Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase

“Now,” he said, swiveling his head to look at his pupils, “here is how the cycle works.” He marked off three arcs. “We have a Pelagian phase. Then we have an intermediate phase.” His chart thickened one arc, then another. “This leads into an Augustinian phase.” More thickening, and the chalk was back where it had started. “Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase, Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase, and so on, forever and ever. A sort of perpetual waltz. We must now consider what motive power makes the wheel turn.… In the first place, let us remind ourselves what Pelagianism stands for. A government functioning in its Pelagian phase commits itself to the belief that man is perfectible, that perfection can be achieved by his own efforts, and that the journey towards perfection is a long straight road. Man wants to be perfect. He wants to be good. The citizens of a community want to co-operate with their rulers, and so there is no real need to have devices of coercion, sanctions, which will force them to co-operate. Laws are necessary, of course, for no single individual, however good and co-operative, can have precise knowledge of the total needs of the community. Laws point the way to an emergent pattern of social perfection – they are guides. But, because of the fundamental thesis that the citizen’s desire is to behave like a good social animal, not like a selfish beast of the waste wood, it is assumed that the laws will be obeyed. Thus, the Pelagian state does not think it necessary to erect an elaborate punitive apparatus. Disobey the law and you will be told not to do it again or fined a couple of crowns. Your failure to obey does not spring from Original Sin, it’s not an essential part of the human fabric. It’s a mere flaw, something that will be shed somewhere along the road to final human perfection.… Well, then, in the Pelagian phase or Pelphase, the great liberal dream seems capable of fulfillment. The sinful aquisitive urge is lacking, brute desires are kept under rational control…. No happier form of existence can be envisaged. Remember, however,” said Tristram, in a thrilling near-whisper, “Remember that the aspiration is always some way ahead of the reality. What destroys the dream? What destroys it, eh?” He suddenly big-drummed the desk, shouting in crescendo, “Disappointment. Disappointment. DISAPPOINTMENT.” He beamed. “The governors,” he said, in a reasonable tone, “become disappointed when they find that men are not as good as they thought they were. Lapped in their dream of perfection, they are horrified when the seal is broken and they see people as they really are. It becomes necessary to try and force the citizens into goodness. The laws are reasserted, a system of enforcement of those laws is crudely and hastily knocked together. Disappointment opens up a vista of chaos. There is irrationality, there is panic. When the reason goes, the brute steps in. Brutality!” cried Tristram. The class was at last interested. “Beatings-up, secret police. Torture in brightly lighted sellers. Condemnation without trial. Finger-nails pulled out with pincers. The rack. The cold water treatment. The gouging-out of eyes. The firing squad in the cold dawn. And all this because of disappointment. The Interphase.” He smiled very kindly at his class. This class was agog for more mention of brutality. Their eyes glinted, they goggled with open mouths.

“What, sir,” ask Bellingham, “is the cold-water treatment?”

 

•••

 

“But,” went on Tristram, “the Interphase cannot, of course, last for ever.”” He contorted his face to a mask of shock. ‘Shock,’ he said. “The governors become shocked at their own excesses. They find that they have been thinking in heretical terms — the sinfulness of man rather than his inherent goodness. They relax their sanctions and the result is complete chaos. But, by this time, disappointment cannot sink any deeper. Disappointment can no longer shock the state into repressive action, and a kind of philosophical pessimism supervenes. In other words, we drift into the Augustinian phase, the Gusphase. The orthodox view presents man as a sinful creature from whom no good at all may be expected. A different dream, gentlemen, a dream which, again, outstrips the reality. It eventually appears that human social behaviour is rather better than any Augustinian pessimist has a right to expect, and so a sort of optimism begins to emerge. And so Pelagianism is reinstated. We are back in the Pelphase again. The wheel has come full circle. Any questions?”

“What do they gouge eyes out with, sir?” asked Billy Chan.


Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed