On Elves And Smartphones

I have read a fantasy novel by Sarah J. Maas, an author who, according to the shop, had previously achieved great success in the Young Adult market without my having heard of her. This marketing distinction often eludes me; for example the Discworld series is for grown-ups while the Tiffany Aching sequence set in the same place is supposedly for Young Adults, but I enjoyed the latter equally with the former.

The Maas book in question is a strange hybrid of High Fantasy with policier and chicklit, and I am not sure that the investigative aspect sits well with the absolute power of the dominant non-humans. In the same way, I am uneasy about the blend of ancient magicks, shapeshifters, the Fae and so forth with a ruthlessly 2020 technology and social sensibility: movie streaming, e-mail, smartphones and selfies. Here the gods do not stage theophanies, they phone you. This could be a design choice, intended as a break with the clichéd joinder of sorcery and demons with cod-medieval technology and cod-medieval manners, an originality that I would applaud. At the same time I have a worrisome feeling that the largely supernatural denizens of her world preen in front of their smartphones solely because Maas, being of her generation, is honestly unable to imagine a universe in which people (broadly defined) do not preen in front of their smartphones.

In support of this suspicion is the heavy emphasis on clubbing. Whether this lifestyle is regarded as a good thing or not is a little ambiguous, but on the whole I think she counts getting wasted and having quickie sex in the club toilet as heroic, at least when indulged in by females. And this brings us to another point. While by no means following the “two legs good, three legs bad” mantra of much of a previous generation, and wholly ignoring the issues of transsexuality, Maas seems unusually prone to referring to a character as “the male”, and, slightly less intrusively, as “the female”. She is almost the opposite of Patricia Briggs in that she loathes dominant males, whom she calls “alphaholes”. This is a fine coinage, which I intend to steal, but is never applied to power-crazed females. Of which she portrays several, but never under that name.

Being “sassy” has long been regarded as a virtue in women, but Maas’ “party girl” characters seem to take it a bit further and into what I would call fratboy territory. Moreover, her emphasis on male beauty sits oddly with how women used to describe themselves as motivated solely by the inner person, whatever that is, while her “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” attitude is definitely a violation of one of the earlier waves of feminism. These beings, both human and other, positively welcome ocular harassment! Again, this may be a generational difference.

An even sharper contrast would be between on the one hand Maas and other chicklit authors, and on the other hand the worlds of my childhood and maturity. In the first, no middle-class provincial girl would ever come close to admitting that she had genitalia, and indeed had probably never seen her own. I have dealt with my consequent culture shock before in these essays, but what I wonder about now is how such sexy authors fit together with the puritanical feminism I remember from the Eighties. Is this a deliberate polemic against the misandrists of her mother’s generation, when the response to any criticism of a specific individual’s actions was “You hate all women!”; or are they completely different people; or are we talking about quite different rules for the novels someone writes and the conversations the same individual might have in mixed company?

I have the impression that such authors are letting cats out of bags as if they are writing solely for their own gender, forgetting that there is as yet no mechanism for preventing (boo hiss) males from reading them too. Perhaps this will soon become a technological possibility; one could lock books (which by then will only exist electronically) to a retinal scan and a database, thus allowing only females to read a woman’s description of her character’s zipless fucks. Folks, you saw it here first.

How It Was Done On Palau

My palm for best museum goes to the Ethnographic at Dahlem, Berlin. There is a whole section on Palau, of which not many people have even heard. This is a Micronesian archipelago that belonged to Germany until 1914, when the Japanese took it. The main exhibit is a men’s clubhouse, from the rafters of which hangs a sculpture of a young woman with her legs apart. The story behind this is startling. Yes, it is advertising.

For the life-cycle of the Palau female apparently involved spending her teenage years in the men’s clubhouse, where she made herself available to the members for a set price. When she had accumulated enough of whatever they used for money, she would return to the female society and buy respect, status and clientele with it. If I remember correctly, and I might not, politics were matriarchal. A very successful clubhouse provider might thus become a tribal leader. If I remember wrongly, she would become at least a leader of the women’s society.

