CHECKS AND BALANCES … THE POLITICAL RESTRAINTS AGAINST ARBITRARY AUTHORITY.
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.
Context’s the thing …
whereby you might uncover
the problem situation of yr king
or tsar or politburo or any other
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.’
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.
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.
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:
‘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.
… let’s hear it for words, and in particular,
let’s have it in writing!
‘Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.’
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…
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
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.
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?’
The Wise Move…
A serf’s ramblings on a theme.
A note of context for this post …
Having no sooner completed my 63rd serf edition, yr madness of crowds, also about movement, namely stampeding and following the leader as a reaction to some perceived threat ‘out there,’ – than a serf finds herself in a nation-wide social lockdown situation in Oz, a ban on free movement, also experienced by cits in many other nations around the world, yr precautionary response by governments to the present Corona virus health issue. This new essay is not about the Corona virus per se, but is triggered by thinking about its aftermath, hopefully governments’ full restoration of citizens’ prior rights to free association, so integral to democratic ‘open society.’
… Hence this serf edition taking a walk through history to explore the varied ways in which ‘the wise move’ and looking at some of those alternative options when you come to a fork in the road.
Interconnections … yr ports, yr crossroads and yr city square.
There’s an old Catalan saying, ‘Always go down, never go up.’ that applies to geographical settlement, though it could well be applied to ivory tower thinking dissociated from real world experience. Seems apt, even in the 21st century when most of the mountain people of the world still practise subsistence farming, Switzerland with its wide valleys and mountain passes being a notable exception.
Regarding geography, economist Thomas Sowell, in his book, ‘Wealth, Poverty and Politics,’ looks at the kind of geographical factors that limit or foster productive societies. Happens a common handicap of lagging groups around the world is geographic isolation, whether separation from the rest of the world by mountain ranges, deserts, dense forests, or unnavigable rivers.
Once the sea was one of those geographical barriers to travel and innovation, but with the development of boat building and the compass, the sea became an open gateway to exploration by maritime societies. When the ancient Greeks took to the sea and began to trade and build colonies around the Aegean Sea, coming into contact with other cultures, their old tribal certainties began to break down.
The breakdown of tribalism and beginnings of the open society seem to have originated with the first school of scientific philosophy in Miletus, known on the Ionian coast as a lively crossroads for trade and commerce. For the Milesian philosophers, Thales, and Anaximander, philosophy was an intensely practical affair. Thales, creator of the theory that all things are made of water, was said to have predicted the eclipse of the sun in 585 BC. The philosopher Anaximander, born around 610 BC, was the first map-maker and holder of an extremely modern evolutionary view concerning the origin of man.
Another Ionian, from neighbouring Ephesus, the philosopher Heraclitus, born around the turn of the sixth century, had already developed the idea that everything is involved in some form of movement, a concept of change foreign to tribal societies where social customs were regarded as god-given immutable regularities. Following Heraclitus, other philosophers, Protagoras of Abdera and his countryman Democritus went on to formulate the doctrine that human institutions of language, custom and law are not of magical character but are man-made and therefore alterable. These precursors lead to the intellectual advances, in Athens in 6th Century B.C., of Pericles, who formulated the policy of equality before the law and political individualism, and Socrates in the city square saying ‘Know thyself,’ and arguing that we are responsible for our human actions and should have faith in human reason.
Such the consequence of maritime journeying in ancient Greece…while in another part of the world, concerning journeys and interconnections, here’s Confucius quoted by Chinese historian, Fung Yu Lan, in ‘A Short History of Chinese Philosophy:’
‘The wise man delights in water, the good man delights in mountains. The wise move, the good stay still. The wise are happy, the good endure.’
Fung Yu Lan observes that the quote by Confucius reflects something of a different mind set between the people of ancient Greece, those who live by trade, and those of ancient China, who live by agriculture. Regarding the Chinese way of life:
‘The farmers have to live on their land, which is immovable and the same is true of the scholar landlords. Unless one has special talent, or is especially lucky, one has to live where one’s father or grandfather lived and where one’s children will continue to live.’
There was a time, that Confucius did not envisage, when China could have engaged with the rest of the world. In the period when the Tang Empire came to an end and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms fought incessantly, China was experiencing its most spectacular burst of invention and prosperity. By the late 1000s Chinese were masters of silk, tea, porcelain production, paper and printing and made coke from coal to smelt high grade iron. Industrious peasants were working for cash as well as subsistence and using their cash to buy goods.
China had been extending its sea power for three hundred years and attained a peak of naval technology, including the magnetic compass, unsurpassed in the world. Chinese merchants had developed a trade network in spices and raw materials with Indian and Muslim traders to the fringe of the Indian Ocean. Then came the calamity of the Mongol Invasion. The first of the Ming Emperors, Hongwu, forbade all trade and travel without official permission, forced merchants to register an inventory of their goods once a month, and permitted peasants to grow food only for their own consumption. The Ming emperors nationalized industry and created state monopolies for salt, iron, tea, foreign trade and education.
The second Ming Emperor, Yong Le wishing to impress Ming power on the world, had a massive treasure fleet built, greater than the Spanish Amada, which made seven voyages, sailing as far as East Africa. China had the means to trade with the world and the Chinese people were ready to do it but Yong-le’s successor brought an end to China’s maritime history by banning ship building and trading abroad, a bad move steered by the Emperor’s officials who instinctively distrusted innovation as a threat to their own positions. This bureaucratic political system continued as one dynasty replaced another and China was never able to free itself from it’s constraints on innovation. No Industrial Revolution.
Isolation a barrier to innovation, whereas interaction, unconstrained by political fiat is the path to innovation, and that is helped by the environment of cities.
From yr city square to yr back streets to yr near-by hinterland…
Cities enable dynamic exchange of ideas and opportunities for experiment, Jane Jacobs argues in two books, ‘The Economy of Cities,’ and ‘Cities and the Wealth of Nations.’ In ‘The Economy of Cities,’ she describes, the plight of the western world after the fall of Rome, yr Dark Ages, and the significant development of Venice in the marshes, from its humble beginning, trading with Constantinople what was to hand, salt and timber, then later, imitating Constantinople, manufacturing and trading sophisticated import replacements of Venetian glassware and manufacturing lenses and telescopes.
Unexpected developments evolved from this small beginning, chain growth of new Italian import replacing cities, creation of the Renaissance, artistic achievements of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Galileo and the beginning of Europe’s scientific revolution.
In ‘The Economy of Cities,’ Jane Jacobs also describes a similar development in Japan in the 19th century when small enterprises in cities like Tokyo began imitating manufactured goods imported from the West. From humble beginnings such as bicycle repair shops starting to make their own replacement parts, this means of manufacture via repair shops was soon adapted to the production of many other goods. Sony, the enormous Japanese manufacturer of communications equipment began in a similar way as a small parts shop. So adaptable, so Naychur’s evolutionary trial and error way, when you think about it…
Yr less adaptive responses to circumstances, maybe not wise moves…
So let’s take a look at some ways of moving that may seem appropriate at the time, but don’t pay off in the long run, definitely inappropriate to the open society, like yr follow-the-leader stampede or yr leap-over-the-cliff, or yr regressive one-or-more-steps-backward-taken, (more of that anon.) And there’s yr rigid or mechanical response to what confronts you out there, not a wise move, maybe even viewed by others as comical.
Apropos that rigid or mechanical response to a situation, Henri Bergson writing about comedy in an essay, ‘Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic,’ defines laughter as a uniquely human reaction to human folly.
