I could have titled this “The Wisdom of C.S. Forester”, but it’s not so much wisdom as recognition of a personality trait:
[Horatio Hornblower] had just performed a most notable feat of navigation, of which anyone might be justifiably proud, in bringing the ship straight here after eleven weeks without sighting land. But he felt no elation about it. It was Hornblower’s nature to find no pleasure in achieving things he could do; his ambition was always yearning after the impossible, to appear a strong silent capable man, unmoved by emotion.
After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, “Oh, this pace is terrible!” But actually it is not. When you get wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no need to worry about progress. It is like studying a foreign language; you cannot do it all of a sudden, but by repeating it over and over until you master it.
Also known as the Groundhog Day theory of self-improvement.
Today the States of the Christian world have not only reached but have surpassed the limit which the States of the ancient world attained before their downfall. This can bee seen particularly clearly because in our times every step forward in technical progress not only fails to advance the common weal but, on the contrary, shows with increasing clarity that all this progress can only increase people’s misery and can in no way diminish it. Yet other new contrivances might be invented for transporting people from one place to another, submarine, subterranean, aerial and spatial, as well as new methods of disseminating speech and thought; but, since the people travelling from one place to another are neither willing nor able to commit anything but evil, the thoughts and words being spread will incite men to nothing but evil.
Old men have been yelling at that cloud forever and have been predicting the downfall of the state forever (although, in Tolstoy’s case, it would actually come about a decade later). But you can read this and completely equate it with things you might read on the Internet today about the United States.
I agree with the last bit, though: Human nature being what it is, people will do evil if they want.
Understand then, especially you young ones, that to dedicate your lives, or even to occupy yourselves with forcible reconstruction of other people’s lives, according to your wishes, is not a just a primitive superstition, but a vile, criminal affair, destructive to the soul. Realize that the desires of an enlightened soul for the welfare of others is in no way satisfied by vainly organizing their lives through violence, but that it is only achieved through one’s own inner work–the only thing where man has complete freedom and control. Only this task, increasing the love within oneself, can enhance the satisfaction of this desire. You must understand that no activity aimed at the organization of other people’s lives through coercion can enhance people’s welfare, but it is always a more or less consciously hypocritical deceit used to cover up man’s basest desires: vanity, pride, and self-interest, under the guise of personal dedication to mankind.
Understand this, especially you young ones, the generation of the future, and cease, as the majority of us are doing at the moment, to search for illusory happiness in creating people’s welfare by participating in the administration of the State, or judiciary, or by instructing others and, in order to do so, by entering institutions (namely schools and universities) where you are involved in vanity, self-importance and pride, and thus perverted. Cease participating in the various organizations whose aim is supposedly to further the welfare of the masses, and seek only that one thing that is always necessary and within the reach of us all, and which gives the greatest well-being to ourselves, and is the most likely thing to enhance the welfare of our neighbours. Seek this one thing within yourselves: an increase of love through eradicating all the mistakes, sins and passions which hinder its manifestation and you will further the well-being of people in the most effective way.
As a child, I had not been content with the results promised by the modern professors of natural science. With a confusion of ideas only to be accounted for by my extreme youth, and my want of a guide on such matters, I had retrod the steps of knowledge along the paths of time, and exchanged the discoveries of recent enquirers for the dreams of forgotten alchemists. Besides, I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand: but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the enquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.
As I read The Undiscovered Self, I’m posting seemingly relevant quotations as I go along because some of them shed some light on the world today.
The first paragraphs of “Religion as the Counterbalance to Mass-Mindedness” states:
In order to free the fiction of the Sovereign State–in other words, the whims of those who manipulate it–from every wholesome restriction, all socio-political movements tending in this direction invariably try to cut the ground from under religions. For, in order to turn the individual into a function of the State, his dependence upon anything beside the State must be taken from him. But religion means dependence on and submission to irrational facts of experience. These do not refer directly to social and physical conditions; they concern far more the individual’s psychic attitude.
But it is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life only when there is a point of reference outside them. The religions give, or claim to give, such a standpoint, thereby enabling the individual to exercise his judgment and his power of decision. They build up a reserve, as it were, against the obvious and inevitable force of circumstances to which everyone is exposed who lives only in the outer world and has no other ground under his feet except the pavement. If statistical reality is the only reality, then it is the sole authority. There is then only one condition, and since no contrary condition exists, judgment and decision are not only superfluous but impossible. Then the individual is bound to be a function of statistics and hence a function of the State or whatever the abstract principle of order may be called. [Emphasis in original.]
Unfortunately, I’m only intermittently reading this book. I should switch a primary focus to it presently.
Whether or not you buy into the Jungian psychology and collective unconscious (and I don’t, but I do delve into individual unconscious sometimes when reading Jung), the fellow had some interesting ideas and thoughts that remain relevant in the modern world.
What will become of our civilization, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of the State absolutism should spread over Europe?
We have no reason to take this threat lightly. Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly inelligent, mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not, however, overestimate the thickness of this stratum. It varies from country to country in accordance with national temperament. Also, it is regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely disturbing factors of a political and economic nature. Taking plebiscites as a criterion, one could on an optimistic estimate put its upper limit at about 40 per cent of the electorate. A rather more pessimistic view would not be unjustified either, since the gift of reason and critical reflection is not one of man’s outstanding peculiarities, and even where it exists it proves to be wavering and inconstant, the more so, as a rule, the bigger the political groups are. The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinarie and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.
He wrote this circa 1957; in the 21st century, one is forgiven if one were to think the much thinner stratum of reasonable people exists in spite of public education and not because of it.