It seemed to be that this obscure society represented the most intense conceivable incarnation of two truths that we do not want to know. One, that sex is always about buying and selling, and two, that the bottom line is nothing to do with us mere males but rather is about the female hierarchy. The teenage Palau girl sold sex to the men in the clubhouse, but the latter were merely the means; the end was advancement in the female half of the tribe.

(Fiddle date-stamp to February 4, 2012)

Posted on February 7, 2021 at 14:24 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE NAME OF THE GAME, The Matrix Of Exchange

We Don’t Want No Plant Investment

In a history of Hungary I read how the nobles believed in extorting and spending, but not in investing. By this I was reminded of how the British pioneers of the Industrial Revolution had neglected to invent or even adopt the Realschule, but instead sent their sons to Eton in order to become gentlemen – that is to say, at best conscientious servants of the Empire, at worst utter parasites.

Well and good, but then it occurred to me to wonder whether finance, that is, the manipulation of unreal fortunes, now plays the same role as land used to, namely sidetracking merchant classes from the business of manufacturing? On the other hand, we do have the modern breed that I call the “techno-sociopaths” (you know who they are). While these are undoubtedly innovating and sometimes even making tangible things, there seems to me to hover an air of unreality over what they do. Should selling new ways to demonstrate status in the monkey hierarchy really count as “goods” in the same way that the Enlightenment had in mind? Or perhaps the singularity-wallahs are right, and when any object can be printed out of thin air, then the only game in town will indeed be preening.

Let us just see the selfie-sharers have to get to grips with the physical world after some civilisational collapse, with Afro-Asian slave labour no longer doing it all for us Eloi.

Monkey Business
Robber Bands

Posted on January 21, 2021 at 18:45 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, Robber Bands Great And Small

Pre-Emptive Dumping

“When a woman preaches constancy, it is not because she wants the same lover always”, De Sade’s father told him, “but because she would rather leave him than be left.” I have not been a lover sufficiently often to confirm or disconfirm this, but even my meagre experience runs to two examples. Case Two, the lady grew suspicious that I might be tiring of her, and ended the relationship on the spot. This was a perfect case of the principle cited by De Sade Senior; the important thing was not to have or not have a particular individual but rather the points-scoring. Case One, the woman wanted me back every time I found someone new, then dumped me again. Clearly, she did not want me in any meaningful sense, merely to deny me to others.

Both cases were clear as regards the will to power, but I had not connected this scam with the preaching of “constancy”. Now that De Sade Senior mentions it, however, that value does seem to be rather a set-up. It helps pin the victim in place, like a butterfly, until you yourself are good and ready to leave him. Or her. Because I see no reason why this should be a game for just the one sex to play.

(Fiddle to January 19, 2011)

In The Shade Of Financiers

Some English writers become infamous for anti-Semitism, when what they really are should better be described as anti-plutocrats. Chesterton falls into and perhaps leads this category. They do not necessarily seem to think anything about Jews other than that they are rich, acquisitive and ruthless. Chesterton did not, for example, display the sexual anxieties that so dominated Der Stürmer. If one could collar these writers and point out the great number of equally harmful gentile plutocrats, they might even be convinced. I hope so, anyway.

Another example is Ford Madox Ford, who does seem to have a little more generalised animus than Chesterton, but whom I fancy might be brought to recognise, there in the asphodel meadows, that the men of whom he disapproves are not necessarily Jewish. When, for example, he describes England at the end of the Great War as “taken over by a class of shady financiers”, he does not use the J Word at all. Might this be because he was thinking of “shady financiers” of all backgrounds, or he because he took it for granted that that his readers would understand the phrase as code for Jews? I simply cannot say.

I am left, however, with a question of whether Ford might have seen something that we have subsequently suppressed. Suppose that what Ford reports is true, that around 1918 a new class came to the fore, “shady financiers” insinuating themselves at the expense of the previous ruling caste of the landed gentry who otherwise dominate Parade’s End? It would not take a high proportion of Jews among them to make the post-Holocaust generations unable to talk about this new class, or even to talk about Ford’s contemporaries talking about this. In other words, it would be no good pointing out that many of these “shady financiers” were not in fact Jewish, as the whole subject would remain off-limits. We would thus be missing out on an important aspect of English economic history.

Another question is whether such “shady financiers” were indeed as new to the scene as Ford suggests. They probably weren’t. But even in that case, we should still take note of Englishman of traditional backgrounds and manners thinking that they were. Yes, Ford Madox Ford himself does strike me as to some degree a general-purpose anti-Semite, though Jews are not a major subject of his; but suppose that this view of “shady financiers” were to be shared by those who were not anti-Semitic? In that case, I repeat, we are missing out on important data about what people thought had been the result of the war, and a long way from Germany.

This is perhaps all the more important because we have seen another wave, nay a tsunami, of “shady financiers” – starting with the S&L scandals as a trial run for the Great Bank Robbery of 2007 and onwards. You don’t have to be a radical leftist to have noticed that banks are there to be “bailed out” at the taxpayers’ expense, that telecom companies, regulators and everyone else are losing the battle against cold-calling investment scams, and that the ideal is now a totally atomised workforce, without rights or benefits. The Nigerian 419 swindle could only entrap the crooked, but the next generation is after the naïve pensioner. Jews? Not at all, if we are going to hate any particular groups for this it should be Indians and Britons. But that “shady financiers” are supplanting the old ruling classes, oh yes.

Cosmic Millennials?

This is just a wild idea, and I myself do not know how seriously I mean it. Wrinklies have been complaining about the young for about the last million years or so, but I am seeing a phenomenon that seems to be radically above and beyond the usual run of complaints. It is noticeable certainly among the young, but not all of them, and yet is not confined to the young.

I have a sense of there being a particular date on which the Earth seems to have passed through some interstellar cloud or other that had the effect of reducing human intelligence. Possibly in interaction with genes or environment. My best guess is 2000, but I am open to alternatives.

Posted on December 17, 2020 at 18:32 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, The Anatomy Of Stupidity

The Meaning Of “Strong Emotions”

In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway has a character say of the Italians that they were “All fire and smoke and nothing inside”. I have my own reasons for keeping out of Italy, reasons that do not rely on any generalisation about the emotional make-up of the people, and I have never been close to any Italians, but Hemingway’s libel nevertheless holds its own interest for me. Namely, I have long harboured a resentful scepticism of any veneration of “the emotions”. In particular I detest the invocation of “strong” emotions to justify anything. This is because I do not think anyone truly knows what they actually mean by this.

Now, if fMRI were to show us greater electrical activity in the brain when someone claims to feel something “strongly”, that would be one thing. If levels of neurochemicals can be shown to change, the same applies. As far as I know, however, there is no such empirical tracking of emotions by intensity; or if there is, the instrumentation is unlikely to be something we can carry around with us and that we can all use. That is a pity, because sometimes I want to tell someone claiming to have strong emotions, “No, you don’t”.

Why would anyone lie about this? Why, because for a very long time and in many cultures, these mysterious things called emotions serve as justification. Whatever they pretend, in practice Western ethics usually come down to, “You can’t do these things, unless you really want to”. Then think of this “wanting” as an emotion rather than as anything else and it is a done deal. Strong emotion is trumps in all games.

I am not usually a Skinnerian, but if anything could make me embrace behaviourism, it would be this. I feel impelled to point out that what people call their strong emotions (and nobody ever seems to admit having weak ones), are not observable. What we can observe is behaviour; and specifically, what people are prepared to do to whom in order to get what they want. To “walk over corpses”, as the Norwegian language pungently puts it. Well, then: can we, looking from outside, tell the difference between someone impelled to walk over those corpses by an internal electrical or neurochemical process, and someone impelled to walk over the same corpses by something else? No, we cannot.

What might that something else be? Obviously, lack of restraint, but that only pushes the question further out. Lack of allegiance to an objective ethical code would do it, as would a shortage of empathy. The former usually takes the shape of an excessive sense of entitlement, the narcissist cry of “But it doesn’t apply to ME!” Is a sense of entitlement an emotion? In the latter case, we would have the paradox that, in some circumstances, it might be the lack of what is normally called an emotion that might lead to the plea of doing something wrong through being overcome by emotion.

