Sunday, 29 November 2015 03:47

What's Wrong with the World

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What's Wrong with the World

Thomas Martin

Thomas Martin teaches in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. You may contact Thomas Martin at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

It is an honor to be here this evening to celebrate the 100th anniversary of G. K. Chesterton's book, What's Wrong With the World. I must admit in sitting down to think about what's wrong with the world to present to you this evening, I was overwhelmed. Where does one begin! The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the high unemployment rate, the stock market, the ever-failing American public educational system, same sex marriage, divorce, abortion, the breakdown of the family, bunions, arthritic joints, molts, warts and/or wrinkles. Fortunately, I received a flyer from the American Chesterton Society, which had a caricature, drawn by G. K. Chesterton himself, of two wide-eyed men on a globe looking intently at what is directly in front of them. The larger man is wearing glasses and is kneeling down looking through a magnifying glass ever so keenly at the world. The smaller man, also wearing glasses, is mounted on the larger man's neck, looking ever so keenly through a magnifying glass at the top of the larger man's head. Both men are obviously fixated on studying the phenomena that are right before their eyes.

G. K. C.'s two characters represent the natural scientist and the social scientist; the former studying and ordering his observations of nature and the latter studying and ordering his observations of man. The natural scientist is the larger of the two men because the natural scientist has been successfully at work for centuries in unlocking the secrets, as it were, of physics, chemistry, biology, and geology, the inner workings of nature. In fact, physicists and biologists, using the lens of empirical investigation with microscopic precision, claim to have discovered the origins of man, which began with a big bang that is still expanding forward into space.

But why is the larger man on his knees? He could be on his knees because he is in awe of nature; or, he wants to closely study her in order to understand his relationship as a good steward; or, he wants to put her on Sir Francis Bacon's rack and squeeze all the secrets out of her; or, perhaps, he is simply under the weight of the smaller man, the social scientist who has driven him to his knees and is using his magnifying glass, the microscopic eye of the natural scientist, to study mankind just as an entomologist would study ants to describe the workings of the well-ordered society in the anthill, the model of the global society into which mankind is currently progressing.

With this picture in mind as a clue to what is wrong with the world, I opened the book to the first chapter, "The Medical Mistake," and read:

A book of modern social inquiry has a shape that is somewhat sharply defined. It begins as a rule with an analysis, with statistics, tables of population, decrease of crime among Congregationalists, growth of hysteria among policemen, and similar ascertained facts; it ends with a chapter that is generally called "The Remedy." It is almost wholly due to this careful, solid, and scientific method that "The Remedy" is never found. For this scheme of medical question and answer is a blunder; the first great blunder of sociology. It is always called stating the disease before we find the cure. But it is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease.

Chesterton's caricature proves helpful. We are being studied by the magnified eye of the social scientist that sees before his eyes a shattered world that lacks organization. In America, Uncle Sam has fallen off the wall of the ideal city on a hill, and, lying broken, beaten, and bruised, he is in need of all the President's horses and all the President's men to fulfill the American rights of life, liberty, and freedom from social inequality, as guaranteed by social welfare equally distributed to every citizen in the new global society.

The medical mistake Chesterton refers to is caused when politicians, social commentators, and social scientists treat the body politic as if it were a human body, which they liken to a social organism, all neatly laid out with graphs, charts, and pies, sliced, diced, and categorized, to aid in diagnosing the social diseases affecting its health.

The modern social experts examine the body politic, moving from the limbs, to torso, to head, and diagnose the bruises to be the current economic downturn, high unemployment, home foreclosures, obesity, drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, unwanted pregnancies, children born out of wed-lock, abortion, high school drop-out rates, racial discrimination, gender bias, homophobia, latch-key children, the decay of the family, etc.

To solve these problems, the political and social experts, like physicians treating the sick, immediately prescribe a regimen of social programs -- "The Remedy"-- to cure the social disorders and diseases causing the current broken state of the nation.

