Wednesday’s Child: The Joy in a Worm’s Eye
In England a Member of Parliament otherwise not known for his folly told a newspaper some days ago that the expected Russian invasion of Ukraine would almost certainly result in a dramatic increase in the price of biscuits, which is what the British call cookies. Ukraine, he explained, is a major exporter of wheat in Europe, and clearly logic, economics, and perhaps even botany were all on this watchful parliamentarian’s side.
I realize that ridiculing the worm’s eye view of the world is almost as perverse as ridiculing nature, who, if the worm does indeed have some kind of eye, has given it to him in the first place; perhaps intimating that, in its own way, it would serve him as well as the eagle eye serves the eagle. An American nursery rhyme comes to mind, with its moral that “if you’re a bird, be an early bird, but if you’re a worm, sleep late.” The reality of life is such that a nursing mother, whose figure happens to loom large over me in these months on my child’s infancy, is incapable of seeing anything beyond the walls of the nursery, and to propose that she should do so is to argue with nature at its clearest. Rather than feel contrite or apologetic, a new mother revels in her cloistered solipsism, and any suggestion that she “broaden the horizon” would be met with justified scorn.
Similarly, for a citizen in the context of a nation’s polity, broadening the horizon to include glimpses of the larger world beyond is neither invariably nor unquestionably a good thing, as more likely than not these glimpses will be but worm’s eye distortions, scattered throughout the public continuum by people no more worldly, knowledgeable, or farsighted than he is. Broadening the horizon does not make a worm into an eagle, and it is far better to revel in the joys of unapologetic provincialism than to tell your neighbor that you love New York because it has so much energy. The globally aware citizen then comes to resemble the Nabokov character in The Gift who, “like many unpaid windbags, thought he could combine the reports by paid windbags which he read in the newspapers into an orderly scheme, upon following which a logical and sober mind – in this case his mind – could with no effort explain and foresee a multitude of world events.”
There is, on the other hand, a citizen’s state of mind which may be defined as clinically delusional and politically suicidal parochialism. Sweeping aside abundant evidence that he was simply a wicked person, I would cite Walter Duranty, the Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times correspondent who covered the genocidal famine in Ukraine in the early 1930’s, as the perfect example. A man capable, in those historical circumstances, of filing a story on June 25, 1931, headlined “Red Army is Held No Menace to Peace,” and another, “Stalinism Solving Minorities Problems,” on the very next day, is a worm who is clearly enjoying life in his parochial puddle, the puddle in question here being the New York Times. Duranty’s insouciant mind is very much of our time, by the way, as evidenced by the Pulitzer committee’s recent refusal to rescind his prize on the grounds that in his dispatches “there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception.” Oh, but of course there wasn’t. A worm sees the world as he sees it, that’s all, and it’s just too bad that he happens to be a famous journalist.
Which brings us back to Tobias Ellwood, Member of Parliament and Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, worrying about the likely rise in the price of cookies.