On Staying Sane

Or, rather, sane-ish. One must work with what one has, after all.

Like many people, I suppose, reading myself to sleep was one thing I did obsessively for many years. I started from about age 12, and kept it up until to age 29, when I got married. From then until our first child arrived 4 years later, I kept it up, but noit like when I was younger. Then, once there were babies – 4 in 6 years – getting sleep trumped reading, so I did little, if any, until the kids were putting themselves to bed. Then – I hardly think I’m unique here – your body insists on trying to catch up a little. THEN, we had the Caboose, born 6 years after his next older sister, so start it all over just about when we’d recovered.

That’s 18 to 20 years, right there, during which I wasn’t getting much if any bedtime reading in. Aaaand – having a house full of kids meant, for me at least, not getting a ton of reading in during the day, either.

Finally, a couple years ago, I got back in the grove. Now, I typically have one or two daytime books going, and one or two bedtime books I’m working on. Did you know there are simply too many books worth reading for any one person to read them all? It’s true! And that’s before all the good books I want to reread.

Now to the sane part. I’m kinda slow on the uptake, usually. I had been reading, or trying to read, some of the more heavy (or at least more boring) education history stuff in bed. This is not calming, and requires too much attention to understand. Such reading also tends to rile up the blood. A few months back, therefore, I switched to rereading books I love. This is why you’re seeing a lot of Lewis and Chesterton quotations here recently. Those are two smart dudes, but, more important today, are two sane dudes. Reading them reminds me that not everyone is insane – a sometimes difficult truth to hang on to.

For example:

Akin to these is the false theory of progress, which maintains that we alter the test instead of trying to pass the test. We often hear it said, for instance, “What is right in one age is wrong in another.” This is quite reasonable, if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times. If women, say, desire to be elegant, it may be that they are improved at one time by growing fatter and at another time by growing thinner. But you cannot say that they are improved by ceasing to wish to be elegant and beginning to wish to be oblong. If the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard? Nietzsche started a nonsensical idea that men had once sought as good what we now call evil; if it were so, we could not talk of surpassing or even falling short of them. How can you overtake Jones if you walk in the other direction? You cannot discuss whether one people has succeeded more in being miserable than another succeeded in being happy. It would be like discussing whether Milton was more puritanical than a pig is fat.

The main point here, however, is that this idea of a fundamental alteration in the standard is one of the things that make thought about the past or future simply impossible. The theory of a complete change of standards in human history does not merely deprive us of the pleasure of honouring our fathers; it deprives us even of the more modern and aristocratic pleasure of despising them.

To sum up our contention so far, we may say that the most characteristic current philosophies have not only a touch of mania, but a touch of suicidal mania. The mere questioner has knocked his head against the limits of human thought; and cracked it. This is what makes so futile the warnings of the orthodox and the boasts of the advanced about the dangerous boyhood of free thought. What we are looking at is not the boyhood of free thought; it is the old age and ultimate dissolution of free thought. It is vain for bishops and pious bigwigs to discuss what dreadful things will happen if wild scepticism runs its course. It has run its course. It is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin. We have seen it end. It has no more questions to ask; it has questioned itself. You cannot call up any wilder vision than a city in which men ask themselves if they have any selves. You cannot fancy a more sceptical world than that in which men doubt if there is a world. It might certainly have reached its bankruptcy more quickly and cleanly if it had not been feebly hampered by the application of indefensible laws of blasphemy or by the absurd pretence that modern England is Christian. But it would have reached the bankruptcy anyhow. Militant atheists are still unjustly persecuted; but rather because they are an old minority than because they are a new one. Free thought has exhausted its own freedom. It is weary of its own success. If any eager freethinker now hails philosophic freedom as the dawn, he is only like the man in Mark Twain who came out wrapped in blankets to see the sun rise and was just in time to see it set. If any frightened curate still says that it will be awful if the darkness of free thought should spread, we can only answer him in the high and powerful words of Mr. Belloc, “Do not, I beseech you, be troubled about the increase of forces already in dissolution. You have mistaken the hour of the night: it is already morning.” We have no more questions left to ask. We have looked for questions in the darkest corners and on the wildest peaks. We have found all the questions that can be found. It is time we gave up looking for questions and began looking for answers.

Orthodoxy, CH III

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

One thought on “On Staying Sane”

  1. The nice thing about rereading something 20 or 30 years later, is that you often get entirely different messages out of it, the second or third time through.

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