Saturday, 8 October 2011

Does Prayer Work?

Does holy prayer work? In the 1870's Francis Galton found an ingenious way of putting the idea to the test - millions of people keep praying that their kings and queens have a long life, so do kings and queens actually live any longer? If prayer has an effect, presumably they should?

Here's Mr Galton's original article. It is absolutely fascinating, and spawned a whole series of commentaries and replies, collected in 'The Prayer-Gauge Debate', which survives here:

Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer

By Francis Galton
Fortnightly Review vol. 12, 1872

An eminent authority has recently published a challenge to test the efficacy of prayer by actual experiment. I have been induced, through reading this, to prepare the following memoir for publication, nearly the whole of which I wrote and laid by many years ago, after completing a large collection of data, which I had undertaken for the satisfaction of my own conscience.

The efficacy of prayer seems to me a simple, as it is a perfectly appropriate and legitimate subject of scientific inquiry. Whether prayer is efficacious or not, in any given sense, is a matter of fact on which each man must form an opinion for himself. His decision will be based upon data more or less justly handled, according to his education and habits. An unscientific reasoner will be guided by a confused recollection of crude experience. A scientific reasoner will scrutinize each separate experience before he admits it as evidence, and will compare all the cases he has selected on a methodical system.

The doctrine commonly preached by the clergy is well expressed in the most recent, and by far the most temperate and learned of theological encyclopaedias, namely, Smith's Dictionary of the Bible. The article on 'Prayer,' written by the Rev. Dr. Barry, states as follows: 'Its real objective efficacy.., is both implied and expressed (in Scripture) in the plainest terms .... We are encouraged to ask special blessings, both spiritual and temporal, in hopes that thus, and thus only, we may obtain them .... It would seem the intention of Holy Scripture to encourage all prayer, more especially intercession, in all relations and for all righteous objects.' Dr. Hook, the present Dean of Chichester, states in his Church Dictionary, under 'Prayer,' that 'the general providence of God acts through what are called the laws of nature. By this particular providence God interferes with those laws, and he has promised to interfere in behalf of those who pray in the name of Jesus .... We may take it as a general role that we may pray for that for which we may lawfully labour, and for that only.'

The phrases of our Church service amply countenance this view; and if we look to the practice of the opposed sections of the religious world, we find them consistent in maintaining it. The so-called 'Low Church' notoriously places absolute belief in special providences accorded to pious prayer. This is testified by the biographies of its members, the journals of its missionaries, and the 'united prayer meetings' of the present day. The Roman Catholics offer religious vows to avert danger; they make pilgrimages to shrines; they hang votive offerings and pictorial representations, sometimes by thousands, in their churches, of fatal accidents averted by the manifest interference of a solicited saint.

A prima facie argument in favour of the efficacy of prayer is therefore to be drawn from the very general use of it. The greater part of mankind, during all the historic ages, have been accustomed to pray for temporal advantages. How vain, it may be urged, must be the reasoning that ventures to oppose this mighty consensus of belief! Not so. The argument of universality either proves too much, or else it is suicidal. It either compels us to admit that the prayers of Pagans, of Fetish worshippers, and of Buddhists who turn praying wheels, are recompensed in the same way as those of orthodox believers; or else the general consensus proves that it has no better foundation than the universal tendency of man to gross credulity.

The collapse of the argument of universality leaves us solely concerned with a simple statistical question - are prayers answered, or are they not? There are two lines of research, by either of which we may pursue this inquiry. The one that promises the most trustworthy results is to examine large classes of cases, and to be guided by broad averages; the other, which I will not employ in these pages, is to deal with isolated instances. An author who made much use of the latter method might reasonably suspect his own judgement - he would certainly run the risk of being suspected by others - in choosing one-sided examples.

The principles are broad and simple upon which our inquiry into the efficacy of prayer must be established. We must gather cases for statistical comparison, in which the same object is keenly pursued by two classes similar in their physical but opposite in their spiritual state; the one class being prayerful, the other materialistic. Prudent pious people must be compared with prudent materialistic people, and not with the imprudent nor the vicious. Secondly, we have no regard, in this inquiry, to the course by which the answer to prayers may be supposed to operate. We simply look to the final result -whether those who pray attain their objects more frequently than those who do not pray, but who live in all other respects under similar conditions. Let us now apply our principles to different cases.

A rapid recovery from disease may be conceived to depend on many causes besides the reparative power of the patient's constitution. A miraculous quelling of the disease may be one of these causes; another is the skill of the physician, or of the nurse; another is the care that the patient takes of himself. In our inquiry, whether prayerful people recover more rapidly than others under similar circumstances, we need not complicate the question by endeavouring to learn the channel through which the patient's prayer may have reached its fulfilment. It is foreign to our present purpose to ask if there be any signs of a miraculous quelling of the disease, or if, through the grace of God, the physician had showed unusual wisdom, or the nurse or the patient unusual discretion. We simply look to the main issue - do sick persons who pray, or are prayed for, recover on the average more rapidly than others?

It appears that, in all countries and in all creeds, the priests urge the patient to pray for his own recovery, and the patient's friends to aid him with their prayers; but that the doctors make no account whatever of their spiritual agencies, unless the office of priest and medical man be combined in the same individual. The medical works of modern Europe teem with records of individual illnesses and of broad averages of disease, but I have been able to discover hardly any instance in which a medical man of any repute has attributed recovery to the influence of prayer. There is not a single instance, to my knowledge, in which papers read before statistical societies have recognized the agency of prayer either on disease or on anything else. The universal habit of the scientific world to ignore the agency of prayer is a very important fact. To fully appreciate the 'eloquence of the silence' of medical men, we must bear in mind the care with which they endeavour to assign a sanatory value to every influence. Had prayers for the sick any notable effect, it is incredible but that the doctors, who are always on the watch for such things, should have observed it, and added their influence to that of the priests towards obtaining them for every sick man. If they abstain from doing so, it is not because their attention has never been awakened to the possible efficacy of prayer, but, on the contrary, that although they have heard it insisted on from childhood upwards, they are unable to detect its influence. Most people have some general belief in the objective efficacy of prayer, but none seem willing to admit its action in those special cases of which they have scientific cognizance.

Those who may wish to pursue these inquiries upon the effect of prayers for the restoration of health could obtain abundant materials from hospital cases, and in a different way from that proposed in the challenge to which I referred at the beginning of these pages. There are many common maladies whose course is so thoroughly well understood as to admit of accurate tables of probability being constructed for their duration and result. Such are fractures and amputations. Now it would be perfectly practicable to select out of the patients at different hospitals under treatment for fractures and amputations two considerable groups; the one consisting of markedly religious and piously befriended individuals, the other of those who were remarkably cold-hearted and neglected. An honest comparison of their respective periods of treatment and the results would manifest a distinct proof of the efficacy of prayer, if it existed to even a minute fraction of the amount that religious teachers exhort us to believe.

An inquiry of a somewhat similar nature may be made into the longevity of persons whose lives are prayed for; also that of the praying classes generally; and in both these cases we can easily obtain statistical facts. The public prayer for the sovereign of every state, Protestant and Catholic, is and has been in the spirit of our own, 'Grant her in health long to live.' Now, as a simple matter of fact, has this prayer any efficacy? There is a memoir by Dr. Guy, in the Journal of the Statistical Society (vol. xxii, p. 355), in which he compares the mean age of sovereigns with that of other classes of persons. His results are expressed in the following table:-

MEAN AGE ATTAINED BY MALES OF VARIOUS CLASSES WHO HAD SURVIVED THEIR 30TH YEAR, from 1758 to 1843. Deaths by accident or violence are excluded
* The eminent men are those whose lives are recorded in Chalmer's Biography, with some additions from the Annual Register.

The sovereigns are literally the shortest lived of all who have the advantage of affluence. The prayer has therefore no efficacy, unless the very questionable hypothesis be raised, that the conditions of royal life may naturally be yet more fatal, and that their influence is partly, though incompletely, neutralized by the effects of public prayers.

It will be seen that the same table collates the longevity of clergy, lawyers, and medical men. We are justified in considering the clergy to be a far more prayerful class than either of the other two. It is their profession to pray, and they have the practice of offering morning and evening family prayers in addition to their private devotions, A reference to any of the numerous published collections of family prayers will show that they are full of petitions for temporal benefits. We do not, however, find that the clergy are in any way more tong lived in consequence. It is true that the clergy, as a whole show a life-value of 69.49, as against 68.14 for the lawyers, and 67.31 for the medical men; but the easy country life and family repose of so many of the clergy are obvious sanatory conditions in their favour This difference is reversed when the comparison is made between distinguished members of the three classes - that is to say, between persons of sufficient note to have had their lives recorded in a biographical dictionary. When we examine this category, the value of life among the clergy, lawyers, and medical men is as 66.42, 66.51, and 67.07 respectively, the clergy being the shortest lived of the three. Hence the prayers of the clergy for protection against the perils and dangers of the night, for protection during the day, and for recovery from sickness, appear to be futile in result.

In my work on Hereditary Genius, and in the chapter on 'Divines,' I have worked out the subject with some minuteness on other data, but with precisely the same result. I show that the divines are not specially favoured in those worldly matters for which they naturally pray, but rather the contrary, a fact which I ascribe in part to their having, as a class, indifferent constitutional vigour. I give abundant reason for all this, and do not care to repeat myself; but I should be glad if such of the readers of this present paper who may be accustomed to statistics would refer to the chapter I have mentioned. They will find it of use in confirming what I say here. They will believe me the more when I say that I have taken considerable pains to get at the truth in the questions raised in this present memoir, and that when I was engaged upon them, I worked, so far as my material went, with as much care as I gave to that chapter on 'Divines'; and lastly, they will understand that, when writing the chapter in question, I had all this material by me unused, which justified me in speaking out as decidedly as I did then.

A further inquiry may be made into the duration of life among missionaries. We should lay greater stress upon their mortality than upon that of the clergy, because the laudable object of a missionary's career is rendered almost nugatory by his early death. A man goes, say to a tropical climate, in the prime of manhood, who has the probability of many years of useful life before him, had he remained at home. He has the certainty of being able to accomplish sterling good as a missionary, if he should live long enough to learn the language and habits of the country. In the interval he is almost useless. Yet the painful experience of many years shows only too clearly that the missionary is not supernaturally endowed with health. He does not live longer than other people. One missionary after another dies shortly after his arrival. The work that lay almost within the grasp of each of them lingers incompleted.

It must here be repeated, that comparative immunity from disease compels the suspension of no purely material law, if such an expression be permitted. Tropical fever, for example, is due to many subtle causes which are partly under man's control. A single hour's exposure to sun, or wet, or fatigue, or mental agitation, will determine an attack. Now even if God acted only on the minds of the missionaries his action might be as much to the advantage of their health as if he wrought a physical miracle. He could disincline them to take those courses which might result in mischance, such as the forced march, the wetting, the abstinence from food, or the night exposure, any one of which was competent to develop the fever that struck them down. We must not dwell upon the circumstances of individual cases, and say 'this was a providential escape,' or 'that was a salutary chastisement,' but we must take the broad averages of mortality, and, when we do so, we find that the missionaries do not form a favoured class.

The efficacy of prayer may yet further be tested by inquiry into the proportion of deaths at the time of birth among the children of the praying and the non-praying classes. The solicitude of parents is so powerfully directed towards the safety of their expected offspring as to leave no room to doubt that pious parents pray fervently for it, especially as death before baptism is considered a most serious evil by many Christians. However, the distribution of still-births appears wholly unaffected by piety. The proportion, for instance, of the still-births published in the Record newspaper and in the Times was found by me, on an examination of a particular period, to bear an identical relation to the total number of deaths. This inquiry might easily be pursued by those who consider that more ample evidence was required.

When we pray in our Liturgy 'that the Nobility may be endued with grace, wisdom and understanding,' we pray for that which is clearly incompatible with insanity. Does that frightful scourge spare our nobility? Does it spare very religious people more than others? The answer is an emphatic negative to both of these questions, The nobility, probably from their want of the wholesome restraints felt in humbler walks of life, and from their intermarriages, and the very religious people of all denominations, probably from their medita, tions on hell, are peculiarly subject to it. Religious madness is very common indeed.

As I have already hinted, I do not propose any special inquiry whether the general laws of physical nature are ever suspended in fulfilment of prayer: whether, for instance, success has attended the occasional prayers in the Liturgy when they have been used for rain, for fair weather, for the stilling of the sea in a storm, or for the abatement of a pestilence. I abstain from doing so for two reasons.

First, if it is proved that God does not answer one large class of prayers at all, it would be of less importance to pursue the inquiry. Secondly, the modern feeling of this country is so opposed to a belief in the occasional suspension of the general laws of nature, that an English reader would merely smile at such an investigation.

If we are satisfied that the actions of man are not influenced by prayer, even through the subtle influences of his thoughts and will, the only probable form of agency will have been disproved, and no one would care to advance a claim in favour of direct physical interferences.

Biographies do not show that devotional influences have clustered in any remarkable degree round the youth of those who, whether by their talents or social position, have left a mark upon our English history. Lord Campbell, in his preface to his Lives of the Chancellors, says, 'There is no office in the history of any nation that has been filled with such a long succession of distinguished and interesting men as the office of Lord Chancellor,' and that 'generally speaking, the most eminent men, if not the most virtuous, have been selected to adorn it.' His implied disparagement of their piety is fully sustained by an examination of their respective biographies, and by a taunt of Horace Walpole, quoted in the same preface. An equal absence of remarkable devotional tendencies may be observed in the lives of the leaders of great political parties. The founders of our great families too often owed their advancement to tricky and time-serving court-iership. The belief so frequently expressed in the Psalms, that the descendants of the righteous shall continue, and that those of the wicked shall surely fail, is not fulfilled in the history of our English peerage. Take for instance the highest class, that of the Ducal houses. The influence of social position in this country is so enormous that the possession of a dukedom is a power that can hardly be understood without some sort of calculation. There are, I believe, only twenty-seven dukes to about eight millions of adult male Englishmen, or about three dukes to each million, yet the cabinet of fourteen ministers which governs this country, and India too, commonly contains one duke, often two, and in recent times three. The political privilege inherited with a dukedom in this country is at the lowest estimate many thousand-fold above the average birth-right of Englishmen. What was the origin of these ducal families whose influence on the destiny of England and her dependencies is so enormous? Were their founders the eminently devout children of eminently pious parents? Have they and their ancestors been distinguished among the praying classes? Not so. I give in a footnote * a list of their names, which recalls many a deed of patriotism, valour, and skill, many an instance of eminent merit of the worldly sort, which we Englishmen honour six days out of the seven - many scandals, many a disgrace, but not, on the other hand, a single instance known to me of eminently prayerful qualities. Four at least of the existing ducal houses are unable to claim the title of having been raised into existence through the devout habits of their progenitors, because the families of Buc-cleuch, Grafton, St. Albans, and Richmond were thus highly ennobled solely on the ground of their being descended from Charles II and four of his mistresses, namely, Lucy Walters, Barbara Villiers, Nell Gwynne, and Louise de Querouaille. The dukedom of Cleveland may almost be reckoned as a fifth instance.

