Thursday, 1 October 2009

thin, narrow and superficial

In this blogger's experience, it's all-too-easy for a commitment to green issues to become a quick way of making judgements about other people and their actions. In that respect, it's just another form of puritanism.

In his essay on the historian Thomas Carlyle, the Victorian writer John Morley captures the wrongheadedness of this approach:

Nowhere has Puritanism done us more harm than in ... leading us to take all breadth, and colour, and diversity, and fine discrimination, out of our judgements of men, reducing them to thin, narrow, and superficial pronouncements upon the letter of their morality, or the precise conformity of their opinions to accepted standards of truth, religious or other.

Among other evils which it has afflicted, this inability to conceive of conduct except as either right or wrong, and correspondingly in the intellectual order, of teaching except as either true or false, is at the bottom of that fatal spirit of parti-pris, which has led to the rooting of so much injustice, disorder, immobilty, and darkness in English intelligence.

'Carlyle', Critical Miscellanies, quoted in The Victorian Frame of Mind, p.172

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