500 year old clamIt’s not every day that a 500 year old clam confirms so many prejudices of real conservatives, much less is affirmed by other species that aren’t nearly as extinct as we suppose.

Ming, as most people know by now, was an arctic quahog clam killed recently by British scientists. It was no accident as first reported, and by counting the rings inside of his shell they discovered that the mollusc was nearly a century older than assumed. He’d been born at the start of the Ming Dynasty in the final years of the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, but had nothing else to do with China or England, minding his own business beneath Icelandic seas. Scientists sacrificed Ming and others to study ageing and historic sub-maritime conditions, not unreasonable propositions.

Superficially, his premeditated murder alerts conservatives to what was, in many ways, Ming’s ideal conservative existence. They don’t get MSNBC on the arctic seafloor, and ObamaCare means nothing to them. Elder quahogs keep to themselves, engaging in centuries of quiet reflection and fine dining, as his grandparents did during the days of Charlemagne. Ming lived through, yet brilliantly failed to notice, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Freud, Marxism, ideologically-driven 20th Century mass slaughters, Keynes, Progressivism, Quantitative Easing, and twerking. One needn’t be a mollusc to feel jealous.

He didn’t care a fig for man walking on the Moon, which in frank physical terms affected clams as little as it affected us. Moreover, his premature demise may still leave countless multitudes of equally old clams alive, even though Ming ended his days in a lab and a few of his kinsmen wind up breaded and deep-fried or dipped in drawn butter.

Ming’s surviving peers, if they bother to pay attention, must regard Howard Johnson’s and its copycats as so many clam-killing Dachaus and Bergen-Belsens. While I’ve enjoyed my share of Ming’s kinfolk, something about killing and eating anything venerable is upsetting to both thinking and visceral conservatives, as the popular outrage over Ming’s murder confirms. At Washington, DC’s decadent Palm restaurant, where lobbyists and lawmakers gorge themselves on vast portions of food at eye-watering prices, I once saw for sale, captive in a tank of seawater, a gigantic live lobster weighting nearly ten pounds. It was ostensibly born before the Civil War; there was nowhere nearby in which I could turn it loose, so its imminent demise ruined my appetite, even for their “small” bushel of salad. But that is not the primary Message of Ming, our source of conservative joy.

clam dipBeyond the wise clams, plenty of endangered, or even allegedly extinct, species are thriving in secret. Thylacines or Tasmanian tigers, supposedly died off in a 1930s zoo; now scientists have found recent skulls and local testimony suggesting that the animals still exist deep in their wilderness. Asian cheetahs are said to survive only as perhaps two dozen individuals in Iran, with the last subcontinental specimen shot in 1947 by the Indian Maharajah of Surgujah. Yet fifteen years ago, while acting in a film made in Pakistan’s remote Salt Range, I was told by a local natural resources officer that he found cheetah pugmarks in the jungles, and occasionally caught a fleeting glimpse of one. Wagging his head and talking in an endearingly sing-song Pakistani accent, the official whispered joyously: “The cheetahs, sir, they are still here but they are not notifying my department.”

Most startlingly (and a global scoop for The Imaginative Conservative), Afghanistan’s last tiger was supposedly shot on a swampy island in the Amu Darya river in 1928, yet only 25 years ago a friend saw a large one, clearly at 100 yards, in a Central Afghan province to remain nameless. Any flight over Afghanistan, or a visit to Google’s maps, shows how little of that rugged Texas-sized country contains humans. While the landscape may not be as lush as what tigers prefer, there is room for many. Any real conservative, whose blood contains at least as much conservationism as haemoglobin, takes pleasure in (a) the survival of so many rare species, and (b) their outwitting even the experts committed to their survival. Just perhaps, South Asian cheetahs and Tasmanian thylacines, Afghan tigers and highly civilised 500-year-old clams can count among Eliot’s Permanent Things.

Russell Kirk once told me how fast Britain’s stately homes collapsed into ruins, starting in the 1930s through the 1950s, once their occupants departed and the roofs were removed by British socialism, death taxes, and class warfare. Within only a generation they became as medieval relics, and now only a few foundation stones remain. His point was to conserve as best we can, but also to recall what inevitably falls beneath the scythe of Father Time.

Impermanence, too, is part of Ming’s Message, what Samuel Johnson called “The Vanity of Human Wishes.” Ming lived, quietly and perhaps reflectively, through 20 human generations of 25 years each, amid Johnson’s multitudes;

“Athirst for wealth, and burning to be great;
Delusive Fortune hears the incessant call,
They mount, they shine, evaporate and fall.”

three-story-pagoda-of-kiyomizu-temple-kiyomizudera-kyoto-japanThe Japanese maintain a balance most beautifully. Their ancient wooden temples contain few, if any, old components; rebuilt every few years to keep them sturdy, preserve craftsmanship and feed a dynamic love affair between the present and the past.

As Kirk walked amid ruins and planted new trees so assiduously, we are honour-bound to practice real stewardship throughout our allotted time, even as old clams watch our dreams rise, be dashed and rise again. More important than dead stones is the past kept alive, for Life matters most, from the past to the visible present and the eternal hereafter. To live both responsibly and joyously, while recognising what will pass away, is to heed the slave on the back of the chariot during the formal Roman Triumph. Recognizing mortality affirms the immortal as well.

Books on this topic may be found in the Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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2 replies to this post
  1. Steve, you leave me salivating for clams with a nice butter and white wine sauce, yet horrified at the prospect of eating our precious heritage. What is a good conservative to do?
    I suppose I shall have to content myself with a bowl of yogurt for the moment, whose heritage undoubtedly dates back to the days of yore, but more ambiguously than Ming. One sentence in your piece arrests me and I must inquire. If I read it correctly, fifteen years ago, you were acting in a film made in Pakistan’s remote Salt Range. If that is so, may one see the results of your film debut? Or are there other films we are unaware of? Your wide range of interests, experiences, and talents continues to flat-out amaze me!
    As I go to speak in various venues around the country, as soon as they link me to The Imaginative Conservative, they shower effusive praise on your writing. If you ever to come to America again, be prepared to be mobbed by wildly enthusiastic fans. There will probably be riots.

  2. Barbara, my only feature film, “Zar Gul,” was directed by Salmaan Peerzada (once a popular actor in UK television and cinema). It won several international awards but was never released; globally because of its length and in Pakistan because of censorship – it depicted a Pushtoon Sufi-mystic who assassinates a vile politician for tribal honour. It was shot across that gorgeous country, in mountain redoubts and bustling cities and desert shrines. Apart from five or so brilliant professional Pakistani actors, many real-life tribal leaders and police, a US diplomat and contractors and local others, portrayed characters much like themselves, and I played a confused reporter (a part I inadvertently rehearsed for 20 years). Lord knows how to find a copy; even mine is misplaced.

    Delighted to hear that some read and like our scribblings here; it’s hard to tell in the Himalayas!

    Lastly, because of language difficulties, we actually do not know if clams aspire lifelong to end their allotted time delighting you and Winston. They may daydream and chat among themselves, aspiring to please in different examples of your brilliant sauces. A clam dying of natural causes may mourn, and wonder if his life was truly worthwhile. Not far from where I stay, Tibetan monks climb mountains and cut up their dead into bite-sized nuggets: the dead monks no longer need their bodies, the vultures are deeply touched as well as fed, but the occasional tourist often panics. Neither monks nor clams nor I plan to stay here forever; we’re just passing through. Fry when ready, Gridley!

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