hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010
Dorothy & Agatha

Dorothy L Sayers

From "Unpopular Opinions" (1947)

I have called this collection of fugitive pieces Unpopular Opinions, partly, to be sure, because to warn a person off a book is the surest way of getting him to read it, but chiefly because I have evidence that all the opinions expressed have in fact caused a certain amount of annoyance one way and the other. Indeed the papers called "Christian Morality", "Forgiveness" and "Living To Work" were so unpopular with the persons who commissioned them that they were supressed before they appeared; the first because the magazine that commissioned it feared that its readers would be shocked by what they understood of it; the second because what the Editor of a respectable newspaper wanted (and got) was Christian sanction for undying hatred against the enemy' the third-originally intended for a Sunday evening B.B.C. "Postscript"-on the heterogeneous grounds that it appeared to have political tendencies, and that "our public do not want to be admonished by a woman.". . .

Speaking generally, the first section courts unpopularity by founding itself on theology and not on "religion". The second will offend all those who are irritated by England and the English, all those who use and enjoy slatternly forms of speech, all manly men, womanly women, and people who prefer wealth to work. The third will annoy those who can't bear other people to enjoy themselves in their own way.

What Do We Believe?

. . .The men who create with their minds and those who create (not merely labour) with their hands will, I think, agree that their periods of creative activity are those in which they feel right with themselves and the world. And those who bring life into the world will tell you the same thing. There is a psychological theory that artistic creation is merely a "compensation" for the frustration of sexual creativeness; but it is more probable that the making of life is only one manifestation of the universal urge to create. Our worst trouble to-day is our feeble hold on creation. To sit down and let ourselves be spoon-fed with the ready-made is to lose grip on our only true life and our only real selves. . .

. . .And indeed, when we are asked, "What do you value more than life?" the answer can only be, "Life-the right kind of life, the creative and god-like life." And life, of any kind, can be had only if we are prepared to lose life altogether - a plain observation of fact that we acknowledge every time a child is born, or, indeed, whenever we plunge into a stream of traffic in the hope of attaining a more desirable life on the other side. . .They accept for themselves everything that was affirmed of creative life incarnate, including the love and, if necessary, the crucifixion, death, and victory. Looking at what happened to that life, they will expect to be saved, not from danger and suffering, but in danger and suffering.

Are Women Human?

"I am always entertained - and also irritated - by the newsmongers who inform us, with a bright air of discovery, that they have questioned a number of female workers and been told by one and all that they are "sick of the office and would love to get out of it." In the name of God, what human being is not, from time to time, heartily sick of the office and would not love to get out of it? . . .Being human beings, they like work just as much and just as little as anybody else. . .The number of men who daily damn and blast typewriters is incalculable; but that does not mean they would be happier doing a little plain sewing. Nor would the women."

The Human Not-Quite Human

". . .Probably no man has ever troubled to imagine how strange his life would appear to himself if it were unrelentingly assessed in terms of his maleness; if everything he wore, said or did had to be justified by reference to female approval; if he were compelled to regard himself, day in day out, not as a member of society, but merely (salva reverentia) as a virile member of society. If the centre of his dress-consciousness were the cod-piece, his education directed to making him a spirited lover and meek paterfamilias; his interests held to be natural only in so far as they were sexual. If from school and lecture-room, Press and pulpit, he heard the persistent outpouring of a shrill and scolding voice, bidding him remember his biological function, If he were vexed by continual advice how to add a rough male touch to his typing, how to be learned without losing his masculine appeal, how to combine chemical research with seduction, how to play bridge without incurring the suspicion of impotence. If, instead of allowing with a smile that "women prefer cave-men", he felt the unrelenting pressure of a whole social structure forcing him to order all his goings in conformity with that pronouncement.

He would hear (and would he like hearing?) the female counterpart of Dr. Peck (Dr. Peck had disclaimed adherence to the Kinder, Kirche, Kuche school of thought) informing him: "I am no supporter of the Horseback Hall doctrine of `gun-tail, plough-tail and stud' as the only spheres of masculine action; but we do need a more definite conception of the nature and scope of a man's life." In any book on sociology he would find, after the main portion dealing with human needs and rights, a supplementary chapter devoted to "The Position of the Male in the Perfect State."

His newspaper would assist him with a "Men's Corner," telling him how, by the expenditure of a good deal of money and a couple of hours a day, he could attract the girls and retain his wife's affection; and when he had succeeded in capturing a mate, his name would be taken from him, and society would present him with a special title to proclaim his achievement. People would write books called, "History of the Male", or "Males of the Bible," or "The Psychology of the Male", and he would be regaled daily with headlines, such as "Gentleman-Doctor's Discovery", "Male-Secretary Wins Calcutta Sweep," "Men-Artists at the Academy." If he gave an interview to a reporter, or performed any unusual exploit, he would find it recorded in such terms as these: "Professor Bract, although a distinguished botanist, is not in any way an unmanly man, He has, in fact, a wife and seven children. Tall and burly, the hands with which he handles his delicate specimens are as gnarled and powerful as those of a Canadian lumberjack, and when I swilled beer with him in his laboratory, he bawled his conclusions at me in a strong, gruff voice that implemented the promise of his swaggering moustache." Or: "There is nothing in the least feminine about the home surroundings of Mr. Focus, the famous children's photographer. His 'den' is panelled in teak and decorated with rude sculptures from Easter Island; over his austere iron bedstead hangs a fine reproduction of the Rape of the Sabines." Or: "I asked M. Sapristi, the renowned chef, whether kitchen-cult was not a rather unusual occupation for a man. 'Not a bit of it!' he replied bluffly. 'It is the genius that counts, not the sex. As they say in la belle Ecosse, a man's a man for a' that - and his gusty, manly guffaw blew three small patty pans from the dresser."

