Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Though for the Day

"In a priggish or self-righteous society Cleon [a tabloid journalist] would occupy the same social status as a prostitute. His social contacts would extend only to clients, fellow professionals, moral welfare-workers, and the police. Indeed, in a society which was rational as well as priggish (if such a combination could occur) his status would be a good deal lower than hers. The intellectual virginity which he has sold is a dearer treasure than her physical virginity. He gives his patrons a baser pleasure than she. He infects them with the more dangerous diseases. Yet not one of us hesitates to eat with him, drink with him, joke with him, shake his hand, and, what is much worse, the very few of us refrain from reading what he writes....

"....Even when the rewards of dishonesty are strictly alternative to those of honesty some men will choose them. But Cleon finds he can have both. He can enjoy the sense of secret power and all the sweets of a perpetually gratified inferiority complex while at the same time having the
entrée to honest society. From such conditions what can we expect but an increasing number of Cleons? And that must be our ruin. If we remain a democracy they render impossible the formation of any healthy public opinion. If -- absit omen -- the totalitarian threat is realised, they will be the cruellest and dirtiest tools of government."
                                                                                                                       C.S Lewis


Sam Dodsworth said...

I know it was commonplace in Lewis' day, but I have to say that's a really offensively nasty view of prostitutes.

And I think it's obvious that dodgy tabloid journalism is more common in a priggish or self-righteous society. What kind of people read the Daily Mail?

Not that I'm about to defend Daily Mail journalism, mind you.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Lewis isn't using "priggery" to mean "thinking you are better than someone when you are not". He's quite clear that he means "looking down on someone, avoiding their company, because you actually are better them."

Which he thinks is a bad thing; but he thinks that a society in which you can openly say at parties "I work for the Daily Mail" and not find that people start avoiding you "has not risten above priggery, but sunk below it."

Sam Dodsworth said...

Interesting. I'd actually expect a society like that to actively avoid tabloid journalists while avidly consuming their product. Everyone would be obsessed with their place in the moral hierarchy(*) and the scandal-sheets would keep them up to date. But perhaps I'm trying to apply sociology where Lewis is talking moral philosophy.

(*) Not coincidentally, the Daily Mail is full of various kinds of class-anxiety.

I'm guessing this is from the Screwtape Letters? It gives too much credit to the journalist and not enough to the readership for my taste, but that would make sense in context.

Gareth McCaughan said...

No, not Screwtape. It's written in CSL's own voice, as it were. I'm sure our host could tell you what work it's from; I've forgotten.

Andrew Rilstone said...

From a short essay called "After Priggery - What?" originally a "Notes on the Way" column in Time and Tide (1945) and most easily findable in the "Present Concerns" column.