The whole idea of a social cure never works, Chesterton notes, because it is a logical mistake committed by politicians and social commentators who begin at the wrong end of the political question or social problem. They have taken a turn to the left by not asking what is the right shape for man.

. . . the sociological method is quite useless: that of first dissecting abject poverty or cataloguing prostitution. We all dislike abject poverty but it might be another business if we began to discuss independent and dignified poverty. We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity. The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity? . . . What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.

The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. You cannot point to the social evils of poverty and prostitution as vices without the ideal of purity and the dignified poverty of a Mother Teresa who has given her all. Medical science is content with the normal human body, and knows when it has been cured. Physicians have medical standards by which they measure and know what normal is; for example, the normal temperature of the body is 98.6, etc. But the social sciences, Chesterton notes, is by no means content with the normal human soul; it has all sorts of fancy souls for sale. Man as a social idealist will say "I am tired of being a Puritan; I want to be a Pagan," or "Beyond this dark probation of Individualism I see the shining paradise of Collectivism.

The medical problem results because the social scientist does not have an ideal shape in mind for the human soul. In fact, the social scientist makes the scientific fallacy of denying man a soul as it cannot be seen when using the magnifying method of the natural sciences, though it works well with entomology. Unlike the natural scientist, the astronomer, biologist, chemist, and physicist using telescopes, microscopes, petri dishes, calibrators, etc., to study the objects in nature; the principal instrument used by the social scientist to dissect man is the survey, which is simply a piece of paper, a questionnaire, which is given to a group of "human subjects" to answer. When all the data is collected, the social scientist totals up the numbers -- it must be numbers -- and does a statistical analysis which gives him the norm, which he uses as the point from which to measure the current patterns of social behavior.

The crux of the matter is, Chesterton notes, that:

There are two things, and two things alone, for the human mind, a dogma and a prejudice. A doctrine is a definite point; a prejudice is a direction. The Middle Ages were a rational epoch, an age of doctrine. Our age is, at its best a poetical epoch, an age of prejudice. That an ox may be eaten, while a man should not be eaten, is a doctrine. That as little as possible of anything should be eaten is a prejudice, which is also sometimes called an ideal. . . . The essential of the difference is this: that prejudices are divergent, whereas creeds are always in collision. Believers bump into each other; whereas bigots keep out of each others' way. A creed is a collective thing, and even sins are sociable. A prejudice is a private thing, and even its tolerance is misanthropic.

Track, for example, the modern social scientist's study of society conducted by a selective survey, pointing out the latest social indicators in the article, The New Norm, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on June 10:

A national survey indicates that teens are too accepting of out-of-wedlock births, but teen births have flattened and contraceptive use is up. It has long been a staple in the abstinence-only crowd that teaching contraceptive use to teenagers results in more teen sex.

The National Survey of Family Growth found that the number of teen girls and boys who had sex had not changed significantly from 2002 to the 2006-2008 period in this recent survey. However, the number of girls who used a contraceptive (most likely a condom) during premarital sex rose to 84 percent, up from 55 percent in 1985. Among boys, use of the condom was 81 percent up from 71 percent.

A social scientist ends up with a norm that is not normal; he has no standards. The word normal, from the Latin norma, literally means carpenter's square, and is the standard by which one measures, when building a home. Applied in the medical field, the physician, though not the craftsman of a human being, has the standards by which he knows the normal (temperature, blood pressure, blood consistency, etc.) when diagnosing sickness and injury to restore health.

However, there is no end to the studies of the social scientist, who moves to the tune of "induction never ends," and seems to be waiting for the fact that will bring with it a revelation. But that fact will never arrive: experience does not tell us what we are experiencing. (Weaver, Rhetoric)

C. S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, noted, from propositions about fact alone no "practical" conclusion can ever be drawn. (That) this will preserve (life) cannot lead to "do this" except by the mediation of (life) "ought to be preserved." In other words, the positivist cannot get a conclusion -- a dogma -- in the imperative mood out of a premise in the indicative mood; he cannot learn what he ought to do from what it is in his power to do. A prejudice can never become a dogma.