The civil liberty we enjoy in England, and the energy of our race, have given rise to a number of institutions, societies, commercial adventures, political meetings, and combinations of all sorts. Some of these are exclusively clerical, some lay, and others mixed. It is impossible for a person to have taken an active share in social life without having had abundant means of estimating for himself, and of hearing the opinion of others, on the value of a preponderating clerical element in business committees. For my own part, I never heard a favourable one. The procedure of Convocation, which, like all exclusively clerical meetings, is opened with prayer, has not inspired the outer world with much respect. The histories of the great councils of the Church are most painful to read. There is reason to expect that devout and superstitious men should be unreasonable; for a person who believes his thoughts to be inspired, necessarily accredits his prejudices with divine authority. He is therefore little accessible to argument, and he is intolerant of those whose opinions differ from his, especially on first principles. Consequently he is a bad coadjutor in business matters. It is a common weekday opinion of the world that praying people are not practical.

* Abercorn, Argyll, Athole, Beaufort, Bedford, Buccleuch, Buckingham, Cleveland, Devonshire, Grafton, Hamilton, Leeds, Leinster, Manchester, Marlborough, Montrose, Newcastle, Norfolk, Northumberland, Portland, Richmond, Roxburghe, Rutland, St. Albans, Somerset, Sutherland, Wellington

Again, there is a large class of instances where an enterprise on behalf of pious people is executed by the agency of the profane. Do such enterprises prosper beyond the average? For instance, a vessel on a missionary errand is navigated by ordinary seamen. A fleet, followed by the prayers of the English nation, carries reinforcements to quell an Indian mutiny. We do not care to ask whether the result of these prayers is to obtain favourable winds, but simply whether they ensue in a propitious voyage, whatever may be the agencies by which that result was obtained. The success of voyages might be due to many other agencies than the suspension of the physical laws that control the winds and currents; just as we showed that a rapid recovery from illness might be due to other causes than direct interference with cosmic order. It might have been put into the captain's heart to navigate in that course and to perform those acts of seamanship which proved links in a chain that led to eventual success. A very small matter would suffice to make a great difference in the end. A vessel navigated by a man who was a good forecaster of weather and an accomplished hydrographer would considerably outstrip another that was deficient in so accomplished a commander, but otherwise similarly equipped. The perfectly instructed navigator would deviate from the most direct course by perhaps some mere trifle, first here, then there, in order to bring his vessel within favouring slants of wind and advantageous currents. A ship commanded by a captain and steered by a sailor whose hearts were miraculously acted upon in answer to prayer would unconsciously, as by instinct, or even as it were by mistake, perform these deviations from routine, which would lead to ultimate success.

The missionaries who are the most earnestly prayed for are usually those who sail on routes where there is little traffic, and therefore where there is more opportunity for the effects of secret providential overruling to display themselves than among those who sail in ordinary sea voyages. In the usual sea routes a great deal is known of the peculiarities of the seasons and currents, and of the whereabouts of hidden dangers of all kinds; their average risk is small, and the insurance is low. But when vessels are bound to ports like those sought by the missionaries the case is different. The risk that attends their voyages is largely increased, and the insurance is proportionately raised. But is the risk equally increased in respect to missionary vessels and to those of traders and slave-dealers? The comparison between the fortune that attends prayerful and non-prayerful people may here be most happily made. The missionaries are eminently among the former category, and the slave-dealers and traders we speak of in the other. Traders in the unhealthy and barbarous regions to which we refer are notoriously the most godless and reckless (on the broad average) of any of their set. We have, unfortunately, little knowledge of the sea risks of slavers, because the rates of their insurance involve the risk of capture. There is, however, a universal testimony, in the parliamentary reports on slavery, to the excellent and skilful manner in which these vessels are sailed and navigated, which is a prima facie reason for believing their sea risks to be small. As to the relative risks run by ordinary traders and missionary vessels, the insurance offices absolutely ignore the slightest difference between them. They look to the class of the vessel, and to the station to which she is bound, and to nothing else. The notion that a missionary or other pious enterprise carries any immunity from danger has never been entertained by insurance companies.

To proceed with our inquiry, whether enterprises on behalf of pious people succeed better than others when they are entrusted to profane hands, we may ask - Is a bank or other commercial undertaking more secure when devout men are among its shareholders - or when the funds of pious people, or charities, or of religious bodies are deposited in its keeping, or when its proceedings are opened with prayer, as was the case with the disastrous Royal British Bank? It is impossible to say yes. There are far too many sad experiences of the contrary.

If prayerful habits had influence on temporal success, it is very probable, as we must again repeat, that insurance offices, of at least some descriptions, would long ago have discovered and made allowance for it. It would be most unwise, from a business point of view, to allow the devout, supposing their greater longevity even probable, to obtain annuities at the same low rates as the profane. Before insurance offices accept a life, they make confidential inquiries into the antecedents of the applicant. But such a question has never been heard of as, 'Does he habitually use family prayers and private devotions?' Insurance offices, so wakeful to sanatory influences, absolutely ignore prayer as one of them. The same is true for insurances of all descriptions, as those connected with fire, ships, lightning, hail, accidental death and cattle sickness. How is it possible to explain why Quakers, who are most devout and most shrewd men of business, have ignored these considerations, except on the ground that they do not really believe in what they and others freely assert about the efficacy of prayer? It was at one time considered an act of mistrust in an over-ruling Providence to put lightning conductors on churches; for it was said that God would surely take care of his own. But Arago's collection of the accidents from lightning showed they were sorely needed; and now lightning conductors are universal. Other kinds of accidents befall churches, equally with other buildings of the same class; such as architectural flaws, resulting in great expenses for repair, fires, earthquakes, and avalanches.

The cogency of all these arguments is materially increased by the recollection that many items of ancient faith have been successively abandoned by the Christian world to the domain of recognized superstition. It is not two centuries ago, long subsequent to the days of Shakespeare and other great names, that the sovereign of this country was accustomed to lay hands on the sick for their recovery, under the sanction of a regular Church service, which was not omitted from our prayer-books till the time of George II. Witches were unanimously believed in, and were regularly exorcised, and punished by law, up to the beginning of the last century. Ordeals and duels, most reasonable solutions of complicated difficulties according to the popular theory of religion, were found absolutely fallacious in practice. The miraculous power of relics and images, still so general in Southern Europe, is scouted in England. The importance ascribed to dreams, the barely extinct claims of astrology, and auguries of good or evil luck, and many other well-known products of superstition which are found to exist in every country, have ceased to be believed in by us. This is the natural course of events, just as the Waters of Jealousy and the Urim and Thummin of the Mosaic law had become obsolete in the times of the later Jewish kings. The civilized world has already yielded an enormous amount of honest conviction to the inexorable requirements of solid fact; and it seems to me clear that all belief in the efficacy of prayer, in the sense in which I have been considering it, must be yielded also. The evidence I have been able to collect bears wholly and solely in that direction, and in the face of it the onus probandi lies henceforth on the other side.

Nothing that I have said negatives the fact that the mind may be relieved by the utterance of prayer. The impulse to pour out the feelings in sound is not peculiar to Man. Any mother that has lost her young, and wanders about moaning and looking piteously for sympathy, possesses much of that which prompts men to pray in articulate words. There is a yearning of the heart, a craving for help, it knows not where, certainly from no source that it sees. Of a similar kind is the bitter cry of the hare, when the greyhound is almost upon her; she abandons hope through her own efforts, and screams- but to whom? It is a voice convulsively sent out into space, whose utterance is a physical relief. These feelings of distress and of terror are simple, and an inarticulate cry suffices to give vent to them; but the reason why Man is not satisfied by uttering inarticulate cries (though sometimes they are felt to be the most appropriate) is owing to his superior intellectual powers. His memory travels back through interlacing paths, and dwells on various connected incidents; his emotions are complex, and he prays at length.

Neither does anything I have said profess to throw light on the question of how far it is possible for Man to commune in his heart with God. We know that many persons of high intellectual gifts and critical minds look upon it as an axiomatic certainty that they possess this power, although it is impossible for them to establish any satisfactory criterion to distinguish between what may really be borne in upon them from without and what arises from within, but which, through a sham of the imagination, appears to be external. A confident sense of communion with God must necessarily rejoice and strengthen the heart, and divert it from petty cares; and it is equally certain that similar benefits are not excluded from those who on conscientious grounds are sceptical as to the reality of a power of communion. These can dwell on the undoubted fact, that there exists a solidarity between themselves and what surrounds them, through the endless reactions of physical laws, among which the hereditary influences are to be included. They know that they are descended from an endless past, that they have a brotherhood with all that is, and have each his own share of responsibility in the parentage of an endless future. The effort to familiarize the imagination with this great idea has much in common with the effort of communing with a God, and its reaction on the mind of the thinker is in many important respects the same. It may not equally rejoice the heart, but it is quite as powerful in ennobling the resolves, and it is found to give serenity during the trials of life and in the shadow of approaching death.

(The original can be viewed here:

Friday, 30 September 2011

Death and Venice

Why I went to Venice...

On the 12 May 1797 Napoleon ended the thousand-odd history of the island city of Venice as an independent City-State. This used to rather irritate me. Venice, I thought, could have carried on into the present time as one of those charming European anomalies like Monaco or Andorra. It could have survived the unification of Italy and stayed as the finance centre of the world - but, in that case, it would all now be skyscrapers, concrete and €7.99 for a cup of coffee. As it is it is nicely derelict with the shades of doges, wobbly bridges ... though it has maintained a bankers view on coffee pricing.
What Venice would look like now without Napoleon - this is the island-city of Malé in the Maldives
Birmingham and Venice

There is no reason to go to Venice.

The only possible reason you might want to go there is to look at it, and you already know what it looks like. But there seems to be something in humans which makes us want to enter into the physical experience, even when we don't stand to gain anything extra, new, or even good from it. The experience alone seems to be enough. I do not understand this, which may be why we've just come back from Venice, where I did discover some new things.
'Decorative decay' is a thing Venice is famous for, but I was astonished at how very derelict the city actually is. Just a few footsteps away from the tourist areas between the Rialto Bridge and St Mark's you'll find street after street of empty, boarded or bricked-up houses, workshops and palaces. Even those that have a room or two in use mostly seem to have abandoned the lower floors to the waters. I suppose this ought to be no surprise; this is a city which, at its height in the 1500's housed a quarter of a million people, but now has only about 60,000, and still falling. No wonder either, because, there's isn't actually much for them to do any more. Venetian merchant ships stopped dominating the seas when the Portuguese found out how to sail round Africa.

Venice got made because its island location kept it safe from the shenanigans of dark-age Europe, and it got rich above the dreams of any city before or since after working-out that Chinese, Arabs, Indonesians and Africans were willing to swap the worthless stuff they found growing on trees for worthless Very Shiny Things. The stuff on trees was spices, worth as week's wage a pinch in Europe, and the Shiny Things were geegaws of Venetian glass. The spice trade works differently now, but making the Shiny Things is about the only industry Venice has left. Venetian Glassware has raised the concept of 'tawdry' to heights which truly have to be seen to be believed, culminating in that greatest expression of the glass-makers art (and I'm not making this up) – miniatures of Homer Simpson on a Gondola.

Anyway, Venice is now dead, but it makes the most astonishingly beautiful corpse. My top tourist tips? There is pretty much no point whatever looking at guidebooks. The book will say that such-and-such church has a must-see Tintoretto, or whatever. Fact is every single church in the city, and there are 117 of them, has a must-see Tintoretto, or something similar, or better. The really interesting bits start where the tourists stop – the Jewish Ghetto, the streets behind the backs. Oh, and you don't have to pay the earth for the necessary ride in a gondola powered by a man in a stripey shirt - for just 50 cents you can get one of the public traghetto ferries across the Grand canal.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

How to Become a Famous Philosopher

OK, so you want to be a famous philosopher? It doesn't seem to be too difficult, as long as you take care to start off in the right way...

Ludwig Wittgenstein was born into what was probably the richest family in all Austria, his sister died in babyhood and the only one of his four brothers who didn't commit suicide was maimed in the war. Bertrand Russell was actually an Earl, born into one of the richest aristocratic families in Wales, his mother died when he was three, followed by his sister, and, two years later his father also died, from bronchitis following a long period of depression. 

Confucius's father died when he was three. Gottfried Leibniz's father died when he was six.  Ralph Waldo Emerson's father died from stomach cancer less than two weeks before Emerson's eighth birthday and three of his siblings - Phebe, John Clarke, and Mary Caroline - died in childhood. Both of Erasmus' parents died of the plague when Erasmus was only 17. Augustine of Hippo was a libertine from an aristocratic family whose mother was an alcoholic. René Descartes was rich enough never to have to work, his mother died when he was one. Auguste Comte, after a spell in an asylum, attempted suicide by jumping off the Pont des Arts. Immanuel Kant was from a family of stern Scottish descent, five of his brothers and sisters died in childhood. David Hume's father, a leading lawyer, died when he was only two years old, leaving him to be raised by his mother, the daughter of a Lord President of the Court of Session. Soren Kierkegaard was born in 1813 to a vastly wealthy family in Copenhagen - his mother, and all but one of his six siblings, died young. Gottfried Leibniz was son of a philosophy professor who died when Gottfried was only six. Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome, his father died when he was three.

Hegel's mother, Maria, died of a "bilious fever" when Hegel was eleven. Hegel and his father also caught the disease but narrowly survived.  Hegel's brother, Georg Ludwig  was killed in Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812. Thomas Hobbes was born dangerously prematurely - his father was a priest who abandoned his three children to the care of an older brother, Francis, when he was forced to flee to London after being involved in a fight with another clergyman outside his own church.  John Stuart Mill grew to suffer horrid depression over an upbringing which had forced classical literature, logic, political economy, history and mathematics down him before he was fourteen.

Friedrich Nietsche's father died when he five, and his younger brother died a year later. On September 27, 1759, Thomas Paine married Mary Lambert, his business collapsed soon after, then Mary became pregnant, they moved to Margate, she went into early labor, in which she and their child died. Blaise Pascal's mother died when he was only seven. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's mother, Suzanne Bernard Rousseau, the daughter of a Calvinist preacher, died of puerperal fever nine days after his birth. When Jean-Paul Sartre was 15 months old, his father died of a fever.

Oh, and if being a Famous Philosopher isn't good enough for you - Jesus clearly had a serious relationship problem with his parents, and he wasn't alone. Abraham's father died following his son's demand that they quit the city of Ur. Mohammed's mother died when he was six, while The Buddha's mother, according to legend, died giving birth to him.

