, all my poverty would be over with.' Finally she took the child on her arm and entered the mountain. In there she heard a voice, inviting her to help herself from everything that was to her taste. But there wasn't much time, she had to be quick about it. First she scrabbled together all the gold that lay nearby. But suddenly she spotted something that she would rather have. She threw the gold aside and began scrabbling together anew. And again she all of a sudden spotted something that she would rather have, a third time she threw her loot away and began hastily collecting new treasures. Then the voice was heard again: 'Don't forget the best!' Was there anything else that she hadn't noticed? She looked around herself, and again she noticed something even more valuable. And again the voice was heard: 'Time is running out, don't forget the best!' She hurried out, and the mountain closed behind her with a loud rumbling. With her apron full of priceless treasures she turned around, when she was struck by the thought: 'I forgot my child!' The child had remained in the mountain. She had forgotten the best.'
'Hugh,' Ruth said quietly, she seemed to have lost her appetite for sandwiches.
'I know of three - four more profound versions,' Harry said. 'This one was very pedagogical, a genuine Jenny tall story, but hardly credible. I would see to it that children were not swilled out with the bathwater in my jacuzzi, bathing would be hedged in by strict precautionary measures.'
'I took the soapiest version I knew of, thinking of you, Harry.'

'You are right,' Harry said an hour later, when his subconscious had finished its reflection. 'We are blind to what is the best. I retract my suggestion; no jacuzzi for me.'
'No jacuzzi? What be-ed it instead?'
'If you consider what really motivates for purposeful effort and great personal sacrifice in this world, you realize that the highest good must be eighty virgins waiting for you in Paradise.'
'Oho,' Jenny said.
Ruth grabbed one of the remaining sandwiches and took a big bite. 'It seems phallocentric to me. I expect you to reserve eighty youths for me, for the sake of equality?'
Jenny raised her chin: 'You are right: Harry's prophet had an erection in his moment of death, and even after that. For my own part I must say that I wouldn't wear my ass out for eighty youths, not even if I got the jacuzzi into the bargain. It might be the result with eighty youths, or on them, but I would take no trouble for them, youths are barely human.'
Harry sighed, it might be more difficult to nail the Highest Good than he had imagined. He took a deep breath, like a weightlifter prior to a lift, and clasped his hands in front of himself: how would Per-Albin have attacked the subject? Per-Albin would have discarded the jacuzzi with burring "r's" and well-modulated vowels: If you are short of money, luxuries are the first things you stop buying. He blushed where he sat, this had not had a good start, he had taken it too lightly, maybe even misunderstanding the subject?
'Time is running out,' Jenny urged with her forefinger raised, 'and don't forget the best! I'm giving you a clue: Noblest is what is most just, and best is health; but sweetest is to win what you love!'
He opened his mouth to answer, but closed it again; under no circumstances did he intend to give her an opportunity to trot out the invented story about Per Albin and the eighty virgins.

We may presuppose, hypothetically, that Harry slept on the matter. There is no other way to explain how he - and all really gifted members of the guild of municipal politicians - managed to solve problems of the most intricate and repressed character overnight (or overday; the hours under the sun had their own species of dreaming). No doubt such a capacity was a great resource in modern politics, since its original contents, its constitutive issues about the distribution of social goods, had set like a sun under the horizon. Modern politics fumbled in a nocturnal darkness, where the only thing that could be vehemently and profoundly debated was the financing of the local samba festival. In such a state it was natural that dreams took over responsibility for the indispensable analysis, the one that elevates the species Homo sapiens above the rest of the nature. At six thirty on the following day, Harry had made up his mind about the Highest Good: 'The Highest Good is taken off the agenda. The justifiable ultimate goal for any attempt to reform society is the Second-Highest Good, and i can most definitely say that modern society bears down on its Second-Highest Good without shivering in its shoes.'
'And how did you arrive at that conclusion?' Jenny asked.
'By sleeping on the matter.'
'Once upon a time we copulated like rabbits, and it took the whole of Culture to press sexuality under the horizon and have us view it in dream pictures. The repression of politics obviously has advanced equally far today, if the reformist must seek in dreams the answers to the questions he dare not ask in broad daylight...'
'I strongly protest against your way of expressing yourself!' Harry objected. 'It was probably your presence that made me slip into this suspicious way of putting matters at all. Isn't "the highest good" a cover term, an alias for the highest entity, the one that the wavering ones call God? You know as well as I do that the Party removed all ambitions to the suspicious, historically compromised highest good long ago.'
'I would agree that the topic is a wee bit trite, but I can't help getting curious: what is this Second-Highest Good of yours that the Highest Good isn't, or maybe rather the reverse?'
Harry let his finger-tops meet and looked closely at them: 'From practical considerations, in order to obtain some sort of realism. The Highest Good is a limit, that can only be approximated. Our own real position relative to this is denoted by the concept: the Second-Highest Good.'

