Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And when they bore me overmuch, I will not shake mine ears,
Recalling many thousand such whom I have bored to tears.
And when they labour to impress, I will not doubt nor scoff;
Since I myself have done no less and sometimes pulled it off.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Monday, December 01, 2008

Important, but brief, note, regarding Barack Obama, Paterson Joseph, and Benjamin Zephaniah

Typical. You wait 450 years for a black man to be appointed to an important position, and then three come along all at once.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Important Note For Everyone

I was walking home the other day, and a total stranger came up to me and asked if I ever had a the kind of day which just makes me what to go up to someone and hug them. I hadn't, but she had, and so she did.

I then went into a corner shop to purchase a loaf of bread and some semi-skimmed milk, and the man behind the counter, who I had precisely once before, greeted me like a long-lost friend, asked if I had had a nice day at work, and turning to the elderly gentleman who was counting out some loose change rather slowly, added "You take your time, Pops."

I am as pleased as anyone that George W Bush is going to stop being President of Americaland, but the sooner everyone gets back to being miserable and cynical, the better I shall like it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Important Note About Busses

I've been in London. The Tube is festooned with ten foot high photographs of 200 year old stuffed mocking birds, with some reasonably closely worded text pointing out that their tail feathers are slightly different, and that this is what set Mr. Darwin thinking about the idea of Natural Selection. Kings College London had a display of famous alumni outside their premises. Charles Lyell's claim to fame is, apparently, that he proved conclusively that the world is millions of years old.

I don't think that the Evil Christian Hegemony can have been trying very hard this week.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Important Note For Popes

If you enjoy this essay, please consider purchasing a copy of Where Dawkins Went Wrong and Other Theological Blockbusters from this address - a collection of  some of the best and most-linked-to essays from this blog and its predecessor. It contains my five part assault critique of 'The God Delusion', along with essays on gay bishops, the 'gospel' of Judas, the 'legend' of the three wise men.

John Lennon did not say "We are bigger than Jesus." What he said was: "We are bigger than Jesus."

He saw dwindling congregations, clergy who spoke gobbledegook or who openly admitted that they didn't believe in God, and made the not very controversial suggestion that religion was declining. He cited the fact that a mere pop group had more influence on youngsters than Jesus did as evidence of this. It wasn't a boast, youthful or otherwise: it was an honest observation. He didn't rate the Beatles that highly. Just a band that made it very, very big.

I think that Paul McCartney went too far in saying that John was cajoling the church, saying "get out there, spread the Good News". True, some sources say that Lennon was converted to evangelical Christianity during the summer of 1977, but he'd given it up by Christmas. A few months later he tried Islam for a day or two.

He wasn't consistently anti-Christian - he made use of Gospel Choirs on some of his records - but he was surely too hostile to structures and organizations of any kind to ever really want the Church to do anything at all.

His remarks about the thick disciples ruining Christianity are, of course, naive: he seems to have been the kind of clever but uneducated person who uncritically accepted the contents of the last book he read.
("It's not that his mind is closed, but it's closed round whatever he believes at the time" as the offending article had it.) Cleverer people than him have been convinced by The Passover Plot; much cleverer people than him have created a figure called "Jesus" in their own image and convinced themselves that it's what lies behind the New Testament. Or else, just used "Jesus" as a place-holder for human goodness.

We are all Jesus. And we are all Hitler. Lennon wasn't the first person to use the world "Jesus" in that way, and he certainly wasn't the last.

He wasn't a Christian, but he was an honest seeker and it's a shame that the-Beatles-are-more-popular-than-Jesus is the only bit anyone remembers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Important Note For the BBC

A policy of appeasement towards the Daily Mail will not work. The Daily Mail is not objecting to one particularly ill-judged radio broadcast: they will use anything as a pretext to attack what they still think of the Bolshevik Broadcasting Company. The colour of a newsreaders' tie; an insufficiently groveling news item about the royal family; soap opera story lines which are too depressing; every occurrence of the word "fuck", in any context - nothing is too trivial to be used as ammunition in their war against public service broadcasting.

Why, incidentally, does the
Today programme continue to say things like "he used the F-word"? Whose sensibilities are they trying to protect? Those of the kind of Daily Mail reader who would be traumatized by seeing the word "masturbation" in plain print? When Today ran an item about how some black people have reclaimed the N-word, they were quite happy to actually pronounce it.

Daily Mail thinks that in attacking the BBC, it is striking a blow against the liberal, intellectual, metropolitan elite. I have no stomach for a class-war: but if it comes to a fight between the liberal, intellectual, metropolitan elite and the reactionary, ignorant, provincial riff-raff then I know which side I intend to fight on.

I have very little interest in the role-call of minor pop singers and spoiled Hollywood
luvvettes who parade across Jonathan Ross's chat show: but surely any fool can see that he is a consummate master of the medium of live television? He seems to have the capacity to, on the one hand, totally forget, and to make his victims forget, that they are in front of a camera; while at the same time using the camera as a licence to say the kinds of things that you simply wouldn't say in real life. In an era when TV is bigger than Jesus, the man who can do that will naturally command an astronomical salary. I am not especially entertained by a grown man saying "Bum" to an actress that I have never heard of: but I think that "In Search of Steve Ditko" was the single best documentary about comic-books ever made. Ross is the only person who has ever successfully challenged Stan Lee's version of events; only someone with his outrageous interviewing style could have done so. Obviously, someone who is paid for having this persona is going to overstep the mark from time to time.

When the
Daily Mail is looking for an excuse to hang you, it is most unwise to give them any rope. But the idea that sacking a couple of "shock jocks" will silence the Hooray For the Blackshirts brigade is naive in the extreme. Nothing short of the abolition of the licence fee, which they regard as a thievery on a level with droit du seigneur will satisfy them. Do you really think that allowing them to scent blood is going to calm them down? Surely it is a matter of basic human decency to stick up for your naughty kids in public, even if you give them a clip round the ear when you get them home?

Or am I just too inclined to assume that anyone who named one of their children "Kirby" can't be all-bad?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Important Note For Politicians and Leader Writers

Bad Things happen. Bad Things have always happened. Very probably, Bad Things are going to carry on happening.

