Karl Popper versus George Soros …
Two conflicting views of the Open Society.

Multi-billionaire and hedge fund manager George Soros, in what could be his manifesto, a book written in 2000, ‘Open Society , Reforming Global Capitalism,’ attributes influence on his views and program, promoted via his global ‘Open Society Foundation,’ to Karl Popper’s classic exposition, ‘The Open Society and its Enemies,’ published in 1950.

‘Open Society,’ says George Soros, ‘stands for freedom, democracy, rule of law, human rights, social justice and social responsibility as a universal idea.’ ( O.S. Soros. 2000, p 120.) …Sounds good, doesn’t it, ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘rule of law,’ etcetera, etcetera, but somewhere along the way, Karl Popper’s Open Society seems to have undergone a sea-change into something stranger, interesting to compare the two versions, Popper Mark I and Soros Mark II.

Popper wrote his book during the dark days of Hitler’s rise to power and early days of the Second World War when it looked like Hitler’s attempt at world dominance might succeed. He wrote ‘Open Society’ as a response to these events, a felt need to critically examine totalitarianism in its various guises and to defend the values of open, democratic society that were being threatened. The various guises Popper examines in ‘Open Society’ are doctrines of historical necessity and human destiny expounded by Plato, Hegel and Marx, Plato formulating an ideal republic based on his theory of forms, Hegel combating liberalism in the authoritarian state of Prussia’s King Frederic William III, and Karl Marx in industrial England, arguing inexorable laws of social development and class war.

In criticizing these three thinkers, Popper states in the preface to ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies:

’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 defense 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.’

Popper’s Open Society High -Five…..

The High-Five of Popper’s Open Society, ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy involving critical debate,’ ‘equal rule of law for all,’ ‘human rights,’ ‘social justice and social responsibility,’ are necessarily inter-connected in complex ways; ‘freedom,’ for example, entailing questions of ‘who rules,’ ‘how much rule’ and ‘what checks and balances on governance’ The main focus of Popper’s two volume ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’ is his review of Plato’s Republic, Volume 1, ‘The Spell of Plato,’ the first of the blueprint Utopias designed to make-over society on a grand scale.

None of the above features of the open society in Plato’s hierarchical Utopia meant to arrest all change and keep everyone in their place. 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.

Plato summed up this experience by the historicist law of historical development that all things decay. But Plato believed that it was possible to break this law by a return to the original perfect form of things or ideas. His Republic, recreating the perfect tribal closed society ruled by an elite philosopher caste would do this. To maintain unity within this ruling caste, all that was private and individual must be eradicated and therefore, Plato tells us, in his highest state there must be common property of wives, children and chattels. Popper quotes Plato: ‘You are created for the sake of the whole …’ (O.S.p100.) and observes that for Plato, individualism is the enemy of collectivism and must be branded as selfish expression of ego, no place in Plato’s Republic for western humanism and altruism or The Arts.

Lies required, ‘noble’ or otherwise.

So when you wish to make BIG changes you have to be persuasive. The political system Plato designed to achieve his static society necessitated his persuasive myth, or necessary ‘noble lie,’ of the metals in men, gold in an elite class who should lead, and beneath them, tiers of inferior metals with their ordained, unquestioned roles of obedience to the philosopher king. In this hierarchy, only the gold elite get 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 his noble lie.

More dishonesty. Plato used Socrates as his sock puppet to give respectability to his totalitarian program. Socrates, advocate of the open society and critical debate, member of what Popper calls the great generation of Athenian open society becomes the mouthpiece for Plato’s authoritarian doctrines. Here on justice and rule of law, Plato has Socrates giving a whole new meaning to words like ‘justice’ or ‘freedom’ via convoluted argument….What means justice for each citizen? Why, it’s the right to possess what is his own. And what is this right specifically? Why it’s the right, (within his caste) to attend to his own business, that is, the right of the labourer to labour, and presumably of the slave to slave, and of course, the unquestionable right of the philosopher class to rule. (O.S. Ch 6.)

Justice, then, in Plato’s hierarchical state means what is in the best interest of the hierarchical state and Plato’s focus, regarding justice, was the question of ‘who shall rule the state?’ Popper observes that whether the response was ‘the wise’ or ‘the good,’ or even ‘the general will’ or ‘the master race’ shall rule,’ the question skipped over the fundamental problem of limits to power, the problem of unchecked sovereignty. Popper proposed a better question concerning justice, which is: ‘How can we so organize political institutions so that bad or incompetent leaders be prevented from doing too much damage?’ (O.S.p121.)

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.

How different is this ‘wisdom’ from Socrates curiosity and intellectual modesty, ‘Socrates who taught that we should have faith in human reason and avoid dogmatism. This,’ says Popper, ‘is what Plato made of Socrates’ demand that a responsible politician should be a lover of truth and wisdom rather than an expert, and that he was ‘wise’ only if he knew his limitations.’ (O.S.p 137.)

And this blueprint by Plato in ‘The Republic,’ for the return to tribalism, is how Plato perverts open society concepts of freedom, democracy and equal rule of law for all. You can forget social justice and social responsibility, in this rigid society they don’t apply.

Compare, also, says Popper, Plato’s Republic, with the description of Athens’ 5th Century B.C. experiment in democracy by one of its leaders, Pericles, a member of ‘the great generation.’ that formulated the principle of equality before the law and political individualism.

‘Our political system,’ says Pericles in his famous ‘Funeral Oration,’ ‘does not compete with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbors, but try to be an example. Our administration favors the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he will be called to serve the state, in preference to others, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward of merit; and poverty is no bar. … The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and we do not nag our neighbor if he chooses to go his own way. … But this freedom does not make us lawless. We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right.’ (O.S. Ch 10.)

Clean Slate – Don’t go there!

Many problems with Utopian attempts to realize an ideal state. As Popper argues, social life is so complicated that it’s impossible to forecast the outcomes of clean-slate engineering. It requires authoritarian controls, no room for criticism, and it means problems with leadership when the benevolent ‘wise’ leader is succeeded by the tyrant. ‘We must never forget,’ says Popper, ‘that excellent leaders cannot be produced by rational methods but only by luck.’ (O.S p 161.)

And when things go wrong, as they must, we can’t back track. Powerful interests are linked to the success of the experience, too much has been invested in the grand scheme. Popper argues that it is much wiser to observe trial and error piecemeal reform, modify an institution, trial unemployment insurance or arbitration courts for example, and if they go wrong, the damage is not as great and readjustments are possible.

Hegel Says ‘No.’ Might is Absolutely Right.

If you listen to Hegel, official philosopher of the Prussian state under Frederic William the Third, things can’t go wrong in the powerful state. ‘That charlatan Hegel,’ says Schopenhauer, and Popper agrees. Hegel motivated by self interest, called to Berlin to justify Frederic William’s authoritarian rule; debauching language and logic to support his historicist dogma, a mystical zeitgeist, realized through a historical process of war of the nations. ‘The Universal is to be found in the State,’ writes Hegel, and ‘The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.’ (O.S. Vol 2 p31.)

Hegel turns Plato’s ideal form corrupted by flux on its head. Unlike Plato, Hegel does not teach that his development of the world in flux is a descent towards historical decay, but rather the trend towards the Idea, the powerful state of ‘now’ is progress, ‘what prevails, is right!’

Hegel promotes his historicist doctrine by his dialectical method that Popper, like Schopenhauer calls an assault on logic. While science and criticism proceed on the argument that contradictions are impermissible and attempts must be made to eliminate them, Hegel says that since science progresses via contradictions, contradictions are permissible and highly desirable and there is no need to eliminate them. Say, imagine if a bridge engineer used Hegel’s dialectic and welcomed and retained errors in his bridge design. What Hegel is doing is omitting part of the argument that ‘contradictions could be said to be welcome as a means of identifying and eliminating false arguments and theories.’ Hegel, by sleight of hand eliminates the italics bit and focuses on a connotation of ‘welcome’ as ‘inviting to stay as a ‘welcome’ guest.’

By this sophistry, says Popper, all criticism and argument must cease. I draw your attention to Popper’s comment, cited above, in his Preface to The Open Society regarding the importance of criticism if we are to protect our freedoms. Note also that Hegel’s attack on criticism secures his own philosophy against argument.

Employing this dialectical method and impenetrable language, (think language of the Alan Sokal Hoax) Hegel employs pseudo demonstration … therefore and therefore and therefore … to undermine human freedoms, for example, appearing to defend claims for protection of ‘ liberty’ or ‘freedom of thought,’ by the state, while proceeding to turn both to their opposite meaning … ‘convictions may be pretentious’ and ‘faced with ‘subversive opinions,’ turns out that only the state can preserve freedom of thought and must ‘make up its own mind concerning what is to be considered objective truth.’ (O.S. Vol 2, pp 42, 43.)

On liberty Hegel uses a pun try to show that a ‘liberty’ is the same as a ‘law’, from which it follows that the more laws, the more liberties. This is clearly nothing than the paradox of freedom that can be expressed by saying that unlimited freedom leads to its opposite, since without its protection and restriction by law, freedom must lead to a tyranny of the strong over the weak. This paradox was solved by Kant, says Popper, who argued ‘that the freedom of each man should be restricted, but not beyond what is necessary to safeguard an equal degree of freedom for all.’ (Vol 2.pp 44/45.)

Popper says that Hegel knows Kant’s solution, but he does not like it, and ‘presents it, without mentioning its author, in the following disparaging way: ‘To-day, nothing is more familiar than the idea that each must restrict his liberty in relation to the liberty of others; that the state is a condition of such reciprocal restrictions; and that the laws are restrictions. But,’ he goes on to criticize Kant’s theory, ‘this expresses the kind of outlook that views freedom as casual good-pleasure and self-will.’ With this cryptic remark, Kant’s equalitarian theory of justice is dismissed.’ (Ch 12.)

Popper concludes that why we need to take Hegel’s flawed logic and his historicist dogma seriously is because ‘Hegel’s influence, and especially that of his cant,’ have had incalculable influence on fascist and Marxist political philosophies and is still very powerful in moral and social philosophy and in the social and political sciences.’ (pp 29, 30.)

Karl Marx and a New Historicism.

‘It is tempting to dwell upon the similarities between Marxism, the Hegelian left wing. and its fascist counterparts,’ says Popper, ‘Yet it would be utterly unfair to overlook the difference between them. Although their intellectual origin is nearly identical, there can be no doubt of the humanitarian impulse of Marxism. Moreover, in contrast to the Hegelians of the right wing, Marx made an honest attempt to apply rational methods to the most urgent problems of social life. The value of this attempt is unimpaired by the fact that it was, as I shall try to show, largely unsuccessful.’ (O.S.Vol 2. p81.)

Popper pays tribute to Marx identifying the importance of situational analysis and economic conditions and not states of mind, as the basis for understanding human history, Marx’s materialism, or ‘economism’, says Popper, is insightful but only so long as it is not sweepingly interpreted as the doctrine that all social development depends upon economic conditions, which is palpably false. The history of Marxism itself furnishes examples that clearly falsify Marx exaggerated economism, for example, it was Lenin’s ‘ideas’ expressed in slogans that became a driving force of the Russian Revolution. (p108.) Popper makes reference, also, to Rousseau’s influence on Robespierre in the French Revolution, to those Medieval fights within the ruling classes, between popes and emperors. Nor do 20th century World Wars conform to this oversimplification.

The historicism of Marx is itself a strand of an intellectual tradition from Plato to Hegel that viewed history as a process of necessity, of inexorable laws of historical development whereby nothing we can do will avert what is to be. Popper attacks the perniciousness of such doctrines that discourage personal responsibility and any criticism of the ‘inevitable.’

Popper also attacks historicist doctrines as false interpretations of history, arguing that the arguments underlying Marx’s historical prophesy are invalid,’ that his ingenious attempt to draw prophetic conclusions from observations of contemporary economic tendencies failed.’ (p193.) The conditions of the working classes under capitalism did not worsen, leading to social revolution, as Marx predicted, instead they markedly improved:

‘The reason for his failure as a prophet lies entirely in the poverty of historicism as such,’ says Popper, ‘in the simple fact that even if we observe to-day what appears to be a historical tendency or trend, we cannot know whether it will have the same appearance tomorrow.’ (p193.)

Popper observes that probably his most crucial criticism of Marx is of his theory of the state and paradoxically the impotence of all politics. ‘Political power, properly so called,’ says Marx in his Manifesto, ‘is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing the other.’ (p118.) The important and dangerous outcome of this theory is that paradoxically, given radical activism, politics are viewed as impotent. A state that holds elections must nevertheless be considered undemocratic per se. Legal and political reforms are a waste of time. The Marxist theory of politics does not require its followers to be alert to abuses of power, (other than economic power,) or any need for institutional checks and balances on state power, even after revolution has ushered in the prophesied classless society.

Says Popper, not only did Marx’s historicist theory block the development of democratic reform, it prevented its followers from envisaging, after the revolution, the danger to political freedom by a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Popper wrote of Marx’s ‘humanitarianism and honest attempt to apply rational methods to social problems’ (p81.) but ultimately he decries the outcome of Marx’s historicist theory, a way of acting that is neither humanitarian nor rational, involving the pain and suffering of likely violent revolution.

Yet Another Manifesto.

In the George Soros Manifesto, ‘Open Society, Reforming Global Capitalism,’ written as he says in his introduction, ‘as a guide to action,’ there is little of Popper’s view of open society with its considerations regarding rational criticism and individual freedom, more a blend of strands of Plato, Hegel and Marx, the Soros messianic change-the-world big plan. Highly critical of present day nation democracies and capitalist markets, Soros expounds guiding principles for his vision of global open society and the network of foundations he has established to realize his aims. The book’s themes focus on present ways of thinking and practices that he claims are a threat to open society. They include what he terms ‘unbridled’ self interest, lack of a universal focused value system and a process he calls ‘reflexivity,’ the fallible feedback problem between thinking and reality that occurs in our human, political, economic and social activities. Soros is particularly critical of the capitalist free market, which he renames as ‘market fundamentalism.’

Je suis Plato.

In Chapter 5 of Soros’ book, with its Plato-sounding title, ‘Open Society as an Ideal,’ hesets out to correct the ‘deficiencies’ of pluralistic value systems in present democracies by establishing a fundamental universal value system. ‘This sounds like a Utopian endeavor,’ says Soros, and so it is, but not to worry because it is necessary, you can’t truly have an open society if it isn’t actually universal. ( Irony tag, in case you’re wondering.) And if there seems something contradictory in imposing democracy from the outside on other nations, as he recognizes in the book’s introduction, ‘contradiction can be avoided …if the intervention brings benefits and is therefore voluntarily accepted.’ Hey, ‘therefore’ Post hoc ergo propter? Maybe after the revolution has settled down?

Best forget those words of Pericles in the Funeral Oration quoted by Popper, ‘we do not nag our neighbour if he chooses to go his own way.’ Soros couldn’t agree less. He’s been known to meddle in other nations’ politics, and like Plato, he’s for pervasive moral guidance and more than a dash of compulsion in his open society, although Soros is not quite Plato with regard to consistency of argument.