If on the other hand, by emotion we mean not an emotion but an unbalanced will, without recognition of countervailing imperatives, then my question is “So who needs it?” We have all seen small children respond to frustration with temper tantrums. The wise parent does not yield on the grounds that the infant has “strong” emotions.

(Fiddle date-stamp to January 19, 2011)

Posted on December 3, 2020 at 15:33 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, What Is This Thing Called Love?

The Boxer And The Pram

How times have changed. Whereas in the early Nineties I was told that having hair on my chest demonstrated that I was “less evolved” than female acquaintances because “closer to the apes”, I can now hear young women claiming to be feminists but nevertheless expressing themselves critically about individual women or groups thereof. This used to be forbidden.

Not so long ago I chatted with a law student who was voluptuous on the outside and a tomboy on the inside; her sport was boxing and I am sure she could break me in half. If she wanted to, but I felt totally confident that she would never want to.

For in many conversations about everything under the sun, sometimes quite intimate (in a sibling-esque style), I never detected the slightest trace of the female chauvinism with which I grew up. On the contrary, she echoed what I had heard from a much older generation, that she preferred the company of men for being more straightforward and less given to backbiting. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when she launched into a tirade against those women who thought that motherhood gave them a magical device entitling them to push in wherever they wanted to go, a device that you could also stick into the road to stop the traffic. It was called a pram – buggy to Americans. Well, there are probably downsides to this magic. Neither of us had children; I am not going to but she might yet, so the last word had not been spoken. But I was still startled.

(Fiddle date-stamp to November 1, 2014)

Posted on November 9, 2020 at 18:22 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment

Hafez Meets The Modern World – A Pastiche

Thinking lakes and Alps as seen from mountain trains are simply boring;
No, I won’t do it.
Texting instead my pal to ask what beauties he is ignoring?
No, I won’t do it.

To travel around the world and not offer anything a glance
Because blogging about nothing gives me a better chance;
No, I won’t do it.

To leave my lover’s arms the moment my smartphone starts its beeping
And turn my back upon her, unsatisfied and not yet sleeping;
No, I won’t do it.

I’ll never understand myself, I’ll never really know me
Until I’ve joined some trendy website, and that alone will show me;
I have to do it.

To accept that in any foreign city I will never find my way
Because no one can hear me asking, with their headphones on all day.
No, I won’t do it.

If I keep my treasure only as strange symbols on my phone,
The sultan can take it all away by his will alone;
And I won’t do it.

To give my rival poets reviews where just one star appears,
Pretending to be an independent jury of my peers;
No, I won’t do it.

Hafez, real life is back in your own time, and I am sure
I’ll never cease to miss my lover’s world of flesh and blood, and more;
No, I won’t do it.

No More Meddling

A character in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury tells another, “You’ll have a hell of time in heaven without anybody’s business to meddle in”. Now, that particular novel is full of unreliable narrators, but even these may tell the truth by accident, and this remark seems to me intrinsically sayable. There is undoubtedly a human type, whom I myself have encountered in three different countries, who would indeed have a hard time with any heaven that did not allow them to meddle in other people’s business. Nevertheless they want to go there, or take it for granted that they will inevitably go there.

From this it would seem to follow that their heaven is a meddling sort of place. In whose business would they then be meddling? It may be assumed that this sort of person is quite certain that our sort of person is bound for the Other Place. If that is the case then they have simply failed to think it through. In that case, in whose business would they meddle? That heaven has two classes, the meddlers (them) and the meddled-in (us), is so bizarre an idea that I have never encountered anyone who believed in it, or at least admitted to doing so. That the meddlers of heaven would have special rights over the denizens of hell, same applies. So the only conclusion left is Faulkner’s, that such people will have a miserable time in heaven.

(Fiddle date-stamp to August 7, 2011)

Posted on September 24, 2020 at 19:08 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, The Longest Con, Miscellaneous