Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Sage of Baltimore was Absurd

The following are snippets from H.L. Mencken’s Minority Report, one of our favorite books. The great Mencken needs no comment, as he is quite an eloquent and forceful writer. Enjoy the following, though as absurdists, we really could not care less whether you do or not:

“All of us, to be sure, cherish delusions, but it is at least possible for a rational man to avoid the more gross and obvious ones. No one blames a man for believing that his wife is beautiful, but it is impossible to avoid disgust in the presence of one who believes that he has an immortal soul of some vaguely gaseous nature, and that it will continue to exist four hundred million years after he has been shoveled away. Such ideas are not only erroneous; they are in a very true sense offensive. It is not possible to hear them stated without a kind of revulsion.”

“One of the most irrational of all the conventions of modern society is the one to the effect that religious opinions must be respected. It is largely to blame, I suspect, for the slowness with which sound ideas are disseminated in the world. The minute a new one bobs up some faction or other of theologians falls upon it furiously, seeking to put it down. The most effective way to defend it, of course, would be to fall upon the theologians, for the only really useful defense is an all-out offensive. But the convention aforesaid protects them, and so they proceed with their blather unwhipped and almost unmolested, to the great damage of common sense and common decency. That they should have this immunity is an outrage. There is nothing in religious ideas, as a class, to lift them above other ideas. On the contrary, they are always dubious and often quite silly. Nor is there any visible intellectual dignity in theologians. Few of them know anything that is worth knowing, and not many of them are even honest.”

And this:

"Of all varieties of men, the one who is least comprehensible to me is the fellow who immolates himself upon the altar of what he conceives to be the public interest - in other words, the reformer, the uplifter, the man, so-called of public spirit. What I am chiefly unable to understand is his oafish certainty that he is right - his almost pathological inability to grasp the notion that, after all, he may be wrong. As for me, I am never absolutely certain that I am right, and for the plain reason that I am never absolutely certain that anything is true. It may seem to me to be true, and I may be quite unable to imagine any proof of its falsity - but that is simply saying that my imagination is limited, not that the proposition itself is immovably sound. Some other man, better born that I was or drinking better liquor, may disprove it tomorrow... I know of no so-called truth that quite escapes this possibility. Anything is conceivable in a world so irrational as this one."

This last snippet is from another part of the Minority Report, and is therefore a clean break in thought from the above. We put it here because the statement is highly absurd and we believe correct. We will have more to say on role of humor in the future.

“Human life is basically a comedy. Even its tragedies often seem comic to the spectator, and not infrequently they actually have comic touches to the victim. Happiness probably consists largely in the capacity to detect and relish them. A man who can laugh, if only at himself, is never really miserable.”

One last comment: Reading Mencken is like sweeping the clutter in your brain. We expect we’ll share more from the Sage of Baltimore in future missives.

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