Bad Things are not the result of some local and contemporary state of affairs which could, in principle, be changed.

Bad Things would have happened even if the previous administration had not made any errors of judgment; and Bad Things will carry on happening even if you form the next administration. Bad Things are
not the ugly manifestation of a society no longer worthy of the name. Bad Things are not proof that we live in a broken society. There were Bad Things before the Second World War; and Bad Things before the nineteen sixties. There were Bad Things before women started to go out to work. Even when we lived in nuclear families and communities and exerted social pressure through each others net curtains, there were still Bad Things.

When a Bad Thing happens, it is
not a pretext for you to say that everything you have been saying about everything for the last few years has been right; and everything the other side has been saying about everything for the last few years has been wrong. It is most unlikely that any particular Bad Thing has been caused by liberals, civil partnerships, easy divorce, rude disc-jockeys, or the paying of income support to disabled people.

When a Bad Thing happens, please resist the temptation to say "We must make sure that such a Bad Thing never happens again." Because it will. Almost certainly, it already has.

Oh: and there is no such
thing as a "pauper's funeral". Even John Doe gets a hearse, a clergyman, and a marked grave.
The Boston Tea Party has a very small supply of that special coffee that's harvested from cat-poo; its suppliers sold it to them at cost price and they are passing it on to their customers, so while it would normally cost a hundred million billion pounds a cup, they have made it available for £2.

It tastes, as the great Dave Sim once remarked, very much like a cup of coffee.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

45 Years Later

"It is emphasized that the "ship" may transport the four characters backwards or forwards, sideways into lesser or greater dimensions or into non-gravitational existence or invisibility etc, but once arrived into the different place and time the four characters have only their intelligence and ingenuity upon which to rely. They cannot produce a "ray gun" to reduce a horde of Picts and Scots, nor can they rely upon specialized drugs to cure a Greek philosopher.

'It is also emphasised that the four characters cannot make history. Advise must not be proffered to Nelson on his battle tactics while approaching the Nile, nor must bon mots be put into the mouth of Oscar Wilde. They are four people plunged into alien surroundings, armed with only their courage and cleverness. "

David Whitaker's guildelines for Doctor Who writers - 16 May 1963

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It would also be interesting to teach more than one theory of creation. The dominant one in this culture happens to be the Jewish creation myth, which is taken over from the Babylonian creation myth. There are, of course, lots and lots of others, and perhaps they should all be given equal time (except that wouldn't leave much time for studying anything else). I understand that there are Hindus who believe that the world was created in a cosmic butter churn and Nigerian peoples who believe that the world was created by God from the excrement of ants. Surely these stories have as much right to equal time as the Judeo-Christian myth of Adam and Eve.

Richard Dawkins "Is Science a Religion", 1997

I replied that, horribly as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing up the child Catholic in the first place.

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p 317

It is evil to describe a child as a Muslim child or a Christian child. I think labelling children is child abuse and I think there is a very heavy issue, for example, about teaching about hell and torturing their minds with hell. It's a form of child abuse, even worse than physical child abuse.

Richard Dawkins, quoted in the Daily Telegraph, Oct 23rd.

Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of "bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards". "I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don't know," he told More4 News. "I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's something for research."


Tuesday, November 11, 2008


If you enjoy this essay, please consider purchasing a copy of Where Dawkins Went Wrong and Other Theological Blockbusters from this address - a collection of  some of the best and most-linked-to essays from this blog and its predecessor. It contains my five part assault critique of 'The God Delusion', along with essays on gay bishops, the 'gospel' of Judas, the 'legend' of the three wise men.

Everyone agrees that, sooner or later, preferably much later, children should be told about the facts of life. Nearly everyone agrees that school teachers should be the ones who tell them. It's too embarrassing for children to hear their own parents talking about the birds and the bees.

The job of telling children where babies come from tends to fall on biology teachers in particular. And as long as they are just explaining the mechanics, they are probably very well suited to the job. I have to admit that I couldn't give a remotely coherent account of what happens inside the mummy after she and the daddy have cuddled each other in a very special way. But even if I did have a clear and distinct idea of what a chromosome is and how spermatozoa is spelled, and even if I did have the knack of explaining it to kids without making them giggle, that wouldn't automatically make me the best person to advise them about how to obtain condoms or what steps to take if they think that they might be in certain condition. Neither would it necessarily privilege my opinion about whether the act of congress should happen only in the context of a committed and loving relationship or whether it is such a natural and beautiful thing that free love should be the order of the day. Or about whether homosexuality is a terrible perversion, a slightly tragic quirk, or rather an improvement.

These aren't scientific questions: you can't find the answer by dissecting a frog; drawing a family tree of dominant and recessive genes in pea-plants; or colouring in a diagram of the human eye-ball, useful social accomplishments though these are undoubtedly are. Sexual intercourse isn't only about reproduction. It isn't even, unless you happen to be an Elf or a Roman Catholic, mostly about reproduction. It raises social, pastoral, spiritual and ethical questions. But if you treat sex as a sub-category of science, it's the biology teacher who is going to have to answer them.

I think that this was Mr. Muir's problem. I think that he thought that the theory of evolution raised social, spiritual, pastoral and ethical questions. I think that he thought that as a science teacher he had no special authority to answer those questions. He therefore passed them over to a religious studies teacher who did claim such authority. (That's the charitable explanation. The uncharitable one was that if he had admitted that he thought the whole "God" thing was a load of rubbish, he would have looked an even bigger fool and hypocrite the next morning when - in obedience to laws laid down by the secular state that paid his wages - he led the school in prayers.)

I nevertheless think that his answer was a cop-out. I think that, as a science teacher, he did have the right, and possibly the duty, to say "Well, if Darwin's theory is right – and all the cleverest and wisest people think that it is – then it certainly looks as if the story of creation in the Bible can't be the literal truth. Some wise people have found that this means that they can't believe in any God at all; other equally wise people have found that they can believe in Darwin and also in God."

But what if some over-enthusiastic eight year old had persisted. But Sir, who is right? If you are right about Darwin, does that mean that I should stop going to Sunday School? If I want to carry on going to Sunday School, does that mean that I have to convince myself that you are wrong about Darwin?