There is nothing modern concerning the method of the social scientist as it is practiced by the smaller man mounted on the larger man's back. Listen as Socrates, in Plato's, Republic, describes the smaller man's method of observation as that of the sophist,

It is as if a man were acquiring the knowledge of the humors and desires of a great strong beast which he had in his keeping, how it is to be approached and touched, and when and by what things it is made most savage or gentle, yes, and the several sounds it is wont to utter on the occasion of each, and again what sounds uttered by another make it tame or fierce, and after mastering this knowledge by living with the creature and by lapse of time should call it wisdom, and should construct thereof a system and art and turn to the teaching of it, knowing nothing in reality about which of these opinions and desires is honorable or base, good or evil, just or unjust, but should apply all these terms to the judgments of the great beast, calling the things that pleased it good, and the things that vexed it bad . . .

Standing outside and looking down on man, the modern social scientist is a one-eyed Cyclops only interested in knowing how the great beast responds by listening to the sounds it makes which he then methodically records. He has burnt out the interior eye of his soul with his magnifying glass and therefore lacks soulful depth perception and the grammar of virtue to describe a person's actions. The man under his magnifying glass will not exhibit moderation, self-control, courage, covetousness, gluttony, sloth, lust, anger, righteous indignation, prudence, and cowardice. Now he can only classify a person as having a personality that is typed, A or B, and given that man is an animal, he is no longer seen as having a free will. What were previously considered actions, will be labeled "behaviors," which are simply reactions caused by social, biological, and economic conditions. Man is determined by his genetic predispositions and responses to the conditions of his environment. Responsibility is replaced with pleasurable and painful experiences, and thought is replaced with how a person feels. Like the great beast the sophist studies, man can be surveyed and recorded in the sounds it is wont to utter to determine how he feels. The sophist's knowledge puts him in the position of an animal conditioner as he knows how to appease man's desires and satisfy his sensual whims.

When a man becomes an anthropologist, he denies all that is not quantifiable. Science cannot find freedom and, unless it is operable, it has nothing to do with the heart. When he tries to be scientific about man, the most noted failure of the 20th century, the social scientist negates the soul where literature, verse, art and music are the formative means of developing the heart. In by-passing the language of the heart for information about man, the social scientist ends in eliminating virtue where thought corresponds to action and the unexamined life is not worth living.

This sophisticated Cyclops detaches himself from mankind and treats him like the animal of which Socrates spoke. He ends in classifying human beings by the categories of race, class, sex, and ethnicity because he has instituted a prejudice which directs him, as it were, to cut man into pieces. With razor-like precision, he further cuts up each and every one of us by height, weight, hair color, body type, age, economic status, nationality, state, ability to own a home, and status -- economic, marital, medically insured, employment, etc. all of which can be seen as subcultures or parts of the larger culture. Vivant Gordon, in her article "Multicultural Education: Some Thoughts from an Afro-centric Perspective," furthers my points when she states regarding a college education:

For a first-year student to depart from that established path [the Eurocentric perspective] will be a bold undertaking requiring the election of a curriculum that promotes an equitable study of the cultures and contemporary issues of the national non-white citizenry. This prickly path will require the pursuit of courses of study such as African-American, Chinese-American, Native-American, Japanese-American, Puerto-Rican American, and Women's Studies as well as other studies of the pluralism of America.

Gordon laments the plight of all the ethnocentricity of America's non-white citizenry, who are not a part of the dominant culture, when faced with the absence of their presence among the Greco-Roman tradition. She further assumes that the study of contemporary issues of the national non-white citizenry is essential for an equitable study of cultures and contemporary issues.

Vivant Gordon uses the anthropological sense of culture to be defined as a group of people with common mores, values, customs, and race. She further defines a subculture to be an association wherever two or three people have something in common. In order to have "cultural diversity" at universities, Vivant Gordon advocates an assortment of "studies" from the "perspective" of each race to properly inculcate what has hitherto been the "Eurocentric (Greco-Roman) male point of view."

