A Serf’s Discourse on Human Nature.


Remember that scene in Hitchcock’s film The Birds where a hysterical woman accosts the stranger in the group with the accusing words , “Who are you – What are you?” and all eyes in the service station cafe focus suspiciously on the stranger, Tiki Hendrickson. Well turns out she’s not some mysterious bringer of disaster to quiet little Bodega Bay. What we see is scapegoating in action, a group of insiders blaming an outsider for some perceived disaster being inflicted on the group.

There’s an anthropologist cum philosopher called Rene Girard who perceived scapegoating as integral to human culture, even as the basis of human societies. He makes a large claim.

J’accuse…or someone does.

Girard says we learn by imitating others, imitation eventually erases the differences among human beings, and as we become similar to each other we begin to desire the same things, a process he calls Mimesis, which leads to rivalries and a Hobbesian war of all against all. These mimetic rivalries soon threaten the very existence of communities. What to do? Girard says this is where the scapegoat comes in. Peace comes at the price of an identified victim viewed by the community as the actual cause of the turmoil, someone or group to be punished, expelled or even killed by the community. Once this retributive violence occurs, peace is restored, – at least for now. In past times this scapegoat could take the magical form of a god, a demon or a witch, the essential thing was that the community itself was not to blame, the victim and the process was turned into myth and ritual celebrating a peaceful outcome.

While Girard’s large claim cannot be validated or even falsified, pre-history evidence being light on the ground, we do know that humans imitate each other, cultural habits, fashions in dress, crazes like the Tulip Mania are features of everyday life. We also know that humans are prone to scapegoat others, particularly those perceived as not of the group, violent instances, the witch trials and punishments of Medieval and 17th and 18th century Europe, the pogroms against Jews in Germany in World War 11.

Attacking others, especially those not of the group, that’s not especially a human trait though. Take some animal groups, apes, lion prides, territorial birds, observe how one group attack outsiders that venture into their territory! Until recently life on the edge was the way of life for most people also, a shortage of resources characterizing much of human history, a struggle at the water hole or some land resource in short supply -it’s the story of human as well as animal existence.

So what else does Girard’s theory tell us about human behaviour? Well, it tells us we’re theorists, it’s yet another example of our human disposition to theorize about our natural world and living inhabitants of that world, including us and the societies we have constructed. Uniquely human is the development of spoken and written language beyond emotive expression and signal, descriptive and critical language based on grammar and logic (and evidence); pity we don’t always adhere to logic and evidence when we argue our case.

That old chestnut, nature versus nurture.

Here’s the standard model theory, very much nurture not nature, Skinner’s behaviourist theory first propounded by John Locke and then by David Hume. It is the belief that we learn by habit, the child is the passive recipient of his or her culture, cultural transmission taking place through learning a well understood unitary process that makes the child like the adult of its culture. It’s a theory that implies that we’re open to perfectibility – Utopianists with creative urges like it, gurus who wish to control others also like it, more of that later.

The standard model has been under attack since the 1960’s beginning with the marine biologist George Williams and geneticist William Hamilton. Their revolution is best known by Richard Dawkin’s book ‘The Selfish Gene,’ at its core is the recognition that individuals do not act consistently to benefit family or a group or even themselves, Individuals are driven by their genes because they are all descended from others who did the same, Dawkins says we are survival machines programmed to preserve our selfish molecules known as genes. Dawkins says it is not the individual who survives at the level of evolution but the gene. What he named the ‘selfish’ gene could also be called the ‘immortal ‘gene. Recent research has not undermined his theory.

A past student of Richard Dawkins. the evolutionary biologist Matt Ridley expands on the gene theory. Selfish as we are, he asks, why, then, are people such eager co-operators? In his book ‘ The Origins of Virtue ‘, instead of focusing on diversity in human cultures as the behaviourists do, Matt Ridley studies where our cultures share a practice or engage in universal behaviour, behaviour not shared by other animal species.

Ridley identifies networks of trade and commerce as common practice in all human societies, even in existing hunter gatherer groups such as the Yir Yoront aboriginal tribe on the York Peninsular in Australia. The Yir Yoront used polished stone axes with wooden handles that were highly valued and in constant use. The stone axes were made by a tribe that lived some 400 miles away at the site of stone quarries that supplied stone for the axes. In exchange the Yir Yoront traded barbed sting-ray spears that were made by their tribe. The two tribes conducted this trade by a system of arbitrage involving other tribes whose territories lay in between the two producer’s territories. The Yir Yoront could buy one stone axe from a near neighbour for a dozen spears. As the spears worked their way further south their value rose relative to that of stone axes. In this trade the producers benefited and so did those middlemen in between.

This exchange illustrates two things, says Ridley. Trade illustrates the division of labour as a human activity, (though some social animals have some division of labour within a group they don’t have it inter group,) and it demonstrates that trade is not just a modern phenomenon but was part of hunter gatherer life. Ridley also describes how the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, studying the belligerent Yanomamo tribe in Venezuela, observed that they appear to deliberately manufacture products that were provided for allies in order to strengthen alliances via feasting ceremonies, cementing bonds that could be valuable in times of war.

The blank slate and other theories of human nature…

Neuroscientist Steven Pinker adds to the discussion of human nature in his essay ‘The Blank Slate,’ in which he gives a comprehensive view of various theories of human nature that have had currency in Western societies, including the theory of his title. The first theory he refers to is the Judeo-Christian theory of human nature, much of which we allocate to psychology and biology today- positing that the human mind has a capacity for love, for a sense of morality and a capacity for choice or free will; and grounded in the biblical story of Adam and Eve, also has a tendency towards sin. Today no scientifically aware individual can accept a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and tends to look elsewhere for a theory of human nature though it may include components of the Judeo-Christian theory.

Steven Pinker identifies three popular theories that took its place or added to it at various times. The first of these, by Frenchman Rene Descartes in the 17th century, began with his sceptical search for intellectual firm ground, “I think therefore I am.” He concluded his thought process with the view that the human mind was quite separate and distinct from the human body. Descartes’ theory has enjoyed great appeal with many individuals as re-enforcing the Judeo-Christian belief in the possibility of existence of a human soul separate from and surviving the death of the body. It was ridiculed in the 20th century as ‘the doctrine of the ghost in the machine,’ by the English philosopher Gilbert Ryle.

Another theory that has survived despite anthropological findings that show otherwise is the doctrine of The Noble Savage, most commonly associated with the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who wrote: ‘So many authors have hastily concluded that man is naturally cruel and requires a regular system of police to be reclaimed, whereas nothing can be more gentle than him in his primitive state…’ By other authors Rousseau was referring particularly to Thomas Hobbes saying life without rule of law was nasty, brutish and short. Unfortunately close encounters with other tribal societies, for example in the South Pacific, by naturalists and anthropologists have indicated that Rousseau’s theory was more romantic than actual. And when it comes to rule of law, history has shown the need for checks and balances to prevent governing individuals and group from ravaging their flocks. The American founding fathers understood this with their efforts to establish such checks and balances in the American Constitution.

The third theory was John Locke’s doctrine of the mind as being like white paper, ‘void of ideas which are acquired later from experience.’ which was shared by the philosopher David Hume who in his ‘Treatize on Human Nature,’ written in the 1730’s famously ascribed our attempts at identifying causes to events as no more than blind habit. This is the Blank Slate Theory which continued to be influential through the 20th century, explaining all human behaviour by simple mechanisms of association and conditioning.

From his work as a cognitive scientist, Pinker agrees with Ridley that a bed rock of universal predispositions, ways of thinking and feeling, identified in ethnography studies, have to be in place in order that things get done. They include the basic concepts of an enduring object and lawful causation, which can be seen even in young infants, a number sense that enables us to grasp quantity of number, spatial recognitions that allow us to negotiate the world, facial recognitions and a theory of mind with which we seek to understand the behaviour of other people. And of course, there’s our language instinct that enables us to communicate our thoughts and feelings to others through words and sentences.

Pinker says that neuroscience has also challenged the blank slate by showing ‘that there’s a complex genetic patterning to the brain, an example being the wiring diagram of the primate visual system comprising some fifty distinct areas connected in precise ways’. Neuroscience studies also identify common patterns in the brains of fraternal and especially identical twins. There are those studies of identical twins separated at birth, sometimes even by nation, who meeting as adults, show idiosyncratic resemblances in behaviour, too many to be accidental.

Pinker also argues that in keeping with Darwinian evolution, evolutionary psychology has also challenged the blank slate in another way by showing that many human drives that don’t maximize our welfare, such as our human thirst for revenge, all those vendettas and wars, can be interpreted as adaptations to survival in our ancestral environment where a reputation for toughness was an advantage in a world where you couldn’t dial up emergency for assistance.

It’s hard to be objective when we think about the human brain. We like to think we have rationality and morality and free will. Proponents of the blank slate think that biologists’ genetic claims are a threat to these things. Pinker gives four reasons why behaviourists are emotionally committed to the blank slate doctrine. They consider that it supports the view that we are all equal and it supports the view that we are perfectible. It also dispels their fear of determinism and fear of nihilism.

Relating to the fear of inequality, Pinker says it’s a non sequitur argument. ‘It confuses the value of fairness with the claim of sameness. When the Declaration of Independence stated: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,’ it surely did not mean ‘We hold these truths as self evident that all men are clones.’ Rather a commitment to political equality means two things. First it rests on a theory of human nature, ‘says Pinker, ‘in particular, universal human interests, as when the Declaration continues by saying that ‘people are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ It’s also a commitment to prohibit public discrimination against individuals based on the average of certain groups they belong to, such as race, ethnicity, or sex. ‘

There’s a downside in believing the blank slate, says Pinker, in that you view talented and successful people as invariably recipients of ill-gotten gains such as the Jews in Europe or the Chinese in Indonesia. This can lead to persecutions or expulsions and sometimes to genocide. The second fear Pinker identifies, the fear of imperfectability, well there’s a dash to an old dream. If ignoble traits are innate, what can anyone do? All is not lost, argues Pinker, the human mind is a complex system of many parts, some of which can and do counteract other impulses. The executive system of the frontal lobes of our brains can apply knowledge about consequences and moral values to inhibit behaviour. (Matt Ridley has argued how all societies are critical of selfish behaviour.)

Then there are our cognitive faculties that allow us to learn lessons from history. And here again there’s a downside to this desire to mould human nature. It’s a temptation to social engineering. Some autocrats of the 20th century, like Chairman Mao, believed in the blank slate.

All is not jest blind fate.

Next Pinker explores our fear of determinism. He doesn’t say much on free will but does observe that parts of the brain can anticipate the consequences of behaviour and inhibit it accordingly. I expand on this with some observations on determinism and rationality by others here in a previous issue.

Pinker’s final defence is directed against the behaviourist fear of nihilism, and the fear that biology strips life of learning and purpose. Pinker wisely reminds us that meaning in life does not require that the products of evolution, namely ourselves, must be selfish, or immoral or be without purpose, even if in some metaphorical sense our genes are selfish and evolution amoral and without a purpose other than passing on genes. We can adopt our own purposes. The realisation that life is short can act as an impetus to extend a gesture of affection to a loved one, to bury the hatchet in some pointless dispute, to vow to use your time productively instead of squandering it.’ The gene theory does not preclude human choice.

I’ll add to that our by noting how our species have evolved to be creative in so many ways…. building bridges, roads and aquaducts, making breakthroughs in science that have saved lives, and via spoken and written language that we ourselves created, have produced great literature. Our species have also composed inspiring music – orchestral symphonies and concertos, along with simple folk songs, and devised the musical instruments to play them. We’re not all bad!

What about rationality?

Philosopher David Hume, that most rational of men, said that our thinking based on accumulated perceptions is merely blind habit, that although we have experienced all those instances that the sun has risen doesn’t logically allow us to say that it must rise tomorrow. This is like the turkey experiencing the farmer’s kindness right up to Thanksgiving Day when the turkey experiences otherwise.

Professor of Science, Karl Popper, in a series of essays and lectures published as ‘Öbjective Knowledge. An Evolutionary Approach.’ claims that while Hume’s argument concerning habit is logically valid, it is based on an incorrect theory of human thinking, the theory that we are inductive learners. This theory of inductive learning is what he calls ‘the bucket theory’, whereas Popper argues that we are not passive receivers of experience but active learners in what he calls ‘the searchlight theory ‘ of learning, learning by way of trial and error observations.

‘We have perceptions,’ says Popper, ‘but we make observations,’ which is a different kind of process. An observation always presupposes the existence of some system of expectation, it is always preceded by a particular interest, a question or a problem. Popper says that a disposition to act must proceed every perception. As Frederic Neitzche observed, ‘No such thing as the innocent eye.’

And quoting Karl Popper again: ‘At every instant of our pre-scientific or scientific development we are living in the centre of ‘a horizon of expectations,’ whether subconscious or conscious, or perhaps even explicitly stated in some language. Animals or babies have also their various horizons of expectations though no doubt on a lower level of consciousness than, say, a scientist, whose horizon of expectations consist to a considerable extent of linguistically formulated theories or hypotheses.’ (P345.)

When a baby puts an object from the floor in its mouth, it is testing a hypotheses, ”Is this part of my food environment?’ just as when a scientist poses a specific question of nature and follows it up with more careful observations. Richard Feynman’s “First you guess, then you test.’

The various horizons of expectation differ among animals and among individual humans, whether at subconscious or conscious levels. An example, is when we encounter an unexpected step in our path. It is the unexpectedness of the step which makes us conscious of the fact that we expected to encounter an even path. Such disappointments force us to correct our system of expectations.

In all cases, Popper argues, the horizon of expectations plays the part of a frame of reference conferring meaning or significance on our experiences our actions and observations. The observations we make have a peculiar function within this frame. If they clash with our expectations, they may, under certain circumstances, destroy the frame itself and force us to rebuild a whole horizon of expectation. Today’s science, for example is built upon yesterday’s science which may be subject to falsification.

Thinking fast and slo-o-w.

Antonio Damasio in ‘Descartes Error’ replaces the frame of reference with emotional engagement as a dynamic for action, though I think these are connected. Damasio argues, in his case study of broken brains, that emotions are a mental device for gaining commitment. This study includes studying the brain cast and history of Phineas Gage, a famous 19th century case of a survivor of a mining explosion in which a steel pole pierced Phineas Gage’s frontal cortex. Afterwards he remained completely rational but was unable to make choices between the array of possibilities that presented even in simple decisions. Other cases that Damasio worked with, patients who had injuries in the same brain area, presented the same behaviour and declared that they had lost the ability to feel emotion. His patients became so cold blooded about rationally weighing up all the facts before them that they couldn’t make up their minds, no particular course of action appealed to them. ‘Reduction in emotion may constitute an equally important source of irrational behaviour’, speculates Damasio.

Thinking fast and slow… Not enough careful deliberation, argues Daniel Kahneman in his book about human cognitive illusions, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow.’ Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist who turned psychology into a quantitative investigation, A large part of his book is made up of studies indicating the various illusions which supposedly rational people demonstrate when confronted with choices under controlled conditions.

Kahneman argues the existence in our brains of two independent systems for organizing knowledge, one he labels System One, a fight or flight survival mechanism which probably evolved with our mammalian ancestors. Our System Two is the slow process of forming judgements based on conscious thinking that checks the actions of System One and allows us to correct our mistakes. Human art and science have been created by System Two.

Says Kahneman, bottom line, we’re machines for jumping to conclusions, prone to associative bias. For System One, the measure of success is coherence of a story, it’s consistency that matters most, not completeness of evidence… ‘what you see is all that there is.’ There’s a grab-bag of simple heuristics we adopt to make adequate but often wrong answers to difficult questions like ‘the availability heuristic, what comes readily from memory, first in line. And the bad news is, as Kahneman first discovered, working with Israeli Defence Forces in the 1950’s, that your System Two thinkers are also prone to similar thinking errors and heuristics, more apologist than critical of the emotions of System One.

I don’t see this contradicting Damasio, but what about Popper’s theory of trial and error rationality?

Well, thinking is hard work and time consuming so when you don’t consider that your decision is too fraught you are prone to not check your guess too stringently, it seems, confirmation bias rules. If you have a strong cultural or political frame, then you don’t want to challenge it too much, your expectations have to be truly shaken by some test observation to be critically roused, – but it happens and you may have to rebuild your whole framework of expectations. There are some people, not only Socrates, who are viewed as generally rational and sceptical, and there are some scientists who really do subscribe to the scientific method, particularly if they are curious and really wish to understand the question they ask of nature. Some so called scientists who do science as a high status and well paid enterprise may be more tempted to confirm the research outcome they’re financed to find. But we can be rational as individuals. The TV program Áircrash Investigations shows how people apply trial and error to solve urgent problem situations. The aircraft companies must be seen to solve these crashes, people want to know that the aircraft company is safe or the business loses customers. They can’t fake it. Watch the program and you see how logically and exhaustively the investigators test the possible causes of the crash, aircraft, pilot error, control tower mistakes…

All the way with Edward Bernays…

So further to rationality, back to the gurus I mentioned earlier, those like Dr Edward Bernays who’s aim was to mould human opinion or as he termed it, ‘to engineer consent.’ Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, wrote in his book ‘Propaganda, (1928) ‘ If we understand the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will, without them knowing about it?’ In the techniques he employed in his career in public relations this is what he did, engineer consent.

When he started working for American Tobacco Company, Bernays was given the objective of increasing Lucky Strike sales among women, who for the most part had formerly avoided smoking. The first strategy was to persuade women to smoke cigarettes instead of eating. Bernays began using photographers, artists, newspapers, and magazines to promote the special beauty of thin women. Medical authorities were found to promote the choice of cigarettes over sweets. Home-makers were cautioned that keeping cigarettes on hand was a social necessity. The campaign was a success but a taboo remained on women smoking in public. Tying the smoking campaign to the women’s freedom movement Bernays organized a contingent of attractive women to smoke cigarettes, ‘torches of freedom,’ in the 1928 New York Easter Parade. The carefully scripted event was a publicity success and women across the country were soon smoking as planned.

A chilling program of indoctrination that might sound like passive conditioning, but wait a minute, weren’t those women willing participants in Bernays’ program of indoctrination? They’re responding because glamour and sexual attractiveness is important to them, they’re not just innocent victims – though he did set up a clever plan.

It works like Pavlov conditioning, Pavlov’s dog is not just passively responding to the ringing of the bell that signals food, it’s anticipating food, which is part of its active daily food seeking behaviour. The dog has innate expectations, Popper’s horizon of expectations.

That Unconstrained Vision Thing.