He would be edified by solemn discussions about "Should Men serve in Drapery Establishments?" and acrimonious ones about "Tea-Drinking Men"; by cross-shots of public affairs "from the masculine angle," and by irritable correspondence about men who expose their anatomy on beaches (so masculine of them), conceal it in dressing-gowns (too feminine of them), think about nothing but women, pretend an unnatural indifference to women, exploit their sex to get jobs, lower the tone of the office by their sexless appearance, and generally fail to please a public opinion which demands the incompatible. At at dinner parties he would hear the wheedling, unctous, predatory female voice demand: "And why should you trouble your handsome little head about politics?"

If, after a few centuries of this kind of treatment, the male was a little self-conscious, a little on the defensive, and a little bewildered about what was required of him, I should not blame him. . ."

Living To Work (Written for Broadcasting)

When I look at the world - not particularly at the world at war, but at our Western civilisation generally-I find myself dividing people into two main groups according to the way they think about work. And I feel sure that the new world after the war will be satisfactory or not according to the view we are all prepared to take about the work of the world. So let us look for a moment at these two groups of people.

One group -probably the larger and certainly the more discontented-look upon work as a hateful necessity, whose only use is to make money for them, so that they can escape from work and do something else. They feel that only when the day's labour is over can they really begin to live and be themselves. The other group -smaller nowadays, but on the whole far happier-look on their work as an opportunity for enjoyment and self-fulfilment. They only want to make money so that they may be free to devote themselves more single-mindedly to their work. Their work and their life are one thing; if they were to be cut off from their work, they would feel that they were cut off from life. You will realise that we have here a really fundamental difference of outlook, which is bound to influence all schemes about work, leisure and wages.

Now the first group - that of the work-haters- is not made up soley of people doing very hard, uninteresting and ill-paid work. It includes a great many well-off people who do practically no work at all. The rich man who lives idly on his income, the man who gambles or speculates in the hope of getting money without working for it, the woman who marries for the mere sake of being comfortably established for life-all these people look on money in the same way: as something that saves them from the curse of work. Except that they have had better luck, their outlook is exactly the same as that of the sweated factory hand whose daily work is one long round of soul-and-body destroying toil. For all of them, work is something hateful, only to be endured because it makes money; and money is desirable because it represents a way of escape from work. The only difference is that the rich have already made their escape, and the poor have not.

The second group is equally mixed. It includes the artists, scholars and scientists-the people really devoured with the passion for making and discovering things. It includes also the rapidly-diminishing band of old-fashioned craftsmen, taking a real pride and pleasure in turning out a good job of work. It includes also-and this is very important-those skilled mechanics and engineers who are genuinely in love with the complicated beauty of the machines they use and look after. Then there are those professional people in whom we recognise a clear, spiritual vocation-a call to what is sometimes very hard and exacting work-those doctors, nurses, priests, actors, teachers, whose work is something more to them than a mere means of livelihood; seamen who, for all they may grumble at the hardships of the sea, return to it again and again and are restless and unhappy on dry land; farmers and farm-workers who devotedly serve the land and the beasts they tend; airmen; explorers; and those comparatively rare women to whom the nurture of children is not merely a natural function but also a fulfilling and absorbing intellectual and emotional interest. A very mixed bag, you will notice, and not exclusively confined to the "possessing classes", or even to those who, individually or collectively, "own the means of production".

But we must also admit that, of late, the second group of workers has become more and more infected with the outlook of the first group. Agriculture-especially in those countries where farming is prosperous-has been directed, not to serving the land, but to bleeding it white in the interests of money-making. Certain members of the medical profession -as you may read in Dr. Cronin's book, The Citadel-are less interested in preserving their patients' health than in exploiting their weaknesses for profit. Some writers openly admit that their sole aim is the manufacture of best-selllers. And if we are inclined to exclaim indignantly that this kind of conduct is bad for the work, bad for the individual, and bad for the community, we must also confess that we ourselves-the ordinary public-have only been too ready to acquiesce in these commercial standards, not only in trade and manufacture, but in the professions and public services as well.

For us, a "successful" author is one whose sales run into millions; any other standard of criticism is "highbrow". We judge the skill of a physician or surgeon, not by his hospital record, but by whether or not he has many wealthy patients and an address in Harley Street. The announcement that a new film has cost many thousands of pounds to make convinces us that is must be a good film; though very often these excessive production costs are nothing more than graft, incompetence and bad organisation in the studios. Also, it is useless to pretend that we do not admire and encourage the vices of the idle rich so long as our cinemas are crowded with young men and women gaping at film-stars in plutocratic surroundings and imbecile situations and wishing with all their hearts that they too could live like the heroes and heroines of these witless million-dollar screen stories. Just as it is idle to demand selfless devotion to duty in public servants, so long as we respect roguery in business, or so long as we say, with an admiring chuckle, about some fellow citizen who has pulled off some shady deal with our local borough authorities, that "Old So-and-so is hot stuff, and anybody would have to get up early to find any flies on him."