Various answers have been proposed.

"I'm sorry. I am not permitted to talk about that. If I do, I shall be exiled to Siberia."

This is called "secularism".

It is much advocated by silly people. It is more or less the situation which prevails in the United States, except the part about Siberia: we can't talk about religion and we can't even talk about the fact that we can't talk about it. (*) People can do whatever they like in the privacy of their own homes (**) but the public sphere must be scrupulously neutral on all question of faith and faithlessness. It's an approach which makes the teaching of history particularly rewarding. Henry VIII had a disagreement with a person in Italy who I'm not allowed to talk about about a thing which I'm not allowed to talk about. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men sort of somehow came into being equal, and were endowed by, well at any rate, they sort of somehow acquired, certain inalienable rights.

"Yes; the theory of evolution absolutely proves that God did not create the world; and since he did not create the world, he does not exist, since creating the world is all that he's there for. So he's a sort of myth invented by wicked people to make you behave yourself, like Father Christmas and Harry Potter, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a kind of child molester, just like the gym teacher."

This called "secularism".

It is sometimes advocated by other silly people. It isn't satisfied with a complete absence of religion: it wants institutions like schools and busses to be actively opposed to religion. Private individuals will, for the time being at any rate, still be permitted to tell their own children about God but it's the job of The State to inform them that they are wrong. This version of secularism also holds that The State has the power to ban certain kinds of hats, certain kinds of jewelery or certain kinds of diets if it suspects that people are eating or wearing them for religious reasons. (***)

"Well, some people think so. Others, not so much. You'll have to decide for yourself. I may or may not have my own opinions about God, but they aren't more likely to be right than anyone else's. In your R.E lesson, you'll be starting to talk about what different clever people down the ages have thought about the subject."

This is called "secularism".

It is often advocated by sensible people. It's the belief that State Institutions like schools should, as far as possible, adopt a pluralist stance towards religion and towards the absence of religion. It isn't for the State to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Nor should the State pretend that the quarrel isn't happening. Rather, it should show children the argument, and allow them to make up their own minds.

Even as we speak, someone is typing a note pointing out to me that since it is physically impossible to put a stair lift into Big Ben, the whole idea of having disabled access to public buildings is absurd; and since a girls school might reasonably not want a male teacher to supervise the girls in the changing rooms, the whole idea of gender equality in employment is obviously crazy. Clearly, if you aren't going to give the creation myths of the Malaysian Frog Worshiping Community parity with Darwin, it's absurd even to admit the existence of the book of Genesis.

But that isn't what the argument is about. The question is not whether literary and mythological accounts of creation should be taught instead of scientific ones in science lessons. The question is about what moral, ethical, spiritual, philosophical and theological questions ought to be asked about that scientific account and whether science teachers should necessarily be the ones to answer them. When Mr. Muir said "All the evidence points to human beings having evolved through a process of natural selection", he was speaking as an expert. Had he added "...and it follows that the whole idea of religious is silly" then he would have been speaking as ill-informed amateur.

It has recently been discovered that as well as sex, evolution, football and the holocaust, all schoolchildren have got to "do" slavery.

A social and cultural history of "slavery" from Ancient Rome to Primark would be an interesting and valid field of study. So, indeed, would the history of washing-up or the history of trades unions or the history toilets: everything on earth is interesting. And those of us who are old fashioned enough to think that some kind of narrative history of the British Isles from, say, King Arthur to, say, Queen Victoria should probably form part of any coherent scheme of British education also agree that the question of slavery, and how it probably wasn't a terribly good thing, ought not be be excluded from any discussion of the age of Empire. But I rather fear that when we talk about compulsory Slavery Studies, we are not talking about an interesting and important branch of history, but some platitudes about how beastly we white people were to you black people in the olden days and how you ought to feel victimized and we ought to feel guilty. I am not quite sure how this helps.

I assume that, when they Do slavery children will be taught that William Wilberforce was an heroic English reformer and all round Good Thing. I wonder how they will deal with the fact that he was also a Creationist?

(*) Source: that movie about the mad kid and the rabbit.

(**) Apart from smoking, smacking, reading poetry about terrorism, letting your children taste your wine, playing kinky games if one of your ancestors was involved in right-wing politics, putting organic waste in wheelie bins, hunting foxes and having the wrong kind of light-bulb. Obviously.

(***) Silly people pretend that they can't see the difference between saying "We have specially invented a rule to prevent you wearing a particular, inoffensive kind of hat because we suspect that it might be religious hat" and "We refuse to waive the already existing anti-hat rule for the benefit of people whose hats are religious". Since everyone else can, it's not a point that we need waste any further time on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


If you enjoy this essay, please consider purchasing a copy of Where Dawkins Went Wrong and Other Theological Blockbusters from this address - a collection of  some of the best and most-linked-to essays from this blog and its predecessor. It contains my five part assault critique of 'The God Delusion', along with essays on gay bishops, the 'gospel' of Judas, the 'legend' of the three wise men.

Most of what follows is true.

In 1973 we had a Science Lesson.

It was taught by Mr. Muir with the help of a big reel-to-reel tape recorder. Tape-recorders generally meant that the lesson was going to be interesting, but you needn't pay much attention to it - Science or Music or Drama. On Fridays there was a tape-recorded religious service with a special hymn book and Johnny Morris doing funny voices.

Mr. Muir was headmaster. I think he often chose to teach the interesting lessons like Science and Painting and Football and left ordinary teachers like Miss Walker to teach the dull ones like Sums and Verbs and Needlework. But I wonder if he had to teach this particular science lesson because Miss Walker had refused point-blank to do so?

We never had a single word of sex education: not even the baby animals coming out of mummy animals' tummies kind. Once, when we were doing a Project which involved picking stories out of last week's newspapers and talking about them, Spencer had asked Miss Walker to define the word "streaker". She said that it was "a man who did what you mustn't."

This particular tape involved a long, exciting, dramatized account of a man with a beard who had gone on a long voyage on a ship to an island and discovered some tortoises. I don't believe the E-word was mentioned.