Relating to persuasion, the economist and intellectual historian, Thomas Sowell has formulated his own theory of human nature in Western Society. Sowell has written a book called ‘A Conflict of Visions ‘ (1987) in which he observes us as belonging to two fundamentally different groups depending on our views of human nature, these two visions Thomas Sowell calls ‘the constrained vision’ and ‘the unconstrained vision.’ Thomas Sowell says these two fundamentally different visions underlie Western Civilization and can be retraced back to Karl Popper’s analysis of Plato and his vision for a Republic in 6th century BC Athens.

The constrained vision is, that while individuals may differ in many ways, human nature is basically fixed and flawed, a problem that has to be considered in the evolution of human institutions and laws, implying prudent trial and error reform rather than grand schemes for social change. Adam Smith was a proponent of this view.

The unconstrained vision sees human nature as perfectible, ‘born free but everywhere in chains,’ as Rousseau stated. If humanity experiences pain and suffering, it is because of a failure of others to be as wise as those who are of the unconstrained vision, present institutions and leaders are the cause of human pain and wrongdoing, whereas the unconstrained can remedy this.

These two visions, sometimes presented as implicit views, sometimes unconscious assumptions, have directed actual and would-be decision makers through out history,
The individual framers of the American Constitution following the constrained vision, proposed checks and balances, separation of powers between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary on grounds that concentration of powers by a single person or small group is a threat to the liberty of others. According to Sowell, the French liberal the Marquise de Condorcet, demonstrating the unconstrained vision, supporter of the French Revolution, after being arrested by Robespierre, was still puzzling why the American makers of their Constitution needed such checks and balances.

In a contemporary situation these conflicts of vision are still strong as in the McCain /Obama battle for the US Presidency and attitudes to law. McCain shared the opinion of Oliver Wendell Holmes no one has the sheer intellectual power to decide to figure it all out in advance, that the judiciary role be limited to making judgments according to the laws, not making laws according to their own opinion, which is not law but an arbitrary act. Obama said with regard to selecting judges, not that they would make decisions according to laws that are the result of peoples’ experience over time but rather, ‘If a woman is out trying to support her family and is being treated unfairly, then the Court has to stand up if nobody else will, and that’s the kind of judge I want.’
Sounds brave but as Sowell says, that is no law at all, it overturns the rule of law with one man’s arbitrary decision.

Thomas Sowell also observes that the constrained and unconstrained visions have different ways of looking at war throughout history. One is unsurprised by war, war doesn’t need explaining. This relates also to Geoffrey Blainey’s view in his book ‘The Causes of War.’ In most countries there were just as many or more periods of war in each century as of peace, so what needs explaining, perhaps, are the causes of peace. Sowell argues that the unconstrained view of war as an event arising from some kind of misunderstanding is unhistorical and somewhat unintellectual. He says that well-meaning intellectuals in the 1930’s responsible for leading public opinion in favour of disarmament while Hitler was building up his military machine, helped bring on WorldWar11. People like them, argues Sowell, predominantly able in their own academic field think it gives them the knowledge to change the world, whereas they haven’t had this experience, they go well beyond their competency trying to create a Utopia. .

And as is clearly apparent with theories of economic development, the constrained vision supports bottom up management, a million people knowing their own interests, whereas the unconstrained visionary supports top-down management and strong central government. You know which one serfs’ support…

Let the bard have the last word.

Just in conclusion, can’t exclude that master of human action, Master Shakespeare himself, creating characters in relation to two literary traditions, the comic vision and the tragic vision. Essentially the characters in Shakespeare’s drama are exceptionally active. In the comedy ‘As You Like It,’ we see the wise and witty Rosalind donning male attire to take a role in her survival in the Arden Forest and later using her disguised role to school the romantic Orlando for adult life and marriage, she’s taking intelligent steps for her own and his future. All’s Well That Ends Well.

In his four great tragedies, ‘Hamlet,’ ‘King Lear,’ ‘Macbeth,’ ‘Othello’ we see the four tragic heroes bringing on their own disasters because of some tragic flaw in their characters that proves fateful in a particular situation.

There’s Othello, his character disintegrating from jealousy, his problem, we discover that his initial image is based on false confidence, beneath the surface, there are deep uncertainties of which he was unaware. Come along a nihilist motivated by malice, like Iago ,and Othello is easily persuaded that his wife is unfaithful to him. Then there’s Lear, all passionate intensity and unrealistic expectations that his daughters will respond in kind, and his opposite, the coldly intelligent and villainous Edmund, whom we witness reflecting on his own character in a way we’ve scarcely seen in literature before Shakespeare but which is now something we take for granted in the modern novel… and in ourselves.

In the play, Macbeth, in Act 5 Scene 3, we hear Macbeth thinking aloud. Initially he made a mistake when he thought he was too extraordinary to be confined by other men’s morality, too late he finds out he was wrong:

‘I have lived long enough. My way of life
Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf,
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
Í must not look to have;’

For the introspective Hamlet, who like Phineus Gage, is unable to compel himself to meaningful action, Shakespeare developed the dramatic device of the soliloquy to allow his brilliant character to reflect aloud on stage and be overheard by his audience.

So in conclusion, while no one has likely come across characters in real life as charismatic and powerful as Shakespeare’s tragic figures, we recognise in them, representatives of actual human traits and behaviours, the hubris, the human tendency to exploit our positions of power to control others and the ability to fool oneself- until nature ‘s reality intervenes, our innate ability to make heaven and hell on earth. Shakespeare creatively portrayed this complexity in language that, if equalled by some, has never been surpassed. As the literary critic, Harold Bloom says of Shakespeare, he was your master of cognitive acuity and its representation in the Arts. The Arts, something unique to human originality.


Those Cheshire Sunspots,

they come and go, come and go …



There’s a technical report by Professor Emeritus and Civil Engineer, W.J.R. Alexander on drought and flood periods in South Africa, “A critical assessment of current climate change science.” that I consider merits serious study. The report is not copyright and may be distributed in full with attribution, as I intend to do here. The report was readily available to me on the internet when I made a hard copy of it for my files, round about 2011, however, since then it is no longer easily available. Professor Alexander has deep experience in his field of study and his findings should not go missing. I’m resurrecting the full copy for you so that it won’t be lost like the manuscripts of the Alexandria Library, destroyed almost two thousand years ago. At heart I am a librarian.


Professor Alexander had a long career in water resource development and flood studies in South Africa, beginning with a B.SC degree in what was then called the Department of Irrigation, later the Department of Water Affairs. He spent the next twenty years in the field, building dams, canals and pipelines and tunnels, including the 82 km long Orange -Fish Tunnel, which was the longest tunnel in the world. In 1970 he became Chief of the Division of Hydrology, collecting and publishing the hydrological data necessary for water resource development and management in a water -scarce country. He was also responsible for design of structures exposed to flood damage so a major challenge was the search for multi-year river flow prediction capabilities. He cites among his qualifications, Professor Emeritus, Department of Civil and Biosystems Engineering, University of Pretoria, Honorary Fellow, South African Institution of Civil Engineering and Member of the United Nations Scientific and Technical Committee on Natural Disasters.

There’s a long history of describing disaster…

Behold, there came seven years of great plenty throughout the land of Egypt – and there shall arise after them seven years of famine. Genesis 41, 29-30.

Professor Alexander quotes this biblical prophecy in a sort of preface to his Report to illustrate the problem of periodic changes in river flow, not only in Egypt, which had the first water level gauging structure built on Rodda island in 641 A.D. to measure river flow on the River Nile, but for South Africa in modern times, where measuring drought and river flooding water levels are a concern in the construction of stable storage to conserve water on the subcontinent.

In the Report’s introduction, Professor Alexander states that his conclusions are ‘solidly based on observation theory applied to a wealth of climate related data using methods that are daily in use by civil engineers and in the applied sciences.’ ( Report, 2006.W.J.R Alexander, p5.) He later contrasts his methodology with the theoretical study of complex atmospheric and oceanic processes by climate scientists, which he says ‘are little more than untested hypotheses in the absence of statistically verifiable confirmation.’ (2006 p8.) Every storage dam on a river is based on an analysis of recorded data. ‘Process theory,’ says Alexander on page 17 of his Report, ‘ which is the study of the processes that produce the rainfall and therefore the river flow, ‘does not feature in the design of these structures anywhere in the world, from the ancient civilisations through to the present day.- In contrast climatology is a young science, and is based on abstract process theory supported by limited measurements.’

In the beginning of Alexander’s Report of 2006 he cites three men who commented on the anomaly existing in South African, and other river data, the famous astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer and civil engineers, R.E. Hutchins and H.E Hurst. Their views give historical perspective to the study. Re Norman Lockyer:

‘At the beginning of the century, the famous astronomer, Sir Norman Lockyer wrote that one of the foremost achievements of the new century would be to forecast well in advance the incidence of famine in India or drought in Australia by means of analysis of sunspot spectra.’ (From the report of the Commission of Enquiry into Water Matters, 1970.) (In Alex Intro to 2006.)

R.E Hutchins was one of a generation of scientists and civil engineers who served in the British Colonial Office in India and then migrated to South Africa. He was stationed in Mysore, when 1.5 million people starved to death in a severe drought He came to South Africa in 1883 to continue research he had begun in India investigating predictable linkages between droughts and sunspot numbers. He studied documents and had discussions with others who had observed that droughts were often broken at eleven-year intervals by floods that occurred in 1822, 1841, 1863, 1874 and 1885 coincident with sunspot maxima In his book, ‘Cycles of drought and good seasons in South Africa,’ he wrote:

‘Many sunspots: good rain and cheap grain,. Few sunspots: bad rains and dear grain.

What that correspondence is can be seen at a glance by inspecting the sunspot curve and the rainfall curve [in the diagram] The yellow curve rising steeply to a maximum and then falling away gradually to a minimum is the sunspot curve – a curve which ought to be graven on the mind of every man and woman in South Africa.’ (In Alex.2006, p9)

In 1950 the civil engineer H.E. Hurst analysed 1080 years of data from the Rodda Nilometer in Egypt recorded during the era 641 to 1946, which he intended using to determine the required storage capacity of the proposed new Aswan High Dam. He found an unexplained anomaly from wet to dry cycles in the records then analysed other long geophysical records such as sediment deposits, temperature, rainfall and sunspots/price of wheat data in which he found the same anomaly concerning periods of high values data and periods of low values data that do not vary randomly. This anomaly became known as the Hurst phenomenon, or Hurst’s Ghost.

‘It is now obvious,’ says Alexander, ‘that the anomalies observed by Hutchins in the 1880’s and Hurst 70 years later are directly related to climate perturbations. If these are regular occurrences, they should be predictable .’ (Alex. P9.)

In the 1970’s, hydrologists in the South African Department of Water Affairs encountered the problem observed by Hurst in Egypt, there were many periods where restrictions had to be imposed on the water supply of the Vaal and other South African rivers. A team of hydrologists led by Alexander was gathered to examine prior assumptions relating to river flow. Graphical analysis, beginning with the 1913 cycle showed there was a clear 20 year (later 21 year) periodicity in the data and that this was the cause of the difficulty with studying the data as a series of roughly 10 year sunspot cycles. Alternating cycles are identified by assigned negative values in Alexander’s research which showed the sunspot numbers per cycle as +442, -410, +605, -757, +950, -705, +829 and –785.

Alexander observed that: ‘The average numbers of sunspots in the alternate cycles that make up the double cycles were +706 and –664, demonstrating a meaningful difference in sunspot activity in the alternating cycles. As will be seen, the alternating sunspot cycles have appreciably different effects on the hydro-meteorological processes. It will later be demonstrated that it is not the annual sunspot densities that are important in identifying the relationship, but the rate of change in the densities. This is not apparent in the conventional graphs of the sunspot cycles where all numbers have positive values.’ (A. p19)

Alexander found: ‘The graphs showed that there was a clear pattern in the accumulated departures from the record mean values and these were approximately synchronous with sunspot activity. These were quite different from random deviations.’ (Ibid p16.) The findings were published in South Africa in 1978 ‘Long range prediction of river flow – a preliminary assessment.’

Alexander’s research continued and published in the South African Journal of Science, 1995, in which he detailed his analytical methods and said: ‘The acid test that will demonstrate whether or not the 20 year periodicity continues is at hand. If the drought is broken by widespread rainfall during the next two years it will surely be conclusive.’ (P16) Four months after publication, severe floods occurred in South Africa.

Alexander says that he was also the first to report a sustained increase in the rainfall of South Africa based on his studies.


All of Alexanders study is based on a wealth of official date, ( apart from the Southern Oscillation index and Zambesi River Flow Data.) this includes hydrological data from The South African Weather Service and Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and the World Data Centre for the Sunspot Index, beginning with the sunspot minimum that began in June, 1913 and ending with the sunspot minimum of March, 1996.

The methodology emphasised arithmetical and graphical interpretations rather than mathematical interpretations. The reasons, Professor Alexander claimed, were to avoid harmonic and spectral analysis which could introduce oscillatory behaviour that is not present in the data and also suppress the important, sudden changes that are present in hydro-meteorological time series.

What Professor Alexander found through his data investigation was # a strong positive correlation between sunspot incidence and river flow which are not random events. # He identified the presence of a twenty year periodicity in the hydro-meteorological data composed of two ten- year cycles, the first stronger than the second, and# a biblical ‘Joseph Effect’ in the data of approximately seven years dry followed by seven years wet periodicity.

The following are figures and tables Professor Alexander presents in his Report and his own words describing and analysing these graphics I begin with Figure 1 on page 23 of the Report:

From The Report.


Figure 1. Comparisons of the characteristics of annual sunspot numbers with corresponding characteristics of the annual flows in the Vaal River.

Alexander says:
‘A reference datum value of–200 was used in the sunspot data in order to accommodate the negative values. This has no effect on the interpretations. The top panels are the conventional dimensionless histograms, where all values are expressed as multiples of the record mean values. While the cyclicity is apparent in the sunspot panel it is not recognisable in the river flow. The river flow histogram shows the high degree of asymmetry about the mean value with many more values less than the mean value than above it. This is typical of river flow data in dry climates.

The most informative graphical presentations are those in the second panels, which show the accumulated departures from the record mean values. These are obtained by subtracting the mean values (1.0) from each of the values in the histogram. Some of the values will be negative. These are accumulated one at a time and the sum plotted.

An increase in the accumulated departures of the sunspot numbers during the period of record is immediately apparent. The maximum negative departures occurred at the start of the 21-year periods, identified as (A), (C), (E) and (G).

The comparison with that of the flow in the Vaal River is very instructive. The reversals at points (A), (C), (E) and (G) are virtually identical with the corresponding reversals in the sunspot data. They occurred during the hydrological years beginning October 1933, 1954, 1974, and 1995. The rising limbs A-B, C-D and E-F are sequences of years where the inflows were greater than the mean value. The falling limbs B-C, D-E, and F-G are sequences where the inflows were less than the mean value.

Notice also the absence of 11-year periodicity in the correlogram of the Vaal River. It is no wonder that climate change scientists have been unable to detect synchronous relationships with the 11-year sunspot cycle. It does not exist! This is because the properties of the alternating solar cycles are fundamentally different to the extent that the climatic responses are also very different.’


‘There are several interesting features in this table. There is an almost three-fold, sudden increase in the annual flows in the Vaal River from the three previous years to the three subsequent years. This is directly associated with [an almost] six-fold increase in sunspot numbers. The second important point is the consistency in the range of sunspot numbers before and after the reversal. The totals for the three prior years varied between 25 and 60, and the totals of the three immediately subsequent years varied between 250 and 400. It is very clear that these are systematic changes associated with the sunspot minima, and are not random events.

This relationship exists despite the long and complex energy path starting at the Sun and ending in the river flow that enters Vaal Dam. The only residual energy is the potential energy, which is a function of the elevation of the water mass above sea-level. This residual energy has its origin in solar activity; followed by the arrival on the Earth’s atmosphere, continents and oceans; followed by the poleward movement of the energy through complex atmospheric and oceanic processes; followed by the systems that produce the rainfall; and finally by the complex rainfall-runoff processes. The survival of the periodic signals on its own demonstrates a strong and unequivocal relationship between variation in solar activity and the corresponding variation in climatic responses.’

Table 6 is a combination of the independent observations by Tyson (1987) and Bredenkamp (2000) each relating to different climatic processes and different analytical methodologies, and a comparison with sunspot cycles. The first and most important observation is the presence of alternating sequences of wet and dry years, and the corresponding alternating sequences of sunspot cycles. While the comparative years are not precise, there can be no doubt at all that a meaningful relationship exists with sunspot cyclicity.’ (Alexander P27.)


(Tyson  P.D.  Climate change an variability in Sth Africa Oxford Uni Press 1987.)

(Bredenkamp D.B.Groundwater monitoring. Water Research Commission Report  No. 838/1/0.)

Compare the length of the sequences of wet and dry years with the biblical seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. The ancient Egyptians were well aware of these alternating sequences in the annual flows of the life-giving Nile River.’ (Alexander. p28.)

To read Part 1 of Alexander’s Report, ‘ The Scientific Basis,’ in its entirety or the rest of the Report, the link is here…………….A critical assessment of current climate change science – W.J.R. Alexander. Part 2 of the Report, entitled ‘The Natural Environment,’ centres on Alexander’s findings that increase in global temperatures has increased rainfall and that climate science papers based on climate models have failed to take this fact into account. Alexander makes the argument on page 34 of his Report that his rainfall data shows that there has been a sustained increase in the mean annual rainfall over South Africa from 497mm to 543 mm during the 78 year period of continuous district rainfall records which agrees with the IPCC figure of a world-wide increase of between 0.5 and 1% per decade during the 20th century.

Over the whole of South Africa this rainfall consists of high and low rainfall events but Alexander argues that it is the high rainfall events that are most significant, saturating the soils that sustain natural vegetation and agricultural crops. Claims that seasonal and daily properties of rainfall may have been adversely affected by climate change, despite the general increase in rainfall, are illogical. Elementary physics require that an increase in global temperature must result in an increase in evaporation from oceans, lakes, rivers and dams and from damp soil . It is equally obvious, Alexander argues that excess moisture must return to earth in the form of increased rainfall . Papers based on modelling warning of threats to biomes and potential desertification with habitat and species destruction have ignored the data.

Here’s a quote from the Part 2 of the Report:

‘In southern Africa in general, and in South Africa in particular, we have a wealth of routinely observed hydrometeorological data that is collected at a rate of about half a million station-days per year. Many rainfall records exceed 100 years in length. Yet this data is totally ignored by these authors who rely solely on the outputs of global climate models and simplistic rainfall and run-off model assumptions for their analysis. (A p 46.)

This concludes my survey of Professor W.J.R.Alexander’s 2006 Report. Herewith I add the following as a possible mechanism for the sunspot/rainfall correlation that Professor Alexander observed…

Galactic Cosmic Rays a mechanism?

