SIXTH EDITION

                                     SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL.



Welcome ter the Sixth Edition of Serf Under_ ground where readers, if there happen ter be any, 🙂  serfs or non_serfs as the case may be, are invited ter contribute, this bein’ an open thread.

What I want ter do here is pick up from me serf conclusion in the Fifth Edition of ‘History’s Chequered History,’ in which I refer ter the famous ‘down the memory hole’ scene in Orwell’s 1984, and some implications of the past effaced, gone, kaputt.

So herewith I’m invitin’ people ter post a speech, a commentary or an extract from history, with their comment regardin’ its context, significance from their POV or what-ever, ter illustrate how human past experience is valuable in itself and can be shared and reviewed by others over time.( By the past I don’t jest mean distant past, could be recent past as well.)

Ter start the thread I am posting extracts from a speech by Pericles, his famous Funeral Oration, that illustrate the transition from closed tribal society ter the open society of Athens in the fifth century BC. Pericles’ speech, (in Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, Bk 2.34-46.) was delivered after the first battles of the Peloponnesian war. Funerals after battle were public rituals and Pericles used this occasion to celebrate the values of Athenian democracy…

‘Our political system does not compete with institutions which are elsewhere in force.  We do not copy our neighbours, but try to be an example. Our administration favours the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he will be called to serve the state, in preference to others, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward for merit; and poverty is no bar …

The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and do not nag our neighbour if he chooses to go his own way … But this freedom does not make us lawless. We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right …

An Athenian citizen does not neglect public affairs when attending his private business …We consider that a man who takes no interest in the state, not as harmless, but as useless: and although only a few may originate policy, we are all able to judge it. We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as a preliminary to acting wisely …’

Serfs like the idea of liberty. The Athenian society of Pericles’ Funeral Oration seems ter have been the first ter take the revolutionary step from tribalism ter the open society of western democracy where justice is something particular to persons and not simply fer the collectivist good of the state. It marks a turning point, paraphrasing Popper, (The Open Society and Its Enemies. Ch 10) from a tribal society’s magical attitude towards social customs as indistinguishable from the regularities found in ‘nature,’ to an open society’s belief in human reason.

Seems, it was the Athenian generation that lived just before and during the Peloponnesian war that first recognised that social customs and laws were man-made and therefore open ter criticism and change. It was this generation that propounded the principles of equality before the law and humanitarianism expressed in Pericles’ Funeral Oration.

Some context regardin’ the Oration. The political and spiritual revolution that began with the breakdown of Greek tribal society climaxed in the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war
between the two largest Greek cities, Athens and Sparta. The war also became a violent class war involving the oligarchy party in Athens, an enemy of the democracy.

Thucydides, whose account of the war has become the official judgement of History, was himself a supporter of the oligarchs and judgements he made tended ter be more critical of Athenian imperialism than of Sparta’s despotic acts against its neighbouring states. Thucydides criticizes as exploitative, the taxes Athens imposed on its empire, a measure it adopted in the wider strain of war, ‘a duty of 5 percent
on all things imported and exported by sea.’ ( In Popper.p181) As Popper notes, this tax, in view of the
volume of trade in return that the Athenian fleet protected, does not seem unreasonable.

In his History, Thucydides describes the sense of general social breakdown of the time:
‘Nearly the whole of the Hellenic world was in commotion. In every city, the leaders of the democratic and of the oligarchic parties were trying hard, the one to bring in the Athenians, the other the
Lacedaemonians …The tie of party was stronger than the tie of blood.’ Cited Popper, Ch10.)

In Athens itself, the Athenian oligarchs accepted the help of Sparta in stopping the building of the Long Walls linked to the harbour in an attempt to destroy the naval basis and sea commerce of Athens, developments that had transformed the city from a tribal to an open society. Although favouring the oligarchs, Thucydides’ narrative while emphasising Athens’ unpopularity, reveals that although unpopular with the oligarchs, Athens was popular among democrats and the suppressed. This clash between conflicting views of society, of closed and open governance, has been ongoing throughout western history, the clash between authoritative rule and parliamentary democracy.