In Masterplan Q, Doctor Who visited a planet that was in a very primitive state and therefore of great interest to evolutionists like himself. This was on the back of a Nestles Chocolate wrapper, and therefore possibly not cannon. As well as listening to programmes taped off what Miss Walker called the wireless, we sometimes traipsed out into the corridor and watched a Schools Programme live on TV. The idea of taping TV programmes hadn't been invented. Quite a lot of these programmes seemed to be about Fossils. I don't know how many times and in how many different ways it was explained that dead animals could sometimes leave their shapes in rocks. In principle, one could do the same thing with blotting paper.
The TV was opposite Mr. Muir's office, so sometimes while you were watching the TV programme about fossils and (and sometimes coral) someone else would be waiting outside Mr Muir's office to be smacked, which could be a distraction. I wonder if we were supposed to have moved on to Fossils of monkeys and thus to the big E? But so far as I remember, we never got beyond starfish. I had (speaking of monkeys) a full set of PG Tips Tea cards, so I must have always known about dinosaurs, but I am not quite sure where I thought they fitted in to anything.

I got the point that the man with the beard had found skeletons of monkeys on the tortoise-island and realised that these monkeys must be the same monkeys that human beans were descended from. At the end of the radio programme, I raised my hand, possibly waved it around somewhat, and spoke words to the effect: "Please, Sir: Does this mean that God didn't make the world after all?"

Mr. Muir's reply was oracular, if not actually prophetic.

"I don't know," he said "Ask Miss Walker."

I am ashamed to say that I went against the spirit of his instructions and actually did ask Miss Walker.

"Please Miss," I said, "We've been doing the Voyage of the Beagle with Mr Muir, and he said to ask you whether God made the world."

"Ah," said Miss Walker in an off-hand kind of way, "All that means is that men have found old bones of animals which they think look a bit like people's bones. I shouldn't worry about it if I were you."

So I didn't.

At secondary school, we got 35 minutes of R.E taught by biology teachers, geography teachers and P.E teachers. One teacher talked about Rudyard Kipling and Inuit creation stories. A different one pointed out that the book of Genesis had got the order in which things were created exactly right, even if the time frame was out by a factor of a few hundred billion, so that proved it. A girl with plaits called Sonja pointed out that if people had evolved from monkeys there wouldn't be any monkeys, so that proved it. The geography teacher explained that all the wars in history had been caused by God, but she had a hearing-aid so no-one paid any attention to her. Girls got a film of how a baby is made, and boys got a chat about how playing with yourself is perfectly normal and you should avoid homosexuals even though it isn't really their fault. Everything I know about evolution I learned from David Attenborough, although to be honest I was more interested in the BBC Television Shakespeare. After I left school, Mrs. Thatcher invented the National Curriculum and abolished homosexuals, smacking and the GLC, so it's all probably very different nowadays.

But the question "Does the Voyage of the Beagle mean that God didn't create the world after all?" is still a controversial one. If you get the answer wrong, you won't necessarily be sent to stand outside Mr. Muir's door, but you may be kicked out of the Royal Society.

It's obvious when you put it like that...

Thursday, September 25, 2008


"It's exactly the same as every other shopping mall on earth!" exclaim punters.

"Buy stuff! Buy stuff! We get to buy stuff!"

Making eight in all.

Solving the obesity crisis one cake at a time

I don't think all my ties cost £65

Exciting new House of Fraser department store

Exciting empty building where House of Fraser department store used to be

All her merchants stand with wonder,
What is this that comes to pass:
Murm'ring like the distant thunder,
Crying, "Oh alas, alas."
Swell the sound, ye kings and nobles,
Priest and people, rich and poor;
Babylon is fallen
is fallen
is fallen
Babylon is fallen
to rise no more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This really isn't complicated.

Spider-Man is a hero who fights baddies. He can carry on having adventures as long as the writers can think up baddies for him to fight. You might think that no-one ever wrote and drew Spider-Man as well as Ditko and Lee did (and frankly, if you don't think that, then I don't want to be your friend any more) but the idea of "Spider-Man stories by people other than Ditko and Lee" isn't intrinsically silly.

Similarly, once one person has had the idea of a sophisticated English assassin who hates Russians and likes martinis, it isn't intrinsically silly for a second person to invent new adventures for him.
It may be intrinsically stupid to suppose that he can continue to exist into the 21st century without getting any older, or suddenly turn into a black man, but that's not the question I'm worrying about at the moment.

And a clever modern detective story writer might conceivably be able to think up decent new mysteries for Sherlock Holmes
to solve, although it isn't quite clear why they would want to. If you've got an idea for a mystery that's worth solving, why not let your own detective solve it?

Going back to comics, were I in a magnanimous mood, I might concede that there have been one or two
episodes of the Fantastic Four since 1970 which haven't been a complete waste of space. Before everyone jumps up and down shouting "John Byrne, John Byrne", I will note that Mr. Byrne's cleverness was in being as close to Mr. Kirby and Mr. Lee as it is physically possible to be, making his comics arguably pastiches and arguably redundant, even if they are quite enjoyable redundant pastiches. But surely it was Jack Kirby's uniquely deranged concepts, embellished by Stan lee's uniquely overdone writing, that made the Fantastic Four the Fantastic Four and once you take away Mr Kirby's stories and pictures and Mr Lee's dialogue, what you are left with is four not particularly interesting adventures.

But things like The New Gods
(I'm looking at YOU Jim Starlin even though my fourteen year old self thought Warlock was profound) and The Eternals (you should be ashamed of yourself, Neil Gaiman, ashamed) derive all of their interest from being "a slice of what it feels like to be Jack Kirby in graphic form". Nothing that has been done with those characters by people other than Jack has had anything to do with the source material, and very little of it has had any merit on its own terms. (I believe that people who know about these things think that Darksied was once well-used as a villain in the Legion of Superheroes.)

But if you wanted to come up with the clearest possible example of a work of fiction whose whole interest comes from the original writer's cock-eyed way of looking at the world; whose whole interest is in being "the universe as seen through the eyes of..." then it would be The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. (If you wanted to come up with the second clearest possible example, it would be The Prisoner.) I am not saying that a story by A.N Other writer in which there happen to be characters called Ford, Arthur and Zaphod would be a travesty, or the equivalent of weeing on Douglas Adams grave or that they would somehow damage the original books.

