It is easier to rally a band of Visigoths, Arabs or Ivyleaguers with a streamlined creed that fits neatly on a banner. In politics as well, coherent philosophy frequently loses out in the short run to ideology – that is, a half-baked idea holding a fully loaded pistol.(Hat tip to Margot St. Aubin.)
I realize it’s unreasonable to expect a demon to supply links or evidence. I looked up Cruz’s speech, and it seemed like a bunch of insults, and lacked a description of what Obama had done which was so awful. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/11/ted-cruz-confused-about-cicero/383066/ I found the above, which claimed that Cicero was pushing for insurrection, and Cruz quoted him with that in mind. This may or may not be true, but it’s certainly not a general attack on politicians using classical quotations. What are your sources?H. Smiggy McStudge answers for his own purposes, not for Ms. Lebovitz’s benefit, so you must excuse the whiff of brimstone. For my own part, I apologize to Ms. Lebovitz. It is not that Smiggy lacks manners; he understands them exquisitely, and when he is offensive, he always does it on purpose. But Smiggy will be Smiggy, and if I edited out his rudeness, half of his meaning would be lost along with it. If you took all the malice out of him, you could not see him without an electron microscope. I hold you in high regard, Ms. Lebovitz, whatever a McStudge may please himself to say.
My dear verminous cretin, You are only a human, and your powers of comprehension are therefore minimal. I therefore shall not try to simplify my response for your benefit. As a matter of principle, I never do anything for the benefit of humans. What we have here is a fine, nay, a shining and glorious example of the befuddlement wrought by our Propaganda Division. A human knows vaguely about Cicero: that, from our point of view, is a great evil in itself. Fortunately the evil is self-limiting: it cannot spread its infection so far as to interest the human in discovering the truth, for that would require effort. At one time, as I wrote previously, every learned person knew who Cicero was, and who Catiline was, and exactly what they did; they had the Orationes in Catilinam by heart, and knew what the issues were, and why Cicero said what he did. The more intelligent among them even knew where he was exaggerating his case, and when he was outright lying (for Cicero was a human, too, and a politician at that). No more. Thanks to the comprehensive reform of the human schools wrought by our Propaganda Division, the schools no longer turn out learned vermin. What they produce instead are educated vermin: that is, creatures that puff themselves up with pride in their superior intellect, but actually know very little and understand nothing. We teach them not to understand. How that is done is a matter for another lengthy treatise, which I am not, at present, commissioned to write, but could if I chose. The fundamental principle is that we instruct the humans to reverse the functions of the head and the heart. Nature would have these creatures use their emotions to want things, and their reason to figure out whether the things are good to have, and how to go about getting them. Instead, the whole thrust of modern education is to make them try to reason out what they ought to want (or rather, what it is socially approved to want), and then consult nothing but their feelings as they go about getting it. And we carefully prevent them from receiving any real training for either their hearts or their heads, so they will be hopelessly incapable of using these faculties even for the wrong purposes. The ideal product of this is a human who shrewdly and cold-bloodedly calculates what his peers will praise him for seeming to want, and then goes out and demands that thing (which he does not actually desire at all) by a series of tantrums and manipulations. I am very happy to say that this ideal product has been realized. The universities, which once were disgusting sinks of rationality and enlightenment, now turn out perfect idiots by the millions. You, my poppet, probably conceive yourself to be unusually intelligent; and you are, at that, for a human: you ask for sources, at least, and have a disquieting habit of not trusting your media implicitly, which your schooling has not entirely expunged. Fortunately, you have to a considerable degree imbibed our instruction, particularly as touching this inversion of reason and emotion. In your natural state, you would consult your reason about the matter of Mr. Cruz’s speech, and your reason would tell you that a quick Google search would provide you with both the text of Cicero’s speech and that of Mr. Cruz’s. The former can be found in hundreds of repositories of classical literature, both in the original Latin and in translation. The latter can be found in the transcripts of the United States Senate. Neither source is protected by copyright: the one because it is very old, the other because it is a matter of public record and exempted from copyright by statute. All this you could have done with five minutes’ work, if you had consulted your reason. Instead, having reasoned out what you are supposed to want, you let your emotions do the rest. And they tell you to say, ‘I want it,’ and demand that someone else perform the work. It is the spirit of the campus protester, and we McStudges love to see it. Hey hey, ho ho, library research has got to go. However, I shall throw you a bone with a little meat clinging to it, because you may end up fighting over the scraps with some other disgusting animal, and that, too, is something we McStudges love to see. Here is an article containing an exact transcript of both speeches, cleverly formatted to show which of Cicero‘s words Mr. Cruz left out, and which words are his own interpolations. It even comes from one of the fountains of mendacity