The cosmic ray link between solar activity and the terrestrial climate is that changing solar activity is responsible for a varying solar wind strength. When the sun has more sunspots it has higher magnetic activity. A stronger solar wind will reduce the flux of cosmic ray reaching Earth, since a larger amount of energy is lost as they propagate up the solar wind.

The cosmic rays themselves come from outside the solar system supposedly from exploding stars. Since cosmic rays dominate the tropospheric ionization, an increased solar activity will translate into a reduced ionization, and empirically also to a reduced low altitude cloud cover. Since low altitude clouds have a net cooling effect (their “whiteness” is more important than their “blanket” effect), increased solar activity implies a warmer climate.

As a follow on, I’m posting an extract to a post by astro-physicist Professor Nir Shaviv with links to the research that he and Professor Henrik Svensmark have done on cosmic rays and sunspots as a factor in middle latitudes rainfall process on Earth. In this post he also draws attention to the successful outcomes of Jasper Kirkby’s Cloud Chamber experiment which was so delayed by bureaucracy but which has been successful in what it set out to do. See below.

The Cloud is Clearing.

By Nir Shaviv.

The CLOUD collaboration from CERN finally had their results published in nature, showing that ionization increases the nucleation rate of condensation nuclei. The results are very beautiful and they demonstrate, yet again, how cosmic rays (which govern the amount of atmospheric ionization) can in principle have an affect on climate.

What do I mean? First, it is well known that solar variability has a large effect on climate. In fact, the effect can be quantified and shown to be 6 to 7 times larger than one could naively expect from just changes in the total solar irradiance. This was shown by using the oceans as a huge calorimeter (e.g., as described here). Namely, an amplification must-be-operating.

One mechanism which was suggested, and which now has ample evidence supporting it, is that of solar modulation of the cosmic ray flux, known to govern the amount of atmospheric ionization. This in turn modifies the formation of cloud condensation nuclei, thereby changing the cloud characteristics (e.g., their reflectivity and lifetime). Look here.

So, how do we know that this mechanism is necessarily working? Well, we know that cosmic rays have a climatic effect because of clear correlations between unique cosmic ray flux variations and different climate variability. One nice example (and not because I discovered it 😉 ) is the link between cosmic ray flux variations over geological times scales (caused by spiral arm passages) and the appearance of glaciations (more about it here). We also know empirically that the effect of the cosmic rays is through the tampering in the properties of cloud. This is through the study of Forbush decreases which are several day long decreases in the galactic cosmic ray flux reaching the Earth. Following such events, one clearly sees a change in the aerosol and cloud properties (more here).

So what is new? Well, the new results just published in nature by Kirkby and company are the results of the CLOUD experiment. This experiment mimics the conditions found in the atmosphere (i.e., air, water vapor, and trace gasses, such as sulfuric acid and ammonia). It is a repeat of the Danish SKY experiment carried out by Henrik Svensmark and his colleagues (e.g., read about it here), and it produces the same results—namely, they show that an increase in the rate of atmospheric ionization increases the formation rate of condensation nuclei. The only difference is that the CLOUD experiment, with its considerably higher budget, has a better control on the different setup parameters. Moreover, those parameters can be measured over a wider range. This allows the CLOUD experiment to more vividly see the effect.


A comment in conclusion: Nature is the ultimate reality and nature’s mysteries are many- layered. Humans questioning those mysteries have made discoveries about that reality. investigation, on one level, through our senses, our questions and measuring, like that Rodda Nilometer in Egypt, and at deeper levels, using the same approach with new tools enabling us to ‘see’ further, such as telescopes , microscopes and space probes. To learn what is real and evolving in our world requires open enquiry and not closing down research. Those investigations by Alexander, Svensmark and Shaviv warrant serious consideration in our attempts to discover this reality. Closing down alternative investigation and asserting that only CO2 may be considered as the driving dynamic of our weather is anti-science and not a verified truth.

A coterie of group-think climate scientists peer-promoting each others papers does not further the discovery of nature’s reality. To quote another cat figure from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, ‘The mouse’s tale:

‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ says cunning old Fury.



A Readers’ Guide to Critical Race Theory


Helpful definition : “Critical Race Theory, a guilt strategy for the purpose of dividing communities, ( segregation) and moving resources…”


Yes it’s a policy of new segregation, something abandoned in western democratic cultures in the 1960’s, now being resuscitated under the guise of inclusiveness.

When Martin Luther King declared his dream of the day his children would be judged, not by the colour of their skin, but by their character, which heralded reforms in the United States to uphold it’s constitutional law of freedom and equality before the law for all, * that is now a broken dream with Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory proclaims a racial theory that people must be judged by the colour of their skin, or by their gender category, the kind of categorisation Mao Tse – tung promoted in the 1960’s in his Cultural Revolution, and Hitler carried out in the 1940’s with his racial genocide against Jews and Gypsies.

*X1V Amendment US Constitution. No State shall make or enforce any new law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection before the laws.

The what and whyfor…

Critical Race Theory is fast becoming the new institutional orthodoxy of western societies. We need to know what it is so that we can combat it. It is a race-based, revolutionary program that makes all white people responsible for the ills of the historical past and they are allotted oppressor roles for evermore. People are categorized in roles of oppression and victim-hood and only people of colour, perennially victims, have the right to speak of their experiences or views.

Free speech is limited for white people, especially white males, they are expected to acknowledge that they are complicit in the history of slavery and colonial exploitation and must continuously declare guilt for these past events.

Critical Race Theory began in western universities, but has it’s roots in Marxism. Marxism was a theory of class conflict as we know. During the twentieth century, a number of regimes went down the communist path but each ended badly. Their gulags, show trials and mass food shortages are not forgotten and by the mid 1960’s Marxist intellectuals in the West began to recognise that a workers’ revolution was unlikely to occur in western democracies. For example American peoples embraced ‘the American Dream’, the idea that education and hard work were the means of improving their lot. The radical left had to seek alternative ways to stir up dissent.

Marxists are adept at commandeering causes. Cited in Douglas Murray’s ‘The Madness of Crowds’ is a popular book, ‘Hegemony and Socialist Strategy,’ (2001) written by two post-Marxists, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, who claim that Marxism has been challenged by ‘new kinds of contradictions’ and that the notion of class struggle needs to be set aside to find ‘ a new kind of exploited person.’ Hence commandeering the grievances of the student protests of May, 1968, in France, students against the school system, women against social discrimination, gay people demanding liberation, anti-nuclear and environmental protesters. These protests in May, ’68 presented a new way to articulate Marxism within contemporary society.

Masters of language, Critical Race theorists use euphemisms like ‘diversity and inclusion’ and ‘equity’ to sell their message. ‘Equity’ for instance, sounds like ‘equality’ to the unwary but it has nothing to do with the principle proclaimed in the US Declaration of Independence and codified in the Constitution with the X1V and XV Amendments.

Equity, as defined by Critical Race Theory is little more than reformulated Marxism involving a revolutionary redistribution of wealth in society. Christopher F, Rufo, director of Battlefield, a public policy research Centre, ( See IMPRIMIS blog ) has an article in which he refers to UCLA Law Professor and Critical Race theorist Cheryl Harris proposing suspending private property rights, seizing land and wealth and redistributing them along racial lines. He refers, also, to CRT guru, Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Centre for Antiracist research at Boston University, who has proposed the creation of a federal Department of Antiracism that would be independent of the elected government, with the power to veto or nullify any law at any level of government. This body would also have the authority to curtail the speech of political leaders and others who are deemed insufficiently antiracist. Ibram X. Kendi also states, ‘ In order to be truly antiracist you also have to be anti-capitalist.’ In other words, identity politics is a means to Marxist ends.

Escape from the lab…

Critical Race Theory is a mind virus that has spread widely since its beginnings in western universities. It has permeated the public service bureaucracy, education, journalism and big tech, and is threatening the social cohesion of western society, as it was meant to do.

About the public service, there’s John O’Sullivan, International Editor at Quadrant, (2020/10)’ in an essay, ‘Complexity, Your Modern Scoundrel’s Last Refuge,’ describing behaviour of the public service in Whitehall, with documented examples of civil servants giving unqualified support for BLM, even though the leaders of Black Lives Matter organisation ‘self style as Marxist’, and even though the job of public servants is to implement the policies of their government. ‘They’re not supposed to take controversial stands against the government of the day,’ as O’Sullivan points out.

Journalists and Big Tech companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google are active partisans of Critical Race Theory. Making use of their private actor status, Twitter and Facebook suspended former President of the US, Donald Trump’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, among many others that don’t follow the left wing views of these Companies’ leaders. Google has been shown to manipulate it’s algorithm to have an anti conservative bias. Because of the size of these Tech Companies they are able to act as the city square, stifling discussion of policies that conflict with their own Democrat Party views on racism , or other dogmas. Which they do. Click here to see Glenn Grenwald on censorship of free speech.

What does critical Race Theory look like in schools? Christopher Rufo describes how K-12 values- based education permeates classroom teaching. In Cupertino, California, for instance, an elementary school forced first graders to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities and rank themselves according to their ‘power and privilege’. In Springfield Missouri, a middle school had teachers locate themselves on an oppression matrix based on the idea that white, English-speaking Christian males are members of the oppressor class and must atone for their ‘covert white supremacy.’ Examples abound of these practices involving students and teachers at all levels of education. In New York a parent has removed his daughter from the prestigious girls’ school, Brealey, and written a letter to the other six hundred parents at the school which has got on to the internet. He writes objecting to:

‘the indoctrination at the school of its students, and their parents, to a single mindset, most reminiscent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.’

It is a strong letter. A small sample of its content:

‘I cannot tolerate a school that not only judges my daughter by the color of her skin , but encourages and instructs her to prejudge others by theirs…

I object to the charge of systematic racism in this country. Systematic racism, properly understood, is segregated schools and separate lunch counters. It is the interning of the Japanese and the exterminating of Jews.

I object to mandatory anti-racism training* for parents, especially when presented by the rent-seeking charlatans of Pollyanna.

*Sessions, he says, that are sophomoric and simplistic. Read the rest of the letter here.

Something else to be said further to those objections, Critical Race Theory has another major flaw…

Its Unfalsifiable…

You know the old saying, Damned if you do and damned if you don’t! Well Critical Race Theory works like that. Like Marxism, says John O’Sullivan in his essay cited above, it supposedly rests on self-evident axioms from which all conclusions derive, it’s constructed so that ”’whatever responses a white person might make to a question of an allegedly ‘racist’ episode, the theory shows them to be racist.’ As O’Sullivan says,’ A critical theory that denies the possibility of criticism from outside the theory is as slippery as a greased pig.’

O’Sullivan, in his essay also cites Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay’s book, ‘Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity – And Why This Harms Everybody.’ Pluckrose and Lindsay, both ranging from the left and right of politics, have written what O’Sullivan calls ‘the indispensable guide to ‘woke ideology,’ ‘ establishing that such policies which ostensibly favour the poor and minorities do not do so and may even do the opposite. I can’t vouch for this but I have listened to Helen Pluckrose on Youtube and she is very logical and highly researched.

That such policies as critical Race Theory do harm the poor in black communities is something that academic, Thomas Sowell, argues. Thomas Sowell tells of growing up as an orphaned child in Harlem in the thirties and forties and fully benefiting from the good education he received in the public education system of the time, before it was ‘reformed’ by teachers’ unions that have so dismantled public education today. He has looked at educational results as data, and advocates schools of choice for poor parents, allowing Charter schools to flourish, schools which have got measurably better results than in the public schools but that are opposed by the teachers’ unions in the public schools.

Instead of the new, U.N, narrowed-down curriculum involving a particular dogma, Charter Schools aim for student autonomy as the development goal, developing critical thinking skills and other life competencies. This means a Math/Science based curriculum as well as a broad-based History and Western Canon Literature study that covers many ways life has developed.

In a study of our own Western history, we should acknowledge troublesome past events like war and slavery, but also acknowledge the events of which we can be proud, like abolishing slavery, universal suffrage, and in the 1960s, reform of abuses that had arisen, like segregation in the southern states of America. To state otherwise, to ignore some aspects of the past for some purpose of your own, is to distort the historical record.

The banning of the books.

In public education schools today, tracts and articles on a theme are more in favour than white man literature or female literature that doesn’t suit the narrative. Of course Shakespeare and Cervantes no longer measure up, not even Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, as masterly a denunciation of slavery as you could find… where the acceptance of slavery is so pervasive in a community of otherwise ordinary people, that you hear this from Huckleberry Finn when he is deciding whether to hand over the run away slave, Jim, to the authorities:

It was a close place. I took up… [the letter I had written to Miss Watson] and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself, “Alright then, I’ll go to hell.”- and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they were said. And I let them stay said and never thought no more of about reforming.

The irony it’s burning…

In conclusion.

What’s going on in western civilization strikes at the heart of its culture, a culture in which the individual is of value in his or her own right, and not merely as a member of some group… that is the norm. In western civilization, this means getting on with your neighbours, not kow-towing to them, not brow-beating them, but getting along together, being generous and tolerant of their views though sometimes speaking out about what you think, but being kind to each other.

That’s all, folks.









Once upon a time there were two children, sisters, who caught a childhood disease called The Measles. This was in the days before children were vaccinated against the disease so The Measles was a common childhood occurrence. One of the sisters quickly recovered but the other one did not. She knew that she must be very ill because a bed was made up for her in her parents’ bedroom where for several long weeks she had to rest quietly with the curtains’ drawn…This was because The Measles might have some bad effect on the patient’s eyes, the little girl didn’t know what, as they never told her, but the worst thing for a seven year old child was having to rest quietly, day after day, with nothing TO DO.

To pass the time, the little girl used to stare at her parents’ antique wardrobe which was made of dark walnut wood with patterning that looked like pictures to her. On one wardrobe door she could see the face of a grinning gnome peering over a stable door, and other whorls and loops seemed like trees in a forest, in which half hidden creatures of the forest gazed into the room. Another diversion was when the little girl’s mother read her a fairy tale from one of the books her father bought her after she became ill. The books were Grimm’s and Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales, and she spent a lot of the day thinking about what she’d heard. Sometimes she asked for a repeat- reading of one of her favourite stories.

At last she was well enough to leave the dark room and when she got her strength back, escape into the sunshine and play, but she had acquired a taste for listening to fairy tales, not that there were many fairies in them that she came across, and was soon reading them for herself. You probably guessed that the little girl long ago, who was very ill with The Measles was me. And now I’m going to do this post on Fairy Tales.

The Uses of Enchantment.

There’s a book by Bruno Bettelheim, interned in German concentration Camps in WW2, and recognised as one of the important psychoanalysts of the Twentieth Century, that extols the role of fairy tales in helping the development to maturity of young children. The book, ‘The Uses of Enchantment,’ shows how fairy tales help children cope with their own baffling emotions and their feelings of vulnerability and helplessness in relation to the mysteries of the outside world. Since I largely agree with what Bruno Bettelheim has to say about our childhood struggle to understand ourselves and a world that can seem so bewildering to our young selves, herewith, I will give a brief overview of what he has to say about fairy tales.

Children’s Fairy Tales, they’re old folk lore, how old is uncertain, but characters and setting suggest at least the Middle Ages, passed on usually orally and honed in the telling, the setting often the dark forest, the action involving magic and enchantment. The characters are archetypal, the hero, the hunter, the giant, the witch or wicked stepmother, the wolf or some other beast, often capable of speech.

Fairy Tales carry important messages to the conscious or unconscious mind on whatever level the child is functioning at the time, says Bruno Bettelheim, whether ‘experiencing narcissistic disappointments, oedipal dilemmas, sibling rivalries, becoming able to relinquish childhood dependencies, or gaining a sense of self worth, and a sense of moral obligation…’ ([P7.]

It is characteristic of fairy tales to depict an existential problem briefly and pointedly, a problem that the child is experiencing or is likely to experience. This enables the child to come to grips with the problem in its most essential form, whereas a more complex plot would only confuse the child. All characters are typical rather than unique. The figures in fairy tales are not good and bad at the same time, each character is either good or evil and the child learns morality by identifying with one of the characters, making his or her choice based on which character arouses sympathy and not antipathy. The struggles of the hero in fairy tales imprint morality as the hero makes a positive appeal on the child.

Bruno Bettelheim largely applies his analysis to the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. They’re aptly named, the tales are certainly grim, dealing with the fears of small children concerning the mysterious world, the mastering of their fears and passions, their jealousies and fear of abandonment, their own inadequacies and doubt of being able to cope in that world out there, being central concerns of a child. But what takes place in these stories is a positive outcome. The lone hero figure of the story leaves home, overcomes problem situations, sometimes with the help of other people or animals in the tale, animals, says Bettelheim, often being manifestations of the child’s own most primitive passions and fear of being devoured by them, but in the end he or she gets to live happily ever after, often married to a prince or princess, and there you are, oedipal problems solved!

What is true in the fairy tale can be true in the child’s real life, there’s hope for the future, not the ‘happy ever after’ bit, the child knows that, but the assurance that the child can succeed in life and form satisfying bonds with someone other than one’s own family. There’s always a happy ending to a Grimm’s Fairy Tale.

Much of children’s reading, says Bruno Bettelheim, fails to deliver the message. The primer books from which the child is taught to read in school are designed to teach the necessary skills, irrespective of meaning. Your didactic cautionary tales usually end badly, you get what’s coming to you. ‘The overwhelming bulk of the rest of so -called ‘children’s literature’ attempts to entertain or inform, or both. But most of these books are so shallow that little of significance can be gained by them.’ [p.4]

What is significant, however, Bettelheim argues, is that a struggle against difficulties in life is unavoidable and is an intrinsic part of human nature. The fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm demonstrate this. It doesn’t matter that the characters and setting are from a different time and place, or create a magical process, the important thing is the existential struggle going on, which no parent can make disappear for the child. Some parents believe that only conscious reality and pleasant, wish-fulfilling images should be presented to children the sunny side of life, but real life is not all sunny, avoiding the harsh events of fairy tales does not prepare the child for life. Woke-ness and warning alerts of distressing content will not prepare children for future life, actually the opposite. But there has to be hope, hence the happy ending

For some parents, however, the happy ending of fairy tales is unrealistic wish-fulfilment, they completely miss the significant message it conveys to the child, that only by going out into the world and forging new relationships can he or she escape the separation anxiety which haunts the child. If we try to escape the separation and death anxiety by desperately keeping our grasp on parents, we are likely to be cruelly forced out like Hansel and Gretel. Only by going out into the world can the fairy tale hero (child) find himself and the other with whom he or she may live ‘happily ever after.’