Implicit in her assumption is that each hyphenated American group has a culture which provides a perspective of the world. Given that America is a nation of people from every nation in the world, and each of these people has a culture, and each culture provides a perspective, and all perspectives deserve equal study, it is unfair and unjust in the pluralism of America to say that one of the plurals, one of the perspectives, has a privileged position. When boiled down, this means an Afro-American has his view, a Cuban-American has his view, a Japanese-American has his view, a Greco-Roman has a view, and, as all views are equal, they all deserve to be taught.

Furthermore, notice, that on Vivant Gordon's prickly path of cultural studies, she also included Women's Studies.

With this inclusion, the other cultural perspectives must be doubled and perhaps even tripled. Help me! Is there an Afro-American perspective, or is there a female Afro-American perspective in addition to a male Afro-American perspective? Naturally, if there is a female Afro-American perspective and Aristotle is right that the whole must be composed of its parts, then each part -- each woman -- must have the same perspective. However, the women I know do not think, look or act alike, any more than the men I know, think, look, or act alike, which means each individual has a unique perspective from where he sits. (How about a course in the individual American?)

Furthermore, if each culture offers a perspective and each sex has a perspective and each person has a perspective, and all perspectives are equal, why would anyone want to study another person's perspective when he could study himself on his Facebook page? Why should a Japanese-American study about an Afro-American if each person has a perspective of the world? This prejudice which is not a dogma results in cultural relativism, and when all ways of life are equal, there is no way life ought to be lived; there are no normal moral standards, no dogmas from which to measure, so morality becomes a matter of opinion.

In America, our children are taught to celebrate cultural diversity under the social ideal of tolerance, as if it were the Christian virtue of charity, of love of one's neighbor. The social doctrine of tolerance is based on acceptance of human difference according to race, class, and gender but without any sense of what unites us as American citizens. It celebrates pluralism devoid of a uniting principle. E pluribus Unum, "Out of many," one has been replaced by "out of one, many." Its tolerance is misanthropic. So it is with our existing divisions. They keep out of each other's ways. . . . What kind of parent tolerates his child? What kind of neighbor tolerates his neighbor?

Vivant's form of diversity, a prejudice for choosing authors by the color of their skin and not by the content of their characters, lacks the unifying principle necessary for qualitative judgment. This is the norm in the modern progressive university as driven home by the textbook Diversity in Families, which I picked up in my campus bookstore and is used in a course in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.

I opened the book and read the first paragraph: (and I quote)

Families are in flux. Far-reaching changes in society are altering family life and bring forth contrasting interpretations of these changes . . . Widespread divorce, the growth of single-parent families, cohabitation, and the rise of out-of-wedlock births suggest that the family is disintegrating. On the other hand, these patterns can be interpreted to show that although some families may be troubled, the family is very much alive as it changes in response to the surrounding world.
For starters, the popular wisdom that we are witnessing the breakdown of the family is based on a stubborn myth that the family of the past was better than the family of the present. The family is pictured as being cohesive, communicative, and highly committed to one another. . . the family of the good old days would be seen as highly romantic, descended from Puritan manners and morals of anti-sexual bias rooted in a divinely ordained sexual monogamy. . .
However, the reality of the myth of family life is quite different . . . there is no golden age. . . . In reality, there was desertion by spouses and illegitimate children . . . that society is decaying because of high divorce rates overlooks that countless marriages in the past were ended simply by desertion. To judge marriage of past times as better than contemporary marriage is to ignore historical changes.
Historical change is revealing that the myth upon which the traditional American family is based is the product of a "false universalization, of assuming a single, uniform family experience. . . . This myth of one legitimate family type has distorted our reasoning about why families are different. . . . When in fact new scholarship on the family has shown that throughout history major social structural forces have created a diversity of family forms.

The diversity of family forms, the new norm for the authors of the textbook, is one of a vast majority of single-parent houses, most of which are maintained by mothers living in poverty. And households maintained by persons living alone contribute to the expansion of living arrangements and this surge of non-family households includes an increase in young adults moving away from home, postponement of marriage, continued high rate of divorce, and an growing number of old persons living alone.

