Saturday, April 26, 2008


Over the last seven weeks, I have been thinking about this year and the number seven. No, this is not a paean to numerology or some sort of alchemical code. But I have been thinking about an eternal city founded on seven hills, seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and seven brothers who bicker but who each have a power that will help the rest.

It was last year that the head of my order in the Family said that we were seven brothers, seven scholae, seven pillars of an ancient mission in a dark and weary land. He intimated that the pillars should bear an equal burden, that no one pillar, no matter how central, should act as if the rest were less worthy. There are always main pillars, but no single pillar can bear the burden alone.

It put me in mind of an old Chinese tale, as usual set in that semi-mythical age of Qin Shi Huang, the mighty unifier and autocrat of China. The tale I refer to is that of a number of brothers, commonly five, sometimes seven. The theme of seven brothers can be found in Finland, Britain, Eastern Europe, Africa, and other places far afield. Each brother has a special ability, a superhuman power such as the capacity to drink up the sea or to be as hard as iron. The powers vary from place to place, but the story often revolves around a threat which attempts to eliminate the 'weaker brothers'. The strongest brother feels immune to this threat, and this makes him remain aloof while the rest get into difficulties. Fortunately, he himself gets into trouble, and it is only a combined effort by the rest, with the proper use of his own considerable power, which saves the whole bunch.

Such stories inspire me. There are some people who do not care for myth, for the power of symbol and the real working-out of symbolic forces in the world. They do not see beyond the limited walls and horizons of the immediate and quotidian. But these symbols and the forces they represent are real and potent. It is our duty to use them, to wield them, to demand the truth from them. As an article in today's newspapers pointed out, if you do not define yourself in all the dimensions of the world, the world will define you.

Yes, it will. And it will also force you to conform to its pattern, against the call of the higher things. By the time you realise that you have been twisted into its image, you will be playing its game as if it is the only one you can play. How, then, are the mighty fallen! Like Nebuchadnezzar, who lost his mind but retained his crown for a while, we must be careful about the gilded symbols that we elevate in stature, in favour with our gods and our men, but of specious value in all our life hereafter.

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Blogger le radical galoisien said...

Unrelated comment here, but it's rather urgent ...

How much money do you think one should pay for an undergraduate education? How much debt would you be willing to pay? That is, faced with decreasing marginal utility, at what point (or what school) does MB < MC?

I need to make a decision by May 1, and I'm trying to ask everyone I know what they think. Apparently the financial aid office at UVA says I need to send an *updated* green card to get my application processed (it expired 12/9/07 and we've been kind of procrastinating on renewing since renewing is amazingly expensive and we've had no time to collect bank statements and other documents for a fee waiver; it's more onerous than filing US tax returns. -_-). Since our family will only be able to pay 5k USD a year, do you think 20k USD of debt is worth four years at Mr Jefferson's school? 40k? 60k? (The maximum liability is [27k out-of-state tuition + 10k housing expenses]*4 = 148k but I'm hoping the financial aid office won't be *that* cruel.)

In your experience, how much do work-study and non-spectacular scholarships offset debt?

Do you think I should just skip all of this and apply back to NUS? That certainly has high MB/MC but I'm not sure if TB-TC is less. :(

Here's to a life-changing decision in five days! And it's currently vacation so I won't have access to my counselor until two days. If anyone older and wiser than me can give my advice it would be much appreciated!

Sunday, April 27, 2008 2:07:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

I sent you a reply. *grin*

Monday, April 28, 2008 5:52:00 pm  

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