Newsletter of the District of Asia

 March 1998

"There is Little Use In Knowing
Without Thinking."

T.V. and G.K. Chesterton

1) From his Life

It is not so many years ago that we donned earphones in a doubtful hope of being able to hear something over the radio. It is the less surprising that it was only in the last few years of his life that Gilbert became first interested in the invention and presently one of the broadcasters most in request by the B.B.C. He felt about the radio as he did about most modern inventions: that they were splendid opportunities that were not being taken - or else were being taken to the harm of humanity by the wrong people. What was the use of "calling all countries" if you had nothing to say to them?

"What much modern science fails to realise," he wrote, "is that there is little use in knowing without thinking."

And again, writing about the amazing discoveries of the day: "Nobody is taking the smallest trouble to consider who in the future will be in command of the electricity and capable of giving us the shocks. With all the shouting about the new marvels, hardly anybody utters a word or even a whisper about how they are to be prevented from turning into the old abuses . ... People sometimes wonder why we now infrequently refer to the old scandal covered by the word Marconi. It is precisely because all these things are really covered by that word. There could not be a shorter statement of the contradiction than in men howling that word as a discovery and hushing it up as a story."

For the thing that really frightened him about the radio was its possibilities as a new instrument of tyranny.

In an article called "The Unseen Catastrophe" (G. K. 's Weekly, January 28, 1928) Gilbert wrote:

"Suppose you had told some of the old Whigs, let alone Liberals, that there was an entirely new type of printing press, eclipsing all others; and that as this was to be given to the King, all printing would henceforth be government printing. They would be roaring like rebels, or even regicides, yet that is exactly what we have done with the whole new invention of wireless (and T. V ‑Ed.). Suppose it were proposed that the king's officers should search all private houses to make sure there were no printing presses, they would be ready for a new revolution. Yet that is exactly what is proposed for the protection of the government monopoly of broadcasting... There is really no protection against propaganda... being entirely in the hands of the government; except indeed, the incredible empty-headedness of those who govern... On that sort of thing at least, we are all Socialists now. It is wicked to nationalize miners or railroads; but we lose no time in nationalizing tongues and talk... We might once have used, and we shall now never use, the twentieth century science against the nineteenth century hypocrisy. It was prevented by a swift, sweeping and intolerant State monopoly; a monster suddenly swallowing all rivals, alternatives, discussions, or delays, with one snap of its gigantic jaws. That is what I mean by saying: "We cannot see the monsters that overcome us." But I suppose that even Jonah, when once he was swallowed, could not see the whale." (Gilbert Keith Chesterton, by Maisy Ward, London, 1944, pp. 533-534)

2) From The Fr. Brown Stories

"But does anybody know anything about the Middle Ages? Do you know what a Guild was? Have you ever heard of salvo managio suo? Do you know what sort of people were Serui Regis?"

"No, of course I don't," said the lady, rather crossly. "What a lot of Latin words!"

"No, of course," said Father Brown. "If it had been Tutankhamen and a set of driedup Africans preserved, Heaven knows why, at the other end of the world; if it had been Babylonia or China; if it had been some race as remote and mysterious as the Man in the Moon, your newspapers would have told you all about it, down to the last discovery of a tooth-brush or a collar‑stud. But the men who built your own parish churches, and gave the names to your own towns and trades, and the very roads you walk on - it has never occurred to you to know anything about them." (London, 1929, The Curse of the Golden Cross, p.709.)

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