I speak today of a secret vice. Rarely admitted, but relentlessly practiced. “The sin that everybody commits.”* No, not that one. A distinctly modern sin, made for (and perhaps made by) a modern consumer economy: envy.
How do buildings resist gravity? Or, for that matter, strong winds, weathering, tectonic shudders, and the seasonal heat and ice? The modern answer has two parts: a science of architecture and a craft of building. On one side, years studying drafting, structural theory, conservation science, and computer-aided design. On the other, years learning and refining the techniques of masonry or carpentry, plumbing or fitting.
Justice, when it comes, can be by act or omission. There are moments when the machinery of state moves to right inequity, and moments where it must relinquish power to do so. A case of the second kind occurred in May 1937, in Albany, seat of the New York Court of Appeals.
Just as the return leg of a journey seems shorter, as if the mental energy has already been spent on the outlay, and now you are being pulled magnetically back home, unpacking feels easier than packing. The difficult decisions are already made. Did I need that second whisk, or the book about Alexander von Humboldt? Either way, it’s too late.
It tingles. In Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, alongside the more familiar stories of learnt behavior, impulse control, and the expectation-reward arc which makes the infant grab the marshmallow and the flâneur paw at the cashmere, there’s a story about toothpaste.
Unhappy is the man who assesses everybody’s clothes. Most likely, they will fail to meet his cultivated eye, and he will have no option but to write to the usual places about how standards are slipping, and nobody but him remembers the rules. But worse, one fine day he might find himself in a room full of bespoke, and realize that for once the hand-welted shoe is on the other foot. He will be on the receiving end, he imagines, of the same withering critique.