Piet Hein

Majority Rule

His party was the Brotherhood of Brothers,
and there were more of them than of the others.
That is, they constituted that minority
which formed the greater part of the majority.
Within the party, he was of the faction
that was supported by the greater fraction.
And in each group, within each group, he sought
the group that could command the most support.
The final group had finally elected
a triumvirate whom they all respected.
Now, of these three, two had final word,
because the two could overrule the third.
One of these two was relatively weak,
so one alone stood at the final peak.
He was: THE GREATER NUMBER of the pair
which formed the most part of the three that were
elected by the most of those whose boast
it was to represent the most of the most
of most of most of the entire state —
or of the most of it at any rate.
He never gave himself a moment’s slumber
but sought the welfare of the greater number.
And all people, everywhere they went,
knew to their cost exactly what it meant
to be dictated to by the majority.
But that meant nothing, — they were the minority.

Tom Stoppard

From “The Real Thing”

ANNIE: You’re jealous of the idea of the writer. You want to keep it sacred, special, not something anybody can do. Some of us have it, some of us don’t. We write, you get written about. What gets you about Brodie is he doesn’t know his place. You say he can’t write like a head waiter saying you can’t come in here without a tie. Because he can’t put words together. What’s so good about putting words together?

HENRY: It’s traditionally considered advantageous for a writer.

ANNIE: He’s not a writer. He’s a convict. You’re a writer. You write because you’re a writer. Even you write about something, you have to think up something to write about just so you can keep writing. More well chosen words nicely put together. So what? Why should that be it? Who says?

HENRY: Nobody says. It just works best.

ANNIE: Of course it works. You teach a lot of people what to expect from good writing, and you end up with a lot of people saying you write well. Then somebody who isn’t in on the game comes along, like Brodie, who really has something to write about, something real, and you can’t get through it. Well, he couldn’t get through yours, so where are you? To you, he can’t write. To him, write is all you can do.

HENRY: Jesus, Annie, you’re beginning to appall me. There’s something scary about stupidity made coherent. I can deal with idiots, and I can deal with sensible argument, but I don’t know how to deal with you. Where’s my cricket bat?

ANNIE: Your cricket bat?

HENRY: Yes. It’s a new approach. [He heads out into the hall.]

ANNIE: Are you trying to be funny?

HENRY: No, I’m serious. [He goes out while she watches in wary disbelief. He returns with an old cricket bat.]

ANNIE: You better not be.

HENRY: Right, you silly cow —

ANNIE: Don’t you bloody dare —

HENRY: Shut up and listen. This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly… [He clucks his tongue to make the noise.] What we’re trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might … travel … [He clucks his tongue again and picks up the script.] Now, what we’ve got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting Ouch! with your hands stuck into your armpits. This isn’t better because someone says it’s better, or because there’s a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords. It’s better because it’s better. You don’t believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on. [quoting from the play] You’re a strange boy, Billy, how old are you? Twenty, but I’ve lived more than you’ll ever live. Ooh, ouch! [He drops the script and hops about with his hands in his armpits, going Ouch! ANNIE watches him expressionlessly until he desists.]

[a few exchanges later]

HENRY: ……I can’t help somebody who thinks, or thinks he thinks, that editing a newspaper is censorship, or that throwing bricks is a demonstration while building tower blocks is social violence, or that unpalatable statement is provocation while disrupting the speaker is the exercise of free speech… Words don’t deserve that kind of malarkey. They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more, and Brodie knocks corners off without knowing he’s doing it. So everything he writes is jerry-built. It’s rubbish. An intelligent child could push it over. I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.