and misinformation that we have trained you to regard as authoritative: ‘Ted Cruz goes Peak Senate in opposition to Emperor Obama’ (Philip Bump, Washington Post blogs, 20 Nov. 2014). There; and so much for you. Now, my junior McStudges, observe how this half-learned lump makes a hopeless hash of the issue at hand. She has heard of Cicero; she has even read the Atlantic article (by a qualified Professor of Classics, no less); but she comes away with a total misunderstanding of the situation, because she is only half learned and has no adequate frame of reference. Every schoolboy, as I have said, once learnt Latin as a matter of course, and the cleverer ones were rewarded by being taught Greek, and flogged for getting it wrong. (The flogging was entirely satisfactory, from the McStudge point of view. The learning was thoroughly regrettable; and we have sadly given up the transitory pleasure of sadism for the solid and permanent reward of making humans even more stupid.) Girls were not subjected to this process, partly because of the gross prejudice against the female intellect which we propagated among the humans in those times; but more because the humans had a delicacy about flogging girls and refused to do it. This delicacy, which they regarded as arising from chivalry, was primarily sexual in nature; but this is not the place for that discussion. In any case, Ms. Lebovitz is about as ignorant in this matter as her ancestresses were, except that she imagines herself to be a free and equal citizen, as good and as educated as any man. And if she is right, it is only because we have worked so long and hard to bring the men down to her level. Now, being in this condition of vague near-literacy, our subject has some idea who Cicero was, but none about Catiline. She consults this Professor of Classics, whom we have taught her to regard as an Authority, and who is published by that awful and infallible Authority, the Atlantic rag. For we have taught the humans to put all their trust in secondary sources, having a superstitious fear of primary information, and only daring to approach it through the offices of the clerisy. We train them never to do their own thinking, but to rely on other people’s interpretations of fact. These interpretations are spoon-fed into the humans, who cannot even tell for themselves whether the spoon contains food or arsenic. So our Professor of Classics (who, being a teacher by trade, knows all about his subject but has no idea how to teach) explains the whole matter very badly, and with his own partisan prejudices on naked display, and naturally his reader gets everything mixed. The Professor actually claims that Mr. Cruz was accusing Mr. Obama of murder and treason, because of the words that Mr. Cruz took explicit trouble not to say. No, Sir: Mr. Cruz was accusing Mr. Obama of unconstitutional abuse of his office, which is of course technically correct, but all politicians in this age are guilty of that. But to know that, one would have to attend to the words Mr. Cruz actually spoke, and not slyly insinuate that he really meant the words that he did not speak; and that would not give a Professor of Classics an opportunity to show off his own erudition. Besides, any stick will do to beat a dog. Faced with this mess, this three-agenda train-wreck of an argument, our subject ferrets out a conclusion that is pretty exactly the reverse of the facts. She imagines that it was Cicero who was preaching insurrection against Catiline; and she is reinforced in this by the evident fact that Mr. Obama is President of the United States and Mr. Cruz is only a Senator – and also, we need hardly doubt, by the partisan prejudices that we have ladled into her head, which she may fondly imagine to be her own. In fact, it was Catiline who was a mere senator, who had raised a private army to overthrow the State; and it was Cicero, in his office of consul, who held the supreme executive authority in that State. By casting himself as Cicero, Mr. Cruz pretends that he is defending the American republic against a dangerous and violent demagogue who wants to destroy it. This, of course, is absurd. It goes without saying that Mr. Obama is a demagogue, and he would dearly love to destroy the republic and substitute a rational and enlightened totalitarianism. But he is far too effete to be violent, and too incompetent to be dangerous; and anyway, he can do nothing without answering to us. Contrary to popular belief, politicians do have souls to sell: we buy them by the ton, very cheaply, and then use them as we will. As I say, every learned person used to know about Cicero and his chums; but thanks to our efforts, the knowledge is now safely confined to a small group of history buffs, and even among the history buffs, it is only the Roman Republican history buffs who understand the matter in any detail. Consequently, nobody is in a position to appreciate Mr. Cruz’s little joke, or even understand his bald meaning, except the devotees of an obscure and unpopular hobby. The intellectual classes are as much in the dark as Ms. Lebovitz; the general public is in the dark absolutely. For the specialization of labour is one of the great achievements of the humans, by which they have produced cornucopias of wealth, supporting billions in abundance where once there were a few millions in constant fear of famine. This, I need not say, is a very grave evil. To our credit, my fellow McStudges, we have turned this to account, by one of the moves which we learnt at the feet of the Old Original Studge himself. We have made a parody of it. We have taught the humans to confuse labour with knowledge, and to make bad analogies between them; so they suppose that specialization of knowledge is as desirable as specialization of labour. The result is that no human knows both the beginning and end of any given question. They rely upon principles