The following 236 words are among the most insightful, prescient, and terrifying words I have ever read.
Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good?? At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.
G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1905
This is the culture in which we now live. Chesterton, writing 110 years ago, noticed the inclination we have in the Western world to disregard and dismantle the hard-won wisdom of the centuries in the name of “progress,” progress both of the moral and technological variety.
In the name of political progress:
- 60,000 men were mowed down with machine guns?on the first day of the Somme, July 1, 1916. (The wise men of Europe were certain that they had eliminated man’s tendency to war.)
In the name of racial and evolutionary progress:
- 6 million Jews were incinerated in Nazi ovens. (The Nazis were interested in eugenics, the cutting-edge science of the time that promised to eliminate the dregs of humanity.)
In the name of sexual progress:
- Millions and millions of children are being raised without a father in their lives. (The sexual revolution promised us that uncoupling marriage and sex would lead to increasing levels of human flourishing and freedom.)
In the name of technological progress:
- We’re unable to sit alone with our thoughts, but must constantly be connected.
This is the world in which we live. “Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.”
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