Thursday, December 6, 2012


Most of the world's problems (apart from natural catastrophes) are caused by busybodies who believe that they know what is best for the rest of us. These busybodies include politicians, self-described political "activists," self-described "progressives" (experience has taught me to immediately run away from any person who claims to be a "progressive":  the self-regard and the lack of self-awareness embodied in such a claim are frightening), social "scientists" (scare quotes required), religious fanatics of all stripes, media mouthpieces and shills, and "journalists" (scare quotes again required).

     Norman Clark (1913-1992), "Still Life by a Window with The Listener"

All of these busybodies have one thing in common:  an agenda.  They believe that there is a problem to be solved and they intend to solve it.  Oh, yes, there is one more thing that they all have in common:  as they see it, they are not part of the problem; we, however, are.

Nothing is new under the sun.  It has always been thus, and will always be thus.  Only the identities of the busybodies and the contents of their utopian agendas change.  Which is why I aspire to be an apolitical quietist.  (Albeit one who is admittedly subject to fits of incredulity and exasperation at some fresh piece of lunacy.)

                   Norman Clark, "View over the Village of Hurstpierpoint"

        A Man I Agreed With

He knew better than to admire a chair
and say What does it mean?

He loved everything that accepted
the unfailing hospitality of his five senses.
He would say Hello, caterpillar or
So long, Loch Fewin.

He wanted to know
how they came to be what they are:
But he never insulted them by saying
Caterpillar, Loch Fewin, what do you mean?

In this respect he was like God,
though he was godless. -- He knew the difference
between What does it mean to me?
and What does it mean?

That's why he said, half smiling,
Of course, God, like me,
is an atheist.

Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).

                 Norman Clark, "Flying Kites by a Gas Works near Bexhill"


Andrew Rickard said...

A fine post Stephen, as ever.

There's an interview with Norman MacCaig on YouTube here. He's exactly as I had imagined him.

Best regards,


Alex said...

Stephen: Your remarks about the nuisance of 'busybodyism' reminded me of C S Lewis' censure: "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Stephen Pentz said...

Andrew: thank you very much for the link to the MacCaig interview -- I wasn't aware of it. It is wonderful! It greatly enriches my appreciation of his poetry. I agree with you: what a fine character he is!

And thank you as well for stopping by again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Alex: I greatly appreciate your providing the passage from Lewis -- I hadn't seen it before. It is marvelous, and right on point.

I searched Google to find its source, and found some further extracts from the essay in which it appeared. I also like his follow-up comments to the passage that you quoted:

"To be 'cured' against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."

This is exactly it, isn't it? The presumption of the busybodies is what I find offensive: they believe that they know what is best for those who they believe to be not as "smart" or "perceptive" or "progressive" as them.

Thank you again. As ever, I appreciate hearing from you.

CorkyAgain said...

One wonders whether these busybodies ever regret their actions and the consequences of what they've done.

But no, it's always someone else's fault that things didn't turn out as planned.

I think it's that inability to self-criticize or accept blame that I dislike most about them.

Stephen Pentz said...

CorkyAgain: those are excellent points. I've long felt that a great deal of this busybodyness is motivated by an effort to feel holier-than-thou and/or to bolster self-esteem. Hence, consequences (intended or unintended), self-criticism, and acceptance of responsibility are alien to them.

I remember reading somewhere about the quarrel that essentially ended the friendship between Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells. As I recall, Conrad told Wells (a busybody) that Wells loved Humanity in the abstract, but did not have any empathy or concern for individual human beings. Conrad was absolutely correct. This is exactly how I feel about our own busybodies.

Thank you for visiting again, and for your thoughts.