that they have never even heard spoken, and work towards conclusions that they will never see, and that would horrify them if they did. In between, their reason works only on their little station on the assembly-line of thought, tightening Nut #24-B on Sub-assembly F. Only the philosophers and theologians, nowadays, try to concern themselves with the entirety of any question, from first principles down to final answers. And we have taught the humans to regard both philosophy and theology as useless and even stupid pursuits, and thereby cut them off from any possibility of meaningful knowledge. For this achievement, our Propaganda Division is to be praised in every corner of the machinery. Let every McStudge raise his voice; let us all shout encomiums. But let us not reward them, for there is a war on, and much work still to do. Were I in charge of that Division, I would order the floggings to be temporarily reduced, since morale has evidently improved. But only temporarily. Let no one ever forget that we are on a mission that is more important than any of us, and that War is Hell, and Hell is War. Now, my fellow McStudges, get back to your work, or I will have your numbers for it, and put every one of you on report. And as for you, my dear disgusting Ms. Lebovitz, if you have read this far and not yet died of an apoplexy: I thank you for making yourself an object lesson in the success of our propaganda. It is not your own fault that you are a fool; we take all the credit for that. Likely you would have been an intelligent being without our intervention, and there is some danger even yet that you may become one. From now on, you will be watched. Think on that from time to time, and tremble. Meanwhile you may have a kick in the teeth and a bone for your supper: which is a better reward than you have any right to expect from me. And now I must return to my austere and noble duties, which you could not possibly comprehend; and I sign myself Your infinite and indifferent superior, H. Smiggy McStudge
1. ‘Of course I’ll respect you in the morning.’ 2. ‘The cheque is in the mail.’ 3. ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’In their saner moments, most humans know that this third statement, like the other two, is a lie. Our job, and the function of the Myth, is to keep them from facing this knowledge squarely and honestly; to distract them with trifles, to lull them with lies and fuddle them with flummery, so that despite all the evidence, they will go on thinking of the government as a thing that is there to help. They can then be kept in that useful state of frustrated hope, and we McStudges can exploit them, unseen and (usually) unsuspected, for our own purposes. The Myth, in its shortest form, is that government exists to help people. The fact of the matter, in its shortest form, is this: Government is a monopoly of lethal force exercised by a group of humans in a defined territory. By definition, a government exists to kill people and smash things. A government may happen to do other things. If its proprietors are clever, it certainly will do other things. Killing people indiscriminately is a good way of making enemies, even among humans. Instead of smashing things, a government will steal some of them, and instead of killing people, it will bribe some of them with the loot. This divides and confuses the people, and prevents the government’s enemies from combining to overthrow it. This, in a nutshell, is what government does. The art of government consists in doing it quietly and indirectly, with plausible and soothing excuses, so that the game may be played with minimum risk and maximum profit. In other words, the art of government is to propagate the Myth of Government. In the chapters that follow, I shall trace the origin and development of the Myth through human history. In the process, I shall have to retell a good deal of that history. I do not apologize for this. The decision was taken long ago, by authorities much deeper in the machinery than I, to make the humans as ignorant of history as possible, and what is more, to make them proud of their ignorance. It is not my place to argue with that policy. But it does require me to make my argument at greater length, because the tapestry of the historical record, which was once known in a general way to every literate person, is now torn into a thousand ribbons, each jealously guarded by its own little band of specialists. Not two months ago, as I write this, a U.S. Senator (the very title is fraught with historical associations, of which the average American, fortunately, knows nothing) repeated almost verbatim, in the course of a debate, a speech by a far more distinguished Roman senator. This speech was once world-famous, and justly so; in the days when schoolboys learnt Latin, nearly every one of them was set to learn it by heart. No longer. Our modern Senator was roundly abused for quoting something so old and obscure. Some of his opponents called him a plagiarist, and some called him a fogey and a clown, and some said his speech proved that his entire party was ‘out of touch’, lost hopelessly in the past, unable to tackle Real Issues with Real and Progressive Urgency in the All-Consuming Now. Even his friends were vaguely embarrassed by this deplorable lapse of protocol. In the seventeenth century, as a certain Trevelyan said, Members of Parliament quoted the Bible, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the classics, and in the twentieth century, nothing. In the twenty-first century (which that unwholesomely intelligent human did not live to see), the rules have relaxed just a little: politicians are permitted to quote each other’s Twitter feeds, or even popular television shows. But Cicero’s Oratio in Catilinam Prima remains firmly beyond the pale. We have brought the humans to this state, that they now think a knowledge of classical literature, and an understanding of history, and an ability to learn lessons from history and apply them in daily life, are not only worthless accomplishments, but actual proof of imbecility. It is good, for our purposes, that the humans should be such fools. But let us not be fooled. Our field operatives, in particular, are constantly immersed in the propaganda that we manufacture to keep our livestock from becoming conscious. There is a constant danger that, merely by this continual exposure, our people may come to believe some of that propaganda themselves. I have known sad cases. The purpose of this work is to remind you all of the bigger picture, and some of the facts, so that you may be on guard against ‘going native’. As one of the cleverer humans has said, it is a poor propagandist who drinks his own ink. (signed) H. Smiggy McStudge
