Talk to a simple creature, farmer or fisherman — well, there is always that touch of common humanity, that sense of eternal needs, to fashion a link of conversation. From a professional — lawyer, doctor, engineer — you may pick up some pungent trifle which yields food for thought; it is never amiss to hearken to a specialist. But the ordinary man of the street, the ordinary man or woman of society, of the world — what can they tell you about art or music or life or religion, about tailors and golf and exhaust-pipes and furniture — what on earth can they tell you that you have not heard already? A mere grinding-out of commonplaces! How often one has covered the same field! They cannot even put their knowledge, such as it is, into an attractive shape or play variations on the theme; it is patter; they have said the same thing, in the same language, for years and years; you have listened to the same thing from other lips, in the same language, for years and years. How one knows it all beforehand — every note in that barrel-organ of echoes! One leaves them feeling like an old, old man, vowing one will never again submit to such a process of demoralization, and understanding, better than ever, the justification of monarchies and tyrannies: these creatures are born to act and think and believe as others tell them. You may be drawn to one or the other, detecting an unusual kindliness of nature or some endearing trick; for the most part, one studies them with a kind of medical interest. How comes it that this man, respectably equipped by birth, has grown so warped and atrophied, an animated bundle of deficiencies?
Life is the cause — life, the onward march of years. It has a cramping effect; it closes the pores, intensifying one line of activity at the expense of all the others; often enough it encrusts the individual with a kind of shell, a veneer of something akin to hypocrisy. Your ordinary adult is an egoist in matters of the affections; a specialist in his own insignificant pursuit; a dull dog. Dimly aware of these defects, he confines himself to generalities or, grown confidential, tells you of his little fads, his little love-affairs — such ordinary ones! Like those millions of his fellows, he has been transformed into a screw, a bolt, a nut, in the machine. He is standardised.
25 August 2014
Norman Douglas, Alone (New York: Robert M. McBride, 1922), pp. 46-48: