Solemn futility in the higher places

British-politicians-2011
Gordon Brown, Anthony Blair, John Major, Nicholas Clegg and David Cameron. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Executive Office of the President of the United States.

In the real dark night of the soul, it’s always election o’clock. Here come the endlessly repeated phrases, the lines to take today, the turgid interviews, the let me be absolutely clears and hard-working families, the swapping of business/celebrity/expert endorsements, the gaffes and the unread manifestos.

Before you despair, remember that ’twas ever thus… Continue reading

Pets and prizes. Sugar, Johnson and Hodge

Johnson reading closely. Portrait by Joshua Reynolds.
“Wealth cannot confer greatness, for nothing can make that great which the decree of nature has ordained to be little.” Samuel Johnson.

This week’s Apprentice opened with the candidates being summoned to Dr Johnson’s house to look at the memorial to his cat, Hodge, outside. This was the set-up for Lord Sugar to give them a pet-bothering task: “People will stop at nothing to pamper their pets, and the pet market is worth a massive 4.6 billion pounds per year. Now I want you to get a piece of that action…” Continue reading

Ecstasy and efficiency

When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man’s body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health.  Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem.  There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church.  Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Even if the ideal of such men were simply the ideal of kicking a man downstairs, they thought of the end like men, not of the process like paralytics. They did not say, “Efficiently elevating my right leg, using, you will notice, the muscles of the thigh and calf, which are in excellent order, I—” Their feeling was quite different. They were so filled with the beautiful vision of the man lying flat at the foot of the staircase that in that ecstasy the rest followed in a flash.

G K Chesterton 1905 Heretics

Partners in the hazard of life

Otago_bark_1869-2The Mirror of the Sea, Joseph Conrad’s book about people, ships and the sea, is full of good things, even if you’re only really interested in people. For Conrad, the sea was a mirror in which we could see ourselves. Here he discusses handling ships and dealing with people — this passage is what I used to think about when being trained in communication and the like on work courses. Continue reading