Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Sir Thomas More on unconventional ideas, ground beef on toasted English muffin 


More's traveler Raphael relates a story of advice he gave at a King's cabinet meeting on how the King could increase his wealth. After others have suggested manipulating the value of the Kingdom's currency, levying extra taxes for a nonexistent war and the like, the idealistic traveller chimed in, "Why do you suppose [your subjects] made you king in the first place? ... Not for your benefit but for theirs. They meant you to devote your energies to making their lives more comfortable, and protecting them from injustice. So your job is to ..." He continues to suggest the King give up one of his vices - pride or laziness, quit being a nuisance to others, prevent crime instead of punish it after it has occurred, and finally to limit his wealth to 1000 pounds of gold.

After some discussion of whether saying such thing serves any purpose or not and noting that he wasn't suggesting (and would never suggest) something as radical as communal ownership of property such as Plato prescribes in the Republic , Raphael explains why he must say such things as he did in the cabinet meeting,

Of course they wouldn't like my proposals. Having set their hearts on a certain course of action, they'd naturally resent being shown the dangers that lay ahead, and told to give the whole thing up. But apart from that, what did I say that shouldn't be said in any company? If we're never to say anything that might be thought unconventional, for fear of its sounding ridiculous, we'll have to hush up, even in a Christian country, practically everything that Christ taught. But that was the last thing He wanted. Didn't He tell His disciples that everything He whispered in their ears should be proclaimed on the housetops? And most of his teaching is far more at variance with modern conventions than anything I suggested, except in so far as His doctrines have been modified by indigenous preachers - doubtless your recommendation!

"We'll never get human behaviour in line with Christian ethics," these gentlemen must have argued, "so let's adapt Christian ethics to human behaviour. Then at least there'll be some connexion between them."

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