The original books - and more importantly, the original 3-7 hours of radio footage - exist, and will always exist, as a snapshot of what 1970s earth looked like through the eyes of a particularly clever and silly man.

But still. A non-Adamsian sequel to Hitchhiker is a preposterously stupid idea.

Don't do it, guys. You'll regret it in the morning.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When the pistols were ready, Blackbeard blew out the candle and crossing his hands discharged them at his company: Hands, the master, was shot through the knew and lamed for life, the other pistol did no execution. Being asked for the meaning of this, he only answered, by damning them:

"If I did not now and then kill one of you, you would forget who I was!"

Being one day at sea, and a little flushed with drink

"Come" he says "Let us make a Hell of our own and try how long we can bare it"

Accordingly he, with two or three others, went down into the hold, and closing up all the hatches, filled several pots full of brimstone, and other combustible matter, and set it on fire, and so continued till they were almost suffocated, when some of the men cried out for air, at length he opened the hatches, not a little pleased that he held out the longest.

The night before he was of Blackbeard's men asked whether his wife knew where he had buried his money. He answered:

"Nobody but myself and the devil knows where it is, and the longest liver shall take all!"

happy September 19th

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" by C.S Lewis a critique of American education?

1: Summary

2: Chronology

3: Education in the 1950s

4: English Education or American Education?

5: The Provenance of the Preface

6: English English or American English?

7: Lewis on English Education

8: All Must Have Prizes

9: Conclusion: Lack Thereof

1: Summary


2: Chronology

1941, May-Nov: 'The Screwtape Letters' published as a column in The Guardian (UK religious weekly)

1942: Collected edition of The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis published.

1943, Jun: The Norwood Report recommends the introduction of Grammar Schools and the 'eleven plus' exam.

1943, Aug: 'Equality' by C.S Lewis published in The Spectator (UK)

1944, Feb: 'Is English Doomed' by C.S Lewis published in The Spectator (UK)

1944, Mar: 'The Parthenon and the Optative' by C.S Lewis published in Time and Tide (UK)

1944, Apr: 'Democratic Education' by C.S Lewis published in in Time and Tide (UK)

1944, Aug: Butler education act, reforming English education in line with the Norwood Report, becomes law

1959, Dec: Publication of 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' by C.S Lewis in the Saturday Evening Post (US)

1960: Toast reprinted in 'The World's Last Night' and Other Essays' (US)

1961: Toast reprinted in 'The Screwtape Letters' and 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (UK)

1963: Death of C.S Lewis

1964: Incoming Labour government states intention to abolish the eleven plus and introduce Comprehensive schools

1965: Toast reprinted in 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' and Other Pieces (UK)

1982: Toast reprinted in 'The Screwtape Letters' With 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (US)

3: Education in the 1950s

In 1944, English education experienced one of its periodic shake-ups. The school leaving age was raised to 15 (astonishingly, it was not officially raised to 16 until 1972) and secondary schools were restructured in accordance with the recommendations of the Norwood Report. Sir Cyril Norwood, former headmaster of Harrow, believed that there were three different types of mind: those which could deal with pure ideas; those which wanted to apply those ideas; and those which worked more slowly and preferred to deal in facts and the concrete. Owners of these three types of mind obviously required different kinds of education, so the Norwood Report proposed the creation of three new kinds of schools. Grammar Schools would teach traditional academic subjects; Technical Schools would teach arts and applied sciences; Secondary Moderns would teach a more practical syllabus. In the absence of a magic hat, children were to be sorted into the three groups on the basis of an objective intelligence test administered in their final year of primary school: the Eleven Plus.

Astonishingly, this system didn't work terribly well. For one thing, the Eleven Plus exam was based on the probably debunked and possibly fraudulent theories of Cyril Burt. In the second place, very few Technical Schools were ever opened: the system ended up simply splitting eleven-year-olds into the 'clever' and the 'not so clever'. Thirdly, one's chance of getting into a Grammar school depended entirely on how many places were available in a given town: if the school took 200 kids, then the kid with the 201st best mark had blown his chance of having an academic education. Fourthly, and contrary to Sir Cyril's ideals, the Moderns were never as well resourced as the Grammars: the less clever children did not get a different kind of education, but a worse education, in worse schools, with worse teachers. Fifthly, the whole thing ran aground on the rocks of the British class system: when an entirely objective exam was set by middle class psychologists, marked by middle class teachers and administered by middle class civil servants, the children of middle class parents astonishingly and inexplicably turned out to be the ones with the right kinds of minds for the Grammar Schools. Sixthly – and again, contrary to the original idealistic plans the system failed to take into account the possibility that someone could develop intellectually after the age off 11, or indeed, that one might be rather good at French but terrible at Maths. And seventhly, although Norwood believed that his three types of children were equal but different; and that his three kinds of schools should have 'parity of esteem', parents, children and especially primary school teachers came to regard the Eleven Plus as a 'scholarship' which you won a book or a bicycle for 'passing'. Students who, by hypothesis, had the kinds of minds which were better at dealing with concrete facts than with abstract ideas found themselves labelled as 'failures' before their twelfth birthday.

In 1964 the incoming Labour government declared that the Eleven Plus system had failed and that it should be replaced by a Comprehensive system, whereby every child in a particular area, regardless of ability, went to the same school. But due to the complicated balkanization of English education, the old system lingers on in a few parts of the country, where it is allegedly very popular. Whenever anyone suggests that the Comprehensive system be made universal, the cry goes up from Middle England: 'Save Our Secondary Moderns!'

4: Education in 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast'

In 1959, an addition to C.S Lewis's famous Screwtape Letters was published in the U.S magazine The Saturday Evening Post. Where the original letters are about individual morality, the Toast is a social satire. The Devils (who are imagined to feast on the souls of the damned) are disappointed by the low quality of the souls they are getting; but Screwtape points out that they are getting them in great numbers. This glut of low quality souls has, he says, come about through confusing the humans about the term 'democracy'. Although it really only refers to a system of government, it has become bound up with the obvious falsity that everyone is equal, with the happy result that inferior humans say to superior ones 'I'm as good as you!' (which they don't believe) and superior ones actually try to disguise their cleverness – or else become prigs and fanatics. Screwtape points out several methods which the devils have used to bring this about: education, philosophy, the worship of celebrities. He foresees a time when that this love of egalitarianism will have made the 'democracies' so mediocre that they'll be swept aside by Communism. However, mediocre as all these damned souls may be, there is still one source of truly first class sinners – namely, the hypocrites in the Christian Church!

