On Questioning

Earlier this year I had the attractive opportunity of traveling to the other side of the country. A good friend was doing some grad research and proposed the seven-week trip. The only catch? The budget was pretty tight, and the…
Source: Off The Page – On Questioning

Consequent Horribles of Hobbled Philosophy: Chesterton’s Cogitations

Self-portrait of G. K. Chesterton based on the distributist slogan "Three acres and a cow".

Self-portrait of G. K. Chesterton based on the distributist slogan “Three acres and a cow”.

The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency.
G.K. Chesterton

Any reader of Chesterton knows that he is quite quotable; however, sometimes his quotidian nature can also stump and confound. Take the above for instance: while we can appreciate the need for good philosophy [think C.S. Lewis] what are we to do with the “horrible things” that Chesterton stands against? After all, in our culture isn’t practicality a good thing? And that goes for being progressive and efficient too, not?

We want practical money managers; progressive medical technology; and surely, efficient cars and refrigerators.

But it is not these things that Chesterton warns about.

G.K’s primary concern is that these traits become ends in and of themselves without reflection on their potential consequences. Take for instance his gripe about “a practical man.” For Chesterton, the practical man cares only about the final results of an endeavour (whether that be in business or politics or whatever) and not what took place in the interim (the steps which were taken to achieve the end result: an example would be the food industry using GMO food without considering the potential consequence). Chesterton posits, “When will people see the simple fact that practicality is a question of means, not of ends?”

For Chesterton, being practical is linked to being progressive. So back to the example of GMO: a perfect example of progress. Progressives look ahead to solve current problems without doing the hard work of fixing something now. A good example might be the average power consumer being unwilling to lower their power outage by 15%, instead trusting that the power companies will, with scientific aid, be able to simply reduce the amount of pollution that is created. Or, the desire to increase crop production through GMO – instead of tackling the uglier and slightly more work intensive trouble of consumer waste (stats proclaim that we waste between 30-40% of our food). Chesterton doesn’t approve of putting one’s trust in the future when we could take action now.

Lastly, efficiency itself is value neutral; as a tool it can be employed for either good or bad. Further, once turned into a process, it can be easily used for control. Most of us know that the Nazi death camps were pristinely efficient. It was this very efficiency which palpably made the death camps so heinous. Euthanasia is efficient as were the desired outcomes of eugenic programs. Less nasty examples were the assembly line productions which turned workers into automatons. Efficiency is a means, but it is not an end in itself. It’s a handy tool that can make our lives better, but it must be placed in its proper hierarchy—i.e. below us. Ultimately, Chesterton wants us to ascertain, whenever efficiency is employed, what is the end game? And whom does it ultimately serve?

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Oxygen Masks and Justice

The plane boards, the seat belt lights illuminate, and the flight attendants dutifully close the overhead storage compartments. The pilot’s voice comes through the announcement speakers welcoming everybody aboard and offering a brief flight overview. Next, the calming yet chipper…
Source: Off The Page

A Good Fear

I have a great-uncle who has a way of commanding attention and tells scads of groovy stories. At one family get together the topic of child rearing came up. As can be likely with a mixing of the older generation…
Source: Off The Page

The Danger of Being Eternally-Minded

A friend I’ve known for nearly a quarter of my life is lying in a hospital bed pondering death.   Right now.   As I write this, if not sleeping, my friend is contemplating assisted suicide.   I have been…
Source: Off The Page

Cheez Whiz and The Inklings

lewis-inklings-featured-1
It’s been said that Cheez Whiz is one molecule away from being plastic, and I actually don’t like it at all, but the song is catchy right?

Cheez Whiz has nothing to do with the Inklings because I am certain none of them would have deigned to touch it with a ten-foot pole. “Not authentic enough,” perhaps Tolkien might say. Or he might have been suspicious that it was made with a machine. (George Sayer relates, “[J.R.R. Tolkien] said whimsically that he ought to cast out any devil that might be in [a recorder] by recording … the Lord’s Prayer.” Tolkien hardly even used a typewriter and Lewis wrote everything by hand.) However, while Cheez Whiz might add personality, the Inklings most assuredly had personality. And happy ones at that! And it’s something that might be overlooked when reading their works. This is notable because it’s relevant to recognize that these literary heroes were also people.

It’s easy to assume that since a C.S. Lewis or a Charles Williams wrote such serious material, they were serious people. (i.e. seriously un-humorous.) Just crack open Lewis’ The Discarded Image or English Literature in the Sixteenth Century and let me know if too many smiles slip past your cheeks. Similarly, for Williams’ The Image of the City and Other Essays. Others associated with the Inklings like Dorothy Sayers etc., don’t often come across as overly mirthful either. They are serious. They deal with serious topics. Terry Lindvall, writing on Lewis, comments on a deleterious approach to levity,

When reading religious writing (or, what is often worse, writing by a religious person), the last thing we expect to discover is laughter. We expect the religious writer to handle truth, ethics, and other serious concerns with appropriate decorum. Treating issues of ultimate reality with levity is the habit of the fool, the mocker, the jester, the idiot.

This is all rot. (By the way, Lindvall’s book is most excellent.)

Consider that Charles Williams not only had a cockney accent (very different from C.S Lewis’ and Tolkien’s prim and proper intonation) he had a hilarious side to him that often burst out in theatrics. (He also loved the theatre.) Similarly, Lewis after settling down with a pipe and pint, had no problem with guffaw. Lewis mentioned in The Four Loves that “In a perfect Friendship … each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest… each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.” I was so pleased to see that “funniest” was included in the best.

I try to keep reminding myself when I read other important authors that the hefty ideas and concepts are not the only connections with such people—they had humor as well. Theirs was a personality not limited to just the serious, but also the seriously humorous, because a good personality will most likely include humor. G.K. Chesterton—you will remember that he played an important role in Lewis’ conversion—ysaid “being serious is much easier than being frivolous and light.” He also asserted that “seriousness is a vice … It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. … For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”

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