Archives for May 2018

Impendix I: The shape of the worlds

After long reflection and consultation, I have decided to go ahead with the project of writing ‘Impendices’. My editorial consultant, the wise and formidable Wendy S. Delmater, has lent her support to the notion of using these posts to advertise my ‘legos’. By that term I mean the more or less original elements in my stories that other people may find sufficiently interesting to want to play with themselves; which is the best way to turn casual readers into lasting fans (and repeat customers). I have discussed the matter in my essai called ‘Legosity’.

(My brain, which as my Loyal Readers know is a foolish and incorrigible thing, thereupon suggested that these fragments of story were not really Impendices at all, but Pro-Lego-Mena. I therefore ordered it to be taken out and shot.)

The methodical part of my mind, however, revolts at the idea of tossing out legos willy-nilly, whichever one seems to be shiniest at the moment. I should like to present these things in some kind of reasonable order, so that my 3.6 Loyal Readers can have some notion of the context. It would be difficult to explain why a particular chess piece, a knight for instance, is interesting and fun to play with, to someone who did not know the object of the game or the shape of a chessboard. So I shall begin, as it were, by describing the contours of the board. [Read more…]

G. K. C. on grandmothers

A commenter on another blog recently wrote two comments, which I here telescope together, as the second was explicitly written as a correction to the first:

If we are to have a stable, functional society, women can have equal rights and political participation, or they can have a functional exemption from moral consequences. They cannot have both.

The disjunction is true and logical, and not only of women, but of human beings generally. But ‘a stable, functional society’ has nothing to do with the case. It is a red herring, and a red herring of a particularly insidious type, because it amounts to denying that the question is one of morals at all. Chesterton made the point very neatly a century ago:

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, ‘The Boy’ (in All Things Considered)

The only real point worth mentioning about ‘functional exemptions from moral consequences’ is that it is morally wrong to exempt anyone from moral standards, which, in so far as they are moral, must be universal if they are not meaningless. Stable and functional societies have been built upon chattel slavery, helotry, human sacrifice, and any number of other wicked and revolting practices. That does not mean that it was either wise or right to do so, or to exempt those societies from the particular moral standards that were outraged by their customs.

Dr. Samuel Johnson observed, as a good Tory opposed to the American war of independence, that the people who yapped the loudest about liberty were the slaveholding planters of Virginia. The inconsistency had to be paid for; and it was, within a century, when the accounts were squared with a million gallons of blood. Yet those slaveholders were paragons of the moral law compared to a good many of our modern opinion-makers and cultural leaders. They should be opposed because they are wrong, for they are wrong; not because they cannot succeed, for they manifestly do succeed.