Thien Tao



The Decay of Manners.

Since nobody can have the presumption to doubt the demonstration of St. Thomas Aquinas that this world is the best of all possible worlds, it follows that the imperfect condition of things which I am about to describe can only obtain in some other universe; probably the whole affair is but the figment of my diseased imagination. Yet if this be so, how can we reconcile the disease with perfection?
Clearly there is something wrong here; the apparent syllogism turns out on examination to be an enthymeme with a suppressed and impossible Major. There is no progression on these lines, and what I foolishly mistook for a nice easy way to glide into my story proves but the blindest of blind alleys.
We must begin therefore by the simple and austere process of beginning.
The conditions of Japan was at this time (what time? Here we are in trouble with the historian at once. But let me say that I will have no interference with my story on the part of all these dull sensible people. I am going straight on, and if the reviews are unfavourable, one has always the resource of suicide) dangerously unstable. The warrior aristocracy of the Upper House had been so diluted with successful cheesemongers that adulteration had become a virtue as highly profitable as adultery. In the Lower House brains were still esteemed, but they had been interpreted as the knack of passing examinations.
The recent extension of the franchise to women had rendered the Yoshiwara the most formidable of the political organizations, while the physique of the nation had been seriously impaired by the results of a law which, by assuring them in case of injury or illness of a life-long competence of idleness which they could never have obtained otherwise by the most laborious toil, encouraged all workers to be utterly careless of their health. The training of servants indeed at this time consisted solely of careful practical instruction in the art of falling down stairs; and the richest man in the country was an ex-butler who, by breaking his leg on no less than thirty-eight occasions, had acquired a pension which put that of a field-marshal altogether into the shade.
As yet, however, the country was not yet irretrievably doomed. A system of intrigue and blackmail, elaborated by the governing classes to the highest degree of efficiency, acted as a powerful counterpoise. In theory all were equal; in practice the permanent officials, the real rulers of the country, were a distinguished and trustworthy body of men. Their interest was to govern well, for any civil or foreign disturbance would undoubtedly have fanned the sparks of discontent into the roaring flame of revolution.
And discontent there was. The unsuccessful cheesemongers were very bitter against the Upper House; and those who had failed in examinations wrote appalling diatribes against the folly of the educational system.
The trouble was that they were right; the government was well enough in fact, but in theory had hardly a leg to stand on. In view of the growing clamour, the official classes were perturbed; for many of their number were intelligent enough to see that a thoroughly irrational system, however well it may work in practice, cannot for ever be maintained against the attacks of those who, though they may be secretly stigmatized as doctrinaires, can bring forward unanswerable arguments. The people had power, but not reason; so were amenable to the fallacies which they mistook for reason and not to the power which they would have imagined to be tyranny. An intelligent plebs is docile; and educated canaille expects everything to be logical. The shallow sophisms of the socialist were intelligible; they could not be refuted by the profounder and therefore unintelligible propositions of the Tory.
The mob could understand the superficial resemblance of babies; they could not be got to understand that the circumstances of education and environment made but a small portion of the equipment of a conscious being. The brutal and truthful "You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" had been forgotten for the smooth and plausible fallacies of such writers as Ki Ra Di.
So serious had the situation become, indeed, that the governing classes had abandoned all dogmas of Divine Right and the like as untenable. The theory of heredity had broken down, and the ennoblement of the cheesemongers made it not only false, but ridiculous.
We consequently find them engaged in the fatuous task of defending the anomalies which disgusted the nation by a campaign of glaring and venal sophistries. These deceived nobody, and only inspired the contempt, which might have been harmless, with a hate which threatened to engulph the community in an abyss of the most formidable convulsions.
Such was the razor-edge upon which the unsteady feet of the republic strode when, a few years before the date of my visit, the philosopher Kwaw landed at Nagasaki after an exhilarating swim from the mainland.

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