Arthur to John, February 25, 1948
February 25, 1948
Your kind words regarding the "urgency' of my communication gave me furiously to think. An unguent is an oil or grease. I am not sure that an effort at what we might hope was "urbanity," which resulted in the impression of "oiliness" was an altogether successful effort. I persist in the hope that the error lies in your choice of words. Will you accept the substitute I offer? James Branch Cabell (to me one of the major latter-day prophets) insists that "urbanity" is a greatly needed quality, to be admired wherever and whenever it is encountered.
I have no quarrel with a practical scientist yielding to mystic influences if only in the form of a belief in the "breaks" or "luck". I am too Irish to be able to free myself of such influences, although I think, in common with most such episodes, we can rationalize most of them out of existence. The mystic when applied to the realm of beauty as expressed in the arts - poetry, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, is much more difficult to rationalize. Beauty in the realm of ethics or morals is still more outside the scientist's ken, as these manifestations involve paradoxes in logic that stultify the scientific method. They are none the less valid. "He that loseth his life shall find it." Demonstrably true but utterly illogical. And so through whole philosophic labyrinths, to a goal not to be deduced from the path-way leading thereto.
It occurs to me to indite footnotes to your X Club Symposium. I therefor return same with my comments, numbered as indicated in the text.
(a) So often you tend to couple the words "stogy" and "engineer". I submit they are not interdependent.
(b) Look up other theories of the Philosophy of History. Have you read Tolstoi's "War & Peace?" He demonstrates very convincingly that tyrants and dictators such as Napoleon Bonaparte were and are spokesmen of their times and products of the integration of public opinion of their day, quite as much as any so-called democratic leaders you might mention.
(c) Even so crude a device as the Gallup Poll often indicates that our leaders are led. Public opinion is usually in advance of the more timid or "cagy" in public life.
(d) We are cocky, with so little real excuse. A negro share-cropper in Mississippi has little to contribute to our composite strength.
(e) I question the destructiveness of our instincts. What causes our damnation is our greed and selfishness - to further which we can goad ourselves into acts of destruction which normally are quite repugnant to us when our place at the trough is not threatened.
(f) Heretofore sound doctrine - but a gradual awareness of further elaborations is discernable. With the complexity of our modern society and the impact upon it of tides and forces of incalculable social weight, I think other functions of government must come into play - regulatory and pre-planned moves which will restrict our individual freedoms to an extent rather apalling to thinkers of, say, a generation ago, we won't like it and we will long for the "good old days." Also, so much virgin territory must be invaded and explored that a considerable degree of "cut and try" is inevitable, with the attendant discord and unhappiness. But if anybody thinks that the problems of the machine age have been solved, they're crazy. I have a notion they are unsolvable, but we are doomed to try and try and keep on trying.
(g) It is not demonstrable that political leaders are better or worse than they were 2000 years ago, nor are we justified in looking for much change 2000 years hence.
(h) I am not a disciple of Sir Stafford Cripps but I submit it is grossly unfair to point the finger at England's planned economy until it has had several years longer to get going. One cannot help but feel however the force of Winston Churchill's cruel jibe. He pointed to Sir Stafford and quipped "There, but for the grace of God, goes God!"
(i) When the masses were taught to read and write, the chances for this were greatly reduced. In the old days only the ruling classes were called upon to work out the salvation of society. Now "everybody want to get into the act." If too many cooks threaten to spoil the broth, it is inevitable that some attempt must be made to regulate the cooks.
(j) You should read Henshaw Ward, who demonstrates the undemonstrability of the existance of any Moral law other than the concensus of opinion of mankind at any time and place, which concensus can vary and fluctuate. The only alternative to this is to postulate a revealed morality. This, except for a few religionists, the world is not yet ready to do.
(k) They are virtues only when done by Russians. We consider them virtues when done by Americans. To be sure we sugar-coat the pill with a thousand euphonies so that we succeed admirably in kidding ourselves.
(l) Meditate a bit on the philosophy of Quakerism. Non-resistance is one of the approaches to an answer. Are you able to bring yourself to this solution? I'm not. Even if theoretically their thesis is unanswerable.
(m) Unfortunately these are not dogs, but people. What a woeful blind alley we are travelling when we realize that they are sons and daughters of our common Heavenly Father -- brothers and sisters of the Son of Man. So what? I dunno.
(n) Consider our morality as of AD 1948. The severed 'profit motive' allows as much dog-eat-dog as any slave system ever permitted. In the old south the slave system was often quite paternalistic. Now we tell them they are free and equal and then set the Ku Klux Klan after them.
(o) "Live" insofar as resistance to interferance from other nations. This does not care too well for the "living" problems of a domestic nature -- unless and until the autocracy takes a paternalistic complexion, restraining the strong from preying upon the weak.
(p) I hope you are right. I fear you are wrong. The "New Deal" has been so damned and derided that one wonders if it can ever be revised in our time if need should arise. This much I know -- if conditions of 1931 - 1932 - 1933 should ever return, we shall have substantially what we had under the New Deal, or we shall have rioting and red revolution by violence. The American people are an impatient people, a violent and an impetuous people. We do so like to tell ourselves otherwise -- to picture ourselves as peace loving -- generous -- highly civilized. Our veneer is in point of fact very thin. We are stinking rotten rich in the natural resources of our incredible continent. As long as the gravy holds out we can dwell in some semblance of civilized amity. When it runs short, either through exhaustion or through economic mal-adjustment, we can behave ourselves most unseemly "till dazed by many doubts we wake the drumming guns that know no doubts."
So we poor religionists continue to occupy ourselves with the thoughts of a "kingdom which is not of this world." Our lives are one long series of compromises, which we must concede if we are to live in a society so far short of the ideal. But we should never kid ourselves -- they are compromises, Make-shifts. As such they fail to bring full satisfactions -- but what else can one do?
Regards -- A. W.
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