Fast Sundays seem to be for puttering.

I don’t really fast myself. As you all know, my attempt to serve that warrant on Mustafar many years ago went very badly and I’ve been fed through a tube ever since. I do dial down the flow rate prior to heading out to church on the first Sunday of the month, as a sort of token gesture, and I make a fast offering. I figure that’s all that can really be expected of me.

But the puttering. I generally don’t start making home teaching appointments until the second Sunday of the month, and our choir director often skips practice on Fast Sunday. (I have a fine bass singing voice. Though, if we’re short on tenors, I can cover that as well with a flip of a switch.) So Fast Sunday afternoon is a bit of a sabbatical for me.

For His Majesty as well. He is, of course, not a member, and since his retirement (by popular demand) some years ago, pretty much every day is a sabbatical for him. But there’s something about Sunday that is particularly conducive to Imperial indolence. Perhaps it’s that there are no kids on the way to school to yell at to get off his lawn.

Regardless, His Majesty often spends Saturday night up late, reliving old conspiracies, and more often than not he’s still in bed when I get back from church. We’re the only ward in our meeting house, and apparently our young parents like the early morning schedule. They can put their little ones down for their afternoon naps at about the time His Majesty emerges in his bath robe and bunny slippers.

(The black hooded robe is really only for formal occasions.)

Lord Vader, I sense that you wish to continue your search for a way to repair the master bedroom toilet without having to pay a plumber.

My meditation chamber is downstairs, and the other day I noticed there was moisture on the shell. Foul-smelling moisture. Inspection showed a damp spot in the ceiling, exactly under His Majesty’s commode, and further inspection showed that the linoleum around the base of the toilet was damp and peeling loose. And the bolts holding the toilet down were rusted out. I shut off the fresh water, called my home teacher, and he helped me cut off the bolts and pop the toilet off, on the assumption that the problem was that the wax seal had failed. Sure enough, but in addition, the base plate had partially rusted out, enough that there was no hope of properly seating the replacement bolts. Well, shucks and other comments.

However, my High Priests group leader, who is a contractor, suggested that I could probably find a repair kit that was within my handyman capabilities. I was a bit skeptical — you have no idea how hard it is to use ordinary hand tools when you have mechanical fingers encased in armor-plated gloves — but after thinking it over and getting a further promise of assistance from my wonderful home teacher, I decided to give it a try. At worse, the floor will turn out to be too rotten to take the flange screws (though I pounded on it a bit and it seems solid enough) and I’ll have to call the plumber after all. I’ll be out a paltry $20 for the repair flange, which is trivial compared with what the plumber is gonna charge me. A good example of a Pascal’s Wager.

You have done well, Lord Vader. I grow tired of using the guest bathroom, and of course the open sewer pipe in my own bathroom is a source of disagreeable odors.

I think there are some lessons in this incident.

Sigh. Here comes the monologue.

Consider how this all started. You recall that, some months ago, the fresh water supply to the toilet developed a leak, and it was some time before we realized that the leak was soaking the floor around the toilet.

(What is this we, Sithosabe? I don’t use your bathroom.)

You repaired the leak, but the toilet bolts had by then suffered significant corrosion. This meant that the toilet shifted slightly when vigorously used.

(How do you use a toilet “vigorously”? Perhaps it had something to do with that bad batch of eggnog last New Year’s?)

This, in turn, compromised the integrity of the wax ring that seals the toilet to its base plate. This created a new leak, albeit an intermittent one, which resulted in further slow corrosion of the bolts in a downwards spiral. As the bolts corroded further, the toilet became more prone to shift, the wax ring become more compromised, and we ended up with a badly corroded toilet plate, damaged linoleum, possible damage to the wooden floor (though I hope not), and a generally unpleasant situation.

Incidentally, assuming that the floor proves solid enough to take the screws for the repair flange, I’m going to inject some wood preservative into the floor next to the old base plate. Ethylene glycol saturated with borate; it’s hygroscopic, unlike the usual oil-based copper preservative, so it goes right to any moist spots in danger of rotting out. Environmentally benign, and apparently quite effective — the rare case of a “green” approach that actually works as well as the old way. The only drawbacks are that the preservative eventually will leach back out of the wood with further exposure to water — hopefully not an issue here — and it’s somewhat more expensive than copper preservative.

Naturally, since the “green” wood preservative actually works, no one feels the need to subsidize it. I do recommend you check to be sure that toilet ring wax is not soluble in ethylene glycol.

I find it amusing that, on a planet that has developed silicon electronics and advanced composite materials, wax rings are still the state of the art for something as basic as toilet fixtures.

Well, the hardware store offered foam plastic gaskets in place of wax rings, but it just didn’t feel right.

Don’t underestimate the power of tradition. There is something to be said for mature technologies. And the plastic gasket cost ten times as much, looked less durable, and had no apparent advantage other than that you can make more than one attempt to seat the toilet on the gasket. The wax ring is good for only one such try, but with any competence at all, that’s all that’s needed.

