Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Who is to be Master?

Theodore Dalrymple on Lewis Carroll's lasting relevance:
It is Humpty Dumpty who gets to the heart of the matter, in one of the most famous dialogues in English, perhaps in world, literature. Having proved that un-birthday presents are superior to birthday presents because they can be given on 364 days of the year instead of only one, Humpty Dumpty says:
“There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
.... By changing what can be said, you eventually change what is and can be thought; by changing what is and can be thought, you change the composition of the elite, that is to say the elite that must form in a society above the hunter-gatherer stage of development, any ideological commitment to egalitarianism notwithstanding. An amusing passage in Through the Looking-Glass, then, is pregnant with meaning and significance; it anticipates the development of Orwell’s Newspeak, but lightheartedly, without foreboding.
Theodore Dalrymple,"Down the Rabbit Hole," National Review, March 4, 2010.

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