Friday, 26 May 2006

A Public Cacophony

Sometimes it seems that public debate in this land is worthy of attention only because it is the arena in which charlatans and demagogues might publicly expose their own and one another’s dreadful ideas in the most interesting and inventive ways. When one considers, however, that they would neither hold nor parade such ideas if they did not have this arena in which to do so, one might consider that social life would be better without it, even though we would be deprived of a fine spectacle. For, as Lin Yutang wrote:
Life, after all, is made up of eating and sleeping, of meeting and saying good-bye to friends, of reunions and farewell parties, of tears and laughter, of having a haircut once in two weeks, of watering a potted flower and watching one’s neighbour falling off his roof. [1]
Such unassuming simplicity is made difficult, however, by those publicly fielded ideas which threaten to overturn private life, ideas which seek to restructure the whole of social life in conformity with an efficient and watchful state, or in line with a profitable concern, or whose merits are measured by the power that might be had on account of the number of persons who might be made to subscribe to them. Consequently, one cannot be left in peace by the ideological organ-grinders and their countless shrieking monkeys.
.....At least one ought to take a holiday from public debate every now and then, and still too from those whose minds cannot be detached from it, in order that one might think again on one’s own terms:—better that than to remain just another shrill voice in a cacophony, or a vehicle for the ideas of others. In this regard, I share the sentiments of Jacob Burckhardt:
I want to get away from them all, from the radicals, the communists, the industrialists, the intellectuals, the pretentious, the reasoners, the abstract, the absolute, the philosophers, the sophists, the state fanatics, the idealists, the ‘ists’ and ‘isms’ of every kind. [2]
The trouble is, as I say, that with the growing cod-intellectualisation and politicisation of social life, in which one can hardly speak inconsequentially without someone’s objecting to one’s tone or to one’s supposed underlying assumptions, one can hardly be left unmolested. Live and let live is losing ground to that adolescent and most totalitarian slogan of them all: The personal is the political. It is a damned ugly phrase too.

[1] Lin Yutang, “On Lying in Bed” The Importance of Living (London and Toronto: William Heinemann, 1938), p.207.
[2] Jacob Burckhardt, Letter to Hermann Schauenburg, 28th February 1846, The Letters of Jacob Burckhardt, ed. & tr. A. Dru (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), p.75. (“[I]ch will ihnen allen entweichen, den Radikalen, Kommunisten, Industriellen, Hochgebildeten, Anspruchsvollen, Reflektierenden, Abstrakten, Absoluten, Philosophen, Sophisten, Staatsfanatikern, Idealisten, aner und iten aller Art.” Jacob Burckhardt, Briefe, Brief an Hermann Schauenburg, 28. Februar 1846, (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1929), p. 137.)


Anonymous said...

"At least one ought to take a holiday from public debate every now and then ..."

Yeeeees, reluctantly we might allow you a long weekend now and again but in the cacophony of 'Blogdom' rare examples of shrewd judgement are too few to be allowed the luxury of time off, so get back to the grindstone!

Deogolwulf said...

Ah, you're too kind.

Anonymous said...

"... the communists, the industrialists, the intellectuals ..." Industrialists? Back in 1846, I suppose an industrialist meant something quite different. Perhaps he is referring to those so-called utopian socialists with their mania for reorganizing society into a giant factory.