As you probably know, Ashley Madison is the big adultery clearinghouse for men and women who have found that marital fidelity just isn’t a good fit. When that sweet honeymoon begins to sour, these restless hearts find the good algorithms at Ashley Madison ready and willing to bring lonely hearts together, not unlike like Yenta the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof.
Oh, Ashley Madison
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
Catch me a catch,
Oh, Ashley Madison
Look through your book,
And make me a perfect match.
Of course the book is in Ashley Madison’s case a digital database, but apart from that (and perhaps lingering bronze-age prejudices), it is easy to see that Ashley Madison is just Yenta’s up-to-date and enlightened daughter—a sort of eYenta for men and women who are suffering buyer’s remorse.
These thoughts are inspired by an advertisement that just popped up for my consideration. I don’t know why. Perhaps Google knows things that even I do not know about myself. Here it is:
Now there you see a face contorted with buyer’s remorse. She is not really an adulteress, but a woman who simply asks for second chance at love. And everyone knows that promises are hard to keep, especially to a schlub, and even more especially when you don’t have to.
But what really caught my eye—really, I’m not kidding—was the slogan “life is short.” Ah, yes, I thought. There it is, old mortality. The pathos of life’s evanescence has wrung poetry from the heart of man since he first had the powers of language and reflection. It has fired his religious imagination. And, as in the case at hand, it has in all ages been his go-to excuse for sin.
“It is in truth iniquity on high
To cheat our sentenced soles of aught they crave,
And mar the merriment as you and I
Fare on our long fool’s-errand to the grave.”
A. E. Housman, “The Chestnut Casts his Flambeaux,” in Last Poems (1922)
That each of us is faring on a “long fool’s errand to the grave” is what might be called the philosophic premise of Ashley Madison, just as it is the philosophic premise of all modernity. And this philosophic premise effects, as we see here, a marvelous transformation in the meaning of what Housman calls “iniquity on high,” changing it from the traditional notion of a sin against God (or Nature), to the modern notion of a sin against one’s self.
“My kingdom come, my will be done, on earth ’til I’m six feet under.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson called the premise of the long fool’s-errand the “low light of mortality,” and by this meant that it cast mortality in a false light. This false light was a sort of twilight in which truth and error were mixed. It is true, as Ashley Madison tells us, that “life is short,” but it is false, as Housman tells us (and Ashley Madison presupposes), that it is also “a long fool’s errand.” Viewed in the high noon-day light of, dare I say it, unadulterated truth, Tennyson believed the shortness of life meant something quite different than Housman or Ashley Madison would have us believe.
Something more like this:
“So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Psalm 90: 12.
Tennyson wrote the phrase “low light of mortality” in Aylmer’s Field, a long poem that he finished in 1863, under the shadow of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which had been published only four years before. It is set in a passage alluding to the state of the world on the eve of the great Deluge of God’s wrath, from which only Noah and his family were saved. Here is how it goes:
“When since had flood, fire, earthquake, thunder, wrought
Such waste and havoc as the idolatries,
Which from the low light of mortality
Shot up their shadows to the Heaven of Heavens,
And worshipt their own darkness as the Highest.”
Tennyson is telling us that, when mortality is viewed in the low light of “a long fool’s errand,” men fall into idolatry, and in this darkness do not stint their “sentenced soles of aught they crave.” Given half a chance, they will even log on to Ashley Madison because life is short!
“Crown thyself, worm, and worship thine own lusts!”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Aylmer’s Field (1863)