We have all become accustomed to rate the value of work by a purely money standard. The people who still cling to the old idea that world should be served and enjoyed for its own sake are diminishing and -what is worse- are being steadily pushed out of the control of public affairs and out of contact with the public. We find them odd and alien - and a subservient journalism (which we encourage by buying and reading it) persuades us to consider them absurd and contemptible. It is only in times of emergency and national disaster that we realise how much we depend upon the man who puts the integrity of his job before money, before success, before self- before all those standards by which we have come to assess the value of work.

Consequently, in planning out our post-war economic paradise, we are apt to concentrate exclusively on questions of hours, wages and conditions, and to neglect the really fundamental question whether, in fact, we want work to be something in which a man can enjoy the exercise of his full natural powers; or merely a disagreeable task, with its hours as short as possible and its returns as high as possible, so that the worker may be released as quickly as possible to enjoy his life in leisure. Mind, I do not say for a moment that hours, wages and conditions ought not to be dealt with; but we shall deal with them along different lines, according as we believe it right and natural that men should work to live or live to work.

At this point, many of you will be thinking: "Before we can do anything about this, we must get rid of the capitalist system." But the much-abused "system" is precisely the system that arises when we think of work in terms of money-returns. The capitalist is faithfully carrying to its logical conclusion the opinion that work is an evil, that individual liberty means liberty to emancipate one's self from work, and that whatever pays best is right. And I see no chance of getting rid of "the system", or of the people who thrive on it, so long in our hearts we accept the standards of the system, envy the very vices we condemn, build up with one hand what we pull down with the other, and treat with ridicule and neglect the people who acknowledge a less commercial-if you like, a more religious-conception of what work ought to be.

But now we are faced with a big difficulty. Suppose we decide that we want work to provide our natural fulfillment and satisfaction, how are we to manage this in an age of industrial machinery? You will have noticed that all the workers in my second group possess three privileges. (1) Their work provides opportunity for individual initiative. (2) It is of a kind that, however laborious it may be in detail, allows them to view with satisfaction the final results of their labour. (3) It is of a kind that fits in with the natural rhythm of the human mind and body, since it involves periods of swift, exacting energy, followed by periods of repose and recuperation, and does not bind the worker to the monotonous, relentless, pace of an inhuman machine.

The factory hand has none of these advantages. He is not required to show initiative, but only to perform one unimaginative operation over and over again. He usually sees no step in the process of manufacturing except that one operation, and so can take no interest in watching the thing he is making grow to its final perfection; often, indeed, it is some useless thing that only exists to create profits and wages, and which no worker could admire or desire for its own sake. Thirdly, it is the pace that kills - the subjection of the human frame to the unresting, unchanging, automatic movement of the machine. The other day, a journalist was talking to some miners. He says: "With one voice they told me that they think the machines are becoming monsters, draining their life-blood, and how they longed for the old days when they worked longer shifts, but with their hands, and the process of procuring the coal was less exhausting."

The last statement is very interesting, since it shows that the regulation of hours and wages cannot by itself do away with the difficulty about certain kinds of work. The economic solution will not solve this problem, because it is not really an economic problem at all, but a problem about human nature and the nature of work.

Some people are so greatly depressed by these considerations that they can see no way out of the difficulty except to do away with machines altogether, as things evil in themselves and destructive of all good living. But this is a counsel of despair. For one thing, it is not a practical proposition in the present state of things. Also, this suggestion takes no account of the real delight and satisfaction that the machines are capable of giving. It throws on the scrap-heap the skill and creative enthusiasm of the designer, the engineer's pride in his craft, the flying-man's ecstasy in being air-borne, all the positive achievments of mechanical invention, and all those products-and they are many-which are actually made better by machinery than by hand. To renounce the machine means, at this time of day, to renounce the world and retire to a kind of hermitage of the spirit. But society cannot be exclusively made of saints and solitaries; the average good citizen, like the average Christian, has to live in the world; his task is not to run away from the machines but to learn to use them so that they work in harmony with human nature instead of injuring or oppressing it.

Now, I will not attempt, in the last few minutes of a short broadcast, to produce a cut-and-dried scheme for taming machinery to the service of man. I will only say that I believe it can be done, and (since my opinion would not carry very much weight) that there are many people, with personal experience of factory conditions, who have already worked out practical proposals for doing it. But it can only be done if we ourselves-all of us-know what we want and are united in wanting the same thing; if we are all prepared to revise our ideas about what work ought to be, and about what we mean by "having a good time."

For there is one fact we must face. Victory is the only possible condition upon which we can look forward to a "good time" of any kind; but victory will not leave us in a position where we can just relax all effort and enjoy ourselves in leisure and prosperity. We shall be living in a confused, exhausted and impoverished world, and there will be a great deal of work to do. Our best chance of having a good time will be to arrange our ideas, and our society, in such a way that everybody will have an opportunity to work hard and find happiness in doing well the work that will so desperately need to be done.

How Free Is The Press?

"This year (1941) at the Malvern Conference, I read a paper dealing with the theological grounds for the Church's concern with politics and sociology, with the complementary dangers of pietism and Caesarism, and with the importance of Incarnation doctine in this connection. Out of 8,000 words, some 250 dealt with the connection between Caesarism and an undue emphasis placed on sexual, as contrasted with financial, morality. This quite subsidiary paragraph was reported everywhere, under sensational headlines, in such a manner as to convey that this passing allusion formed the whole subject-matter of my address. Out of the 8,000 words about theology, the reporters picked the only one one which they presumed their readers capable of understanding - to wit, "fornication." . . .All the distorted reports emanated from a News Agency; and the individual editors, when remonstrated with, were for the most part content to disavow responsibility."

From Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation

"Vocation in Work"
originally from A Christian Basis for the Post-War World ed. AE Baker 1942

In December 1940, the leaders of the churches in Britain put forward as one of the points necessary for the reconstruction of society: "That the sense of Divine vocation must be restored to a man's daily work." By thus lifting the subject of labor out of the sphere of economics, they were courageously grappling with a problem which too many "social planners" have scandalously neglected.

Since the break with the Catholic tradition in the fifteenth century, religious opinion in the Reformed Churches has relied for guidance chiefly upon the text of Canonical Scriptures. Oddly enough, apart from one very noble passage in the Apocrypha, the Scriptures are not very explicit on the subject of work; and I think that our feeling about it may have been too strongly influenced by an unimaginative interpretation of the famous passage in Genesis about the curse of Adam. "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee: in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" (Gen. 3:17)

Work it seemed, was a curse and a punishment; perhaps this encouraged men to feel that no blessing and no sacrament could be associated with it. Yet the whole of Christian doctrine centers round the great paradox of redemption, which asserts that the very pains and sorrows by which fallen man is encompassed can become the instruments of his salvation, if they are accepted and transmuted by love. "O blessed sin," says the Ambrosian liturgy boldly, "that did merit such and so great a Redeemer." The first Adam was cursed with labor and suffering; the redemption of labor and suffering is the triumph of the second Adam - the Carpenter nailed to the cross.

We ought, perhaps, to look a little more closely at that profound and poetic myth of the creation of the fall of man. "God," says the writer, "made man in his own image - in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them" (Gen. 1:27) And the first thing he tells us about God, in whose image both man and woman were created, is that He was Himself a Creator. He made things. Not presumably, because He had to, but because He wanted to. He made light and water, and earth and birds, and fish and animals, and enjoyed what He had done. And then He made man "in his own image" - a creature in the image of a Creator. And there is indeed one thing which is quite distinctive about man: he makes things - not just one uniform set of necessary things, as a bee makes a honeycomb, but an interminable variety of different and not strictly necessary things, because he wants to. Even in this fallen and unsatisfactory life, man is still so near His Divine pattern that he continually makes things, as God makes things, for the fun of it. He is homo faber - man the craftsman - and this is the point from which I want to set out. Man is a maker, who makes things because he wants to, because he cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job. He is made in the image of the Maker, and he must himself create or become something less than a man.

Can we really believe that the write of Genesis supposed the unfallen happiness of Adam and Eve to consist in interminable idleness? If so, a study of the tale itself will correct that idea - the poet imagined for man no such hell of unmitigated boredom. Adam was put in the garden of Eden "to dress and till it," and for intellectual occupation he had the surely very enjoyable task of naming all the animals. What, then, in the writer's mind, was the really operative part of the curse? The work was to be more difficult, certainly - there were to be thorns and thistles - but there was to be something else as well. Work was to be conditioned by economic necessity - that was the new and ominous thing. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." And here we may look at what the materialist dogma of Communism has said about man's nature: "Man is the first man when he produces the means of livelihood." The means of livelihood. To the assertion, "Man is only man when he produces (or makes)," the Christian may readily assent: for that is the Adam made in the image of God. But when the words "the means of livelihood" are added, they rivet upon the essential nature of man the judgement of man's corruption: "economic man is Adam under the curse. The economic factor in human society is, of course, a reality, as sin and pain and sorrow and every other human evil are realities; and it is the duty of Christians to accept and redeem those real evils. But to assume, as we have increasingly allowed ourselves to assume of late years - to assume, as so many well-intentioned architects of an improved society assume today - that economics is the sole basis of man's dealings with nature and with his fellow-men, is the very negation of all Christian principle. This assumption is rooted in a lie; it is a falsehood that runs counter to the law of human nature, and like everything that runs counter to the nature of things, it can only lead to the judgement of catastrophe. For this reason it is impossible that the economic situation should ever be rightly adjusted so long as it is looked upon as being merely an economic question. To get the economic situation dealt with we must lift it out of the economic sphere altogether and consider first what is the right relation between the work itself and the worker who is made in the image of the eternal Craftsman.

Now this point of view, which a few centuries ago would have been a commonplace, is today almost inconceivably remote from the ideas of the ordinary man. It appears to him to be a kind of theoretical luxury, out of all relation to the facts of life. He will ask, How can we indulge in any such high-falutin romance about work until we have gained a measure of economic security? And again, How can men hope to enjoy their work creatively when most of it is so distasteful that they can only be induced to do it by the necessity for earning a livelihood? The answer to this is one which it is almost impossible to get people to understand: namely, that it is precisley the concentration upon economic security which makes both security and enjoyment in work unattainable, because it is setting up of the means to an end as an end-in-itself, so that the true end and object of work is lost and forgotten.

Let us for a moment consider a group of workers who have never - in spite of much incidental corruption - altogether abandoned the divine conception of what work ought to be. They are people whose way of life is, in essentials, so sharply distinguished from that of the ordinary worker that the designers of economic Utopias can find no place for them, and will scarcely allow them to be workers at all. Economic society has grown so far away from them that it views them with suspicion as mysterious aliens, does its best to push them out of control of practical affairs, and is usually contemptous and hostile at the very sound of their name. That these man and women have become, as it were, an enclosed community, cut off from the world, is bad for the world and bad for them. It is not that the working world does not see and hear plenty of them - as indeed it sees and hears and gossips about the animals in the Zoo; but always with the iron bars of misunderstanding set up between them. This odd, alien community is that of the men and women who live by and for the works of the creative imagination - the people whom we lump together under the general name of "artists".