So what do we laugh at? ‘We may laugh at an animal,’ says Bergson, ‘but only because we have detected in it some human attitude or expression. Or we may laugh at a hat, but what we are making fun of, in this case, is the shape that men have given it.’ What we are laughing at is human rigidity of attitude, the easy automation of acquired habit, closely akin to human absent-mindedness, when we should be shaping our conduct in accordance to present reality. ‘The rigidity is the comic and laughter is the correction.’ Laughter is a survival mechanism, it’s kind of like Socrates saying ‘know thyself.’
Henri Bergson observes that when we speak of an expressive face, we remark on its mobility, its liveliness, whereas a comic expression of the face ‘is a unique and permanent grimace, as though the whole of life has crystallized into this particular set of features.’ The art of the caricaturist consists in detecting this, often almost imperceptible tendency, and magnifying it for all to see.. ‘He makes his models grimace, as they would do themselves if they went to the end of their tether. Beneath the skin-deep harmony of form, he divines the deep-seated recalcitrance of matter.’
So many ways we can manage to move the wrong way. Here’s another…
Yr regressive one-or-more-steps-backward-taken, back to the closed society.
Herewith, as I’ve remarked before, 😦 the classic example, Plato’s, ‘ Republic,’ his blue-print for Utopia, a dystopia, really, involving one-or-more-steps-backward taken, analysed by Karl Popper in Volume 1 of his two volume book, ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies.
[And herewith a timely warning to self and others…maybe I’m engaging in same, got my own chorus line back to previous serf posts regarding yr philosopher kings trying to set up closed societies and control what us cits think and do… But on reflection I’m saying ‘No, can’t be said too often! Through out history, and at this very moment, yr U.N. and E.U. elites, and yr national guvuhmints that never waste a good crisis to extend their power, like those eunuchs in Ming China, are chipping away at our liberties, chip, chip, chip.]
So back to Plato again and the grand scheme he wished to put into practice via his Republic, the antithesis of Athenian democracy, designed to arrest all change by creating a hierarchical closed society ruled over by a wise philosopher king.
Karl Popper is critical of Plato’s regressive scheme and in the preface to his Volume 1 first edition, ‘The Spell of Plato,’ he has this to say:
’If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men. Great men may make great mistakes; and as the book tries to show, some of the greatest leaders of the past supported the perennial attack on freedom and reason. Their influence, too rarely challenged, continues to mislead those on whose defence civilization depends, and to divide them. The responsibility of this tragic and possibly fatal division becomes ours if we hesitate to be outspoken in our criticism of what admittedly is a part of our intellectual heritage. By reluctance to criticize some of it, we may help to destroy it all.’
Maybe Plato, and other designers of Utopias that came after, meant well with their visionary social engineering schemes. Popper attributes the attempt by Plato to create an unchanging society to his personal experience as an Athenian living through the strain of an unsettled period of historical change, the disastrous war between tribal Sparta and democratic Athens’ and subsequent civil war, the oligarch party in Athens plotting against the democracy. Maybe Plato did have good intentions but here are the dismal consequences of his plan to arrest all change.
His Republic necessitated the re-creation of a rigid tribal society, ruled by a born-to-rule caste. It necessitated a return to a magical way of thinking about 0social political institutions, the belief that social customs were like physical laws, and could not be altered, just endured.
And since, if you wish to bring about sweeping change you have to be persuasive, the political system Plato designed to achieve his static society necessitated his persuasive myth, Plato’s necessary ‘noble’ lie of the metals in men, gold in an elite class who should lead, and beneath them, tiers of inferior metals who should obey. Hmm… customs emerge in all societies for socially cohesive reasons but this society would be based on yr conscious deliberate lie.
In Plato’s Republic, no checks or balances required other than a state-controlled education system designed to manage the succession of leadership and socially engineer selected students from the leader class in preparation for the role of ‘wise’ and omnipotent philosopher king. In this hierarchy, only the gold elite get an education but it is an education of received truths, not to be questioned, and Plato hopes that in time even the philosopher class will come to believe the noble lie.
To maintain unity within this ruling caste, it was necessary that everything private and personal must be eradicated and therefore Plato proposed that in his highest caste there must be common property of wives, children and chattels. No place for the individual in Plato’s Republic. Individualism is the enemy of collectivism and must be branded as selfish expression of ego, so no place for western humanism or altruism or the arts. ‘You are created for the sake of the whole,’ says Plato. (O.S. Page 100)
And here’s another chilling statement by Plato:
‘The greatest principle of all is that nobody, whether male or female, should be without a leader. Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative; neither out of zeal, nor even playfully. But in war and in the midst of peace – to his leader he shall direct his eye and follow him faithfully. And even in the smallest matter he should stand under leadership. For example he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals.. only if he has been told to do so. In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and to become utterly incapable of it.’ (Plato. Laws. 94d)
This is how Plato perverts the open society concepts of faith in human reason and personal responsibility to a follow-the-leader closed society based on lies and tyranny.
So eschewing that regressive move of following the leader back to some mythical golden age, (yr perfection, if it is attainable, is a far distant state,) and eschewing that stampeding-follow-the-leader move, ( maybe over a precipice,) let’s look at the wise move of following Nature, the evolutionary way of trial and error.
Through a glass darkly…
Nature’s way, groping in the dark, living organisms adapting to stresses and information in the environment … Cautious trial and error, Nature making do with what’s at hand, like flippers into wings or legs, from four legs to two legs and arms, claws into hands.
Cautious trial and error adaptation, humans do it too in our daily responses to problem situations, from simple to complex development. Jane Jacobs describes trial and error adaptation at work in cities, like those small beginnings of Japanese bike repair shops, on to spare parts and then to entire bicycle manufacture, later escalating to automobile manufacturing. Henry Ford in the U.S. did something similar.
Cautious trial and error, first you guess then you test, more of that anon… But, regarding science, crown of human creation, not cautious trial and error but bold guesses have been its strength, progression from Galileo to Newton to Einstein, and that is because when you guess, and TEST how phenomena behave in the physical world, both a successful guess and a failed guess advance our human understanding of that world. Falsification via testing eliminates a false theory, verification via testing means your theory, may possibly be true. Either way, nobody gets hurt, other than, maybe, someone’s injured pride. … Apropos that bold step, however, science itself is dependant on less bold steps. Science would not have been possible without the evolution of human language by human trial and error, our human language progressing from signalling to descriptive function to critical function, giant steps for human-thinking, but slow developing.
Guess and test regarding human behaviour, be it social, political or economical, yr bold guess is not the best move. Cautious trial and error’s called for because we humans are peering through a glass darkly, such is the human condition. We jest can’t predict the consequences of all our interacting actions, interacting with each other is challenge in itself, but add to that we’re interacting in all kinds of weather with what’s out there, those complex interacting systems of the physical world we live in.
So do not expect yr five or ten year plan, let alone yr long range utopian vision to work as expected. Say, who would have expected the long term consequences arising from human tool making and technical discoveries, from yr fire stick, yr stone axe, invention of the wheel, the harnessing of steam energy, development of the printing press and the internet. Then there’s the smart phone, an experiment in tracking us while entertaining us, – an experiment in artificial intelligence that may come to control us – Yikes!
From the simple to the complex also in the political moves we make. Who could have foreseen that the deals made by a few English nobles in the thirteenth century, to wrest some modest power for themselves from an autocratic king via The Magna Charta could over time lead to Britain’s democratic political system of votes for the hoi polloi, even for women? – Yeay!
Well going boldly where no one’s gone before can be a good move in science but not
always good in other areas of human social life. Attempting top down reconstruction of the whole of society, yr revolutionary blue print and you’ll be getting more than you bargained for. In revolutionary chaos you descend into badlands and where there be badlands, ‘might becomes right;’ you’ve seen those cowboy movies, and they’re not the half of it! ‘You can’t make a revolution without breaking eggs,’ said one utopianist, and that means countless human sacrifices in its making, and likely afterwards as well.
