“Faustian man has become the slave of his creation . . . . The arrangements of life as he lives it have been driven by the machine onto a path where there is no standing still and no turning back.”
Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, vol. 2 (1922)
You may have seen photographs of the Ector County SWAT team besieging Big Daddy Zane’s saloon in West Odessa, Texas. The Ector County SWAT team besieged Big Daddy Zane’s because Big Daddy Zane was pouring drinks in defiance of the statewide shutdown, and a gaggle of protestors, some of them armed, were accomplishing nothing in particular in a vacant lot behind the saloon.
Here is one of the photographs.
The first thing one notices is, of course, the paunch of the commandos. I do not say this in mockery. Gluttony invites mockery because it is the most conspicuous sin. And gluttony is, I’m afraid, especially conspicuous in the lower classes because their gustatory excesses are excesses of quantity, not quality. But overeating is not more sinful than overnice eating, for the gourmand and gourmet are afflicted with the same spiritual disease.
“Their various cares in one great point combine
The business of their lives—that is to dine.”*
Gluttony is a spiritual disease because, as the poet tells us, excesses in one facet of life require delinquency in all its other facets. A man who makes eating the business of his life must squander his time, money and cerebration on eating, and consequently slight and neglect all his other business. I will turn this into an aphorism and say,
A well-rounded man cannot be a well-rounded man.
But as I said, I have not set fingertips to keyboard to mock the obesity of the American proletariat. A high-class gourmet also squanders time, money and cerebration on the pleasures of the table, and, as a moral delinquent, differs from the gourmand only in the fact that he is
“A hog by Epicurus fed.”**
I have set my fingers to keyboard to remark that our sweet land of liberty appears to have become the sweet land of gluttony, with gourmands and gourmets chowing down, ad libitum, from sea to shining sea. Indeed it appears we have become Joseph Hall’s Crapulia, the fabled land of Inebriate Excess, where “the men are thick and fat to a miracle; nor will anyone salute another whose chin does not come to the middle of his breast, and his paunch falls to his knees.”***
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The armored personnel carrier behind which these two SWAT deputies are sheltering is, needless to say, far more formidable than the sheltering deputies themselves. Indeed the interest of the photograph lies in the contrast between this fearsome juggernaut and the fearful jackanapes. Again, I do not call these two men jackanapes in mockery, for I suspect that I am a much a jackanapes as they, and I suspect that the same might be said of you.
Jackanapes was originally the name for a trained monkey (“jack, an ape”), and became by extension the name for a conceited fool who is dressed up and pretending to be something he is not. A jackanapes is a man who has gotten above himself and begun to believe his own pretensions, rather as a trained monkey might imagine he is a man because he wears a cap and jacket
Rather as a chubby sheriff’s deputy might imagine he is a commando because he rides in a juggernaut.
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And thus it is that machines make monkeys of us all. They give us pretensions by making us feel much bigger than we actually are, while they at the same time give us paunches by making us grow much bigger than we actually ought to be.
*) Edward Young, “The Love of Fame” (1725-1728)
**) Horace, “Letter to Albius Tibullus” (20 B.C.), trans. Phillip Francis (1743)
***) Joseph Hall, Mundus Alter Et Idem (The Other and Same World) (1607)