Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Let’s form a committee

Our lives are directed by committees of one form or another, yet few people seem to have a good word for them. Apart from committee members of course. For example -

But perception goes out of committees. The more committees you belong to, the less of ordinary life you will understand. When your daily round becomes nothing more than a daily round of committees you might as well be dead.

Stella Benson - Living Alone (1919)

Committees under whatever name, clubs, syndicates, &c., constitute perhaps the most redoubtable danger resulting from the power of crowds. They represent in reality the most impersonal and, in consequence, the most oppressive form of tyranny. The leaders who direct the committees being supposed to speak and act in the name of a collectivity, are freed from all responsibility, and are in a position to do just as they choose. The most savage tyrant has never ventured even to dream of such proscriptions as those ordained by the committees of the Revolution. Barras has declared that they decimated the convention, picking off its members at their pleasure. So long as he was able to speak in their name, Robespierre wielded absolute power. The moment this frightful dictator separated himself from them, for reasons of personal pride, he was lost. The reign of crowds is the reign of committees, that is, of the leaders of crowds. A severer despotism cannot be imagined.

Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd; study of the popular mind (1895)

Yevgeny Petrovitch remembered the head-master of the high school, a very cultured and good-natured old man, who was so appalled when he found a high-school boy with a cigarette in his mouth that he turned pale, immediately summoned an emergency committee of the teachers, and sentenced the sinner to expulsion. This was probably a law of social life: the less an evil was understood, the more fiercely and coarsely it was attacked.

Anton Chekhov - Home (1887)

Now and again he had an irritating trick of being right; and if he had been less insignificant, and if the committees and associations had not needed most of their jealousy and spite for use among themselves, he would have run into trouble sooner.

Arthur Morrison - A Blot on St. Basil (1899)

Well, I simply hate school. I don’t care for children — they are unpleasant, troublesome little things, whom nothing would delight so much as to hear that you had fallen down dead. Yet I would even put up with them if it was not for the inspector. For three months before his visit I didn’t sleep soundly. And the Committee of Council are always changing the Code, so that you don’t know what to teach, and what to leave untaught.

Thomas Hardy - A Mere Interlude (1885)


Sam Vega said...

When I retired and moved to a village, my arm got twisted and I joined a number of voluntary organisations. I soon found that those which involved working on committees (such as school governor and Chair of the Friends of the Parish Church) were tedious and a waste of time, whereas the others (hospital driving, cleaning up the churchyard) were pleasant and useful. And looking back on committees in my final years of work, I can honestly say that they are among the nastiest memories of the last ten years.

Some people seem to love them, though, don't they? Here in my new village there are loads of people who seem to do little else, and derive a great deal of meaning from them. Bizarre.

A K Haart said...

Sam - yes some people do seem to love them. They probably have a limited period when they actually do something useful, but the best people drift away and committees are left with people who enjoy it for its own sake. At that point there should probably be a clear-out to make way for new people but it doesn't happen of course.