The great primary contrast between the artist and the ordinary worker is this: the worker works to make money, so that he may enjoy those things in life which are not his work and which his work can purchase for him; but the artist makes money by his work in order that he may go on working. The artist does not say: "I must work in order to live"; but "I must contrive to make money so that I may live to work." For the artist there is no distinction between work and living. His work is his life, and the whole of his life - not merely the material world about him, or the colors and sounds and events that he perceives, but also all his own personality and emotions, the whole of his Life - is the actual material of his work.

Consider the great barrier that this forges between himself and the economic worker, in quite practical and mundane ways. For example, it would be preposterous for a genuine artist to submit himself to strict trade-union rules. How could he agitate for an eight-hour day or keep to it if he got it? There is no moment in the twenty-four hours when he can truthfully say he is not working. The emotions, the memories, the sufferings, the dreams even of the period when he is not actually at his desk or easel - these are his stuff and his tool; and his periods of leisure are the periods when his creative imagination may be most actively at work. He cannot say, "Here work stops and leisure begins"; he cannot stop work unless he stops living. Or how could he, in his own financial interests or those of his fellows, adopt the policy of keeping his work, in speed or quality, down to the level of the slowest or stupidest of his colleagues. . . Any limitation upon his right to work himself to death if he chooses, or to choose the kind of work he will do, that that he will resist to his last breath, for to set fetters upon his work is to set fetters upon his life.

There is a price paid for the artist's freedom. as for all freedom. He, of all workers in the world, has the least economic security. The money value of his work is at the mercy of every wind of public opinion; and if he falls to the wayside he cannot claim unemployment benefit, or look to the State to pay doctor's bills, educate his children, and compensate him for injuries incurred in the exercise of his profession. If he falls off a cliff while painting a picture, if he loses his wits or suffers a failure of invention, society will not hold itself responsible; nor, if his publisher suddenly decides to be rid of him, can he sue the man for wrongful dismissal. Moreover, he is taxed with singular injustice; while the world pays tribute to his unwordliness by expecting him to place a great deal of his time, energy and stock-in-trade at the disposal of the community without payment. The artist puts up with these disabilities because his way of life is not primarily rooted in economics. True, he often demands high prices for his work - but he wants the money not in order that he may stop working and go away and do something different, but in order that he may indulge in the luxury of doing some part of his work for nothing. "Thank heaven," the artist will say, "I've made enough with that book, or play, or picture of mine, to take a couple of years off to do my own work" - by which he probably means some book or play or picture which will cost him an immense amount of labor pains and which he has very little chance of selling. In fact, when the artist rejoices because he has been relieved from the pressure of economic necessity, he means that he has been relieved - not from the work, but from the money.

Now, this is not merely because the artist is his own master, working for himself and not for an employer. The same thing holds good of the actor, for example, who is quite literally an employed person - who can actually draw unemployment benefit. The actor, like other artists, passionately enjoys doing work for nothing or next to nothing if only he can afford to do it. And he never talks of himself as "employed"; if he is employed, he tells you that he is "working".

I think we can measure the distance we have fallen from the idea that work is a vocation to which we are called, by the extent to which we have come to substitute the word "employment" for "work" We say we must solve the "problem of unemployment" - we reckon up how many "hands" are "employed"; our social statistics are seldom based upon the work itself - whether the right people are doing it, or whether the work is worth doing. We have come to set a strange value on leisure for its own sake - not the leisure which enables a man to get on properly with his job, but the leisure which is a polite word for idleness. The commodities which it is easiest to advertise and sell are those which purport to "take the work out" of everything - the tinned foods that need no cooking - the clothes that wash themselves - the switches and gadgets that save time and make leisure. Which would be grand if we eagerly needed that extra time and leisure in order to make and do things. Alas, the commodities easiest to sell after the the labor-saving gadgets are the inventions for saving us from the intolerable leisure we have produced, and for painlessly killing the time we have saved. The entertainment to which we can passively listen, the game we can watch without taking part in it, the occupation, however meaningless, which can relieve us from the trouble of thinking. As a result, far too many people in this country seem to go about only half alive. All their existence is an effort to escape from what they are doing. And the inevitable result of this is a boredom, a lack of purpose, a passivity which eats life away at the heart and a disillusionment which prompts men to ask what life is all about, and complain, with only too much truth, that they can "make nothing of it."

Now that the Churches are settling themselves to tackle this dislocation that has weakened our grip upon work, I think they will find in it the root cause of a great many other evils - evils that they have failed to cure directly because they were treating the symptoms rather than the disease. It is, for instance, passivity, lack of purpose, and a failure to discharge pent-up creative energy into daily work that drives a civilization into that bored and promiscuous sexuality which derives not from excess of vitality, but from lack of something better to do, and which is always the mark of a civilization which has lost sight of true purpose in its work.

Or again: the appearance of a parisitic and exploiting class is closely connected with a way of life deficient in opportunities for creative activity. In this connection, both churches and secular "planners" should give some attention to what is known as the "woman's question" - an important subject usually ignored in the schemes for a "new order"

In this war, as in the last, the woman are being called upon to come out of their homes and do, as we say, "the men's work". They come, and they do it, and everyone says how splendid they are. But the offers of work to them are usually accompanied with the warning that after the war the men will have to come back to their jobs. - and, indeed, I notice a very strong tendency, both on the Left and on the Right, to suggest that when the crisis is past the women are to be pushed out of the trades and professions and restored, as far as possible, to their homes, in the interests of "employment".

