Perhaps an indiscretion
By Laura Riding, 1930
Think of it: before the advent of Enough, Insufficiency prevailed. Insufficiency prevailed, but was made tolerable by climaxes of hunger during which the accredited prophets (being those with the largest appetites and hence suffering most) had visions of Enough, by which the accredited fanciers (being those with the smallest appetites and hence suffering least) fashioned little images of Enough, which were distributed among the starving population and had a beneficial effect upon it and were called luxuries. Naturally with the advent of Enough luxuries ceased to be created.
Now wouldn’t you think that the population would have been content with Enough? Oh, I don’t mean that it was greedy and hungered for More. The prevalence of Enough was general enough, if it comes to that – More, remember, is only a cynical perversion of Insufficiency. No, the complaints were in quite another vein. I shall describe that painful situation as briefly as possible, for it is not pleasant to dwell upon. Remember, I am at the heart of these apparently remote events, and forgive me if I seem serious. What could be more forgivable?
Briefly, then, the population complained of the materialism of the new era. It was generally agreed that life had lost charm with the passing of luxuries, and two parties arose, the Insufficiency Party and the Luxury Party. The Insufficiency Party stood for an unqualified return to the status quo. It was, of course, the popular party. The Luxury Party was composed chiefly of ex-prophets and ex-fanciers and its programme was somewhat more delicate and at the same time more practical. ‘Let us not deprive ourselves,’ they declared, ‘of the obvious benefits of this era, but let us not on the other hand sacrifice to these benefits sensibilities that have taken ages of Insufficiency to ripen. Let us, that is, accept the new facts but retain the old state of mind.’
As was inevitable, the Insufficiency Party lost – simply because the status quo – to which they wished to return no longer existed to return to. I shall now briefly describe the consequences of the victory of the Luxury Party. You must understand that after the advent of Enough the temper of life was, or rather should have been, adequacy. But the Luxurians, who now occupied all the important administrative posts, brought about a change in this temper, and little by little it came to be agreed that the entire population was leading a life of luxury. For a time all went well. But, as was inevitable, the population grew exhausted by those emotions which attend extravagance. Although the Superfluity that prevailed was only verbal, all the usual symptoms of excess set in. Whatever might be the truth of the situation, the fact of it was that the population was glutted.
What would you recommend? You would recommend, presumably, a new state of mind. But how may this be brought about? Surely, you would say, by a new party. And what would you call your new party? You would, would you not, call it the Sufficiency Party? And how would you describe its programme? Undoubtedly, to banish the old state of mind by forbidding the use, hitherto obligatory, of all hyperbolic expressions. I agree that the word ‘very’ is very detrimental to a serene temper of adequacy. Very well. Little by little the population becomes sober. It ceases to feel gratitude, wonder, joy or abandon. It ceases, we might say, to feel. Very well. But have we now a new state of mind? Have we a state of mind at all? I trust not. In fact, is a new party necessary at all? Is anything necessary besides, as always, patience? Or rather was anything necessary besides, as always, patience? Or rather will anything be necessary besides, as always, patience? Ah, forgive me if I confuse the tenses. As I said, I am speaking from the centre of these apparently remote events, and it is disconcerting to me to find my remarks do not seem authoritative. Indeed, I fear that I must ask you to regard them at this stage as being purely confidential. At what stage? Ah, that is for you to say, not me.