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Hyperagency: How Gargantua Reformed All of Paris


Nil admirari, a Roman maxim.

My soul, which in the contempt of this world seems to men as it were to die, shall live not to itself, but to him. Saint Augustine

Philanthropy is private action in a public space.  H. Peter Karoff.

Dr. Paul Schervish, head of the Boston College Center for Wealth and Philanthropy, speaks admiringly  of very wealthy people as "hyperagents" who by force of will, and force of money, can create the world they want, or realms within it, whether it be a corporation, a museum, a new church, or whatever it is that will constitute "life as we know it," for more ordinary mortals. Perhaps the earliest and still the most memorable of these hyperagents was Gargantua, the giant in Rabelais, here reforming all of Paris by simply unbuttoning his britches and letting loose a flood.

Some few days after that they had refreshed themselves, he went to see the city, and was beheld of everybody there with great admiration; for the people of Paris are so sottish, so badot, so foolish and fond by nature, that a juggler, a carrier of indulgences, a sumpter-horse, or mule with cymbals or tinkling bells, a blind fiddler in the middle of a cross lane, shall draw a greater confluence of people together than an evangelical preacher. And they pressed so hard upon him that he was constrained to rest himself upon the towers of Our Lady's Church. At which place, seeing so many about him, he said with a loud voice, I believe that these buzzards will have me to pay them here my welcome hither, and my Proficiat. It is but good reason. I will now give them their wine, but it shall be only in sport. Then smiling, he untied his fair braguette, and drawing out his mentul into the open air, he so bitterly all-to-bepissed them, that he drowned two hundred and sixty thousand, four hundred and eighteen, besides the women and little children. Some, nevertheless, of the company escaped this piss-flood by mere speed of foot, who, when they were at the higher end of the university, sweating, coughing, spitting, and out of breath, they began to swear and curse, some in good hot earnest, and others in jest.

The wisdom and moral imagination of Rabelais is well within Paul Schervish's range, as a former Jesuit, who undoubtably knows "contemptus mundi," the sin of vanity, and the risk of admiring earthly success without regard to the moral tenor of the larger than life personage. Yet, it is a matter of genre, and the decorum proper to discussing wealth. To write, "he so bitterly all-to-bepissed them, that he drowned two hundred and sixty thousand, four hundred and eighteen, besides the women and little children," in a discussion of giants, let alone hyperagents takes Rabelais, or one who works in his tradition, that of Diogenes, as Rabelais would agree. I would personally never write of a famous philanthropist "be-pissing" himself or herself, or all of Dallas, or New York, neither literally nor metaphorically, in a respectable blog like Gifthub. As a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, and a former apprentice Dungeon Master to the Stars in Wealth Bondage (The Garden of Earthly Delights), I like, Paul, the former Jesuit, now in charge of the Boston Center for Wealth and Philanthropy, maintain a higher tone. I, unlike Rabelais, one of the greatest moralists who ever lived, keep a civil tongue in my head. It is better for business.

The picture by Daumier, by the way, is of the King, represented as Gargantua, being fed by his admiring subjects. For this caricature the artist was imprisoned for six months, making my point about keeping our civic dialogs civil. Gargantua should have kept his fly buttoned, or if he did piss all over the people, Rabelais should have passed over the matter in silence. Some things are best done but not said.