Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dr. Thursday's Post

Change is NOT GOOD: Reality and Law and Magic
Or, "Mere life is interesting enough."

No I am NOT at the conference this year. That wasn't possible for me, due to various dull complications. Mere life, as you shall see.

Because of other dull complications, this morning I had to set up another means of e-mailing myself using this "web" method everybody seems to like. If I had time I would have written the program myself, but I don't. It IS Thursday. And, much like Chesterton, who reacted profitably to his surroundings, even when he was late for a train, I have taken a verse from that horrible "web" mail program to drive today's posting.

This poorly scripted web thing, from a most poor company, proclaims "Change is Good".

Dante didn't say so, but I believe that that epigram is burnt into Satan's tongue... Ahem! I said I wasn't going to get into demonology here. Yes. Instead I will do it another way. Let's see. Let us use a syllogism: a bit roughly formed, yes, but who knows "Barbara Celarent" any more?

Premise 1: We assume that "Change is good."
Premise 2: At present in America we do not permit ownership of slaves.
Premise 3: It is a change to go from not permitting ownership of slaves to permitting it.
Thus we deduce: It will be good to permit ownership of slaves.
BUT: we know that ownership of slaves is bad.
THEREFORE: we have logically demonstrated that "change" is NOT good. Correct. (Thank God.)

Certainly "Change" is an aspect of the nature of time, BUT there are things that do NOT change:
There must in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still; there must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW 4:116-117]
Today, we are going to learn more about this, and why it is so. I know some of you will have a problem with my use of the "M" word, but perhaps, after today, you won't. In any case, you will now need to use magic. Wands out, please... OK you are going to be stubborn? Then I will have to call in the Law...

Click here to advance.Actually that's the whole mystery of today's study. Law and magic, things that repeat and things that change, even if they don't change much. Like sunrise. And if I stepped on a lot of toes last week, you ain't seen nothin' yet. (We shall consider pages 255-256 of CW1 today.)

Now that we all got our boots on, let's stomp some toes - ready?
In fairyland we avoid the word "law"; but in the land of science they are singularly fond of it.
All the white-lab coat gang cringe. Sure! There are Newton's Laws (really Buridan's of course, for those of us who've been keeping up with the history of science). There are Kepler's Laws - no, Galileo, modern science does NOT agree with you; they are ellipses, not circles! Boyle and Snell and Steno and Ohm and Ampere and (all bow) MAXWELL'S LAWS... yes.

But (as they pull their chemical stained hankies from their lab coats and sniffle) Chesterton goes on to say:
Thus they will call some interesting conjecture about how forgotten folks pronounced the alphabet, Grimm's Law.[CW1:255]
The lab-coated ones look around... is Chem? no; Geo? no; Physics or Bio? No, nope... wait a second .... they look around frantically...

Oh, ho! the boot is stomping on the other side of the aisle!

GRIMM ISN'T A SCIENTIST. And they are brothers - LITR'Y brothers. (also known as "Liberal Arts") Yeah, these are the same Grimm brothers that did the fairy tales - but they also did some philological thing or other - you know, the mechanics of language, like Tolkien. (The Law is something like this: the "p" in Latin and Greek becomes "f" in Germanic languages, which is why Latin has pater and English has father, but there are exceptions and all kinds of modifications... well. This is part of what GKC is getting at.)

But for the moment, it's just hilarious to see that bunch squirm, because like all the historical fields, there is no science (in the scientific sense) in them. There is, in the Latin sense - for there is knowledge. If we ever do GKC's The Everlasting Man we'll hear more about that sort of "science". And you ought to be hearing GKC on this, not me:
But Grimm's Law is far less intellectual than Grimm's Fairy Tales. The tales are, at any rate, certainly tales; while the law is not a law. A law implies that we know the nature of the generalisation and enactment; not merely that we have noticed some of the effects.
Sure, and now the philologists agree - they love Tolkien, and the brothers Grimm, even if they've long since modified their Law. But now, of course, the lawyers will be throwing torts and subpoenas and all their weaponry at us. (I prefer strawberry tort, myself.) But it is best if they read it, and find they too must agree:
If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties.
Ah, now you feel some harmony about that syllogism I started off with. They tried a verbal firework ("Change is good") but it went off in their faces - for slavery is not good. After all, there must be something unchangeable...

Now, if we wanted to get into a REAL discussion about "law" in science, we might take Newton (Buridan) and see what happened when Einstein got into that whole speed of light thing. But besides being kicked by all the litr'ry people, the scientists would be screaming "You're forgetting Maxwell!" (with a bow, of course). But remember how, in past chapters, we saw that GKC makes a point, sometimes very sketchily, but always a sharp point? GKC is NOT setting up to argue Grimm's Law (or Newton/Buridan, or even Maxwell (bow)). He's trying to get to the essence of "LAW".

