FWD [forteana] Eric Frank Russell, fortean

From: Terry W. Colvin (fortean1@mindspring.com)
Date: Fri Oct 26 2001 - 10:48:33 MDT

Since you asked--as I mentioned awhile back I recently spent several
days going through the personal correspondence of L. Sprague DeCamp,
which ended up at the University of Texas largely because Catherine
DeCamp had fallen in love with a house in Plano, Texas (which, along
with other Dallas suburbs like Duncanville, is the real-life model
for "King of the Hill's" Arlen) and some SF freaks at UT's Humanities
Research Center arranged to purchase the letters, allowing the DeCamps
to spend their retirement in a place I wouldn't live in without
massive infusions of cash and drugs, but I digress.

DeCamp kept files of every letter he wrote and received and at one
time or another he corresponded with an amazing variety of people,
from Jack Parsons to John Ciardi to Harold T. Wilkins (the latter
mad as a hatter, judging from his letters). It was a genuinely
fascinating plow-through--hey, did you know that DeCamp and Heinlein
shared an interest in nude photography? And the Hydras' gossip was
great, particularly the portions concerning that philandering
speed-freak Ted Sturgeon.

I only transcribed a small portion of it all, but I couldn't resist
pulling some toothsome quotes from Eric Frank Russell. For context,
you need to know that DeCamp was a proto-Randi, not just proud but
smug about his 'skepticism'.

Eric Frank Russell to Decamp, 12/18/51: "It's a new one on me that
Thayer is 'pro-Velikovsky.' I wouldn't go so far as to say that!
He runs 'Doubt' and the F.S.[Fortean Society] very much as a home for lost
causes, crackpot or otherwise, on the perfectly logical principle that
there are two sides to every issue and the 'unpopular' or 'unorthodox'
side is always worthy if consideration. Had dogmatic science whooped
it up in Velikovsky's favor, instead of damning him, Thayer would
have been 'anti-Vel.' Call it perversity if you like...but it seems
to be that it's a small body of highly vocal and incurably perverse
people who prevent the authoritative from getting away with attempts
to establish mental dictatorship. For that reason if no other, I'm
all for Thayer."

Eric Frank Russell to DeCamp, 3/1/52: "I don't think Thayer or the
Fortean Society is [sic] as extreme as you suggest. The idea is
not to stubbornly disbelieve anything on sight, the more authoritative
the better. Rather it is to persuade folk - particularly the credulous
ones - to cast aside belief in favor of temporary acceptance. That is
to say to accept with mental reservations that it might yet prove to
be wholly or partly wrong.

In my experience, that's an attitude of mind usually taken up by
intelligent folk. But where intelligent people such as yourself
frequently make a great mistake is in this respect: that when
thinking of humanity in the mass, especially on some idealistic
matter, you fall into the error of thinking them as intelligent
as yourself. THEY ARE NOT! An appalling percentage of the general
run of humanity is dopey, illiterate and thoroughly credulous. That's
not to say they're without virtue; quite the contrary. They can be
loyal, generous, good-hearted, etc etc, but still lacking in brain-
power or the ability to use the brains they've got. It's a minor
triumph for the Fortean Society when we persuade a formerly convinced
Roman Catholic to view the doctrine of Papal infallibility as fit
subject for suspicion. And the doctrine of scientific fallibility
gets the same treatment. Rightly so, because the status of a scientist
does not put a man above the moral law, neither does it give him the
right to be preserved from criticism. A scientist is only a man,
complete with pants and a fat ass inside them. There are no academic
qualifications that can make him something more than a mere man. The
attitude of the F.S. is like that of the child in Hans Andersen's
"The Emperor's New Clothes" - we just refuse to see what isn't there.
Especially haloes, scientific or theological."

Bruce W.

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1@mindspring.com >
     Alternate: < terry_colvin@hotmail.com >
Home Page: < http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Stargate/8958/index.html >
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