I see the men's point of view about this. I understand the resentment against the women who "take the men's jobs." But it should be realized that, under modern conditions, the opportunities for intelligent work afforded by the homeare very greatly restricted compared with what they were, and that many of the woman's traditional jobs have, since the age of mechanical industry began, been filched from them by the men. The baking industry, the whole of the nation's spinning, weaving, and dyeing, the breweries, the distilleries, the confectionery, the preserving, curing and pickling of food, the perfumery, the lace-making, the dairying, the cheese-making have been transferred from the home to the factory, and the control and management - the intelligent part of them - handed over to men. It was the commercial age that presented us with a class of really leisured women - pampered and exploiting women, with no creative job to which they might set hand and brain. It was then that the possession of an idle woman became the hall-mark of a man's success; and it is dangerous when - through a vast reserve either of slave-labor as in ancient Rome or of machine-labor as in modern Europe - idleness becomes an ideal attainable by a vast mass of citizens. Because an idle and bored class is bound to be a parisitic and exploiting class. Men cannot live for their work if they are harassed by an army of empty-minded women demanding that they should work in order to get money to support a decorative idleness. We cannot now, of course, restore to the home everything that machines and commerce have taken from it. But I ask the Churches, and I ask all social reformers, to take seriously this warning that they cannot have a society of creatively-working and unexploited men unless they can also arrange for a society of creatively working women without the temptation to become exploiters of men's labor.

At this point, of course, we come up against a really fundamental difficulty. It is all very well for the artist to talk like this, but his work is of a really creative and satisfying kind. That is why he doesn't want to get away from it. But how about the factory-hand whose work consists of endlessly and monotonously pushing a pin into a slot? How can he be expected to live for the sake of the work? Isn't it right to want to make money so as to get away from it as quickly as possible? Can you blame him for looking on work as "employment" - something to be done grudgingly, with as little exertion as possible? Doesn't it correspond to the artist's necessary "pot-boiler", which has to be ground out in order that he may get away to "his own work"? It is useless and silly to say that machines and industry ought to be abolished. We can't turn time backwards. We have to cope with things as they are and make the best of them. This is what the worker will always retort when you talk to him about the sense of vocation in work. Well, that is so, and unless and until we can achieve a radical change in our whole attitude to work and money, we shall have to allow that a great deal of necessary work is in the nature of a pot-boiler, and that it ought to be arranged so as to boil the pot as quickly as possible and in such a way that nobody's pot remains without a fire to boil it. This is the task on which those reformers are engaged who try to deal with the question in purely economic terms. And while we have to deal with it along those lines, we may take the opportunity of trying to establish two things: First, that even work done for pot-boiling should be done as well and as conscientiously as possible. Secondly, that when the pot-boiling is done, the worker should be taught and encouraged to turn to "his own work" - to some creative and satisfying hobby at least; and not merely to an idle and soul-deadening killing of time. But these things are at best palliatives. They do not get to the root of the matter, which is the nation-wide and world-wide acceptance of a false scale of values about work, money and leisure.

First of all, is there anything whatever that will not only reconcile the worker to even the most monotonous and soul-killing kind of toil, but also make him ready to undertake it with eagerness and a kind of passionate satisfaction?

The enthusiasm with which labor went to work after the Dunkirk disaster and during the "Tanks-for-Russia" week suggests that the power that enables men to work with enthusiasm is a real conviction of the worth of their work. They will endure much if, like the artist, they passionately desire to see the job completed and to know that it is very good. But what are we to say about a civilization which employs so many of its workers in doing work which has no worth at all, work which no living man with a soul in him could desire to see, work which has nothing whatever to justify it, except the manufacture of employment and the creation of profits? That is the real vicious circle in which we are all enclosed. That is the real indictment we have to bring against a commercial age. And it is one which we cannot meet by the adjustment of wages, or by the restriction of private enterprise, or by the transference of capital from the individual to the State. . .

I do not think that when this war ends we shall enter upon a period of security and stability and prosperity. I do not see how we could - and I do not think it really desirable that we should. But I do think it essential that we should somehow contrive to enter upon a period of eager, and honest, and dedicated work. A period when we shall be prepared to live hard and rough so long as the work is done; when we shall forget to think about money and think first and foremost about the true needs of man and the right handling of material things. If, when the strains and stresses of war are over, we try to let up and sink back and rest, we shall destroy ourselves. In war, work has found its soul - this time we must not lose it again in peace. Instead of crying out for an "enduring peace,", we might do well to hope, not exactly for an enduring war, but for the carrying over into the strenuous times that lie ahead of that meaning which war has taught us to give to work.

I will not, as some of our prophets do offer the slightest hope of a secure and easy time "after the war" I think it will be a time when we must continue to adventure forth, "a fire on the one hand and a deep water on the other," working as we have never worked in our lives and looking to the end of the work.

Agatha Christie Mallowan

from Star Over Bethlehem and other stories

"In the Cool of the Evening"

The church was fairly full. Evensong, nowadays, was always better attended than morning service.

Mrs. Grierson and her husband knelt side by side in the fifth pew on the pulpit side. Mrs. Grierson knelt decorously , her elegant back curved. A conventional worshipper, one would have said, breathing a mild and temperate prayer.

