Laws of Marvin

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The commentary has been provided by Sam Fleming.

A long time ago, in an honors dorm far away, there lived a marketing student named Ed Rigdon. Back in the days when the only computer access on campus was through a Sperry UNIVAC mainframe and the only form of text editing was through the mainframe version of EDLIN, Ed wrote an allegory about the Mallet Assembly and its relationship with the rest of the University of Alabama campus -- The Book of Marvin. I've never been quite clear on what prompted Ed to write it, and haven't really had the testicular fortitude to ask him -- but I've always been amazed at the wisdom in The Book of Marvin.

At any rate, Ed printed it on a line printer -- on green bar paper -- and distributed it to his friends around the dorm. Occasionally, the text would be "lost" -- only to be rediscovered in the dorm office by a visiting alumnus or a resident O.F. Now, with the Web in full swing, there are several repositories for this wisdom. Here, with commentary, is the core of the Book of Marvin: the Laws of Marvin.

  1. Be thyself, for if thou dost not, thou art not.

This one is reminiscent of Shakespeare's "To thine own self be true" line. Don't be what anyone else expects you to be. Be an individual.

  2. Do that which makes thee glad, 
     for sadness is the great oracle of the death of the soul.

Do what you enjoy, and enjoy what you're doing. Why be miserable majoring in biology pre-med if you would rather be an English major? If you're a biology pre-med to please your parents, the First and Second Laws make a strong case for changing your major; unfortunately, that's something you have to deal with on the diplomatic front.

Note, too, that this Law doesn't explicitly say that you should do only the things you enjoy doing. Loose constructionists like myself argue that it doesn't give you the "moral imperative" to blow off that paper for Dr. Eddins because you don't like writing about Emily Dickinson. Take the long view. If you're an English major, making a D in EH 341 won't do a whole lot for your chances of getting your degree on time.

  3. Measure your progress in life by the rustiness of the gates through which you pass.

I enjoy this one. It's a different slant on the "road less traveled," and it makes a powerful statement. If we do the things people have done time and time again -- keeping the gates well-used and well-oiled -- we aren't really making progress, we're just following in the footsteps of others.

Of all the Laws of Marvin, this one could spawn the most corollaries. Here are a few I've come up with:

a. Be not afraid of constructing your own gates, through which others may pass.

b. Seek out the shiniest of gates, that you may go into the most pristine of gardens.

c. Never deliberately seek to lock a gate behind you.

  4. Remember the Pueblo.

I've not completely researched this one, but I interpret it as "Don't get your ass in a crack you can't get yourself out of gracefully." Of course, the Sage may have just put this one in for comic relief ...

(Graciously added by a Mallet alumni April, 2002): Some wisdom has been lost regarding the 4th law, Remember the Pueblo. Here's the real story: In the 1960s, a U.S. Navy ship, the "Pueblo", and its crew were captured by the North Koreans and held captive for months. Although treated badly, the sailors were ordered to smile for cameras; these photos would be shown to diplomats to prove the prisoners were happy and enjoying their stay. The crew suggested that they could show some real American happy gestures to show just how happy they were. As an act of defiance to their clueless captors, the crewmen of the Pueblo smiled and chose one special gesture - the upraised middle finger - in these propoganda photos so their true meaning would be understood. That's why we need to remember the Pueblo.

(Graciously added by a Paul Thrasher October, 2003): When Ed Rigdon was writing the Laws of Marvin Fall '77 - Spring '78, the National Lampoon song/poem/poster "Deteriorata" was popular. For no reason at all (this WAS National Lampoon, after all), it included the sentence "Remember the Pueblo". For exactly the same reason, but moreso, and as a salute to the work that inspired him, Ed included it in the Laws. For the original text of Deteriorata alongside the (urp-)inspiring Desiderata, see We certainly remembered "Remember the Pueblo" in '77, but the works of Marvin were meta-referential.

  5. Avoid he who has no mind, for if he has none himself, 
     he shall surely demand thine of thee.

At first glance, this law seems to imply that one should not hang around with people less intelligent than oneself. This, however, is not the case, especially when you take the Fifth and Sixth Laws together. Strictly defined, "ignorance" is simply not knowing about something -- the rules, differential calculus, how to tell Shelley from Keats, or the difference between Chardonnay and Chablis. On the other hand, "stupidity" is when you do know better and take the self-destructive course of action anyway.

This Law says to avoid those who have no mind -- those who cannot think an independent thought, those with self-destructive tendencies, and those who have to have their opinions fed to them -- those who better fit the definition of "stupidity." If you don't, they will drag you down to their level -- the least common denominator. Think of the term "mindless" and ask yourself whether it applies to the current situation -- a television show, a drinking binge, repetition of a rumor -- and if it does, see if there's any way you can change the conditions or extricate yourself from the situation.

  6. Learn that which others can teach, and teach that which others can learn.

Take advantage of the learning opportunities that are available to you, even if it's a negative example. If your roommate sleeps through his morning classes because he was up all night carousing, learn from it. If you know how to write HTML, help your friends learn so they can put up their own Web pages. If your girlfriend wants you to help her in the kitchen and you don't know shiitake from Shinola, get her to teach you something about cooking; the relationship will probably grow stronger as a result.

  7. Consider that the only entity who entirely occupies his world is Marvin, 
     and He is lodged in an oak tree.

To get the full context of this Law and its relation to Mallet, you'd have to read the rest of The Book of Marvin, but think of it this way -- the only people who completely occupy their worlds have pretty small worlds. Look at Marvin -- his whole world is an oak tree. Don't be completely self-absorbed. Don't do schoolwork to the exclusion of everything else; if you wanted to do that, you should've entered a monastery or taken the coursework self-study via the Internet. Interact with others. Let other people into your world. Be a real person, instead of someone lodged in an oak tree, never moving, never experiencing the joy of others.

And such are the Laws of Marvin.