The Known Versus The Unknown

On Thursday the people of Scotland will vote on whether to dissolve their ties with England and become an independent nation.  After an early history of bloody wars, Scotland and England settled their differences and have been part of the United Kingdom for 307 years.  All of that could end on Thursday if the Scots vote yes, and emotions are running high on both sides of the referendum campaign.

As part of the United Kingdom, the Scots have experienced the glory of being part of the world’s most powerful nation and won two world wars, but many of them are chafing under the restrictions that come from the current arrangement, where Scottish aspirations might be subjugated to the votes of the English.  Independence, and a sovereign nation that will consider only Scottish interests, therefore is a tantalizing prospect.

But there are risks in independence — and opponents of a yes vote are describing those risks in gory detail.  Major players in the Scottish financial industry, like RBS, have indicated that they will relocate in the event of a yes vote, and supporters of a continued United Kingdom argue that a yes vote will hurt Scottish universities and — horrors! — the Scottish whiskey industry.

The key question raised by opponents of independence is whether Scotland’s economy is sufficiently large to hold its own on the world stage, or whether its budget would be out of balance, interests rates would rise, and businesses and academic brainpower would flee the country.  Proponents of independence say that such concerns are simply scare tactics ginned up by the English, who fear how they will fare, economically and politically, if they are forced to go it alone.  Would an independent Scotland struggle — as has been the case in Iceland and Ireland — or would it be a sturdy economic engine like Switzerland?

Of course, it’s impossible to say what the future holds — so the vote boils down to a classic choice between the known and the unknown, comfort and risk, old and new.  Scotland’s great poet, Robert Burns, spoke of fear of the unknown in the first stanza of his poem A Prayer in the Prospect of Death:

O THOU unknown, Almighty Cause
Of all my hope and fear!
In whose dread presence, ere an hour,
Perhaps I must appear!

We’ll find out whether the Scots elect the known, or the unknown, on Thursday.  People throughout the United Kingdom are holding their breath.

Vegetable Week: The Cultural Impact

Another way to assess the value of vegetables versus meats is to look at their impact on our culture. In that regard, vegetables fare very poorly indeed. Many of our holidays revolve around preparing and eating a traditional meat dish, such as the Thanksgiving turkey. If you go to a baseball game, you have a hot dog. The characters in American Graffiti keep returning to a particular hamburger stand that is the locus of their cruising activities. In America, there is an entire genre of restaurants — the steakhouse — that celebrates meat consumption by featuring particular cuts of beef and, typically, oversized portions. There is, of course, nothing comparable on vegetable side. People don’t eat a beet at a hockey game, or feast on the broccoli casserole at Christmas, or hang out at the fava bean palace on a Friday night.

Of course, another way to measure cultural impact is to consider poetry, and literature, and song. In these categories, too, meat blows vegetables out of the water. Consider:

But man is a carnivorous production
And must have meals – at least once a day;
He cannot live, like woodcocks, upon suction,
But, like the shark and tiger, must have prey.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)
‘Don Juan’ (1821)

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Robert Burns

And then there is Shakespeare:

‘Brutus’ will start a spirit as soon as ‘Caesar’
Now in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great?

Julius Caesar, Act I, sc. 2, l. 146

And, as to song, I give you Tom Waits: