The speaking in a perpetual hyperbole is comely in nothing but in love.

Francis Bacon.[1]

 

[I don’t really spend a lot of time on the news these days, mostly because I see the domestic version, brought to us by our illustrious media personalities, as full of gossip, falsehoods, trivial events, and irrationalities. But even I noticed on Tuesday that our weather persons were predicting a catastrophic snowfall for the DC area and all points north, west and east. My particular area was supposed to get 8 to 14 inches on Wednesday, and people were so spooked that state and local governments shut down, the private company that picks up my trash told its people to stay home, and, of course, the federal government closed its offices.

So Wednesday was a peaceful day; no traffic jams, not much street noise, etc.; lots of weather coverage on the TV, but not much else in the way of news; and, good heavens, no snow! In my neighborhood we had a bit of slush in the morning and rain all day.  What happened?

Not being in the weather business, I don’t know. But the explanations were pretty funny. One group said that some people got snow; it just didn’t fall where we expected it. For some reason it missed the major population centers. Well, that’s certainly true, but it’s not really an explanation. Why did the weather people say there would be catastrophic snow in DC? Another “explanation” was that our climate model predicted snow, while the European one didn’t. That’s nice; so why didn’t we use the European model? A third story seems to be that the Europeans have better super computers than we do, so we ought to upgrade ours. Perhaps. Or perhaps we should just outsource weather prediction to Europe.  Wouldn’t that be simpler and less expensive? Apparently the Europeans already have the proper equipment.

But I think the real problem is even simpler, but it’s much harder to cure. The real problem lies with our media! Just look at our news coverage in the last three months or so. First we had the end of the world, supposedly predicted by the ancient Maya. (If you recall, that was supposed to have happened on December 21.) Then we had the Fiscal Cliff, scheduled to destroy our economy on January 1. That was a runaway metaphor that had reporters hopping around like crazy people. Then we had the Great Sequester, which would destroy us on March 1. And, to complete the destruction, the snow emergency that would bury us on March 6.

What am I saying? Simply that our media are in love with the Apocalypse, and until the real one comes along, any minor one will do. But love is a dangerous emotion, and can distort the mind.]

And that brings me to our quote for the day. It’s from Francis Bacon, a 16th and early 17th Century politician and philosopher.[2] Bacon was an important personage in his time. He was a high official in the Court of James, I, the first Stuart king, who succeeded Queen Elizabeth, the last Tudor.[3] Ultimately he became Attorney General, and then Lord Chancellor; but not too long after that he was tried and convicted of public corruption, fined and imprisoned. The imprisonment lasted only a few days, and the fine was remitted by the King; but nevertheless Bacon left public office and retired to his estates.

Bacon was a champion of the scientific method and is seen as an early founder of British Empiricism, a branch of the philosophy of knowledge[4] He also wrote books on religion, moral philosophy and the law. Reportedly he died of pneumonia, caught in 1626 while he was experimenting with preserving meat by freezing it (outdoors).[5]

His first book was a collection of essays, and the quote we started with is from the essay Of Love. [6] Bacon’s thesis was that love is important to the affairs of men. “Nuptial love” – he meant sex – makes babies, which perpetuates the race; and love of people in general – friendly love- makes one “humane and charitable;” but serial love affairs – wanton love – can be corrupting and embarrassing.[7] Serial affairs lead to too much irrational behavior. [8]

Why? Because when we’re in love we’re captivated by the object of our affections. The loved one is beautiful, and everything he or she does is important, amazing, intelligent, beyond reproach and so forth. It’s “as if man, made for the contemplation of heaven, and all noble objects, should do nothing but kneel before a little idol, and make himself a subject … of the eye; which was given him for higher purposes.”[9] In Bacon’s terms, generally we think in hyperbole about a loved one, and that makes us stupid.

It’s not good to uncritically admire somebody else.[10] If the admiration is mutual, then each person is fooling the other. There’s a kind of parity there, although not a clarity of thought. If one person is fooled – i.e., is in love – and the other is not, then the one not in love will feel “an inward and secret contempt” for the one who is, because the one in love is acting like a fool.

Do you need a modern example? A friend once told me that she was unlucky in her choice of men. Her last affair, she said, failed because she and the guy had only two things in common: they both loved him and hated her. She dropped him after a while, but only when he moved on to somebody else while still borrowing money from her. The mental fog lifted and she broke up with him as he walked away.

So why do I think our media personalities are in love? Well, think about it. Media people want, and need, always to look their best. And, as Francis Bacon instructs us, it’s not comely – not attractive – to over-hype things, to babble and chatter in hyperbole. So the only possible way to do it, and to still look attractive, is to fall in love. Otherwise they’d just look foolish (and ugly).

What do the media love? As I suggested earlier, not a person, but the Apocalypse. Or rather, the idea of an apocalypse. They kneel before that “little idol,” and make themselves subject to it. And unlike religious folks, who are waiting for only one Apocalypse at the End Times, the media chase after every possible one that comes down the road: The Mayan end of the world, the fiscal cliff, the Great Sequester, a record blizzard or whatever. They’ve had serial affairs with each, and will have with the next ones as well.

Oh, and one final thought. The next time disaster threatens, don’t expect an accurate report. People in love don’t have to be accurate.

QED.[11]


[1] You can find this in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (ODQ) (6th Edition, 2004) at Bacon, p. 44, n. 28. It’s from Bacon’s Essay Of Love. If you want an online version of the Essays, go to Google Books, at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=pgRzEXY9TA8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false If you want a free online copy in text format, see note 6.

[2] Actually, he lived from 1561 to 1626. Wikipedia has a pretty good, although incomplete biography of him. You can find it by searching “Francis Bacon” at the Wikipedia website, or by clicking here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon

[3] She was the last of the Tudors. Wikipedia has a pretty good, although incomplete entry on Elizabeth I. You can find it by searching “Elizabeth I of England” at the Wikipedia website, or by clicking here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England

[4] If you want a nifty discussion of him and his works, go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/francis-bacon/

[5] Wikipedia says this. The Stanford Encyclopedia says simply that “[h]e died in April 1626 of pneumonia after experiments with ice.”

[6] You also can find a free copy of the Essays at Project Guggenheim. Just go to: http://archive.org/stream/essaysoffrancisb00575gut/ebacn10.txt

[7] See the Essay Of Love at Google Books, note 1: “There is in man’s nature, a secret inclination and motion, towards love of others, which if it be not spent upon someone or a few, doth naturally spread itself towards many, and maketh men become humane and charitable; as it is seen sometime in friars.  Nuptial love maketh mankind; friendly love perfecteth it; but wanton love corrupteth, and embaseth it.”

[8] See the Essay Of Love at Google Books, note 1.

[9] See the Essay Of Love at Google Books, note 1.

[10] See the Essay Of Love at Google Books, note 1: “For there was never proud man thought so absurdly well of himself, as the lover doth of the person loved; and therefore it was well said, That it is impossible to love, and to be wise.”

[11] That’s an acronym for the Latin phrase quod erat demonstrandum which means, well, check it out in any internet dictionary.

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