What’s Wrong with the World: Chapter 1 – The Medical Mistake

41dudouehll-_sl_300_The world is in trouble. Everyone points out flaws, issues, and problems. Where did these situations come from and what can we do? There is a deeper problem under all the others. Let us take a journey to see What is Wrong with the World.

Problem discussed: We do not ask what is right.I remember back when I was an undergrad not ready to question professors for their ideas. I took a Social Problems class. As the seemingly bitter instructor talked about inequality, race and other social ills a more confident man than I raised his hand. He asked about all the churches, non-profits, and community efforts that have done great good in these areas. The instructor thought for a bit and then quipped “This is a class on social problems, not on social solutions.”

That answer is the crux of the issue that Chesterton saw in his day. When it comes to mankind we need to have the solution (or ideal) in mind before we compound on what the ills are.

A book of modern social inquiry has a shape that is somewhat sharply defined. It begins as a rule with an analysis, with statistics, tables of population, decrease of crime among Congregationalists, growth of hysteria among policemen, and similar ascertained facts; it ends with a chapter that is generally called “The Remedy.” It is almost wholly due to this careful, solid, and scientific method that “The Remedy” is never found. For this scheme of medical question and answer is a blunder; the first great blunder of sociology. It is always called stating the disease before we find the cure. But it is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease.

When we take a too large a picture of the problems that surround us we are likely to fall into being absurd. We see people as an aggregate, not as individuals with needs but a number to be crunched. We see nations as living but ignore our neighbors.

It is convenient to speak of the Social Organism, just as it is convenient to speak of the British Lion. But Britain is no more an organism than Britain is a lion. The moment we begin to give a nation the unity and simplicity of an animal, we begin to think wildly. Because every man is a biped, fifty men are not a centipede. This has produced, for instance, the gaping absurdity of perpetually talking about “young nations” and “dying nations,” as if a nation had a fixed and physical span of life.

The issue with doing that is that it leads to bad ideas. As a man thinks so he is, and if a man thinks of a world without marriage (Marx) because he believes it perpetuates capitalism. Then it will be abolished without seeing all the problems that come by the destruction of the family. C.S. Lewis wrote that people like to write fat black books that describe the problem that everyone agrees with. The danger is the slim section in the back that has ‘the solution’. This costs money or freedom.

But of all the instances of error arising from this physical fancy, the worst is that we have before us: the habit of exhaustively describing a social sickness, and then propounding a social drug.

What is the issue? That people drift from one ‘solution’ to another ‘solution’ when they tire of the current one. There is no ideal but only contradictory preference.

Social science is by no means always content with the normal human soul; it has all sorts of fancy souls for sale. Man as a social idealist will say “I am tired of being a Puritan; I want to be a Pagan,” or “Beyond this dark probation of Individualism I see the shining paradise of Collectivism.” Now in bodily ills there is none of this difference about the ultimate ideal. The patient may or may not want quinine; but he certainly wants health No one says “I am tired of this headache; I want some toothache,” or “The only thing for this Russian influenza is a few German measles,” or “Through this dark probation of catarrh I see the shining paradise of rheumatism.” But exactly the whole difficulty in our public problems is that some men are aiming at cures which other men would regard as worse maladies; are offering ultimate conditions as states of health which others would uncompromisingly call states of disease.


This is the arresting and dominant fact about modern social discussion; that the quarrel is not merely about the difficulties, but about the aim. We agree about the evil; it is about the good that we should tear each other’s eyes cut. We all admit that a lazy aristocracy is a bad thing. We should not by any means all admit that an active aristocracy would be a good thing. We all feel angry with an irreligious priesthood; but some of us would go mad with disgust at a really religious one. Everyone is indignant if our army is weak, including the people who would be even more indignant if it were strong. The social case is exactly the opposite of the medical case. We do not disagree, like doctors, about the precise nature of the illness, while agreeing about the nature of health.

Chesterton concludes this chapter where we will begin: we need to ask what is right.

I maintain, therefore, that the common sociological method is quite useless: that of first dissecting abject poverty or cataloguing prostitution. We all dislike abject poverty; but it might be another business if we began to discuss independent and dignified poverty. We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity. The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity? I have called this book “What Is Wrong with the World?” and the upshot of the title can be easily and clearly stated. What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.


I remember asking on Facebook years ago (always a bad idea to do debate on a social network) about the reason people held political positions. I got back links to platforms, answers like “helping people”, and mainly attacks against me when I tried to dig further. I learned that people love to find a cause because they do not want to look at themselves. If they looked at themselves they will see that the wrong they rail against is in them. To find the ideal they need to take a journey down:




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