In Soros, Chapter 5, there are a few problem definitions involved as well. A core problem of present democracies for George Soros is the promotion of the market principle by all those market fundamentalists out there ‘that believe the common interest is best served by the untrammelled pursuit of self interest.’ (P 117.) First problem definition, Soros substitutes Popper’s and the Enlightenment’s references to ‘the individual’ with the term ‘self interest.’ Like Plato, Soros’ identifies ‘individualism’ with ‘egoism,’ furnishing a powerful argument for collectivism and conflicting with Popper’s description of ‘individualism’ united with ‘altruism’ as the basis of western civilization. The word ‘individual,’ argues Popper, is in opposition to ‘collectivism’ but not, per se, to altruism, whereas ‘egoism’ or ‘selfishness’ is definitively in opposition to altruism.

While applying his connotation of ‘egoist’ to ‘individual,’ Soros makes a brief reference to the ‘individual’ as relating to ‘the universal brotherhood of man,’ in the United States Declaration of Independence and in Kant’s Categorical Imperative, ‘Treat all humans as ends, not means, …and do unto others as you would be done to.’ (Ch 5.) contradicting his argument that a flaw of western democracies is that they have no universal values, here, two universal values expressed and both based on yet another Enlightenment universal value, the value of subjecting tradition to critical reason. As with Hegel, it seems that contradictions are not of much concern to this writer.

Je suis Hegel.

While Soros admits that the Enlightenment unleashed the creative energies of the human intellect to bring about achievements and living standards ‘beyond compare,’ he then dismisses these achievements ‘beyond compare,’ by arguing that in the Enlightenment ‘Reason was unequal to the task.’ As an historical illustration he cites the excesses of the French Revolution, not an applicable example as participants in the French Revolution abandoned constitutional safeguards and rational behaviour, instead responding to events by leadership fiat-decision-making and mob-rule.

A further criticism of the Enlightenment made by Soros is that rationalism produced the ‘unencumbered individual,’ a simplistic view of individuals living as though without family or local connections or any social values, and disregarding the reformist actions of many of these individuals to extend suffrage, enact factory laws, and abolish slavery, not just reformists but humanists, like John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Franklin, Lord Shaftsbury, and Charles Dickens.

And here’s Hegelian contradiction:

‘It’s time, ‘says Soros,’ to subject reason, as construed by the Enlightenment, to the same kind of critical examination that the Enlightenment inflicted on the dominant external authorities, both divine and temporal. We have now lived in the age of reason for the past two hundred years – long enough to discover that reason has its limitations. We are ready to enter the age of fallibility.’ (p 125.)

What does it mean, ‘subject reason to ‘reason,’ subjecting reason to itself? And what does it mean to ‘enter the age of fallibility?’ Popper perceived our ‘human fallibility’ as requiring us ‘to act by trial and error-testing,’ which is rational behaviour for a fallible being and is the basis of the scientific method. What Soros says here seems contradictory, he’s putting fallibility in place of to reason. By abandoning reason, where does that get us?

And there’s a historical problem with Soros’ generalization. Can we say that we have been living in an age of reason for the last two hundred years? In the twentieth century, how to equate Germany’s myth of blood and soil and collectivist aggression with being part of the age of reason? Ironic that Soros’ says that his open society, critical of reason and individual responsibility, is influenced by Karl Popper who wrote his ‘Open Society and its Enemies’ in response to Hitler’s irrational onslaught against it.

Soros and the New Encumbered Individual.

In the George Soros Manifesto social justice is a top priority, social justice with a capital ‘S’ and a capital ‘J’ .You can’t have an open society without lots of it. He presents the seven conditions for open society in our time suggested by Aryeh Neier, President of the Soris Open Society Foundation. They are:

(1) Regular, free and fair elections. (2) Free and pluralistic media.(3)The rule of law upheld by an independent judiciary.(4) Constitutional protection for minority rights.(5) A market economy that respects property rights and provides opportunities and a safety net for the disadvantaged. (6) A commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. (7) Laws that are enforced to curb corruption.

Well, don’t functioning western democracies already hold these principles constitutionally and generally seek to realize them? Social justice observed by rule of law for all, constitutional protection for minority rights, safety nets for the disadvantaged, pensions, education for all, and catering for learning disabilities that may be mental or physical.

But Soros wants universal and more pervasive government regulation to achieve his own ideal of social justice. He makes the claim that this should come about via bottom up, by trial and error reform, but given that Soros believes irrational, fallible humans, following their own self interest, can’t be trusted to act in the public interest, as per his ideal of social justice, Soros considers, like Plato and Hegel before him, that the state must be given that power. Not just any state, however, but a global organization, promoter and arbiter of the common interest, like the EU heavily regulating the common market and institutions like the Central European University, founded and funded by Soros, to create the ‘encumbered individual,’ with its value-laden program promoting the Occupy Movement. ‘People must be aroused, fired up’ says Soros, ‘and they must coalesce around a common cause for the common interest to override special interests’. (p136.)

Well that might bring about grass roots activism, but mainly as a result of concerted pressure from above. ‘We need to create institutions for the promotion of the common interest’ says Soros, but there’s the rub, that EU and UN army of highly (self) paid unelected leaders and bureaucracy have demonstrated serious governance problems, problems of unvetted immigration, huge welfare bills, law and order and social breakdowns as a consequence of fiat decision making. A top down elite may have a shared interest but it is ‘their’ interest and that does not equate with the common interest. Well not until you align the common interest with your leadership goals. The Central European University is that kind of institution creating ‘encumbered’ social justice activists pushing for globalist values regarding gender politics and social justice, along with green politics-environmentalism and the labor movement.

Founder of the CEU, advocate of the global state, George Soros, wears many hats, Platonic philosopher, Hegelian sophist, and not least, Marxist critic of the free market.

Je suis Marx.

For Karl Popper, the enemy of the open society is totalitarianism in all its guises, whether tribal, fascist or communist, whereas for Soros, its principal enemies are the free market and the global capitalist system. George Soros really, really disapproves of the free market which he chooses to call market ‘fundamentalism’ with all those reflexivity and dogmatist-religious connotations that the term ‘fundamentalism’ brings to mind.

‘Market fundamentalists believe in individual freedom, which is a cornerstone of open society,’ says Soros in the introduction to his book, ’but they exaggerate the merits of the market mechanism. They believe that efficient markets assure the best allocation of resources and that any intervention, whether it comes from the state or from international institutions, is detrimental. Since market fundamentalism has become so influential , it truly constitutes a greater threat to a global open society than communism or socialism, because those ideologies have been discredited.’

Soros makes a number of flawed observations concerning the free market. He disagrees with the classical economists’ argument that the unregulated market will generate equilibrium between demand and supply and that government intervention produces negative results by distorting feedback signals. Soros wants more government regulation to rid the system of boom/bust market corrections.

Say, even if, arguably, Adam Smith classic economics is incorrect concerning homeostasis and Schumpeter’s dynamic disequilibrium theory is the working dynamic, increasing government regulation to make the market an instrument of social justice would also lead to negative results. Schumpeter argues that dynamic disequilibrium is the process of structural change that moves resources from obsolescent to new practices, from industrial revolution steam power to information age internet. Retarding this wealth producing process by government ‘steering’ would reduce innovation and capital, the source of present productive employment opportunities and income and future productive employment opportunities. (Ref below, Hans Rosling video * re the unprecedented outcomes of low regulation markets on living standards and life expectancy in western democracies in the last two hundred years. )

Another incorrect assumption that Soros makes regarding the free market needing top down intervention, is that a free market is an ‘untrammeled’ market. But the free market is far from the lawless process that he describes. It requires rule of law as its basis, including legally binding contracts, protection of property rights, and reliable disputes resolution practices. That’s why kleptocracies are not good places to create a viable business. Nor are western nations where government and global institutions are imposing more, and often arbitrary regulations on the market, for example, results of government social policies in the US Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae banking disaster, and EU youth jobless stats, (over 40% for Greece, over 35% for Spain and Italy, and in eight other EU nations unemployment ranging from 15 % to the high 20’s) a consequence of high regulation imposed by an army of public service elites, highest paid in the world. And then there’s those bale outs by government fiat!

Soros admits his own mistake in predicting the imminent disintegration of the capitalist system after the Asian crisis which he attributes to the operation of the free market though it was more the result of a departure from the free market, but he keeps on hoping – and working to bring it about…

Soros in Action – the Man behind the Curtain.

In 1979 in Hungary, the land of his birth, Soros launched the first of his Open Society Foundations to help ‘build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.’ Passing strange that the Open Society Foundations he funds in more than 79 countries, and the organizations funded by them, often by stealth, are doing quite the opposite.

Aryeh Neier, the President chosen by Soros to head his Open Society Organization, is a Leninist Marxist, founder, in the 1960’s, of Students for Democracy, committed to overthrowing American institutions and remaking them in Marxist mould. Quite a few of the Open Society echelon have a similar history and the behemoth they control funds an activist movement with a similar program to Students for Democracy, to herald in a utopian era of supra-state government, U.N. and EU style. Same ol’ same ol’…

Soros funded programs are directed to the Gramsci long march through the institutions, capturing the educational system, the media and judiciary, and corrupting democracy by constraining free speech and critical debate. Soros’ funded activism invokes attacks on a democratic pluralist media, and corruption of the constitutional electoral process and legal system of non-arbitrary rule of law for all. His Open Society Foundation and underground network seek to bring down the United States and other western democracies by promoting illegal mass immigration, mostly hostile to democratic values. Other programs include environmental activism demonizing atmospheric CO2 and promoting costly intermittent energy sources to affect productivity. Further to weakening society, activists seek to legitimize illicit toxic drugs and provoke hatred of police action that protects the populace against violent drug offenders or political acts of hostility by migrants. Herewith links to organizations directly and indirectly funded by Soros Open Society Foundation and link to OSF top 150 grantees of 2011.



A few examples of Soros’ subsidy of leftist activism,

Opposition to Free Speech.

Soros’ funds action 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 California University, Berkeley, the violent protests \in February 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 OSF grantee list. Tidegave AfGJ $50, 000, according to the AfGJ 990 tax form.


Many inter-connections, Rise-up is connected to Antifa, and Antifa is an alias of Refuse Fascism, which is sponsored by AFGJ which is funded by Tides Foundation which is also funded by Soros’ Open Society Foundation… Get it? Here are two links that reveal the Rise Up Org. trail.:


Another Look Into Antifa’s Shady Connections

The passage below is part of a report by an organization called Discover the Networks, of plans and action by Antifa/Refuse Fascism, to violently disrupt Trump’s Inauguration festivities:

‘Just a few days prior to the January 20, 2017 inauguration of Republican President Donald Trump, James O’Keefe’s investigative journalism organization, Project Veritas, released undercover video footage exposing a cohort of hard-left, self-described “anarchists,” “anti-capitalists,” and “anti-fascists” who ― in an effort to undermine Trump’s presidency and strike back at the “Nazis” who they said supported him ― were plotting to disrupt the inaugural festivities with a massive protest dubbed “DisruptJ20.” Specifically, the conspirators planned to: (a) create a series of “clusterf**k blockades” sealing off ingress points all over the capital; (b) shut down the Washington, DC Metro lines by chaining the trains to other physical structures; (c) inject butyric acid, which could cause severe respiratory problems if inhaled, into the vent shafts of the National Press Club; and (d) physically assault Trump backers with well-placed, debilitating punches directly to the throat. While not all of these planned actions materialized on inauguration day, the protesters were nonetheless successful in creating a great deal of chaos in Washington. They rioted in the streets, started multiple fires, set vehicles ablaze, and hurled chunks of pavement through the windows of a number of businesses. Many of the rioters were dressed entirely in black, and their faces were covered by black masks, hoods, and scarves.


The above url also links to the Refuse Fascism manifesto, which states that Trump’s presidency is illegitimate and exhorts agitators to pour into the streets, ‘in the tens of millions,’ to bring about ‘a profound political crisis.’ On the Refuse Fascism.org website the shut down and vandalism is declared ‘righteous.’

So how else do you weaken open society? Why, by attacks on an independent press and
creation of an education system that instills the values you need to build your vision of Utopia.

Here’s Soros undermining a pluralist media. Fox News, last diehard of the conservative network, is under attack by Soros. The attack began in the Obama era in the form of demonizing and law suits. In June, 2011 Soros said: ‘Those in charge of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, have done well in identifying me as an adversary, They have done less well in the methods they have used to attack me: their lies shall not stand and their techniques shall not endure.’ In 2010 Soros launched an operation called ‘Color of Change’ to target Glen Beck, which it did. ( Color of Change executive director, Rashad Robinson, sits on the board of DEMOS, also funded by Soros. One of the original board members of DEMOS is Barrack Obama.) Soros also gave Media Matters, his own media outlet, $1.1 million ‘to be used to cut Fox News down to the core.’ Media Matters is a web based progressive research and information centre seeking to systematically monitor a cross section of media for conservative ‘misinformation.’

Soros Bringing Down Fox News?

Education for Utopia.

Here’s Soros instilling the necessary value system and training of social justice warriors at his own University, the Central European University and at the progressivist Bard College, both high in his list of grantees. Soros’ Education for Utopia, a student make-over, kinda’ like Plato’s philosopher-king-training involving the ‘noble’ lie.

Soros has spent more than $400 million world-wide to promote left-liberal, and in some cases extremist causes. One course at CEU incorporated lessons for the Occupy movement, here’s the Program Director for the Environmental Sciences, Tamara Steger, with a slide behind that says ‘How to occupy people’s heads with your message.’

Programs at Bard include a Palestinian youth group and an initative to educate prisoners across the country. The Bard Trustee Leader –Scholar program, Soros funded, is a program that ‘encourages and supports students to do challenging, even brazen acts of world change.’ Read about it at https://www.theblaze.com/news/2012/06/04/special-report-george-soros-godfather-of-the-left

Soros Open Society Foundation has granted $407,790,344, to higher education since the year 2000. Together CEU and Bard received roughly 75% of Soros’ total contribution, Ivy League schools including Harvard, Columbia and Yale also received funding.

Corrupting Electoral and Judicial Process.

Funding to manipulate Federal Elections. Those leaked Soros funding documents show that Soros poured hundreds of millions of dollars into often secret efforts to change election laws, to fuel litigation to attack election integrity measures, such as citizenship verification and voter ID, to push public narratives about voter fraud as a myth, and attempts to manipulate media coverage of election issues in mainstream media outlets like The New York Times.

The funding documents name groups that received more than $500,000 each year, including the Centre for Community Change, the Advancement Project Centre and the Brennan Centre. Two of these organizations, the Advancement Project and Brennan Centre, regularly oppose election integrity measures in court and influence media by pushing voter fraud denial narratives.


Soros’ money also targets voter mobilization of minority groups that can be counted on to vote for the Democrats, the political party Soros supports. The documents also show funding for the League of Women voters and their current program to stop efforts by Kansas, Georgia and Alabama to verify that only citizens are registering to vote.