Apres la deluge…
So back to the aftermath of the massive reaction to the Coronavirus epidemic, yr quarantining globally of so many of the cits, ‘The Lockdown.,’ and those infamous ‘safety’ apps to track possible coronavid contacts.
‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ How guvuhmint and others who would control us embrace this dictum. The long war betwixt the open and closed society is never-ending and the bureaucratic controls put in place during the Corona Virus health scare will not be easily dismantled. All those guvuhmints and globalists and AGW alarmists, under the guise of environmental sustainability and / or protecting humanity from the next viral pandemic, are busy as a bee making their plans.
What to do for the individuals who would resist the consequences of yr Platonist collectivist dystopia, yr controls on free speech and free association, yr make-over to zombie ‘thou shalt not’ behaviour? …
Of course, dear reader, you must decide your own individual action, guided by your own individual thoughts, maybe some critical discussions or letter writing, but perhaps some group interaction is also called for? Yes, I know, calling individualists to mass action is kinda’ like herding cats, whereas collectivists luv it… yr Saul Allinsky mob rules for radical action, yr George Soros funded ‘Get Up Org’ mass messaging, yr masked Anti Fa attacks on free assembly.
…No way that any thoughtful individual would suggest yr panic stampede behaviour, but we have to make our efforts effective and that means more fire power than being the lone ranger. Maybe interact with a group that’s combating the above, in Oz there’s yr Institute of Public Affairs, advocating freedom of the individual against the nanny state. Maybe find some other group with legal support for claims of constitutional freedom?
And something else to do while yr about it, there’s that Sun Tzu advice about knowing what yr enemy is up to, so you could go in to their posts and publications, 😦 and hear what they are planning…
There’s the World Economy Forum regarding vaccination as the main game:
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/vaccine-covid-19-coronavirus-pandemic-healthcare/ Will the spectre of Corona Virus be hung over our heads not just in favour of universal vaccination, but vaccination as a means of digital identity? Proposed by ID 2020, https://id2020.org/alliance a quantum dot tattoo that will store vaccination records under yr skin. It’s yr immunity passport to free movement. https://news.rice.edu/2019/12/18/quantum-dot-tattoos-hold-vaccination-record/ Founding fathers of ID 2020 are yr globalists, the Rockefeller Foundation and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. H/t Original Steve comment @ Jo Nova, 30/04/20.
There’s The Agenda 21 human containment plan. U.N. under Trilateral Commission advocates is planning via its Agenda 21 blue-print, adopted by many city local councils, to herd us into high-rise, closely surveyed life in cities with most rural land out of bounds to cits. See in my post below the extent of Agenda 21 plans to regulate almost every thing we may do. https://beththeserf.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/55th-edition-serf-under_ground-journal/ The Agenda 21 master plan includes the UN-designed Wildlands Project, a plan to transfer land from public ownership to large tracts of no-go wilderness managed by technocrats, each eco-area protected by buffer zones and with designated corridors linking human habitation areas. Cits won’t be able to move very far.
Well there it is, lots to act upon. Hopefully serfs and those of higher persuasion will make a move, adapting to circumstances, altogether or alone, once more into the fray!
ON THE MADNESS OF CROWDS.
One in … all in!
On the prairie the great buffalo herd are grazing peacefully. Then something happens … Maybe a tumble-weed blows into the herd and startles one of the cattle, perhaps the crack of a dry twig disturbs it, making it respond in panic. A tremor runs through the herd and suddenly they’re off – a buffalo stampede, a madness of the herd.
Birds ‘n bees do it, we do it, critters disposed to group behaviour do it, flocking, swarming, behaving tribally. Here’s a homo-sapiens kind of stampede account by James Thurber, remembering the day back in 1913 when his town in Ohio went for a run…Thurber describes in a story ‘The Day the Dam Broke,’ how a rumour gets around that the dam has broken. About midday, somebody begins to run. Maybe they were just late for an appointment, but then some one else begins to run:
‘Inside ten minutes, everybody on High Street from the Union Depot to the Courthouse was running. A loud mumble gradually crystallized into the dreaded word ‘dam’. ‘The dam has broke!’ The fear was put into words by a little old lady in an electric chair, or by the traffic cop, or by a small boy: nobody knows who, nor does it really matter. Two thousand people were abruptly in full flight. ‘Go east!’ was the cry that arose, – east away from the river, east to safety. ‘Go east! Go east! Go east!’ ’
As the town stampeded east not one individual paused to consider that the dam was so far away from their town that not one trickle of water could reach the High Street, no one noticed the absence of water, everybody just kept running …
‘Nobody has ever been able to compute with an exactness how many people took part in the great rout of 1913, for the panic, which extended from the Winslow Bottling Works in the south end to Clintonville, six miles north, ended as abruptly as it began and the bobtail and ragtag and velvet-gowned groups of refugees melted away and slunk home, leaving the streets peaceful and deserted…
The next day, the city went about its business as if nothing had happened, but there was no joking.’ Says Thurber, ‘It was two years or more before you dared treat the breaking of the dam lightly. And even now, twenty years after, there are a few persons like Dr Mallory, who will shut up like a clam if you mention the Afternoon of the Great Run.’
Above is an example of madness of crowds, a fear response not called for by the reality of the situation, irrational in the case of the citizens of Thurber’s hometown, par for the course for buffalo on the prairie. In that way-back machine of evolution, jumping to a conclusion can be a smart-survival response, the reptilian part of your brain signalling danger. For critters wired for a flight or fight response to that rustling in the jungle, that sharp sound on the prairie, flight is the safest option. By the time you pause to suss it out, too late to escape if it turns out to be a carnivore predator.
In humanity’s evolving history the panic response is a survival instinct that has stayed with us to now and so has crowd behaviour. Better to be venturing down that jungle track with a band of more or less trusty brothers, if armed all the more reassuring, if not, well, still some safety in numbers. As with a herd of buffalo, sheep or zebras, that man-eating predator won’t get all of you. On the other hand…in a complex situation, maybe pause a while, check out facts on the ground, context of claimants and claims…
The what, the how and the wherefore…
Regarding the madness of crowds, those irrational, manic responses to the reality out there, behind all that fear or group timidity, a felt need to follow the band, left right, left right…
Following the band, the what, how and wherefore of crowds. Concerning the ‘what,’ two books, ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,’ by Charles Mackay, published in 1841’, and plus ca change, plus meme chose, Douglas Murray’s ‘The Madness of Crowds, Gender, Race and Identity,’ published in 2019.
Charles Mackay’s book, in three volumes, lotsa’ madness out there, gives a guided index to human popular delusions throughout history, from alchemy, crusades, doomsday prophecies, and economic bubbles, to relics, sorcery and witch mania.
The ‘what.’ – Yr tulip mania.
Human stampedes take different forms, not always groups running from an imagined threat, just as often ‘jumping on the bandwagon,’ ‘following the fashion,’ ( or cult.) Regarding jumping on economic bandwagons, Charles Mackay recounts the investment follies of the South Sea Bubble and the Dutch Tulip Mania of the mid 17th century. Describing the mania to buy tulips, Mackay writes:
‘In 1634, the rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade. As the mania increased, prices augmented until, in the year 1635, many persons were known to invest a fortune of 100,000 florins in the purchase of forty roots. It then became necessary to sell them by their weight in perits, a small weight less than a grain. A tulip of the species called Admiral Liefken, weighing 400 perits, was worth 4400 florins … and, most precious of all, a Semper Augustus, weighing 200 perits, was thought to be very cheap at 5500 florins.’