The section on education takes up just less than two pages of a 17 page essay. Screwtape says that the spirit of 'I'm as good as you' makes humans reluctant to allow weak students to feel inferior to able ones. This may have the following results:

1: Everyone will be allowed to go to university, whether they are clever enough or not.

2: Everyone who goes to university will be allowed to pass their exams.

3: Special subjects will be invented so that stupid school children have something to excel at and the pretence will be maintained that these made up subjects are just as good as the real ones.

4: Perhaps children may even be grouped by age rather than ability, so that those fluent in ancient Greek and classical Italian will be held back by the ones who can't read simple English.

5: This will result in 'the abolition of education' – because they'll be no incentive to learn and no disincentive to ignorance. (Humans may even actively prevent the clever ones from learning, the better to maintain the illusion of 'democracy'.)

6: This will apply to everyone, since a socialistic state will monopolize education, and will in any case tax people so hard that they couldn't afford to send their children to private schools even if they want to.

Clearly, this is a social satire: a massively, and comically exaggerated picture of what could happen if certain trends were carried to their logical conclusion.

4: English Education or American Education?

Screwtape prefaces his remarks with the following words:

'My own experience was mainly on the English sector and I still get more news from it than from any other. It may be that what I am now going to say will not apply so fully to the sectors in which some of you may be operating. But you can make the necessary adjustments when you get there. Some application it will almost certainly have. If it is has too little, you must labour to make the country you are dealing with more like what England already is.'

On the surface, this seems pretty clear. Lewis is a British writer, writing for an American audience. So he adds, in Screwtape's persona: 'I only know about England: it's for you to judge whether what I'm saying also holds true in your country. If not, be careful that it doesn't ever become so.'

However, in a preface to the Toast first published in 1982, Lewis says that the opposite is the case. He is really talking about American education; but since he felt it would be bad manners for an Englishman to criticize America in an American paper, he pretends he's talking about England:

'I resorted to a further level of irony. Screwtape is in fact describing American education; he affects to be holding English education up as the awful example. The most intelligent of my American readers would, I hoped, see the game I was playing and enjoy the joke....'

This is surely a rather peculiar approach. An Englishman, fearing that America was going to be overrun by Communism as a result of its terrible obsession with baseball might, I suppose, write a comical piece describing the terrible English obsession with cricket, and adding: 'I don't know if anything similar is happening in your country. You'll have to tell me.' But it would be rather odd to come along three years later and say 'Oh, and by the way, I was really talking about baseball all the time': particularly if the majority of what you had to say about 'cricket' (meaning baseball) turned out to be things which were, in fact, perfectly fair comments about cricket itself. It would be even odder to reveal that cricket means baseball in the preface to an English edition of the satire.

5: The Provenance of the Preface

At the last count, there were four different Screwtape prefaces:

1941: The original preface to the Screwtape Letters ('I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.') (Hereafter 'P1'.)

1961: The preface to the combined UK edition of the letters and the Toast ('It was during the second German war that the letters of Screwtape first appeared in (now extinct) The Guardian.') (P2.)

1965: Brief preface to the Toast in the UK collection Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces. This is in fact an excerpt from P2 ('I was often asked or advised to add to the original Screwtape Letters'). Nothing in the text indicates that this is an excerpt from a longer piece, although it is in no sense taken out of context or misrepresented. (P2a )

1982: New preface to the Toast, in the US combined Screwtape Letters With Screwtape Proposes a Toast. (P3)

In a brief note to the 1982 edition someone – presumably Lewis's editor and acolyte Walter Hooper states that:

'This critique of American education was written in 1962 as a preface to a collection of which the Toast was to be the title essay. After Lewis died, his publisher gave the book a new form, one result of which was that Lewis's preface was lost. Now recovered, it is published here for the first time.'

However, in his 1974 biography of Lewis, Hooper had stated that in 1962:

'Lewis was putting together another volume which was to be called A Slip of The Tongue and Other Pieces. which did not appear until 2 years after his death, shorn of his Preface and of two essays – "Historicism" and "The Vision of John Bunyan"– and renamed Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces.'

And Hooper's 1991 bibliography contains the following rather cryptic and carefully worded paragraph. The 1982 combined edition:

'contains a hitherto unpublished piece by C.S Lewis, which here serves as a Preface to "Screwtape Proposes A Toast".'

In summary, Hooper has at different times made the following statements:

1974: In 1962 Lewis wrote a preface to a book that would have been called A Slip of the Tongue, but it was renamed Screwtape Proposes a Toast and the preface was dropped.

1982: In 1962 Lewis wrote a preface to a book which would have been called Screwtape Proposes a Toast but the preface was dropped when the 'form' of the book change.

1991: A 'piece' from 1962 'serves as' the preface to the Toast in the 1982 combined volume.

It's stuff like this that makes studying Lewis's minor works such fun, and by 'fun' I mean 'like hitting your head repeatedly against a brick wall'.

P2a (the excerpt) and P3 (the diatribe against American schools) both run to around 500 words - a page and a half. P3 would have fitted neatly into the 1965 Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces without any changes to the typesetting of the rest of the book. Therefore a change to the form of the book cannot possibly explain the absence of P3. If Hooper is correct when he says that Lewis wrote P3 for what became the 1965 UK collection, it follows that the editor rejected the new piece, and replaced it with a previously published excerpt of exactly the same length. Why was P3 rejected? How did this result in its being lost? And how and when was it recovered?

Answer: we don't know.

One possible explanation is that it was rejected because it had never existed in the first place. According to Kathryn Lindskoog, whose facts are generally accurate even if her conclusions tend towards the lunatick, says that while P3 is dated to 1962, the publishers did not have sight of it until 1965 (three years after Lewis died). She further claims that three versions of the piece – two typescripts and one handwritten were deposited in the Bodlien by Hooper between 1974 and 1980. That is: we have only Hooper's word that it was intended for what became the 1965 edition; and indeed, only Hooper's word for the provenance of the three MSS. If you give any credence at all to Lindskoog's conspiracy theory about Hooper having forged some of Lewis's posthumous work, this information would be very worrying.