Democratic non-fiat rule of law for all is subservient to social justice engineering in Soros reformulation of the justice system. Justice is not about addressing criminal acts perpetrated against individuals and institutions, but instead a vehicle for fiat decisions regarding utopian ideals of social change. OSF is a significant donor of the Coalition for an International Criminal Court which aims to subordinate the American criminal justice procedures to an international prosecutor who could initiate politically motivated prosecutions against US officials or citizens.

Out in the streets, less safety, more lawlessness isn’t an issue of concern for Soros, funding groups like Centre for Community Change that mobilize and coordinate grassroots’ opposition to enforcement of immigration laws and supporting voting rights for illegal immigrants. Soros also funds groups like Justice at Stake that promote legislation to replace judicial elections with a ‘merit-selection’ system where a small committee of legal elites, unaccountable to the public, would pick the most ‘qualified’ to serve as judges. OFS has spent at least $45 million on efforts to change the way judges are chosen in many American States. (Ref, discoverthenetworks,org id -1237 linked above.) Say, who guards the guardian?

‘Open’ Borders, ‘Open’ Society?

If you wish to break down a western democracy, promoting out of control immigration by people hostile to western culture is the way to go. One of George Soros’ Open Society missions is to cooperate with fanatical one worlders to water down immigration laws in the US and elsewhere. One of the open borders organizations he funds is the American Civil Liberties Union, which not only supports open borders but opposes virtually all post 911 national security measures enacted by the US Government. It rushes to the defense of suspected terrorists an their supporters like Attorney Lynne Stewart criminal defense lawyer convicted of abetting her client, Sheik Abdel Rahman in terrorist activities connected with his Islamic Group. Abdel Rahman was arrested regarding involvement in the Trade Centre terrorist activity. Internal Revenue Service records show that Soros Open Society donated $20,000 to the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee.


Soros is less than straightforward in his public statements, which are often conflicting, and in conflict also with his funded programs. Consider Soros recent public criticism of Angela Merkel’s open door immigration. It appears that he is critical because her policies became too unpopular in the EU and a reason for BREXIT. But if you look at Open Society funding in Europe, you see that Soros was funding this open door policy himself, financing the Carte di Lampedusa, for example, founded in 2014 to sabotage all laws limiting migration, and Cospe Onlus , founded in 1983, ‘operating in thirty countries to support indiscriminate international mobility where anarchic diversity is the norm.’


If that’s not enough …

Combine programs supporting drug legalization, (a leading recipient of Soros, drug legalization campaign is to the Drug Policy Alliance, and anti police, action by Rise-Up.Org connections,) and you’re making big dents in a functioning civil society. More than a few dents if you attack the society’s economic productivity via environmental organizations demonizing CO2 to create energy poverty. On the top 150 donor list of the open Society Foundation and Tides Foundation are organizations promoting radical environmentalism, opposing mining and logging enterprises, opposing commercial fishing, and demonizing CO2 to prevent that ‘modeled’ human-caused global warming, ‘necessitating’ costly subsidies of intermittent technologies to replace fossil fuels. Number 5 on OSF top grantee list is The Alliance for Climate Protection, number 55 on the list is Earth Island Institute, and here’s Earth Justice, don’t you just love the name, coming in at number 121.


A lot of difference between the Open Societies of Karl Popper and George Soros. The above manifesto and network funding is what Soros makes of Popper’s open society ‘having faith in human reason and avoiding dogmatism.’ Did Soros, perhaps, use Popper as his sock-puppet-Socrates?Soros would get rid of western democracy with its productivity and freedom of the individual under rule of law for all. Ultimately, what he is promoting is his vision of a supra-state, global governance at a distance by unelected Brussels men, lots of controls on what we may say, and keep the citizens diverted with politics of gender and racial diversity in-fighting,

(Hans Rosling Video 200 years.).


A Christmas Special

A Merry ‘Whatever’ To One And All.

…‘tis the season to be jolly, tra-la-la, so let us be jolly regardless of polis in the Nanny State telling us what we may laugh at and what’s allowable as comedy. So what do we laugh at?

Says Henri Bergson in his essay on laughter and the meaning of comic: ‘We laugh at some rigidity or other applied to the mobility of life.’ We laugh at the exaggerated, the absent minded, the fixed, a grimace, an ingrained habit, a ritual or a custom or perhaps an absurd masque or costume made or worn by us.

Though we may laugh at a hat or even a pudding, says Bergson, it is because of some reference to its maker. ‘The comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human.’ So herewith Mrs Cratchit’s pudding.


The Pudding!

During The Little Ice Age, a Christmas Pudding was not be taken for granted… ‘Christmas Dinner with the Cratchits,’ – ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens:

‘… But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone – too nervous to bear witness – to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it while they were merry with the goose – and supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry cook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered – flushed by smiling proudly – with the pudding like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half – a – quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.’

We smile here at seriousness given to the occasion, the ritual of the pudding, but it is the inappropriate, says Henri Bergson in his ‘Essay on the Meaning of the Comic,’ that makes us laugh, laughter a peculiarly human custom, an involuntary response that doesn’t match the situation of society and its ceremonies. Bergson argues that we cannot help treating it as a living being. Any image then, suggestive of the notion of a society disguising itself, or of a social masquerade will be laughable…

‘The ceremonial side of life must therefore always include a latent comic element, which is always only waiting for an opportunity to burst into full view. It might be said that ceremonies are to the social body what clothing is to the individual body: they owe their seriousness to the fact that they are identified, in our minds, with the serious object with which custom associates them, and when we isolate them in imagination, they forthwith lose their seriousness.’

The masquerade, the burlesque, the pantomime…in this age of political correctness a snowflake warning for The Goodies and the ‘Travelling Instant Five Minute Christmas!’

Here’s a parody of those bland songs we have to listen to in shopping plaza, lifts and on the radio and TV advertisements during the festive season.. ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas card I write…’ – duh?

The Goons palpable absurdity at Xmas.

Hmmm, look hafta’ say you jest can’t reduce human complexity to the above behaviour, there’s that sense of wonder and reverence and our creative responses to them… There’s Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ and Handel’s ‘Messiah’, and then there are those Christmas Carols… Oh well, maybe play just one…

A Merrie, even Joyful Christmas, dear readers, to ye all, from a serf.


An Essay on Railways and Other Things.

Some quotes on locomotion:

‘The wise man delights in water; the good man delights in mountains. The wise move; the good stay still.’ – Confucius,‘The Analects.’

‘This division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom …It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual, consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another.’ – Adam Smith, ‘The Wealth of Nations.’

‘The heavens themselves run continually round, the sun riseth and sets, the moon increaseth, stars and planets keep their constant motions, … to teach us that we should ever be in motion.’ – Robert Burton,‘The Anatomy of Melancholy.’

Before the railway …

The wise move … Thomas Sowell writing about geographic isolation in ‘Wealth, Poverty and Politics,’ quotes an old Catalan saying, ‘Always go down, never go up,’ that relates to lagging groups in society. In physical nature no such thing as the level playing field. Mountainous regions, like the barrier of vast deserts, are remote from the great movements of productive exchange of ideas and trade that move along river valleys.

Once rivers and seas were a barrier to travel also, but when humans happened on making rafts and dug-out canoes in pre-historic times, navigable rivers and shallow seas became both a challenge and opportunity for human movement. As long ago as 60,000 years, humans travelled out of Africa across the neck of the Red Sea, island hopping as far south as Australia.

Sea travel became the first transport revolution. While hunters and gatherers in Neolithic times were still roaming the hinterlands of continents, on the maritime fringe of continents new ways to travel, boats plying the Nile, Indus, Euphrates Rivers and the Yangtse River in China. By 3,000 BC, the Egyptians and Phoenicians were using sails to harness the wind. Around 1,200 BC, the Phoenicians, cutting cedar and cypress timber in nearby forests, were building sea going ships, bireme galleys with two rows of oars for near shore navigation.

Propensity to barter and exchange … Soon these larger Phoenician ships, with benefit of wind power and just a few crew, were able to transport heavy cargo, faster, further and cheaper than the most efficient caravan driven by donkeys, horses or camels were able to do on land. The Phoenicians traded in spices, resins, purple dye, metals, and all around the Mediterranean, markets expanded into towns and ports into cities.


Stars and planets keep their constant motions … Knowledge of navigating by sun and stars, invention of the compass by the Chinese or perhaps by Arabs and Chinese independently, along with developments in sails and various forms of steering rudders, enabled boats to make longer journeys by sea.

As Matt Ridley observes in his book, ‘The Rational Optimist:’
‘Suddenly a large-scale sea-borne division of labour became a possibility: wheat from Egypt could feed the Hittites in Anatolia, wool from Anatolia could clothe the Egyptians on the Nile; olive oil from Crete could enrich the diets of Assyrians in Mesopotamia.’

Faster, longer, cheaper …

A half century before Columbus crossed the Atlantic to the Americas, Chinese admiral, Zheng He, between 1405 and 1433, with an armada of 300 ships, sailing further than Columbus, made several expeditions across the Indian Ocean, dispensing and receiving goods along the way, visiting Brunei, Java, Thailand, East Asia, Arabia and reaching the Horn of Africa.

The nine-masted ships of his armada, with compass, and advanced design elements that included water-tight compartments, were ready and able to trade Chinese porcelain, cotton, silk and tea with the world, but the Ming Bureaucracy, distrusting innovation as a threat to their control, said ‘no’, destroying the armada and imposing severe restrictions on boat building and contacts with the outside world.

The next naval innovations, faster, longer, cheaper, were to come from Western nations, culminating in the long voyages of Captain Cook to the Antipodes with their far-reaching consequences, and those fast three-masted clipper ships, peak average speed 30km/h, bringing tea from China to London and raw cotton from West Indies and America to Liverpool, in less than four months. Dark side of course, the less publicized slave trade, and given the clippers’ speed and maneuverability, their usefulness to pirates.

The rest you know, larger, faster, cheaper, from steam power to the latest nuclear shipping, on the surface and even under-water, going deeper than man has gone before.

… And so to land transport …

That lo-o-ng, slow, transport revolution on land.

Trek…trek…trek. Much of that movement, humans legging it for millennia, out of Africa into Eurasia, as far south as Australia, even Tasmania, eventually migrating across Ice-Age land-bridges to the Americas.

Book of records’ longest trek by an individual likely Ibn Battista, age twenty-one, setting out from his native Morocco, AD 1325, on his first pilgrimage. By the time he arrived home thirty years later, he’d covered 130,000 kilometers. On foot, on horse back and camel, over water by boat, Ibn Battista visited every part of the Islamic world, India and Ceylon, then off to China. While many people through out history didn’t travel too far, for most of them, travelling was pied a terre to everywhere…Trek, trek, trek.

Until the 19th century, the revolution in transport meant developing animal power and the wheel. Oh you could have fun with this – ‘two legs good, four legs better,’ – ‘putting the horse before the cart,’ – or vice versa.’ Cart before horse? We’re not too sure about that. Horses had been domesticated for more than five millennia, but archeological evidence of what came first, riding or horse drawn transportation is unclear. There’s fossil evidence from Kazakhstan, around 3,500 BCE, from bit marks on horse teeth, that indicates that horses were being ridden there. Then there’s a prehistoric ceramic pot found in the excavation of a Neolithic site in Poland that presents the earliest evidence for the wheeled cart in Europe, carbon dated at around 3,400 BCE. There’s incision on the pot depicting a vehicle with a shaft for a draught animal, and four wheels with connecting lines probably representing axles.


Horses migrated too, out of Northern America. The horses depicted in cave paintings at Lascaux, 17,000 years BCE, were the descendents of early horses that migrated across Ice-Age land-bridges in the opposite direction to humans. For thousands of years horses were hunted for food, before they were domesticated and became, in so many ways, a necessary part of human life. As beasts of burden in Eurasia, horses, mules, donkeys became the pack animal of choice. In the Arab world camel caravans were the way to go, the acme of pack animals, source of wealth and power to Mohammad and his followers, camels could carry heavier loads than horses and find their own forage on route.

Traveling on horseback became a favorite pastime, especially with your aristocracy, knight errants, Sir Lancelot, Don Quixote on Rosinante, stuff of Romance Novels, the medieval pilgrimages on the little horses that Chaucer and a motley crew made to Canterbury. Developments in harness, bridles, saddles, stirrups and selective breeding for strength, knights in heavy armour had to be lowered onto their war horses, and breeding for speed. Horses had been used as mail couriers from way back. ‘There is nothing in the world that travels faster than the Persian Greek couriers.’ wrote the Greek historian Heroditus. In England in 15th century AD, horses were being used to carry the royal mail. In 1635, when a public postal service was introduced, post boys on horseback delivered the mail in relay.

Turn of the wheel.

In the land transport revolution, much depended on the wheel. No levity here, this invention is seriously significant, not just for transportation. Turns out the wheel was first used for non-travel purpose, for power on the spot, the potter’s wheel, 300 years before the chariot. And there’s follow-on, non-transport wheel technology as well, the water wheel, first on-land exploitation of inanimate power, taken to its technical zenith by Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages. Later, there’s the spinning wheel, dynamic trigger to the Industrial Revolution, arriving in Europe in the early Renaissance from the Middle East, possibly invented in India or China.

Used in land transport, first came the cart with solid wooden wheels. Your horse and wagon travel, your camel caravan, listen to Ravel’s ‘Bolero; and you get the pace.

For speed, the chariot, Hittite war machine. Around 2000 BCE, a critical invention, the spoked wheel, allowing construction of lighter, faster vehicles. From the solid wheels of carts to chariot wheels with eight spokes, then the four spoked wheels of Hittite chariots.

From thereon, down to the Railway Revolution, variation-on-a-theme-type-innovation, modifications in design of wagon wheels, axles and body designs. Faster, lighter or sturdier, smoother or more maneuverable, but the traditional pre-history wheel and undercarriage design survived up to the nineteenth century.

The Romans initially used spring wagons for long journeys, possibly using some form of suspension on chains or leather. A medieval development, the ‘chariot branlant’ was suspended on chains so that the compartment no longer rested on the axle and gave a smoother ride. The transport vehicles of the aristocracy, ‘the carriage,’ sometimes gilded, were normally suspended using leaf springs. In the 17th century these carriage springs were made of steel.


It was not until the 18th century that the carriage steering system was improved. Erasmus Darwin, famous name, when he was a young doctor visiting patients all over England, found problems with the commonly used light carriage which was difficult to steer and likely to overturn. He proposed a change on design with the two front wheels turning about a center lying on the extended line of the back axle, an idea that was later patented as Ackerman steering.

The road taken…

And of course, there’s a matter of the roads that chariots, coaches, carriages are driven on. Roads matter.

Says Hilaire Belloc:

‘More than rivers, more than mountain chains, roads have moulded the political groups of men. The Alps with a mule-track across them are less of a barrier than fifteen miles of forest or rough land separating them from that track.’

Roads, sometimes deplorable, but oft-times not. I’ve come across the following, ‘A History of Roads from Ancient Times to Now,’ part of a Master of Science in Civil Engineering Submission by H.R. Jacobson, that’s certainly worth reading.

Without the Romans’ extensive road system there would have been no Roman Empire, but as Jacobson shows, the Romans were not the first of the great road builders. The Egyptians built roads along the dykes of the River Nile, as early as 3,700 BCE, employed a superintendent in charge of repairs and road construction. Out of Egypt, three great highways, mentioned in the Bible, The Philistine Road to Syria, The Wall Road to Caanan, and The Red Sea Road, that crossed the wilderness between the two arms of the Red Sea.

Even earlier than Egypt, in the land between the two rivers, Euphrates and Tigris, the Babylonians in the south and the Assyrians in the north, were prolific road and bridge builders. Jacobson gives a detailed description from Babylonian tablet inscriptions of commerce along a network of roads and their construction, five feet deep excavation, layers of broken brick and pot herds, large blocks of gypsum laid in bitumen. Inscriptions also proclaim Assyrian efficiency as engineers, constructing roads through inaccessible regions, ‘piercing mountains and leveling rocks.’ This is Semeris, widow of the first Emperor speaking, administering authority of the Empire after the death of her husband, she’s a dynamo herself.

To the East in Rome’s heyday, in China, you’ve got the Silk Road, one of the most significant traffic arteries in history, stretching to the Middle East from Peking, one quarter the length of the Equator, trading not only in silk, porcelain spices and tea, but also in knowledge and ideas.

Then there’s Rome itself, with its twenty-nine roads radiating from the city and its great international highways connecting the entire Empire, a total length of 52000 miles. Jacobson gives a detailed description of their construction, the foundations in three or four courses to a depth of four feet, strong foundations and durable surface, built to last, very impressive effort by pick and shovel. Of course it’s done by forced labour or corvee, practiced from ancient times and continuing in most countries up to the 19th century, even in England when road workers began to receive wages.

With the fall of Rome and collapse of the Empire, the rise of petty kingdoms on Europe led to the disintegration of roads and to highway robbery of travellers. In the Middle Ages, while road construction did not altogether cease, you get your Charlemagnes occasionally, it was sporadic. As royal power increased, government laws on road building and maintenance were passed in various countries, by Lois X1V in France and Henry V111 in England, but mostly with indifferent results.

In the late 18th century, in Britain you get road and bridge construction by innovative engineer, Thomas Telford, nick-named ‘the Colossus of Roads,’ building roads and new design bridges, daring suspension bridges and bridges made of iron, throughout England Scotland and Wales. He was followed, early in the 19th century, by John Macadam with his macadamized roads that reduced the costs of road construction and maintenance, these men affecting a modern revolution in roads.

The next revolution, the coming of the railway.

The steam engine that heralded in the modern age of transport on land, faster, longer, higher, cheaper, was not so much invented as developed, from its first practical use as a steam-power machine to pump water out of coal mines, developed by English engineers Thomas Savey and Thomas Newcomen to James Watt’s improved design that enabled the engine’s back and forth motion to turn a wheel.

Watt’s developments initiated the possibility of locomotive transport and over the next few years he and his associates improved steam engine design enough to power a 6-8 mph train movement.

Coal trucks in mines had developed as rail carts because stiff wheel rolling on a rigid rail requires less energy than road wheels and is highly suitable for movement of bulk goods like coal, an incentive to experiment in rail-cart designs and flanged wheels. Before Stephenson’s Rocket, steam locomotion on tramways was successfully developed by Richard Trevithick. In 1804 the first railway journey by Trevithick’s steam engine hauled a train along the tramway of a mine in South Wales. Successful developments by other engineers soon followed.

In 1814, George Stephenson improved on these early designs, with his steam engine Blucher, first engine with flanged wheels, and in 1829, with his famous Rocket, that won a design competition to find the most suitable steam engine to haul trains. Stephenson’s Rocket was able to haul a load of 13 tons and was the fastest train ever built with the top speed of 30mp. George Stephenson and his son, Robert, were given the contract to produce locomotives for the new Liverpool to Manchester Railway which opened in 1830.

Faster, cheaper …

While the promoters of the competition were mainly interested in developing freight traffic, transporting cotton from the port of Liverpool to the Manchester textile mills, when they opened the railway they were surprised to find passenger traffic was just as remunerative. Steam locomotion, offering faster and cheaper transport than road transport was soon being developed on all continents.

If you want to see steam locomotion history at its most dramatic, take a look at the BBC story of railway developer, among other engineering feats, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, extraordinary name for an extraordinary engineer. Builder of great iron steamships, railways, suspension bridges, tunnels, viaducts for railway traveling at speed, train stations, including Paddington Station, experimenting with rail gauges for his Great Western Railway, by the end of his career he had built 1200 miles of rail, including stretches in Italy, Ireland and Bengal.

It’s kind of fitting, that in the 1930’s another English designed steam locomotive, The Mallard, traveling on the East Coast Grantham rail line, in July 1938, broke the world speed record with a speed of 126 mph.

Longer …

The United States with its great distances quickly developed railways, the first steam engines purchased from the Stephenson workshops. Perhaps the greatest railway achievement was the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, a world first, built between 1863 and 1869, linking the eastern and western halves of the continent.

The railroad was built in two parts, the Central Pacific, starting in San Francisco, and the Union Pacific, starting in Nebraska .and was built by army veterans and immigrant labour, mainly Irish and Chinese. Known as the ‘Pacific Railroad,’ it replaced slow and hazardous stage coaches and wagon trains, opening up vast regions of the North American heartland for settlement and commerce and providing fast, safe and cheap travel for passengers.

The next transcontinental railroad, breaking the American record as the longest railroad, was the Trans-Siberian Railway built between 1891 and 1916 under the supervision of Tsar Alexander 111. The world’s longest railway, crossing eight time zones the Trans-continental has southern branch links through Manchuria and Mongolia and a link north of Lake Baikal.

Constructing the railway was dramatic, divided into seven sections and working simultaneously, 62000 men, convict labour and soldiers, it would make a good movie… tracks built across endless steppes, over rivers, through forests, and swamps and permafrost, in extremes of temperature, sometimes attacked by bandits and occasionally by tigers.

Many dramatic episodes once it was in use. Strategic troop movements in the Russo-Japanese War, Russian Civil War and two World Wars. In the early part of the Second World War, Jewish and anti-Nazi’s used it to escape Europe by traveling east to the Pacific and boarding a ship to the United States.

It’s most important national effect, the opening up of Siberia to development. The Trans-Siberian Railway brought millions of peasant-migrants from regions of Russia and the Ukraine to Siberia and extended agricultural production. From 1896 until 1913, the railway transported out of Siberia, annually, on average 501,932 tonnes of grain, mostly wheat, and also bread and flour.


Another dramatic rail construction, begun in 1870, the building of the railroad in the Andes Mountains, from the Pacific port of Callao in Peru, to Lima and Huancayo, at 4,829 meters elevation. Construction included six zig-zags, and sixty-nine tunnels blasted through rock. It’s audacious contractor, American Henry Meiggs, is reported to have said, ‘I will place rails there, where the llamas walk.’ The railway’s architectural marvels include 58 bridges designed by Polish engineer, Ernest Malinowski, one of them the hair-raising Infiernillo Bridge with its span of 10,820 feet. The railroad’s main freight was minerals, cement and food stuffs.


And at a snail’s pace, railways in the 1850’s in the Land of Oz…

The early development of railways in the land down under, not so much high drama as a tale of folly interspersed with logic of the situation. Professor Geoffrey Blainey recounts this history in the book in which he coined the phrase ‘The Tyranny of Distance:’

‘When the first steam train ran in Australia,’ writes Geoffrey Blainey, ‘the puffs of smoke were like the opening of a magician’s act. In a land where settlers had wandered far from the coast and navigable rivers were few, – and often un-navigable, steam locomotives seemed likely to transform the country.’ (Ch 10.)

There was a flaw in this optimism however, a little matter of costs. A thirty mile railroad cost as much as ten of the steam boats that were plying the coastal trade, and as Australia’s surveyor-general, Major Mitchell, observed, he could not hope much from railroad speculation in a country where the population was far below a million. (Ch 10.)

Mistakes were made. The only railroad in the 1850’s that made a profit was the first railway completed, two and a half miles of rail in the State of Victoria from Melbourne’s Flinders Street to the deep waters of Port Melbourne. Sydney’s first two private ventures of the early fifties, railway lines from Sydney to Parramatta, and from Sydney to Newcastle, both ran out of funds and had to be taken over by the government.

Victoria’s next rail venture, in 1853, the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company, built parallel to the coastline, was promoted on the mistaken assumption that it could capture the coastal shipping trade and was also quickly nationalized. In South Australia, another company that built railroads in the 1850’s repeated this pattern and fate, coastal railways would not compete in cost with local shipping.

Experience had shown that once population sufficiently increased, the sound path for railways to take was to go inland where inland pastoral towns or farming areas were important enough to justify investment in railways and no waterways would compete. Following the gold rushes, railroads were built to populous gold towns with assured traffic. By the 1880’s Australia had nearly 4000 miles of railway, radiating out from main city ports, from Sydney and Newcastle in New South Wales, Melbourne in Victoria, Adelaide and a few other ports in South Australia, Brisbane and few northern ports in Queensland. None of these fan-shaped systems met up at state borders.

These state rail systems were built on different gauges, so that when Melbourne and Sydney, extending their rail system came to meet up at the border of Victoria and New South Wales in 1883 at Albury-Wodonga, any passengers or freight that crossed over the border had to unload then reload on the other side, a costly delay.

With benefit of hindsight there were accusations of folly, but in actuality the differences in rail gauge was a response to the commerce of the time. A uniform gauge was a trivial problem to the engineer designers who favored particular gauges. The engineer of Sydney’s first rail, Wentworth Shields, had preferred the Irish 5 feet 3 inches gauge, as did Victoria and South Australia, but his successor persuaded Parliament to sanction the English 4 feet 81/2 inches gauge. It was probably too late, anyway, for Victoria and South Australia to buy new rolling stock and they proceeded with the wider gauge. At any rate, differences in States’ rail gauges were regarded as so unimportant that Queensland and Western Australia opted for a narrower gauge still, cheaper to build and more maneuverable in the mountains. Wrote one touring newspaper editor, passengers from Victoria were astonished to find that the Toowoomba train ‘ran round curves like a snake without any strain, without noise and without oscillation.’ (Ch 11.)

The narrow gauge came to dominate four of the six colonies for reasons of economy. Another ninety-four years were to pass before all state capitals were joined by one standard gauge. In that ninety-four years a number of follies in the history or rail Down Under. You might enjoy reading about them in Geoffrey Blainey’s book.

Travel by steam train continued up to the 1940’s, but then the heyday of steam engine locomotion passed, replaced by electric and diesel trains and other modes of travel, faster, further, cheaper… What doesn’t change, however, is human adaptability in getting around, on wheels, or …


Hokusai – Views of Mt Fuji and Figures in a Landscape.

For Jack A. who has walked up Mt.Fuji.

Self Portrait of Hokusai.


Lucky serf, recently went to the Hokusai Art Exhibition at the National Gallery in Melbourne, Down Under. What a wonderful display of the artist’s work, spanning Hokusai’s entire career, more than 150 works on display, wood block prints, paintings, manga, (illustrated books,) enough to take your breath away. I’m presenting here just a few of his later wood block prints from the ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji’ and his ‘One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse.’ But there’s so much more. Herewith, from Katsushika Hokusai:

“From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. By the time I was fifty I had published am infinity of designs; but all I produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I learned something of the structure of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. In consequence, when I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At one hundred, I shall really have reached a marvelous stage; when I am one hundred and ten, everything I create, a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”

Hokusai was born in the auspicious year of the dragon, 1760, in one of the largest and most sophisticated societies in the world, the metropolis of Edo, now Tokyo. Edo’s merchant population were consumers of the arts, of woodblock prints and poetry prints of high aesthetic and technical quality, somewhat like those earlier denizens of the Italian city states in the Renaissance. Hokusai himself grew up in a family that practiced skilled craft work. It is believed that as a child he was adopted by his uncle a professional mirror polisher to the Tokugawa shogun.

At the time, Japan’s population was one of the most literate in the world and Edo had a lively printing industry. Libraries were commonplace and as a youth Hokusai worked as an assistant in a library. A lover of classical poetry he would later use its themes in his own work, often playfully. Between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, he was apprenticed to a publishing studio as a woodblock carver. Although he didn’t create his own images, carving images and texts by other artists would have given him an intimate understanding of the print making process and of possibilities that he was later to explore in his own creative work.

In 1778 he left this employment to embark on a career as an artist, and entered the studio of one of the most fashionable ukiyo-e artists of his time. Ukiyo-e was an art movement, of the 17th – 19th centuries, depicting, in prints and painting, the everyday life and interests of ordinary people.

Something about Hokusai’s figures in a landscape that reminds me of Rembrandt’s etchings.(1) In technique Hokusai was influenced by Western art, he was the first to apply perspective in Japanese art. During the 18th century Dutch traders brought European viewing devices to Japan and local artisans were quick to make local versions of the devices. Hokusai includes an illustration of one of them in his work in 1802. In the 36 Views of Mt Fuji he was also one of the first to apply shading, using Prussian blue pigment, which is less prone to fade than conventional black paint.

Ukiyo-e everyday lives of the people. In Hokusai’s figures in a landscape, we see his delight in ordinary people. Like Rembrandt, Hokusai’s refinement of line reflects the artist’s humanity, up close, lovely details of hands and feet, movements of figures in the landscape expressive of their emotions. Hokusai’s people, though, are too active to express Rembrandt-like contemplation. In some of the views, Mt Fuji is mere background to the activities of figures in the landscape.

Concerned with his own longevity, Hokusai was fascinated by Mt Fuji, the immortal mountain, and he responds to it in his work as a symbol of Nature, a timeless force integral to his celebration of the intrinsic connection of nature and humanity, here within ‘Inume Pass in Kai Province.’



The powerful image, ‘Red Fuji’ lit up by early morning rays of sunlight is one of only three works in the series devoid of human habitation. In others we see Mt Fuji from different human perspectives, different seasons, different points of the compass, a different scale, close up or far away.



Here’s the cinematic ‘Fuji-view Fields,’ Mt Fuji framed within the man-made circle of the barrel.


Hokusai icon, ‘The Great Wave of Kannagawa.



Travelers in playful mood attempt to encircle the giant trunk of a giant cedar which in Hokusai’s composition dwarfs Mt Fuji.


Nature also in playful mood



Hokusai’s final great series of prints known by the unusual title,” One Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse,’ the nurse being surrogate mother or wet nurse for an infant, is based on a Japanese famous anthology of poems, ‘Ogura Hyakunin Isshu,’ compiled by a nobleman poet in 1235. Visual interpretations of these poems were traditionally depictions of Court life but Hokusai’s version as visually retold by the nurse is reinterpreted in the context of the daily life of common farmers, labourers, travelers, even abalone divers. The formal poem occurs in the patterned cartouche in the right hand corner of each print.


hokusai corrected.png






Echoes in this image of Brueghel’s famous painting in The Little Ice Age, ‘Hunters in the Snow.’ Hokusai himself was poverty stricken in later life, though his work sold well, he experienced hardship brought about by his irresponsible and financially draining grand-children. Though he didn’t live to one hundred years, and did not, for some reason, complete the One Hundred Poems Series, Hokusai continued working up to his death at the age of eighty-nine.