You get the idea?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Sunday, 21 August 2011

God, existence of

I wrote this little summary of the Six Arguments for (and against) the existence of God yonks ago in response to a question from 'Melanie' on the 'Ask a Philosopher' forum. It has been reproduced here and there quite a lot since, with astonishingly little dissent...

The pic is from the 2008 Bollywood film God Tussi Great Ho

1: The Miracles Argument
FOR GOD: God runs the universe and controls all its physics, therefore the only entity who can alter the physics is God. Thus, by doing magic miracles which are beyond normal physics, God's prophets prove that He exists and that they carry His authority. (Thomas Hobbes)
AGAINST GOD: Reports of miracles always seem to come from uneducated, far distant, ancient people, so they are no more to be trusted than any other such stuff. If miracles prove religion to be true, how come religions which oppose one another (e.g. Sikhism and Shinto, Judaism and Hinduism etc) can all claim to be proved true by miracles? (David Hume)

2: The Ontological Argument
FOR GOD: Everything I know of comes, ultimately, from outside of myself. I know of the existence of a being greater than which nothing can be conceived, namely God. There is nothing in my experience which ought to make me know this, so it must have come from elsewhere, namely from God Himself. (Rene Descartes)
AGAINST GOD: The fact that you can conceive of something, doesn't make it true. You can imagine all sorts of infinitely great and perfect things — the perfect island, the perfect answer to a philosophy question — but that doesn't make them exist. Furthermore, 'existing' isn't a property of things. It isn't something which they might or might not have, like 'being blue' or 'getting hot', it is something which has to come first to make the concept real — you can't just tag it on after. Quite a lot of modern theologians, Don Cupitt being one, try to get round this by arguing that God doesn't exist as a being, but He does have 'real' existence as the abstract projection of our moral and religious ideals. Though how that differs from 'god doesn't exist' I don't know. (Immanuel Kant)

3: The Design Argument
FOR GOD: If you found a watch lying in the road, you would know from the perfect way all its little parts interact that it had not suddenly appeared by chance. You would know that some thinking creature had deliberately designed it. Look at the world around you, isn't it astonishing how all its parts fit and work so perfectly together? Such a magnificent structure must have had a designer behind it. That designer is God. (William Paley)
AGAINST GOD: I, Glyn Hughes, am by trade and profession a designer, so I think I can speak with some authority here. People with no experience of designing tend not to realise how the process works. They assume that the designer thinks out a grand plan, and then makes the thing from nothing more than the raw materials and his own genius. This is not what happens. Designers never can work alone — which would suggest, at least, a committee of several gods. They begin with prototypes, which are usually faulty. Objects which exist now do not mean that the designer is alive now (Guccio Gucci died in 1972, but you can still buy his watches.) Designers never begin from scratch, they merely make tiny modifications to existing designs. There never was anyone who ever designed a wristwatch. Dr Paley's watch would have been designed by someone who had copied almost every feature from previous watches, and they in turn from clocks, which copy a synthesis of milling equipment and water clocks, which might well have come about from the accidental breaking of a water jug. Such innovations as designers appear to make are invariably the result of either fortunate accidents, of synthesis with other designs. Consider that noted design icon, the Dyson vacuum cleaner. It is a synthesis of the upright vacuum cleaner with a device called a cyclone precipitator, invented decades before to remove dust from industrial chimneys, and itself the result of a chance observation about fans. James Dyson himself says that he 'stumbled' onto the idea, and took five years and 5,127 (yes, 5,127) different versions before the design was ready.
So, while, in philosophy, analogies are always suspect as arguments, the design analogy is an exceptionally poor one for God. In fact, if the design argument proves anything, it rather proves that gradual, blind, evolution is the better explanation for the harmony of the universe. (Richard Dawkins)

4: The Morality Argument
FOR GOD: Humans want to each grab as much as they can for themselves. They are naturally selfish, yet humans very often act with care and sensitivity. There is no logical reason why they should do this. Virtue, thus, must be caused by something outside of humanity which itself has a moral sense. This must be God. (John Henry Newman)
AGAINST GOD: Virtue is no mystery. It is quite true that humans each just want to grab everything they can for themselves, but the best technique for doing precisely that is to be as nice as possible to the people around you. Being moral is a good survival mechanism, it doesn't need God. In any case, what with all the earthquakes, diseases, pestilences, nasal hair and boils, God, if he did exist, doesn't seem to be at all nice Himself. (Matt Ridley)

5: The Experience Argument
FOR GOD: It just doesn't matter what anyone says, I just KNOW that God exist, and I prove that from nothing other than my own honest knowledge of my own mind. I have studied all the arguments, and I realise that God can't be demonstrated by science or logic. I have made the great 'leap of faith', I have chosen God. (Martin Heidegger)
AGAINST GOD: This could be a good argument for God, were it not for the fact that different people get totally different, and utterly opposing, inner experiences of God. And, funnily enough, such experiences seem to owe far more to each person's cultural and social influences than to anything outside of themselves. (William James)

6: The First Cause (or 'cosmological') Argument
FOR GOD: Everything which happens must have a cause. Everything which is moving must have been started off moving by something else pushing it. That means that there must have been some first thing, a 'prime mover' to start things off. That is God. (St Augustine)
AGAINST GOD: This argument is both illogical and unjustified. You can't begin by stating as an inviolable principle that 'all things must have a cause' and then use that to prove that there is something which doesn't have a cause. The fact that we don't really know how the universe started doesn't prove anything at all, it might have existed forever infinitely backwards in time for all we know. This is a 'God of the gaps' argument, where, when there is a gap in our knowledge, some people are tempted to slot God in. In any case, if all things have a cause, what was the cause of God? Another pre-God God? And what caused that God? (AJ Ayer)

That's about it for God. There is Blaise Pascal's 'wager', in which he suggests that it is better to profess a belief in God, as it gives you a better chance of eternal life. But that isn't an argument for the existence of God, just a reason why you ought to go to church. And not a very good reason at that; would a thinking God actually want to spend eternity with a bunch of sycophantic believers? Wouldn't an intelligent God rather spend His time with polite unbelievers — they would make for much more productive conversation.

As for arguments actually against the existence of God, they are few and poor. It is extremely difficult to prove that something ISN'T true, for to 'prove' generally means 'to bring forward evidence for', and it is usually impossible to bring forward 'non evidence' in order to disprove something.

There are the so-called 'fallacies of omnipotence', like 'could an all-powerful God make a stone to heavy for God to lift up?' But they are rather, shall we say, floppy, as arguments. There is the 'problem of evil' — that the horrid things we find thrown at us by the natural world show that a Good God couldn't possibly exist. But that doesn't in any way disprove the existence of God, it just shows that either He is either vindictive or uncaring, or that we don't really understand Him.

Then there is the 'Parable of the Invisible Gardener', a sort of commentary on the design and ontological arguments, which might be neatly summed-up in this question:

"Could you please tell me what the difference is between:

1) A God who has no shape, no size, no location, no colour, no form, who cannot be heard, or seen, or smelled, of felt, or touched, who is invisible and unknowable...
2) A God who doesn't exist?"

Friday, 19 August 2011

Jerome's Utopia

Which is my favourite book? The one I'd take to a desert island? Not much question - Jerome Klapka Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. Endlessly informative about history, politics, art and law, hilariously funny and just so, well, wise.

Jerome isn't remembered for much else nowadays, other than a little perhaps for Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, but he was
stunningly prolific and one of the greatest hero-writers of his day.