From mosomoso herewith an extract from seventeenth century French philosopher and moralist
Jean de la Bruyere. ‘The Characters of Jean de la Bruyere.’  ‘Of Personal Merit.’

‘False grandeur is unsociable and remote: conscious of its own frailty, it hides, or at least averts its face,
and reveals itself only enough to create an illusion and not be recognised as the meanness that it really is. True greatness is free, kind, familiar and popular; it lets itself be touched and handled, it loses nothing by being seen at close quarters; the better one knows it, the more one admires it.’

La Fausse grandeur est farouche et inaccessible; comme elle sent son faible, elle se cache, ou du moins ne se montre pas de front, et ne se fait voir qu’autant qu’il faut pour imposer et ne paraitre point ce qu’elle est, je veux dire une vraie petitesse. Le veritable grandeur est libre, douce, familiere, populaire; elle se laisse toucher et manier; elle ne perd rien a etre vue de pres; plus on la connait, plus on ,l’admire.

mosomoso: ‘La Bruyere is someone I’ve carted through life as a bit of emergency refreshment when I need it. He was like Maupassant, a perfectionist who laboured so his readers didn’t have to. He was perfect not to intimidate or impress, but as a courtesy.


  1. “It is characteristic of the unlearned that they are forever proposing something which is old, and because it has recently come to their own attention, supposing it to be new.”

    Calvin Coolidge on the klimatariat (okay, he wasn’t talking about the klimatariat – but you get my point?)

  2. Hi Beth

    By definition Beth, are serf comments likely to be ‘famous?’ More likely to be obscure. Its the overlords who get quoted.

    I thought I would contribute a number of loosely related comments ranging from the famous to the obscure (serf like) which perhaps demonstrate how difficult it is to follow maxims you believe in and that quotes are sometimes not derived from the sources you thought

    “Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle” Plato

    Or perhaps it wasn’t him after all.

    Anyway its a good maxim, but not always easy to apply as some people just sidestep the desire to be kind to them. This ascerbic proverb could be aimed at certain climate scientists and those who failed to question them as much as they should

    “if at noon he says it is night, will you say; behold, the stars?

    If at noon the King declares it is night, behold the stars.
    (Moroccan Proverb) – More Moroccan Proverbs… “

    Hubert Lamb was undoubtedly kind in his mild comments here, but managed to combine something of a waspish sting in the tail. Written just before he died in December 1994

    “The idea of climate change has at last taken on with the public after generations which assumed that climate could be taken as constant. But it is easy to notice the common assumption that mans science and modern industry and technology are now so powerful that any change of climate or the environment must be due to us. It is good for us to be more alert and responsible in our treatment of the environment, but not to have a distorted view of our own importance. Above all, we need more knowledge, education and understanding in these matters.”

    Hubert Lamb DEC 1994

    Serfs have managed to struggle on and prosper despite being on the fringes of society, as these exclusive extracts from the library of the Medieval Exeter Cathedral reveal;

    ‘From 1346 so little work was going on (building/repairing the Cathedral) that wage rates cannot be equated with the earlier period.’(Immediately after the Black Death years) ‘no regular skilled work recorded until 1353 when 3 out of 5 masons employed at much higher rates due to the great dearth of skilled labour’ (there was a statute of labourers to hold rates at previous lower levels prior to Black death which seemed impossible to enforce.)

    “Labourers (as opposed to skilled people) employed right through the Black Death to dig out conduits 1348-9 (aquaductum) (librarian thinks they could be referring to ordinary drainage conduits and water pipes rather than the passages) when other work stopped. (However ‘aquaductum ‘ seems to suggest a larger construction than merely a pipe or conduit for drains so could refer to the Underground passages we visited in April.)”

