What I Learned from G. K. Chesterton’s WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD

GKG Cover2What Chesterton Said

I recently read G. K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World. He wrote this book in 1900. Although some of the later segments are not directed toward questions that are not under consideration today (for example: Why would women want the vote?), the very first part, the part that gave rise to the title, I found very helpful in guiding my thinking and proved very relevant to the questions that seem to confront me at every turn.

His discussion focuses on mistakes made by those who advocate for some the elimination of a perceived ill through social change.

Chesterton begins by pointing out that those who advocate for some social change explicitly or implicitly use the metaphor of a physician treating a disease. This is a false assumption because in disease we all know what health looks like and so the only dispute is about the nature of the disease and the proper treatment to return the individual to health.

However, in discussing social ills and their cure, we give little or no consideration to what health looks like and if we did we would likely have broad disagreement on the goal. Chesterton says:

But social science is by no means always content with the normal human soul; it has all sorts of fancy souls for sale. Man as a social idealist will say “I am tired of being a Puritan; I want to be a Pagan,” or “Beyond this dark probation of Individualism I see the shining paradise of Collectivism.” Now in bodily ills there is none of this difference about the ultimate ideal. The patient may or may not want quinine; but he certainly wants health.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith). What’s Wrong with the World (p. 3). Kindle Edition.

Chesterton going on about this point:

The social case is exactly the opposite of the medical case. We do not disagree, like doctors, about the precise nature of the illness, while agreeing about the nature of health. On the contrary, we all agree that England is unhealthy, but half of us would not look at her in what the other half would call blooming health.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith). What’s Wrong with the World (p. 3). Kindle Edition.

I think Chesterton would say the first step in this discussion would be to talk about our private ideal of social health and defend why everyone should want to get there. We might agree that the current situation is bad, but that doesn’t mean the proposed change won’t make things worse.

Chesterton again:

The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity? I have called this book “What Is Wrong with the World?” and the upshot of the title can be easily and clearly stated. What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith). What’s Wrong with the World (pp. 3-4). Kindle Edition.

What Chesterton Taught Me

So how do I apply this? When I read about the identification of a sociological problem along with a proposed solution, I’ve come up for a series of questions that I think Chesterton might have asked:

If I applied this proposed solution what would our society look like? Would our freedoms be enhanced? Would I still be able to speak freely and follow my convictions? Would my freedom to choose what I think is best for myself, my family, and community be unimpaired? Would there truly be equality of opportunity? Would competence be recognized and rewarded?

Is the proposed solution tyrannical or draconian? Would I be setting up a new kind of oppression? Am I restricting people’s employment or their ability to go into business for themselves? Does the solution implementation consist of convincing people by argument and example that the new proposal is a better way to a worthy end or am I legislating and punishing to get there?

These two clusters of questions have been most helpful in thinking about these social remedies that I see on Twitter, Facebook, in the news, or spoken about over coffee. They also help me as a science fiction writer.

How Chesterton Impacts My SF Writing

As I write my novels I am often confronted with painting, using words, a future world. One way to get the painting right would be to use the Chesterton questions to extrapolate into the future. If I do that, I can often see how these questions illuminate the difficulties in the proposals and lead to dysfunction and unintended consequences.

If you have any thoughts on this, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Peter Kazmaier is the author of the science fiction series, THE HALCYON CYCLE. His books can be found on Amazon, Chapter/Indigo, iBooks, Google Play, and at your local library through Overdrive.

About Peter Kazmaier

Lover of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Author of the SF series THE HALCYON CYCLE. I frequently re-read my favourite books. http://tinyurl.com/p46woa4

Posted on February 5, 2018, in Freedom of Association, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedoms, G. K. Chesteron, The Battle for Halcyon, The Halcyon Cycle, The Halcyon Dislocation. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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