On Books and the Unchanging Nature of Things

old and new

The wonderful thing about books is that if you’ve read a sufficient number, you quickly realize that King Solomon was right: There truly is nothing new under the sun. Cultural shifts occasionally offer the illusion that we’ve cooking up something new, but once you take a bite, it’s readily apparent that this just another case of, “New Look! Same Great Taste!”

I just started reading Dorothy Sayers’ Mind of the Maker, originally published in 1941. In light of our current political, social, and cultural trajectory, this quote from the first chapter stood out to me:

The more closely the moral code agrees with the natural law, the more it makes for freedom in human behaviour; the more widely it departs from the natural law, the more it tends to enslave mankind…

This corroborates what we already know, at least some of us. Our tendency to enforce utopian ideals by fiat, despite their blatant incongruency with the ingrained laws of the universe, is not a new one. It hasn’t worked before, and despite the technologies that have shrunk our world, it isn’t working now, for obvious reasons:

The moral code depends for its validity upon a consensus [8] of human opinion about what man’s nature really is, and what it ought to be, when freed from this mysterious self-contradiction and enabled to run true to itself. If there is no agreement about these things, then it is useless to talk of enforcing the moral code.

It’s not that we don’t know these truths. We do, but it sates the soul when those who have gone before, and are smarter, more articulate and presumably more wise than we confirm what we can see and sense in our hearts as true.

Behold the power of a great book!

* I’m still reading this particular book, but have learned that it is a part of the public domain in Canada. Ergo, although I’ve already spent money on it, there is online access to it. Weirdly, we are supposed to consult the laws in our country before reading it or something, so consider this your public service announcement.

7 thoughts on “On Books and the Unchanging Nature of Things

  1. smkoseki says:

    incongruency with the ingrained laws of the universe…hasn’t worked before, and despite the technologies that have shrunk our world, it isn’t working now

    True, true. The devil is in the details, though, on how new technologies interface with the laws of the universe, and what are the 80/20 rules of life with computers and indoor plumbing…


  2. Elspeth says:

    The devil is in the details, though, on how new technologies interface with the laws of the universe, and what are the 80/20 rules of life with computers and indoor plumbing…

    My point was that the increased interconnectedness has made it easier for people to find others who think like them. Niche culture combined with the “weirdos” tendency to cluster via the web and social media has created a situation where people believe there are more of them than there actually are. So people think everyone could be in some way gender fluid, or everyone with a personality quirk might be “on the spectrum”.

    In my case, for instance, the exposure of more visible black conservatives -thanks to the web- could lull me into a false belief that there are a lot of people like my husband and me out there. Sure, there are more than most leftist blacks or alt-right types might be willing to acknowledge, but we’re still outnumbered to the tune of about 80%/20%.

    That was my point about technology. It warps people’s ability to see that no, most of the people are not gender fluid. Most of us really are “cis gendered”, including most gay people I’d wager.

    No, most people aren’t sexually fluid, despite the earnest attempt to undermine nature.

    Most people understand intuitively the idea of family, faith, private property, and that the rule of law unequally applied means there is no rule of law.

    But our ability to find 100 people who agree with us using a few clicks, and then spending time commiserating across the miles nukes the belief in normalcy as parents (?) and grandparents understood it.

    That was longwinded but hopefully it explains what I mean by technology shrinking our world.


  3. smkoseki says:

    Got it. I agree. But it all started with the newspaper and books, reading about people and events and things that have little effect on our daily lives. Books are an entry gate drug and media is the coke.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elspeth says:

    Newspapers and books may have introduced some of it on a small scale, but their effect was minimal at best. Television news via cable was the real vehicle to pushing news and obscure information from around the world into our homes.

    My dad was an avid reader of the paper. He followed the news. It was NOTHING like what we have now between the web and the 24/7 news cycle.

    Our parents didn’t hear about every obscure disease or disorder. Every bizarre crime in a faraway state? Nope.

    This is truly a different time, smk.


  5. smkoseki says:

    …the news…was NOTHING like what we have now…

    I don’t agree. But I do think it’s subtle. I’m with Frank Duff, who wrote in 1958: THE QUESTION OF THE NEWSPAPER (https://www.ecatholic2000.com/cts/untitled-69.shtml)

    We are inclined to think it necessary to read the daily paper in order to keep in touch with what is going on in the world. Let us beware lest they place us in the world’s grip. The modern newspaper is so well written, so attractive to the eye, that it tends to become an absorbing taste. It is a tendency of the day to wallow in the daily papers.

    Endless discussion, a prejudiced outlook, a little scrappy knowledge, a distaste for serious or good literature, loss of power of concentration, faulty memory-such are the products of those wasted hours during which God’s kingdom could have been so powerfully advanced.


  6. Elspeth says:

    Usually, a common ground emerges, but we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    My elders didn’t spend HOURS reading the newspaper, and my father spent far more time reading his Bible and attending to the real needs of the congregation (he was chair of our church’s deacon board) than reading the news. He wasn’t given to fantasy or inordinate interest about things in other parts of the world. He was very much a “here and now” kind of person, and most of the people I knew of his generation were that way.

    Something about actually being able to SEE John Walsh grieving for his son Adam in the early 80s (and successive big stories like that where the public could experience things along with those impacted) via video and the increasing bombardment of those kinds of experiences is not the same as reading print. It’s simply not.

    Even to this day, I make a point of reading political speeches rather than watching them because I can focus on the substance of the speech, weigh the ideas objectively, and spot the lies more quickly, rather than being distracted by the other *stuff* that comes with listening to pols spin their rhetoric.

    It’s the reason the book is almost always “better than the movie”.

    So nope. I’ll grant you the point about television, and only a fool would dismiss the downsides of the Internet, but black and white print media (not to be confused with color magazines) is a different animal. It’s like claiming Brussels sprouts and peaches are the same thing because they’re both good for you and grow from plants.


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