But there was nothing mild about Janet Grierson's petition. It sped upwardsd into space on wings of fire.

"God, help him! Have mercy upon him. Have mercy upon me. Cure him, Lord. Thou hast all power. Have mercy - have mercy. Stretch out Thy hand. Open his mind. He's such a sweet boy - so gentle - so innocent. Let him be healed. Let him be normal. Hear me, Lord. Hear me. . .Ask of me anything you like, but stretch out Thy hand and make him whole. Oh God, hear me. Hear me. With Thee all things are possible. My faith shall make him whole - I have faith - I believe. I believe! Help me!"

The people stood. Mrs. Grierson stood with them. Elegant, fashionable, composed. The service proceeded.

The Rector mounted the steps of the pulpit, gave out his text.

Part of the 95th psalm; the tenth verse. Part of the psalm we sing every Sunday morning, "It is a people who do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways."

The Rector was a good man, but not an eloquent one. He strove to give to his listeners the thought that the words had conveyed to him. A people that erred, not in what they did, not in actions displeasing to God, not in overt sin - but a people not even knowing that they erred. A people who, quite simply, did not know God. . .They did not know what God was, what he wanted, how he showed himself. They could know. That was the point the Rector was striving to make. Ignorance is no defence. They could know.

He turned to the East.

"And now to God the Father. . ."

He'd put it very badly, the Rector thought sadly. He hadn't made his meaning clear at all. . .

Quite a good congregation this evening. How many of them, he wondered, really knew God?

Again Janet Grierson knelt and prayed with fervour and desperation. It was a matter of will, of concentration. If she could get through - God was all powerful. If she could reach him. . .

For a moment she felt she was getting there - and then there was the irritating rustle of people rising; sighs, movements. Her husband touched her arm. Unwillingly she rose. Her face was very pale. Her husband looked at her with a slight frown. He was a quiet man who disliked intensity of any kind.

In the porch friends met them.

"What an attractive hat, Janet. It's new, isn't it?"

"Oh no, it's terribly old."

"Hat's are so difficult," Mrs. Stewart complained. "One hardly ever wears one in the country and then on Sunday one feels odd. Janet, do you know Mrs. Lamphrey - Mrs. Grierson. Major Grierson. The Lamphreys have taken Island lodge.

"I'm so glad," said Janet, shaking hands. "It's a delightful house."

"Everyone says we'll be flooded out in winter," said Mrs. Lamphrey ruefully.

"Oh no - not most years."

"But some years? I knew it! But the children were mad about it. And of course they'd adore a flood."

"How many have you?"

"Two boys and a girl."

"Edward is just the same age as our Johnnie," said Mrs. Stewart. "I suppose he'll be going to his public school next year. Johnnie's going to Winchester."

"Oh, Edward is too much of a moron ever to pass common entrance, I'm sure," sighed Mrs. Lamphrey. "He doesn't care for anything but games. We'll have to send him to a crammer's. Isn't it terrible, Mrs Grierson, when one's children turn out to be morons?"

Almost at once, she felt the chill. A quick change of subject - the forthcoming fete at Wellsly Park, As the groups moved off in varying directions, Mrs. Stewart said to her friend: "Darling, I ought to have warned you!"

"Did I say something wrong? I thought so - but what?"

"The Griersons. Their boy. They've only got one. And he's subnormal. Mentally retarded."

"Oh how awful - but I couldn't know. Why does one always go and put one's foot straight into things?"

"It's just that Janet's rather sensistive. . ."

As they walked along the field path, Rodney Grierson said gently, "They didn't mean anything. That woman didn't know."

"No. No, of course she didn't."

"Janet, can't you try-"

"Try what?"

"Try not to mind so much. Can't you accept-"

Her voice interrupted him, it was high and strained.

"No, I can't accept-as you put it. There must be something that could be done! He's physically so perfect. It must be just some gland - some perfectly simple thing. Doctors will find out some day. There must be something - injections - hypnotism."

"You only torture yourself, Janet. All these doctors you drag him round to. It worries the boy."

"I'm not like you, Rodney. I don't give up. I prayed again in church just now."

"You pray too much."

"How can one pray `too much'? I believe in God, I tell you. I believe in him. I have faith - and faith can move mountains."

"You can't give God orders, Janet."

"What an extraordinary thing to say!"

"Well-" Major Grierson shifted uncomfortably.

"I don't think you know what faith is."

"It ought to be the same as trust."

Janet Grierson was not listening.

"To-day-in church, I had a terrible feeling. I felt that God wasn't there. I didn't feel that there was no God-just that He was somewhere else. . .But where?"

"Really, Janet!"

"Where could He be? Where could I find Him?"

She calmed herself with an effort as they turned in at the gate of their own house. . .

. . .He wriggled off his chair.

"I've finished. Please - can I go now? My friend is waiting for me in the garden."

His father nodded. Gertrude said softly: "All children are the same. They always invent a `friend' to play with."

"At five, perhaps. Not when they're thirteen," said Janet bitterly.

"Try not to mind, dear," said Gertrude gently.

"How can I help it?"

"You may be looking at it all the wrong way."

"Down at the bottom of the garden, where it was cool under the trees, Alan found his friend wating.

He was stroking a rabbit who was not quite a rabbit but something rather different.

"Do you like him, Alan?"

"Oh yes. What shall we call him?"

"It's for you to say."

"Is it really? I shall call him - I shall call him - Forteor. Is that a good name?"

"All your names are good names."

"Have you got a name yourself?"

"I have a great many names."

"Is one of them God?"


"I thought it was! You don't really live in that stone house in the village with the long thing sticking up, do you?"

"I live in many places. . .But sometimes, in the cool of the evening, I walk in a garden - with a friend and talk about the New World-"

Monday, October 11, 2010
I suppose my view of life, the universe and everything is that, when looking at my core person, the right way to live seems to me to be a) relaxed, which implies being fearless & cheerful, and b) alert, which implies working, thinking & doing your best. I suppose, logically speaking, there's no reason for an athiest to be relaxed, and there's no logical reason for a theist who believes in an afterlife to be alert, but I believe that we're meant to be perfectly relaxed and perfectly alert at the same time.

Above all, I believe a) That we are not meant to live in fear & despair, even though objectively speaking there's quite a lot to be afraid of, and quite a lot to regret. b) That the universe plays fair. It cannot ask us to live fearlessly & with good cheer unless there is really nothing to fear, and no cause for despair.

My temperament is probably such that I find it fairly easy to be relaxed, but needed, and need, to be more alert, aware of the importance of our choices and the value of a single life.

Arthur Silber - Flecks of Light, Points of Understanding, and the Gift of Sight: All Things Are Connected

Dorothy L Sayers - Why Work?

This brings me to my third proposition; and this may sound to you the most revolutionary of all. It is this: the worker’s first duty is to serve the work. The popular catchphrase of today is that it is everybody’s duty to serve the community, but there is a catch in it. . .

. . .Listen to this: “I expect the judiciary to understand that the nation does not exist for their convenience, but that justice exists to serve the nation.” That was Hitler yesterday – and that is what becomes of “service,” when the community, and not the work, becomes its idol. There is, in fact, a paradox about working to serve the community, and it is this: that to aim directly at serving the community is to falsify the work; the only way to serve the community is to forget the community and serve the work. There are three very good reasons for this . . .

I was suprised, after Martin Gardner's death, to read his Wikipedia page and find he was a theist. I suppose, as Martin Gardner has written somewhere of readers surprised by his theism, I had had the prejudice that if someone believed Uri Geller couldn't bend spoons, and publicly said so, they were probably an athiest! I've since read Gardner's confessional The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, and it's become one of my favorites.


Reading Gardner reminded me of Chesterton and The Man Who Was Thursday, which surely has one of the greatest beginning & endings of a popular thriller.

Syme sprang to his feet, shaking from head to foot.

"I see everything," he cried, "everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, 'You lie!' No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, 'We also have suffered.'

"It is not true that we have never been broken. We have been broken upon the wheel. It is not true that we have never descended from these thrones. We have descended into hell. We were complaining of unforgettable miseries even at the very moment when this man entered insolently to accuse us of happiness. I repel the slander; we have not been happy. I can answer for every one of the great guards of Law whom he has accused. At least—"

He had turned his eyes so as to see suddenly the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile.

"Have you," he cried in a dreadful voice, "have you ever suffered?"

As he gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then everything went black. Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?"

Swami Viditmananda

"They say you should treat success and failure as the same. But is there anything same in success & failure? What is the same? What is common between success and failure?. . . The giver of success is the same as the giver of failure. So I can treat success and failure as the same by worshipping the giver, and having the attitude that Isvara (God) wishes me well. . . .it is a belief."

Dorothy L Sayers - The Triumph Of Easter

. . .nor is it desirable that we should create evils on purpose for the fun of seeing Him put them right. That is not the idea at all. Nor yet are we to imagine that evil does not matter, since God can make it all right in the long run.

Whatever the Church preaches on this point, it is not a facile optimism. And it is not the advisability of doing evil that good may come. Over-simplification of this sort is as misleading as too much complication and just as perilously attractive. It is, for instance, startling and illuminating to hear a surgeon say casually, when congratulated upon some miracle of healing, "Of course, we couldn't have done that operation without the experience we gained in the War."

There is a good result of evil; but, even if the number of sufferers healed were to exceed that of all the victims who suffered in the War, does that allay the pangs of the victims or of any one of them, or excuse the guilt that makes war possible? No, says the Church, it does not. If an artist discovers that the experience gained through his worst sins enables him to produce his best work, does that entitle him to live like a beast for the sake of his art? No, says the Church, it does not. We can behave as badly as we like, but we cannot escape the consequences. "Take what you will, said God" (according to the Spanish proverb) "take it and pay for it." Or somebody else may do the paying and pay fully, willingly and magnificently, but the debt is still ours. . .

. . ."Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, when he saw that He was condemned,... cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself." And thereby Judas committed the final, the fatal, the most pitiful error of all; for he despaired of God and himself. . .

. . .All of us, perhaps, are too ready, when our behaviour turns out to have appalling consequences, to rush out and hang ourselves. Sometimes we do worse, and show an inclination to go and hang other people. Judas, at least, seems to have blamed nobody but himself, and St. Peter, who had a minor betrayal of his own to weep for, made his act of contrition and waited to see what came next.

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story

I once made the mistake of praising The Fiddler On The Roof to a girl I later learned was Jewish, had been forced to watch the movie umpteen times as a child, and never wanted to hear or speak of it again. Likewise, I don't know if black kids have been force-fed Ben Carson since they were three, but I hadn't, and found his autobiography great: a popular inspirational best-seller with no padding and lots of really interesting stories and ideas.