Friday, 8 January 2021
Friday, 8 January 2021
Monday, 7 December 2020
Measuring Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine: Now’s the Time to Press Hard for Ethical Options
Wednesday, 14 October 2020
The Travellers in State
The other day, to my great astonishment, I caught a train; it was a train going into the Eastern Counties, and I only just caught it. And while I was running along the train (amid general admiration) I noticed that there were a quite peculiar and unusual number of carriages marked ‘Engaged’. On five, six, seven, eight, nine carriages was pasted the little notice: at five, six, seven, eight, nine windows were big bland men staring out in the conscious pride of possession. Their bodies seemed more than usually impenetrable, their faces more than usually placid. It could not be the Derby, if only for the minor reasons that it was the opposite direction and the wrong day. It could hardly be the King. It could hardly be the French President. For, though these distinguished persons naturally like to be private for three hours, they are at least public for three minutes. A crowd can gather to see them step into the train; and there was no crowd here, or any police ceremonial.
Who were those awful persons, who occupied more of the train than a bricklayer’s bean-feast, and yet were more fastidious and delicate than the King’s own suite? Who were these that were larger than a mob, yet more mysterious than a monarch? Was it possible that instead of our Royal House visiting the Tsar, he was really visiting us? Or does the House of Lords have a break-fast? I waited and wondered until the train slowed down at some Station in the direction of Cambridge. Then the large, impenetrable men got out, and after them got out the distinguished holders of the engaged seats. They were all dressed decorously in one colour, they had neatly cropped hair, and they were chained together.
I looked across the carriage at its only other occupant, and our eyes met. He was a small, tired-looking man, and, as I afterwards learnt, a native of Cambridge; by the look of him, some working tradesman there, such as a journeyman tailor or a small clock-mender. In order to make conversation I said I wondered where the convicts were going. His mouth twitched with the instinctive irony of our poor, and he said; “I don’t s’pose they’re goin’ on an ‘oliday at the seaside with little spades and pails.” I was naturally delighted, and, pursuing the same vein of literary convention, I suggested that perhaps Dons were taken down to Cambridge chained together like this. And as he lived in Cambridge, and had seen several Dons, he was pleased with such a scheme. Then when we had ceased to laugh, we suddenly became quite silent; and the bleak, grey eyes of the little man grew sadder and emptier than an open sea. I knew what he was thinking, because I was thinking the same, because all modern sophists are only sophists, and there is such a thing as mankind. Then at last (and it fell in as exactly as the right last note of a tune one is trying to remember) he said: “Well, I s’pose we ‘ave to do it.” And in those three things, his first speech and his silence and his second speech, there were all the three great fundamental facts of the English democracy, its profound sense of humour, its profound sense of pathos, and its profound sense of helplessness.
It cannot be too often repeated that all real democracy is an attempt (like that of a jolly hostess) to bring the shy people out. For every practical purpose of a political state, for every practical purpose of a tea-party, he that abases himself must be exalted. At a tea-party it is equally obvious that he that exalteth himself must be abased, if possible without bodily violence. Now people talk of democracy as being coarse and turbulent: it is a self-evident error in mere history. Aristocracy is the thing that is always coarse and turbulent: for it means appealing to the self-confident people. Democracy means appealing to the diffident people. Democracy means getting those people to vote who would never have the cheek to govern: and (according to Christian ethics) the precise people who ought to govern are the people who have not the cheek to do it. There is a strong example of this truth in my friend in the train. The only two types we hear of in this argument about crime and punishment are two very rare and abnormal types.
We hear of the stark sentimentalist, who talks as if there were no problem at all; as if physical kindness would cure everything; as if one need only pat Nero and stroke Ivan the Terrible. This mere belief in bodily humanitarianism is not sentimental; it is simply snobbish. For if comfort gives men virtue, the comfortable classes ought to be virtuous – which is absurd. Then, again we do hear of the yet weaker and more watery type of sentimentalist. I mean the sentimentalist who says, with a sort of splutter, “Flog the brutes!” or who tells you with innocent obscenity “what he would do” with a certain man – always supposing the man’s hands were tied.
This is the more effeminate type of the two; but both are weak and unbalanced. And it is only these two types, the sentimental humanitarian and the sentimental brutalitarian, whom one hears in the modern babel. Yet you very rarely meet either of them on a train. You never meet anyone else in a controversy. The man you meet in a train is like this man that I met: he is emotionally decent, only he is intellectually doubtful. So far from luxuriating in the loathsome things that could be “done” to criminals, he feels bitterly how much better it would be if nothing need be done. But something must be done. “ I s’pose we ‘ave to do it.” In short, he is simply a sane man, and of a sane man there is only one safe definition. He is a man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.
Now the real difficulty of discussing decently this problem of the proper treatment of criminals is that both parties discuss the matter without any direct human feeling. The denouncers of wrong are as cold as the organisers of wrong. Humanitarianism is as hard as inhumanity.
Let me take one practical instance. I think the flogging arranged in our modern prisons is a filthy torture; all its scientific paraphernalia, the photographing, the medical attendance, prove that it goes to the last foul limit of the boot and rack. The cat is simply the rack without any of its intellectual reasons. Holding this view strongly, I open the ordinary humanitarian books or papers and I find a phrase like this, “the lash is a relic of barbarism”. So is the plough. So is the fishing net. So is the horn or the staff or the fire lit in winter. What an inexpressively feeble phrase for anything one wants to attack – a relic of barbarism! It is as if a man walked naked down the street tomorrow, and we said that his clothes were not quite in the latest fashion. There is nothing particularly nasty about being a relic of barbarism. Dancing is a relic of barbarism. Man is a relic of barbarism. Civilisation is a relic of barbarism.
But torture is not a relic of barbarism at all. In actuality it is simply a relic of sin; but in comparative history it may well be called a relic of civilisation. It has always been most artistic and elaborate when everything else was most artistic and elaborate. Thus it was detailed and exquisite in the late Roman Empire, in the complex and gorgeous sixteenth century, in the centralised French monarchy a hundred years before the Revolution, and in the great Chinese civilisation to this day. This is, first and last, the frightful thing we must remember. In so far as we grow instructed and refined, we are not (in any sense whatever) naturally moving away from torture. We may be moving towards torture. We must know what we are doing, if we are to avoid the enormous secret cruelty which has crowned every historic civilisation.
The train moves more swiftly through the sunny English fields. They have taken the prisoners away, and I do not know what they have done with them.
(‘Tremendous Trifles’- published 1909)
It is interesting that Chesterton wrote this short story more than one hundred years ago. His prescience is startling when one considers the warning for our civilisation today, a civilisation which has progressed enormously in many fields, particularly technology and medicine, but in the process has become unbelievably cruel to its own kind. The legitimisation of abortion throughout the world, with millions of unborn babies denied their God-given right to life, and cruelly murdered in their mother’s womb, will surely rank as the most destructive cruelty, by far, of all ‘civilisations’.
May God forgive us, we must work and pray for an end to this evil.
“Lord have mercy on us”
Grief for her absent master in her wrought,
So I in pity took her out with me,
Though I would fain have walked alone, to be
Less hindered in the current of my thought:
And then I threw her sticks for which she ran:-
Who would not cheer a sorrow when he can?
After some miles we met at twilight pale
A neighbour of her master’s passing by,
And, with blythe demonstration in her eye,
She turned and followed him along the vale.
So I walked on, companioned by the moon,
Well pleased that even a casual form or feature
Of the old times was dearer to the creature
Than the new friend of one bright afternoon.
Rev. William Faber D.D. (Poems)