“If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman.”

—Johnson to Boswell
September 19, 1777
 
On the face of it, Dr. Johnson’s fancy seems to be another version of the much-touted ideal of “living in the moment,” sometimes rendered in the more mystical language of “finding eternity in the ever-present now.” His hypothetical cancellation of duty and temporality is what rings the bell. To translate the doctor’s statement into the best New Age language: If we could simply get rid of “should” and “shall” we could simply be, and what we would be is happy. The cult of the Eternal Now always gains currency when the crasser forms of currency are also gaining; that is, when times are good, when the odds are such that a bet placed on any given moment is likely to produce a winner. Not that bad times can’t give us compelling reasons for trying to think in the present tense.

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