Observes Charles Mackay: ‘Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.’… Time came when the more prudent began to see that the tulip mania could not last for ever and as this conviction spread, prices fell and confidence was undermined:
‘Hundreds who, a few months previously, had begun to doubt that there was such a thing as poverty in the land, suddenly found themselves the possessors of a few bulbs, which nobody would buy, even though they offered them at one quarter of the sums they had paid for them. The cry of distress resounded everywhere, and each man accused his neighbour. The few who had contrived to enrich themselves hid their wealth from the knowledge of their fellow-citizens, and invested it in the English or other funds. Many who, for a brief season, had emerged from the humbler walks of life, were cast back into their original obscurity. Substantial merchants were reduced almost to beggary, and many a representative of a noble line saw the fortunes of his house ruined beyond redemption.’
More ‘what.’ -Yr witch mania.
If that’s not bad enough, witch mania is worse. At the height of the witch trials by torture, and punishment by hanging and burning at the stake of the 17th century, god knows how many old women, hapless neighbours and vagrants died. Mackay cites some case studies and gives some figures, but likely more. From his opening paragraph:
‘The belief that disembodied spirits may be permitted to revisit this world, has its foundation upon that sublime hope of immortality, which is at once the chief solace and greatest triumph of our reason. Even if revelation did not teach us, we feel that we have that within us which shall never die; and all our experience of this life but makes us cling the more fondly to that one repaying hope. But in the early days of “little knowledge,” this grand belief became the source of a whole train of superstitions, which, in their turn, became the fount from whence flowed a deluge of blood and horror. Europe, for a period of two centuries and a half, brooded upon the idea, not only that parted spirits walked the earth to meddle in the affairs of men, but that men had power to summon evil spirits to their aid to work woe upon their fellows.’
Not just illiterate villagers succumbed to the superstition but the highest dignitaries in the land as well. Of course a crime that could be imputed against your enemies with ease had political expedience but seems lotsa’ superstitious belief in the mix. Pope Innocent V111 issued the papal bull Summis desiderantes of December 1484, a charge to inquisitors to investigate diabolical sorcery. King James V1 of Scotland, (later King James 1.) The Long Parliament of Cromwell had its witch trials. Charles Mackay writes that: throughout the 16th and 17th centuries:
‘An epidemic terror seized upon the nations; no man thought himself secure, either in his person or possessions, from the machinations of the devil and his agents. Every calamity that befell him, he attributed to a witch. If a storm arose and blew down his barn, it was witchcraft; if his cattle died of a murrain – if disease fastened upon his limbs, or death entered suddenly and snatched a beloved face from his hearth – they were not visitations of Providence, but the works of some neighbouring hag, whose wretchedness or insanity caused the ignorant to raise their finger, and point at her as a witch. The word was upon everybody’s tongue – France, Italy, Germany, England, Scotland, and the far North, successively ran mad upon this subject, and for a long series of years, furnished their tribunals with so many trials for witchcraft that other crimes were seldom or never spoken of. Thousands upon thousands of unhappy persons fell victims to this cruel and absurd delusion. In many cities of Germany, the average number of executions for this pretended crime, was six hundred annually, or two every day, if we leave out the Sundays, when, it is to be supposed, that even this madness refrained from its work.’
Good-bye to all that?
Say, aren’t we glad that those days of superstitious folly are a thing of the past? Well, nut so fast… you may just recall the recent history of the Jewish Holocaust during Hitler’s mad rule in Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s. And here’s the latest look at madness of crowds by Douglas Murray examining a recent political mania, the mania of treatment of different identity group politics, … politics of resentment really, everyone defined by their relationship to a minority group identity, specifically one of the trinity, race, sex or gender preference, these relationships involving ever-changing classifications, arbitrarily decided by social justice thought-police, you could call them, our 21st century Inquisition.
Douglas Murray gives a detailed account of the workings of this Inquisition and how it came into being as a consequence of leftist post modernist attacks in academia aimed at the grand narratives and institutions of western civilization. Attacking religious systems, economic systems, intellectual traditions and the arts, your post modern dogma is an assertion that the only reality of social life is power. Replacing religious experience and free enterprise, ‘power’ the one reality, combated through a lens of social justice and group identity politics, has become the new game in town. Everything must be viewed through your position in one of the disadvantaged identity groups and you may speak only with legitimacy if you belong in that group and express the consensus position judged appropriate to that group.
Douglas Murray’s book, ‘The Madness of Crowds,’ is set out in four sections, ‘Gay,’ ‘Women,’ ‘Race’ and ‘Trans’ and describes the particular madness of crowds regarding these groups, the pressures of consensus dogma and contradictions in thinking necessitated by adherence to group identity politics.
Identity politics, oh my! … Ah me… no, not ‘ you.’
Not too hard to understand that difficult and contentious subjects demand a whole lot of thought and a lot of thought often necessitates trying things out (including making inevitable errors.) Yet to think out loud on the issues which have become highly controversial has become such a high risk, Douglas Murray argues, ‘that on a simple risk/reward ratio there is almost no point in anyone taking the risk.’ Group-iness rules.
‘Today’ says Murray, ‘our societies seem always on the run and always risking extraordinary shame over not just our own behaviour but the way we have treated others. Every day there is a new subject for hate and moral judgement. It might be a group of school boys wearing the wrong hat in the wrong place at the wrong time.* Or it could be anybody else. As the work of Joe Ronson* and others on ‘public shaming’ has shown, the internet has allowed new forms of activism and bullying in the guise of social activism to become the tenor of the time. The urge to find people who can be accused of ‘wrong think’ works because it rewards the bully. The social media companies encourage it because it is part of the business model. But rarely if ever do the people in the stampede try to work out why they are running in the direction they are.’ (* Covington Catholic High School ,2019 * Joe Ronson. ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.’ Published 2015.)
Much of this activist bullying takes place on university campuses. Murray describes the example of Evergreen College, Washington, 2017, where respected left liberal, Bret Weinstein, and the President of the College, George Bridges, himself an advocate of social justice, were subject to violent bullying and chants of ‘ Black power!’ Here’s a Rubin Report video where Bret Weinstein speaks of the event.’
With the above and other examples, Douglas Murray describes how far we have regressed from the famous speech by Martin Luther King in 1963 when he said that he dreamed his children should ‘one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’
In the Race Debate today is an insistence that content of character is nothing compared to the colour of someone’s skin, group diversity politics is the measure of all things. Those who do not belong to an unprivileged group, yr ol’ white male in particular, are expected to undergo a process referred to as ‘intersectionality,’ the invitation, increasingly in work places, the legal requirement, for those classified as privileged, to spend the rest of their lives attempting to work out every identity claim in themselves and others with feelings of due guilt and a willingness to rewire their attitudes to the prevailing consensus position.
Serfs find it somewhat ironic that humans have evolved critical language, logical and scientific processes to help us distinguish fact from fiction and have invented communication means, the printing press and internet to allow spread of data and argument about ‘the facts’ out there, (what Richard Dawkins calls ‘memes’ * that other replicator besides genes that transmits from person to person,) but here we are manipulating and censoring discussion, for example, using filtering internet algorithms like Silicon Valley ‘Mechanical Learning Fairness, (MLF) to promote a particular point of view.
Murray describes in his chapter, ‘The Impact of Tech,’ how Google, builds into computers a set of values, (MLF) that could only possibly be held by those on the extreme left of society, so that, for example, searches for ‘European Art’ will call up images that predominantly feature portraits of black people and severely skew history. Similarly, if you search for ‘Gay Couples’ you will be presented with a series of images of good looking, smiling gay couples, but calling up ‘Straight Couples’ will give a more mixed result that includes non-straight couples. ( * Richard Dawkins. ‘The Selfish Gene.’ 1976.)
