Archives for January 2015

McStudge’s guide to capitalism

Reposted from a comment on The Passive Voice, in response to a discussion on Amazon, and why consumers hate and fear it so. (This remark may possibly have been made with the tongue somewhere in the vicinity of the cheek.)

Well, that’s capitalism for you.

You see, my poppets, under the capitalist system, the Wicked Capitalist (who always wears a top hat and a waxed moustache, like Snidely Whiplash; that is how you recognize him) gets his money by forcibly abducting Sweet Cathy Consumer and tying her to the railroad tracks in front of an onrushing locomotive: on which, for reasons not yet fully understood, is mounted a furiously whirling buzz saw. Nobody ever buys anything voluntarily, you see; it is all done by force and fraud. And of course Snidely twirls his moustache whilst he is doing it. That bit is Very Important.

All genuinely cultured and caring persons, including (it goes without saying) Great Authors and the Great Publishers who graciously permit them to live on leftover dog kibble, and occasionally on even richer and more Lucullan repasts than this, believe that there is a far more enlightened system, under which Sweet Cathy Consumer gives all her money to a Wise and Benevolent Bureaucracy, which then spends it for her on the Things That Really Matter (such as dog kibble for the right kind of Great Authors, and Mercedes-Benzes for the bureaucrats). Of course, if Sweet Cathy is insufficiently public-spirited (as, for some perverse reason, she almost always is), the Wise and Benevolent Bureaucrats will themselves have to resort to the locomotive and buzz saw to get her money out of her. But this is totally different from when a Wicked Capitalist does it, because, you see, it is All For Her Own Good and the Good of Society. Also the Benevolent Bureaucrats are clean-shaven, so they do not twirl their moustaches.

Just remember, nobody ever bought anything voluntarily from Evil Amazon. Then, my poppets, you will be properly educated so as to swallow the rest of the stories we require you to believe.

   H. Smiggy McStudge

One definition of knowledge

The way the word knowledge is used by many intellectuals often arbitrarily limits what verified information is to be considered knowledge. This arbitrary limitation of the scope of the word was expressed in a parody verse about Benjamin Jowett, master of Balliol College at Oxford University:

First come I; my name is Jowett.
There’s no knowledge but I know it.
I am master of this college:
What I don’t know isn’t knowledge.

—Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society

(The ‘parody verse’ is generally attributed to Henry Beeching. I have here substituted the original for Sowell’s paraphrase, because the original scans better.)

Checking in

Just to let the Loyal 3.6 know—

I have recently been ill, with some combination of allergies, sinusitis, and cabin fever. This all got me down sufficiently to make my depression kick in at full strength; so that yesterday it actually hurt to breathe. I was having cramps in my diaphragm and actually had to lie down and consciously concentrate in order to take one breath after another. My depression has manifested itself in this way before, but yesterday’s bout was uncommonly severe.

I do feel substantially better today, and may try to do some writing once I have found myself some food. (The larder is a bit bare at the moment, because I have not been well enough to do any shopping. Before anyone asks, yes, I have enough money to do the shopping; it is health and energy that have been wanting.)

Johnny can’t

The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.

—Thomas Sowell

Reasons for books

It occurs to me (in such a way that I may write a future essai about it, or then again I moutn’t) that there are four major, common, and abiding reasons why particular books get written, and that one can rank them by how likely they are to produce books that stand the test of time. From least to most likely:

1. Books written solely for money – often in a genre for which the author had no particular liking or affinity. (Such books are usually unpublishable. There is an art to being a successful hack, which the would-be get-rich-quick artist can seldom master.)

2. Books written chiefly to please the author’s fans. (This is a good and worthy motivation. The trouble is that so many fans want the same book again and again under different titles. Such work is seldom good to reread; and it is rereadable books that most often endure.)

3. Books written because the author had an itch to tell a certain story, and the itch would not go away. (Often these are the books that win large number of fans, who then clamour for more and give rise to category-2 sequels.)

4. Books written because the author very much wanted there to be a certain kind of book, and could not find it. Sometimes there is a book-shaped hole in human literature, and someone sets out to write a book to fill that hole.

(Note that a single writer’s oeuvre may span all four categories. Robert Silverberg has written seminal books of science fiction, and he also used to write quickie porn novels to pay the rent.)

The Inklings had an uncanny knack for finding book-shaped holes and filling them; which largely accounts for their enduring fame. Owen Barfield’s Poetic Diction fills what was then a massive gap in literary theory. C. S. Lewis frankly admitted that he wrote his works of Christian apologetics only because none of the clergy (who he considered ought to have written them) were doing the job. And of course there is Tolkien, who found an entire genre-shaped hole and, not being immortal or infinitely productive, only got as far as to lay the book-shaped cornerstone of the wall that has since filled the gap.

I myself get all kinds of ideas for books, but they don’t stick with me unless I can at least delude myself that they fall into category #4. Nothing else seems worth my extremely limited working time and energy. (I have never even been tempted with #1 or #2: nobody has offered to buy my soul with money, fame, or even fan-letters. Whether I could resist such temptations is anybody’s guess.)

But then I feel ashamed for my presumption. If there is a book-shaped hole in literature, surely it is because better writers than I have tried and failed to fill it. Who am I to try what the real experts could not do?

Looking at things in this manner, I am morosely convinced that this dissonance or antinomy accounts for a good deal of the writer’s block with which I am so often afflicted.


In other news, I have been tired and unwell yesterday and today. No new writing of any account, alas. I think I shall try to get some extra sleep and see if that helps.

The exceptional in fiction

Just as all except bores relate in conversation not what is normal but what is exceptional – you mention having seen a giraffe in Petty Cury, but don’t mention having seen an undergraduate – so authors told of the exceptional. Earlier audiences would not have seen the point of a story about anything else. Faced with such matters as we get in Middlemarch or Vanity Fair or The Old Wives’ Tale, they would have said ‘But this is all perfectly ordinary. This is what happens every day. If these people and their fortunes were so unremarkable, why are you telling us about them at all?’

—C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Theyocracy II: The joy of war

The latest in the series by H. Smiggy McStudge.

The series so far:

‘The frightful landslide into Theyocracy’
Theyocracy: The argument
‘Dear verminous cretin’: Smiggy replies to a reader
I. Ants and monkeys



Violence, my lovelies, has been a main fixture of Earthly life ever since the Old Original Studge, by experiments as ingeniously cruel as they were effective, introduced predation to the ecology of the planet. [Read more…]

The secret of writing success

The word “secrets” implies that there are magical actions you can take to become a successful writer—in other words, that there exist sufficient conditions for success. (Let’s agree to measure “success” as a book that has had N readers since its release, where you pick N > 1000 to fit your own criteria.) I hate to say it. There are NO SECRETS – there are no sufficient conditions. There seem to be necessary ones, but some outliers often don’t satisfy many of those either.

Steven M. Moore

Metrics for writers

Scott Adams warns us against mindless dependence upon metrics.
[Read more…]

‘Tell the truth and shame the devil’

No one has the right not to be offended. Sometimes the thing that hurts the most is the thing you most need to hear.

Sarah A. Hoyt