(1) Rembrandt etching. Detail of ‘Three Trees.’




Determinism and Free Will.

Heh, a serf thinkin’ about thinkin’ and ‘The Ascent of Man.’

On determinism or free will in human affairs, you have only to look at the illustration above of ‘The Ascent of Man,’ to recognize that descended from the gods we are not. Has to be that a large measure of what we do is determined by our genetic inheritance. Plenty of pundits out there who say ‘that’s it, that’s all there is folks, a determinist universe.’ But is that it, – is it?

Regarding our human limitations you’ve got neurobiologists like Dick Swaab writing books with titles like ‘We Are Our Brains. From The Womb To Alzheimers.’ The link below sets out some of the determinist focus of Swaab’s book.


…the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

Dr Swaab, the son of a gynecologist who devoted his working life to problems of the human reproductive system, did his own research on what shapes us in the womb, from sexual differences to conditions like Autism and Alzheimers Disease. Many defects attributed to difficult birth, genetic disorders and learning difficulties, says Dr Swaab, occurred at conception, a small minority due to lack of oxygen at birth.

Can’t argue the physical processes that shape our possibilities and limits, for some, extreme physical or mental limitations, but is the laboratory approach all that can be said of human behavior? Concerning a mind /brain connection I don’t find Dr Swaab had anything compelling to say about human consciousness, more like everything’s reduced to elementary neurons and chemical messaging of the fetus in the womb.

Irreducible complexity and Phi.

Neuroscientists Guilio Tononi and Christof Koch criticize determinist reductionism and argue the significance of our human consciousness that emerges from a process of integrated information within a system and is more than the sum of its parts, a property called Phi, Φ, the feedback between, and interdependence of different parts of a system. At issue is the reductive argument that ultimately ‘only’ atoms, or neurons, are relevant, which if this was so, would not bring any new ‘thing’ into existence.

Tononi states that according to Integrated Information Theory, what actually exists is an entire cause-effect structure, much more than the first-order cause-effect repertoires of atomic elements, its changes caused by much more than first-order causation. This view, together with the central identity of IIT that an experience is a conceptual structure that is maximally irreducible intrinsically, has several implications for the notions of free will and responsibility. Tononi argues the following points:

‘First, for a choice to be conscious, a system’s cause-effect power must be exerted intrinsically – upon itself: the conceptual structure must be ‘causa sui.’ This requirement is in line with the established notion that, to be free, a choice must be autonomous – decided from within and not imposed from without.

Second, for a choice to be highly conscious, the conceptual structures that correspond to the experience of deliberating and deciding (“willing”) must be highly irreducible – they must be composed of many concepts, including a large number of higher-order ones. In other words, a conscious choice involves a large amount of cause-effect power and is definitely not reducible to first-order causes and effects. Hence, the reductionist assumption that ultimately “my neurons made me do it” is just as definitely incorrect.

Seen this way, a system that only exists extrinsically, such as a feed-forward network, is not “free” at all, but at the mercy of external inputs. In this case nothing exists from the intrinsic perspective – there is nothing it is like to be a feed-forward network. But if intrinsically there is nothing, it cannot cause anything either. There is only extrinsic causation – a machine “going through the motions” for the benefit of an external manipulator/observer…. By contrast, a complex that specifies a rich conceptual structure of Φ is both free and has high will: its choices are determined intrinsically and they involve a large amount of cause-effect power. That is to say, to have free will, one needs to be as free as possible from external causes, and as determined as possible by internal causes – the multitude of concepts that compose an experience. In short, more consciousness, more free will.’


Philosophers Arthur Compton and Karl Popper also see the evolution of consciousness acting as a control of human behavior, evolving with the development of descriptive and critical language that enabled us to deliberate and make trial and error decisions.

Of clouds and clocks…

Giving the Arthur Holly Compton Memorial Lecture at Washington University in 1965, Karl Popper, speaking on determinism and free will, includes the subject of one of Arthur Compton’s books, ‘The Freedom of Man,’ in the title of his lecture, ‘Of Clouds and Clocks. An Approach to the Problem of Rationality and the Freedom of Man.’ You may wish, (choose?) to read the complete lecture here, which also includes a critique of the philosophical arguments of David Hume and Moritz Schlick concerning indeterminism in human behavior.


The ‘Clouds and Clocks’ in the title of Popper’s lecture represent a schema of physical systems in nature. We speak of clockwork systems like the motions of planets that are regular, orderly and highly predictable, which Popper places on the right in his schema. What Popper calls ‘clouds,’ are more irregular systems and phenomena, such as gasses, which are disorderly and largely unpredictable, that Popper places on the left. In between are natural systems and phenomena like the changing seasons that are somewhat unpredictable, plants, somewhat nearer clocks, and animals, closer to clouds in his arrangement.

Popper observes that his arrangement is now quite acceptable to common sense and lately to physical science, but once it was not. It was not so during the two hundred and fifty years following the Newtonian Revolution when the established view was that ‘all clouds are clocks, even the most cloudy of clouds,’ a formulation of the determinist universe, no room here for schema with clouds on the left and in between phenomena.

But with the rise of the new quantum theory, physicists began to abandon classical physics and the physical determinism of ‘all clouds are clocks.’ Popper observes that Arthur Holly Compton was among the first to welcome the new quantum theory. As a physicist, Compton’s experimental tests had played a crucial role in its development,(p 206.) and as a philosopher, he welcomed its implications for indeterminism in human action, (p 217.) recognizing that ‘ if the atoms of our bodies follow physical laws as immutable as the motions of the planets … our actions are already predetermined by mechanical laws.’ In such a physically complete or physically closed system, where systems or physical entities interact in accordance with definite laws of interaction and without any interference from outside that closed system, then man himself is merely an automan.

Enter Chance or…

As an alternative to determinism in the physical universe, quantum theory introduces uncertainty or chance acting by way of quantum jumps. Indeterminism exists but it is chance that plays the significant role. Popper questions whether the preparation of his lecture on ‘Clouds and Clocks,’ can adequately be explained either by determinism or chance. While the quantum jump model might be an appropriate model for the snap decisions we sometimes make, snap decision-making is not characteristic of all human behavior.

Enter purpose, deliberation, theories and plans. Compton himself describes, relating to one of his own lectures, how purposes, rules and agreements brought him back from Italy to Yale University on a given date and at a given time to deliver a lecture to an audience who were there because they knew Compton’s purpose and as a consequence turned up to hear the lecture.

Popper identifies two problems to be discussed in Compton’s story. Popper calls the first ‘Compton’s problem,’ and the second ‘Descartes’ problem.’ Compton describes this first problem as a problem of the ‘universe of meanings’ upon human behavior, promises, aims, various kinds of rules, rules of logic, polite behavior etc, and also such things as scientific publications. Popper formulates Descartes’ problem, the mind-body problem as how such things as states of mind, feelings, expectations etc, influence or control the movements of our limbs.

Any attempt to solve these problems, says Popper, following Compton, must conform to the idea of combining freedom and control, to what Compton describes as plastic control, in contradiction to cast-iron control in human behavior. Contra master switch theories of snap decisions that are almost reflexes, Popper argues that our decisions frequently conform to a process of deliberation, Deliberation works by a mechanism of trial and error which Popper applies to Compton’s problem.

Bird song it aint…

He begins by arguing the evolution of human language on human behavior, from the two lower functions of animal language that we share with animals, the expressive and signaling functions, to the descriptive function, and most importantly, an argumentative or critical function. Like the two lower functions of language ‘the art of critical argument has developed by the method of trial and error elimination, and it has had the most decisive influence on the human ability to think rationally.’ ( p237.) The descriptive and argumentative functions of language have led to the evolution of ideal standards of control; for descriptive language this main regulative idea is ‘truth,’ for critical language it is ‘validity.’ And the development of the argumentative function of language has led to our most powerful biological adaptation, the evolution of science.

Apart from the evolution of language, argues Popper, there is another evolution distinct from physical evolution that is significant in the development of human rationality and that is our exosomatic evolution of tools, machines, weapons and buildings. Instead of growing better memories and brains, we grow pens and paper, books and printing presses, libraries and computers. By these means we develop meanings and theories that partly control us and which we, in part, control in a kind of feedback loop in the light of critical discussion.

Without saying what ‘the mind’ is, Popper poses a theory regarding Descartes’ problem, that our mental states control (some of ) our physical states and there is some interaction and feedback between mental and other functions of the human organism. Popper argues that it is the evolution of consciousness that acts as a system of control on behavior, consciousness partly controlled by the exosomatic linguistic systems that may be said to be produced by consciousness, like libraries and legal systems, for example, and other exosomatic developments that we have evolved. Our conscious states act as a probe on our behavior says Popper, ‘They anticipate our behavior, working out, by trial and error, its likely consequences; thus they not only control but they try out, they deliberate.‘ (p 251.)

Jumping to conclusions…

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

In his book Kahneman argues the existence in our brains of two independent systems for organizing knowledge, one he labels System One, a fight or flight survival mechanism which probably evolved with our mammalian ancestors, a fast thinking system making judgements and taking action without waiting for our conscious awareness to catch up. Making use of memories and heuristics linked with strong emotions like fear and pain, its judgements are often wrong, though the fast thinking system probably worked well for survival in a jungle. Our System Two is the slow process of forming judgements based on conscious thinking that checks the actions of System One and allows us to correct our mistakes. Human art and science have been created by System Two.

Says Kahneman, bottom line, we’re machines for jumping to conclusions, prone to associative bias. For System One, the measure of success is coherence of a story, it’s consistency that matters most, not completeness of evidence… ‘what you see is all that there is.’ There’s a grab-bag of simple heuristics we adopt to make adequate but often wrong answers to difficult questions like ‘the availability heuristic, what comes readily from memory, first in line. There’s also a ‘law of small numbers’ bias whereby small samples closely resemble populations from which they are drawn – and more. And the bad news is, as Kahneman first discovered, working with Israeli Defence Forces in the 1950’s, that your System Two thinkers are also prone to similar thinking errors and heuristics, more apologist than critical of the emotions of System One. If you happen to have heard of Philip Tetlock’s well known study of failed predictions by experts, that shows experts are no better than anyone else in successfully predicting future events, you’ll recognize this problem. (Ref. Nassim Taleb’s,The Black Swan,’ Chapter 10.)

While Kahneman’s System Two sometimes lets us down, there’s another built in system that acts as a corrective to our mechanical or lazy behavior and that is human laughter. There’s an analytical, and I’d say convincing essay on the subject by Henri Bergson that is worth reading, ‘Laughter: An essay on the Meaning of Comic.’


Laughter and Absent-mindedness.


Bergson’s essay, while not imprisoning comedy within a tight definition, finds that the comic spirit has a lot to tell us about human behavior. Bergson argues in his essay that only humans laugh and that mainly why we laugh is because we detect some specifically human absent minded expression or observation that triggers laughter. If we laugh at a hat, for example, it is because of the shape man has given it and if we laugh at an animal, says Bergson, it is because of some expression or action that we see as human like.


Bergson observes that laughter has evolved as a survival mechanism, that what we laugh at is some mechanical elasticity or lack of attention to the world around us by a person or by some character in fiction. Laughter is an objective response to the carelessness of a person who slips on a banana skin or walks awkwardly, like Monsieur Hulot in Jacques Tati movies. Laughter is a response to the rigid, repetitive behaviors of people incapable of insight, like Jane Austin’s comic characters or the actors in Moliere’s plays. We laugh at lapses of attention in language itself, ‘Only God has the right to kill his fellow creatures,’ malaprop connections and word definitions, inversions of meaning. Comic anatomies in cartoons, faces that have acquired the rigid grimaces of settled behavior-patterns, all these are the System One objects of the laughter that is a means of correcting our inattentiveness when we should be shaping our conduct in accordance with a present reality.


And a reminder of where we make our greatest steps in discovering that reality … why, that’s in science of course, our outstanding achievement in the evolution of knowledge, a trial and error process that Popper describes as posing falsifiable hypotheses about how something works and testing those hypotheses, of knowledge held provisionally and failed hypotheses replaced by better ones. From the theories of Copernicus to Galileo, from Newton to Einstein, in many fields of enquiry, these theories that we create influence us in ways unforeseen by their creators, taking on a life of their own, an objective reality.

And exosomatic tools and machines that we create may also lead to unforeseen consequences. Here’s a nice example and example of deliberative thinking with lots of Φ too. James Watt, the Scottish instrument maker, out walking in the city of Glascow, one unusually fine afternoon in 1765. For months Watt had been working on Newcomben’s steam engine trying to solve the problem of inefficiency from wasted steam. Watt opens the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street and walks past the old washing house:

‘I was thinking upon the engine at the time,’ he wrote later, ‘when the idea came into my mind that as steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel, it would rush into it and thereby be condensed without cooling the cylinder … I had not walked further than the golf-house when the whole thing was strong in my mind.’ (In ‘The Scottish Enlightenment.’ Arthur Herman. Chapter 12.)

And that leads me to my last argument concerning indeterminism in human thinking concerning those other great achievement of human creation, the visual arts, drama, literature and music.

Context’s the thing.

Art historian Ernst Gombrich, in his essays relating to expression and communication, ‘Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays on the Theory of Art,’ is critical of the expressionist theory that art and music are the natural language of emotion.

According to this theory, the resonance theory, a natural equivalence exists between emotional states and sensations, sights and sounds. We experience, for example, sensations such as ‘warm, light, bright, fast, high,’ as ‘friendly’ or ‘happy,’ while sensations such as ‘cold, dark, blue, slow, deep,’ are experienced as ‘hostile’ or ‘sad.’ Gombrich uses an analogy from wireless to describe the resonance theory, ‘the artist as transmitter, the work as medium, and the spectator as receiver,’ the artist broadcasting his message in the hope of reaching a mind that will vibrate in unison with his own. Say, sounds romantic don’t it?

While Gombrich accepts that there is some disposition in all of us to equate certain sensations with certain feeling tones, he argues that whatever message an unstructured canvas of blue paint may convey to an applauding critic is not inherent in the blue paint itself but relies on its meaning within a context. Expression and communication do not function in a void but take place within an evolving traditional art form and genre. Without such shaping, messages would die on route from transmitter to receiver, ‘not because we fail to be ‘attuned’, but simply because there is nothing to relate them to.’In his famous history analysis of western art, ‘Art and Illusion,’ Gombrich argues that all art involves problem solving, trial and error image making dependent on function, from Egyptian conceptual funerary art of the typical and timeless event to the illusionary and particular art of the Greek Revolution and the Renaissance, a trial and error process of schema and correction involving 3D illusion.

A dark, inscrutable workmanship.

In literature the process of problem solving trial and error is clearly demonstrated by Elizabethan dramatists experimenting with metre, no one more so than the bard. Because Shakespearean tragedy is about the fall of an otherwise noble hero from a lofty state due to some fatal flaw in character, this heroic character must therefore reveal, through his language, his exceptional character and also the weakness that brings about his tragic fall. Before the development of the iambic pentameter and blank verse, playwrights were hampered by available metrical forms like the fourteen syllable line that tended to split in two and create a monotonous effect. They were also restricted by the requirements of an often forced rhyming pattern that could give an impression of naivete as well as monotony.