Contradictions all the way down…
When you try to fit dogma to reality, witch mania, group diversity mania, any wonder that contradictions abound. In the political arguments of race and gender diversity laws of logic, the Law of Identity and Law of Contradiction no longer apply.
For example, African Americans, Thomas Sowell and Kanye West, critical of prevailing racial dogma, are no longer considered to be members of the racial group they were born into. Peter Thiel, creator of Paypal, is gay, but because his views do not agree with the consensus, he is no longer considered a member of that identity group. Douglas Murray, who is also gay, observes that:
‘You are only a member of a recognised minority group so long as you support the specific grievances, political grievances and resulting electoral programs that other people have worked out for you. Step outside of these lines and you are not the same person with the same characteristics you had before….you have the characteristics taken away from you.’
Then there’s that biological contradiction involving hardware contra software in the gender debate. ‘Without doubt,’ argues Murray, ‘the scrambling device laid over the issue of the sexes is among the most deranging aspect of all. It involves a set of unbelievable mental leaps to try to play along with it.’ A lot of double think in the gender debate. ‘While Gay campaigners spent the 1990’s onwards hoping to persuade the world that homosexuality was a hardware issue. the direction of travel for women simultaneously went in the other direction.’
‘Until the last decade or so,’ says Murray, ‘sex ( or gender) and chromosomes were recognised to be among the most fundamental hardware issues in our species, but suddenly ‘everybody was meant to believe that sex was not biologically fixed but merely a matter of ‘reiterated’ social performance.’
All that crowd mania through the ages, economic bubbles, superstition and fashionable group – think, where it turns out, ‘no matter how much you believe something to be true, believing does not make it so.’
The how and the wherefore…
Those pesky cognitive illusion.
Plenty of evidence in the human record that the homo sapien brain is likely the best there is in our universe, Horatio, enabling your critical language, your scientific methodology, human discoveries, inventions, architecture, great literature and symphonies, etcetera. We are the species that deliberates, reflects, makes conscious decisions. See my ‘Clocks and Clouds’ post on same. https://beththeserf.wordpress.com/2019/11/27/62nd-edition-serf-under_ground-journal/ Says Karl Popper, ‘Our conscious states act as a probe on our behaviour. They anticipate our behaviour, working out, by trial and error, its likely consequences; thus they not only control but deliberate.
‘Not enough careful deliberation,’ says psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow,’ that examines the various cognitive illusions which supposedly rational people demonstrate when making choices under controlled conditions.
In ‘Thinking Fast and Slow,’ Kahneman argues the existence in human brains of two independent systems for organizing knowledge, one he labels System One, a fight or flight fast thinking system making judgements and taking action without waiting for our conscious awareness to catch up. Making use of heuristics linked with strong emotions like fear and pain, in the complex environment we now live in, its judgements are often wrong. The other system, 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 science and the arts have been created by System Two.
Says Kahneman, we’re machines for jumping to conclusions, prone to associative bias. For System One, the measure of success is coherence of story, consistency matters most, not completeness of evidence. There’s a grab-bag of simple heuristics we adopt to make adequate but often wrong answers to difficult questions, like the ‘availability heuristic,’ whatever comes readily from memory is first in line. And the bad news is, as Kahneman found working with the Israeli Defence Forces in the 1950’s, that System Two thinkers are also prone to similar thinking errors and heuristics, more apologist than critical of the emotions of System One.
Regarding the ‘availability heuristic,’- ‘ that which comes readily to mind,’ there’s neurobiologist Antonio Damasio’s research on human associative bias.
In his book ‘Descartes’ Error,’ Damasio identifies the close biological connection between our evolutionary pre-mind and the complex human brain structure that has evolved over time. Damasio observes that in our evolutionary history, long before there was a homo sapien mind, organisms must have begun with a concern only for their internal problems via a rudimentary nervous system preserving the basic integrity of the living system, a kind of primitive low tech postal system, a form of positive or negative reaction or primitive emotional response, the bloodstream transporting hormones and information around the body to where it was needed for control and self maintenance.
‘Nature appears to have built the apparatus of rationality not just on top of the apparatus of biological regulation, but also from and with it. The mechanisms for behaviour beyond drives and instincts, use, I believe, both the upstairs and downstairs: the neo cortex becomes engaged along with the older brain core, and rationality results from their concerted activity.’
This relationship between emotion and human reason is the main focus of ‘Descartes’ Error.’ An overview here… http://www.cogprints.org/282/1/damasio.htm
Based on Domasio’s studies of neurological patients who have damage in the area of the frontal cortex of the brain, (that Damasio calls the body’s convergence zone for decision making,) Damasio found both defects of decision making and a disorder of emotion, so that while these patients could observe and explain what’s occurring when shown images of a horrific nature, they were unable to register emotion as normal subjects do. And while they could still pass tests of logic, in their own lives they were unable to call up salient reasons to act in their own best interest.
From these investigations Damasio advances his Somatic Marker hypothesis that emotion was in the loop of reason, that emotion is both a necessary adjunct to reason, sorting out appropriate reasons to act, and a mode of undermining reason, as in the madness of crowds, acting on a first available, or preferred, call to action.
Why we go wrong, a prey to conceptual bias, a prey to shaman persuasion. Emotional reaction is a survival mechanism of life, chimps do it, birds do it, reptiles, even the zig-zag dance of the stickleback is emotional response. Old knowledge for us homo sapiens. Your early human rope-trainers learned it domesticating animals. Shaman leaders, and later gurus, observed it and applied emotional association to control a human populace.
Difference between madness of crowds … jumping to conclusions and rational thinking … Like Richard Feynman says, ‘First you guess and then you test.’
He also said: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
That’s all, folks.
Crown of Creation – Goin’ on a Treasure Hunt.
Think this post needs an introductory context as I’m doing something that I haven’t done before, that is, presenting a project that one of my followers has created in which I had some input, a Treasure Hunt Game that is being offered for sale, so here briefly:
Crafted to high standards, intended as a family heirloom, the Crown of Creation Treasure Hunt is a logic puzzle developed over the last year by its creator as his final project when he was in a hospice and with not much time to complete it, so he asked myself and one other person for input into its making and getting it out there when he was no longer able to support it.
We were both willing to become involved because we agreed with the project’s purpose, i.e. to help young children develop habits of rational thinking, like Richard Feynman’s father did with his young son, habits that would protect children from the U.N. indoctrination program that now passes as K-12 education in western schools.
In our own blog essays we both support the project’s underlying principles of individual freedom under non-fiat rule of law and critical enquiry. If you havent’ read my posts before, a couple of examples linked here and here.
And here’s a recent paper by Robin Eubanks who is one of my links in essays on education, that also gives context for the Treasure Hunt Project…
Anyone interested in purchasing the Crown of Creation Treasure Hunt Game for their family, as I have done, can order it from the producer here:
or paypal harshitsinghind @outlook.com
To let you know, none of us involved in its creation gain financially from the project. Payment goes to its manufacturers by way of sales. So…
Goin’ on a Treasure Hunt …
One day a man set out to create a game, a treasure hunt…
What is the game?
What is the game!
Why, it’s a treasure hunt, a treasure hunt that’s like no other…
What is the treasure?
What is the treasure!
More to be revealed anon, but before we begin, let’s take a look at the game from the outside, its external appearance and follow on with something of its context, something of the what and wherefore.
