Filth on the Floor, Crown on the Head
The latest in our ongoing lunchtime series of topical discussions related to Likewise Books, the Donkey Congress, involved a conversation about the tension between cynicism and earnestness, and the appropriate balance between the two. I left the meeting and stumbled upon the following comments from President Theodore Roosevelt, who presided over the social progressive movement in early twentieth-century America and the parallel movement of "muckraking" exposé journalism.
In [John] Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.
In "Pilgrim's Progress" the Man with the Muck-rake is set forth as the example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal instead of on spiritual things. Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing. Now, it is very necessary that we should not flinch from seeing what is vile and debasing. There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck-rake; and there are times and places where this service is the most needed of all the services that can be performed. But the man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes, save of his feats with the muck-rake, speedily becomes, not a help to society, not an incitement to good, but one of the most potent forces for evil.
So maybe between Bunyan and Roosevelt we have the appropriate caution for an otherwise healthy cynicism: every once in a while, for your own sake and for the sake of everyone else, you gotta look up.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman
at December 12, 2008 7:49 AM