We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?
With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many lead idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of the other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.
So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of a well-read man?
Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics, anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.
The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That’s why we’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle.
“You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those things than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of the state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damn full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it. So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your daredevils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, sting me with the theremin, loudly. I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.
Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.
… even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run.
As an interesting aside: In the 1979 coda, Bradbury says, “Only six weeks ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel.”
Because some people have absolutely no sense of irony.
Lord Chesterfield once observed that “whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” And to this day, whenever I hear someone repeat that, I feel driven to respond with G.K. Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
These are not contradictory statements. They are complementary. But in our efforts to achieve the one, I fear we frequently, and all too deliberately, overlook the other. It’s rather nice to think about something done well. Reflecting on the messy bits beforehand only gives us a headache.
“So pass the aspirin and the beer like a dear chap, won’t you?”
Writers are often guilty of this, especially young writers (and I speak as one of these). Sure, we talk a good game, all about getting our names out there and writing the Next Big Thing. We intend to make a splash. Only instead of picking up the stones and letting fly, we stand slack-jawed on the river bank with our hands in our pockets.
“Not yet,” we say, “not yet. One day, certainly. Just not today.”
So that novel remains unwritten and those notebooks gather dust and ambition is swept under Tomorrow’s rug. We want to spill ink like Bradbury and carve words like Faulkner, but we’re not willing to make fools out of ourselves to get there. We’re not willing to do badly so we can do well.
N.D. Wilson describes this attitude in Death by Living:
My work (entering middle school) clearly did not measure up to the work of C.S. Lewis (or Tolkien). And so I walked away from it, sagely planning to come back to writing later, when my writing would be better (without practice).
Yes. Well. Put it that way and it sounds rather silly, doesn’t it?
Pick up the stones and start throwing. We must write, even when it makes our eyes bleed and our stomachs quiver and our toes curl in revulsion. A lot of it will be dreadful. None of it will be wasted. It’s how we learn. We jump off this cliff and figure out the flying part on the way down.
Chesterfield: “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”
Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
They say variety is the spice of life. I say paradox is.
“The skeptic is never for real. There he stands, cocktail in hand, left arm draped languorously on one end of the mantlepiece, telling you that he can’t be sure of anything, not even of his own existence. I’ll give you my secret method of demolishing universal skepticism in four words. Whisper to him: ‘Your fly is open.’ If he thinks knowledge is so all-fired impossible, why does he always look?”
– Robert Farrar Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox
When Pigs Fly, Thomas Aquinas, Humility, and Us – “My father gave me in one fell swoop a rebuke and a challenge. He said to me, ‘Son, the cheapest way to develop the reputation as an intellectual is to adopt the posture of a cynic.'”An excellent reminder from R.C. Sproul, Jr.
Old Paths New Feet – Brother Down’s new album is now up on Spotify. So go listen to it. Like, now. It’s very, very good.
Gloriously Ordinary – “He doesn’t only stoop. He joys in the stooping. He joys in His being birthed into our messy little world. This. This is what we are missing from Milton. In his book, we don’t see our scarred and holy God burning away pain. We see only the guaranteed victory. We don’t see the very ordinary bits of the Story. But Christ loves the ordinary things.”
Why the Sandwich is the King of Food-Engineering – Well. If that isn’t a compelling case, I don’t know what is.
Dear Daughter, You’re Beautiful – Matt Walsh: “Hollywood and the fashion industry have concocted a ‘beauty’ that is separate and apart from reality. What they sell is a marketing ploy. It’s assembly line sexy. It’s about as beautiful as the canned food aisle at Walmart.”
The Left Is Trying to Rehabilitate Karl Marx – So let’s remind them of the millions who died in his name. As this chap points out, “you’d have to be a pretty lacking in moral sensitivity to defend a thinker whose work sent millions of people to an early grave.”
Snatching Them from the Cradle – This sounds familiar. All too familiar.
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein