John to Arthur, March 7, 1948
Box 107, Hamilton, Illinois
March 7, 1948
Joe's birthday - let's see, the kid brother must be 49.
Yours of 2/25 much appreciated. I get quite a bang out of your refreshing slants: you do not encourage my mental ruts. And our respective waist lines do not lend themselves to the art of fencing, but I am nonetheless inclined to yell "touche", and to continue my awkward slashings at your middle.
I, too, like to split hairs occasionally on shades of meaning on chance selection of words. No written language is a perfect vehicle of expression, but it is a challenge to whatever artistic sense we possess to stir the imagination of a reader by a dash of color. You have given me "urbanity" vs. "unguency", but still fail to ring the bell. I admit the connotation of "oiliness" does not fit; but "grease", in the sense of social axel lubrication is applicble. So I humbly suggest a compromise substitute, namely: suave. Again we are faced with a dozen implications which would rouse your ire, for you are neither smug or oily, but affable and persuasive should be added to mere superficial politeness. Now kick that around! (Scarcely an Adolph Menjou type of villain) On second thought, why don't we stick to good old "courtesy" which lacks the faults of "politeness" and can only expand positively? Tried and true, but safe and dull, in good old P. E. tradition.
How can a scientist fail to be a mystic when confronted with recent shenanigans of the "indivisable" atom, and birth and death, and that sort of thing? It is no cloistered secret that things pop despite our rough-hewing, nor that our chances are better for survival and happiness if our hewing conforms to the classical lines of history. Personally I bow my head at the forces at work in a hydro-generator with quite as much awe as "finding life through losing it". The maximum density of water at 38 degrees, and the consequences thereof, is demonstrable thank goodness, but entirely illogical, even as the waywardness of man. So we play the hand as dealt the best we can, but it is still a game of cards.
"Stodgy" and "Engineer" are not necessarily interdependent - granted - but the breed tends that way because of absorption in physical concepts for a large percentage of diet; and Herbert Hoover and I are no exceptions. Occasionally I make a self-conscious sortie from my cloister - witness the enclosed letters - but it is painful and of doubtful effect.
Why pick on the share-cropper example - the exception - to undermine the thesis of freedom of the individual? Aren't most Americans intelligent, and wouldn't excessive limitations sap the integrated strength of the nation?
If our instincts are not destructive, why does a baby love to make a shambles of a pile of blocks? The thrill of building follows an educational process. Perhaps we stumble on a point of definition: greed and selfishness, to me are this self-same instinct rampant.
You speak of the complexity of modern society rendering the heretofore basic tenets of government obsolete. We heard a lot of that bleating during the New Deal regime, and eches from HAW, the Iowa jack-ass. Change the rules with changing times, to be sure, but your grandiose pre-planned moves must be conceived and executed by mere men - not gods. Can you remember only two years ago a meeting in San Fransicso by similarly disposed people of good will and otherwise, from all over the world - and now look at the damned thing. Most assuredly the problems of the machine age are not solved, and more assuredly they will not be solved by retrogression to any form of despotism. History is full of the consequences of faith in any form of benevolent autocracy or bureaucracy. They gum up, and then people fight to slough it off again.
Political leaders are no better nor worse than they were 2000 years ago - agreed - therefore, checks and balances are even more important today amid machine age complexities, because these same leaders are the ones who have to cope with it. Yet you "planners" would grant them greater powers. I shudder!
When the "ruling classes" departed it was good riddance. Your fear concerning "too many cooks" overlooks the fact that we are not a democracy, but a representative form of government. We hire our help and keep them in a bird cage where they can be watched, except for the poisonous bureaucrats. And we kick them out if we are dissatisfied, but even we cannot upset the applecart too precepitously for our own good, through the wise provisions of tenure of office and the trinity of functions.
The philosophy of Quakerism strongly appeals to me. I don't know too much about it, but I believe the power of non-resistance is demonstrable. Ghandi, for instance, may become one of the most potent influences in the history of India. The aggressiveness of Quakers in business matters poses a question of consistency, but they are the only form of aristocracy which rings true to me. I am an aristocrat to the extent that I do not believe the adored "common man" shares with me or my intellectual betters such things as good taste, for instance. He should have the opportunity to acquire such attributes, but the degree of ability or desire to absorbe them is not born in all men equally. And the 500-year pedigree of my neighbor's English setter has much to do with its blue ribbons. But for the "peace of mind that passeth all understanding" I believe the Quakers have something.
You left yourself wide open on the "mad dog" comparison with blindly-led people who threaten the security of the world. To be sure they share our common Heavenly Father, and so does brother dog. And when brother mosquito stings you, you slap - wham! Cannnot remember the quotation about sparrows, but you can. No parent enjoys spanking a child, but maybe you have "planned" to do away with that. However, I share your expression of pity, and I like you for it.
I am glad you have the sense of whatever security your religion affords. I lack the comfort of "belonging". Realizing my own inadequacies I engineered an affilliation for my younger children which Dorris has sensibly shared, in the local Methodist church. My expectations for them have been more than gratified. I am too old a dog to change my breed, and live on background.
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