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.


Gullibility and Obedience.

… An essay on education and what passes for same in K-12 ‘education’ today.


Before we go forth on this revisited attack on K-12 education today, let‘s argue in broad terms on what we mean when we speak about education.

There’s been some pertinent argument by philosophers, (but not philosopher kings , 😦 )regarding what we mean by the ‘education ‘ word:

‘Education,’ says R S Peters, ‘is not a term like gardening, which picks out a particular type of activity. Something of course must be going on if education is taking place and something must have been gone through for a person to emerge as an educated man, for education is associated with learning, not with a mysterious maturation. But no specific type of activity is required.’ (R.S.Peters. ‘Ethics & Education.’ (Allen and Unwin 1965.) p25.)


‘In this respect, education is like reform,’ Peters says, ‘it picks out no particular activity but rather, it lays down criteria to which activities must conform.’ Whatever it is, education implies ‘something valuable’ for the learner, something good in itself and not for extrinsic ends. ( P p25.) and education, Peters argues, also implies acquisition of some kind of broad cognitive understanding in the learner.

Education is not a ‘task word’ but an ‘achievement word’ says Gilbert Ryle, indicative of something worthwhile to the learner’ and ‘done in a morally acceptable manner.’ On these grounds, conditioning is ruled out as a process of education. ( G.Ryle.The Concept of Mind London 1949. pp149-153.)

From the above regarding criteria and process, it follows that ‘education’ is not ‘training,’ though training, involving focus, acquired skills and problem solving, may be a useful adjunct. And education is certainly not indoctrination, moulding ‘learners’ to fit some vision of your ideal state or maintaining a power elite in control. Contrast Plato’s process of producing philosopher kings as rigid possessors of received knowledge, with Socrates’, non-dogmatic, critical of his own errors, engaging in open discussion with the young, even with slaves.

Oh those aspirations to narrow down human diversity for Utopian ideals. From Plato’s Utopia to UNESCO’s Millennium Goal vision, social engineering programs, however noble the motive, don’t end well. We see Plato’s Republic- a blue-print to arrest all change, necessarily tailoring the plebs into docility requiring a ‘noble lie’ to bring it about, and still these top-down efforts continue. In the name of social equity, one size fits all, Western Civilization in its education program is abandoning that basic individualism inherited from thinkers of classical antiquity like Pericles, Socrates, Euripides, and the scientific and creative geniuses of the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution, Brunelleschi, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Galileo… (The reader might care to peruse the education curricula vitae of some of them via Wiki.)

Here in Australia, not so many decades ago, before K-12 Core Curriculum began it’s social agenda transformation of State Education, schools generally taught subject content, concepts and skills which, when taught by good teachers, emphasized critical thinking and developing student autonomy. Values education, such as it was, focusing on respect for self and others, reliability and honesty, was promoted separately from curriculum subjects. Now values education permeates every subject area in schools and would seem to be the education’s main goal, transformative education for pre-determined socio-political ends.

Take a look at what’s happening here in Oz right now since the federal government introduced its Core Curriculum. Might sound okay, a means of ensuring nation-wide standards of literacy and numeracy. Can’t argue with non-negotiable basic standards in important skills as a part of students’ journey to something of autonomy. But K-12 has a mixed agenda, it is mainly about inculcating ‘values education,’ by a concerted program from Prep to Year 12, values that the progressive state (and supra-state) hold sacred. Herewith the Australian Government document, ‘Values Education and the Australian Curriculum.


In its Introduction the document defines good practice as ‘whole school approaches to sustain values education,’ employing ‘pedagogies that are values-focused and student-centered within all curriculums,’ … ‘units are designed to assist students to integrate values teaching and learning within all the areas of the curriculum,’

The Curriculum Introduction promotes values education ‘to consciously foster intercultural understanding, social cohesion and social inclusion.’ ‘Focus at all levels is on Cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and on Environmental Sustainability. A couple of examples: ‘Celebration Ceremonies’/critical and creative thinking/changing values, changing nation/inter-cultural understanding.’ ‘Eating Green’/ critical and creative thinking / food technology, geography.

A recent social-activist program introduced into schools, the ‘Safe Schools, All of Us ‘ program is exciting some controversy, being a focus on LGBTI, i.e. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender bullying, involving radical program changes. While ‘Safe Schools ‘has as its kernel, a reasonable proposition that no one should be bullied for perceived differences, you would expect a school to deal with any bullying by promoting respect as a civic duty, even stepping up teacher presence in school recess yard duty if necessary, as in the past, But this eight million dollar tax payer funded program, introduced into schools without parental consent, goes way beyond this, involving inappropriate cross gender role play for eleven and twelve year old students, even looking to speech reforms, avoiding hetero-norm language, ‘boy,’, ‘girl’ references, ‘father,’ ‘mother,’ also targeted. Seems children at school are being made the cannon fodder of adult sexual politics.

Similar values education is taking place in the United States with a K-12 core curriculum designed to make-over students via internalized learning. Attorney Robin Eubanks in a blog called ‘Serf’s Invisible Collar,’examines K-12 aims and programs and the policies and statements that are its basis.’

In several posts from September to December 2016, Robin Eubanks analyses the factual stories, false narratives and radical transformation of policy and practices in US schools over recent decades, the many philosopher kings aspiring to be drivers of future behavior.


Exemplifying Gramsci’s ‘long march through the institutions,’ centres of education policy like Princeton and Harvard, are promoting a behavioral science approach to education to align motivations of students with socio-political goals involving actual cognitive changes in students at an internalized level… a cognitive make-over that Robin Eubanks calls ‘mind arson.’