For this reason, Bettelheim argues that some of the stories by Hans Christian Anderson do not belong to the category of your fairy tale. Stories like ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘The Little Match Girl,’ and ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier,’ are beautiful but extremely sad, they do not offer the feeling of consolation characteristic of the fairy tale happy ending.

Speaking for a seven year old child, or memory of same long ago, I particularly liked some of Hans Christian Anderson’s tales, not ‘The Little Mermaid or ‘The Red Shoes,’ but I especially liked ‘The Snow Queen’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’. While both stories meet Bruno Bettelheim’s criteria for the fairy tale genre, what I enjoyed in Hans Christian Anderson, was the colloquial voice of the tale teller and the interesting psychology of some of the characters, not that I knew anything about such things at that stage of life, but they stimulated my curiosity. Doubtless I benefited from the archetypal nature of old folk lore, but in Hans Christian Anderson there were those particular situations like the cat and hen story in ‘The Ugly Duckling’ both so complacent and taken with their own significance, yet living in the backwater of the old woman’s cottage. And in ‘The Snow Queen,’ it really shocked me when the little robber girl put her knife to the reindeer’s throat, she was laughing but you knew that she could easily kill the reindeer on whim, even as a child I sensed from this event, that sometimes people could be impetuous and savage like that, as well as sociable at other times.

There were also other lovely touches in Hans Christian Anderson’s tales, for example, the mother duck in ‘The Ugly Duckling’ stating old axioms such as ‘Green is good for the eyes.’ Then there are the strange landscapes in ‘The Snow Queen,’ Kai putting a warm coin to the window to thaw the glass and gaze out at the Snow Queen, and there’s the description of the snowflakes as living beings, I’d say I was appreciating a children’s literature beyond folk lore.

As I remember, what I didn’t like was the surprise ending to ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier,’ after all his ordeals, so bravely borne his faithfulness to his beloved, the paper doll, having been swallowed in the canal by a fish and ending up in the same room he had started in, only to be thrown into the stove by the random action of a child:

…and he felt himself melting. But he still stood there, steadfast, with his rifle at his shoulder. Then a door opened, the wind seized hold of the dancer, and she flew like a sylph right into the stove to the tin soldier, burst into flame, and was gone. Then the tin soldier melted into a lump, and the next day, when the serving girl took out the ashes, she found him in the shape of a little tin heart.

I didn’t like this sad ending but in adult literature the arbitrary event is not excluded, Charles Dickens uses it in ‘Great Expectations,’ where events are a consequence of a chance meeting at the beginning of the book. Lots of stories and dramas do it, and in life chance meetings or collisions do the same, the truck skewing across the highway and hitting a car, a chance meeting with a homicidal individual, a most unlikely flash flood event resulting in people drowning, are arbitrary events that have occurred in real life Whether children’s literature should include such arbitrary events is debatable, but the deux ex machina is part of adult literature.

As are tragic endings in drama. Shakespeare used them in ‘Macbeth’ and ‘ King Lear’, the main characters being made to face the consequences of their own actions, the only positive for them being their ultimate self knowledge, but too late in their lives. Can’t argue that dark struggle is part of children’s literature. and in books written for the older child. some may not end ‘happily ever after.’ As long as the general direction of children’s stories is struggle towards a positive outcome, children’s literature will continue to help children to mature from their reading, good literature doesn’t follow a woke ‘no suffering’ dictum.

In the best of children’s literature, following on from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, dark events are often part of the tale, even in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ there are boys who fell out of their prams as babies and lost their families and in Never-land are pirates who would harm the lost boys if they caught them.

Lewis Carroll’s two books, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass,’ first published in the mid-1860’and early 1870’s, two of the early books of children’s quality literature present a world where a young person leaves a familiar world for somewhere new and strange. How many times as a child did I read ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ I didn’t quite understand what was its fascination, but fascinate me it did. ‘Alice in Wonderland was a world where physical laws did not exist, where a child could grow larger or smaller in minutes by swallowing the contents of a bottle labelled ‘Drink me,’ or by eating one ‘side’ of a mushroom And the adults of both books behaved like unruly children, irrational, argumentative and dogmatic, the Queen of Hearts in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ shouting the command, ‘Off with his head,’ at whim during a ‘game’ of croquet, in ‘Through the Looking Glass,’ Humpty Dumpty and The Red Queen both being cavalier about the meaning of words.

Alice’s struggle for meaning is the centre of each of the books. In the arbitrariness of these two worlds, the only good sense come from Alice herself. Here she is conversing with the Red Queen, saying that she would try to reach the top of the hill:

“When you say “hill,”’ the Queen interrupted, ‘I could show you hills, in comparison with which you’d call that a valley.’

‘No, I shouldn’t,’ said Alice, surprised into contradicting her at last: ‘a hill CAN’T be a valley, you know. That would be nonsense –’

‘The Red Queen shook her head. ‘You may call it “nonsense” if you like,’ she said, ‘but I’VE heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!”

Alice doesn’t get very far in these conversations.

Here are some of the books in children’s literature that conform to the genre of Grimm’s and some Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales and Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books. There’s ‘ The Secret Garden,’ by Francis Hodgson Burnett, in which two children, helped by a local boy who loves the natural world, heal themselves from problems their parents had brought on them. There’s Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Stories’ in which a feral ‘man-cub’ lives in the jungle, brought up by animals. There’s ‘The Silver Sword’ by Ian Serraillier in which young children survive in World War 11 when their parents become prisoners of war. There’s Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG, about giants and an orphan girl – and featuring a friendly giant’s strange use of words, and there is also his novel, ‘The Witches’ with it’s challenging ending. A Newbury Award winner, the author Robert C. O’Brien also write two books in the genre, ‘ Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh,’ about lab rats that become very intelligent, and ‘The Silver Crown,’ with its surreal plot of evil forces emanating from a black crown, something like the ring in Lord of the Rings.

All these books with their themes of good and evil or other survival concerns make absorbing reading, even for adults. But there’s another kind of literature for children that you shouldn’t overlook and that’s the kind of delightful world you find in the children’s books ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ by A.A.Milne and ‘Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame.



You found this kind of lovely fantasy in Shakespeare’s ”Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ part fairy tale and with actual fairies in it, and you find it, sort of, in Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’.

Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night…Only you can see, in the blinded bedrooms…Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams. From where you are, you can hear their dreams.

You hear the dreams of people with these names: The sea captain, Captain Cat, Mr Pugh, Gossamer Beynon, Dai Bread the baker, Mrs Ogden Pritchard, Miss P rice, Willy Nilly, Nogood Boyo, and more. Oh what dreams they have!

What delight can come from such flights of fancy by humans. In children’s literature too. How enjoyable it is when Pooh Bear and Piglet build a stick house for Eeyore the donkey in ‘House at Pooh Corner’ and Ratty goes on a picnic in ‘Wind in the Willows.’ Alice in Wonderland delights us too. There’s that Caucus Race where the animal critters swim in a pool of the tears Alice cried in one of her growing phases. There’s the mouse’s tale, probably the child’s first experience of a concrete poem as in my case it was, – and there’s the Lobster Quadrille:

Will you, wo’n’t you, will you, wo’n’t you, will you join the dance,
Will you, wo’n’t you, will you, wo’n’t you, wo’n’t you join the dance?

Like a horde of children before and after me, we did join the dance in spirit, thank goodness for that! There’s so much to enjoy and engage with in children’s literature, a precursor to Shakespeare and Chaucer and Thomas Hardy and…




Checks and balances, those power sharing principles of government under which its separate branches, legislative, executive and judicial, are each empowered to curb actions by the others.

Quoting John Adams, one of the framers of the US Constitution:

It is by balancing each of these powers against the other two, that the efforts in human tyranny can alone be checked and restrained, and any degree of freedom preserved in the constitution.


In the western world’s long and chequered history, political democracy is a rarity, more common tribal societies and the later political development of rule by divine right of kings. Not much need for checks and balances to limit power in either of these systems.

That earlier political system, a tribal closed society ruled by a chieftain or oligarchy of aristocrats, required no internal checks or balances because in tribal societies no distinction was made between the customary regulations of social life and the regularities found in nature. What need of checks and balances when institutions were gifted by the gods and ways of acting determined by taboo? The later political system of territories ruled by kings often took advantage of this magical persuader to proclaim their own divine right to wield authority. Any checks and balances employed were used, not to protect liberties, but to maintain their own autocratic power. These checks and balances took the form of carrot and stick practices such as granting privileges to a noble elite or royal army in exchange for support, to imposing harsh penalties for disloyalty and hiring lots of spies to get wind of sedition or potential uprisings by discontented plebs.

History being a tale of human agency, albeit within a potent context, aims requiring means, when expanding tribal populations took to the sea and commerce, coming in contact with different cultures, those old certainties began to break down, with philosophers like Protagoras and Democritus formulating the doctrine that institutions of custom and law are man-made and therefore able to be altered. By 6th century B.C. around the Mediterranean Sea, this new mode of thinking led to the partial dislocation of tribal life and to the political revolution that was Athenian democracy, with its great spiritual development, the invention of critical discussion.

That Greek Revolution.

In 507 BC, a propitious year for freedom, the Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a system of political reforms he called Demokratia – the first known democracy in the world. Athenian democracy was a direct democracy composed of three institutions, the Ekklesia, a sovereign body that wrote laws and dictated foreign powers, the Boule, doing most of the hands on work, a council selected by lottery from each of the ten Athenian tribes, and the Dikasterea, the popular courts in which citizens argued cases before a group of paid jurors who were citizens over the age of thirty, also selected by lot but on a daily basis, so no entrenched public bureaucracy to way-lay democratic decision making.

Affirming the new system, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote: ‘In a democracy, there is first that most splendid virtue, equality before the law.’ Athenian equality before the law, as thereafter in most democracies in their formative stages, was not extended to everyone, however. The Athenian Demokratia allowed this privilege only to all male citizens over the age of eighteen, women and slaves taking no part in the Athenian demos. Nevertheless, compared to Athens’ previous system in which Athenian aristocrats monopolised decision making, the Demokratia was a great leap forward for rule by the people and achieved remarkable developments.

In its two hundred year existence, despite attacks from the enemy abroad, mainly tribal Sparta, and at home, from aristocratic enemies of democracy like the oligarchs known as the Thirty Tyrants, who tried to overthrow it, Athenian democracy produced a remarkable flowering in philosophy, Socratic debate, speculative science, history as a study of human action, and in the arts. Athenian painters and sculptors helped bring about a revolution in representative art and perspective, its tragedians transformed theatre, innovating dramatic form and exploring the human condition in great depth, including giving voice to powerful women… So many achievements in so many fields that initiated the dynamic and humanist tradition that is western civilization.


And most importantly, Athenian democracy paved the way and provided a model for later democracies, from the Roman Republic to the Constitutional Monarchy of Great Britain, to the varied democratic constitutions of the nations of the British Empire, and to the republican experiment in democracy of the United States of America.

‘Equality before the law,’ it’s the essential democratic principle shared by Athenian and modern democracies. How to achieve it – and keep it? By a process of fair and regular elections, every adult citizen having the right to vote and the party with the majority vote getting to make the parliamentary decisions for the next term. Is there a better way? The Athenian demos, western modern democrats and Winston Churchill say ‘no.’ Those who define democracy as mob rule, those Athenian oligarchs, Plato and some western elites, say ‘yes.’

But consider this. What is the opposite of majority rule? Why, it’s minority rule, and we’ve seen in history how that pans out, certainly not a matter of ‘the wise rule, – for every wise Roman emperor, a Nero or Caligula to follow. And just how perfect is rule by a philosopher king? Plato’s proposed ‘Republic,’ based on ‘the noble lie’ and ruled by a wise philosopher king and aristocratic oligarchy doesn’t inspire confidence. What Plato proposed was a complete tyranny where none of the plebs were free to speak or act without approval from their masters. Where Plato asked ‘who should rule? ‘ those who value liberty ask instead, ‘what checks and balances need to be in place, to prevent those in power from replacing equality before the law with rule by a tyrannous minority?’

Rule by a tyrannous minority, there’s a case study in the 1930’s in Germany when Hitler overthrew the Weimar Republic. It also happened in the 1960’s in China when MaoTse- tung incited students in his Cultural Revolution to attack his rivals. It could happen to our western democracies. As in Athens, with its separate governing bodies elected by lot on a recurring basis, the West’s democracies today have checks and balances, a House of Representatives or Parliament to make decisions, an Upper House of Review, or Senate, except New Zealand, some elected, others not, and all the democracies have a judiciary or High Court to throw out decisions by the government of the day deemed unconstitutional. These being human institutions, however, and the human ambitions of its actors being what they are, these checks and balances do not always perform as intended and a democracy, like any other political system, is likely to attack from outside it’s borders or from enemies within them.

Things go awry.

Anyone who has read previous editions of Serf Under_ground Journal may know that serfs’ at the present time have concerns with how western democracies are withstanding such attacks. Some links here…



Serfs like myself are concerned that international bodies like the U.N. and EU, hostile to the democratic process, together with elites within nation states themselves, wishing to replace it with a new globalist world order, seek to impose broadly phrased, open-ended, that is, international laws and treaties on nation states that are intended to supersede a nation’s own well-considered, democratic constitution.

Constitutional lawyer, Professor James Allan has written a book, ‘Democracy in Decline,’ (connorcourt publishing, 2014) identifying the causes of decline in some of our most established and stable democracies, the Anglo-American democracies of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Professor Allan’s book which he describes as part lament, part call to arms, is worth reading in its entirety for the depth of legal experience he brings to the discussion. Herewith I will attempt to outline some of his argument on the main causes of decline and challenges threatening the further weakening of these democracies.

James Allan is all for majority decision-making even though it may sometimes produce less than desirable results (as may also rule by minorities.) What democratic decision-making means is a matter of process, of how decisions are made. Democratic decision-making means commitment to letting the numbers count, even if some smart, well-informed people may disagree with that decision and argue that the quality of that decision is more important than the process by which it is made. Hmm, isn’t that the old ‘ends justify the means ‘ trick? Says James Allan, ‘For these people,’ says James Allan, ‘the rightness of their view matters more than democracy.’ They are not prepared to wait until they might be able to persuade enough others and their view is no longer the minority view.

So herewith those causes of decline that Professor Allan identifies in Anglo-American democracies, four causes which interrelate in subtle ways, but which, for the sake of clarity, he discusses as separate phenomenon. First under the spot light, an over-powerful and influential judiciary, supposed to be protecting a nation’s constitution but expanding their role to reformulating it. Secondly, the influence of international law, the more you look at how it was created, its lack of transparency, the more you are aware of its lack of democratic credentials, Thirdly, supranational organisations – probably should have written that with a capital ‘S’ and a capital ‘O’, how these organisations, the EU and second-tier bodies of the U.N. like its Human Rights’ Council, enervate democracy at the national level, Fourthly those undemocratic elites, those lawyers, lobbyists, officials, bureaucrats and self-styled human rights activists prepared to impose their own preferences and value judgements on the country without bothering to win a majority of us to this value judgement.

Who judges the judges?

So beginning with the judicial system, a century ago, Professor Allan argues, top judges in the Anglo-American democracies were more respectful to the elected branches of government and much less likely to gainsay the elected legislature. There were sometimes cases where judges needed to interpret some ambiguity in an enacted law but generally they would not attempt to over-ride or circumvent it. From the 1950s and 1960’s on, however, we see unelected judges, selected by appointment, in some countries by unelected committees, becoming more adventurous in their constitutional interpretations and more willing to block or redirect the views of the majority of voters as expressed in laws passed by their elected representatives. James Allan cites a number of cases in different countries where this has happened. (Democracy in Decline p 45.)

James Allan is arguing there’s a sea-change from the judiciary’s intended role, an interpretation of the words used in the Constitution or a Statutory Bill of Rights, which was not a blank cheque telling a future judge to give them the meaning he happens to think is morally or politically best. The original words in a nation’s constitution were debated and argued over by the people drafting them and the wider groups voting for them because they intended those actual words to matter. They were intended to provide a non-fiat form of constitution that put constraints on later judges from striking down or rewriting the elected legislature’s statutes. No blank cheque for judges, changes to the Constitution would have to be voted in.

One of the reasons democracy is in decline is that a lot of judges have moved from this view of looking at the framers’ original intention to one of treating the document to be interpreted as a metaphysical living tree or living constitution, a shift allowing unelected judges to gainsay or overrule the democratic branches whose role it is to make the laws.

James Allan analyses how these democracies, with the exception of Australia, have facilitated this living tree notion by adopting a Bill of Rights. While a Bill of Rights is sold to the electorate on the basis that it does not take precedence over the prior constitution and is locked in, not a blank cheque for judges, ( few would likely support it else-wise,) when Canada adopted its Charter of Rights in 1980, and New Zealand in 1990 and the UK in 2000 each adopted a Bill of Rights, these provisions were soon by-passed by judges taking advantage of the vague and amorphous language of their human rights statements that required interpretation. Using the living tree approach each of these country’s judiciary began exceeding their judicial power, invalidating prior law and soon asserting their right to do so. Here’s an example, the Ghaidan Case in the UK where the top judges asserted they now have the power, when interpreting all statues, to read words in, delete words and even ignore the legislature’s undisputed intentions, and do so even where there is no trace of ambiguity. Here is the actual wording:

It is now generally accepted that the application of S.3( the reading down provision in their statutory bill of rights) does not depend upon the presence of ambiguity in the legislation being interpreted. Even if, construed according to the ordinary principles of interpretation, the meaning admits of no doubt,S.3 may none the less require the court to… depart from the intention of the Parliament which enacted the legislation…  is also apt to require the court to read in words which change the meaning of then acted legislation so as to make it [bill of rights] compliant. (Democracy in Decline. p70.)

International Law, Guidance from the Olympian Heights

James Allan looks at the ways in which two kinds of International Law exert undemocratic influence on domestic law in each of the five Anglo-American democracies. The first is by way of ambiguously phrased UN International Treaties that play an increasingly influential role in determining judicial outcomes compared to less ambiguous, domestic statutes, international treaties which have been formulated without any citizen input. The second type of international law, known as customary law, is a non-treaty sort of international law that can flow on from treaties and have influence on local judicial decision making although it has never been agreed to by any accountable legislators.

In the first case, this happens by adoption of International Treaties like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, (CRC) with its open-ended wording For example: State parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical and mental violence.

The ways the U.S, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand respond to these treaties has changed over the last 40 or so years. In Westminster political nations in the past, while treaties could be ratified by the country’s executive and not by majority vote, this didn’t matter too much because the treaty did not become domestic law. Treaties had little force despite ratification. In the United States, though, treaties were taken more seriously, requiring that they be voted on in the Senate and if ratified by a super majority, were expected to become statutory law.