Published in the 1880's this quirky little story pokes fun at ideas of democracy, and especially at the silly Socialism of the time. It was never too difficult to make fun of the Victorian Socialism of Mark and Engels. Karl Marx, of course, was a great expert on the workers, work and working, despite the fact (and do put me right if I'm wrong here) that he himself never ever managed to put in a single day's real work in his entire life. As Jerome nicely had it - "I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours."

Friedrich Engels, did do some slight work. He was the son of a mill-owning family who seemed to think that oppressing the working masses in his own mills, was not actually his own fault, because he, just like them, was a twisted product of the monster of capitalism which would soon be swept away by the
inevitable Socialist Revolution.



Jerome K Jerome

I had spent an extremely interesting evening. I had dined with some very "advanced" friends of mine at the “National Socialist Club”. We had had an excellent dinner: the pheasant, stuffed with truffles, was a poem; and when I say that the ’49 Chateau Lafitte was worth the price we had to pay for it, I do not see what more I can add in its favour.

After dinner, and over the cigars (I must say they do know how to stock good cigars at the National Socialist Club), we had a very instructive discussion about the coming equality of man and the nationalisation of capital.

I was not able to take much part in the argument myself, because, having been left when a boy in a position which rendered it necessary for me to earn my own living, I have never enjoyed the time and opportunity to study these questions.

But I listened very attentively while my friends explained how, for the thousands of centuries during which it had existed before they came, the world had been going on all wrong, and how, in the course of the next few years or so, they meant to put it right.

Equality of all mankind was their watchword - perfect equality in all things — equality in possessions, and equality in position and influence, and equality in duties, resulting in equality in happiness and contentment.

The world belonged to all alike, and must be equally divided.

Each man’s labour was the property, not of himself, but of the State which fed and clothed him, and must be applied, not to his own aggrandisement, but to the enrichment of the race.

Individual wealth — the social chain with which the few had bound the many, the bandit’s pistol by which a small gang of robbers had thieved — must be taken from the hands that too long had held it.

Social distinctions — the barriers by which the rising tide of humanity had hitherto been fretted and restrained — must be for ever swept aside. The human race must press onward to its destiny (whatever that might be), not as at present, a scattered horde, scrambling, each man for himself, over the broken ground of unequal birth and fortune — the soft sward reserved for the feet of the pampered, the cruel stones reserved for the feet of the cursed, - but an ordered army, marching side by side over the level plain of equity and equality.

The great bosom of our Mother Earth should nourish all her children, like and like; none should be hungry, none should have too much The strong man should not grasp more than the weak; the clever should not scheme to seize more than the simple. The earth was man’s, and the fulness thereof; and among all mankind it should be portioned out in even shares. All men were equal by the laws of man.

With inequality comes misery, crime, sin, selfishness, arrogance, hypocrisy. In a world in which all men were equal, there would exist no temptation to evil, and our natural nobility would assert itself.

When all men were equal, the world would be Heaven — freed from the degrading despotism of God.

We raised our glasses and drank to EQUALITY, sacred EQUALITY; and then ordered the waiter to bring us Green Chartreuse and more cigars.

I went home very thoughtful. I did not go to sleep for a long while; I lay awake; thinking over this vision of a new world that had been presented to me.

How delightful life would be, if only the scheme of my socialistic friends could be carried out. There would ne no more of this struggling and striving against each other, no more jealousy, no more disappointment, no more fear of poverty! The State would take charge of us from the hour we were born until we died, and provide for all our wants from the cradle to the coffin, both inclusive, and we should need to give no thought even to the matter.

There would be no more hard work (three hours’ labour a day would be the limit, according to our calculations, that the State would require from each adult citizen, and nobody would be allowed to do more — I should not be allowed to do more) — no poor to pity, no rich to envy — no one to look down upon us, no one for us to look down upon (not quite so pleasant this latter reflection) — all our life ordered and arranged for us — nothing to think about except the glorious destiny (whatever that might be) of Humanity!

Then thought crept away to sport in chaos, and I slept.


Visitors are requested not to squirt water through the air-holes.

An intelligent-looking old gentleman, who had been arranging some stuffed lizards in an adjoining case, came over and took the cover off me.

“What’s the matter?” he asked; “anything disturbed you?” “No,” I said; “I always wake up like this, when I feel I’ve had enough sleep. What century is this?” “This,” he said, “is the twenty-ninth century. You have been asleep for just one thousand years.” “Ah! well, I feel all the better for it,” I replied, getting down off the table. “There’s nothing like having one’s sleep out.” “I take it you are going to do the usual thing.” said the old gentleman to me, as I proceeded to put on my clothes, which had been lying beside me in the case. “You’ll want me to walk round the city with you, and explain all the changes to you, while you ask questions and make silly remarks?” “Yes,” I replied, “I suppose that’s what I ought to do.” “I suppose so,” he muttered. “Come on, and let’s get it over,” and he led the way from the room.

As we went downstairs, I said: “Well, is it all right, now?” “Is what all right?” he replied.

“Why, the world,” I replied. “A few friends of mine were arranging, just before I went to bed, to take it to pieces and fix it up again properly. Have they got it all right by this time? Is every- THE NEW UTOPIA JEROME K. JEROME Cultural Notes No. 14 ISSN 0267 677X ISBN 0 948317 71 X An occasional publication of the Libertarian Alliance, 25 Chambers, Esterbrooke Street, London SW1P 4NN email: This short story by Jerome K. Jerome, who is best known as the author of Three Men in a Boat, was first published in 1891. Our thanks to Philip Vander Elst of The Free Nation for bringing it to our attention.

Director: Dr Chris R. Tame Editorial Director: Brian Micklethwait Webmaster: Dr Sean Gabb FOR LIFE, LIBERTY AND PROPERTY body equal now, and sin and sorrow and all that sort of thing done away with?” “Oh, yes,” replied my guide; “you’ll find everything all right now. We’ve been working away pretty hard at things while you’ve been asleep. We’ve just got this earth about perfect now, I should say. Nobody is allowed to do anything wrong or silly; and as for equality, tadpoles ain’t in it with us.” (He talked in rather a vulgar manner, I thought; but I did not like to reprove him.) We walked out into the city. It was every clean and very quiet.

The streets, which were designated by numbers, ran out from each other at right angles, and all presented exactly the same appearance.

There were no horses or carriages about; all the traffic was conducted by electric cars. All the people that we met wore a quiet grave expression, and were so much like each other as to give one the idea that they were all members of the same family. Everyone was dressed, as was also my guide, in a pair of grey trousers, and a grey tunic, buttoning tight round the neck and fastened round the waist by a belt. Each man was clean shaven, and each man had black hair.

I said: “Are all men twins?” “Twins! Good gracious, no!” answered my guide. “Whatever made you fancy that?” “Why, they all look so much alike,” I replied; “and they’ve all got black hair!” “Oh; that’s the regulation colour for hair,” explained my companion: “we’ve all got black hair. If a man’s hair is not black naturally, he has to have it dyed black.” “Why?” I asked.

“Why!” retorted the old gentleman, somewhat irritably. “Why, I thought you understood that all men were now equal. What would become of our equality if one man or woman were allowed to swagger about in golden hair, while another had to put up with carrots? Men have not only got to be equal in these happy days, but to look it, as far as can be. By causing all men to be clean shaven, and all men and women to have black hair cut the same length, we obviate, to a certain extent, the errors of Nature.” I said: “Why black?” He said he did not know, but that was the colour which had been decided upon.

