Friday, March 4, 2011

Men and their philosophy

Last night while reading Chesterton's Heretics, I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover this old favorite paragraph. It ends his chapter which argues that the most important thing about a man is his philosophy of life.
Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.
This is so true, isn't it? For every man-made "crisis" these days we are urged by our thoughtless leaders to quickly do something, anything, to avoid a catastrophe. The war on terrace, war on drugs, war on poverty, war on education, et cetera, und so weiter. "We must act now! The Founders, the Constitution, and freedom be damned. It's for the children, we must not let the terrace win, we have to save the economy, we must protect Israel at all costs, blah, blah, blah."

People are so funny how their nature never changes. Comforting, sometimes, in a strange sort of way. I as get older I tend to be less surprised by the short-sighted, selfish, careless, feckless nature of most people, and the imperfections even within the best of us. (Present company excluded, of course.)

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