Today in Westminster countries, treaties are being acted upon by judges as though they are part of domestic law. In the US, what is taking place is even less democratic with treaties like the CRC over-ruling constitutional law even when they have failed to win Senate approval.

So who gets to create and monitor these treaties? Why, they’re created and monitored by the UN member-committee consisting of those forty-nine countries that make up the Human Rights Council. Only seven of these members come from the five Anglo-American democracies, the overwhelming majority coming from countries with abysmal human rights records, countries that James Allan says, ‘you wouldn’t take any moral advice from if your life depended on it.’ (P 87.)

And there’s that second kind of international law known as customary law with its practises that ‘are inferred’ or ‘have been identified,’ referred to in passive voice to gloss over the question of who gets to do this inferring or identifying. Well who gets to make these decisions are publicists, legal academics who have no democratic warrant whatsoever, and as James Allan points out, as a group are likely to have political and moral values far to the left of the general electorate, and be appointed by a lawyerly caste because of their perceived ‘soundness.’ Regarding the election of this group of people into the International Court of Justice, many from non-democracies, a great deal of horse trading takes place, a method of selecting International Court judges that Allan describes as ‘opaque,’ By way of this Customary International Law process, when it comes to resolving debatable social policies. as with UN Treaties, a nation’s voters are overwhelmingly locked out.

So on to the third cause of decline of democracy in western nations, those supranational organisations.

Supranational Organisations – they’re ‘Groupies.’

In these organisations lots of diversity you might say, many geographies, many nations, some with parliamentary systems, others with presidential systems, some constitutional monarchies, some with no constitution at all, the diversity of democratic, or non-democratic provisions may be staggering. With the EU, a federation of democratic nations and the UN, a council of both democratic and non-democratic nations, votes are made by each country’s representative, individual members of that country having no say at all. Turns out it’s even less majoritarian because each country has equal representation, so countries with big populations get the same representation as much smaller ones.

In that supranational organisation, the European Union, though it may be a club of democracies, its countries do not vote on everything and individual citizens have no say. The EU is a supra-bureaucratic body in the which an unelected civil service proposes new laws and the parliament does not get to propose laws but only veto them.

The UN is also democracy deficient, specifically in its second-tier agencies, like the Human Rights Council, controlled by voting blocs from the world’s despotic nations, Sudan, Cuba, China … any wonder that there are ever more sweeping powers for judges under UN made prescriptions, any wonder that there are ever more regulatory controls on the freedom of a nation’s citizens to make their own decisions.

Supranational organisations, one of the external causes of a nation’s democratic decline, that fourth cause of decline, sadly, those undemocratic elites that undermine it from within.

Undemocratic Elites, we who know what is for the best…

Of course we know about those judges and lawyers, lobbyists and publicists, any of those elitists ‘prepared to impose his or her preference or sentiment or long thought out value judgement on the country without bothering first to convince a majority of us that this preference or that value belief or this moral position is the best one (or least bad one,) in the circumstances. ‘ (D/D P121.)

Apart from those elite judges and that elite international legal fraternity, there are also some parliamentarians prepared to by-pass the electorate to get their own agenda into law. There are elite politicians in the UK, says James Allan, who reneged in their undertaking to put entry to the EU to a referendum. Once ensconced in the EU, elite politicians have tended to drive policy through the EU rather than going the way of public opinion. In Canada, there are those elite politicians refusing to invoke S33 when domestic law is being invalidated, such as common law definition on marriage or abortion laws that are being changed. In the US, there have been many elected office holders, from the President down to elected Mayors, who prefer winning their victories in the courts, relying on the court’s interpretation of immigration laws, for example, rather than being prepared to court public opinion. In all our five nation states, these practices by supposedly accountable politicians are weakening our democracies.

As James Allan argues, if these elites were more attached to democracy, judges would be more deferential to electors and far less inclined to be adventurous in
their legal interpretations and politicians and international organisations would be more prepared to put issues to democratic vote. These are the actors James Allan targets in his book, ‘Democracy in Decline.’ To which I’ll add others like George Soros, Read his Manifesto and you’ll observe his globalist agenda and stated wish to bring down the US democratic state. Examine his Ópen’ Society Grants Program and you’ll see how he funds organisations like the radical Brennan Centre that work to subvert the US electoral system and funds educational institutions like Bard College, that specialise in training social justice warriors.

To James Allan’s undemocratic elites I’ll also add those Silicon Valley Big Tech directors, you know who they are, who are even now, as I write, shutting down debate in their social media outlets that is contra to their own leftist views. And let’s not forget the many academics in those publicly funded universities supporting hate-speech attacks by students against free speech, conducting cancel culture trials on recalcitrant teachers who must be sure to give warning if they say something that may discomfort some students. Say, what ever happened to Nullius in Verba, motto of The Royal Society? Oops, now it, too, has restrictions relating to open debate when it comes to matters it decides are settled science.

‘Let truth and Falsehood grapple,’ says John Milton,

‘ Who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? ‘

Let truth and falsehood grapple… Part lament, part call to arms, James Allan’s study of the ways checks and balances in our western democracies are being eroded. “Equality before the law,” the essential democratic principle is losing ground to minority rule.

How to rebuild our democracy? Knowing where the problems lie is helpful but discovering effective ways to solve these problems is easier said than done. Can’t be defensive, must first seize the high ground, the right to free speech, go on the attack, getting our coherent arguments out there loud and clear, arguing just how important it is that a nation’s democratic constitution be observed. Easier said than done, yes. But it’s gotta’ be done. – No blank cheque for judges to over-rule the democratic assembly whose role it is to make the laws.


Part 3 of Revisiting the Chinese Cultural Revolution.


Being part of a trilogy you’ll need to read parts 1 & 2 to see what Mao was up to in his Cultural Revolution and allied campaigns…


In Part 1 of this essay, I argued that while history does not repeat itself, some parallels may exist between a particular past event and those of another place and time, and suggested that the Counter Culture and Climate Change protest movements taking place in western democracies at the present time could share commonalities with MaoTse–tung’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s.

So here in Part 3 of ‘Revisiting the Chinese Revolution’ let’s take a look at both Mao’s Cultural Revolution and those counter culture and climate movements today to see if commonalities do exist, to make comparisons with activist groups involved, to look at the nature of their protests, and seek to discover to what degree these protest movements have been steered by other participants in the drama, whether directly or behind the scenes.

The ‘who’ and the ‘what’ of those activist groups.

When Mao Tse-tung persuaded the party leadership to undertake a Cultural Revolution to counter a future ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’ by members within the party embracing old ideas, old culture and customs and old habits, ( the ‘four olds,’) he called on the youth of China to participate in his revolution, a call to which they soon responded.

Encouraged by a decree on June 18 /1965, postponing university exams for six months and Mao’s adoption of the Peking university students’ slogan ‘It is justified to rebel,’ described in Part 2 of this essay, students wearing the red armbands of the soldiers of the red army and armed with the school book, ‘Thoughts of Mao,’ began mobilizing in universities and schools across the land. The rest, as they say, is history. That the Red Guard movement and radical factory workers in industrial cities like Shanghai, who joined in the activist movement, were soon exceeding Chairman Mao’s particular aims meant that the Cultural Revolution had to come to an end, democratic centralism only goes so far.

Mao’s supporters were radicalised youth in universities and cities. Predominantly, the protest groups of western Cancel Culture are also radicalised youth, those student LBGTQ activists on university campuses and those youthful supporters of the X Rebellion environmental protest movement with its large base of school student activists. And there’s those Antifa street rioters. Photographs of Antifa street protests show that this is primarily a youth movement, anecdotal evidence suggesting that its members are mainly male, between the ages of 20 and 24, usually unemployed and mostly still live in the parental home.

So what is the nature of this radicalism? Is it comparable to Mao’s student movement or different in kind? Well Antifa is similar, pronouncing itself as a movement to replace western democracy with communism. The movement has its origins in earlier European Marxist insurgency movements overviewed in the following link:
The Antifa logo of two flags, a black flag representing anarchism, and a red flag representing Communism, are derived from the German Antifa movement. Mark Bray, a vocal apologists for Antifa in the United States and author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” states:

‘The only long-term solution to the fascist menace is to undermine its pillars of strength in society grounded not only in white supremacy but also in ableism, heteronormativity, patriarchy, nationalism, transphobia, class rule, and many others. This long-term goal points to the tensions that exist in defining anti-fascism, because at a certain point destroying fascism is really about promoting a revolutionary socialist alternative.’

From Rose City Antifa this statement:
‘As antifascists we know that our fight is not just against organized fascism, but also against the capitalist state, and the police that protect it. Another world is possible!’

Passing themselves off as anti fascist is one of the persuasive tricks of totalitarian movements that regularly use words like ‘freedom’ or ‘fascist’ to mean what they choose them to mean, as Mao did when he talked about ‘democratic’ centralism. Labelling parliamentary democracies ‘fascist’ is a word game. In actuality, Fascist governance is more characteristic of centralist regimes where private enterprises are permitted only under strict State control, enabling managed wealth production and increased employment but with no real freedom allowed to the business managers so directed from above. Rules can be changed at any time.

As Eugen Weber describes in his book, ‘Varieties of Fascism,’ extension of State monopolies, distrust of parliamentary democracy and of individual autonomy, are integral to fascist political systems. Here’s Benito Mussolini at the Fascist Party Congress in Italy in 1929:
‘The individual exists only insofar as he is in the State and subordinate to the necessities of the State, the more complex, the forms of civilisation become, the more the freedoms of the individual are restricted.’ (Weber p 76.)

There’s another radical protest movement, ‘Black Lives Matter’ where two of its three instigators profess Marxist politics although the media regularly pass the organization off as acting within the mainstream. B.L.M was formed in the United States by three African American women, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, as a response to the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watch volunteer in Florida who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager. The filmed death of George Floyd in 2020, arrested by Minneapolis police officers, initiated wide spread protest. As the BLM slogan proclaims, ‘Black lives matter’ and brutal behaviour against black suspects, as shown by some members within the police force, needs to be controlled.

But is BLM a mainstream movement? The leadership of BLM does declare a commitment to radical ideology as Patrisse Cullors states:
‘We do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia, in particular, are trained organizers, we are trained Marxists, We are superversed on, sort of, ideological theories. And I think we really do try to build a movement that could be utilized by many, many black folks.’

And according to book publisher Penguin, Random House, Alicia Garza describes herself as ‘a queer social activist and Marxist.’ The leadership of these protest movements may profess commitment to Marxist ideology but what about the youth activists themselves? The word ‘radical’ coming from its Latin origin meaning ‘root’ or ‘fundamental’ change, does not specify what that particular change may be. Radical action covers a broad church of dissidents, religious, sexual, political environmental, you name it. Because a few leaders of movements self proclaim as Marxists does not mean that the membership all sing from the same hymn book. It ain’t necessarily so and probably not all of them do, but I’d say a lot of them are well on board with the program. BLM members’ demands, not for police reform, but the abolition of the police force altogether is a blow aimed at the heart of democratic law and order. 

Not much doubt about the Antifa movement marching under the Red Flag and with many pronouncements by group members on Twitter. Here are members of PNW Youth Liberation Front, Antifa’s youth organization, tweeting: “The only way to win a world without police, prisons, borders, etc. is to destroy the oppressive systems which we are currently caught in. We must continue the fight against the state, imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and so on if we ever want to be free.”

With the other activist groups, the parallels with Mao’s Cultural Revolution are more oblique but I’m arguing that they also exist.

Variations on a theme.

According to Marxist doctrine, Capitalism is based on class war, there’s a hierarchy of monarchy, clergy, military and privileged bourgeoisie, and below them, producing all the wealth, an exploited proletariat. However, this explanation of the West’s political system hasn’t been wearing too well considering the benefits the system has been delivering to said proletariat in comparison to pre-industrial and early industrial societies (and to more authoritarian countries.) Because capitalism has a history of increasing wealth and working conditions for workers, universal suffrage, and upward mobility, the traditional discourse of Marxism, centred on class struggle, needed to be modified.

But not abandoned. Seems for a certain kind of person, intent on finding all – encompassing blame in the world for every ill, the Foucault philosophy, a convenient, post modernist power philosophy, fits the bill. Post modernism to replace classical communism. A new hierarchy of politics was required – and here it is – viewing the world solely through the prism of power, no mutual interrelationships, always viewed through the lens of power relationships.

In western universities, people with this leftist bent create academic courses about oppressed groups, from women’s studies to black studies to queer studies… Marxism expanding into new power hierarchies – same upper level focussed on white male patriarchy and below, new groups of oppressed proletariat. Western capitalism remains a class thing, but it is sexist, patriarchal and racist as well.

Marxists are adept at commandeering causes. Cited in Douglas Murray’s ‘The Madness of Crowds,’ (P55) is a popular book, ‘Hegemony and Socialist Strategy,’ (2001) written by two post-Marxists, (whatever that’s supposed to mean,) Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe who recognise that Marxism has been challenged by ‘new kinds of contradictions’ and that the notion of class struggle needs to be modified and set aside to find ‘a new kind of exploited person.’

‘A new kind of exploited person,’ hence commandeering the grievances of the student protests of May, 1968 in France, students against the school system, women against social discrimination, gay people demanding liberation and a group of anti-nuclear and environmental protesters. These May ‘68 protests, while not conforming to the Marxist class-war critique of society, presented a new way to articulate and maintain Marxism within contemporary society.

Further to commandeering causes, Red Flag, Org. Melbourne,  https://redflag.org.au/node/6939, James Plested, discussing X Rebellion program of passive resistance and why socialists need to be involved:

Marxism was born out of a struggle against Utopian Socialist and other early 19th century political theories that bear a striking resemblance to the underlying political philosophy of the founders of XR. For Marx, there could be no rigid schema for social change. The challenge, rather, was to identify the tendencies in society that point in the direction of change – in particular the emerging power of the working class – to foster and encourage those tendencies, and ultimately to build them into a conscious movement capable of carrying out the revolutionary overthrow of the existing order… Socialists can play a role in ensuring the promise of XR today doesn’t only provide a fleeting moment of hope – like a rainbow on an otherwise typically damp and cold Melbourne morning – but that its achievements flow into a larger, more radical, and more organised movement in the months and years ahead.

Concerning those ‘contradictions,’ mentioned above, well Marxists and post Marxists like Laclau and Mouffe don’t seem to worry too much about contradictions. There’s Mao Tse-tung manoeuvring his was through the ‘unity contradiction-unity’ interplay in his Hundred Flowers’ Bloom campaign and Cultural Revolution.

In fact Marxists actually welcome contradictions, contra Aristotle’s Law of Identity that ‘a thing is what it is and not some other thing,’ freedom is not control,’ etc. and Law of Non-Contradiction in which a contradictory statement invalidates a theory about the physical world. Unlike Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the world behind the looking glass, the physical world is not a place to be described as a zone of contradictions, just a world of challenging problems.

So what about our human responses to that physical world, our human cultures? Those cultures can seem tricky to outside observers of each others’ strange habits, laws, rituals, interactions, but can you call what happens within them ‘contradictions?’ Mao talked about ‘city’ versus ‘country,’ as a contradiction, (Mao Unrehearsed, Text 1.) Two ‘opposites,’ you might say, lots of benefits and oppositional tensions in the relationships of city life, creative zones and also prone to problems like water pollution and overcrowding. In Mao’s vocabulary, any of those problems is viewed as a contradiction, but they are actually simply problems, ‘contradiction’ is a misapplied word to describe ‘overcrowding’ of cities.

And I’d argue, regarding Marx’ view of the dynamics of worker, employer relations, his ‘opposites’ don’t convolute with contradictions. What we call ‘opposites’ are just separate states, processes or entities, as ‘dark’ is not a contradiction of ‘light,’ and ‘man’ is not a contradiction of ‘women.’ Discussing opposing states, processes or entities does involve contradiction, however, when we use them interchangeably in our speech, a propaganda trick, i.e. ‘control’ as ‘freedom.’ Orwell identified that logic contradiction.

Lots of contradictions in the LBGTQ debate, Douglas Murray identifies a number of illogical arguments in ‘The Madness of Crowds.’ Apart from contradictory statements within the LBGTQ movement itself regarding gender hardware / software ‘facts’ there’s the designation of who is, or who is not, a member of such groups. Because Thomas Sowell, an African American, and Peter Thiel, a gay person, have made critical comments regarding these protest movements, they have been declared persona non grata, Thomas Sowell is no longer considered black, Peter Thiel is no longer considered gay. Ostracism, it’s a favoured practice of bullying groups wherever you find them.

Of Vigilantes and violence, those protest movements.

‘This is the revolution, this is our time and we will make no excuses for the terror.’ Seattle Antifa.

Actions speak louder than words. In Part 2 of this essay, descriptions of Mao marshalling students as vigilantes to maintain China’s Great Proletarian Revolution against revisionist forces within the CCP, adopting the student slogan, ’To Rebel is Justified.’ With the Cultural Revolution began a program of violence, ostracism, humiliation, physical beatings and homicides against intellectuals and Party members.

Lots of evidence that today’s cancel culture and climate protest movements are more than the ‘mainly peaceful protests’ a left-wing media claim . The ostracism and sackings for those who criticise or fail to comply with woke bans on free speech are well documented Here’s Bret Weinstein, himself a left liberal committed to social justice programs, speaking of his experiences at Evergreen State College Washington.

Looting and destruction of statues as relics of the four olds have parallels as with Mao’s student hooliganism and acts of physical violence. Not shown on mainstream television the violence of the Ferguson protests in Missouri, in Seattle and Chicago. Here is the Grant Park BLM Protest March in Chicago with its call to defund the police, a protest march that turns into a riot. Notice the organised violence, the Antifa involvement, the frozen drink cans and the sharpened banner- poles becoming weapons, the bikes and umbrellas used as shields.

Follow the leader…

The protest movements offer many parallels with Mao’s Cultural Revolution, right down to the puppet master (s) directing the revolution. Today we have a movement that’s not defending an existing revolution but is initiating one. And like Mao’s Revolution there’s top down direction. Look no further than those globalist leaders of the United Nations and George Soros of the Trilateral Commission aiming at a new global world order. Study the UN Sustainable development program initiated by the Bruntland Commission, Agenda 21, the devils in the detail, https://beththeserf.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/55th-edition-serf-under_ground-journal/ it’s a mass take over of a nation state’s autonomy by unelected autocrats. Christiana Figueres, U.N Climate Chief, herself admitted it was never about the climate, but about a new economic order.

Look at Soros’ Manifesto declared aims to bring down the United States political system, ‘ Open Society, Reforming Global Capitalism’ (2000.) and his actions funding ‘social justice’ warriors.  https://beththeserf.wordpress.com/2018/02/13/50th-edition-serf-under_ground-journal/  Soros’ funds activists to shut down alternative view free speech via orchestrated protest movements that adopt violent tactics. These anti-free-speech assaults include the 2017 May Day Riots across the US, the violent protest at California University, Berkeley, to prevent Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at the University, and include the Anti-Trump Inauguration protest in Washington. in January 2017.

