Over at Dennis Mangan’s blog they are discussing a weighty subject, reaction. They might even call it Reactionism. It may not be the first annual Carnival of Reaction, but there is a lot of firepower with Mencius and Auster chiming in and de Maistre harked back to as an eponymous hero. He's even set up a totem. One post and I might have stayed afloat, but Dennis and friends have gone on a tear and I’m awash.
With that in mind, I will give you the bit of literature that turned me into a reactionary.
‘Very well,’ I said quietly, ‘Why do you always answer no?’
He stirred perceptible in his chair and filled the teacup up again before he spoke. He seemed to have some difficulty in finding the words.
‘ “No” is, generally speaking, a better answer than “Yes”,’ he said at last. He seemed to speak eagerly, his word coming out as if they had been imprisoned in his mouth for a thousand years. He seemed relieved that I had found a way to make him speak. I thought he even smiled slightly at me but this was doubtless the trickery of the bad morning light or a mischief worked by the shadows of the lamp. He swalloed a long draught of tea and sat waiting, looking at me with his queer eyes. They were now bright and active and moved restlessly in their yellow wrinkled sockets.
‘Do you refuse to tell me why you say that?’ I asked
‘No,’ he said. ‘When I was a young man I led an unsatisfactory life and devoted most of my time to excesses of one kind or another, my principal weakness being Number One. I was also party to the formation of an artificial manure-ring.’
My mind went back at once to John Diviney, to the farm and the public house and on from that to the horrible afternoon we had spent on the wet lonely road. As if to interrupt my unhappy thoughts I heard Joe’s voice again, this time severe:
No need to ask him what Number One is, we do not want lurid descriptions of vice or anything at all in that line. Use your imagination. Ask him what all this has to do with Yes and No.
‘What has that got to do with Yes and No?’
‘After a time,’ said old Mathers disregarding me, ‘I mercifully perceived the error of my ways and the unhappy destination I would reach unless I mended them. I retired from the world in order to try to comprehend it and to find out why it becomes more unsavoury as the years accumulate on a man’s body. What do you think I discovered at the end of my meditations?’
I felt please again. He was now questioning me.
‘That No is a better word than Yes’ he replied.
This seemed to leave us where we were, I thought.
On the contrary, very far from it. I am beginning to agree with him. There is a lot to be said for No as a General Principle. Ask him what he means.
‘What do you mean?’ I inquired.
‘When I was meditating,’ said old Mathers, ‘I took all my sins out and put them on the table, so to speak. I need not tell you it was a big table.’
He seemed to give a very dry smile at his own joke. I chuckled to encourage him.
‘I gave them all a strict examination, weighed them and viewed them from all angles of the compass. I asked mysef how I came to commit them, where I was and whom I was with when I came to do them.’
This is very wholesome stuff, every word a sermon in itself. Listen very carefully. Ask him to continue.
‘Continue,’ I said.
I confess I felt a click inside me very near my stomach as if Joe had put a finger to his lip and pricked up a pair of limp spaniel ears to make sure that no syllable of the wisdom escaped him.
‘I discovered’,’ he said, ‘that everything you do is in response to a request or a suggestion made to you by some other party either inside you or outside. Some of these suggestions are good and praiseworthy and some of them are undoubtedly delightful. But the majority of them are definitely bad and are pretty considerable sins as sins go. Do you understand me?’
‘I would say that the bad ones outnumber the good ones by three to one.’
Six to one if you ask me.
‘I therefore decided to say No henceforth to every suggestion, request or inquiry whether inward or outward. It was the only simple formula which was sure and safe. It was difficult to practise at first and often called for heroism but I persevered and hardly ever broke down completely. It is now many yeas since I said Yes. I have refused more requests and negatived more statements than any man living or dead. I have rejected, reneged, disagreed, refused and denied to an estent that is unbelievable.’
An excellent and original régime. This is all extremely interesting and salutary, ivery syllable a sermon in itself. Very, very wholesome.
‘Extremely interesting,’ I said to old Mathers.
‘The system leads to peace and contentment,’ he said. ‘People do not trouble to ask you questions if they know the answer is a foregone conclusion. Thoughts which have no chance of succeeding do ont take the trouble to come into your head at all.’
‘You must find it irksome in some ways,’ I suggested. ‘If for instance I were to offer you a glass of whiskey...’
‘Such few friends as I have,’ he answered, ‘are usually good enough to arrange such invitations in a way that will enable me to adhere to my system and also accept the whiskey. More than once I have been asked whether I would refuse such things.’
‘And the answer is still no?’
From Flann O’Briens The Third Policeman.
Just remember, not every idea is wrong, but the number that are right is statistically insignificant.
Okay, I admit, I’m glad they improved hernia surgery.