“[L]et us cultivate our garden.” That’s how Voltaire ends his novella, Candide. Great advice, that, though academics argue that, instead of a peaceful resignation, Voltaire was instead using “gardening” as a metaphor for improving the world.
That kind of interpretation strikes me as absurd, but I’m no Voltaire scholar, nor do I want to be. I mean, heck, the guy supposedly once engaged in anal intercourse with another guy in order to see what it was like. When his partner eagerly suggested later that they do it again, Voltaire declined, saying, “Once, a philosopher. Twice, a sodomite.”
That line is pretty funny, but the background disturbing, hence my lack of eagerness to study Voltaire and form an educated opinion about whether Candide suggested that people cultivate their garden literally or “cultivate the garden of the world” (metaphorically), though I would add that Voltaire was a gardener.
I’ve adopted the literal meaning of Candide’s words. The world hasn’t been cruel to me like it was to Candide. Far from it. But I’m increasingly living in a world that makes no sense to me, and I’m done trying to figure it out.
Political discourse rarely interests me. Hollywood gossip bores me. Sporting events hold my attention as good as any pop culture event, but when I see the monstrosity that has become athletics, the entire arena baffles me, prompting me to go into shutdown mode, unable to muster much excitement. New technology is awfully cool, but the constant tinkering by the Apple nerds frustrates me. The stock market has become a fool’s game that no one can figure out, with evidence that it’s rigged. Popular economics is driven by belief that printing money produces prosperity, yet not a single popular journalist asks the obvious question: “Then why don’t we print a bunch of money and eliminate poverty?” Newspapers can’t be trusted.
Then there’s the garden. My plot of land, my efforts, my food. I can touch it, I can pick it, I can trust it. I can’t touch my money in a mutual fund statement, and I can’t even get it without giving 72 hours notice, and I can’t even know for sure that it’s there. Just ask the Madoff investors.
In the garden, I am reduced to my proper size. I can sense (touch, see, smell) as much as is proper to my station in life as a man: a single unit in a large world that escapes my grasp.
“Let us cultivate our gardens.” Wise words indeed, even if spoken by a man with a bizarre approach to finding truth.