    My ref to the demand for higher wages by those digging the aqueduct at the Cathedral after the Black Death signalled the beginning of the end of the feudal system and led directly to the peasant’s revolt of 1381.

    Here we have one of the master standing up for the rights of one bunch of serfs (albeit those with a skill) being harassed by another group of serfs with less manners. The Kindness of The Bishop of Exeter apparently taking us full circle back to Plato’s famous comment

    ‘1n 1346 Bishop Grandisson instructed his archdeacon to bar a ‘sect of malign men who were constantly jeering at the leather dressers in Exeter theatre.’


  3. Yoor comments are much appreciated Tony, coming as they do from
    someone who is himself deeply involved in the historical process, of
    events played out in the context of weather events.
    Beth the serf.

  4. “Observe always that everything is the result of change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and make new ones like them.”
    ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  5. Say, mosomoso, Marcus Aurelius knew it (before Darwin.)
    His father, in yer fine story on Caesar Augustus Antoninus
    Pius foresaw it, and his heir Commodus, brought it about. (
    h/t ‘Altogether Elsewhere.’

  6. The long view can offer surprising insights, fergit down the memory hole.
    This quote from kim, who else? )

    ‘Ignore the millennial at your perennial.’

    Context: Judith Curry thread, ‘IPCC diagnosis – permanent paradigm paralysis.
    30/09/13 @ 8.01 am.

  7. “For nearly five years the present Ministers have harassed every trade, worried every profession, and assailed or menaced every class, institution, and species of property in the country. Occasionally they have varied this state of civil warfare by perpetrating some job which outraged public opinion, or by stumbling into mistakes which have been always discreditable, and sometimes ruinous. All this they call a policy, and seem quite proud of it; but the country has, I think, made up its mind to close this career of plundering and blundering. ”

    Disraeli on Rudd/Gillard (or someone just like ’em)

    Dizzy also said: “Increased means and increased leisure are the two civilizers of man.” (Us toffs, we really like us some Dizzy.)

  8. mosomoso, serfs like Disraeli because he took a leap in the dark.
    In his1867 Reform Bill he gave artisans the vote.

    Like Jean de la Bruyere Disraeli was also a big picture guy and said :
    ‘Life is too short to be little.’

    H/t Andre Maurois, ‘Disraeli’ Part1.

  9. Can’t think of a better contribution than this one, uttered on the occasion of an unnecessary political murder by Napoleon:
    “It is worse than a crime—it is a blunder”

    Okay, it’s attributed both to Talleyrand and to Joseph Fouche. Something else for the two old rogues to fight over.

    Well, I’m sure there are other good quotes to be had. Perhaps if I lie down and rest awhile…

  10. To err is human, as long as blunders are admitted to
    or at least not hidden from view.

    Another quote:

    ‘Let truth and falsehood grapple; who ever saw truth
    put to worse in free and open encounter?’

    John Milton.

    (Don’t yer jest luv the internet mosomoso?)

  11. Before the SuG passes to a new issue, what about a quote from Harold Macmillan? Mac was not a privatisation skeptic, but he was not always happy with motive and result:

    “When I ventured to criticise, the other day, this system I was, I am afraid, misunderstood. As a Conservative, I am naturally in favour of returning into private ownership and private management all those means of production and distribution which are now controlled by state capitalism. I am sure they will be more efficient. What I ventured to question was the using of these huge sums as if they were income.

    “I know now, I have learnt now from the letters that I have received, that I am quite out of date. Modern economists have decided there is no difference between capital and income. I am not so sure. In my younger days, I and perhaps others of your Lordships had friends, good friends, very good fellows indeed too, who failed to make this distinction. For a few years everything went on very well, and then at last the crash came, and they were forced to retire out to some dingy lodging-house in Boulogne, or if the estate were larger and the trustees more generous, to a decent accommodation at Baden-Baden.”

    I liked old Mac.

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