Thursday, 9 August 2012

Thank you for the mustard

When members enter the House of Commons, they are required to make a maiden speech to the gentlemen of the realm, introducing them to his constituency. In fact, this isn’t my first foray onto the internet; I even think this might be my third blog.

My pseudonym, however, is new. We all know that Colonel Mustard is a Cluedo character. He rolls second, after Miss Scarlet, and wears a tweed jacket. I suspect he would also wear a panama hat now and then, like I do. So, you might say, I have been away from the parliament of the world wide web for a while, had a military career of sorts, and have found myself back where I started, with a new name and title. I wonder whether I and Colonel Mustard - that is, the author of this blog, rather than the Cluedo character - are indeed one and the same person. Or whether a pseudonym is another being, contingent, for the foreseeable future, on me.

Really, my pseudonym came, appropriately in this instance, second to blog title. ‘Thank you for the mustard’ is a quotation from Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, one of my intellectual heroes. It also serves as the title for my pilot episode.

In the early part of the book, Chesterton criticises what he calls determinists and materialists. I shall paraphrase him a little.

Persons in our western societies today tend to be seen solely as consumers. I think, for example, about university students. Since Mr Blair made it morally incumbent upon citizens to go to university, the value of university education has deteriorated. The university education, a Christian invention, of course, was once a universal education. That doesn’t necessarily mean that students learnt everything there was to learn, though that might have well have been the qualification in the early days; rather, they were exposed to the wide and beautiful horizons of intellectual fulfillment: all the external and internal senses were exposed to the universals of the cosmos, in order to form and characterise our intellect and will. That’s all very Thomistic. We don’t believe in things like the intellect and the will, after all, do we?

These days that is useless gibberish. Consumers today want a ‘good education’ in order to get a ‘good job’, to earn money, in order to consume more, and even make new consumers: little images of ourselves to propagate our philosophy for generations yet to come. Well, since we abolished God, we have to come up with some sort of afterlife, don’t we? People cannot even imagine that other models have existed quite happily, as they argue that we are more advanced now for such things like God or true humanism, ancient philosophy, or even humility: those times were primitive, and religion is for nutters. Today, babies gestate in glass tubes, and men marry men. Am I having a nightmare, or been teleported to a different universe without noticing? Alas, this is reality: and the world has turned upside down.

As the world has made us consumers, so it has made us the creator-god of our own self-contained universe: with conditions, of course. ‘It’s all about me,’ is the sacred name of this new god. This brave new world is a world of liberty and freedom to choose, to have it my way, to have what I want. And we can all believe in what we want, if it is ‘my truth’: the relentless advance of ‘freedom’ into all the rooms of our household. Progress. Is this the ‘chain of causation’, as it was called in Chesterton’s time, or the shackles of liberalism? Where, exactly, is this ‘progress’ going? As the sage said, it’s not progress if there isn’t a destination.

Chesterton, of course, applies this liberal social contract to a maniac in Bedlam. Our maniac thinks himself a poached egg (little did Chesterton anticipate that our much be-loved ‘person-centred’ psychology would actually permit the maniac to both call and accept himself as a poached egg). He has the freedom to do that, and why not, if that’s what he wants? He is free to be a poached egg, if he wants. Who am I to tell him otherwise? As Chesterton wrote, “if he is a poached egg he is not free to eat, drink, sleep, walk or smoke a cigarette. Similarly you may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say “thank you” for the mustard.’

Reflecting on those few words of Chesterton, we can see how much society has adopted this prophesy wholesale. The scariest thing is that the bold determinist speculator no longer speculates: he now rules, almost unquestionably, civil society. Many of the twentieth-century dictators were democratically elected. In the twenty-first century, I suspect we have elected a dictator who will, in the long run, incite much more damage than his predecessors. I wonder how long it will take us to notice our mistake.

Another hero of mine, Edmund Burke, famously wrote that ‘all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ Good men, I say: we have nothing to lose but our chains of causation!

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