Lindskoog points to the style and quality of the preface, suggesting that some of the phrases 'don't sound like Lewis.' I agree: I doubt that Lewis would have written 'without distinction of race, colour, class and religion'. Since I also think that writers often produce inferior work, particularly when they are seriously ill and, as it turns out, have less than 18 months to live, I don't attach much significance to this doubt. I'm much more worried that the preface seems to be written by someone who has either not read, or not understood, the essay it's attached to.

The authors of the preface thinks that the main subject of the Toast is education. It isn't: it's democracy and equality. Screwtape thinks that the true meaning of democracy is 'a system of voting'. Lewis agreed. In this true sense, Screwtape dislikes democracy:

'Like all forms of government it often works to our advantage, but on the whole less often than other forms.'

(Surely an echo of Churchill's 'Democracy is the worst system of government, apart from all the others.') But the meaning that he, the Devil, wishes to attach to the word is 'I'm as good as you' artificial egalitarianism. Lewis in the Toast is careful to distinguish between the two usages: Screwtape talks about democracy 'in the incantatory sense' and in the 'diabolical' sense. But the author of the preface uses 'democracy' as if it meant 'equality': it is good for education to be democratic in the sense that it is available to everyone regardless of race or religion. And more bizarrely, he writes that some less clever American readers might take his irony literally and think that 'democratic education (in the true sense) had gone further in England' than it had in America. This only makes sense on the assumption that 'true' is a slip of the pen for 'diabolical'.

6: English English or American English?

The text of 1982 (US) version of 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' differs slightly from the 1965 (UK) version.

UK 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs. Thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox – he must be one of those highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were the right sort of chaps they'd be like me.'

US 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs. Thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox – he must be one of those goddam highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they'd be like me.'

Now, there is nothing particularly surprising about a writer suiting his language to his audience; and nothing particularly surprising about an editor gently changing a writer's words to make them fit in with the house style of their paper. In the essay 'The Seeing Eye', Lewis remarks that Christianity is cheaper than psychoanalysis 'in dollars' (rather than 'pounds'). In 'Rejoinder to Dr Pittinger' he asks the American liberal theologian how he would set about converting the 'storekeepers, realtors and morticians' (rather than 'shopkeepers, estate agents, and undertakers') in his own city.

So, who is editing who? Did Lewis write 'highbrows' and an American editor change it to 'goddam highbrows'? If Lewis himself wrote 'goddam', was it he, or a British editor, who deleted it for the UK edition?

Answer: we don't know.

The editing, in either direction, hasn't been done very consistently. Rather British sounding phrases like 'la-di-dah' and 'municipal authority' are retained in the American edition. And while I realise that people had probably had the idea of putting sausages between pieces of bread even before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, I think that most English people think that 'hot dogs' are a characteristically American food. In the original Letters, when Lewis wanted an example of a rather lower class, unpretentious meal that an honest to god all right Joe might like, he used 'Tripe and Onions'. Is it possible that in the Toast he might have written 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like tripe and onions; if he were the right sort of chap he'd be like me'; that a US editor changed it to 'doesn't like hot dogs, if he was an honest-to-god all-right-joe'; and that a subsequent UK editor dropped 'honest to god' but left in the self-consciously American 'hot dog'?

I certainly can't believe that Lewis would ever have written 'the scholar never says it to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum.' That simply isn't what the word 'bum' means in English English. (The thrice sainted Mrs. Mary Whitehouse still, in the 1960s, regarded it as a Very Rude Word.) And it is very hard to believe that Lewis would have allowed Screwtape to use the words 'god' (twice) and 'damn' in this context. Screwtape calls god 'The Enemy'. Damnation is, from his point of view, a good thing. If Lewis had intended the devil to swear, wouldn't he have made up some funny inversion like 'dishonest-to-Satan'?

I do not think that a single one of these changes affects the tone or the meaning of the piece to any significant degree. But it is extremely interesting that someone – Hooper, the 1965 editor, the Saturday Evening Post sub, or Lewis himself has at some time fiddled with the piece to make it sound either more (or less) American.

7: Lewis on English Education

In the year before the Butler Act became law, Lewis wrote four essays which cover substantially the same ground as the Toast.

'The Parthenon and the Optative' and 'Is English Doomed' are explicitly critiques of the Norwood report – which contained the bonkers recommendation that English Literature should be taught but not examined in schools, and that there was no need for specialist English teachers. Lewis gruffly explains that if there were neither examinations nor teachers, then all the university English departments would close and the subject would cease to exist. (It is of passing interest that Lewis felt that a system that was going to divide children into Philosopher Kings, Artisans and Slaves would also result in the banishment of the poets. Truly, it is all in Plato.) 'Equality' makes out the case that legal democracy (a good thing) should not be confused with actual equality (an obvious falsehood). He uses some of the same language that Screwtape is going to use in the Toast: 'Every intrusion of the spirit that says "I'm as good as you" into our spiritual life is to be resisted. '

But the important essay for our purposes is 'Democratic Education', published in 'Time and Tide' in April 1944. The essay begins:

'Democratic education says Aristotle, ought to mean, not the education which democrats like, but the education which can preserve democracy'

Screwtape has also studied Greats:

'Nor, of course, must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether "democratic behaviour" means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy.'

Lewis says that a system in which clever 'boys' were given no advantage over stupid ones, or hard working 'boys' over lazy ones, would in one sense be 'democratic', but that a society organized in that way wouldn't survive for very long. Screwtape also predicted that the 'democracies' which encouraged mediocrity would soon fall to Communism. Lewis admits that 'such total egalitarianism has not yet been openly recommended' but thinks that we, the English, have begun to move in that direction. He affects to believe that the reason that Latin has ceased to be compulsory in most schools is that it's the kind of subject that some 'boys' excel at and some do badly at: he claims (on the basis of 'a letter in one of the papers') that maths may soon cease to be taught for the same reason.