First let us look upon the Treasure Hunt’s outer frame. The game’s enclosed within a leather folder, to be opened by a metal clasp, an interrobang. An interrobang to open it ?! And what is that, you’ll likely hear somebody ask. And here’s an answer by the maker of the game: ‘An interrobang is a binding that ties a question to an answer, a ligature of ‘ what’ to ‘that,’ of ‘cause to an effect’ ?!’ An interrobang’s the drawn breath and exhaled exclamation of a mental revelation, the ahah ?! moment of Galileo, gazing through his telescope, when he first sees the moons of Jupiter, or of Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle, as he examines those Galapagos finches’ beaks.
In every treasure hunt you’ll likely come across a villain. There’s one of sorts herewith, not physical but comes in the form of a message from the many casuists who like to tell you that the universe exists only to make a fool of you, no matter what you try to do. The interrobang’s a reminder, tying grapheme to a glyph, a reminder of those moments that tell you that this simply isn’t so.
And now we’ll leave the treasure chest awhile, buried beneath the sands of some island hiding place, while we discuss some context on its genesis.
The name of the game is ‘Crown of Creation’ it is meant to be used as a bedtime story. We are told by its creator that the players of the game will be three members of a family, there is a mom, a dad and their child, the nuclear basis of civilization, and in this game, which is a game of life, the parents will be helping the child to play the game, coming together to solve puzzles, – but ultimately the focus is on the child, establishing first habits, what you do and learn is what you become, finding through play, answers to puzzles and the gift of rational thinking that will follow the child through life itself.
Concept behind the game. We sapiens are nature’s crown of creation, fitted through evolutionary development, large brain, complex language, conscious thought and dexterous hands, to uncover truths of nature in an interrobang opposing entropy, entropy that’s both physical and mental, which is homo-sapien’s enemy. Armed with nature’s gifts, what we do and learn we do become, that is our destiny.
What stands in the way and why this game? Humans live within a web of culture. Those individuals who made those hand imprints on the walls of the Lascaux Caves, first conscious mark making in the historical record, ‘I am here,’ were also part of a group, as we, members of tribes, associations, nations, live in societies with pressures to conform according to accepted rules and mores.
And since we learn from that which we repeatedly observe, I’ll repeat, from a prior post, an observation by Michel de Montaigne regarding the tyranny of custom:
‘Nothing so outlandish,’ said rational pessimist, Montaigne, ‘that cannot be demonstrated in public practise somewhere in the world.’ And those customs, ‘from some gentle beginning, unperceived, unmask a furious and tyrannical countenance, against which we have no more courage or power so much as to lift our eyes.’
Cultural conditioning. Say, having the good fortune to be born in a certain time and place that’s relatively open to individual development has ever been the luck of the draw. Through history, some cultures have emerged that are more enabling to rational thinking than others. Compare Sparta’s tribal society, where institutions were given taboo status as gifts of the gods, to 5th century BC, Athens’ emerging democracy, and its citizens who dared to question what and how? Being a member of a maritime society is helpful, observing many cultures and recognizing that institutions are made by man and therefore alterable … Greek dramatists writing drama about political and social issues, Socrates developing modes of critical argument, Aristotle developing tools of logic, ways of recognising and eliminating contradictions that hinder enquiry, these were major steps for human kind.
Man the debater, man the builder and discoverer. Builders of roads, bridges and aqueducts, inventors of the wheel, paper, printing press, miracle of achievements in the arts, Shakespeare, thinking aloud, Greek vase painters, Leonardo, Michelangelo exploring ways of suggesting depth of field on flat surfaces and living muscle and tissue in marble, and Johan Sebastian Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, resolving complexities of orchestral harmony. The scientific revolution curious investigators first harnessers of fire technology, discoverers of Nature’s mysteries, Galileo, Isaac Newton, James Hutton and Charles Darwin …
Great movements in civilization but soon under attack. Enter your gurus who want to remake and control society to their own plan, and always an authoritative plan. Greek oligarchs and Plato, he’d use the democratic Socrates as his sock puppet, distorting his logical arguments on liberty and justice to artfully produce their contrary, processions of philosopher kings, religious shaman and kings who rule by divine right, right up to today, enemies of open society like George Soros and those authoritarian, globalist activists of the United Nations, ( producers of fnords, look them up if you don’t know what they are) who would rule us from afar. Technology, internet, universal education should be enabling to open society, but as in George Orwell’s dystopian ‘1984’ they’re being used by guru groups to propagandize and take us back to feudalism.
And that’s your broadest context for something valuable you’ll find concealed within that treasure chest still buried beneath sand on some unknown beach. And so herewith, let the game begin!
The game and its treasure.
And what we have in the Crown of Creation Treasure Hunt is a user’s manual for a child on how to become a rational thinker, based on Aristotle’s three powerful laws of logic, laws that eliminate the mis-directions of contradiction in thinking and argument. And the child will be able to explain it completely, as nobody has done for 2000 years.
Sadly the child won’t get this practice at school but now he or she will get it from mum and dad, in a game that helps the child to self-possession, to becoming what nature has endowed him or her to be, nature’s Crown of Creation.
A brief digression on self-possession. What is it? Self explanatory that it is ‘self-ownership.’ The definition of ownership: ‘exclusive,’ ‘yours,’ and ‘no one else’s. – not to be controlled or taken over by uninvited house guests. But what is ‘the self?’ Well first, the self is a human self, ‘human’ distinguishing characteristics, ‘big brain, language, by which the human being defines himself or herself.’ Socrates ‘know thyself,’ a process that’s recursive and not circular. You get to choose, not some puppet master.
Recursive thinking. You find it in great literature, Shakespeare’s protagonists, Jane Austin’s heroines, reflecting on experience and on their own actions and motives, then possibly changing behaviour as a consequence; that’s ‘self possession.’
In the Crown of Creation user manual, the first law is the Law of Identity, A = A ,
A is not non A Everything is itself and not something else. With that established no way can you be persuaded by some Hegelian dialectic that slavery is freedom or justice is its opposite.
The next law is the Law of Contradiction. For all propositions A, it is impossible to be both A and non A at the same time. So many ways to argue that ‘there’s no such thing as truth you know, I swear that this is true, the universe exists to make a fool of you.’
And then there’s the Law of the Excluded Middle. A statement has to be true or it is not true, it is a binary opposition, a statement cannot be some other thing. If it can’t be substantiated then it doesn’t exist. The null set is an empty set and therefore false. This eliminates the mysterious and the superstitious in one fell swoop.
And gone, too, all those tricky liar paradox arguments and apparitions of excluded middle that confuse, dehumanize and weaken you. Quest for truth, wielding your logic armoury, reaffirmation of reality enabling joy of discovery. That is the treasure!
How it works. Three puzzle sheets, images and verses, I myself did not solve the first, fell into a trap regarding the particular. Habits die hard, if at all. For adults who encounter difficulties there’s an accompanying lesson plan, my suggestion, as guide to steps for solving every puzzle, and finally a treasure map where the words uncovered in the puzzles will tell you where to ‘dig.’
Artifact treasures are also to be found, the Darwin award for getting it right, a silver coin, powerful and positive imagery on either side, that children will assimilate unconsciously, a ring to wear, one ring to free them all, embossed with three hands from the Lascaux Cave wall, hand prints of mother, father and child. The book is leather bound, with pages of archival canvas and printed with ink of 200 year permanence. It is meant to be an heirloom and serve a family for generations. For the children there are hidden sheets to be uncovered in free play, a bestiary of beasts, images and verses like Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock, so that they’re imbibing protection, as they freely play, against the classic illogical spinners and fnords that sophists use to try and show you that you’re incapable of thought.
So let’s end with a quote from a philosopher, Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy:
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence but rather because we act rightly these virtues are found in man by doing his actions, we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit.
Logic habits are for making you unbreakable. That’s it!
THE FOREST… Into the Trees.
