May 17, 2011

How to Appreciate Glass

From Chesterton's "Outline of Sanity":
Now this has a considerable relevancy to the real criticism of the modern mechanical civilization. Its supporters are always telling us of its marvellous inventions and proving that they are marvellous improvements. But it is highly doubtful whether they really feel them as improvements. For instance, I have heard it said a hundred times that glass is an excellent illustration of the way in which something becomes a convenience for everybody. "Look at glass in windows," they say; "that has been turned into a mere necessity; yet that also was once a luxury." And I always feel disposed to answer, "Yes, and it would be better for people like you if it were still a luxury; if that would induce you to look at it, and not only to look through it. Do you ever consider how magical a thing is that invisible film standing between you and the birds and the wind? Do you ever think of it as water hung in the air or a flattened diamond too clear to be even valued? Do you ever feel a window as a sudden opening in a wall? And if you do not, what is the good of glass to you?"

This may be a little exaggerated, in the heat of the moment, but it is really true that in these things invention outstrips imagination. Humanity has not got the good out of its own inventions; and by making more and more inventions, it is only leaving its own power of happiness further and further behind.

I remarked in an earlier part of this particular meditation that machinery was not necessarily evil, and that there were some who valued it in the right spirit, but that most of those who had to do with it never had a chance of valuing it at all.
A poet might enjoy a clock as a child enjoys a musical-box. But the actual clerk who looks at the actual clock, to see that he is just in time to catch the train for the city, is no more enjoying machinery than he is enjoying music.

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