A leftwing organization called Rise-Up Org. that claimed responsibility for the May Day violence that erupted across the US on May 1st, 2017, is a left-wing organization financed by Alliance for Global Justice, one of Soros’ top 150, seven figure grantees. It is also funded, indirectly by Tides Foundation, number 3 on Soros’ Open Society Foundation grantee list. Tides gave Alliance for Global Justice $50, 000, according to the the 1990 tax form.

In conclusion …

So there it is…While history does not repeat, parallels sometimes exist between a particular past event and those of another place and time, I’m suggesting that the Cancel Culture and Climate Change protest movement taking place in western democracies at the present time share many commonalities with Mao’s Cultural Revolution.


Revisiting the Chinese Cultural Revolution.


An essay in three parts.


Mao’s Cultural Revolution, an event loaded with contradictions, ‘what was in his mind?’ a question not easily answered. And here’s another question, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, was it a unique event, or might we find parallels in history, before or afterwards?

Regarding parallels in history, of course we must take care, with out human propensity for pattern recognition – even when patterns do not exist, of the need to proceed with caution, reminding ourselves often, that history does not repeat. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at the Chinese Cultural Revolution in its full context and then in relation to events that are occurring in Western democracies as I write, the counter culture protest movement taking place in universities and the streets, protests formed around perceived gender and racial discrimination and fear of tipping-point global-warming, now described as ‘climate change.’

The Cultural Revolution that began in August, 1966, took place at the instigation of Mao Tse-tung, though its unfolding developments and outcomes could not have been foreseen by him. Was the Cultural Revolution an idealist endeavour, an attempt by Mao to regain the purity of his original revolution, or was it a political exercise, an attempt to eliminate Mao’s enemies and restore him to power? An overview of the context in which the Cultural Revolution took place suggests that it was probably something of both. So on to context.

Part 1.

Context’s the thing …

whereby you might uncover
the problem situation of yr king
or tsar or politburo or any other
key decision-maker.

An overview of Mao Tse -tung’s words and actions prior to the Cultural Revolution reveal an interaction between his ideological views about revolution and his suspicion of the growing bureaucracy within the Chinese Communist Party.

Mao Tse-tung was not the inventor of the concept of ‘Cultural Revolution.’ A half century before he embarked on his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in the crisis precipitated by China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, intellectuals associated with the New Culture Movement of 1915-19 were calling for a ‘cultural revolution’ to bring about a fundamental transformation of the culture and psychology of the nation, a sweeping away of China’s corrupt and reactionary traditional culture.

The intellectuals of this New Culture Movement placed great emphasis on the role of human ideas and consciousness as the prerequisite for effective political and socio-economic progress and many of the future leaders of the Chinese Revolution, in their formative years, were influenced by the ideas of these intellectuals. One of these was Mao Tse-tung, who wrote for one of their periodicals, ‘New Youth,’ and later adopted their view of the power of ideas to transform culture as a crucial feature of his Marxist program.

See it in differences with the Soviet view of Revolution and in his party programs in conflict with many Party members, what he says, in ‘Mao Unrehearsed, Talks and Letters: 1956-71,’ edited by Stuart Schram, and most significantly, see it in what he does, Mao’s ‘Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom’ campaign, ‘Great Leap Forward’ economic plan and his ‘Cultural Revolution.’

And if ‘actions speak louder than words…’

There’s a pattern of behaviour observable in Mao Tse-tung’s three post-revolutionary campaigns to engage mass participation in China’s evolving Communist Revolution, Mao’s ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom’ campaign, the ‘Great Leap Forward’ program and his ‘Cultural Revolution.’ In each there’s a swing between encouraging the populace to freely engage, to speak and act in a revolutionary spirit, to criticise the bureaucracy with no fear of reprisal, and later a drawing back to the central control of the Party and appropriate ‘correction’ of ‘revisionist’ elements that go outside the Party line in their demands and behaviour.


‘Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend.’ With this slogan taken from Chinese classical history, Mao initiated a campaign in May 1956, to lift restrictions imposed on Chinese intellectuals and encourage greater freedom of thought and speech.

Seven years after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, leaders of the Chinese Communist Party believed they had successfully transformed China into a socialist country and now the focus was on China’s economic backwardness and its future socio-economic development. No one, not even Chairman Mao, argued that a socialist society could long sustain itself without technical advancement and here arose the question of how to involve the intelligentsia in its achievement.

There was a problem, however, for although the communists had come to power with the support of the Chinese intelligentsia, much of that support had dissipated in the intelligentsia’s experience of an increasingly repressive State. But now, in January 1956, at a meeting convened by the Central Committee to deal with the matter, the Party were looking to involve them in a technical revolution that required intellectual creativity and needed to end what Premier Chou En-lai referred to as ‘a certain state of estrangement.’ ( Ref .‘Mao’s China and After,’ M. Meisner. Ch 11, P171.)

While Mao and Chou were in agreement regarding bringing intellectuals in from the cold, they were doing so from different standpoints. Back in December, 1955, when Mao had urged that intellectuals be allowed to participate in the economic and political activity of the country, he was presenting to the Politburo, his new economic paper in opposition to their proposed 2nd Five Year Plan based on the Soviet model of concentration on developing heavy industry. It was precisely the social effects of the Soviet model, food shortages and the growth of an entrenched political elite, that Mao was attempting to reverse. The growth of the bureaucracy, led by Mao’s rivals, Liu Shao-ch’I and Teng Hsaio-p’ing, was also a personal consideration for Mao in view of his own waning power to determine policy. For Mao, the intellectuals represented people outside the Party who could act as critics, not of Mao’s radical policies but of the Party’s growing bureaucracy which supported the Soviet model. (Ref: ‘Mao’s China and After.’ M. Meisner. Chapter 11.) 

In January 1956, when the Party’s Central Committee convened their meeting to deal with the matter and listen to speeches by Mao and Chou En-lai, Chou’s speech had a different and more favourable emphasis regarding elites, with his reference to ‘the creation of a technocrat intelligentsia, a body involved in ‘science,’ that could effectively separate its professional activities from politics and ideology.’ ( Meisner, P 172.) Considering Mao’s stated concerns regarding bureaucratic elites, this would not have been his personal wish, but given his new economic policy proposing the wholesale abandonment of the Soviet development model, he would have approved the prospect mentioned in Chou’s speech, of this intellectual involvement expediting economic development and ending China’s dependence on the Soviet Union.

Another event that had contextual significance concerning the thought of Chairman Mao took place the following month following Nikita Khrushchev’s speech at the Twentieth Soviet Congress denouncing Joseph Stalin. Khrushchev’s condemnation of Stalin’s crimes was a dramatic event, not just for the Soviet Communist Party but for the Chinese Party as well, raising questions, as it did, of the validity of the communist system as a whole and in China, also reflecting on its leaders who had praised Stalin in the past.

Let’s hear it for’ Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom!’

Behind closed doors, the Party pondered this problem for a month before a public response on April 5th. In an editorial in the People’s Daily, ‘On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,’ probably written by Mao himself, it was stated that Stalin’s achievements should still be studied and Stalin’s errors were referred to only in the most general terms, such as ‘care should be taken to avoid reverting into error through the cult of individualism,’ ‘the Cult of the Individual’ being attributed to ‘the poisonous ideological survival of the old society,’ that is still carried in people’s minds for a long time. This problem, it was implied, was not likely to reappear in China, as the necessary measures were in place to control it. China’s system of democratic centralism, its appropriate balancing between the contradictions of ‘democracy,’ and ‘centralism,’ a system of ‘unity, criticism, unity,’ criticism by the people balancing Party decision making, would prevent the Chinese Revolution degenerating into a routinized bureaucracy.

There’s a pointer in the comment regarding the ‘cult of individualism’ and Mao’s definition of ‘democracy,’ which has little to do with individual right to free speech and everything to do with egalitarian, group participation in the communist revolution. For Mao conscious human activity was the essential factor in historical change, and a successful revolution entailed developing and maintaining a correct ideological consciousness, unity of purpose, not pluralism of beliefs. The populist support from the county side that the Chinese communist revolution had received in the 1920’s led him to attribute to ‘the people’ an almost inherent revolutionary consciousness. Now he appears to be including the intellectuals in his view of those outside the Party as part of this populist entity. Certainly one of the striking features of Mao’s speeches and writings from 1955 on, as Meisner observes in ‘Mao’s China and After.’ P.196, is his ‘populist conception of ‘the people,’ as a more or less single and organic entity, 600,000,000 ‘to be united as one’ in the task of building socialism.’

At first intellectuals were wary to accept Mao’s invitation to bloom and contend and Party hostility to the campaign did not encourage them. It was not until Mao’s speech in February 1957, ‘On Correct handling of Contradictions Among the People,’ (Foreign Languages Press, 1957.) offered a renewed invitation to speak their minds, that the criticism stepped up and through March and April, became a torrent, ranging from minor criticism to the wholesale indictment of the socio-political order.

Where have all the flowers gone?

The season of blooming and contending was brief. An editorial on June 8th in the People’s Daily signalled the end of the Hundred Flowers’ Campaign announcing that right wingers had abused their freedom by attacking the socialist system and the leadership of the Party. By the middle of the month a heresy hunt down of dissidents began.

Mao was clearly involved in that hunt down. As early as May 25th he was expressing concern in the direction the campaign was taking: ‘Any speech or action which deviates from the socialism is wrong,’ he warned in an address to the Communist Youth League, and by June he was calling for the Party to launch an anti-rightist witch hunt. His February speech inviting intellectuals to speak their minds was amended on the grounds that the intellectuals had gone beyond the bounds of justifiable criticism. In the original speech, Mao had been critical of those Party officials who opposed the hundred flowers campaign and feared that it would ‘yield poisoned fruit.’ In the amended version of his speech in June he was emphasising the need to distinguish between ‘fragrant flowers and poisonous weeds.’

Many of the critics of the regime were subjected to severe retribution, imprisoned or sent to the country side for ‘reform through labour.’ The final Maoist witch hunt was to turn the anti-rightist campaign into a massive purge within the Party itself with Mao invoking ‘the mass line’ against rightists within the Party administration. By the time the purge had run its course in 1958, over a million party members had been expelled or reprimanded and Mao had regained control of the party apparatus.

That Great Leap Forward…


Mao was now in a position to put his economic program into action. By the beginning of 1958, at his instigation, the Central Committee of the CCP initiated the strategy of the Great Leap Forward, Mao’s vision of mobilizing the masses by ideological appeals to bring about unprecedented and simultaneous development of agriculture and industry. And though Mao needed no external motivation to pursue his long held view that harnessing the energies of the masses was essential to his proletarian revolution, international events of the time gave impetus to his plan. The Soviet launch of a space missile, Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal, and various colonial rebellions against imperial oppressors led the Maoists to believe that the West was on the defensive, ‘the east wind is prevailing over the west wind,’ and called for a new belligerency from China requiring urgent development of Chinese industry.

There was also the many sided problem situation at home. First the problem identified in Mao’s ‘On the Ten Great Relationships,’ speech in April 25th, 1956, (S, Schram. Text 1.) regarding China’s shortage of capital and how to speed up primitive socialist capital accumulation to develop heavy industry. Then there was the social problem, given the growing unemployment in the cities and under employment in the countryside, that another Soviet style Five Year Plan focusing on heavy industry, like its predecessor, would only create more unemployment. In his speech of April 25th, Mao argues that his light industry and agricultural program can provide greater accumulation of capital and develop heavy industry on a sound foundation of satisfying the needs of the people’s livelihood.

For Maoists there was a third problem, with the general recognition that a technical revolution raises the question of how mastery of science and technology can be rapidly attained without fostering bureaucratism and social inequality. In one of the Ten Relationships in which Mao focuses on ‘ The relationship between the Centre and the regions,’ he proposes that government organs be streamlined and two thirds of them scrapped and discusses the need to arouse the enthusiasm and energy of the regions by allowing them to run more projects under the unified plan of the Centre.

Regarding arousing the energy of the people, Mao’s Great Leap Forward campaign was more than a modernization program responding to the above problems. It contained no detailed blue-print for economic development, it was more a product of Mao’s social vision than an economic plan, with deep roots in his early revolutionary experience and his view that human consciousness, the moral values of men, are what determine the course of history. For Mao, the combination of rapid development and a continuous process of increasing social transformation were intertwined with his pursuit to develop a permanent revolutionary consciousness in the Chinese people and prevent any backsliding into capitalism. At the Supreme State Conference on 28th January, 1958, Mao declares that he stands for the theory of permanent revolution: ‘In making revolution one must strike while the iron is hot – one revolution must follow the other, the revolution must continually advance,’ (Schram.Text 3. p94.)

The people’s communes and Mao’s transition to communism.

Before the Great Leap Forward campaign began, following the poor harvest of 1954 social reorganisation was already happening with the setting up of village communes. These were not initiated as a path to communism, but resulted more from an interaction between radical rural cadres and poor peasants than any direction from the centre. It was not long, however, before Mao was recognising these large rural units, pooling the labour of thousands of peasants, as a way to achieve his objective of hastening the transition from socialism to communism. By August 1958, his glowing praise of the commune system was widely reported in the press. On August 29th, despite growing reservations by many Party members, communes were formally ratified as ‘a logical outcome of the march of events.’

Mao’s plan was more Utopia than reality. The failure of The Great Leap Forward is well documented. Hopes were soon dashed that the country could by-pass the process of industrialisation without capital investment in heavy machinery or that ideological purity could overcome a lack of expertise. The masses had no experience in managing small backyard steel-furnaces, large-scale diversion of farm labour into industry disrupted China’s agriculture and morale was undermined by food shortages. As the Great Leap Forward began to run into difficulties, Mao was criticised by other members of the Politburo. At the Lushan Conference of July 1959 his speech is an attempt to vindicate his approach to development against these criticisms. While admitting his responsibility in its failures he reaffirms his enthusiasm for the communes and their future and threatens should the Great Leap and the communes be allowed to perish, he would ‘go to the countryside to lead the peasants to overthrow the government.’

Not wishing to risk civil war, the official communiqué complied with Mao’s demand to revive the Great Leap Forward and affirm the validity of the people’s communes. But Mao’s victory was short lived. Floods and drought ravaged much of the countryside, adding to the mismanagement of the communes, the situation quickly turned into national disaster with China close to collapse.

A letter by Mao, written to the Party in late November 1959, referring to the realities of the situation, heralded the demise of the Great Leap Forward. Over the following months the Central Committee, led by Liu Shao-‘chi, Mao’s rival in policy direction, put in place reforms to the commune system, smaller units of production and incentives to stimulate production. Mao remained the Chairman of the party but his influence was reduced as the ministries in Peking re-established control and planning over the economy.

In 1962 Mao emerged from seclusion to criticise these policies that he condemned as ‘revisionist.’ Although Mao no longer controlled the party apparatus in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward, he still commanded enormous personal prestige for his role in the revolution from his more devoted followers and from among the peasantry. As Mao became increasingly disillusioned with the Party as a focus of revolutionary consciousness, evidenced in speeches on Democratic Centralism on 30th January’62, ( Schram.Text 8..)and ‘class struggle,’ (Text 9. ) and later talks prior to the Cultural Revolution, he began to look to the People’s Liberation Army as a means to restore his Proletarian Revolution.

Concerning Fragrant Flowers and Poisonous Weeds…

In the talk on 30th January’62, Mao is returning once more to the central concern of his Ten Great Relationships talk of 1952, the question of combining Party policy decision making with critical participation by the masses, ‘unity combined with struggle,’ in order to mobilize them into the cause of socialism, the process he calls ‘democratic centralism.’

For Mao inherent contradictions between central rule and mass engagement can be resolved by a process of ‘unity, criticism, unity.’ In the January talk, Mao is attacking bureaucratic arrogance and indirectly, the man who has replaced him as Party leader, Liu Shao-ch’i.

This is an important talk expressing Mao’s basic consistency over time regarding how the Great Proletarian Revolution can be maintained, which has everything to do with ‘centralism’ and very little to do with ‘democracy.’ It illuminates Mao’s swings from encouraging free criticism of the CCP to controlling free criticism, demonstrated in his Hundred Flowers campaign. It illuminates his adoption of a new economic model in his Great Leap Forward in opposition to the Soviet model and for the first time in effect calls for the overthrow of a revisionist leadership in Moscow. And it foreshadows continuity with the two prior campaigns in the way Mao directs his Cultural Revolution.

To avoid what Mao argues as the Soviet’s failed revolution in which a bureaucratic elite follow a status quo policy directed to their own interest, Mao needs the criticism of the masses against the elite to countermand this tendency and maintain the purity of the Chinese Proletarian Revolution. Mao argues for the right of the people to speak out so that when the leadership follows an incorrect line, ‘the only thing is for those who represent the correct line, [my italics] at a suitable opportunity, to use the methods of democratic centralism to take the initiative to make the mistakes right.’ (S.Schram.Text 8. P162.)

To the bureaucrats he throws out this challenge:

’Those of you who…do not allow the people to speak, who think you are tigers, and that nobody will dare to touch your arse …will fail. People will talk anyway. You think that nobody will really dare to touch the arse of tigers like you? They damn well will!’ (Schram.P167.)

But there’s an ambiguity regarding the right to speak freely that Mao is offering the people. Throughout the talk, the words, ‘for those who represent the correct line’ is the basic qualifier, ‘free speech’ therefore meaning ‘that which serves politically correct ends.’ For Mao speaking freely is intended to lead to a ‘centralization of correct ideas,’ (Schram. P163.) the growth of flowers and not poisonous weeds.

So the correct consciousness of the people is a thing to be created along with their enthusiasm. Various references to the masses in Mao’s talk suggest this. As in a factory, argues Mao, ‘If the raw material is not adequate in quantity and quality it cannot produce good finished products.’ (Schram. P164.) Promoting democracy entails a manipulative corrective process. It requires ‘understanding what is happening down below,’ ( Ibid.P164.) it requires mobilizing ‘the enthusiasm of the broad masses of the people,’ (Ibid.P187.) making them feel part of the revolution. And it requires a designated outcome, ‘a centralization of correct ideas.’(Ibid.P 187.) to keep the revolution pure, and that requires transformation of the people’s consciousness as well as control of the bureaucrat elites.

Mao Tse-tung speaks as the conductor of the orchestra. The individual members of the orchestra are allowed a little free time to warm up, play a few discordant notes. But then they must play the tune the conductor of the orchestra has chosen, and play it to his direction.

