“The same thing”

In practice we already know what is meant by a holiday in a world of machinery and mass production.  It means that a man, when he has done turning a handle, has a choice of certain pleasures offered to him. He can, if he likes, read a newspaper and discover with interest how the Crown Prince of Fontarabia landed from the magnificent yacht Atlantis amid a cheering crowd; how certain great American millionaires are making great financial consolidations; how the Modern Girl is a delightful creature, in spite of (or because of) having shingled hair or short skirts; and how the true religion, for which we all look to the Churches, consists of sympathy and social progress and marrying, divorcing, or burying everybody without reference to the precise meaning of the ceremony.  On the other hand, if he prefers some other amusement, he may go to the Cinema, where he will see a very vivid and animated scene of the crowds cheering the Crown Prince of Fontarabia after the arrival of the yacht Atlantis; where he will see an American film featuring the features of American millionaires, with all those resolute contortions of visage which accompany their making of great financial consolidations; where there will not be lacking a charming and vivacious heroine, recognizable as a Modern Girl by her short hair and short skirts; and possibly a kind and good clergyman (if any) who explains in dumb show, with the aid of a few printed sentences, that true religion is social sympathy and progress and marrying and burying people at random. But supposing the man’s tastes to be detached from the drama and from the kindred arts, he may prefer the reading of fiction; and he will have no difficulty in finding a popular novel about the doubts and difficulties of a good and kind clergyman slowly discovering that true religion consists of progress and social sympathy, with the assistance of a Modern Girl whose shingled hair and short skirts proclaim her indifference to all fine distinctions about who should be buried and who divorced; nor, probably, will the story fail to contain an American millionaire making vast financial consolidations, and certainly a yacht and possibly a Crown Prince. But there are yet other tastes that are catered for under the conditions of modern publicity and pleasure-seeking. There is the great institution of wireless or broadcasting; and the holiday-maker, turning away from fiction, journalism, and film drama, may prefer to “listen-in” to a programme that will contain the very latest news of great financial consolidations made by American millionaires; which will most probably contain little lectures on how the Modern Girl can crop her hair or abbreviate her skirts; in which he can hear the very accents of some great popular preacher proclaiming to the world that revelation of true religion which consists of sympathy and social progress rather than of dogma and creed; and in which he will certainly hear the very thunder of cheering which welcomes His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Fontarabia when he lands from the magnificent yacht Atlantis.  There is thus indeed a very elaborate and well-ordered choice placed before him, in the matter of the means of entertainment.

But even the rich variety of method and approach unfolded before us in this alternative seems to some to cover a certain secret and subtle element of monotony.  Even here the pleasure-seeker may have that weird psychological sensation of having known the same thing before. There seems to be something recurrent about the type of topic; suggestive of something rigid about the type of mind. Now I think it very doubtful whether it is really a superior mind. If the pleasure-seeker himself were really a pleasure-maker for himself, if he were forced to amuse himself instead of being amused, if he were, in short, obliged to sit down in an old tavern and talk — I am really very doubtful about whether he would confine his conversation entirely to the Crown Prince of Fontarabia, the shingling of hair, the greatness of certain rich Yankees, and so on; and then begin the same round of subjects all over again. His interests might be more local, but they would be more lively; his experience of men more personal but more mixed; his likes and dislikes more capricious but not quite so easily satisfied. To take a parallel, modern children are made to play public-school games, and will doubtless soon be made to listen to the praise of the millionaires on the wireless and in the newspaper. But children left to themselves almost invariably invent games of their own, dramas of their own, often whole imaginary kingdoms and commonwealths of their own.  In other words, they produce; until the competition of monopoly kills their production. The boy playing at robbers is not liberated but stunted by learning about American crooks, all of one pattern less picturesque than his own. He is psychologically undercut, undersold, dumped upon, frozen out, flooded, swamped, and ruined; but not emancipated.

The Outline of Sanity (1926).

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 8:29 am  Comments (2)  

“Knows that he knows”

If Christ was simply a human character, he really was a highly complex and contradictory human character.  For he combined exactly the two things that lie at the two extremes of human variation. He was exactly what the man with a delusion never is; he was wise; he was a good judge.  What he said was always unexpected; but it was always unexpectedly magnanimous and often unexpectedly moderate. Take a thing like the point of the parable of the tares and the wheat. It has the quality that unites sanity and subtlety.  It has not the simplicity of a madman.  It has not even the simplicity of a fanatic. It might be uttered by a philosopher a hundred years old, at the end of a century of Utopias.  Nothing could be less like this quality of seeing beyond and all round obvious things, than the condition of the egomaniac with the one sensitive spot on his brain.  I really do not see how these two characters could be convincingly combined, except in the astonishing way in which the creed combines them. For until we reach the full acceptance of the fact as a fact, however marvellous, all mere approximations to it are actually further and further away from it.  Divinity is great enough to be divine; it is great enough to call itself divine. But as humanity grows greater, it grows less and less likely to do so. God is God, as the Moslems say; but a great man knows he is not God, and the greater he is the better he knows it.  That is the paradox; everything that is merely approaching to that point is merely receding from it.  Socrates, the wisest man, knows that he knows nothing. A lunatic may think he is omniscience, and a fool may talk as if he were omniscient.  But Christ is in another sense omniscient if he not only knows, but knows that he knows.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 9:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Three ways to argue

There are three ways in which a statement, especially a disputable statement, can be placed before mankind.  The first is to assert it by avowed authority; this is done by deities, the priests of deities, oracles, minor poets, parents and guardians, and men who have “a message to their age”.  The second way is to prove it by reason; this was done by the mediaeval schoolmen, and by some of the early and comparatively forgotten men of science.  It is now quite abandoned.  The third method is this: when you have neither the courage to assert a thing nor the capacity to prove it, you allude to it in a light and airy style, as if somebody else had asserted and proved it already.  Thus the first method is to say, “Pigs do fly in heaven; I have had a vision of heaven, and you have not.”  The second method is to say, “Come down to my little place in Essex, and I will show you pigs flying about like finches and building nests in the elms”.  Both these positions require a certain valour to sustain them, and are now, therefore, generally dropped.  The third method, which is usually adopted, is to say, “Professor Gubbins belongs to the old school of scientific criticism, and cannot but strike us as limited in this age of wireless telegraphy and aerial swine”; or “Doubtless we should be as much surprised at the deeds of our descendants as would an Ancient Briton at a motor-car or a flying pig, or any such common sight in our streets”. In short, this third method consists in referring to the very thing that is in dispute as if it were now beyond dispute.  This is known as the Restrained or Gentlemanly method; it is used by company promoters, by professors of hair-dressing and the other progressive arts, and especially by journalists like myself.

Illustrated London News, 7 August 1909.

Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 12:27 pm  Comments (1)