Archives for 2010

G. K. C. on bigotry

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

—G. K. Chesterton

Gondor, Byzantium, and feudalism

A reader on LiveJournal, who goes by the name of ‘dirigibletrance’, asks:

How exactly is Byzantine politics different from feudalism, other than taking place earlier and not in Western Europe? How are the politics we see of Gondor outside of the bounds of what we know as feudalism, both the narrow and broader definitions?

As it happens, Mr. or Ms. Trance is in a certain amount of luck: Byzantium and Tolkien are two of the subjects I have studied in some detail. However, I shall approach the matter in my own way, which means answering a lot of questions that were not asked, but that may, when answered, give meaningful context to the answer that was asked for.

To begin with, Tolkien at various points made both explicit and implicit comparisons of Gondor with Byzantium. The terms ‘North-kingdom’ and ‘South-kingdom’ for Arnor and Gondor are deliberate echoes of the Western and Eastern Roman Empire. In his famous letter to Milton Waldman (Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien no. 131), Tolkien writes:

In the south Gondor rises to a peak of power, almost reflecting Númenor, and then fades slowly to decayed Middle Age, a kind of proud, venerable, but increasingly impotent Byzantium. [Read more…]

G. K. C. on plain morals

There is one thing which, in the presence of average modern journalism, is perhaps worth saying in connection with such an idle matter as this. The morals of a matter like this are exactly like the morals of anything else; they are concerned with mutual contract, or with the rights of independent human lives. But the whole modern world, or at any rate the whole modern Press, has a perpetual and consuming terror of plain morals. Men always attempt to avoid condemning a thing upon merely moral grounds. If I beat my grandmother to death to-morrow in the middle of Battersea Park, you may be perfectly certain that people will say everything about it except the simple and fairly obvious fact that it is wrong.

Some will call it insane; that is, will accuse it of a deficiency of intelligence. This is not necessarily true at all. You could not tell whether the act was unintelligent or not unless you knew my grandmother.

Some will call it vulgar, disgusting, and the rest of it; that is, they will accuse it of a lack of manners. Perhaps it does show a lack of manners; but this is scarcely its most serious disadvantage.

Others will talk about the loathsome spectacle and the revolting scene; that is, they will accuse it of a deficiency of art, or æsthetic beauty. This again depends on the circumstances: in order to be quite certain that the appearance of the old lady has definitely deteriorated under the process of being beaten to death, it is necessary for the philosophical critic to be quite certain how ugly she was before.

Another school of thinkers will say that the action is lacking in efficiency: that it is an uneconomic waste of a good grandmother. But that could only depend on the value, which is again an individual matter.

The only real point that is worth mentioning is that the action is wicked, because your grandmother has a right not to be beaten to death. But of this simple moral explanation modern journalism has, as I say, a standing fear. It will call the action anything else—mad, bestial, vulgar, idiotic, rather than call it sinful.

—G. K. Chesterton, All Things Considered

[Paragraph breaks added — T. S.]

Richard Mitchell on verbing

First they came for the verbs, and I said nothing, because verbing weirds language. Then they arrival for the nouns, and I speech nothing because I no verbs.

—Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian

J. R. R. T. on liars

Tevildo however, himself a great and skilled liar, was so deeply versed in the lies and subtleties of all the beasts and creatures that he seldom knew whether to believe what was said to him or not, and was wont to disbelieve all things save those he wished to believe true, and so was he often deceived by the more honest.

— J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘The Tale of Tinuviel’ (c. 1917)

Internet sociology

I have done a meticulous and exhaustive study, and found that 94.6% of flamewars in message boards and blog comments begin something like this:

Poster #1: X.

Poster #2: What do you mean, Q?

#1: I didn’t say Q, I said X.

#2: There you go again with Q.

#1: No, I’m telling you I said X.

#2: Q? Q?!! How DARE you say Q, you (expletives deleted)!

Poster #3: Calm down, buddy, he’s only saying K.

#2: That’s what I said . . . he’s saying Q . . . and don’t tell me to calm down!

. . . . . . .

Poster #1138: Oh, for Pete’s sake.

Dr. Johnson on intellectual vanity

Hume, and other sceptical innovators, are vain men, and will gratify themselves at any expence. Truth will not afford sufficient food to their vanity; so they have betaken themselves to errour. Truth, Sir, is a cow that will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.

—Samuel Johnson

Meritocracy: a fable

The Lion having been shot by a passing hunter, the other beasts held a council to decide which of them should succeed him as King. All were agreed that the new king should be the one best fitted to rule, as excelling in the highest and most noble qualities of a ruler. But there was a trifle of difficulty in agreeing which quality best befitted a monarch.

[Read more…]

English as she is spoke

Academic, n. One who, lacking the gift of natural stupidity, has attained stupidity by degrees.

‘Advice to a Young Actor’, by Mark Twain

YOUNG ACTOR. — This gentleman writes as follows: “I am desperate. Will you tell me how I can possibly please the newspaper critics? I have labored conscientiously to achieve this, ever since I made my début upon the stage, and I have never yet entirely succeeded in a single instance. [Read more…]