He says that if this approach were to be applied consistently:

'Even the boy who can't or won't learn his alphabet can be praised and petted for something – handicrafts or gymnastics; moral leadership or deportment; citizenship or the care of guinea pigs... Then no boys, and no boys' parents need feel inferior.'

Now: this is not what he thinks is happening. It is a reducto absurdium of what would happen if the logic which has banished Latin were applied consistently. It is, of course, almost word for word what Screwtape says:

'The children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the expression – "parity of esteem." '

Again, Screwtape does not claim that this has happened: only that he hopes that it will.

'How far operations there have gone at the present moment, I should not like to say with certainty. Nor does it matter. Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially, as we ourselves will play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers are not to be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils.'

As we've seen, it was the Norwood Report that said that Secondary Modern Schools and Grammar Schools should have 'parity of esteem'. Lewis's supposed attack on the American system of education is based on things which haven't happened yet: his one concrete example of something which has already happened is taken from the English system.

Lewis is very clear about what makes the 'boy' who is making mud pies different from the 'boy' who is reading The Divine Comedy:

'In drawing up the curriculum one should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boys who wants to know and who can known. (With very few exceptions they are the same boy. The stupid boy, nearly always, is the boy who does not want to know.)

Similarly. in 'The Parthenon and the Optative' he argues that it is much better to teach difficult grammar than vague literary appreciation: even if some 'boys' don't understand the grammar:

'When the first [kind of education] fails it has, at the very least, taught the boy what knowledge is like. He may decide that he doesn't care for knowledge, but he knows he doesn't care for it and he knows he hasn't got it.'

Similarly, in 'Democratic Education', he thinks that it is positively to the advantage of the dull 'boy' to sit in the back of Latin classes that he doesn't understand, not paying attention and sometimes getting into trouble:

'This priceless benefit he will enjoy: he will know he's not clever.'

It is also to the advantage of society, because boys who know they are not clever are pillars of democracy in the true, elective sense, but don't run away with any ideas about democracy in the bad, egalitarian sense.

'A mild pleasure in ragging [=fooling around in class]; a determination not to be much interfered with is...a valuable curb on the meddlesome of minor officials: envy, bleating "I'm as good as you" is the hotbed of fascism.'

'Democratic Education' (definitely about England) and 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (allegedly about America) both present grotesquely exaggerated pictures of what would happen if a particular tendency which Lewis has observed were extended to it's logical conclusion. They resemble the technique used in The Abolition of Man in which it is shown that if we applied the teachings of a particular English text book consistently, it would result in the destruction of the human race. ('The Abolition of Education' would be a good sub-title for the Toast. So, come to think of it, would 'Democratic Education'.) In case we miss the point, there is one reform which even Screwtape admits is far-fetched:

'An even more drastic scheme is not impossible: children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back because the others would get a trauma – Beelzebub, what a useful word! - by being left behind.'

This 'even more drastic scheme' which Screwtape thinks may possibly happen one day is, of course, the one in force in Lewis's time: English schools have always been organized by age, rather than ability. (Am I right in thinking that the American system is more likely to advance a clever child into a higher 'Grade' or keep back a less able one?)

8: All Must Have Prizes

I think it is fairly clear what Lewis's ire, in both the earlier 'Democratic Education' and the later Toast is directed at – and, I have to say, it isn't particularly pretty.

To this day, Grammar Schools and Comprehensive Schools remain a totemic issue for both the political left and the political right. For Old Labour, the Grammar schools represent an elitist system that reproduced and legitimized a previously existing class structure and which effectively wrote-off two-thirds of the population before their twelfth birthday. Plus, they were posh. To the Tories, Comprehensive Schools represent a near Stalinist experiment in social engineering in which all notions of excellence was sacrificed on the alter of spurious inclusivity. Plus, they were common.

However, when the tripartite system was introduced, it was widely regarded as progressive by the Labour Party; and as too progressive by the Tory Party. Labour liked the idea that a poor child who could never afford to go to private school might earn the right to a Grammar school place; Tories were horrified at the idea that their voters' children might have to be educated alongside ghastly people with common accents simply because they weren't very clever. But today, pratically everyone would agree that Grammar schools were part of an 'elitist' system: any debate is between those who think that elitism is a good thing and those who think that it is a bad thing.

So it is disconcerting to realise that Lewis was objecting to the Norwood reforms on the grounds that they were too egalitarian. Norwood seems to have believed in Platonic essentialism; in psychological determinism. People have different kinds of minds; they are born that way; there is nothing you can do about it. The job of education is to find out what kinds of minds people have, and then train them appropriately. You can't be proud of having a Gold, Silver or Bronze mind, any more than you can be proud of being tall or having blonde hair. The three groups have parity of esteem.

Lewis, on the other hand, believes that academic ability is an act of will; almost a moral choice. 'Boys' who want to learn, learn; 'boys' who don't want to learn, don't. 'Boys' are clever if they work hard and stupid if they are lazy. A lazy 'boy' may be a pillar of society and the salt of the earth in other respects but there's no point in pretending that he's the academic equal of the clever one; and there's certainly no point in inventing some new kind of school for his benefit.

Lewis's satirical exaggeration ends up with a future where children are given 'A' levels in playing with plasticine and we are all overrun by the Communists. But the starting point is the idea that Secondary Modern kids should have Parity of Esteem with those at the Grammar School. A British phenomenon.

9: Conclusion, lack thereof

I like conspiracy theories. They are neat, simple and plausible, where real life is messy and unlikely. I do not know why Lewis, having re-cast a fifteen year old essay on English education into a diabolical after dinner speech, then wrote a preface claiming that he was talking about the America all the time, when he plainly wasn't. I don't know why his publishers posthumously rejected this new piece and replaced it with a previously published excerpt of the same length. I don't why he would, in Lindskoog's words, write a muddle headed preface to explain a clear essay. The conspiracy theory, in which a well-meaning acolyte, wanting to make Lewis seem more interested in and relevant to America, and possibly wanting to drum up sales for a new edition of his work, whips up an essay in handwriting that looks quite similar to his master's and then claims to have discovered a long-lost work removes all the difficulties, and is really very attractive.

But that's all it is: a conspiracy theory.

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