Crazy talk

The gods must be crazy

“Another savage trait of our time is the disposition to talk about material substances instead of about ideas. The old civilisation talked about the sin of gluttony or excess. We talk about the Problem of Drink – as if drink could be a problem. When people have come to call the problem of human intemperance the Problem of Drink, and to talk about curing it by attacking the drink traffic, they have reached quite a dim stage of barbarism. The thing is an inverted form of fetish worship; it is no sillier to say that a bottle is a god than to say that a bottle is a devil. The people who talk about the curse of drink will probably progress down that dark hill. In a little while we shall have them calling the practice of wife-beating the Problem of Pokers; the habit of housebreaking will be called the Problem of the Skeleton-Key Trade; and for all I know they may try to prevent forgery by shutting up all the stationers’ shops by Act of Parliament.” — G.K. Chesterton, Humanitarianism and Strength, in All Things Considered, 1909

Make paper illegal to stop forgery? Nah, that’d be crazy.


2 Replies to “Crazy talk”

  1. It’s not a trait of our time, or his time, or any other time. It’s a trait of people. There’s a quote that goes something like ‘small minds talk about people, middle-sized minds talk about events, and large minds talk about ideas’. All minds have their uses, you just don’t want to give any one group precedence.

    1. The “old civilisation” saw the drunk as the problem. He had a character flaw in that he drank too much. The “savage trait of our time” (Chesterton’s time during the temperance movement) was to make the drink responsible. Let the working man go into a saloon and he’ll drink up his paycheck then go home and beat his wife. That’s just what the lower classes do. It reminds me of how some people think guns must be taken away from individuals because guns kill people – give a gun to an untrained civilian and he’ll shoot someone; can’t be prevented. Maybe to externalize the problem is a human trait that had been somehow held in check for a while, and then re-emerged.

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