Doesn't Stand to Reason

SCEPTICAL ESSAYS. By BertrandRussell. (W. W. Norton & Co.)

CONSIDERING that it is a la mode to be, or (since it is easier and serves just as well) to pose as skeptical, it might seem that Bertrand Russell’s “Sceptical Essays” should make a wellnigh universal bit. They will not, if they [ ? ] read with understand.

It is quite proper to be skeptical [ ? ] the other fellow’s truth, but [ ? ] going a bit too far when our own perfectly obvious truth is doubted; and it is plain to see, before one has read many pages, that Mr. Russell is often little less than impudent. He even seems, now and then, to doubt the validity of his skepticism! If his meaning be [ ? ] he insinuates at times that [ ? ] we are actually controlled by prejudice. Imagine that! Of course, there are certain truths that we have always known to be true ever since we knew anything, and these we are prepared to defend with appropriate violence if need be. It is the duty of a man to defend the truth.

This is the way Mr. Russell begins: “I wish to propose for the reader’s favorable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear [ ? dly ] paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.”

We accept this proposition with [ ? ], for does it not wallop a lot of people we know exactly where they need it most?

“I must, of course, admit,” continues Mr. Russell, “that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system.” Another bull’s-eye. This world would certainly be a paradise if everybody would espouse the truth as revealed to us.

Thus far Mr. Russell appears to be quite an intelligent fellow, but later on he gets wild. He has been talking about the great need for more rationality in our beliefs and acts, and that is what we are constantly saying ourselves. But then, all at once, he begins to talk like this: “Education, the press, politics religion — in a world all the [ ? at ] forces in the world — are at present on the side of irrational — they are in the hands of men who flatter King Demos in order [ ? ] lead him astray.”

This is going entirely too far, and it makes our blood fairly boil! As for politics, it is plain to see that the other party is composed of shameless grafters and incompetents. How anybody can swallow the boloney they pass out is beyond our powers of comprehension. So far, good. But anybody who says that our party is not moved by lofty humanitarian considerations is either a pinhead or a designing villain, and we can [ ? ove ] it. As for religion, being reasonable, we are willing to grant that most religions are indeed [ ? ish ]: but when a man — we don’t care who it is — goes so far as to question the one divine revelation, he is simply beneath our contempt, though not beneath our righteous wrath.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Russell has written a very queer book. Sometimes he seems to be on our side, and then suddenly he is on the other side. Is that rational? How, we ask, can a man be unquestionably right in one paragraph and indubitably wrong in the next without being irrational? Clearly it doesn’t stand to reason.

Here are some of Mr. Russell’s other statements:

“The assumption is that the possession of material commodities is what makes men happy. In a word, it is thought that happiness is proportional to income. A few people, not always sincerely, challenge the idea in the name of religion or morality; but they are glad if they increase their incomes by the eloquence of their preaching.”

(That is a nasty dig and certainly shows mean spirit).

“Why do we, in fact, almost all of us, desire to increase our incomes? It may seem, at first sight, as though material goods were what we desire. But in fact, we desire these mainly to impress our neighbors.”

(We know this to be absolutely true of the Joneses and Smiths, but as applied to us it is libelous.)

“The prevention of destitution does not depend upon machines, but upon quite other factors — partly density of population, and partly political conditions. And apart from prevention of destitution the value of increasing wealth is not very great.”

“No one can win the respect of the important local people unless he considers that good dinners for the rich are more important than life for the children of the poor. This suggests that we may simplify our account of what constitutes a good man: a good man is one whose opinions and activities are pleasing to the holders of power.”

“No political party can acquire any driving force except through hatred; it must hold somebody up to obloquy…. Until education has been directed for a generation into new channels, and the press has abandoned incitement to hatred, only harmful policies have any chance of being adopted in practice by present political parties….The best that can be hoped, it seems to me, is that we should, as many of us as possible, become political sceptics, rigidly abstaining from belief in the various attractive programs that are put up before us from time to time.”

“Credulity is a greater evil in the present day than it ever was before, because, owing to the growth of education, it is much easier than it used to be to spread misinformation, and, owing to democracy, the spread of misinformation is more important than in former times to the holders of power.” (Mr. Russell doesn’t seem to realize how civilized we are, and how sceptical of everything — everything except our own sacred truth.