“Who by?” I asked.

“By THE MAJORITY,” he replied, raising his hat and lowering his eyes, as if in prayer.

We walked further, and passed more men. I said: “Are there no women in this city?” “Women!” exclaimed my guide. “Of course there are. We’ve passed hundreds of them!” “I thought I knew a woman when I saw one,” I observed; “but I can’t remember noticing any.” “Why, there go two, now,” he said, drawing my attention to a couple of persons near to us, both dressed in the regulation grey trousers and tunics.

“How do you know they are women?” I asked.

“Why, you see the metal numbers tha everybody wears on their collar?” “Yes: I was just thinking what a number of policeman you had, and wondering where the other people were!” “Well, the even numbers are women; the odd numbers are men.” “How very simple,” I remarked. “I suppose after a little practice you can tell one sex from the other almost at a glance?” “Oh yes,” he replied, “if you want to.” We walked on in silence for a while. And then I said: “Why does everybody have a number?” “To distinguish him by,” answered my companion.

“Don’t people have names, then?” “No.” “Why?” “Oh! there was so much inequality in names. Some people were called Montmorency, and they looked down on the Smiths; and the Smythes did not like mixing with the Joneses: so, to save further bother, it was decided to abolish names altogether, and to give everybody a number.” “Did the Montmorencys and the Smythes object.” “Yes: but the Smiths and Joneses were in THE MAJORITY.” “And did no the Ones and Twos look down upon the Threes and Fours, and so on?” “At first, yes. But, with the abolition of wealth, numbers lost their value, except for industrial purposes and for double acrostics, and now No. 100 does not consider himself in any way superior to No. 1,000,000.” I had not washed when I got up, there being no conveniences for doing so in the Museum, and I was begining to feel somewhat hot and dirty. I said: “Can I wash myself anywhere?” He said: “No; we are not allowed to wash ourselves. You must wait until half-past four, and then you will be washed for tea.” “Be washed!” I cried. “Who by?” “The State.” He said that they had found they could not maintain their equality when people were allowed to wash themselves. Some people washed three or four times a day, while others never touched soap and water from one year’s end to the other, and in consquence there got to be two distinct classes, the Clean and the Dirty. All the old class prejudices began to be revived. The clean despised the dirty, and the dirty hated the clean. So, to end dissension, the State decided to do the washing itself, and each citizen was now washed twice a day by government-appointed officials; and private washing was prohibited.

I noticed that we passed no houses as we went along, only block after block of huge, barrack-like buildings, all of the same size and shape. Occasionally, at a corner, we came across a smaller building, labelled “Museum”, “Hospital”, “Debating Hall”, “Bath”, “Gymnasium”, “Acadeny of Sciences”, “Exhibition of Industries”, “School of Talk”, etc., etc.; but never a house.

I said: “Doesn’t anybody live in this town?” He said: “You do ask silly questions; upon my word, you do. Where do you think they live?” I said: “That’s just what I’ve been trying to think. I don’t see any houses anywhere!” He said: “We don’t need houses — not houses such as you are thinking of. We are socialistic now; we live together in fraternity and equality. We live in these blocks that you see. Each block accommodates one thousand citizens. It contains one thousand beds — one hundred in each room — and bath-rooms and dressing-rooms in proportion, a dining-hall and kitchens. At seven o’clock every morning a bell is rung, and ever one rises and tidies up his bed. At seven-thirty they go into the dressing-rooms, and are washed and shaved and have their hair done. At eight o’clock breakfast is served in the dining-hall. It comprises a pint of oatmeal porridge and half-a-pint of warm milk for each adult citizen. We are all strict vegetarians now. The vegetarian vote increased enormously during the last century, and their organisation being very perfect, they have been able to dictate every election for the past fifty years.

At one o’clock another bell is rung, and the people return to dinner, which consists of beans and stewed fruits, with rolly-polly pudding 2 twice a week, and plum-duff on Saturdays. At five o’clock there is tea, and at ten the lights are put out and everbody goes to bed. We are all equal, and we all live alike - clerk and scavenger, tinker and apothecary — all together in fraternity and liberty. The men live in blocks on this side of town, and the women are at the other end of the city.” “Where are the married people kept?” I asked.

“Oh, there are no married couples,” he replied; “we abolished marriage two hundred years ago. You see, married life did not work at all well with our system. Domestic life, we found, was thoroughly anti-socialistic in its tendencies. Men thought more of their wives and families than they did of the State. They wished to labour for the benefit of their little circle of beloved ones rather than for the good of the community. They cared more for the future of their children than for the Destiny of Humanity. The ties of love and blood bound men together fast in little groups instead of in one great whole. Before considering the advancement of the human race, men considered the advancement of their kith and kin.

Before striving for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, men strove for the happiness of the few who were near and dear to them. In secret, men and women hoarded up and laboured and denied themselves, so as, in secret, to give some little extra gift of joy to their beloved. Love stirred the vice of ambition in men’s hearts. To win the smiles of the women they loved, to leave a name behind them that their children might be proud to bear, men sought to raise themselves above the general level, to do some deed that should make the world look up to them and honour them above their fellow-men, to press a deeper footprint than another’s upon the dusty high-way of the age. The fundamental principles of Socialism were being daily thwarte and contemned. Each house was a revolutionary centre for the propagation of individualism and personality. From the warmth of each domestic hearth grew up the vipers, Comradeship and Independence, to sting the State and poison the minds of men.

“The doctrines of equality were openly disputed. Men, when they loved a woman, thought her superior to every other woman, and hardly took any pains to disguise their opinion. Loving wives believed their husbands to be wiser and braver and better than all other men. Mothers laughed at the idea of their children being in no way superior to other children. Children imbibed the hideous heresy that their father and mother were the best father and mother in the world.

“From whatever point you looked at it, the Family stood forth as our foe. One man had a charming wife and two sweet-tempered children; his neighbour was married to a shrew, and was the father of eleven noisy, ill-dispositioned brats — where was the equality?

“Again, wherever the Family existed, there hovered, ever contending, the angels of Joy and Sorrow; and in a world where joy and sorrow are known, Equality cannot live. One man and woman, in the night, stand weeping beside a little cot. On the other side of the lath-and-plaster, a fair young couple, hand in hand, are laughing at the silly antics of a grace-faced, gurgling baby. What is poor Equality doing?

“Such things could not be allowed. Love, we saw, was our enemy at every turn. He made equality impossible. He brought joy and pain, and peace and suffering in his train. He disturbed men’s beliefs, and imperilled the Destiny of Humanity; so we abolished him and all his works.

“Now there are no marriages, and, therefore, no domestic troubles; no wooing, therefore, no heartaching; no loving, therefore no sorrowing; no kisses and no tears.

“We all live together in equality free from the troubling of joy and pain.” I said: “It must be very peaceful; but, tell me — I ask the question merely from a scientific standpoint — how do you keep up the supply of men and women?” He said: “Oh, that’s simple enough. How did you, in your day, keep up the supply of horses and cows? In the spring, so many children, according as the State requires, are arranged for, and carefully bred, under medical supervision. When they are born, they are taken away from their mothers (who, else, might grow to love them), and brought up in the public nurseries and schools until they are fourteen.

They are then examined by State-appointed inspectors, who decide what calling they shall be brought up to, and to such calling they are thereupon apprenticed. At twenty they take their rank of citizens, and are entitled to a vote. No difference whatever is made between men and women. Both sexes enjoy equal privileges.” I said: “What are the privileges?” He said: “Why, all that I’ve been telling you.” We wandered on for a few more miles, but passed nothing but street after street of these huge blocks. I said: “Are there no shops nor stores in this town?” “No,” he replied. “What do we want with shops and stores?

