Learning From The Teeming Ditch

Are the persuaders coming more and more out of hiding? I’d suspected this for some time before spotting a brazen advertisement while on my travels last week. “DON’T GO TO PIECES ON SUNDAY!” it pleaded, offering a well-known newspaper as a steadying influence. On that view Sunday is potentially a drag, a put-upon, a space to be filled.

The thought sent me back to something jotted down a while ago from Dennis Gabor’s Inventing the Future. He begins by suggesting three dangers that confront our civilization: “The first is destruction by nuclear war, the second is being crippled by over-population, and the third is the Age of Leisure.” If the first two happen, says Gabor, life will be very unpleasant, but people will know what to do. “Only the Age of Leisure will find man psychologically unprepared.” (Surely not to the extent that our resourceful Sunday newspaper couldn’t cope?)

Gabor’s statement seems to imply that man at the moment of going to press is putting up a creditable psychological front to the changes and chances of this mortal scene (at least for five or six days in the week). A further implication is a great dichotomy fixed between labor and leisure, a bittiness altogether alien to an epitaph once seen: “God give me work till my life shall end, and life till my work is done.”

Yet Gabor is right if he means that ennui is the enemy for those who, in Chesterton’s words, “because they are entirely unacquainted with life … know nothing but distractions from life.” It was Chesterton, the genial creator of Father Brown, who went to the root of the problem when two years before his death in 1936 he said: “Unless we can make daybreak and daily bread and the creative secrets of labor interesting ...

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