Mao was able to speak as conductor of the orchestra because of his standing with the People’s Liberation Army following the rise to power of Mao’s protégé, Lin Piao. When Lin Piao became the PLO, leader he used his role to turn the army into a ‘Great School of Mao Thought,’ publishing a book of Mao’s quotations, which became known as the ‘little red school book.’ And so, when Mao addressed the politburo in January, 1965, identifying the principle enemy of socialism in China as ‘those people in authority within the Party who are taking the capitalist road,’ he was able to prevail upon reluctant party leaders to undertake a ‘Cultural Revolution.’

Part 2.

The Cultural Revolution.


In January 1965, when Mao Tse- tung persuaded a reluctant party leadership to undertake a ‘cultural revolution,’ a Five-Man Group was set up, delegated to its implementation. This was the prelude to the 1966 official beginning of the Cultural Revolution. The Five-Man Group, headed by fifth ranking member of the politburo, P’eng Chen, managed to keep the debate low key while Mao was away in the provinces rallying support for his policies. The revolution only begins in earnest when Mao returns to Peking, in May ’66. The Five-Man Group is quickly dissolved and P’eng Chen and his followers dismissed from office. The Five-Man Group is replaced by a new organization set up by Mao, the Cultural Revolution Group, with the task of countering a future ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’ by revisionist members within the party.

University and middle school students were the first to respond to a call by the Cultural Revolution Group to rebel against the revisionists with students at Peking University posting a manifesto on campus walls denouncing the university president for having suppressed student discussion and calling upon all students to ‘go into battle.’ The poster was taken down by the authorities and those involved duly punished, but a week later, Mao hailed the students’ poster’ as the manifesto of the Peking Commune’ and had it broadcast on public radio and published in the People’s Daily.

Encouraged by a decree on June 18th postponing university exams for six months, student activist groups sprang up throughout the country. These early activist groups were not united. While some were directed at hitherto sacrosanct educational and political authorities, there was also infighting among the groups as well. At the beginning of the student rebellion, Liu Shao-ch’i sent party work teams to the schools and university campuses to organize their own rebel groups, led primarily by the sons and daughters of party officials themselves. These students stigmatised the other students, who were not the children of one-time revolutionaries like themselves, as coming from ‘bad’ class backgrounds . The conflict between these Liuist and Maoist factional groups continued throughout the summer, becoming a physical, as well as verbal struggle.

The Red Guards.

In late July, over the opposition of Liu-Shao-ch’i, Mao condemned the previous ‘fifty days of White Terror’ and ordered the withdrawal of the work teams from the schools, allowing the students to organise themselves solely on the basis of Mao’s thought. In early August, students wearing armbands bearing the characters for the Red Guards, historically soldiers of the Red Army, began appearing in the streets of Peking. And soon, with the encouragement of Mao, students were organising into groups in every university and middle school in the land, rallying under the slogan, ‘It is justified to rebel.’ On August 18th, when almost a million students flocked to Peking to receive Chairman Mao’s blessing, he appeared atop the Heavenly Gate at sunrise and solemnly donned the red armband, thereby becoming ‘supreme commander’ and ‘great helmsman’ of the Red Guard movement.

At the 11th Plenum meeting of the central committee from which many non-Maoist party leaders were excluded, the Red Guard was anointed as the vanguard of the anticipated mass rebellion. Their program was set forth in Sixteen Articles, its main purpose, to overthrow ‘those within the party who are in authority and taking the capitalist road.’ A related goal was the destruction of ‘the four olds,’ old ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the exploiting classes whereby revisionists sought to corrupt the masses.

So encouraged, the Red Guard took to the streets carrying placards of Mao Tse-tung and copies of Mao’s little red book. During the remaining months of 1966, the students marched through the streets of cities and through the countryside, destroying anything regarded as bourgeois culture or symbols of the feudal past. Houses were ransacked, ancient Confucian texts and old books were thrown away, museums and works of art destroyed. As well as attacking cultural icons, the Red Guard assaulted people. Those identified as ‘power-holders,’ party officials and intellectuals, were paraded through the streets in dunce-caps and forced to confess their crimes at public rallies where they were often physically abused. Many were beaten, some beaten to death or driven to suicide.

Violence also escalated among the Red Guard themselves and the vandalism and hooliganism that characterised the movement often aroused peasants and workers to defend the existing order. By late October, Mao was acknowledging the havoc caused by his approval of the student poster as the Cultural Revolution manifesto and the vanguard of the revolution began to be viewed as a liability. Already, back in August, in a letter to the Red Guards he had begun to spell out limits to the rebellion, when he transmuted the slogan ‘To rebel is justified,’ into ‘It is right to rebel against reactionaries.’

As increasing numbers of city youth with their own particular grievances swelled the movement, factionalism increased. In Shanghai, a city of eleven million people, disgruntled unskilled and apprentice workers and contract workers on the margins of society, whose conditions made them more likely to rebel than skilled workers, joined the Red Guard movement, later to be opposed by those skilled workers. The result was the emergence of a bewildering number of popular rebel organisations, each proclaiming loyalty to Mao principles. In early November, ‘66, many of the rebels formed a loose alliance, the Headquarters of the Revolutionary Revolt of Shanghai Workers, led by young textile worker Hung-wen, and demanded that the organisation be recognised as a legal entity under ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat,’ thereby challenging the party’s monopoly of political power.

When their demands were refused, some of the rebels commandeered a train bound for Peking determined to present them to Mao himself. After authorities halted the train at a small town outside Shanghai, the rebels carried out a three day siege. On 19th November, a leading member of the Cultural Revolution Group, Chang Ch’un-ch’iao, declared the worker’s headquarters a legitimate revolutionary organisation, compelling the reluctant Mayor of Shanghai to agree as well.

With this signed agreement, government control rapidly disintegrated as rebel groups freely roamed the city gaining popular support in their movement. Opposing them was the conservative group of skilled workers, the Workers’ Scarlet Guard for the Defence of Mao Tse-tu Thought. The economy of Shanghai was paralysed when the Scarlet Guard called a general strike on December 31st amid a background of political demonstrations and marches that brought more violence.

On 5th January, 1967, a dozen rebel groups allied with the Workers’ Group and with the encouragement of the Cultural Revolution Group, published in the main newspaper, a message to the people of Shanghai calling for unity. The next day, more than one million people gathered in the city’s main square to watch a televised meeting where the city’s officials were denounced and removed from their positions. Over the next few days, members of the old regime were made to make public confessions and were paraded through the streets wearing dunce hats.

The old regime in Shanghai was at an end. Chang Ch’un ch’iao struck a deal with Wang Hung-wen to guarantee the support of the Workers’ Group and with the help of the PLO, order was restored for a few weeks. But violence soon broke out again when a group of the more radical workers, fearing that the new apparatus was not much different to the old system, took to the streets once more.

To gain the support of these radical groups Chang promised the setting up of a model based on the Paris Commune with self-government by the producers. The commune agreement was short lived. As the people of Shanghai waited for Peking to hail the establishment of the people’s commune, Chang was called to Peking for a meeting with Mao. Mao queried whether the commune structure left any political place for a communist structure, insisting that China would require the party and its experienced cadres for the foreseeable future. ( \Cited Meisner, P 349.) Mao was no longer attracted to the commune but to a different organisational model, to a revolutionary committee that he called a triple alliance, a bureaucratic committee of representatives of mass revolutionary representatives, party cadres and the army, a committee in which the latter prevailed and the young activists were subordinate. Chang was obliged to return to Shanghai and tell the people of Shanghai why the commune must cease to exist.

The Shanghai pattern of events was repeated with variation throughout China. In February it was decreed that there were to be no more radical experiments with communes, only revolutionary committees based on the triple alliance model were to be allowed.

Unity, contradiction, unity – or something else?

Thereafter Mao retreated from encouraging mass involvement in his revolution towards a Leninist concept of mass subservience to the party leadership. ‘You are communists,’ he said to the 9th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, ‘you are the part of the proletariat which is more conscious. (‘Mao Unrehearsed,’ Text 25.)

In January, Lin Piao had instructed the People’s Liberation Army, acting on Mao’s orders, to become involved in the political protests, supporting the revolutionary left in the struggle but keeping order at the same time. Preference for law and order, however, tended to prevail when soldiers, entering factories to enforce production, failed to distinguish between conflicting groups and often arrested the more radical activists.

Following Shanghai, Party efforts to establish revolutionary committees was resisted in Peking and provincial cities like Wuhan, soon exploded into a frenzy of violence against authority in general. By August, China seemed on the brink of civil war. Wuhan, the heart of China’s railroad system, seemed a particularly perilous uprising given its industrial significance, and its mutiny had to be put down by the PLO in a full scale battle. Meanwhile, in Peking the protests against the central authority continued. The Foreign Ministry was actually taken over for two weeks by rebels.

On September 5th, in a decree signed by the party central committee and Mao Tse-tung, the PLO was commanded to restore order. The process of the ‘return to normalcy,’ while expressed in revolutionary rhetoric, was forcefully carried out with public executions of alleged instigators of violence. That the Red Guards were no longer required was made clear two weeks later with a directive ordering the students to return to their studies. The revolution was at an end.


The Cultural Revolution that had begun with a wholesale attack on the Leninist party within the CCP ended with the restoration of the party in its orthodox form but minus Mao’s more prominent opponents. Liu Shao ‘ch’i was expelled from the party in October’68 for ‘following the capitalist road,’ and thousands of cadre bureaucrats were dispatched to the country side.

Ironies abound. In the long period of post-revolution purges bringing about ‘a return to purity,’ many members of the Cultural Revolution Group who had supported Mao’s Cultural Revolution but failed to keep up with his post revolution move to the centre, were condemned as conspirators, as being ‘Ultra-left in form but ultra-right in essence.’ Mao’s companion and designated successor, Lin Piao, mysteriously disappeared from the scene, accused of a plot to assassinate Mao and said to have died in a plane crash. Thousands of Red Guard students were sent to the countryside to work. In the final upsurge of the Cultural Revolution in the summer of 1968, Red Guards who had continued to rebel in Kwangsi and other remote provinces were killed in bloody massacres or executed by the PLO, the very force that had helped them into being.

Actions speak louder than words. A final irony, that the cultivation of Mao Tse-tung as great leader by the People’s Liberation Army should turn him into a cult figure, and that he, an avowed enemy of the leader as individual, should willingly become this cult figure whose every word was law.

And so, herewith, regarding the idealism or pragmatism of Chairman Mao’s political manoeuvres, I leave the reader to decide… I draw my own conclusions.


To be continued in Part 3. I have no idea how it will pan out, folks.


The Picnic.

We brought a rug for sitting on.
Our lunch was in a box.
The sand was warm, we didn’t wear
Hats or shoes or socks…

Lines above are from a children’s poem describing the playful cultural ritual of The Picnic, harking back to the simplicity of a rustic Garden of Eden experience before The Fall, Nature’s beneficence of ripe harvest and good weather. Say, what could be more delightful, beneath a summer sky, than a group or pair of us enjoying the idyllic experience of your picnic on the grass?

Etymology of the word ‘picnic’ unknown, perhaps of French origin, le pique-nique, from the verb ‘piquer’ which means to pick, with the rhyming nique meaning trifle. What is known is that the practice of going on a picnic has a long history, not only in the West but much further a-field, from China and Japan in the East, to European New World settlements in North America and Australia.



This picnic scene painted in 1846 could be depicting a picnic in England and France but it isn’t. The artist was an American painter, Thomas Cole, the setting the Hudson River Valley with a view of the Catskill Mountains in the distance.

The picnic scene below, Goten-yama hill, Shinagawa on the Tokkaido, was painted by Hokusai in 1832, one of his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. Picnics in the Cherry Blossom Season are still a popular event,



As many responses by variable humans through history to going on a picnic, as responses to ways we experience the natural world. Herewith some observations in the literature, from Nature as transcendental experience, those feelings of amazement and awe to feelings of pleasure and contentment, of human oneness with Nature.

On responding to the sublime in Nature, Edmund Burke in his essay, ‘A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful.’ (1857) writes of our feelings of the sublime triggered by ‘ an experience of subjugation to something greater than ourselves, such as nature or the divine, experienced as a feeling of terror or pleasure, depending on a person’s proximity to real danger.’

In 1764 Immanuel Kant wrote an essay, ‘Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime,’ in which he noted that feelings of enjoyment are subjective and that there are two kinds of finer feelings, the feeling of the beautiful, that occasions a sensation that is ‘joyous and smiling, ‘and the feeling of the sublime that is ‘sometimes accompanied by a certain dread or melancholy.’

And further to those human responses of awe and dread before Nature, there’s Herman Melville in his novel ‘Moby Dick.’ (1851) describing many shades of the beautiful and sublime, including Nature’s indifference to human concerns, which is the motivation behind Captain Ahab’s quest to destroy the white whale:

‘I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.’

None of these responses to Nature, I’d say, seem likely to predispose us to going on a picnic. Picnicking requires the kinds of feeling about Nature you find in Wordsworth’s and Thoreau’s writings, more a deep and joyful sense of belonging in Nature. Here a stanza from Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Prelude:’

‘Yes I remember when the changeful earth,
And twice five summers’ on my mind had stamped
The faces of the moving year, even then
I held unconscious intercourse with beauty
Old as creation, drinking in a pure
Organic pleasure from the wreaths
Of curling mist, or from the level plain,
Of waters coloured by impending clouds.’

Here’s Thoreau’s ecstatic encounter with Nature described in ‘Wild Fruits,’ in which he actually invites us ‘to picnic with Nature.’ Thoreau focusing on eating and drinking as bodily, but also spiritual modes of experiencing our communion with the earth, recommends this communion by way of picnicking on locally gathered wild fruits, thereby dramatising how ‘man at length stands in such a relation to Nature as the animals which pluck and eat as they go.’

Thoreau sees the fields and the hills as a table constantly spread:

‘They seem offered to us not so much for food as for sociality, inviting us to picnic with Nature. We pluck and eat in remembrance of her. It is a sort of sacrament, a communion – the not forbidden fruits, which no serpent tempts us to eat.’

Now if that doesn’t make you want to go on a picnic, I don’t know what does! Not so much a feeling of awe as of being part of it all would seem to be behind the ritual game of going on a picnic.

So who gets to go on a picnic? Well, historically it was your aristocracy. Only the nobility had the time and inclination to enjoy picnicking. In England and France,
from the Middle Ages on into the eighteenth century, you’ve got the aristocracy experiencing a view of Nature’s plenitude that was not the common experience of the general populace. Consider their large estates, a team of gardeners, the Ha-Ha to keep out grazing animals, the manicured Garden of Delights, the Orangeries.

Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, picnics took place in the midst of the hunt, likely in the King’s Forest. In England, after William the Conqueror made England’s forests, which were most of England, his Royal Domain, this meant that picnics were a somewhat exclusive activity.



Those hunt picnics were likely not a simple affair, expect some sumptuous ingredients to the repast, venison and other baked meats, champagne or maybe red wine in fine goblets. A ploughman’s lunch in the field would not be classified as picnicking…And certainly the forests were out of bounds as the playground of the lower classes.

From the art and literature of the 19th century we find the growing Middle Class adopting the pleasurable pastime of the picnic. Picnicking enjoyed by the gentry, of course you’d expect, regarding the picnic experience, a response more ironical than transcendental from Jane Austin, and that’s what you get in her novel, ‘Emma.’ Here’s the strawberry picnic, the whole party assembled and a monologue by one of Miss Austin’s comic characters:

‘Mrs Elton in all her apparatus of happiness, the large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting and talking. Strawberries and only strawberries could now be thought of and spoken of,’ and so on and on until … ‘one’s objection to gathering strawberries the stooping – glaring sun – tired to death –could bear it no longer – must sit in the shade.’

The Garden of Eden does have its inconveniences and in reality picnics are not always the innocent idyll of those Claude Lorraine landscapes. After the French Revolution in 1789, royal parks became open to the public. Enter public decadence when, mid-nineteenth century, those bohemian French artists began depicting picnics, as in Edouard Manet’s painting, ‘Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe,’ with its disrobed artists’ models enjoying the out door experience. And then there’s Joan Lindsay’s book – a movie was made of it with pan flute accompaniment, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock,’ with its troupe of Edwardian school girls going missing in mysterious circumstances in this craggy setting, never to be found again… picnicking may sometimes end in tears, oh well!

Picnicking in the park, whether royal park or further a-field, your hill or dale, or way-side or sea-side, didn’t catch on with the working populace until they had the leisure to do it and that meant something like the eight hour working day and half holiday on Saturday. Most of the general population through-out history had neither. Most of the time before the development of economical machine power, forests were cleared for farm land by working people with axes, minerals mined and roads built by working people with pick and shovel, working women preparing food, doing the laundry by hand and incessantly ironing clothes – phew… Hard manual labour and heavy lifting were the norm, and few sat down to work, Sunday was the only day of rest in Christian societies and was zealously observed as such, – everything closed on Sundays except the churches.

No sport on Sundays, no picnics! In 1856 in Melbourne town, Great Southern Land, stonemasons won the eight hour day – hooray! This was a beginning but still needed were yr engineering innovations to substitute machine labour for manual labour and release workers from the lo-o-ong work day. In the last hundred years in the western world, work and leisure have slowly changed places, yr working family have got to go on picnics, – hooray! Everyone’s involved so, herewith, the second stanza of the children’s poem , ‘The Picnic,’ … plus commentary.

Waves came curling up the beach.
We waded. it was fun.
Our sandwiches were different kinds.
I dropped my jelly one.

Dorothy Aldis.

So here we are out in Nature’s playground, earth, sea and sky. Play-time! What to do besides sitting on the ground and eating? Proximity to water – some wading, perhaps? Other pleasant pastimes – ball throwing, cricket, frisbies, might like to try a tug – of war, or there’s that Annual Work-Picnic or Sunday-School Picnic favourite, the foot race, categorized as ‘under seven year olds,’ ‘under tens,’ yr ‘married women’s race, etcetera, or as variations on the theme, the egg and spoon race or pair’s one-legged race.

So much to do, or maybe jest sprawl on the picnic rug, listen to the birds, a little conversation, nothing too disturbing, or jest sn-oo-ze in the sun. Picnic fun.



Did you forget the main game – why you’re here? Remember Thoreau’s theme regarding nature and divine plenitude, ‘no picnic w/out the food.’ You, Andrew Marvell, (English poet,) say it well in your vision of the ‘Bermudas’ as bountiful Paradise:

He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storm’s and prelates’ rage…

He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night;
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.

So perhaps for your picnic, something close to hand, keep it simple, summer berries, or the serf’s picnic, a thermos of tea and yr simple sandwich, corned-beef and pickle, or variations of same, ham and mustard, cucumber and tomato, egg and mayonnaise, or that delightful surprise, – assorted sandwiches.