The State feeds us, clothes us, houses us, doctors us, washes and dresses us, cuts our corns, and buries us. What could we do with shops?” I began to feel tired with our walk. I said: “Can we go in anywhere and have a drink?” He said: “A ‘drink’! What’s a ‘drink’? We have half-a-pint of cocoa with our dinner. Do you mean that?” I did not feel equal to explaining the matter to him, and he evidently would not have understood me if I had; so I said: “Yes; I meant that.” We passed a very fine-looking man a little further on, and I noticed that he had one arm. I had noticed two or three rather big-looking men with only one arm in the course of the morning, and it struck me as curious. I remarked about it to my guide.

He said: “Yes; when a man is much above the average size and strength, we cut one of his legs or arms off, so as to make things more equal; we lop him down a bit, as it were. Nature, you see, is somewhat behind the times; but we do what we can to put her straight.” I said: “I suppose you can’t abolish her?” “Well not altogether,” he replied. “We only wish we could.

But,” he added afterwards, with pardonable pride, “we’ve done a good deal.” I said: “How about an exceptionally clever man. What do you do with him?” “Well, we are not much troubled in that way now,” he answered. “We have not come across anything dangerous in the shape of brain-power for some considerable time now. When we do, we perform a surgical operation upon the head, which softens the brain down to the average legel.

“I have sometimes thought,” mused the old gentleman, “that it was a pity we could no level up sometimes, instead of always levelling down; but, of course, that is impossible.” I said: “Do you think it right of you to cut these people up, and tone them down, in this manner?” He said: “Of course, it is right.” “You seem very cock-sure about the matter,” I retorted. “Why is it ‘of course’ right?” “Because it was done by THE MAJORITY.” “How does that make it right?” I asked.

“A MAJORITY can do no wrong,” he answered.

“Oh! is that what the people who are lopped off think?” “They!” he replied, evidently astonished at the question. “Oh, they are in the minority, you know.” 3 “Yes; but even the minority has a right to its arms and legs and heads, hasn’t it?” “A minority has NO rights,” he answered.

I said: “It’s just as well to belong to the Majority, if you’re thinking of living here, isn’t it?” He said: “Yes; most of our people do. They seem to think it more convenient.” I was finding the town somewhat uninteresting, and I asked if we could not go into the country for a change.

My guide said: “Oh, yes, certainly;" but did not think I should care much for it.

“Oh! but it used to be so beautiful in the country,“ I urged, “before I went to bed. There were great green trees, and grassy, wind-waved meadows, and little rose-decked cottages, and —” “Oh, we’ve changed all that," interrupted the old gentleman; "it is all one huge market-garden now, divided by roads and canals cut at right angles to each other. There is no beauty in the country now whatever. We have abolished beauty; it interfered with our equality. It was not fair that some people should live among lovely scenery, and other upon barren moors. So we have made it all pretty much alike everywhere now, and no place can lord it over another.” “Can a man emigrate into any other country?” I asked; “it doesn’t matter what country — any other country would do.” “Oh, yes, if he likes,” replies my companion; “but why should he? All lands are exactly the same. The whole world is all one people now - one language, one law, one life.” “Is there no variety, no change anywhere,” I asked. “What do you do for pleasure, for recreation? Are there any theatres?” “No,” responded my guide. “We had to abolish theatres. The histrionic temperament seemd utterly unable to accept the principles of equality. Each actor thought himself the best actor in the world, and superior, in fact, to most other people altogether, I don’t know whether it was the same in your day?” “Exactly the same,” I answered, “but we did not take any notice of it.” “Ah! we did,” he replied, “and, in consequence, shut the theatres up. Besides, our White Ribbon Vigilance Society said that all places of amusement were vicious and degrading; and being an energetic and stout-winded band, they soon won THE MAJORITY over to their views; and so all amusements are prohibited now.” I said: “Are you allowed to read books?” “Well,” he answered, “there are not many written. You see, owing to our all living such perfect lives, and there being no wrong, or sorrow, or joy, or hope, or love, or grief in the world, and everything being so regular and proper, there is really nothing much to write about — except, of course, the Destiny of Humanity.” “True!” I said, “I see that. But what of the old works, the classics?

You had Shakespeare, and Scott, and Thackeray, and there were one or two little things of my own that were not half-bad.

What have you done with all those?” “Oh, we have burned all those old works,” he said. “They were full of the old, wrong notions of the old wrong, wicked times, when men were merely slaves and beasts of burden.” He said all the old paintings and sculptures had been likewise destroyed, partly for the same reason, and partly because they were considered improper by the White Ribbon Vigilance Society, which was a great power now; while all new art and literature were forbidden, as such things tended to undermine the principles of equality. They made men think, and the men that thought grew cleverer than those that did not want to think; and those that did not want to think naturally objected to this, and being in THE MAJORITY, objected to some purpose.

He said that, from like considerations, there were no sports or games permitted. Sports and games caused competition, and competition led to inequality.

I said: “How long do your citizens work each day?” “Three hours,” he answered; “after that, all the remainder of the day belongs to ourselves.” “Ah! that is just what I was coming to,” I remarked. “Now what do you do with yourselves during those other twenty-one hours?” “Oh, we rest.” “What! for the whole twenty-one hours?” “Well, rest and think and talk.” “What do you think and talk about?” “Oh! Oh, about how wretched life must have been in the old times, and about how happy we are, and - and - oh, and the Destiny of Humanity!” “Don’t you ever get sick of the Destiny of Humanity?” “No, not much.” “And what do you understand by it? What is the Destiny of Humanity, do you think?” “Oh! — why to — to go on being like we are now, only more so — everybody more equal, and more things done by electricity, and everybody to have two votes instead of one, and —” “Thank you. That will do. Is there anything else that you think of? Have you got a religion?” “Oh, yes.” “And you worship a God?” “Oh, yes.” “What do you call him?” “THE MAJORITY.” “One question more — You don’t mind my asking you all these questions, by-the-by, do you?” “Oh, no. This is all part of my three hours’ labour for the State.” “Oh, I’m glad of that. I should not like to feel that I was encroaching on your time for rest; but what I wanted to ask was, do many of the people here commit suicide?” “No; such a thing never occurs to them.” I looked at the faces of the men and women that were passing.

There was a patient, almost pathetic, expression upon them all. I wondered where I had seen that look before; it seemed familiar to me.

All at once I remembered. It was just the quiet, troubled, wondering expression that I had always noticed upon the faces of the horses and oxen that we used to breed and keep in the old world.

*** Strange! how very dim and indistinct all the faces are around me!

And where is my guide? and why am I sitting on the pavement?

and — hark! surely that is the voice of Mrs. Biggles, my old landlady.

Has she been asleep a thousand years, too? She says it is twelve o’clock — only twelve? and I’m not to be washed ’til halfpast four; and I do feel so stuffy and hot, and my head is aching.

Hulloa! why, I’m in bed! Has it all been a dream? And am I back in the nineteenth century?

Through the open window I hear the rush and roar of old life’s battle. Men are fighting, striving, carving out each man his own life with the sword of strength and will. Men are laughing, grieving, loving, doing wrong deeds, doing great deeds, — falling, struggling, helping one another — living!

And I have a good deal more than three hours’ work to do today, and I meant to be up at seven; and, oh dear! I do wish I had not smoked so many strong cigars last night!