Friday, February 13, 2009

Bertrand Russell's thoughts on professionals, boredom, and breaking convention

I've blogged Bertrand Russell's book The Conquest of Happiness (1930) twice before:

1. Two kinds of careers.

2. The strawberry theory of good taste.

Here's some more:

3. Judging professionals — "[N]o outsider can tell whether a doctor really knows much medicine, or whether a lawyer really knows much law, and it is therefore easier to judge of [sic] their merit by the income to be inferred from their standard of life." (43-44)

4. Modern boredom — "[T]he machine age has enormously diminished the sum of boredom in the world. . . . We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement." (49-50)

5. Where to break convention — "Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves. They will pardon much unconventionality in a man who has enough jollity and friendliness to make it clear . . . that he is not engaged in criticizing them. This method of escaping censure is, however, impossible to many of those whose tastes or opinions cause them to be out of sympathy with the herd. Their lack of sympathy makes them uncomfortable and causes them to have a pugnacious attitude, even if outwardly they conform or manage to avoid any sharp issue. People who are not in harmony with the conventions of their own set tend therefore to be prickly and uncomfortable and lacking in expansive good humor. These same people transported into another set, where their outlook is not thought strange, will seem to change their character entirely. From being serious, shy and retiring they may become gay and self-confident; from being angular they may become smooth and easy; from being self-centered they may become sociable and extrovert [sic]." (104-05)

(Photo by Fred Armitage.)


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

And for those who wonder what Bertrand Russell to listen to on a Friday: