Against innovation

We are pressed on every side by the “demands of modern life,” to which, as gentle reader will understand, I am generally opposed. Not entirely, of course, for I am on record allowing the use of electricity, and certain labour-saving devices, on the one condition that they do not disturb the background audio-visual and tactile quiet. Even at that, I am a reasonable man. I have allowed into the High Doganate, for instance, a manual coffee-bean grinder; and there was already a similar device, used to grind spices. There is the grinding sound, when one uses these inventions. But it is not unpleasant. The turning of the crank is physically satisfying. Whereas, an electric grinder makes an extremely unpleasant noise, and is the devil to clean.

In a sound-proofed room in a factory, we might perhaps tolerate powered, specialized equipment. Circular saws and the like: the Shakers allowed them (indeed, invented them), and what was tolerable to the Shakers is tolerable to me.

It is possible to construct an electric fan that is essentially silent. I know, because I have seen and heard such a thing. One is conscious only of the whoosh of air, put in motion by the blades. I’m with the pope on this one. Higher ceilings, ceiling fans, and natural ventilation (including wind shafts) should make whining air conditioners unnecessary. How often the noisome device was installed, to compensate for design errors: to force a result that could have been obtained peaceably. Marble floors, or terra cotta for the poor; thick walls of stone, or adobe — it is possible to create the cool of a cave against the baking sun. And conversely, as the Romans taught us, hot-water pipes can be run through the masonry to spread warmth in winter, and the walls then store heat. Stoves can be adapted to burn all manner of rubbish; Stirling engines to quietly generate power. Intelligent design is possible, that seldom requires service or repairs, and once made, costs little or nothing.

True, any of these measures will have what the hucksters call a “positive impact on the environment,” by which they mean, a slight reduction of some screamingly negative impact. They speak sometimes of “passive technology,” which is what humans were using since time out of mind. Many of these greenish people are unstable, however, and should not be trusted. They are apt to recommend technical “solutions” uglier than what they replace (e.g. those vile, bird-killer windmills). Aggressive commercial interests have no trouble cashing in, with tawdry and unnecessary “eco” products.

Whereas, tranquility in domestic and common life requires not more but less. We should edit what is ugly out of the picture, gradually in the calm of a benign outlook.

Is it sound? Is it moral? Is it beautiful? These are the questions to put before the court. Is it proportional? Does it fit with the location? Is it “ergonomic” and otherwise humane? Such questions were routinely asked by all workmen in all cultures before the Industrial Revolution, which had the effect of suppressing them. To recover sanity, children must be raised to know serenity, and the aesthetic means to “peace and quiet.”

And this can begin in no other way than with the prayerful apprehension of God. For God is to be found in the Real Presence, yet also in the unspoken liturgies of work, meals, play. Homo ludens is in his element, in a mimetic dance within the time He has ordained. We learn the harmonious steps, we fall into order.

Perhaps I am not even against innovation, but against the forced innovation that is characteristic of our age; the totalitarian impulse at its root. Men wish to impose their own order; but God’s order was sufficient to the day.