The literature, however, might give you a taste for something less simple, something out of the box, a hamper of delights.

From ‘Wind in the Willows,’ by Kenneth Grahame, here’s Ratty going on a picnic:

‘Ratty appeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket.

‘Shove that under your feet, ‘he observed to the Mole, as he passed it down into the boat.

‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.

‘There’s cold chicken inside it’ replied the Rat briefly:

‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinsaladfrenchrollcresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater –‘

‘O stop, stop.’ cried the Mole in ecstacies: ‘This is too much!’

‘Do you really think so?’ enquired the Rat seriously. ‘’It is only what I always take on these little excursions…’

If you think this is too much take a look in Mrs Beeton’s famous Cook Book, (1861) at her suggested ‘Picnic Luncheon for Twenty Persons.’ In my serf 1909 edition, on page 1729, sandwiched between ‘Menu Luncheon For A Shooting Party’ and her ‘Suggestions For A Week’s Dinners,’ (four pages for four-season dining) her Picnic Menu:

5 lbs of cold Salmon. 2 Cucumbers. Mayonnaise sauce. 1 Quarter of Lamb. Mint Sauce. 8 lbs Pickled Brisket of Beef. 1 Tongue. 1 Galantine of Veal. 1 Chicken Pie. Salad and Dressing. 2 Fruit Tarts. Cream. 2 dozen Cheese Cakes. 2 Bottles of Cream. 2 Jellies. 4 loaves of Bread. 2 lbs of Biscuits. 1 1/2 lbs of Cheese. ½ lb Butter. 6 lbs of Strawberries.

After this repast don’t expect these twenty picnickers to be fronting up for a tug of war, best take it easy, loll back, listen to the birds chirruping, the frogs cricking, the wind in the willows sighing,*…and likely the cooks back in the kitchen could do with a rest, too.

Rest peacefully, Twenty Picknickers, no need to be on the alert in your Garden of Eden picnic surrounds, – no bears or wolves or serpents would dare to intrude upon this idyllic scene. **



*Might like to omit the pan flutes!

** Disclaimer: yr picnic not to be confused with yr garden party or yr barbeque despite some parallels, these are two quite different games. – Think about it.


‘Altogether elsewhere,’

… let’s hear it for words, and in particular,
let’s have it in writing!

For Judith.

‘Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.’

W.H Auden.


Lost in the mists of time the origins of human language, evolving from that early signalling and expressive sound-making we shared with our animal kin, the scream, the shout, the sibilant hiss and song, like bird song or the song of the Humpback whale, and spoken language evolving beyond that sign language we share with some of our hominid ancestors. Lots of conjectures regarding those first spoken words, but who knows what and why, and like in the song, who knows where or when?

What we do know is that the fossil record, from endocast maps of the brain, reveal evidence in early Homo, but not in the Australopithacus species, of a brain section known as Brocca’s area, the major area associated with spoken language. And there’s also tantalising evidence for speech in voice-producing apparatus of the neck, the larynx and the pharynx in humans, a vocal tract unique in the animal world. This evolution appears in a less developed stage in Home erectus but by the time of Home sapiens, some 300,000 years ago, the modern voice apparatus has evolved, indicating the potential, if not the actuality for spoken language.

Vocalisation is one thing, structural use of words, the syntax of descriptive language, is another, bespeaking a level of conscious thinking enabling us to conjure abstract elements in ordered progression.

Actions denote volition behind the act, and complex action denotes complex thought. Artistic depiction is one such complex activity. The hundreds of paintings, engravings and reliefs of bison and other animals in the caves of Altimira in Spain, and Lascaux in France, during the Upper Paleolithic Aurgnacian Period, 43, 000 to 26,000 years ago indicate this complexity. Probably the first paintings were stencilings of actual hands held against the cave walls. Was this the first historical record? The stencils were succeeded by figural paintings of horses and bulls painted with lively naturalism.


A characteristic feature of those early pictures is their twisted perspective, which shows, for example, the head of an animal in profile and its horns twisted to a front view, On the basis of this archaeological evidence of sophisticated cave art, it seems logical to infer a complex language by its makers.

Even further back, in Mousterian times 150, 000 to 40,000 years ago, sounds mysterious don’t it, findings of engraved bone and ivory in archaeology indicate an ability to deal with abstract processes, but the flowering of art, around 32,000 years ago, findings of exquisitely carved animals like the Vogelhead horse in Germany, …not even mentioning the tool-making innovations of the period, suggest that something important was taking place in human development at this time.

Put it in writing…

2Judith Alexandrovics

Looking for the origins of writing is something more tangible than wondering when our Homo sapien ancestors began uttering those first words, especially as the earliest writing, cuneiform script ‘cuneiform’ meaning ‘wedge-shaped,’ originating in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, around 3,200 years ago, was inscribed on tablets of clay. Say wasn’t it good that paper was not invented by the Chinese until a few thousand years later? Many of the earliest clay tablets found came from a site in Uruk and seem to have been invented as an aid to memory used to record transactions. Cuneiform script, consisting of some 800 symbols was not an alphabet but a blend of pictograms and signs for syllables, the Phoenician alphabet was not invented until around 1,100 B.C.

From different regions of Mesopotamia, in cuneiform writing miraculously preserved in clay, we get many fragmented versions of the world’s oldest epic, the poem of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk , who journeys to the ends of the earth in search of the secret of immortality. Many centuries later, perhaps transcribed in the 7th century B.C. in Greek writing, based on Phoenician script, we get the beginning of Western European literature with ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey,’ both poems ascribed to the blind poet Homer, though possibly authored by two poets.

Homer’s stories were not actually created by him but were drawn from a narrative tradition orally passed on by bards who employed hexameter metre and for rapid composing, verbal formulas describing common events, descriptions of actors or nature, such as ‘swift footed’ Achilles, and ‘rosy fingered’ dawn, to drive the story forward. When Homer assumedly cooperated with a scribe to create his two masterpieces, he was less confined to oral requirements and could experiment with complex dramatic devices like flash backs in time and extended similes that illuminate an individual’s felt response to a situation. An oral verse form could not do what a written narrative was able to do.

The world’s oldest known story, ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ like Homer’s Odyssey, was also an amalgam of stories preserved on clay tablets, often pierced together because tablets break, and covering a long period of time. The early Gilgamesh stories, written in the Sumerian language of Southern Mesopotamia as early as 2,100B.C., the famous Arkkadian 12 tablet version written by Sin-legi-unninni, who is thought to have lived between 1300-and 1000, B.C. If you haven’t heard this talk by Professor of Babylonian and Oriental Studies, Andrew George, regarding its excavation and so much more, a feast awaits you.

Though an actual King Gilgamesh did once rule Uruk, this is a story of legendary exploits, perhaps transcribed in the 7th century B.C, of the heroic and flawed Gilgamesh, who, after killing the Bull of Heaven and destroying a monster guarding the Cedar Forests of Lebanon, takes on a legendary quest, journeying to the ends of the earth to obtain the secret of immortality from Uta-napishti, the Babylonian equivalent of Noah, who is himself an immortal.

Though the story is certainly fiction, The Epic of Gilgamesh is more interested in examining the human condition than the doings of the gods. Reading the thoughts expressed by its writer allows us insights into attitudes of a long past civilisation, attitudes to life and death, debate on the proper duties of kingship, the benefits of civilisation over savagery, on the structure of its poetry and more. The Gilgamesh poem, because of this, is something of an historical document.

Let’s hear it for History!

Let’s hear it for history I say! The study of past civilisations is a source of knowledge valuable in itself. Without writing, a recorded examination of past human thought and action is not possible. Some say it can’t be done.

Problem with words as descriptive tools, argues Michael Foucault. Words have been perverted from their original function as signification and given the impossible task of realistically representing and neutrally referring to their objects… But if words are mere things alongside other things this task is exposed for what it is, the construction of objects by word things.

Words are a problem, says Frederick Nietzsche. Man constructs his world, and in so doing is bound by the verbal structures at his disposal. If we rely on conceptual language, as in monumental or antiquarian studies of the past, we create inhibiting illusions, and if we rely on critical language, as in analytical history, we strip ourselves of illusions altogether. Either way the past becomes a deadening influence upon us as we seek to respond to the present.

Much better to live unhistorically like animals do, writes Nietzsche in his essay ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages if History:’

‘A leaf flutters from the scroll of time, floats away –and suddenly floats back again and falls into the man’s lap. Then the man says ‘I remember and envies the animal, who at once forgets and for whom every moment really dies, sinks back into night and fog and is extinguished for ever.’

Lovely writing, if not quite accurate concerning animal memory, and you’ll notice that Nietzsche himself, and Foucault too, are using words as a means to construct their arguments. Seems they find words adequate tools to their own task at hand.

And so they are, when used appropriately. Is studying past thinking and events in the service of some extrinsic purpose doing actual ‘history?’ – No-o-o! Is doing actual ‘history’ about teaching a lesson, or attributing human activity to some deux ex machina intervention? –No-o-o! Francis Bacon got it right when he claimed that history’s essential task is to recall and record the past in its facts as they had happened. He didn’t say how this could be done but he did identify the task.

I’m with the historian John Dunn, (J.Dunn. ‘The Identity of the History of Ideas.’ In Philosophy 43 1968 p 98.) when he says that the problem of historical perspective bias may be managed if we seek to understand the biographical or social experience a past argument or event was designed to meet. There’s no open-sesame by way of documentary evidence and some areas of history are more accessible than others, but if we are able to study an argument or event in context, says Dunn, ‘to substitute the closure of the context provided by the biography of the speaker [or actors] for that provided by the biography of the historian,’ then we can begin to understand something of the specificity of an action in its own setting.

… A brief extract from my 5th Edition, History’s Chequered History in support of History. The study of history is valuable for its own sake.

‘The proper study of mankind is man,’ somebody said, and I agree. History revealing us in all our variety is a rich and chastening experience, like reading great literature. If even the papery whisperings of fictional characters mimicking real life extend our understanding of human jealousy, pride, pomposity, heroism, even altruism, characters created, admittedly by real men and women, how valuable then the actions of real protagonists and observers of events, filling in gaps, that without illumination, would be a vacuum in the record.

I think of the chilling scene in Orwell’s novel,’1984,’ where, in the Dystopia of Oceania, at The Ministry of Truth, the records are shredded and cast down the memory hole so that myth can prevail…’So now you will be told, about the past, that which you need to know.’ Then there’s another against-the-record alternative, life with no record. ‘Let’s clean-slate into a future without regret, without memory, ‘ say, nothing to compare to, as though new born, and jest as unaware!

So herewith on to the papery whisperings of fictional characters mimicking real life in yr great literature…

The written word as in yr great literature.

Jorge Luis Borga, both writer and reader, when asked if he didn’t regret spending more time reading than actually living, replied: “There are many ways of living, and reading is one of them.” (Quote in Pierre Ryckmans, essay – ‘Reading.’ ) Say, anyone who loves reading has tested the truth of this observation. Who can underestimate their first reading of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ or Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ or Melville’s ‘Moby Dick.’?

Harold Bloom, deep reader and writer on the western canon,’ says of its writers that they break into the canon by way of aesthetic strength, ‘which is constituted primarily of an amalgam: mastery of figurative language, originality, cognitive power, knowledge, exuberance of diction.’ (‘The Weston Canon.’ H. Bloom. (1994) P.27.)

This from Herman Melville, “Moby Dick, Ch 104.) yr exuberance of writing concerning the hunt for the great white whale:

‘Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crate for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their out-reaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding the suburbs.’

Encompassing the gamut of human behaviour, the great literature of the western canon takes us to places altogether elsewhere, but doesn’t place itself in the service of any moral cause, however worthy, doesn’t seek to make us good, your great literature is not a program for social salvation. What makes these writers and their books canonical? ‘The answer more often than not,’ observes Harold Bloom, ‘has turned out to be strangeness, a mode of originality that can not be assimilated, or that so assimilates us that we no longer see it as strange.’ (Bloom. P,3)

Dante is an example of the first mode of strangeness and Shakespeare of the second…

From strangeness to strangeness…

Aesthetic strength, figurative language, cognitive power, originality, Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’ encompasses all of the above, even when read in an English translation, as I must do. The Divine Comedy, an audacious journey, a quest for personal salvation taken by Dante himself through the many circles of Hell, through Purgatory and on to a vision of Paradise. Dante bends the doctrinal account to a personal vision of Heaven and Hell created by his powerful imagination. It’s an arbitrary creation in which enemies and rivals are assigned their places in the Inferno… pre-Christians like Seneca or Heraclitus to its outer rim…and where his temporary guide is the poet Virgil, assigned the task by Dante’s apotheosis, the divine Beatrice, who seeks Dante’s salvation but who, herself, was created by him. In Canto 2 of The Inferno, Virgil recounts his mission to Dante.

‘That from this terror thou mayst free thyself,
I will instruct thee why I came, and what
I heard in that same instant, when for thee
Grief touch’d me first. I was among the tribe,
Who rest suspended, when a dame, so blest
And lovely, I besought her to command,
Call’d me; her eyes were brighter than the star
Of day; and she with gentle voice and soft
Angelically tun’d her speech address’d:
“O courteous shade of Mantua! Thou whose fame
Yet lives, and shall live long as nature lasts!
A friend, not of my fortune but myself,
On the wide desert in his road has met
Hindrance so great, that he through fear has turn’d.
Now much I dread lest he past help have strayed
And I be ris’n too late for his relief,
From what in heaven of him I heard. Speed now,
And by thy eloquent persuasive tongue,
And by all means for his deliverance meet,
\Assist him. So to me will comfort spring.
I who now bid thee on this error forth
Am Beatrice.’

Prideful poet, Dante Alighieri, imposing his own vision of Eternity purporting to be doctrinal truth, orchestrating his own salvation, wow!

More strangeness from The Bard. No need to say his name…everyone in the west knows who he is, so central to the western canon is he by power of his figurative language and depiction of human nature in all its dissimlitudes.

Here is Shakespeare’s Macbeth, (Act 3,) invoking the night and indirectly placing himself with the creatures of the night as he prepares to murder his friend Banquo and also murder Banquo’s son.

‘Light thickens.
And the crow makes wing to the rocky wood.
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
While night’s black agents their preys do rouse.’

The exceptional voice of the Shakespearean hero encompasses self reflection, thinking aloud…Shakespeare’s strangeness, a strangeness assimilated and adopted into our own behaviour. We take the reflective state of mind for granted but we don’t see it in earlier writing. Although Socrates is purported to have said that an unexamined life is a life not lived, you don’t get self reflection in the Greek tragedies. The tragedy for the hero is that learning your tragic flaw comes at the end of the drama, and the Greek chorus is not much help either, nothing like the introspective Hamlet or coldly calculating Edmund in ‘King Lear.’

Harold Bloom describes a moment in King Lear, an example of this reflective process invoking change in Edmund, the most intelligent of Shakespeare’s villains, overhearing himself and electing to change. Edmund, as a sophisticated consciousness, runs rings around anyone else on the stage in King Lear, he is so foul that only Goneril and Regan can relate to him. He’s received his death wound from his brother on the battlefield and word comes that Goneril and Regan are dead, the one slew the other and then committed suicide for his sake. Edmund broods out loud and says, “Yet Edmund was belov’d.” As soon as he says this, he starts to ponder out loud. What are the implications that although they were two monsters of the deep, the two loved him so much that “The one the other poison’d for my sake/ And after slew herself.” And then he suddenly says, “I pant for life,” and amazingly, “Some good I mean to do/ despite of my own nature.” And he gasps out, having given the order for Lear and Cordelia to be killed, “Send in time,’ a message to stop it. But too late, Cordelia has already been murdered. And then Edmund dies. But that was an astonishing change that came about when Edmund hears himself say in real astonishment, “Yet Edmund was beloved.” Had he not said that, he would not have changed. As Harold Bloom notes, there is nothing like this representation of inwardness prior to Shakespeare.

So let’s examine more strangeness in the western canon concerning the writer Cervantes and his comic hero, Don Quixote. There’s double strangeness here, first strangeness involving conscious intent. Cervantes, down on his luck, if he ever had any, having been wounded at the Battle of Lepanto was captured by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. After many years in captivity he returns to Spain, destitute and resolving to make some money by writing a burlesque about a comic character who decides to become an olden day knight errant.

Cervantes sets out this basic premise in the first chapter of Don Quixote:

‘The gentleman in the times when he had nothing to do –as was the case for most of the year- gave himself to the reading of books of knight-errantcy, which he loved and enjoyed so much that he almost forgot the care of his estate. So odd and foolish did he grow on this subject that he sold many acres of cor nland to buy more of these books of chivalry…(In the end), he so buried himself in his books that he spent the nights reading from twilight till daybreak; and so, from little sleep and much reading, his brain dried up and he lost his wits.’ …‘Having thus lost his understanding, he unluckily stumbled upon the oddest fancy that ever entered into a madman’s brain; for now he thought it convenient and necessary, as well for the increase of his own honour, as the service of the public, to turn knight-errant and roam through the whole world cap-a-pie.

Strange the difference between the conscious intention and the act, that a masterpiece of the Western Canon can emerge from so limited an intent by an author. Ironic, also, that a masterpiece of the Western Canon was intended as a send-up of the written word. Double strangeness that Cervantes’ comic hero became a character so complex that like the various interpretations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, no two readers ever seem to read the book, even critics failing to agree on its most fundamental aspects, comic or tragic, the madness or the saneness of the Don.

As you read on, following the stated premise, yr likely to experience some surprise, Don Quixote serving his apprenticeship as a knight errant becomes an individual much more profound than a character merely indulging in a game of self deception.

There’s a reality to Don Quixote and his companion Sancho Panza that transcend the tilting windmills and attacks on puppets because of the characters they represent. Don Quixote becomes so real to us that he seems to take on a life independent of his creator and some readers have expressed resentment at the harsh treatment that Cervantes metes out on Don Quixote. Felt this myself when I first read Don Quixote, forgetting that the more we blame the author, the more we believe in the world he created and its hero.

Much of this feeling comes from the irascible but affectionate communication between the Don and Sancho Panza. Unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who changes by hearing himself thinking aloud, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza change over time as they have long conversations where they listen to each other so that in the end the sceptical Sancho has becomes an enthusiast of the venture and Don Quixote has become what he wishes to be, Don Quixote has become a knight.

So there it is. Let’s hear it for words, and in particular, let’s have it in writing. Ecshew controls on free speech, eschew censorship in all its forms, eschew yr Orwellian newspeak limiting what may be thought…Listen up Google, listen up Facebook, listen up Guvuhmint.

… And let the last word to us citizens be from George Orwell:

‘ Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it?’