Abuse of Reason
6 July 2012
Two excerpts from the Fourth Scene of No Name, by Wilkie Collins (1862). First, Captain Wragge cons Mrs Lecount into being flattered by his scientific chatter:
Never had Captain Wragge burnt his adulterated incense on the flimsy altar of human vanity to better purpose than he was burning it now.
Of course, it doesn’t take long for Mrs Lecount to wise up.
Mrs Lecount accepted the proposal. She was perfectly well aware that her escort had lost himself on purpose; but that discover exercised no disturbing influence on the smooth amiability of her manner. Her day of reckoning with the captain had not come yet — she merely added the new item to her list, and availed herself of the camp-stool. Captain Wragge stretched himself in a romantic attitude at her feet; and the two determined enemies (grouped like two lovers in a picture) fell into as easy and pleasant a converesation, as if they had been friends of twenty years’ standing.
From E H Carr, What Is History?, first published in 1961 and, with regard to the the problem posed by all advertising, as fresh as tomorrow:
Professional advertisers and campaign managers are not primarily concerned with existing facts. They are interested in what the consumer or elector now believes or wants only in so far as this enters into the end-product, ie what the consumer or elector can by skilful handling be induced to believe or want. Moreover, their study of mass pscychology has shown them that the most rapid way to secure acceptance of their views is through an appeal to the irrational element in the make-up of the consumer and elector, so that the picture which confronts us is one in which an élite of professional industrialists or party leaders, through rational processes more highly developed than ever before, strains its ends by understanding and trading on the irrationalism of the masses. The appeal is not primarily to reason; it proceeds in the main by the method which Oscar Wilde described as “hitting below the intellect.” I have somewhat overdrawn the picture lest I should be accused of underestimating the danger. But it is broadly correct, and could easily be applied to other spheres. In ever society, more or less coercive measures are applied by ruling groups to organize and control mass opinion. This method seems worse than some because it constitutes an abuse of reason.
Diana Athill, Instead of a Letter (1962): on having some money in one’s pocket after winning a prize.
To me, therefore, five hundred pounds tax-free seemed wealth. I could go to Greece during the coming spring without worrying — I could even travel first-class! I could by a fitted carpet, and new curtains which I really liked, and there would still be money over. During that winter I felt rich, and because I felt it I gave an impression of being it. A little while earlier I had been looking at dresses in a large, smart shop, and when I had pointed to a pretty one and said “I’ll try that,” the girl serving me had answered in a tired voice: “It’s expensive. Why try on something you can’t afford?” In the same shop, wearing the same clothes, soon after I had paid my five hundred pounds into the bank, I was served with such civil alacrity that I could have ordered two grand pianos to be sent home on approval and they would have offered a third. Courteous men spent hours unrolling bolts of material for me, urging me to consider another, and yet another. A pattern for matching? Why, yes! And instead of the strip two inches wide which I was expecting, lengths big enough to make a bedspread were procured for me. For about a month I believe I could have furnished a whole house on credit, not because I was looking different, not because I could, in fact, afford it; simply because, for the first time in my life and for no very solid reason, I was feeling carefree about money. I learnt a great deal about the power of mood during that month.
From the third and final part of Colm Tóibín’s second novel, The Heather Blazing (1994), which is in part a bildungsroman about a son of Fianna Fáil.
He could not wait to tell Carmel what he had seen. He thought about when he would see her next as he took a few steps down, and then he realized, as a slow pain went through him, that she was dead, that he would not have a chance to tell her about the scene he had witnessed. This made him understand, more than ever, that he could not face her not being with him, that he had spent the time since she died avoiding the fact of her death. He went down to the sand and sat in the shade. The wind was still strong and blew sand at him. He thought about it: the interval just now when he had blieved that she was alive, that she was back in the house, in the garden maybe, or in the proch, reading the paper, or a novel, and he would come back from his walk or his swim and he would tell her the news. Mike has taken to sitting in the shell of his house, with its walls open to the four winds reading the paper. But, slowly, painfully, it sank in thatthere would be nobody when he went back to the house.