And the avenue he takes is the one most feared by some - the avenue of magic. And NOW we get to the really important thing.

Because the power of magic is not in its mechanism - for then it would be strict science (I mean physics, let us say, or another such branch). It is in its AUTHORITY. At stake is not the means - I distill various materials in my lab, and make a stick, and wave the stick and it glows ... because of the oxidation of luminol, or the friction of red phosphorus with potassium chlorate, or a spiral of tungsten, or perhaps a layered arrangement of certain doped semiconductors, wired together with a metal and reactive chemical power source - and so on. Those means, as mystical and as occult (remember that means HIDDEN) as they are, are completely natural, and straightforward for anyone to accomplish with some training and understanding of the terms.

But - if a certain person walked into a forest, danced around a tree in the dead of night, then picked a branch from it and waved it thrice above his head, muttering some poorly conjugated Latin imperative - and it burst into flame - why, then we are talking about authority - this is NOT something to be explained by chemistry or electronics, and one does not find it in standard reference books. Either he is working by divine power (which is good) or by abuse of divine power (which is evil). Obviously, you can light your flashlight which you bought in a department store and use it to help rescue a stranded traveller - or to burgle a house - again, you are working either by divine power, or abusing it - and no occult issue arises.

We are NOT exploring magic. We are getting at an issue. The Great issue. The reality of things, and the idea of "law" which makes things as they are in our world... and it must be understood, not as a clever game (like Grimm, or even Maxwell (bow)!) but as a personal power, somehow attached to one who is able to make choices... that is, as Magic.

But let GKC tell you:
All the terms used in the science books, "law," "necessity," "order," "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. ... I deny altogether that this is fantastic or even mystical. We may have some mysticism later on; but this fairy-tale language about things is simply rational and agnostic. It is the only way I can express in words my clear and definite perception that one thing is quite distinct from another; that there is no logical connection between flying and laying eggs. It is the man who talks about "a law" that he has never seen who is the mystic.
We must here turn, for a moment, to see how incredibly high we have journeyed today. We are at the almost unimaginable height, where science and law and even Grimm's Law and its literary congeners meet - and we find a path leading upwards labelled "Story". GKC does not here advance along it, but he notes a little of its character. You can find an excellent essay, "On Fairy-Stories" in A Tolkien Reader and the essential guidebook in GKC's The Everlasting Man CW2:380. But for now, you may be content with even this glimpse:
Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales - because they find them romantic.
I thought I would have more to say, but I cannot say it now; I find this overwhelmingly lovely and am now impelled to resume my work...

You might read some more; try to get to page 260 if you can; this is all the same matter, and deserves reading, re-reading, and discussion. I shall resume on the topic next time.

Do not forget that on Saturday we celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the departure of GKC for the Inn at the End of the World. Let us pause for a moment in prayer, and gratitude for this great man.
Monsignor Smith anointed him and then Father Vincent arrived in response to a message from Frances which he thought meant she wanted him to see Gilbert for the last time. Taken to the sick room he sang over the dying man the Salve Regina. This hymn to Our Lady is sung in the Dominican Order over every dying friar and it was surely fitting for the biographer of St. Thomas and the ardent suppliant of Our Lady:

"Salve Regina, mater misericordiae, vita dulcedo et spes nostra salve.... Et Jesum benedictum fructum ventris tui nobis post hoc exsilium ostende...."

Gilbert's pen lay on the table beside his bed and Father Vincent picked it up and kissed it.

It was June 14, 1936, the Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi, the same Feast as his reception into the Church fourteen years earlier. The Introit for that day's Mass was printed on his Memorial card, so that, as Father Ignatius Rice noted with a smile, even his Memorial card had a joke about his size:
The Lord became my protector and he brought me forth into a large place. He saved me because he was well pleased with me. I will love Thee O Lord my strength. The Lord is my firmament and my refuge and my deliverer. [Ps17:19-20, 2-3]
To these words from the Mass, Frances added Walter de la Mare's tribute:
Knight of the Holy Ghost, he goes his way
Wisdom his motley, Truth his loving jest;
The mills of Satan keep his lance in play,
Pity and innocence his heart at rest.

[Quoted from Maisie Ward's biography, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 650-651]
Requiescat in pace. Gilbert and Frances pray for us, and lead us to the Everlasting Man.

--Dr. Thursday

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