The Cure. ‘Into the trees.’
Where there’s mystery,
myth prevails, we humans
can’t help it, metaphor
begins with us.
Oh we homo-sapiens, how quick we are to apply upon an object, image or phenomenon our own symbolic reference in which, to our un-innocent eyes, a something, a tree, a cloud or a shining lake, lends itself to symbolic use, we must call it other than itself.
As with Odysseus long ago, sailing on uncharted seas that just had to be inhabited by monsters of the deep, Scylla and Charybdis and where there was land, sirens and one-eyed cyclops, so with the vast forests that once almost covered the land and still exist extensively, forests of Europe and the New World, the Brazilian Amazon and African Congo, mystery lends itself to myth. Why, even in the eighteenth century, there were few cities like London or Paris and travel by night was a wild, hazardous business between settlements, better to rest awhile at a way-side inn.
And so, for the ‘forest,’ a dictionary definition encompassing no error, ‘what is it in itself ?’ ‘A forest: extensive vegetation zone in which tall trees predominate. A large treed-area inhabited by wild-life ‘… Has to be large trees, else-wise it is woodland, has to be extensive … people have been known to get lost in forests, and not just in fiction.
And on to metaphor, (what humans do) and to human metaphors concerning ‘the forest,’ the metaphor most universally preferred, the metaphor of ‘darkness.’ We day-visioned homo-sapiens are lovers of light; metaphors of dark and light draw upon our deepest biological impulses, and as metaphors of human value, light and dark are probably the central metaphors of western philosophy, light and enlightenment associated with ‘the good,’ darkness, ‘the not-good,’ associated with mystery, confusion, savagery and grotesquery.
So let us begin with the lesser of the four evils, ‘mystery and confusion’ and characters in literature losing their way and having strange encounters in the forest. Herewith Tolkien and Shakespeare and …
The Enchanted Forest.
Back in the Third Age of the Middle Earth you’ve got a small band of hobbits. One of them named Frodo, here they are traversing The Old Forest…
‘Looking ahead they could see only tree-trunks of innumerable sizes and shapes, straight or bent, squat or slender, smooth or gnarled and branched; and all the stems were green or grey with moss and slimy, shaggy growths….The ground was rising starkly and as they went forward, it seemed that the trees became taller, darker, and thicker. There was no sound, except an occasional drip of moisture falling through the still leaves. For the moment there was no whispering or movement among the branches; but they all got the uncomfortable feeling that they were being watched with disapproval, deepening to dislike or even enmity. The feeling steadily grew, until they found themselves looking up quickly, or glancing back over their shoulders, as if they expected a sudden blow.’
In Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the mysterious life lurking in the forest is located within the trees themselves, this is their world and hobbits and other living creatures from beyond the forest that enter their domain are not welcome and likely to be harmed.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Below the level of daylight awareness, the forest as Fairyland, Shakespeare’s forest experience, a midsummer night’s dream. All flowery groves and bowers, take the trees as a given, it’s a tale of humans lost in a shadowed maze, star-crossed lovers and sundry artisans subject to the ploys of fairies immersed in their own dramatics, King Oberon and Queen Titania having a domestic, and trickster Puck testing cupid love potions on the hapless humans. Lots of mistaken identity…
Hast thou the flower there? Welcome, wanderer.
Ay, there it is.
I pray thee, give it me.
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.
Take thou some of it, and seek through this grove:
A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth: anoint his eyes;
And look thou meet me ere the first cock crow.
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady: thou shalt know the man
By the Athenian garments he hath on.
Effect it with some care, that he may prove
More fond on her than she upon her love:
The Enchanted Forest, well it’s enchanting, and despite the comic confusion, induced changes of affection, even transmogrification of appearance, Bottom the Weaver as ass, alas, all ends well and when they emerge from the forest, a nice speech about events from Thesius, Duke of Athens. (First part now, more later.)
‘More strange than true: I may never believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys,
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason comprehends.’
More than cool reason comprehends…What’s cool reason got to do with your darkness metaphor, with mystery, confusion, savagery and grotesquery? Exemplar of the latter, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, they’re grim.
The Dark, Dark Forest.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales, populated by witches, giants, trolls and malevolent goblins, a few wandering princes and princesses, usually bewitched, and bears and wolves. Read Grimm’s Fairy Tales and you’ll likely agree, ‘don’t go into the woods today,’ but they do, or worse still send their children there, like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel.
Little Red Riding Hood, what is her mother thinking of sending a small child off to visit her aged grandmother in the middle of a dark forest inhabited by wolves? (There’s Little Red Riding Hood skipping along the path, iconic image, doesn’t have to go too far before she meets one,) and what’s her grandmother doing living alone in the forest? Any wonder they both get devoured by the wolf and it’s only by the deux ex machina intervention of the woodsman killing the wolf that the two emerge from the dead beast’s innards unscathed.
Context of the Brothers’ Grimm tales of grotesquery, those folk tales go way back, even before the Middle Ages, and hunger is a focus, eating and being eaten a common theme. What events of calumny when scarcity falls on the land, as in the story of Hansel and Gretel!
Pillow talk between the children’s father and step-mother, overheard by Hansel and Gretel:
What is to become of us? How are we to feed our poor children, when we no longer have anything even for ourselves?
I’ll tell you what, husband, early tomorrow morning we will take our children out into the forest to where it is thickest, then we will light a fire for them, and give each of them one piece of bread more and leave them alone. They will not find their way home again and we shall be rid of them.
The compliant husband gives in to the evil step-mother even though he thinks wild beasts may devour the children!
Plan put into action next morning. When Hansel’s counter plan to find a way out of the forest goes awry, hungry birds eat the bread crumb trail he leaves, the children can’t find their way home and wander in the forest until they come across the witch’s gingerbread house, – a lure for lost children.
The witch locks Hansel in a cage and plans to fatten him up and eat him… Your cannibalism was not unknown in olden times when scarcity fell upon the land, witches being particularly prone to savagery. Lucky that Gretel is shrewd enough to trick the witch into putting her head in the oven and pushes her in and shuts the oven door. Happy ending? …The two children manage to find their way home to their weak-willed father who welcomes them, the wicked step-mother has died, – so all’s well – Oh well…
And Going Deeper into that Dark Forest…
More of savagery in the forest, this time in Joseph Conrad’s novella ‘Heart of Darkness,’ a journey into darkest Africa – or is it?
Joseph Conrad wrote ‘Heart of Darkness’ in the latter years of the nineteenth century, the century of British and European imperialism in Africa and the East, which was also a period of religious questioning and doubt. In ‘Heart of Darkness,’ we follow protagonist Marlow in his shadowy and ambiguous journey into the interior to rescue the mysterious company agent Kurtz, said to have civilizing ideals, suggesting parallels with Stanley’s journey into Africa to rescue David Livingstone. But is this journey into the dark continent or a journey into the human subconscious? For Marlow, piloting a steamboat up the River Congo, it becomes both, a physical journey and Marlow’s own inner journey, a quest for enlightenment.
In this journey Joseph Conrad employs the metaphors of light and darkness, relating light with knowledge and civility, and darkness with mystery and savagery, but these boundaries become blurred as Marlow describes his experiences, and the language seems calculated to obscure rather than enlighten the reader, who, like Marlow himself, must try to negotiate the shifting focus of this journey and its unanswered questions.
In Marlow’s account of his experiences, the metaphor of darkness equating to savagery relates more to the actions of the white traders in ivory than to the African population. Marlow describes the muddle of the station in Leopold’s Congo, run by a rapacious manager whose only talent is a talent for intrigue. He describes the futile destruction involved in the building of a railway, the blasting of a cliff that ‘was not in the way or anything…but was the only work going on.’ Marlow is horrified by the sight of chained prisoners working on the railway and in the shadows, dying prisoners: ‘Black shadows crouched, lying within the dim light, in all the attributes of pain, abandonment and despair.’
