If you’re like me, then you must cringe on hearing some famous and pompous airhead, carried away by a magnificent natural setting or site of historical importance, such as the Atlantic Ocean or the Lincoln Memorial, sound off as if they were at least partly responsible for the view or site, that they somehow are one with it or have the keenest eye to appreciate it, or that they have been chosen, of all humanity, to comprehend its true meaning. For example, here is an internationally renowned, culturally imbued blowhard on a visit to Rome explaining the ancient Roman Senate to us plebeians:
“I reflect on the follies of the ancients, whose foibles and weaknesses we replicate in our own political foolishness. The pseudo-Roman columns in Washington are the sign of the ruins we shall become if we continue down our present path of…” etc., etc. I hesitate to name the actual windbag who said this, primarily since after many years I can’t find the actual quote and am only guessing at the correct words. But what the hell, it was the late, somewhat lamented Gore Vidal, essayist and novelist and pundit, sometime back in the 1960s, if memory serves, well before he became a 9-11 truther and wrote the impenetrable brick of a novel Creation.
And here’s another self-important buffoon as he gazes down thoughtfully on a world made small by his location, i.e., onboard a transcontinental flight. “Here in my window seat, 30,000 feet over the blue Atlantic (where I approach being in my natural Olympian element), I ponder our infinitesimal size and the insignificance of our lives and actions. Can a creature so small as Man yet achieve work of moral and spiritual importance? As a creative artist I endeavor…” etc., etc. Again, I know the man who inspired me to write the above precis, but I can’t find his original words now that years have gone by since I read them, and I hesitate to attribute to him my own in case I fail to do him justice. But why quibble, it was film producer Spike Lee, in the introduction to some piece of his writing or other. The original version by Mr. Lee dates from around 1990, I believe, years before the filmmaker began leaking the home addresses of his political adversaries and complaining about the authenticity of other filmmakers. But I bet he was always pretty much that way.
I bring up Vidal and Lee not because I have some grudge against artists, curmudgeons though some of them were and are, but because they are prime examples of how an inspiring setting can bring out the tendency in us to become godlike and all-knowing and so above the rest of the world’s all-too-ordinary and much lesser mortals. I surmise, in fact, that it’s part of everyday life that we citizens, no matter how humble, feel exalted when confronted with a pleasant view or some manmade structure a bit out of the ordinary, and that’s all it takes for us to sound off on our personal greatness. The following examples will show a common train of thought even in us non-intellectuals.
Some blowhard bascart collector on the parking lot of a supermarket: “Here on the acre-wide lot I ponder the countless bascarts, symbols of Humanity’s Great Hunger. Is it not folly to presume that even 10% off coupons on bread and milk issued daily will stave off eventual privation of the teeming masses? True, there are gallons of Coke products on the shelves, enough to fill Lake Erie. But does that provide nutriment? With humility and I hope grace I perform my small part, gathering and lining up the shopping carts…” etc., etc.
A monomaniacal waste removal driver, on seeing the landfill around the bend: “Here in the driver’s seat of my mighty collection truck, an engineer’s marvel of conveyance and crushing capacity (suitable to a Herculean stable-cleaner like myself), I contemplate the mountain of refuse up ahead, bigger this year than last, destined to grow bigger still. Does it portend progress, the throwing off of the old and outmoded for the new and improved? Or does it signify wastefulness and overabundance? With a fetid breeze in my nose, I surmise…” etc., etc.
A self-important above-ground swimming pool salesman: “I stand awestruck by the crystalline 10-foot depth and 60-foot circumference of our most popular pool this summer, The Great Cooler, on display now at Bob’s Pools, off First Street downtown. Can there be a better symbol of the Pursuit of Happiness than this bright, placid surface, this personal reservoir of fun? I despair for those who bypass this bargain and go down the street to our competitor, Jake’s Pools, which hardly represent the American Dream…” etc., etc.
A grandiose dental technician: “With a bank of modern drilling and rinsing and imaging devices before me, I disdain the bright white smiles that mask the carious mouth and belie the need for serious root canal work and filling replacement. Altogether that’s thousands upon thousands of whitened teeth, even millions of them, at risk. I abjure facile mouthwashes when fluoride treatment is indicated, nor do I neglect sensitive gums. My client may only be interested in appearance, but I say, periodontal procedures are essential if we are to…” etc., etc.
A full-of-it Highway Department rest stop custodian: “Here in a park-like setting in central Ohio, I ponder the infinite ribbon of highway as it rolls east and west. And what of the millions of cars upon said ribbon that require timely oil changes? Does a man need to travel from sea to shining sea just to extend his carbon footprint? You cannot, the Greek said, step into the same river twice. But you can flush all my toilets twice so long as you don’t dump garbage in them, and that means…” etc., etc.
Anyway you see the picture. Give anyone at all a place to stand and he’ll move the earth, or at least think he can.