The flexible possibilities of the iambic pentameter, a ten syllable metrical measure with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, were first explored by Christopher Marlow and developed by Shakespeare to create the extraordinary individual voice of his tragic hero by way of subtle changes in rhythm and stress that suggest intense emotion or other changes in mood. The following line from Hamlet’s fourth soliloquy, shows the standard iambic pentameter: ‘For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.’ Note in the quote below, the rhythmic subtleties, enjambments and elisions that modify the smooth sweep of the iambic pentameter:


Another development in drama is examined by Harold Bloom in his book, ‘The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages’. Bloom places Shakespeare at the centre of his Canon because Shakespeare excels all other Western writers in cognitive acuity, linguistic energy and power of invention.’ (p43.) Bloom makes the case that Shakespeare gives us most of our representations of cognition and that Shakespeare’s originality has been so assimilated by us that we cease to see it as strange. Bloom goes further, observing that Shakespeare largely invented what we think of as cognition, that most of what we know about how to represent cognition and personality in language was permanently altered by Shakespeare. There isn’t anyone before Shakespeare, who actually gives you this representation of characters or human figures speaking out loud, whether to themselves or to others, and then brooding out loud, whether to themselves or to others, on what they themselves have said, and then, in the course of pondering, undergoing a serious or vital change, becoming a different kind of character or personality and even a different kind of mind.

Where Shakespeare took the hint, says Bloom, – is from Chaucer, Shakespeare’s only precursor in reflective character; the self aware revelations in ‘The Canterbury Tales’ of the Wife of Bath that gets into Falstaff, and of the Pardoner, that gets into figures like Edmund and Iago. But Chaucer does it only in fits and starts, and in small degree. Shakespeare does it all the time. It’s his common stock. The ability to do that and to persuade one that this is a natural mode of representation is purely Shakespearean and we are now so contained by it that we don’t see its originality.

That irreducible complexity… La Musique.


Scored for violin, flute with string orchestra and harpsichord. Added complexity, the performers’ practiced response. Evolution, from Gregorian chants to Medieval court music to the Baroque … Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto and Karl Richter. Encapsulates …

… So what d’ya think?


A short story.

The Hidden Valley.

An autumn day in the valley…

It seemed that he had always lived in the hidden valley. He had a blurred memory of a time before this, as a young child being carried by his mother along the sea shore, hearing the sound of the waves, seeing a line of clan people ahead of them, a clan whose leader, his mother later told him, was his own father. But that was all he could remember and there was an unreality to it, more a dream than a memory.

His name was Rom and the valley had been his home these past six summers. Sitting at the entrance of the shallow cave where he lived with his mother and his uncle and cousin, he gazed out into the valley, now lit up on the northern slopes and sheer cliffs by the late afternoon sun. Despite the warmth he felt from the sun’s rays, there was a hint of chill to the mid-Autumn day, time to prepare for the coming cold season.

Rom’s mother, Ana, was already doing that, out on the slopes at the far end of the valley, gathering the wild sorghum grass. She needed the seeds for grinding into flour to thicken the soups she cooked, the stalks to be woven into strong thread to be used in making new rabbit skin cloaks for the growing boys. Her brother Gerin was close by, teaching his son Loki how to use one of Gerin’s axes to cut the dead branches of a pine tree for fuel. Rom could hear the sound of the axe echoing in the valley. He would have been out with them now, but two days before, following Loki up a cliff to gather berries, he’d slipped and sprained his ankle. Rom’s cousin Loki was almost two years older than Rom and more agile, already a clever hunter, but as Gerin was observing, not as patient as the younger boy in learning to use and make stone tools.

Gerin was a good teacher. Rom thought about how he had also taught the boys to use a sling shot for hunting, how to hold the two ends of the sling and place a stone in the bulge in the middle, how to whirl the sling and build up the momentum to hurl the stone. At first it was difficult to control direction and distance but with practice the boys learned to hit a target. It was not long before Loki could hit a knot in a tree at twenty paces, then thirty. Rom was not so quick but with practice became almost as proficient as Loki. This was often the way with them, quickness versus patience.

Ana was now returning to the cave, her basket filled with sorghum. Rom put away the rope net he was mending and began preparing the fire for cooking. No need to light a new fire, an ember smoldering in last night’s ashes was quickly brought to life with a scattering of dry leaves and Rom’s breathe.

Setting down her basket Ana asked Rom to show her his ankle. She smiled. ‘No swelling or redness,’ she said, ‘tomorrow you can go with Loki to gather the rest of the acorns.’ Rom looked pleased. He enjoyed visiting the green world of the oak grove in the south-west of the valley, the giant oaks grown from acorns brought to the valley by clan women long ago. He also liked taking the baskets of acorns to the lily pond to soak the acorn nuts in a pool for a day to remove their bitter tannin. The large lily pond, where Loki and Rom sometimes fished for minnows, lay at the foot of the highest cliff, the pond replenished in wet weather by a small water-fall spilling down the cliff.

Rom watched as Ana began preparing their evening meal. This was a favorite time of day for all of them, succulent cooking smells, wild garlic, roasted lily rhizomes, whatever had been gathered during that day, sometimes a small rabbit or pigeon if Loki had been lucky in the hunt. For a small group such as theirs, familiar with its food-plants, the valley was a place of plenty through all seasons except the coldest winter months.

Then there was the enjoyment after the meal, especially in winter when night set in early, the brilliancy of the heavens’ countless stars hidden behind cloud, of telling stories around the fire. The story the boys found most exciting, but one which each boy’s parent did not enjoy telling, was the events of that terrible spring day when the clan departed the hidden valley for the last time.

Three stories of the clan…

As very small children they had heard the story, in part, as Ana and Gerin talked in low voices at the fire at night while Loki and Rom pretended to be asleep. Then when the boys got older, Gerin told them the whole story, how the clan had taken the old path, leaving their winter home in the valley, to move into the forest to hunt game and gather forest plants. For half a morning they had walked along the sea shore until they came to a wooded incline and took a familiar track into the dark shelter of the forest. Another half morning’s walk, the track getting steeper, Gerin, carrying his tools and slowed down by Loki, Ana carrying Rom, were lagging behind and the clan were already out of sight. Suddenly the small group heard sounds of shouting and a woman’s screams. Gerin motioned Ana to take the children and hide in a nearby thicket.

Stealthily Gerin climbed the rise to see what was happening. What he saw made his blood run cold, the clan surrounded and outnumbered by a band of men he’d never seen before. They were a hideous sight, their faces painted with fiery-red pigment and lined with black markings, they looked scarcely human, the effect made more savage by the animal skulls that dangled and rattled from their belts. He saw one of the men raise his club and smite the clan leader, Rom’s father, a mortal blow. Gerin watched no longer. Slithering down the hill he sped to the thicket where Ana and the children were hiding. The look on his face conveyed his message before he spoke: ‘We must go, Gerin whispered, ‘and quickly!’

They fled by a different route to the well-used track, a longer and more difficult way through the underbrush, but more concealed. Stopping only once to drink from a brook, it took them all afternoon to reach the sea shore. The sun was already setting, less danger of being followed now. They made for the water’s edge, Gerin brushing away their tell-tale footprints down to the sea.

Through the night Ana and Gerin walked along the shore, carrying the children, who slept, then woke, feeling the adults’ urgency, and slept again. It was past midnight when at last they reached the hidden valley. While the children slept in the cave, Gerin and Ana worked to conceal their presence, erasing footprints to the valley entrance, hiding it with pine branches.

For several days, after this, Gerin regularly surveyed the coast for signs of the painted men. They were men of the inland, unfamiliar with the sea … they had no women with them … they were on a raid … He hoped that they would return to where they came from but he could not be certain … They did not come. When Gerin recounted these words, Rom and Loki would shiver and drew closer to the fire. But for the boys it was more a frightening story than a real event, for Ana and Gerin, it was a painful experience to be recorded in the telling.

The first time Gerin had told them of the death of the clan, he had said that when Loki and Rom were old enough to make the difficult journey, he and Ana and the children would trek to the Great River and join the gathering of the clan by all its family groups at a ritual and trading meeting that only happened on certain times of the harvest moon.


Leaving the valley, thought Rom, would be like another clan story of departure, told at the fire by Ana and Gerin, the clan’s journey long ago from the cold north, following the silent reindeer across the ice, traveling south to find a new home. The story was always accompanied by a clan song, sung by Ana in a clear, high voice, accompanied by three stamps of the foot at significant moments. Sometimes Loki and Rom would join in with piping voices.


There was a later story too, of the discovery of the hidden valley, the clan’s winter shelter, a story passed down by Ana and Gerin’s grandfather from his grandfather, of how two clan boys, climbing over the rocks, had come across the hidden crevice in the cliffs, just wide enough to allow a man to enter the valley. The clan had passed this way before but never seen the entrance, the south-eastern wall curving in front of the south-western cliff face so that the entrance was difficult to find. In telling this story, recalling happy times with the clan, Ana and Gerins’ faces would light up and their voices become animated.

For Rom and Loki, memories of their early childhood in the hidden valley, were especially joyful. Memories of exploring the valley together and playing on the beach outside the valley, digging in the sand, and in warm weather, learning to swim in clear rock pools when the tide was out. And there was the food! Mussels, small crabs, fish that Gerin and Ana caught in the clan nets, helped by the boys splashing and shouting in tidal pools, driving the fish into the nets. Ana would cook the fish on hot rocks in the fire, Rom’s favorite food.

But this was to come to an end. That was a story that Loki would tell, the night of the earthquake, three years ago. As the main actor, it was Loki’s story and he always told it in exact order and with the same words, for this was also clan story. After they’d eaten dinner that night, Rom asked Loki to tell it once more.

Loki’s story and the aftermath…

Standing with his back to the fire, Locki began the story:

‘There had been a bad storm that night that kept us awake, but at last it was over and we fell asleep. We had not been sleeping long when a loud rumbling sound woke us up. We thought it was thunder but then we felt the ground shaking. ‘It’s an earthquake!’ cried Ana. She had been in one before. Then Gerin told us we must move as far from the cliffs and trees as we could, and so we ran into the middle of the valley. We didn’t know what to do but Gerin told us to sit in a circle, facing outward and holding hands. We didn’t know if this would help if the earth cracked open, perhaps the spirits were telling us how to be safe. The earth shook and rumbled again and again, there was so much noise, around us, beneath us, but at last it stopped. We did not dare return to the cave and after a while we fell asleep where we were.

I, Loki, was the first to wake up. No birds singing, perhaps they had flown away. I wanted to see what had happened to our valley. It didn’t look too bad. Some fallen rocks, a line of uprooted shrubs, the cave was the same, a tall pine not far from the entrance was leaning to the sea a bit but it was still standing. Then I saw what had happened.’ Loki paused. ‘The rock cliffs had come together. There was no crevice in the rocks, no way out of the valley. ‘Father, Father,’ I called and he came. Ana came and Rom too. We all looked and looked but there was no crevice …’ Here Loki paused again, as he always did, then added, ‘And so we are closed up in the valley. But one day we will find a way out.’

After Loki finished the story, there was silence, as there always was, each of the group thinking their own thoughts. Rom thought about how the earthquake closing their entrance to the outside world had changed how he felt about the valley. It was still his home and he loved it as a home, but now he was aware of it as something else, an enclosure, preventing them from doing anything new, from meeting with the rest of the clan. He had to find a way that they could escape.

A few days after the earthquake, Gerin and Ana had spoken with the boys. There was a new urgency to life in the valley. They hoped a way could be found out of the valley but in the meantime it was important to pass down their clan learning to the boys, make them skilled, not only in clan man -knowledge, tool-making and hunting skills, but woman-knowledge as well, for one day in future, there would be no woman to prepare the food or know the healing properties of plants that Ana had learned from other clan women.

And so began more vigorous training than before, less time for play, and now, three years after the earthquake, Rom, and even Loki had taken on some of their parents’ seriousness and thoughts for the future.

It became a monthly ritual for Gerin and the two boys to walk the perimeter of the valley studying outcrops and niches in the cliffs, looking for a navigable path to the top. There was a place on the north cliff where goats made sorties down the cliff-face to forage on nettles and the young cherry tree seedlings that grew from seeds that spilled down the cliff from the trees above. Loki was sure that he could climb it if he could get a fishing net to a certain rocky outbreak and swing it across a gap to catch on to the rock, look, there, he pointed. ‘Even if you could haul the net there,’ said Gerin ‘it would be too dangerous.’

Rom agreed, but one day when he and Gerin sat napping flints, he said, ‘I know it’s dangerous, but if it’s a way out we should think about it. If the rope net wasn’t so heavy, if it was not as wide, but longer, it would help us climb. Rom didn’t know it but he was inventing a new use for the fishing net as a rope ladder. He drew in the dirt to show Gerin what he meant. Gerin nodded. ‘We can make it,’ he said, ‘we can burn off parts of the net and bind them together, we’ll start tomorrow. But it’s still dangerous and we should keep our thinking free to look for another way to escape. That leaning tree, for instance, if we got it to fall, it would need to fall across the peak. Is it tall enough to reach the cliff do you think?’

Winter comes to the valley…

The search for an escape route from the valley was interrupted by the arrival of a fierce winter. This was not a time to leave the shelter of the valley or even the cave in the worst weather. Gerin and the boys used those days by the camp fire to make the rope ladder and were proud of their efforts, but that was all they were able to do. The weeks passed. Both Ana and Gerin developed a cough but Ana’s was much worse. She dosed herself with tea made from cherry bark to relieve her hacking cough, and when she became too ill to leave her bed, Rom pounded and soaked the bark to make the tea for Ana. Rom also cooked the evening meal. Loki brought armfuls of fire wood and Gerin heated water to make a steam inhalant to ease Ana’s breathing. Gerin was worried about Ana. In cold winters failing lungs had been a common cause of death in the clan, and Ana’s breathing was becoming labored.

There was one night when they all knew Ana was worse. She tried to sit up to breathe the steam inhalant Rom held before her, but fell back… ‘Rom,’ she whispered, ‘you must all leave the valley!’ And she spoke no more…

They buried Ana on the slopes of the north cliff, a place touched by the last rays of the setting sun. There were no flowers to strew upon her grave but each of them placed something there that they valued. For Gerin it was a stone digging tool he had been making for Ana, for Loki a sea-shell he had worn as a talisman. Rom placed on Ana’s grave a small wooden bird he had whittled sitting around the fire the previous winter and which Ana had liked.

