Friday, May 9, 2014

Process / Chesterton

"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."

(G.K. Chesterton.  Introductory Remarks. "Heretics")

... "not of the process like paralytics."  Haha, funny.  Chesterton gives me belly-laughs.

My feelings about "process" have mostly been something like that, even in relation to science education.  Talk about "process", "efficiency", or even "the journey" seem to take the passion right out of things, or let the air out of the balloon.  When someone is just on a journey, or enjoying the ride, or on the way, one seems to really want to know where they are headed and whether one can take an interest in the goal.

There must be a time or place for that sort of process thinking or talk, though.  I wonder how one would distinguish.

For example, Applebaum in her book on the history of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe (see recent post) is trying to recapitulate the process so we can learn from what we can glean. It seems an important work--perhaps specifically the work of the historian or journalist--supposedly detached, unsentimental and fair. It is meant to be a report.  It is not forward looking, though it aims to rebuild the societies that have seen demolishing by totalitarianism.

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