Monday, July 27, 2009

Minority Report (3). Mencken.

Minority Report: HL Mencken’s Notebooks (3). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1956.

Why read it? One of the most celebrated curmudgeons in American history. Mencken writes in half-truths. He’s half wrong, but he is also half right. His style jolts the reader. He will make you think. The topics are random, from a collection of ideas that had gathered dust over the years but which he had never developed into full-blown essays. Reading these quotes again, I am thinking of the irreverence of the television show, All in the Family. Mencken might be a great Archie Bunker, if Archie Bunker could write.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“The whole process [trial, conviction, sentencing and execution] should be shortened to bring crime and punishment close together.” p. 31.

“As things stand, the spread between [conviction, sentencing and execution] is so great that by the time the criminal comes to the chair the crime is forgotten and all we see is a poor fish making a tremendous (and sometimes even gallant) effort to save his life, with all sorts of shyster lawyers and do-gooders as assistant-heroes.” p. 31.

“One of the strangest delusions of the Western mind is to the effect that a philosophy of profound wisdom is on tap in the East.” p. 36.

“The existence of most human beings is of absolutely no significance to history or to human progress.” p. 39.

“Most human beings live and die as anonymously and as nearly uselessly as so many bullfrogs or houseflies.” p. 39.

“…for it becomes manifest that the United States, which escaped unscathed from both wars, will have to destroy deliberately much of the sort of property that was destroyed in Europe and Asia by military vandalism…. Its plants will need modernizing to meet the competition of the new plants built to replace the war’s ruins.” p. 44.

“Men always try to make virtues of their weaknesses.” p. 47.

“Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses.” p. 48. [Substitute for “philosophy” any professional or educator. RayS.]

“It is impossible to hang the average murderer until he has killed at least a dozen people.” p. 53.

“Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man….” p. 57.

“It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.” p. 63.

“It may be, indeed, that the artistic impulse is simply a kind of disgust with things as they are.” p. 64.

To be continued.

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