Thursday, June 10, 2010

What Is Wrong With the World

Book: What Is Wrong With the World
Author: GK Chesterton
Edition: Guntenberg
Read: June 2010
108 pages
Rated: 2 out of 5

Books about social evils start and end somewhat similar—presents statistics with anecdotally evidence. Then presents the remedy. In reality, the remedy is almost never found. Chesterton says we have the cart before the horse—we should know what the cure will be, before finding out what is the problem—I think he has gone over the edge here. At least in my mind, it sounds like you are forcing a cure for whatever problem you come across. But his point is more we usually agree about what the evil is. It is the cure or the good which we disagree about. What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.(Chp 1)

Chapter 4 talks about our ideas. He indicates that rather than perfect what we have thought about in the past-we as mankind-we will retreat from these ideas because they are too big. We are not big enough people to attempts. We are afraid to look back at the huge, unfulfilled ideas, abandoning them for the lesser thoughts of the present.

Chesterton in chapter 5 goes through a series of contradictions and makes a couple conclusions. First is the famous quotation of Christianity is an idea that has been tried and found wanting, but it has been difficult and left untried. The second concerns politics. He asks the question, why is that in the French revolution did Robespierre and others remain popular, despite the unpopular bloodshed? His conclusion is that they did not take advantage of the situation to make themselves rich. While the politicians today may start poor-few do—and end rich.

In the chapter Wisdom and the Weather, he talks about how women have it wrong considering males. This is part of his attack on feminism. Chesterton was affected by what he saw his sisters-in-law had to go through as working girls. So he considered it more appriopriate that a women be in the home rather than on the factory floor. This was the day when at the best a women could be somebody in the office. But more than likely, she would be in a sweat shop. He was particularly upset about women interfering in male conversations. He felt they were a distraction, with very little to add. But this was in contrast with how he treated his wife. In many ways, he thought that a woman was superior to a man. He talks about how a man may be only clever, but a woman has wisdom—at least wisdom which counts. He feels that a  women is kept at home so that she can become a universalist in thought and wisdom, rather than a specialist as a worker is required to be. To Chesterton, this is a large undertaking. Lets take a teacher in a classroom. The teacher needs to understand their subject matter, but does not need to go beyond it. While with your own children, you need to be able to illuminate on everything.

He talks about what is democracy.  From his perspective, it is not everyone gets to vote and the most votes wins. But that each person has justice and equal access to it. It also means that we are equally represented. One of Chesterson's concerns is that as science/technology advances, civilization becomes more individual. While we think this is good; Chesterton sees that power is more concentrated amongst a few. Consequently, science can be anti-democratic.

 What Is Wrong With the World was written over a 100 years ago. There is many parts of this book which just does not stand up very well today. We read his attack on feminism in today's lense rather than his times. Or his take on Jews-he was an anti-Semantic in many ways. But when you look at the bigger picture of what he is trying to convey, you get the impression that he still has much to say to us.

New Words:
Theodolite - a precision instrument for measuring angles in the horizontal and vertical planes. Theodolites are mainly used for surveying applications, and have been adapted for specialized purposes in fields like metrology and rocket launch technology.  Wikipediea

Good Quotes:
  • The thread of comradeship and conversation must be protected because it Is so frivolous. Dedication
  • … men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back. Chp 4 – The Fear of the Past
  • We have not only left undone those things that we ought to have done, but we have even left undone those things that we wanted to do . Chp 4 – The Fear of the Past
  • Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. Chp 5 – The Unfinished Temple
  • The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. Chp 5 – The Unfinished Temple
  • There is only one thing new that can be done under the sun; and that is to look at the sun. If you attempt it on a blue day in June, you will know why men do not look straight at their ideals. There is only one really startling thing to be done with the ideal, and that is to do it. Chp 6 – The Enemies of Property
  • Property is merely the art of the democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of heaven. Chp 6 – The Enemies of Property
  • Friendship must be physically dirty if it is to be morally clean. It must be in its shirt sleeves. Part II - Wisdom and the Weather
  • Democracy in its human sense is not arbitrament by the majority; it is not even arbitrament by everybody. It can be more nearly defined as arbitrament by anybody. Part III – The Common Vision
  • what men like is not the triumph of superiors, but the struggle of equals. Part III – The Common Vision
  • Submission to a weak man is discipline. Submission to a strong man is only servility. Part IV – The Insane Necessity
  • What makes it difficult for the average man to be a universalist is that the average man has to be a specialist; he has not only to learn one trade, but to learn it so well as to uphold him in a more or less ruthless society. Chp 3.2 – The Universal Stick