Each of them mourned Ana deeply, Rom, as her son, Loki too, for Ana was the only mother he had ever known. For days and weeks they could think of little else. Gerin’s grieving was sharpened by memories of his sister as the golden-haired, laughing girl who had married the clan leader, so different then from the serious woman she became after the death of her beloved husband and the rest of the clan. Sitting at the fire, on the long winter nights, Gerin thought about his family and how, as sometimes happens, the child of one parent resembles a brother or sister, as Loki resembled Ana, and as Rom, though blue-eyed like his father, resembled Gerin, not just the curly black hair, but in his considered way of going about things, whereas quick, carefree Loki … Thinking about the boys made Gerin sadder, ‘I am responsible for them both now,’ he thought, ‘I must try to do the best I can for them…’

Strangely it was Rom who broke the cycle of mourning and apathy. One late winter morning as the sun did its best to break through layers of cloud, Rom got up from his bed and lit the fire, heating the remains of last night’s meal. As Gerin and Loki came to the fire, he said, ‘Remember what my mother told us to do. Today we should begin finding a way. That is what she would want, and I think I know what might work.’ As Rom spoke, suddenly, as though Nature was in agreement, the sun broke through the clouds, bathing the valley in bright sunshine.


They followed Rom down to the leaning pine tree.

‘I’d been thinking of this for a while,’ he said, ‘it’s already leaning the way we want and I’ve thought of a way we can go about it.’

‘We’ll need to make sure the tree can reach the cliff.’ said Gerin.

‘I could climb to the top,’ said Loki, ‘I could take a long stick to mark on the way up.’

‘Yes Loki,’ Rom replied, ‘but there’s an easier way. Remember how we used to watch our shadows when we were young? How they’d grow long or become small, but in the middle of the morning our shadows would be the same size as us?’

‘Rom, I know what you’re saying,’said Gerin, ‘the tree’s shadow will also be the right size.’

‘And here’s the sun shining so let’s find out,’ said Loki, smiling.

At first, the boys’ shadows were too long, but after a while, measuring Loki and Rom and their shadows with a stick, Gerin pronounced a fit. Taking a length of rope, they measured the pine tree’s shadow. Three lengths and a bit. They tied a cord at ‘the bit’. Using the rope they measured the space between the tree and the cliff, a fit and with ‘a good bit’ to spare. They could do it!

In the next three days, they started to dig a hole on the far side of the tree. It was slow work, removing stones and the ground was still winter hard. Loki and Rom brought skins full of water from the pond to soften the ground, and that helped. They ceased work only to carry out the usual tasks, though Loki would sometimes disappear for a while, testing the lower reaches of the north cliff face which he still had thoughts of climbing.

Spring had come early with fine days but on the fourth day there was a return to cold weather. Rom noticed that Loki was not around. Now skilled in the use of the sling shot, maybe Loki would return with a rabbit for the pot.

But still he didn’t come. Gerin went out to look for him. Suddenly Rom heard Gerin cry out. Rom gasped. He couldn’t move. A premonition… Then he was running towards the cliff face, gulping back sobs, as he ran calling Loki’s name.

At the cliff face he saw him, a crumpled heap, the net still held in one hand, Gerin bending over him, weeping and distraught. ‘My beautiful boy, oh my beautiful boy!’ How to bear such pain. Blinded by his tears, Rom knelt and touched Loki’s white face, cold to the feel. He put his arms around Gerin’s shoulders. How long they stayed there Rom did not know. It grew dark. ‘Come, Gerin, he said, we must carry Loki to the cave.’

Gerin stood up as if in a dream, and lifted Loki in his arms. Rom led the way, supporting Gerin with his right arm and they staggered to the cave.

How he and Gerin got through the next few days Rom did not know. They placed Loki on his fur rug, he seemed asleep, his dark eyes closed, the golden hair strewn across the dark fur. Only a bruising on the slender neck gave hint of his injuries.

The day they buried Loki in a grave beside Ana, the valley was engulfed in fog. It was as though the fog was in themselves. They went though the ritual in a kind of mental haze. Then Rom helped Gerin back to the cave. That night, Gerin’s cough returned. In the next two days he grew weaker. Rom was roused from his own sorrow by the urgent need to look after Gerin. He could not lose Gerin too, he must make sure he recovered. His uncle would need nourishing food and medicine.

Keeping the fire burning, Rom became Ana, the brewer of medicinal teas and Loki the hunter. Climbing the cliffs he gathered the special plants Ana used for her medicine, the cherry bark and the fennel that acted as a mild sedative. He prepared them as Ana used to do … No time to hunt game with the sling shot, instead a Loki trick. Scattering grain beneath one of the oak trees, he climbed with the rope fishing-net to a low branch of the tree, the net partly concealing him as he crouched along the branch holding the net ready to throw. Before long several pigeons found the grain and began eating it. They did not see the boy in the tree. Quickly Rom dropped the net. Most of the birds flew away but two were held in his net. And were soon in his cooking pot.

Medicine and good food had an effect. Over the next two days Gerin was a little better, but the spirit had gone out of him. ‘He doesn’t care about living,’ thought Rom. ‘He will not get better unless he wants to live.’ All morning Rom thought about what to do. Then he knew.

That night as Gerin sat with Rom at the fire, Rom said to him:

‘I have been thinking, my uncle. When we said goodbye to Loki we were too overcome by sorrow to say those things we needed to say. I do not know whether Loki, or my mother were telling me this, but a voice inside me has told me to make a song, – it is a song about Loki, and his father too…

Then standing with his back to the fire, Rom began to sing. Both Rom and Loki had inherited Ana’s beautiful high voice, but the boys’ treble voices were more ethereal, as boys’ treble voices often are. Rom sang of the loss of a son, taken to the spirit world before his time. He sang of how the spirits of wind, water and fire had snatched Loki from Gerin and Rom because they loved his quickness and his grace. Rom’s voice soared, an unearthly sound that made Gerin think of the spirits of wind, water and air, and of Loki too.

Rom’s voice took on a happier tone. ‘But part of Loki did not go with them. We have that part of him here in our thoughts, memories of things he did, taught by Gerin, father of Loki, his teacher in so many ways.’

Rom described such moments in notes that cascaded and danced like Loki himself. At the end he sang of Loki’s courage, passed on from father to son:

‘Loki, we see you, climbing the cliff to find a way for us to journey on, then taken by the spirits, but we can hear you saying to us, ‘Father and Rom, it is time to leave the valley and wherever you go, part of me will journey with you.’’

As Rom was singing, a change came over Gerin. His shoulders straightened, life came back to his eyes. ‘Rom,’ he said, ‘your song has made our loss more bearable for me.’

The next day was the first truly golden day of Spring. Unfurling of leaves in the oak trees, the sky that powder blue with faint puffs of cloud that comes with Spring. Rom asked Gerin to accompany him to the digging site, the sunshine would do him good. And now Gerin sat watching Rom, using one of Gerin’s stone axes, hacking at one of the exposed roots of the giant pine. After a while Gerin said, ‘Let me do that.’ Rom was pleased. ‘I’ll get some water while you’re cutting it.

Rom turned from the pond to hear a creaking sound and saw that the pine was now dangerously leaning closer to the cliff. ‘Gerin,‘ he shouted, ‘you did it!’

‘Not yet.’ replied Gerin. ‘But cutting this other root should do it, and that is for you to do, Rom, as it should be.’

A few sharp blows, a cracking sound, and then a mighty crash. The tree had fallen. Rom and Gerin hurried to see – ‘We did it!’ said Rom. ‘Yes,’ said Gerin, ‘we did it.’

Rom became Loki again, climbing to the top of the tree to see how it had fallen. The spiky upper trunk was not so thin that it could not bear his weight. Resting on the cliff, Rom gazed on the sea in all its expanse of blue, even bluer than he had remembered.

The cliff peak was not so narrow that he could not crawl carefully along it. Something he had remembered was an out crop of rock that rose from the beach halfway up the cliff face. It was not far from where the tree had fallen on the cliff top. As small boys, Rom and Loki had climbed it. This would be the way down. He looked down. A rope net hung from the peak down the sheer cliff face could just about reach the outcrop.

The next two days were spent by Gerin and Rom in preparations for the journey, and by Rom, arguing with Gerin. Gerin had decided that Rom should go alone. Gerin was too weak as yet to make the journey, Rom would travel faster without him, he would wait for Rom’s return.

Rom argued in vain. At last he said he would go but only if Gerin promised that he would keep well and cheerful, cooking nourishing food, keep busy making tools …

‘I promise I will do as you say, my dear son, ‘said Gerin, ‘but now you must go.’

Rom had been depositing his tools, flints, his skin cape and dried food for the journey down the cliff on to the beach. His sling was over his shoulder. Now there was nothing in his hands to hinder his climb. Gerin accompanied him to the cliff top and said goodbye. There were tears in his eyes, but he was smiling.

Exodus – again…

It was mid-morning when Rom began his journey. With one long look at Gerin and the walls of the valley that had been his home, he turned towards the west and set off along the sea-shore, his first steps towards the Great River. So many conflicting thoughts and feelings. ‘Concentrate on the task,’ he said to himself, ‘don’t let fear or sadness take over your thinking.’ He began to sing, the song of the silent reindeer and the traveling clan. He picked up some pebbles for his sling and walked on.

Well after mid-day he stopped to rest and drink from the flask he carried in his sack. As he looked back at the long coastline, he saw something moving on the shoreline, it was too far away to see what it was. A figure? He started to walk towards it …Yes, a figure, he saw it raise an arm and wave. It was Gerin.

‘Gerin! ‘ he shouted and hurried to meet him. In that glad moment it seemed to Rom that Ana and Loki were with him and shared his joy. ‘Tomorrow,’ he thought, we will all journey to the Great River.’


A Serf Musings on Slavery.


‘Nothing so outlandish,’ observed Michel de Montaigne, ‘that cannot be demonstrated in public practice somewhere in the world.’

If you happen to be young enough, living in a Western democracy and somewhat curtailed regarding history’s long view, you might have this perception of slavery as something rare and strange. But you’d be wrong. Strange, even bizarre, it may be in its notion of humans as chattels to be bought and sold, but rare it is not. It’s been going on since before the fall of Babylon, on three continents and islands in between, and despite laws abolishing slavery, continues to this day.


Mark Twain, (Samuel Clemens’) classic novel, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,’ reveals slavery in all its strangeness. The novel may well have been part of the abolitionist literature that contributed to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery in the United States, but it was written nineteen years later. What the novel does do is explore the evils of slavery within an ordinary, Christian community that seems unable to question those evils. Mark Twain writes that as a boy he himself did not question the idea that slaves were property.

‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ needs to be read in terms of the author’s ironic vision. What is so ironic in the novel is how perpetrators of slavery are often kindly folk, like the Phelps family, Uncle Silas and Aunt Sally, hospitable to travellers down on their luck, but exceedingly harsh to runaway slaves.

Huck, too innocent and ignorant to understand what’s wrong with his world, believing that his own defiance of that society’s mores will earn him damnation, struggles with his conscience when he reads a handbill advertising the runaway slave who is Huck’s companion on his journey down the Mississippi River:

‘The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”

It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double I was letting onto give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea, and I says, I’ll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray.’

Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson about her runaway slave…

‘I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his ‘n ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was;… and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a- trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.’ (H.F. Chapter 31.)

A Little History of Slavery..

Lots of information on slavery on the internet so I’ll be brief. A history of Western slavery goes back 10,000 years to Mesopotamia where a male slave could be worth as much in value as an orchard of palms. In the time before inanimate energy like waterwheels and steam power, most work was done by animals and by us using our own muscles. Of course you’re going to get people with the means, pharaohs and emperors and powerful land owners getting the lower castes to do the work for them, less cost the better, and that means slaves, your enemy defeated in war or purchased in slave markets.

Slavery; a pervasive phenomenon.

In the Roman Empire, symbol of grandeur and obedience, sprawled across the entire Mediterranean region, slave trading was big business. At the time of Augustus, in Italy, as many as 35% of people were slaves brought from many places, in Rome, slavery was not based on race. Slaves were trained for all possible functions, with gladiators fighting to the death for public entertainment at the extreme end. Roman emperors owned thousands of slaves to indulge their every whim. Many slaves acted as clerks, secretaries and even tax agents. These were the lucky ones. Some might even be manumitted as a reward for services rendered and allowed to become Roman citizens. For most slaves, however, life was nasty brutish and short. Thousands were worked to death mining gold and silver for the Empire. Plantation slavery with its history of abuses began in Rome in the second century BC. Sicily witnessed a series of slave revolts, culminating in the great uprising led by Spartacus. When it was finally crushed, 6,000 slaves were crucified all along the Appian way from Rome to Capua.

In Medieval Europe religion was no barrier to slavery, all participated, Christian, Muslim, Hebrew. Christians had an on-off relationship with the slave trade. In the early Middle Ages the Church condoned slavery, opposing it only when Christians were enslaved by ‘infidels’. Vikings raided Britain from 800 AD and sold their captives to markets in Istanbul and Islamic Spain. In the 16th century Pope Paul III tried to stem Protestantism by threatening those who left the Catholic Church with enslavement.

The Black Death – a plague epidemic – made demand for domestic slaves soar in Italy but had some positive consequences. The decline in population in the late 14th century resulted in more bargaining power for peasants in Europe and England, leading to the collapse of the manor system and to a new urbanized Europe that paved the way for a society and economy based on different principles. In Russia where the Black Death was not so destructive, serfdom continued well into the 19th century.

South of the Mediterranean Sea dynasties of Arabs along the coast developed an African slave trade. West Africa, both as source of slaves and slave traders, became a lucrative marketplace for human cargo, a transatlantic slave trade inaugurated by the Portuguese, soon to be joined by the Spanish and others countries.

Strange but true.

Thus began the notorious Middle Passage where slaves would be loaded lying down in the holds of ships, often lying on their sides to preserve space. By the 18th century the majority of the ships that used this inhuman commerce were British ships running a triangular trade, profitable in each separate branch, departing from Liverpool or Bristol with items in demand in West Africa, cotton, alcohol and guns, then taking slaves for America to the slave markets of the West Indies, unloading and loading molasses from the West Indies for the return journey.

Ironic that Britain, the precursor of Western liberty, from Magna Carta to John Stuart Mill and the Scottish Enlightenment, (a bit like the democratic revolution under Pericles in Athens, 5th century B.C. working slaves in the silver mines,) was building its fortune from commerce partly based on the tyranny of the slave trade.

The abolitionist movement from the late 17th century on, in Britain and America, had many strands, from Quakers condemning it and society founder George Fox speaking against it in the British Parliament, to two landmark cases in law.

In England in1772 there was the famous case in which Lord Mansfield freed James Somerset, slave of an American master on the grounds that he had set foot in England. The second case, in Scotland five years later, concerned Joseph Knight, an African born slave sold in Jamaica.

For Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, nurture, not nature explained human nature and institutions and liberty not race was a fundamental issue as demonstrated in the case of Knight. When Knight was taken by his master to Scotland, and tried to run away, the master had him arrested. In 1777, his case ended up in the Court of High sessions in Edinburgh and was momentous enough to be heard by a full panel of judges including Lord Kames. History was about to be made. His brief, assisted by input from James Boswell and advice from Samuel Johnson, their argument that, ‘No man is by nature the property of another.’ Pronounced Lord Kames, ‘We sit here to enforce right, not to enforce wrong.’ The Court pronounced slavery against the law of the land.

