Tom Wolfe Quotes
Total quotes (21)
Total quotes (21)
When a plane gets out of control, there's only one thing you could let yourself think about: What do I do next?
The mark of a good fighter pilot is that when it all goes to shit, what is he yelling in the microphone? It isn't a prayer, it's: 'I've tried A! I've tried B! I've tried C! I've tried D! Tell me what else I can try.'
The white race is the cancer of human history? Who was this woman? Who and what? An anthropological epidemiologist? A renowned authority on the history of cultures throughout the world, a synthesizer of the magnitude of a Max Weber, a Joachim Wach, a Sir James Frazer, an Arnold Toynbee? Actually, she was just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumbering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at Partisan Review. Perhaps she was exceptionally hell-bent on illustrating McLuhan's line about indignation endowing the idiot with dignity, but otherwise she was just a typical American intellectual of the post-World War II period.
If you become indignant, this elevates you to the plane of 'intellectual.' No mental activity is required. It is a rule, to which there has never been an exception, that when an actor or a television performer rises up to the microphone at one of these awards ceremonies and expresses moral indignation over something, he illustrates Marshall McLuhan's dictum that 'moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity.'
In Germany, on the other hand, The Origin of Species was an immediate sensation. By 1874 Nietzsche had paid Darwin and his theory the highest praise with the most famous declaration in modern philosophy: ‘God is dead.’ Without mentioning Darwin by name, he said the ‘doctrine that there is no cardinal distinction between man and animal’ will demoralize humanity throughout the West; it will lead to the rise of ‘barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods’— he all but called them by name: Nazism, Communism, and Fascism— and result within one generation in ‘wars such as never have been fought before.’ If we take one generation to be thirty years, that would have meant by 1904. In fact, the First World War broke out in 1914. This latter-day barbarism, he went on to say, will in the twenty-first century lead to something worse than the great wars: the total eclipse of all values.
Charles Darwin’s dad nudged him into marrying in his perfectly nice, if plain, thirty-year-old spinster first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, and bought them a country place and settled enough money on him for the boy to live well forever and ever. Living well included eight or nine servants— a butler, a cook, a manservant or two, a parlor maid, a lady’s maid, and at least one nanny and a governess— from day one.
Darwin's students wanted to know some small but fundamental details about the moment Evolution got under way and how exactly, physically, it started up— and from what? Darwin had apparently never thought of it quite that way before. Long pause… and finally, ‘Ohhh,’ he said, ‘probably from four or five cells floating in a warm pool somewhere.’ h One student pressed him further. He wanted to know where the cells came from. Who or what put them in the pool? An exasperated Darwin said, in effect, ‘Well, I don’t know… look, isn’t it enough that I’ve brought you man and all the animals and plants in the world?’ In this respect, Darwinism was typical of the more primitive cosmogonies. They avoided the question of how the world developed ex nihilo. Darwin often thought about it, but it made his head hurt. The world was just… here. All cosmogonies, whether the Apaches’ or Charles Darwin’s, faced the same problem. They were histories or, better said, stories of things that had occurred in a primordial past, long before there existed anyone capable of recording them.
There were five standard tests for a scientific hypothesis. Had anyone observed the phenomenon— in this case, Evolution— as it occurred and recorded it? Could other scientists replicate it? Could any of them come up with a set of facts that, if true, would contradict the theory (Karl Popper’s ‘falsifiability’ test)? Could scientists make predictions based on it? Did it illuminate hitherto unknown or baffling areas of science? In the case of Evolution… well… no… no… no… no… and no.
Jesus offered great hope. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The meek shall inherit the earth and ascend to the right hand of God. This, from the Sermon on the Mount, is the most radical social and political doctrine ever promulgated. Its soldiers were thousands, millions, of the meek, and it took the better part of three centuries for the Word to build up such a following that the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Calvin offered less hope than Jesus; Muhammad, more and less; Marx, more and more. The meek—‘ the proletariat’ he called them— shall inherit the earth now!… here!… and never mind waiting for Heavenly pie in the sky.
Soon speech will be recognized as the Fourth Kingdom of Earth. We have regnum animalia, regnum vegetabile, regnum lapideum (animal, vegetable, mineral)— and now regnum loquax, the kingdom of speech, inhabited solely by Homo loquax. Or is ‘kingdom’ too small a word for the eminence of speech, which can do whatever it feels like doing with the other three— physically and in every other way? Should it be Imperium loquax, making speech an empire the equal of Imperium naturae, the empire of Nature? Or Universum loquax, the Spoken Universe… this ‘superior intelligence,’ this ‘new power of a definite character’?
Language, said Darwin, originated with the songs birds sang during the mating season. Man began imitating the birds, a cappella. By and by he started repeating certain birdsong sounds so often they began to stand for certain things in nature. They became words in embryo, and man began creating a ‘musical protolanguage.’ 62 But mating songs are sung by male birds only. What about human females? No problem. The females started mimicking the males, although in a higher register, and the protolanguage became far more pleasing. In no time the females were talking circles around the males. Female protolanguage, said Darwin, persists to this day… in the form of mothers cooing to their babies. The sounds have no dictionary meaning at all. Yet they signal love, protection, coziness, and mealtime. 63 Anyway, that was ‘How the Birds Gave Man His Words.