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights, nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang’, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.(Paragraph breaks added.) The infernal and redoubtable H. Smiggy McStudge has some things to say about all this, and has asked (or rather, peremptorily ordered) me to put some of it up here in the near future. Perhaps I shall oblige (or obey) him. He says it is to be a manual of advice for all the little McStudges, who, he says, have great zeal for their work but are in danger of believing their own propaganda. It will also be an ‘outline of history’, a form that was very popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but is pretty well extinct now. Smiggy makes his pitch thus: ‘The average human now has nothing but contempt for history – contempt born of utter ignorance. The schools teach a kind of compost of outdated sociology and falsified anthropology under the name of Social Studies, and graduate chuckleheads who cannot tell you whether George III came before or after George II, and who, if given a globe, are exceptionally lucky if they can point a finger at the Earth. History has been abandoned to the history buffs, who have the characteristic stupidity of experts, the ant’s-eye view. There are people who can tell you in minute detail the costume and weaponry of a Pecheneg warrior of the eleventh century, but who cannot tell you what the Pechenegs did, or how they influenced other nations, or why anyone should bother to inform themselves about the God-rotted Pechenegs at all. And we McStudges are very content that this should be so. ‘But let us not be fooled because we make fools of others. We need a clear eye for the prize. History is a game that we have played, using the humans as pawns and fodder. Let us not be dazzled by the lies and distractions we design for them. Our workers in the field need a clear understanding of what the game is, and what the stakes are, and which tactics are most likely to be successful. There is, of course, some risk in making this information widely available. Some of the humans are likely to read it. Fortunately, few of them have (thanks to our efforts) the mental equipment to take notice of the truth; fewer still have the gumption to act on it. These perishing few may safely be ignored. The risk is nothing compared to the risk of letting our own people wallow in the ignorance they have created. Ink is a wonderful poison. Let us cover the world with it, let us use it to drown human wit and human reason, such as they are, once and for all. But let us take care not to drink it ourselves.’
—The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, no. 52 (to Christopher Tolkien, 29 November 1943)
Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.—C. S. Lewis, ‘Equality’ (collected in Present Concerns)
I don’t normally write about explicitly political matters here, but when I attempted to reply on LiveJournal, I found that I had run over the limit for comments; so I beg indulgence of you all, and ask those not interested not to click on the link below, and not to bother with the remainder of this post. My reply to S. Dorman: I’m afraid I have to disagree with you about unions being needed again. They were an appropriate form of industrial organization for the industries of a hundred years ago, when most manufacturing labour was semi-skilled and a man could expect to do roughly the same kind of job for his whole working life. There is a reason why unions have nearly disappeared from the private sector in North America, and suffered grave losses in numbers and prestige elsewhere; and it isn’t the wickedness of the triumphant capitalists. It is simply that the average job nowadays doesn’t last long enough to organize. I have had a number of jobs of that kind, and I have seen the pattern firsthand. To begin with, the job involves exploiting some kind of new technology; the people working in the field are self-starters and go-getters, the kind who can adapt to a complex new task without any formal training (no such training having yet been devised), and they tend to command very high wages. When the industry grows a little more, the wages for new workers fall, but so do the requirements: the know-how is established and can be formally taught, which greatly increases the pool of potential applicants. At this stage the occupation might be unionized; but the technology is still new enough that the employers could do without it, and would do without it if the demands of unionized labour suddenly made it much more expensive to use. As the industry matures, there comes a time when the employers cannot do without the technology or the workers who know how to use it; at this point, a union could get some traction and seek to inflate wages above the market level. In former times, an industry could remain in this stage for many decades. I have worked at jobs where it lasted as little as two or three years; and nobody will bother to organize a union for a job that