Textbook conclusion:

People with limited resources have used their families to fashion solutions to the problems of day-to-day living. Family strategies may require unique work patterns, kinship and living arrangements, and distinctive forms of interpersonal relationships . . . As families adapt to the world around them, they may take on characteristics that differ from the monolithic family type.

Notice the opening premise, families are in flux, which the social scientist deduces from doing a survey of the current living arrangements that have replaced, heaven forbid, the anti-sexual bias of Puritanical marriage rooted in a divinely ordained sexual monogamy. Remember the norm is not normal. The dogma of marriage is a false universalization that is proven because some marriages ended in desertion and divorce. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.

This is like a doctor arguing that the ideal of a normal healthy person is a false universalization. Given that the human body is in flux and recent studies show a majority of Americans are obese, this proves that there is a diversity of human forms that take on characteristics that differ from the monolithic body type of the predominately male Greco-Roman perspective.

The new social idealist is a progressive socialist who is opposed to the dark probation of Individualism and sees the future shining paradise of collectivism which Chesterton, one hundred years ago, was attuned to as the rising of the social scientist turned the scientific method on man to control and order his life toward the end of the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

The last few decades have been marked by a special cultivation of the romance of the future. We seem to have made up our minds to misunderstand what has happened; and we turn, with a sort of relief, to stating what will happen -- which is (apparently) much easier. . . . The modern mind is forced towards the future by a certain sense of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past. It is propelled towards the coming time; it is, in the exact words of the popular phrase, knocked into the middle of next week. And the goad which drives it on thus eagerly is not an affectation for futurity. Futurity does not exist, because it is still future. Rather it is a fear of the past; a fear not merely of the evil in the past, but of the good in the past also. The brain breaks down under the unbearable virtue of mankind. . . . The older generation, not the younger, is knocking at our door.

Aristotle long ago noted that the family of father, mother, and children is the natural domestic society that comes before political society. It is the social relationship necessary for the end and perfection of government. So goes the family, so goes civil society. The modern family has not fluctuated into a diversity of family forms, it is broken and in a state of decay.

In fact, the family is the ideal, from which G. K. Chesterton measures what's wrong with the world, and I quote:

Now, for the purpose of this book, I propose to take only one of these old ideals; but one that is perhaps the oldest. I take the principle of domesticity: the ideal house; the happy family, the holy family of history. For the moment it is only necessary to remark that it is like the church and like the republic, now chiefly assailed by those who have never known it, or by those who have failed to fulfill it. Numberless modern women have rebelled against domesticity in theory because they have never known it in practice.

Now, I was a young man when my wife introduced me to the principle of domesticity, so young, in fact, that I did not have the opportunity to take a social science course to survey the state of the fluctuating family I tied myself into on my wedding day. However, I do know a husband should never attempt to study his wife by taking a survey of her behaviors and comparing her with other women. There is no better way to get yourself in hot water, and this is as it should because a wife is like a fire. Chesterton states:

In the ideal family there is a wife who is like a fire, or to put things in their proper proportion, the fire is like the wife. Like the fire, the woman is expected to cook, not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better that her husband who is earning the coke by lecturing on botany or breaking stones. . . . Like the fire, the woman is expected to illuminate and ventilate, not by the most startling revelations or the wildest winds of thought, but better than a man can do it after breaking stones or lecturing. . . . Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs.

Chesterton's analogy of a wife being like fire sounds primitive. Who but a pre-Socratic philosopher looking for the primary stuff, the Urstoff, of all things, would compare a wife to one of the four basic elements. Everyone knows fire lives by feeding on, by consuming and transforming into itself, heterogeneous matter. A fire springs up, as it were, from a multitude of objects. If a wife were a fire she would consume and seek to transform those around her into herself, and without this supply of material (her husband and children) she would die down and cease to exist. (The very existence of fire depends on this "strife" and "tension.")

