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Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Broad-minded is no escape

Modern broad-mindedness benefits the rich; and benefits nobody else. It was meant to benefit the rich; and meant to benefit nobody else. And if you think this unwarranted, I will put before you one plain question. There are some pleasures of the poor that may also mean profits for the rich: there are other pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the rich. Watch this one contrast, and you will watch the whole creation of a careful slavery.
G K Chesterton – What’s Wrong With the World (1910)

In his social and political criticism old Gilbert was essentially a pundit with a love of paradox and a pundit’s weakness for hyperbole. He wrote much that leaves one wishing he’d been less sweeping in his judgement, more analytical, less fond of shaky analogies.

Nevertheless he had many penetrating insights if we take the trouble to examine matters from his idiosyncratic perspective. The above quote is a case in point. These days it is somewhat dated in that it refers to the poor who in Chesterton’s day were more numerous, closer to destitution and possessed of fewer resources than today.

His attack on the pursuit of money also seems dated from our opulent perspective because Chesterton’s poor are no longer with us and much of that is down to the pursuit of riches he so eloquently despised. From that perspective it is easy to dismiss his view as an irrelevant cry from another age.

Yet Chesterton still commands respect. He saw what we have almost lost the ability to see because modern life is so enfolding, so clamorous and demanding, so adept at diverting all but the most detached attention. He was both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist. He saw both as social evils bent on crushing us all between the grindstones of big business and big government.

What did he mean by pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the rich? Those which were so unprofitable that they were doomed to be rooted out by the rich and powerful?

Family life perhaps, the traditional work, comforts and pleasures of building a home. Pubs, clubs, a quiet smoke and a game of skittles. A Sunday walk in the park. A stroll by rivers unpolluted by factories. A traditional glass of lemonade rather than some fizzy, concoction made in a rich man’s vats, forced on the unwary by another of Chesterton’s bĂȘtes noires - advertising.

Escape in other words, in a world where escape had become a necessary part of life even for the middle classes.

..to escape foul air, noise, hard hats, black uniforms, multitudes, confusion, incompleteness, elaborate means without clear ends.
Edward Thomas - The Country (pre-1945)

What about that intriguing comment on broad-mindedness? It’s obvious enough once we see it from Chesterton’s perspective. To be broad-minded is to be ripe for profitable exploitation. It offers no escape from the daily grind, nothing but the insipid palliatives of assent.

Chesterton may have been a reactionary, even a professional reactionary but one is left with a strong temptation to raise a glass in his memory. Before all the good pubs close down.

4 comments:

Roger said...

Broad-mindedness has led us to the cultural perfection of X-Factor and its ilk. I suspect that the brains of the poor are being deliberately rotted away, all the better to exploit and cow them.

Sam Vega said...

"A stroll by rivers unpolluted by factories"?

You mean, of course, "off-road recreational activities (medium impact) in the country park."

Broad-mindedness is an interesting concept, and on the left has long been associated with opportunities for economic exploitation. On a slightly different track, I copied out a lovely quote from Nicholas Monsarrat's "The Tribe that Lost its Head". This is about the cultural clash between British colonialists and traditional African societies.
"Dinamaula [an Oxford-educated African chief] smiled, recognising in the stranger's look and tone the English lust to demonstrate broadmindedness".

It is the demonstration aspect that I often find irksome. There is a rare form of disinterested broadmindedness which is quite admirable, but usually it is feigned in order to strenuously flaunt one's credentials.

Demetrius said...

The pubs that have not closed down can be full of screaming brats, often with chav parents, perhaps have the TV on loud with endless football, or have pop music through amplifiers turned up to around 100+ decibels. Or they basically do food and do not welcome quiet modest drinkers. Bleah.

A K Haart said...

Roger - I agree and now they want the herds to be even bigger.

Sam - yes broadmindedness has become politically correct and thus narrow-mindedness.

Demetrius - we have no good pubs within easy walking distance. The last one closed years ago.