What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more


In a letter to his father, the young C.S. Lewis wrote,

I wonder is there some influence abroad now-a-days that prevents the growth of rich, strongly marked personal peculiarities. Are any of our contemporaries “characters” as Queen Victoria or Dizzy or Carlyle were “characters”?

(February 25, 1928)

He goes on to conjecture that perhaps there really is no such influence and that the feeling that "characters" are dying out is an illusion.

I would say, however, that what Lewis wrote about in 1928 is a reality in our own time. In fact, it isn't even difficult to name some of the "influences abroad" that "prevent the growth of rich, strongly marked personal peculiarities." For one thing, our society punishes rather than valuing strongly marked personal peculiarities. This begins in school, where it is (understandably enough) easier to teach children en masse if the class contains no "characters." Ritalin is one solution to what would otherwise be the problem of "characters."

Eccentricity can, it's true, cause pain to the eccentric person and difficulties in coping with life, and I certainly do not mean to downplay that, but there is something just a tad perverse about our society's present inclination to regard all eccentricities as symptoms of a medical condition, a "syndrome" or "disorder" of some kind. How many people now diagnosable as "having" Asperger's Syndrome or ADHD would, a hundred or even fifty years ago, simply have been thought to contribute to the interesting stock of different human personality types?

Aside from those perhaps rather knotty questions we should consider the standardizing ideological effect of public school education. College tends to continue the standardizing process. Young people certainly don't learn to think outside of the box. I heard of one young woman in a college class recently, challenged about her facile, sweeping cultural relativism, who replied, "Well, I'm an Anthropology major, so that's what I've been taught." Well, try thinking for yourself, sweetie! Hitler was bad!

Victorian and Edwardian middle-class children raised in their own homes were able to develop family personality types, a family culture. These family cultures were varied and interesting. Agatha Christie in her autobiography sketches some of these types. There was, for example, the family of friends who were always late for everything because they were so easy-going. (She very nearly married a brother of that family.) There was another family who "got up" ambitious in-home Gilbert and Sullivan musicals. There was Agatha's mother herself, a strong personality and a "character" indeed--a woman of great authority and eccentricity, given to sudden flashes of inspiration which might be either brilliant or silly but were never, never boring.

The novelist Elizabeth Goudge paints a somewhat similar Edwardian picture of her own mother and of her aunts: each one different, all strongly marked characters. Goudge's mother believed herself to be a medium but refused to exercise her mediumistic powers out of a sense that it would be dangerous to do so. One of her aunts worked as a governess for royalty and talked matter-of-factly about the value of dumping cold water over some small prince in a temper tantrum ("But you needed tile floors, so it was a good thing that foreign palaces had tile floors.")

I'm not saying that having your children grow up to be "characters" is an end in itself. After all, "characters" sometimes have a rather hard time in this life.

What I am recommending, though, is not simply allowing your children to be absorbed into the mass and cranked out of "the system" like parts on a conveyor belt. Obviously, home schooling is one excellent way to try to avoid this. But beyond that, giving your children some good passion, preferably not a trendy passion like "saving the planet," is another part of it. Not long ago a wonderful young woman from a local home schooled family was telling me with some puzzlement about her attempts to lead a Bible study at a local home school co-op (or something like a co-op). The Bible study was supposed to be a brief one before they got going on what they were doing, and she was frustrated to find that the other young people didn't seem all that interested in her passionate advocacy of total commitment to Jesus Christ. She said they seemed disconnected, as though they weren't taking it into their hearts. They were, though home schooled, more typical of the standardized mass than she, and they found her passion and spark off-putting rather than attractive. To my mind, that's a problem. We should want our young people to be alive. They should interact directly and with interest with other people and with the world around them, not withdraw into a world of texting, time-wasting, and mind-numbing. And even home schoolers can be subject to such dangers.

Let's at least not be afraid to be different, either on an individual or on a familial level. The word "diversity" has now been debased, so instead I will advocate variety, the fascinating variety of created human nature.

Comments (11)

Hiliare Belloc 'The Servile State'

"In general, if modern Capitalist England were made
by magic a State of small owners,we should all suffer
an enormous revolution. We should marvel at the
insolence of the poor, at the laziness of the contented,
at the strange diversities of task, at the rebellious,
vigorous personalities discernible upon every side."

I have to admit, that's a great quotation! I esp. like "rebellious, vigorous personalities."

People who fit the criteria for Asperger's or ADHD will not survive very well in today's bureaucratic society, whether working in the private or public sector, without some form of medication or therapy.

It is now simply easier to change people to fit institutions than to change institutions to fit people.

Wasn't always the case. Way back in the day, even schizophrenics had their place - I'm sure they made perfect shamans.

@John H.

Certainly true enough. I have been diagnosed with ADHD, and while I may be capable of brilliance in my chosen line of work, I make for a terrible cog in the bureaucratic machinery of modernity. It is a shame that the only answer for my plight is yet further bureaucratic mechanisms to bother and harass me.

The foolishness of it all just makes life so much more draining and distressing than it needs to be. Indeed, the times that gave me the most difficulty were in the classroom setting.

It is a shame that the only answer for my plight is yet further bureaucratic mechanisms to bother and harass me.

And Patrick, I can't help being curious: Do these further bureaucratic mechanisms actually work? I suppose it depends on how one defines "work," but in general terms, do these mechanisms actually form the necessary kludge to enable you to function in the "machine" where you find yourself? Or do they just create more problems?


I also wonder what great works of art will never be because of the way we medicate away bipolar disorder and depression. Not saying the meds shouldn't be available, but if we flatten everything, everything will be, well, flat and grey.

The old "unhappy artist" dilemma, right, Kamilla? It's difficult to say exactly why, but it seems a fair statement that a higher proportion of great artists are subject to depression and similar psychological difficulties than in the population as a whole. And it's generally thought (though I'm not _certain_ this is true) that that unhappiness can provide a kind of fuel or energy for the art itself. Should we therefore be more willing for people to be unhappy in order to have great art? A large question, and one I'm not at all sure can be answered in the abstract.

But I would say for certain that we will deprive ourselves of a lot of art and creativity if we medicate away mere personality differences that do not amount to actual pathologies, which is what we seem to be on the verge of doing.

Even if certain pathologies are genuine, should children with them be medicated in the ways they are now? Antipsychotics are now given to "bipolar" children - these drugs create a kind of zombified, emotionally numb feeling in the user, lead to considerable weight gain, can produce diabetes, and can cause permanent muscle tics in adults. Who knows what damage they could cause to a kid's brain.

A fine post, Lydia, and something that I have often pondered myself. Today our "eccentrics" are mostly contrived and affected, and it's a sad spectable. True eccentricity, of the sort to which you refer, is a delight.

According to George Santayana, "England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies, hobbies, and humors". That's a romantic view - which if it ever was the case, isn't now. Present day England is an epitome of what's wrong with the world.

Thanks, Jeff. I would say that true eccentricity is always a delight to some extent to know about or read about. Whether a true eccentric is a delight actually to live with or even deal with on any regular basis will, of course, vary. :-)

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