Furthermore, it does not seem right to the thoroughly modern-minded sociologist to compare a wife to a fire, since the home has been electrified and wives have given up the wood stove and the cauldron for the microwave and the crock-pot. Nor would the wife of the technological age, who is bent on finding herself outside the home as a professional, be thought the source of illumination to her children.

If Chesterton is going to compare a wife to a fire then certainly he would agree to carry the analogy further and compare a husband to the wind, and conclude by weaving the two together in one flesh, so that fire lives the death of air, and air the death of fire. Without the wind the fire cannot feed and without the fire the earth would be a windless, cold, and barren planet. Thus as the Heavens are to the Earth, so is a husband to a wife.

However, today there is much talk about a woman's right to be self-sufficient by landing a job outside the home, as though leaving home were a form of emancipation granted previously only to men. The idea that the wife has been discouraged from leaving home and the work of housewifery presupposes the husband had been liberated by leaving home for a job alongside other men. This, however, is a lie.

Before the electrification of America, most people were farmers and their ancestors were serfs, peasants and commoners. My forefathers left, or lost, their farms for a variety of reasons: war, the Depression, drought, tuberculosis, or the lure of the city.

It was not a glorious day when the first husband, in a long line of husbandmen, replaced the crow of the cock with the ring of a clock, and, showering before work, put on clean clothes to impress strangers. Nor was it a great moment in history -- fluxing before our eyes -- when the electrified husbandman started his day by listening to the news (which is forever the same thing being made to seem quite new) while eating cereal out of a box and then packing a lunch, all before punching a clock which calculates "hours worked" to be multiplied by X number of cents to be received at the end of the week. Conversely, a husbandman never had a job; he labored, but he did not have a job. No husbandman ever woke and said, "I have to go to my job." Nor did he dream about retirement, the day when his labor would be finished. There is no end to the "work" on a farm, as there is no beginning point in the cyclical movement of the seasons.

Today there are few husbandmen who "dress and keep" Mother Earth with their wives and their eight children (the average on my mother's side of the family from the Revolutionary War till the beginning of the 20th century.) Now there are husbands who work at one job. Whereas before a man had been a jack of many trades (laying brick, logging, blacksmithing, cutting ice, practicing animal husbandry, and mastering an assortment of tools: from spades to picks, to hammers, saws, planes, files, braces, chisels, belt punch, and tongs), now he has become a monomaniac who does one job the entire day (driving a bread truck, laying bricks, operating a lathe, stocking shelves, working in a mill, climbing telephone poles, or doing sociological surveys). But though the husband became narrower, his wife remained broad in the keeping of the kingdom at home.

The home is meant to be a place of schooling that begins on the first day with the baptism of a name and rises to the comfort of a mother's lap. It is in the home where the children learn their mother tongue and noble ways, through tales that warn against the witches, wizards, dragons, and demons who feed on the innocent. A good mother raises her children in work, study, and play: from feeding animals to weeding the garden; from peeling potatoes to baking bread; from churning butter to plucking chickens; from drawing out letters to reading Scripture; from pressing leaves to decorating cakes; from nature walks to sack races; from stitching clothes to sowing shut wounds; from bathing children to washing the bodies of her dead to be placed before the community in the front room of her home. Such a wife is ruler of the home, fueling her children with a love that understands the work of housewifery and motherhood as all consuming as it involved the transformation of the children.

No doubt such thoughts are labeled romantic, a glorification of a past that never existed and could not possibly exist now. However, that wives at home, who as Aristotelians taught morals, manners, theology, and hygiene to their children, were broader and their work more important than their husbands,' narrowed in the shop, cannot be denied.

And there will be those who argue that although there was such a time, there is no going back. However, there are mothers at home today burning brightly with their children. It can only be achieved one home at a time. Furthermore, do not be mistaken in thinking that we have gone forward. We have traded our cyclical life for a linear view of progress. We are being pushed down corridors into one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs all at the expense of being broad. *

"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt." --Thomas Jefferson

Read 1902 times Last modified on Sunday, 29 November 2015 09:47
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