|Some years ago, Ms
Keogh, my more significant other, and I went into
Manhattan to meet folks with whom I have been
communicating via the Internet. For the first time I
would meet face-to-face people I only knew from their
words appearing in pixels on monitors. Now some of us
from that virtual café would meet in a real bar.
It was our first visit to the Dublin House, an old
resident of the upper West Side, a narrow bar wedged
between shops and stretching back away from the
street. It was not a bad place. It wasn't the sci-fi
fantasy décor of yuppie watering holes where mixed
drinks are served in exotic glassware. A bit dingy,
the Dublin House had the familiar greeting of stale
beer and cigarette smoke absorbed into the
wainscoting. It felt familiar. I had many times
philosophized and drank in similar places during my
young adulthood. The Guinness and Bass were good and
decency was shown in the way they priced the drinks.
We made our way to the backroom, through the narrow
passage between tables and a long bar, squeezing by a
jukebox and an outcrop of wall. We entered the
backroom and saw for the first time a particular
group of faces which might have been the people we
were looking for. When I detected that they were
talking enthusiastically about literature and not
sports, I knew it to be them. And there was Nick
among them, the only participant with whom I have had
the pleasure of spending time prior to this
gathering. Introductions to the rest were quick. Ms
Keogh and I were instantly sucked into two or three
ongoing debates and sharing their cigarettes.
The evening raced along with fascinating
conversations. It was, however, years ago and while I
remember the conversations being fascinating, I don't
remember all the conversations well. With Steve I
argued economic philosophy. He was seeing American
consumerism as all bad, too much greed and gluttony
dressing up a hollow spiritual core. (I disagreed,
but only to the extent of the problem. Consumerism
can also be a means for redistributing the wealth and
defusing potential revolution.) Jennifer described
the hardships of being married to a successful chef
at a prominent hotel; he is never home on weekends
and is expected to work all the important holidays.
Jordanne discussed her research into eyesight, how
the loss of the ozone layer was allowing more harmful
rays to reach the planet's surface and damaging our
vision. Any conversation with Nick might entail
music, history, Latin, politics, beer, aesthetics,
and the weather all within the first bursting
Among the different conversations, there is one in
particular I intend to relate here, and mostly
recalling my end of it. It was on this occasion that
I met Stanley, the young pastor of a Presbyterian
church, its congregation having a very long pedigree.
I introduced myself as an Atheist, a Peripatetic
Minister of Secular Humanism, and we hit it off,
plumbing each other's spiritual depths, discussing
the influences on our spiritual beliefs. Being an
Atheist does not mean I don't take religious matters
seriously. It remains heartwarming when I can find
moral and ethical affinity between me and someone who
is a member of the clergy.
I mentioned Kierkegaard and he thumped his chest to
indicate how fond he was of the Danish philosopher.
Kierkegaard had had a profound affect on him. I
thought I had read Kierkegaard, but as Stanley talked
about him I became lost. Later I would realize I had
read "about" Kierkegaard and that a
particular book I thought was written by Kierkegaard
was in fact written by Paul Tillich.
Stanley was very curious as to how I resolved
problems of good and evil, right and wrong. He asked
me if I believed in sin. I went into my spiel. I had
rehearsed this subject with plenty of others before
and was not afraid to advance my opinion to an
authority. I told Stanley that I believed there is
only one sin. I was calling it
"egocentrism", yet the word falls short of
the whole. What is needed is a new word that would
include egocentrism and chauvinism. I believe all
other sins are a variation of this one, egocentrism.
Stanley was struck by my conclusions and confessed he
was inclined to the very same belief. Indeed by the
evening's end we would discover we had much in
common, share the same morality, and differ only in a
belief in God.
I told Stanley that night that I did not propose we
deny the ego. The ego is good in that it contributes
to the individual's self-preservation and survival.
Where is falters is when we inappropriately put
ourselves before others. When we put ourselves, our
family, our sex or race, our nationality, our
religion, our species first because we belong to
them, and think ourselves divinely appointed to
belong to them, this is chauvinism that causes
antagonistic divides. It is wrong to believe
ourselves so much more significant or more divine
than anything else, that all else can be disregarded
to promote our own agenda. I would never suggest we
shouldn't make decisions as to what is significant,
only that we bear in mind that we create significance
and not discover it.
An inability to feel compassion diminishes us.
Compassion for someone or something that stands
outside our in-group is the nobler human capacity.
Love, which I still cannot define, but is maybe a
high form of compassion, is manifested by sacrifice.
I told Stanley of my intentions to write a thin book
on conduct. I had conceived the title: Manhattan
Matrix, and I planned to publish it
anonymously. By design it was to be a very small
book, one that could easily be toted about everywhere
in a pocket, along the lines of the "Little Red
Book", Quotations from Chairman Mao
Tse-tung, only I thought I would make my
book olive green. The title would not appear on the
book, only the simple miniscule letter "e"
in red. So vividly did I imagine it that I can
describe that "e". Its hairline cross stoke
would be diagonal, as in a class of types known as
Venetian Old Style, established by the printer
Nicolas Jenson. It had to be a short book,
convenient, portable, the rules of behavior
restricted to the fewest and made very simple. I
wanted it to be an easy book. And I wouldn't
copyright it, so that maybe it would spread more
Stanley asked me if I really thought I could write
such a book. I told him no. It was an exercise in
futility, yet I thought I could better myself if I
made the effort regardless of the promise of failure.
"You shall know me as E. E is the commonest
letter in English. M says it could stand for
Everyman, or Everywoman. You shall not know my name.
I do not wish you to know my sex, the color of my
eyes, the shade of my skin, because I record these
lessons for everybody, and I don't wish anybody with
vain pride to regard wisdom as the exclusive property
of their ethnicity."
So begins the Manhattan Matrix. The
book is a dialogue with E asking questions and M
answering them. I never reveal M's name, nor M's
gender. It is established that M is old and cannot be
expected to live much longer. Because I love to make
stories sound real, I invented a personal history for
the character of M, just so I could drop clues
throughout Manhattan Matrix that M
was a retired printer. As to why did I choose the
particular title I did:
"Still, when I asked M what should I title the
book, M said Manhattan Matrix. This
was a very strange name. When I asked why, M said,
'because Gutenberg did not invent moveable type; he
invented the matrix by which type could be made
uniform, and in so doing, he made books more
available. Here you have recorded a system of conduct
that does not reveal the truth of divinities or
afterlives, but is a matrix in which a uniformed
morality can be forged, a conduct that can then be
used to write any religion.'"
"'But why Manhattan, and did you not say you
would not want the reader to think any one place is
I should like it to honor the name of
Manhattan. For I tell you, E, if this morality is to
work, it must work in Manhattan, and if it can work
in Manhattan, then there is hope for our world.
Manhattan is the touchstone.'"
I have quoted passages from a small book I will
always be writing, yet never expect to finish. I
would like to believe I lack the arrogance to finish