Monday, January 29, 2007

If Only Einstein Were President

I recently had a conversation with a friend from church in which the ideas of practicality and creativity came up. For those of you who don't know, I'm an architect, so it was a topic that came up in the context of architecture, politics (city codes, set backs, height restrictions, ect.) and real estate/development. I came across the following soon thereafter in my readings, emailed it to that friend, and wanted to share it with you guys. I find it quite valuabe and enlightening. It is from G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong With the World. I quote the following under the assumption/idea that architecture, along with many other things, currently “isn’t working”.

“A practical man means a man accustomed to a mere daily practice, to the way things commonly work. When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning; but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.

It is then necessary to drop one’s daily agnosticism and attempt rerum cognescere causas. If your aeroplane has a slight indisposition a handy man may mend it. But, if it is seriously ill, it is all the more likely that some absent-minded old professor with wild white hair will have to be dragged out of a college or laboratory to analyze the evil. The more complicated the smash, the whiter-haired and more absent-minded will be the theorist who is needed to deal with it…

‘Effciency,’ of course, is futile for the same reason that strong men, wil-power and superman are futile. That is it is futile because it only deals with actions after they have been performed. It has no philosophy for incidents before they happen; therefore it has no power of choice. An act can only be successful or unsuccessful when it is over; if it is to begin, it must be in the abstract, right or wrong. There is no such thing as backing a winner; for he cannot be a winner when he is backed. There is no such thing as fighting on the winning side; one fights to find out which is the winning side. If any operation has occured, that operation was efficient…A man who thinks much about efficiency must be the drowsiest of sentimentalists; for he must be always looking back. If he only likes victory he must always come late for the battle. For a man of action there is nothing but idealism.

This definite ideal is a far more urgent and practical matter in our existing English trouble than any immediate plans or proposals. For our present chaos is due to a sort of general oblivion of all that men were originally aiming at. No man demands what he desires; each man demands waht he fancies he can get. Soon people forget what the man really wanted first; and after a successful and vigorous political life, he forgets it himself. The whole is an extravagant riot of second bests, a pandemonioum of pis-aller…our practical politicians keep things in the same confusion through the same doubt about their ideal demands. There is nothing that so much prevents a settlement as a tangle of small surrenders. We are bewildered on every side by politicians who are in favor of secular education, but think it hopeless to work for it; who desire total prohibition, but are certain they should not demand it; who regret compulsory education, but resignedly continue it; or who want peasant propietorship and therefore vote for something else. It is this dazed and floundering opportunism that gets in the way of everything. If our statesmen were visionaries something practical might be done. If we ask for something in the abstract, we might get something in the concrete.”

In light of the above upon our current circumstances, along with the fact that Einstein was known for being pretty smart, due note the double meaning of my title :) Don't, however, get lost in this wonderous play on meanings. In accordance with my original intentions in this post, I'd rather my reader primarily find his or her self in the vision extended in the above quote, and secondarily laughing at our present cirucumstances.

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