At intervals such outbursts emanated from Harry Jönsson's engine; the flywheel of his brain began to move, and while the meta fuel was burning beneath the boiler, the piston of thought hurled one proposition more breakneck than the other - and next the show was over as quick as it began, it was as if it never took place. It lay near at hand to think that Harry Jönsson the day or week before had built up an internal pressure by reading the "Nicomachean Ethics", and that the lecture had worked him up, but that wasn't the case; Harry had spent the greater part of the day in drawing up an action package against the vandalising of municipal schools. There was no evidence suggesting that he ever read as much a line in the "Nicomachean Ethics".
However, the reference to the Stagirite provides us with circumstantial evidence in support of a detectivic investigation of this renewed, modern attempt to approximate the Highest Good in the twenty-first century. Faithful to sophrosyne the Stagirite himself had defined the position of desirable virtue as a mean between overstrung and effete intention; with vague notions about modern differential calculus Harry on his part was compelled to let his virtú gradually approach some generally embraced standard, The National Standard of the Highest Good. Lest the young ones become entirely spoiled as grown-ups the Stagirite had furthermore advocated that education be organised by the antique municipality; on this point Harry's municipality had achieved some proximity to the ideal, since it was organising a kind of education. Unfortunately the corruption had at the same time moved downwards on the age scale, hence it could be said that the mean virtue of Stagirite brand was little changed.
A legitimate and well-founded criticism of Harry Jönsson no doubt had to set to work here: Harry had not met the claim for modernity in his analysis of the Highest Good. Factual evidence suggested that the established mean between corruption and moral perfection had been locked to one and the same level for more than two-thousand five-hundred years; such a deadlock should in fairness be described with quantum mechanics tools, and you had to reflect on the historical photon, that might strike and elevate the whole system to a level of higher moral excitation.

'Now I have a new tall story for Harry', said Jenny and immediately began her tale. 'Once upon a time there was a little man who went to the prime minister with a wish. 'Good day, good day, Master Prime Minister', he said and bowed. 'Good day, good day', said the prime minister, sitting behind a table counting money so that his eyes crossed. 'May I have a small piece of the Highest Good, that is my wish?', the little man asked. 'That will be all right', the prime minister answered. 'When can I have it?' 'On Saturday.' 'That's a good thing, Master Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Master Prime Minister. Goodbye, goodbye, Master Prime Minister.' And the little man went his way. When Saturday came, the little man went to the Prime Minister again. 'Good day, good day, Master Prime Minister, can i have my piece of the Highest Good?' 'Oh no.' 'Is it not ready yet? Why is that?' 'Oh yes, it be-ed not the Highest Good.' 'Oh, be-ed it not the Highest Good? What be-ed it then then?' 'It be-ed the golden mean between something and the Highest Good.' 'Oh, be-ed it the golden mean between something and the highest good? When will that be ready then?' 'On Saturday.' 'That's a good thing, Master Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Master Prime Minister. Goodbye, goodbye, Master Prime Minister.' And the little man went his way. When Saturday came, the little man went to the prime minister again. 'Good day, good day, Master Prime Minister, is the golden mean between something and the Highest Good ready?' 'Oh no.' 'Is it not ready yet? Why is that?' 'Oh yes, it be-ed no golden mean between something and the Highest Good.' 'Oh, be-ed it no golden mean between something and the Highest Good? What be-ed it then then?' 'It be-ed the golden mean between something and nothing.' 'Oh, be-ed it the golden mean between something and nothing. When will that be ready then?' 'On Saturday.' 'That's a good thing, Master Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Master Prime Minister. Goodbye, goodbye, Master Prime Minister.' And the little man went his way. When Saturday came, the little man went to the Prime Minister again. 'Good day, good day, Master Prime Minister, is the golden mean between something and nothing ready?' 'Oh no.' 'Is it not ready yet? Why is that?' 'Oh yes, it be-ed no golden mean between something and nothing.' 'Be-ed it no golden mean between something and nothing? What be-ed it then then?' 'It be-ed nothing.' 'Oh, be-ed it nothing? That's a good thing, Master Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Master Prime Minister. Goodbye, goodbye, Master Prime Minister.' And the little man went his way and never came back.'
'Hugh', Ruth said again, 'it was almost worse than yesterday's.'
'That's the death of politics: when the little man never comes back,' said Harry with a heavy sigh. 'I recognize this thing with the golden mean between something and nothing: that's bourgeois nihilism. But that will never touch the Party, mark my words! Anyway, I should be pleased that she did connect the question with the correct level; the Highest Good can never be the pigeon of the municipal petty pontiffs.'
After a while he added: 'I guess we agree that egoistic solutions to this question have no future? The careful weighing of the goods is an important part.'
'Do you need the last word, for once?' Jenny asked. 'Then I'll let you have it, this once.'
'Yes,' Harry answered, almost pleading. 'Let me have the last word, this once.'

18 kB, senast korrigerat 29.1.06, 27.11.08.

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