Conrad uses the imagery of obscured light, ‘fog,’ glow’, and reflected light, ‘halo,’ ‘moonshine,’ to suggest the difficulties of ‘seeing’ or understanding what is happening, as when the pilgrims on the steamboat fire blindly into the fog or when Marlow finally meets Kurtz. Trying to understand and describe to us his understanding of the man. Marlow repeatedly uses the words ‘see’ and ‘dream’ to reveal his frustration. ‘I did not see – you understand. He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name anymore than you do.’
Marlow’s journey becomes a quest to understand Kurtz, the reality behind the rumours and when they meet in the final pages of the novel, Marlow describes how the man presented himself as a voice, that of all Kurtz’ gifts, this was the only one that gave a sense of his real presence, ‘the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness.’
Meaning for us, as for Marlow, is to be found ‘enveloping the tale as a haze.’ Kurtz’ megalomania is suggested through Marlow’s comments at second hand. ‘Oh yes, I heard him. ‘My intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my’ – everything belonged to him.’ We learn, filtered again through Marlow’s recount of a Russian adventurer’s story, of Kurtz’ raids for ivory with the local tribe following him as a god. Kurtz’ impenetrable moral darkness is never made explicit in the novel. Marlow tells us of the shrunken heads on stakes outside his station, the grief of the wild woman, ‘savage and superb,’ who wears bizarre witch doctor charms, ‘she must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her.’…What lies behind Kurtz’ dying words, ‘The horror! The horror!’ we can only guess.
For Marlow the journey into the wilderness is to discover where lies darkness, and it is in us, and only the restraint of strong beliefs or principles prevent people who journey into a wilderness from reverting to the primitive. He recognises that behind Kurtz’ magnificent eloquence there was nothing ‘ to restrain the gratification of his lusts.’ The actions of the traders and pilgrims also revealed this hollowness. For himself, Marlow tells us that being forced to attend to the surface reality of keeping the boat afloat saved him from facing the inner truth of his own heart of darkness. He says, ‘But I felt it all the same.’
The light/ darkness metaphors in Conrad’s novel in the end lead us to the ironic conclusion that ‘enlightenment’ or understanding in ‘Heart of Darkness’ equates, not with ‘light’ but with ‘darkness.’ Marlow’s enlightenment and ours is the recognition of how easily we cast off our civilized values and revert to the primitive and savage. Without the controls of civilization, or restraints of firm beliefs or principles, we are likely to succumb to the heart of darkness that is in us all.
The Forest versus the Town.
Controls of civilization versus wilderness is also a theme in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ but with a different emphasis than in Conrad’s book. Here the drama involves town versus forest. Its events take place in a lonely western outpost in the New World, the Puritan settlement of Boston, cut off from civilization on one boundary by an ocean and by an unexplored wilderness on the other. The dramatic events of the novel have as much to do with its setting, which bears directly on the story of Hester Prynne, the main character of the ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ as with the interactions of the four characters involved, Hester Prynne and her past lover, respected and spiritual pastor of the little community, their child, born out of wedlock, and Hester’s elderly husband, believed dead but now arrived in the town, his identity known only to Hester, whom he swears to silence.
The theme of adultery is easily presented as melodrama but in this novel it is not, it is a psychological and moral study of human transgression that is judged within the strict moral confines of the Puritan settlement, its vision of Utopia contrasting with the surrounding forest where no human laws obtain.
‘We have sacrificed all things,’ says one of its leaders describing its creation, ‘and come to a land whereof the old world hath scarcely heard, that we might make a new world unto ourselves, and painfully seek a path from hence to heaven.’
Not a heaven on earth this, but a preparation for the life to come, any wonder that punishment of transgressions are meted out without fear or favour, and that the cemetery, the gallows and the prison, are prominent features of the Puritan Utopia. Here is Hester Prynne at the beginning of the novel emerging from its prison portals:
‘The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and gristly presence of the town beadle, with a sword by his side and his staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his business to administer in its final and closest application to the offender. Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right hand upon the shoulder of a young woman whom he thus drew forward, until on the threshold of the prison door, she repelled him by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character and stepped into the open air, as if of her own free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison.’
The young woman was tall with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. Her dark and abundant hair was so glossy that it threw off sunshine with a gleam. On the breast of her gown the young woman wore a token of her crime, ordered by the authorities but which she has wrought herself in prison, an embroidered scarlet letter ‘A,’ denoting the crime of Adultery. She is a fine needle-woman and has created her mark of shame with ‘elaborate and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy’ and flourishes of gold thread so that it far exceeds the sumptuary regulations of the colony.
At the outset Hawthorne introduces a parallel of contrasts between the forest and the town, the grim, grey settlement contrasting with luxuriant nature. He sets off the prison ‘black flower of civilized society,’ with the wild rosebush’ that blooms by the prison door. Each side of the tableau has its parallel words, ‘iron’ for the town, man-forged metal, ‘iron clamped door,’ ‘iron-breasted company,’ and ‘wild’ for the forest, freedom from human constraint, ‘wild flowers,’ ‘wild energy.’
The human actors are part of this tableau by way of their preferences and different temperaments. Belonging to the town, Arthur Dimmesdale, the settlement’s pastor, the father of Hester Prynne’s child who fails to confess the relationship, and Roger Chillingworth, husband of Hester, who conceals his own identity and relationship to Hester… Those who do not belong to the town, Hester Prynne and her child, living in an abandoned cottage on the outskirts of the town.
Be true, be true, be true…
In the duality that Hawthorne creates in his novel between Puritan justice and the lawlessness of the forest, he deliberately enlists our sympathies for Hester and her child and exposes both the hypocrisy of the unknown father of her child and of the husband who resolves to unmask him.
The deception. When the pastor falls ill as a consequence of his weight of guilt, Roger Chillingworth, scholar and physician, takes an interest in his condition, and recognising its mental origins, initially begins an investigation he imagines ‘he will take with the integrity of a judge desirous only of truth and helping his patient.’ Not so. Soon he is sensing a guilty secret that he gropes stealthily to uncover. As he guesses what this secret is, the physician is now bent on revenge and becomes the pastor’s nemesis, (and also his own.) He seeks to distress the pastor further by speaking of confession as balm for sick men’s souls. Double-deception: in his reply to the physician, Arthur Dimmesdale reveals his own hypocrisy…
‘It may be that such men are kept silent by the constitution of their nature. O – can we suppose it? – guilty as they may be, retaining nevertheless , a zeal for God’s glory and man’s welfare they shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men : because, there-forward no good can be achieved by them: no evil of the past be redeemed by better service. So to their own unutterable torment they go about among their fellow creatures looking pure as new-fallen snow; while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves.’
Hawthorne having weighted the argument heavily on the feeling side, doesn’t settle for an easy conclusion. In the child, Pearl, (symbolic naming by her mother,) beautiful and intelligent, but mercurial and wilful, we see, as her mother observes, a child more elfin than human. She needs the father as well as the mother, as the child herself intuits when she and her mother returning from a sickbed visit, meet with the pastor at a midnight vigil at the town gallows where he calls them to join him. She challenges him: ‘And will you stand here with Mother and me, tomorrow noon-tide?
In the novel’s conclusion, it is neither town nor forest, iron or wild rose but something encompassing both that must prevail. Be true, be true, be true, man made laws defined by nature’s reality.
Time to conclude with those promised lines by Theseus, Duke of Athens, from the Bard’s ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.’
More strange than true: I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!