Education for socially (politically) desired ends.

What’s going on certainly doesn’t meet Peters’and Ryle’s criteria regarding education as ‘something valuable in itself and done in a morally acceptable manner.’

There’s the UN guidelines promoting an extrinsic aim of ‘education based on the ideal of building more just societies’… ‘educational experiences must be created so that each student’s commitment to the ideals of social justice is not ‘an adherence that is purely rhetorical or cut off from how people actually behave.’

UNESCO is in agreement. Robin Eubanks cites an August 2015 paper stating that ‘the purpose of curriculum in the 21st century is to make sure that there is no ‘contradiction’ or dissociation between the cognitive and the ethical dimension in learning.’


From the above post by Robyn Eubanks a few extracts about methods and revealing more big guns behind a push for internalized behavioral changes in learners.

‘During the last two weeks documentable, official confessions of just how much our children’s very synapses and whether the regions used in thinking are rational or tied to emotions have come out on an almost daily basis…

The US BRAIN Initiative (which began in 2013) coordinates actively with Human Brain Project and goes to its programmess in Europe. Turns out part of that initiative included a Bioethics Commission http://bioethics.gov/ where we can locate the BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision report as well as the two Gray Matters reports that leave our government’s desire to interfere with internalized mental processes for political purposes in no doubt. It is also chaired by Penn Pres Amy Gutmann who was probably chosen by President Obama precisely because her 1987 book Democratic Education called on schools to shift away from the ‘well-intentioned misperception’ that schools have an “obligation to impart information.” Instead, Gutmann wanted teachers to develop the moral character of students so that they “feel the force of right reason” to reshape society.’

Targeting the reasoning brain.

In her May 23rd essay, http://invisibleserfscollar.com/fracturing-the-personal-and-social-failsafes-and-omitting-the-most-pertinent-parts-of-the-plans/ Robin Eubanks on emotions ostensibly as motivation in education, but intentionally to lock in experiences at a deep level. Here’s sociologist Anthony Giddens’ telling us‘that behavioral scientists know that what guides and motivates behavior is not what is actually true, but what is personally and emotionally believed to be true.’

Robin Eubanks refers to ‘ the organized media juggernaut hyping emotion as the key to learning. On April 27, 2016 Education Week wrote a story called “Emotions Help Steer Students’ Learning, Studies Find: Scholar sees passion as mind’s rudder” which hyped the work of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her new book Emotions, Learning, and the Brain. Here’s the lead quote that should probably be read with a reminder that one of the definitions of using cybernetics in education is to create a steerable keel with a student’s mind and personality. One that is locked in neurally that the student is largely unaware of.

“People think of emotion getting in the way of cognition, but it doesn’t. Emotion steers our thinking; it’s the rudder that directs our mind and organizes what we need to do.”

Gives new meaning certainly to a declared goal of ‘standards-based reforms’ and competency-based education that seek to create Habits of Mind and desired Dispositions and Attributes to be deemed College, Career and Citizenship Ready, doesn’t it? That hyping article was followed by a May 4 New York Times piece called “To Help Students Learn, Engage the Emotions.” It also hyped the same professor’s work exclusively with more quotes that resonate with initiatives like Hewlett’s Deeper Learning (omitted from article) where “It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about.”

In other words, it is experiences carefully crafted for the classroom so that what will guide and motivate future student behavior gets practiced and then locked in at an unconscious level.’

Here’s a case study, students in ‘the hive’ learning empathy …


A Texas school that is pushing an emotionally-grounded moral thinking of the kind Professor Damasio, who heads the Brain and Creativity Institute, promotes as what a new kind of 21st century learning grounded in Equity should look like.

Say, whatever happened to critical thinking at a conscious level, the kind employed by those Classical and Renaissance thinkers and artists? And if you want to harness emotion to your task, what’s wrong with curiosity? Likely Copernicus and Galileo would agree with that.

Regarding this supplanting of reasoning by emotion, there’s some cover up, such as the phrase, ‘higher order’ thinking skills, maybe Gilbert Ryle might call this ‘a cloaking phrase’. Robin Eubanks identifies obfuscation of language in the common-core’s reference to the phrase, ‘a euphemism for what the new federal legislation ‘Every Student Succeeds Act ‘requires every school in every state to assess, those ‘values and concepts that government wishes students to internalize.’

And by this regulatory Act, another false narrative is exposed, the myth of school choice in education. Behind phrases like school choice, by whatever private system or via home schooling, is the concealed monopoly of regulated outcomes-based education, designed to achieve desired transformational learning.


All together now…

If you think that government vouchers allow you to bypass that top down K-12 values, all – on – the – same – page education, think again. Brer Rabbit had his briar patch escape route, no escape route from pervasive state, values- education. The same evaluation outcomes installed by law for all schooling, ‘high quality assessment’ measuring and monitoring precisely what students have internalized and ‘what guides their sense of self.’

I leave you with this reminder by H.I Mencken regarding education and the state and a concluding comment from Robin Eubanks.

“The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”
― H.L. Mencken

This, says Robin Eubanks, from the Foreword to the 1990 book, written by the Brookings, https://www.brookings.edu/book/politics-markets-and-americas-schools/

“the nation’s education problem, then, is an institutional problem. To overcome it, the authors recommend a new system of public education based on fundamentally new institutions. They propose a shift away from a system of schools controlled directly by the government–through politics and bureaucracy–to a system of indirect control that relies on markets and parental choice

…and herewith a nice example of gullibility and obedience