Well, now I’m embarrassed to have bought three wax rings, just in case. They’re cheap.

I really hate it when His Majesty cackles like that.

Basic technologies, basic competence — these are enough to build a working civilization. It amuses me that Western civilization is so determined to outsmart itself.  — Not that that should be too hard!

Indoor plumbing is a thoroughly mature technology. To be sure, copper pipes have replaced lead, eliminating a potential source of lead in drinking water, which is all well and good; humans are stupid enough as it is. And PVC has replaced clay pipes for sewerage. Teflon tape for sealing threaded fittings is probably an improvement over linseed oil and ground limestone. But the basic picture really hasn’t changed much.

We still construct most of our houses of daub and wattle. To be sure, the daub is now gypsum drywall strengthened with polymer and fiberglass, and the wattle is kiln-dried pine harvested from managed forests (which still manage to be warped half the time; you are well advised to carefully select your lumber from a small yard with slow turnover, where the lumber has had time to season just a bit more.)

It is surprising to think that the heavier-than-air aircraft is over a century old now, and manned flight to the moon is coming up on half a century old. Though it appears it was never more than a stunt; the humans haven’t been back in a very long time.

And yet we still pay plumbers $50 an hour or more to make repairs to a technology that is basically simple and mature. It’s a consequence of the unavoidable division of labor in a complex society. Or … is it?

Mr. Romney made himself odious to a majority of voters by allegedly letting slip that 47% of the voting public were parasites. That isn’t quite what he said, of course, but close enough for propaganda purposes. That he was perfectly correct only made it worse. Just ask yourself: How many Americans make less than a plumber? You’re better paid than that, of course, and so are most professionals, but I venture that well over 47% of American voters make less than a plumber does. So why don’t they become plumbers?

I can think of three reasons, none of which reflect well on Americans. The first is that most American voters lack the competence to make a decent plumber. While one should not rule out that possibility out of hand — no one ever lost an election by underestimating the competence of the average American — I do not think this is a sufficient explanation.

The second reason is that plumbers have successfully established a guild, thereby imposing artificial barriers to entering the trade. This is clearly also true, but, again, I do not think it is a sufficient explanation.

The third explanation is that a very substantial number of Americans are too proud to take up plumbing even if it would mean a substantial increase in their income. One must never underestimate the pride of the average American. Americans even take pride in taking pride.  The old Christian concept of pride as the greatest of the deadly sins is utterly foreign to most citizens of what remains the most Christian of the industrialized Western nations.

I’m afraid His Majesty is right about that. But not all of us have forgotten the sin of pride.

You will find plenty of otherwise quite religious people who indulge in the conceit that there is bad pride and good pride, calling the latter “self-esteem.” There have been whole education philosophies built on the notion that the good life is built on a foundation of self-esteem. The self-esteem movement seems remarkably impervious either to the dictates of traditional Christian ethics or to modern sociological studies showing that the individuals with the highest self-esteem are convicted criminals and politicians.

I think His Majesty is making up the part about politicians. But, yes, the sociological studies showing that narcissism is practically a defining trait of the criminal mind.

I attribute this to two things. First, there is the very ordinary tendency of almost all humans to rationalize whatever sin they are most tempted to indulge in. And the temptation to pride is enormously powerful.

Second, there is the failure to recognize what pride really is. We often define things by their opposites. The true opposite of pride is humility. But Americans have convinced themselves that the true opposite of pride is humiliation, quite a different thing. If you can’t get straight what the opposite of a thing is, you are unlikely to get straight what the thing is.

Hence the amazing resilience of the base of support for what is unquestionably the most vain president in my lifetime. His strongest supporters see in him the pride with which they think to salve their own sense of humiliation.

True humility is simply knowing one’s proper place. There need be nothing humiliating about it. One can think of it as a healthy form of populism; a sense of the basic human dignity even of plumbers and mail clerks. Unfortunately, our populism is deeply unhealthy, being dyed with a sense of outrage (quite justified, in a way, yet quite unconstructive) that anyone considers themselves better than plumbers and mail clerks. (Which most everyone actually thinks they themselves are.)

This is terribly destructive in a civilization as complex as ours. There are a certain number of vital occupations requiring high competence at highly technical skills. You have to find enough competent people to fill those positions, or risk disaster. But people with that level of competence have a lot of options in life. The only way to get enough of them is to pay them rather well — yet the rallying cry of the day is something very close to “Death to the 1%”, because the other 99%, in their pride, resent that level of privilege. And, of course, the 1% are uncomfortable at being resented … and mollify that discomfort with a pride of their own.

And yet they’re all monkey-boys on a dust speck of a planet in an insignificant corner of a very large universe. Incredible.

His Majesty shuffled off into the television room. He has lately affected a fondness for Shakespeare; I could hear him cackling at the latest offering. King Lear, if I’m not mistaken.

It seems to me that the only alternative to pride or humiliation is Christian humility. Which consists of knowing that every one of us is infinitely beneath God, yet infinitely loved.

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