Saturday, November 09, 2013

C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures, last paragraphs. The whole thing should be subtitled the Decline of the West.
On the other hand, I confess, and I should be less than honest if I didn't, that I can't see the political techniques through which the good human capabilities of the West can get into action. The best one can do, and it is a poor best, is to nag away. That is perhaps too easy a palliative for one's disquiet: For, though I don't know how we can do what we need to do, or whether we shall do anything at all, I do know this: that, if we don't do it, the Communist countries will in time. They will do it at great cost to themselves and others, but they will do it. If that is how it turns out, we shall have failed, both practically and morally. At best, the West will have become an enclave in a different world—and this country will be the enclave of an enclave. Are we resigning ourselves to that? History is merciless to failure. In any case, if that happens, we shall not be writing the history. 
Meanwhile, there are steps to be taken which aren't outside the powers of reflective people. Education isn't the total solution to this problem: but without education the West can't even begin to cope. All the arrows point the same way. Closing the gap between our cultures is a necessity in the most abstract intellectual sense, as well as in the most practical. When those two senses have grown apart, then no society is going to be able to think with wisdom. For the sake of the intellectual life, for the sake of this country's special danger, for the sake of the western society living precariously rich among the poor, for the sake of the poor who needn't be poor if there is intelligence in the world, it is obligatory for us and the Americans and the whole West to look at our education with fresh eyes. This is one of the cases where we and the Americans have the most to learn from each other. We have each a good deal to learn from the Russians, if we are not too proud. Incidentally, the Russians have a good deal to learn from us, too. 
Isn't it time we began? The danger is, we have been brought up to think as though we had all the time in the world. We have very little time. So little that I dare not guess at it.
Earlier
They hear Mr. T. S. Eliot, who just for these illustrations we can take as an archetypal figure, saying about his attempts to revive verse-drama that we can hope for very little, but that he would feel content if he and his co-workers could prepare the ground for a new Kyd or a new Greene. That is the tone, restricted and constrained, with which literary intellectuals are at home: it is the subdued voice of their culture.

...I remember being cross-examined by a scientist of distinction. "Why do most writers take on social opinions which would have been thought distinctly uncivilised and démodé at the time of the Plantagenets? Wasn't that true of most of the famous twentieth-century writers? Yeats, Pound, Wyndham Lewis, nine out of ten of those who have dominated literary sensibility in our time—weren't they not only politically silly, but politically wicked? Didn't the influence of all they represent bring Auschwitz that much nearer?"

...And of the books which to most literary persons are bread and butter, novels, history, poetry, plays, almost nothing at all. It isn't that they're not interested in the psychological or moral or social life. In the social life, they certainly are, more than most of us. In the moral, they are by and large the soundest group of intellectuals we have: there is a moral component right in the grain of science itself, and almost all scientists form their own judgments of the moral life.

...The two cultures were already dangerously separate sixty years ago; but a prime minister like Lord Salisbury could have his own laboratory at Hatfield, and Arthur Balfour had a somewhat more than amateur interest in natural science. John Anderson did some research in inorganic chemistry in Leipzig before passing first into the Civil Service, and incidentally took a spread of subjects which is now impossible. None of that degree of interchange at the top of the Establishment is likely, or indeed thinkable, now.

...If our ancestors had invested talent in the industrial revolution instead of the Indian Empire, we might be more soundly based now. But they didn't. 
...More often than I like, I am saddened by a historical myth. Whether the myth is good history or not, doesn't matter; it is pressing enough for me. I can't help thinking of the Venetian Republic in their last half-century. Like us, they had once been fabulously lucky. They had become rich, as we did, by accident. They had acquired immense political skill, just as we have. A good many of them were tough-minded, realistic, patriotic men. They knew, just as clearly as we know, that the current of history had begun to flow against them.
A debate among Oxbridge dons in 1960, with all that implies. The study of history seen as a branch of literature, as civilized entertainment but not knowledge, but then the use of potted or even fake history as a direct warning. "If our ancestors had invested talent in the industrial revolution instead of the Indian Empire..." "They had become rich, as we did, by accident."  Written in 1959. The contradictions are too extreme even to be good for a laugh.

"...the books which to most literary persons are bread and butter, novels, history, poetry, plays," "History is merciless to failure. In any case, if that happens, we shall not be writing the history. "

History is bunk, until it's not.



"there is a moral component right in the grain of science itself, and almost all scientists form their own judgments of the moral life."


The mad scientist is the one ubiquitous image of evil or moral failure in the 20th century.
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Statement by Mr. Shaha to the UN General Assembly on decolonization - 1960
The Flintstones meet the Great Gazoo
"We'll Meet Again" The end of Dr. Strangelove.
The videos may vanish at some point.

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