Very well. Fine. The convincing bugger has convinced us, not because he’s so convincing, but because our case is so hard – not to say impossible – to argue. I know that (she whined). I realize that, I understand that. But I also still say it doesn’t matter, at least not much. It’s still worth going on trying to make a case for the superiority of poetry over pushpin. Yes, that superiority is provisional and local – it’s a human superiority, not a superiority inscribed in the cosmos. It wouldn’t even convince other earthly mammals, let alone nameless entities in other galaxies. A giraffe would just think poetry is too short, and too close to the ground, and not spotted enough. A whale would think it’s too dry, and not fishy enough. What someone from the ninth planet out from Alpha Centauri would think, who knows. But since we are humans, and have human thoughts and tastes and opinions, we don’t care about that any more than giraffes care what we think of acacia leaves for dinner.
And there are all sorts of practical reasons for continuing to have the discussions, obviously. It’s how we decide what to include in literature classes, for instance. It’s how we decide what to read, what to check out of the library, what movies to go see, what to watch on tv, what to urge other people to read and watch and go see and listen to. It’s how we do anything at all, really. It’s how we choose. We don’t do it at random, not unless we have some mental quirk or other; we choose things and courses of action for a reason; we think one thing or act is better than another, and that’s why we want it or do it, or else why we think we ought to want it or do it even if we don’t quite manage. As Ovid’s Medea has it, in one of the few Latin tags I know – ‘Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor.’ I see the better and approve it, but I follow the worse.
Better and worse are simply human words, opinion words, in a way that there and not there, something and nothing, E=MC2 are not, quite. That giraffe, dinosaur, limestone, star, are not, quite. The words are what we call those things, but the things themselves are what they are even if we don’t exist and never have existed. Unless they’re not, of course; unless the evil demon has my brain in a vat and I’ve imagined all of it. But my bet is that if the evil demon were going to do that it would come up with a better brain in a vat than mine – that’s my refutation of the evil demon.
That’s enough of that frivolity. At any rate. Value judgments don’t have to be cosmic or absolute or permanent or trans-specific to be worth something, do they. The cosmos doesn’t mind if you pick your nose at the dining table, but I sure as hell do if I’m at the same table. The cosmos doesn’t care what entries we include in the Fashionable Dictionary and which ones we leave out – but the Dictionary’s authors do, as do its publishers and readers, so it is worth discussing and thinking about and weighing reasons for. A century now no one will care an atom whether I spent my life watching the Home Shopping Channel on tv or not – but I do. So there we are, stuck with our provisional value judgments. Whatever.