Although Lord Mansfield had made a similar ruling five years earlier, the Scottish decision was more significant because it established a broader principle, it went to ‘the general question of whether a perpetual obligation of service to one master in any mode should be sanctioned by a free country.’ (Arthur Herman ‘The Scottish Enlightenment, The Scots’ Invention of the Modern World.’ Harper London. Ch.4.) The decision was also a vindication of the Scottish approach to law not based on precedent but on ‘the dictate of reason.’ More of the dictate of reason in The American Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson and the American Revolution

‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

So wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence, justifying America’s separation from Britain, words that were to inspire his own and future generations to heroic efforts to make them a reality.

The Committee of Five appointed, in June 1776, to draft the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingstone and Roger Sherman, like actors in some other powerful historical movements, the great generation of the Greek Revolution, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, were men of broad interests and intellectual stature. But one of them, the man who wrote the inspirational words of the Declaration, was a slave owner.


George Washington, commander of the Continental Army in the fight for independence, and first President off The United States was also a slave owner but he freed his slaves and as president established the precedent that no one should serve more than two terms in the office. Washington personifies the word ‘great,’ his character was solid, ‘honest George Washington.’ The perceptive Abigail Adams quoted poet John Dryden to describe Washington:

‘Mark his majestic fabric He’s a temple sacred from his birth and built by hands divine.’ (Cited in Smithsonian Magazine. Stephen E.Ambrose. Nov. 2002.)

Thomas Jefferson did not free his slaves, other than the children of his slave Sally Heming. Jefferson acknowledged that slavery was wrong but apparently could see no way to relinquish it in his lifetime. A man of outstanding abilities and wide reading, educated by teachers of the Scottish Enlightenment, Jefferson was more conflicted regarding slavery than John Adams who was unambiguous in denouncing it or Mark Twain, who was able to transcend attitudes of the slave owning society he was born into.

In other ways Jefferson was an advocate for the republican values of the rights of man. He was the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, he was committed to universal education. He proposed the plan of government adopted by The Northwest Ordinance of government of 1778, that when the populations of the Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan were large enough, they would come into the Union as fully equal states. ’

As President, Thomas Jefferson made war against the Barbary Coast slave trade. Christopher Hitchins, who wrote his own study of Jefferson argues that there would likely be no continuing Republic of the United States without two important actions by Jefferson that strengthened its defense. The first of these was the war of 1801-5 against the Barbary Coast slavers in retaliation for the capture of American ships and enslaving of their crews.

… to the shores of Tripoli

Netherlands and as far north as Iceland. Samuel Pepys writes in his diary of an entire town in Ireland being taken as slaves.

Nations paid protection money or ‘tribute’ to be free of the scourge. As British colony, America had not been a target of the slavers, but after the War of Independence it became one. In 1786, when Adams and Jefferson were sent as peace emissaries to Europe to negotiate treaties of amity, Adams and Jefferson were required by the not yet formalized Republic to negotiate payment of fair tribute with the Barbary Coast slavers. At every turn they met with intransigence and escalating demands. They were told by the envoy for Tripoli, Ambassador Abdrahaman, that as written in the Koran, the faithful should plunder and enslave sinners who failed to acknowledge the true Prophet.

Jefferson came to the conclusion that paying tribute would be more costly than war with the Barbary States, and when the United States Constitution was adopted he encouraged Congress to authorize the building of a navy to defend its interests.

In 1801 when Tripoli declared war on the United States because of late payment of tribute, Jefferson, now President, by-passed Congress, sending ships into the region under guise of overseeing the treaty but with orders to respond as necessary to situations, which they did, a bombardment that Christopher Hitchins says, led to ‘significant regime behavior modification.’

… don’t fence me in.

While he was President, Thomas Jefferson also ensured the security of the United States by the Louisiana Purchase. At the passing of the Constitution the United States was a vulnerable strip of coastal land stretching from Massachusetts in the north to Florida in the south. Jefferson wishing to make it more secure and to expand trade sent envoys to France to offer purchase of Florida and part of Louisiana, its seaport of New Orleans and hinterland. When a financially insecure Napoleon offered to sell all of Louisiana for fifteen million dollars, the offer was quickly accepted and paid for with money borrowed from European banks. In one day, at a cost of less than ten cents an acre, the size of the United States was doubled. ‘Thomas Jefferson called the Louisiana Purchase ‘an ample provision for our posterity and a widespread field for the blessings of freedom.’


Aspects of the private life of Thomas Jefferson.

In the times in which Thomas Jefferson lived, the early death of a wife and children was a tragic but not uncommon experience. During the period that Jefferson was involved in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence he was anxious to return to Monticello because his wife was ill after the birth of their sixth child. When Martha Jefferson died in September 1782, four months after the baby’s birth, it is reported that following her death, Jefferson, who had been very devoted to his charming and cultured wife, fainted and remained so long insensible that it was feared that he would not survive. Before she died, Martha had asked him, probably as a protection to her three living children, never to marry again, and he never did. Mary was only thirty-three years of age when she died and Thomas Jefferson thirty-nine.

In the following months Jefferson was offered government positions but a grieving Jefferson turned them down. On the urgings of friends he finally accepted an appointment as American Minister to France, to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in negotiating European treaties of amity and commerce. In 1784, Jefferson departs for Paris, accompanied by his eldest daughter Martha, (Patsy.)

Paris Affairs.

Once in Paris, Jefferson commits himself to the Parisienne life, taking an elegant apartment on the Champs Elysee and becoming much in demand at Court. He is also a regular visitor to the Adams’ residence in Auteuil, four miles from Paris. Abigail Adams, responsive to Jefferson’s family loss, soon becomes an affectionate friend. To her sister, Mary, Abigail Adams writes that ‘Jefferson is one of the choice ones of the earth.’

The ‘Adams-Jefferson Letters,’ (edited L.J.Cappon.) the complete correspondence between two of the architects of the American Republic, offers insights into the two leaders’ contributions to the American Revolution and also include many letters between Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson. When John Adams is sent to London, Jefferson writes in playful tone to Abigail Adams, ‘I fancy myself at Auteuil and chatter on till the last page of my paper awakes me from my reverie.’ ( Sept 25.1785.) An extended interval between letters did not go unnoticed. Writing to John Adams in July 1786 Jefferson says, ‘I am meditating on what step to take to provoke a letter from Mrs Adams, from whom my files inform me I have not received one these hundred years.’

And here’s a letter, not strictly true, from Jefferson apologizing to Abigail Adams for his own delay in writing:

‘An unfortunate dislocation of my right wrist has for three months deprived me of the honor of writing to you. I begin to use my pen a little, but it is in great pain and I have no other use of my hand.’ ( Paris, Dec 21. 1786.)

Thomas Jefferson meets Maria Cosway.

Lot of concealed context here. The case of the dislocated wrist. Early in 1786, Thomas Jefferson had met Maria Cosway, an accomplished artist and musician and appears to have experienced love at first sight, prolonging their first meeting and cancelling other engagements to do so.

Maria Cosway is married to another artist, an older man, something of a philanderer, there doesn’t seem to have been in a close marriage. In the weeks following the Cosway and Jefferson meeting they became constant companions. Whether there was a sexual relationship is uncertain, she was a devout Catholic, but certainly there was a warm relationship. The usually reserved Jefferson is said to have dislocated his wrist in a giddy moment, either leaping over a stone fountain in the company of Maria, or in hurrying to meet her.

When Maria’s husband decides to leave Paris for London, they spend one last day together riding around Paris in a carriage, but next day, to postpone their parting , Jefferson accompanies the Cosways on the first part of their journey to the outskirts of Paris. A despondent Jefferson returns to Paris to write Maria a 4000-word letter, using his left hand. Herewith a few extracts:

“Having performed the last sad office of handing you into your carriage at the Pavillon de St. Denis, and seen the wheels get actually into motion, I turned on my heel and walked, more dead than alive, to the opposite door, where my own was awaiting me.

… I was carried home. Seated by my fire side, solitary and sad, the following dialogue took place between my Head and my Heart.

Head. Well, friend, you seem to be in a pretty trim.

Heart. I am indeed the most wretched of all earthly beings. Overwhelmed with grief, every fibre of my frame distended beyond its natural powers to bear, I would willingly meet whatever catastrophe should leave me no more to feel or to fear.

Head. These are the eternal consequences of your warmth and precipitation. This is one of the scrapes into which you are ever leading us. You confess your follies indeed: but still you hug and cherish them, and no reformation can be hoped, where there is no repentance.

Heart. Sir, this acquaintance was not the consequence of my doings. It was one of your projects which threw us in the way of it. It was you, remember, and not I, who desired the meeting, at Legrand & Molinos…

Head. My visit to Legrand & Molinos had publick utility for it’s object. … While I was occupied with these objects, you were dilating with your new acquaintances, and contriving how to prevent a separation from them. Every soul of you had an engagement for the day. Yet all these were to be sacrificed, that you might dine together. Lying messengers were to be dispatched into every quarter of the city with apologies for your breach of engagement. … You [wanted] me to invent a more ingenious excuse; but I knew you were getting into a scrape, and I would have nothing to do with it. Well, after dinner to St. Cloud, from St. Cloud to Ruggieri’s, from Ruggieri to Krumfoltz, and if the day had been as long as a Lapland summer day, you would still have contrived means, among you, to have filled it.

Heart. Oh! my dear friend, how you have revived me by recalling to my mind the transactions of that day! …. Go on then, like a kind comforter, and paint to me the day we went to St. Germains… Every moment was filled with something agreeable. The wheels of time moved on with a rapidity of which those of our carriage gave but a faint idea, and yet in the evening, when one took a retrospect of the day, what a mass of happiness had we travelled over! Retrace all those scenes to me, my good companion, and I will forgive the unkindness with which you were chiding me. The day we went to St. Germains was a little too warm, I think, was not it?

Head. Thou art the most incorrigible of all the beings that ever sinned! I reminded you of the follies of the first day, intending to deduce from thence some useful lessons for you, but instead of listening to these, you kindle at the recollection, you retrace the whole series with a fondness which shews you want nothing but the opportunity to act it over again. I often told you during it’s course that you were imprudently engaging your affections under circumstances that must cost you a great deal of pain … that the lady had moreover qualities and accomplishments, belonging to her sex, which might form a chapter apart for her: such as music, modesty, beauty, and that softness of disposition which is the ornament of her sex and charm of ours. But that all these considerations would increase the pang of separation: that their stay here was to be short: that you rack our whole system when you are parted from those you love …
Heart. But they told me they would come back again the next year.

Head. But in the mean time see what you suffer: and their return too depends on so many circumstances that if you had a grain of prudence you would not count upon it.”


This was to be the first in a lifetime correspondence. There was a final meeting between Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosway when she returned to Paris for a four month stay in August 1787 where Maria Cosway perceived a change in their relationship and for whatever reason they spent little time together.

Enter stage. Sally Hemings.

Thomas Jefferson was a complex, character, both as a public figure and private and individual, and nothing challenged historians and biographers more than Jefferson’ relationship with multi-racial slave Sally Heming, half sister to his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson.

In May 1785 Jefferson learns in a letter mislaid in transit, that his youngest daughter Lucy died of whooping cough the year before and he is now anxious to have his second daughter, Mary, with him in Paris. He arranges with kinsmen to have her sent in a suitable vessel, (tribute protected) bound for England in the Spring of 1787. Eight year old Mary,( Polly) crosses the Atlantic in the company of Sally Hemings, to spend some time in London with Abigail Adams before joining Jefferson in Paris. In a letter to Jefferson informing him of his daughter’s arrival, Abigail Adams refers to the fifteen or sixteen year old maid servant who accompanied her, saying that she seems fond of the child but ‘wants more care than the child.’ Abigail mistakes Sally for an older girl, she is in fact only fourteen years old. John Adams later refers to her as ‘the dashing Sally.’

When Polly and Sally arrive in Paris, Sally’s nineteen year old brother, James, is already there being trained by a French chef. Therein lies another dramatic story. James and Sally are members of a shadow family, children of Betty Hemings, concubine to Jefferson’s father in law, John Wayles, who was the father of her six children. Sally, the youngest of these children is one year younger than Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Patsy.

In Paris, Jefferson’s two daughters lived in a famous convent. It is not known if Sally lived there too, there is no record in the convent of her being there. It is known that Jefferson had her taught French and that he bought her clothes in order to accompany his elder daughter on social outings. It was said by observers that Sally was ‘very handsome, long straight hair down her back.’ Jefferson’s grandson later described her as ‘light colored and decidedly good-looking.’

Most historians now believe that Jefferson had a relationship with Sally Heming that lasted nearly four decades until his death, and that Jefferson fathered her six children. Under French law the Hemings brother and sister could have petitioned to stay in France. It’s likely that family bonds drew them home. According to Sally’s son Madison’s later testimony, Sally Hemings became pregnant to Jefferson in Paris. She agreed to return with him to the United States based on his promise to free their children when they reached the age of twenty-one years. This first child did not survive. Six other children were born to Sally Hemings between 1795 and 1804, two dying in infancy.

At Monticello, Sally performed the duties of Lady’s maid to Martha and took care of Jefferson’s chamber and ward-robe. The Wayles family all denied there was a relationship between Jefferson and Hemings but evidence suggests otherwise.

Early historians generally accepted the claims of Jefferson’s legitimate family that he was not the father of Hemings’ children. The startling resemblance to Jefferson of servants waiting at table, that guests observed, was explained by Jefferson’s grandson as a family resemblance because Jefferson’s grandson, Peter Carr was the father of the children. Later DNA studies showed no match between the Carr line and Heming descendents but did show a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendent of Sally Heming’s youngest son, Eston Hemings.

Professor of Law and History at Harvard and later at Oxford, Annette Gordon-Reed became interested in Jefferson and drew on her legal training to apply context concerning the anecdotal and contextual evidence that was available.

Much of the legitimate family evidence marshalled against the Hemings-Jefferson connection was shown to be flawed, like the claim that the liaison was impossible due to Jefferson’s absence from Monticello. Farm book records of births show that Jefferson was always at Monticello at the time of conception of Sally Hemings’ six children, born between 1790 and 1785. Gordon-Reed notes that the Hemings children were given lighter duties than other slaves, and were the only slaves freed under the provisions of Jefferson’s will, as Sally Hemings’ son Madison had stated as an agreement between his mother and Jefferson.. The two eldest children, Harriet and Beverley, were allowed to leave Monticello in 1721 or 1722, and went north to Philadelphia or Washington. According to a Monticello overseer, Jefferson authorized him to pay the beautiful Harriet $50 and the stage coach fare to her destination. Madison and Eston Hemings , who appear reliable witnesses, both claimed that the children always knew that Jefferson as their father. Eston Hemings later changed his name to Jefferson.

…Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

History stranger than fiction. Jefferson’s life history…it’s a complex story isn’t it, enabled by the institution of slavery, contradictions and denials required involving legitimate and shadow families, seduction by Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of a young girl that he owns, their children unacknowledged by their father, shades of a Greek drama? There’s the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, in action and in correspondence, one of the great stories, and there’s the concealed story of Jefferson and Hemings, one of the dark stories.