will only last for two or three years. After that, the job begins to be superseded by newer technology; that means new jobs, demanding different skills, and done largely by different workers. At this point, unionization in the older field would only kill off jobs by encouraging employers to dump the old technology sooner. I have worked as a seismic data analyst, a job that only began to exist in the 1960s (when mainframe computer power was first applied to geophysical data) and disappeared entirely in the 1990s (when desktop computers became so powerful that geologists could do all the work themselves). For a time I worked as sysop of a multi-line dialup chat BBS, a job that was a radical novelty in 1990 and didn’t exist anymore (because of cheap commercial Internet access) a decade later. I have had several other jobs that did not exist a few years before I took them, and no longer exist today. It would have been a futile task to try to unionize any of these mayfly occupations. Much as I agree that employers often exploit their workers, and sometimes shamelessly, I have to say that the union, in most cases, is a solution whose time has passed. It is simply not a structure that can adapt to rapid change, either technological or economic. If an individual worker wants redress for a grievance, he will much more easily find it by changing jobs than by waiting for a bureaucratic union to force change upon bureaucratic management. The only private-sector unions that are really thriving in North America at the moment are in the construction trades and the film industry; this makes sense, for those are long-lasting, relatively stable trades in which most work is done on short-term projects, and the union serves a purpose by setting the ground rules for employment, as well as taking care of pensions and benefits for what would otherwise be un-pensioned and uninsured temp workers. Apart from that, unions are mostly persisting in the public sector, where the employers are under no necessity to turn a profit, and the unions can contribute heavily to the campaign funds of the politicians who hire them — something that would be attacked as influence-peddling if anybody else did it, and outlawed as conflict of interest if it happened in private industry. Meanwhile, I should say that when people are working, they don’t work towards Utopia, but towards economic security for themselves and opportunity for their children — and these two goals tend to conflict, for the younger generation’s opportunities frequently arise from the same technological change that makes the older generation’s jobs obsolete. You can’t cater to both in the same Utopia; and nearly every Utopian will instinctively prefer the first goal to the second. For all Utopians as such are potential reactionaries. They only want to put society into what they conceive of as the perfect state, and then keep it there. Further change is not sought, not desired — actively opposed — and the desire for it is anathema. They cannot bear to be reminded of the truth that Zamyatin expressed with arithmetic simplicity in We:it feels ungrateful of me not to mention...for many the misery--gone! but it's back now. so unions?--flawed but needed again. there is no utopia, but people tend to work toward it personally, for familial reasons--when they are working.
‘Do you realise that what you are suggesting is revolution?’ ‘Of course, it’s revolution. Why not?’ ‘Because there can’t be a revolution. Our revolution was the last and there can never be another. Everybody knows that.’ ‘My dear, you’re a mathematician: tell me, which is the last number?’ ‘But that’s absurd. Numbers are infinite. There can’t be a last one.’ ‘Then why do you talk about the last revolution?’That passage cost Zamyatin his career, for Joseph Stalin was the very model of a Utopian Socialist, and in Stalin’s Russia, it was a capital crime to imply that Lenin’s revolution was not the last. It remained a crime until 1991, when the next revolution duly occurred. Unions were revolutionary at one time; but they were not the last revolution. They are no better suited to present-day conditions than the mediaeval guild system was suited to the conditions of the Industrial Revolution. We may need to find institutions of our own that will do some of the good work that unions used to do, but we shall have to devise them for ourselves. The new wine won’t go into the old wineskin — a figure of speech I recall from somewhere.
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine.And now the sermon. This is from ‘docargent’, a commenter on Sarah A. Hoyt’s blog. I offer it with the caveat that the teacher cited cannot be reached to confirm the story:
I worked as support staff in a middle school once and, having been left almost innumerate due to the New Math, asked a teacher nearing retirement if anything done since the New Math had worked as well as the methods used before it. When she said no, I asked why public schools never went back to the pre- New Math method. “There’s no money in it,” she said. According to her, school districts receive federal grants to use new and experimental teaching plans. If these fail, and they usually do, no effort is made to correct the damage done to the education of the students used as guinea pigs; they’ll have to pick the subject up themselves later on. The school districts need the grants to pay for various unfunded mandates. I thought this over and asked her if this meant that if an experimental teaching method did actually work, the district would still abandon it in a few years for something totally untried in order to get a new grant. “Yes,” she said.
The man of system . . . seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board; he does not consider that the pieces put upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.
—Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments