April 24, 2007

Chaucer Tuesday

The more I hear about carbon offsets, toilet paper conservation, and other schemes that Our Betters have devised for saving the planet while they continue to purchase palatial manses and jet hither and thither on private planes, the more I am reminded of this fellow:

But of his craft, fro Berwyk into Ware,
Ne was ther swich another pardoner
For in his malebag he hadde a pilwe-beer,
Which that he seyde was Oure Lady Veyl:
He seyde he hadde a gobetpiece of the seyl
That Seint Peter hadde, whan that he wente
Upon the see, til Jhesu Crist hym hente.
He hadde a croys of latoun ful of stones,
And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.
But with thise relikes, whan that he fond
A povre person dwellynge upon lond,
Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye
Than that the person gat in monthes tweye;
And thus, with feyned flaterye and japes,
He made the person and the peple his apes.
But trewely to tellen atte laste,
He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste.

The Pardoner is Chaucer's most contemptible character. I think he'd be right at home among the wealthy greenies, selling fake peace of mind to folks whose talents lie more along the "talking a good game" end of the environmental spectrum.

And I have to admit I'd have a good old-fashioned schadenfreude moment while watching a hypocrite fleece other hypocrites. I wonder if the modern-day Pardoner would make the pilgrimage to Canterbury in a private jet?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at April 24, 2007 11:43 AM
Comments

Yes, but - he'd jet into some private strip, then rent a hybrid or take public transport, whichever would maximize his exposure to the "povre person" class, aka you and me.

Whew - thanks for the Chaucerian moment. "Whan that Aprille with his shouwres sweete.." My teenager never fails to eye-roll when I crank into that, and I just laugh and laugh, 'cause I know what's coming (to her, in English class - bwahahaha). Cheers! (or, perhaps, "teehee, quod she, and clapt the window to")

Posted by: Sheryl at April 24, 2007 01:45 PM

In the spirit of healthy debate, I wonder: is your main problem, like George Will, that wealthy people like Ben & Jerry use a lot of gas to transport their organic ice cream to their stores (for example), and that makes them unworthy spokesmen for the Earth and for conserving our resources?

Ok, I get that. But then who will be the environmental educators? Who will help us change our emissions laws and reduce our pollutants and waste, and calm our material excess? We have to rely - a lot - on people who are imperfect to educate us. We as humans have always had to depend on sinners and egoists to lead us to a better path. It's just the way it is, isn't it?

I do think that a more environmental way of life and less resource-sucking lifestyle for this country is the better path, don't you?

Posted by: Belle at April 24, 2007 04:13 PM

Belle -

What offends me is not that humanity is imperfect, nor is it the fact that we should all be good stewards of our earth - both very proper medieval points of view, by the way. But there is a distinction to be made between honest folks who try to do the right thing but are tripped up by human flaws and those who preen and posture and preach with little regard to what the words they're saying actually mean.

I know that reality means that resources must be used in order for us to live: obviously Ben and Jerry have to transport their products, and barring the sudden invention of the teleporter, their means are proscribed by the reality we live in. So I guess I'm not doing the George Will thing.

The offensive part--to me--is the blatant hypocrisy of those who preach the green religion but don't practice it--which is what Chaucer was pointing out about the Pardoner.

The Pardoner, as Chaucer says, was truly a "noble ecclesiast," in that his sermons were well-crafted and moral. The Pardoner's Tale is a cautionary one about greed--a very good sermon. However, I think that by putting this moral tale in the mouth of a greedy trickster and rogue Chaucer is also making us wonder if sermons lose effectiveness when delivered by unrepentant hypocrites. I think they do.

When people whose entire lifestyles are built upon conspicuous consumption start telling me to only use one square of toilet paper, or to stop using my dryer when their entire contribution to the effort is the purchase of a Prius, I'm right to bristle. "Do as I say not as I do" loses people followers, whether the ones preaching it are at the PTL Club or at an Earth Day event.

And don't get me started on the purchase of carbon offsets, which is what started this whole comparison in the first place. Because if you're all about the conspicuous consumption, you've got the cash to buy the offsets, or pardons, that allow you to continue sinning--as long as the checks keep coming. The hoi polloi aren't stupid. They see this stuff for what it is and react accordingly, by pointing, laughing, and turning away.

Posted by: BAW at April 24, 2007 04:51 PM

There are a few celebrity-types who seem to try harder to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Ed Begley Jr. comes to mind, but of course his name isn't as recognizable as Sheryl Crow. But I am always flabbergasted by how so much of the time Those-Who-Would-Dictate-Our-Lives are completely clueless about their own gargantuan failings.

I'm perfectly willing to do reasonable things (like recycling, using flourescent bulbs, etc.) to cut down my negative impact on the planet, but I bristle when some self-righteous celebrity of the moment makes a sweeping--and often ill-informed--statement designed more to stoke their ego than actually make any kind of difference.

Posted by: dhanson at April 24, 2007 05:54 PM

There are a few celebrity-types who seem to try harder to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Ed Begley Jr. comes to mind, but of course his name isn't as recognizable as Sheryl Crow. But I am always flabbergasted by how so much of the time Those-Who-Would-Dictate-Our-Lives are completely clueless about their own gargantuan failings.

I'm perfectly willing to do reasonable things (like recycling, using flourescent bulbs, etc.) to cut down my negative impact on the planet, but I bristle when some self-righteous celebrity of the moment makes a sweeping--and often ill-informed--statement designed more to stoke their ego than actually make any kind of difference.

Posted by: dhanson at April 24, 2007 05:54 PM

Oops. Sorry for the double post. I guess that was a waste of precious resources.

Posted by: dhanson at April 24, 2007 05:56 PM

Not to mention the irritatingly smug and false sense that celebrities get that they are somehow "educating" the public. Is there anyone in the world who hadn't heard of global warming before Sheryl Crow decided to gift us with her superior enlightenment? The vainglory of some of these people is positively astounding.

Posted by: Emily at April 24, 2007 07:28 PM

A smart blogger I know once had the following to say about (or actually quote from) Hypocracy:

"I mean, disdain for me is cool. We all want to be better than we are, and we should be bummed out when we turn out to suck. But by myself, I'm not the root of all evil. I'm really more of a poignant commentary on the fallen nature of humanity."

"Please try to keep that distinction in mind. Thanks."

Posted by: Poppleton at April 24, 2007 10:12 PM

And that one-square of toilet paper is a joke as old as the hills. It was an old joke on penny-pinching immigrants when my boss, who grew up in the postwar Bronx, told it to me twenty years ago.

And my grandmother, who grew up on a farm in Vermont, used to go on binges of use-it-up/wear-it-out activity (beyond and above her regular binges). Once she became a fan of washing your parts with a washcloth after number one and two, instead of using toilet paper. But this didn't last long... I think she got hold of some bad meatloaf or something one day, and that was that.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at April 25, 2007 07:18 PM

Andrea -

Ew. On a related TMI note, we're quite happy with the Cottonelle Kids wet wipes. Bonus - you only have to use one!

Poppleton -

I'm hoping I did keep that distinction in mind in the comment corrollary above, but perhaps not clearly? Forgive me - not thinking straight. See post above.

Posted by: BAW at April 25, 2007 10:29 PM

BAW, I do think you kept the distinction in mind -- sorry if by quoting your prior post without elaborating I suggested otherwise. If anything I felt the earlier "Hypocracy" post provided further illumination of your twin points -- a) that by pure logic and common sense a flawed messenger can deliver a sound message; but b) sending a message through an obviously hypocritical messenger is counterproductive (and sometimes annoying as hell).

Posted by: Poppleton at April 26, 2007 10:57 AM