Bow Down Before My Reproduction

Orlando Figes’ book “The Whisperers”, on silence and trauma during and after Stalin’s Terror, is a heartbreaking read. Despite the incredible cruelty and misery he chronicles, however, some part of my mind could not help responding in a way he would neither have intended nor wanted.

I noticed, in the many old Russian family portraits now being published for the first time, how uncomfortable the children always looked. Of course, in those days it took a lot longer to make a photograph. I remember my own grandfather, who always looked grimmer than the Reaper. This was partly because he was a Welsh Baptist minister, and so was obliged to look suitably stern, piety being indistinguishable from bellyache. But quite apart from the worm theology, it was surely easier to hold a grim expression for the long exposures than to hold a smile. On this take, children looked uncomfortable in old photographs because it was simply not given them to intimidate the viewer like the patriarchs and prophets, and their natural expressions could not long survive that particular technology.

That is one explanation. But the parade of uncomfortable children in this collection made me wonder: could it also be because they knew that the whole point of a family photograph was to document their progenitors’ reproductive success, and the point of that in turn was to poke contemporaries in the eye? That is to say, the children looked uncomfortably aware of being merely Parental Status Technology.

Funnily enough, it was not long after reading Figes that I was looking at the family-bragging portrait of Henry VIII with his three children. It has been suggested that the columns are there to show that the two princesses (Mary and Elizabeth) were “spares” to the true family unit – the absolute monarch together with his male offspring and with Jane Seymour, who was long dead at the time but as Edward’s mother more valuable for propaganda purposes than the living queen Catherine Parr.

Of course, as sovereign Henry had the excuse that his successful reproduction affected the welfare of everybody in the kingdom. The individuals in Figes’ book, in the albums of my childhood and for all I know on Facebook today, seem equally full of themselves – without having that crucial justification but still demanding the same admiration.

On Snow White As The Centre Of Male Attention

The potential of Snow White and her seven devoted male companions has been amply exploited in porn – it is easiest to do in animation, of course. There are even cartoons floating around online showing Snow White solo but with her breasts bare; she is much older than in the 1937 version but nevertheless instantly recognisable by her bodice, slashed sleeves, high collar and hairstyle.

Some people find even the still image offensive. They should then be asked why exactly. What is it about the combination of Snow White and sex that we so earnestly wish not to think about? The European folk tales in general are after all chock-full of sex and sometimes very nasty sex too. Did Disney set out to de-eroticise the genre, and actually succeed?

We need not be detained by the fact that in the originals, she offers only to “keep house” for the dwarves. We all know what that really means, for Catholic priests and everybody else. If at the beginning the character herself did not know, in time she would be enlightened.

In the principal source story, Snow White is pre-pubescent, and that is definitely icky, but most modern visual treatments are of a post-pubescent female. Which serves to revive my question as why a cartoon character shown as mature and with superb perky breasts should be so offensive. And in any case, how on earth can being “the fairest of them all” fail to relate somehow to sexuality, whether present or future; what else would it be for?

So perhaps it is the idea of a nubile girl with seven bearded partners that is so upsetting. The stumbling-block would then be the age-discordance, which our culture finds more outrageous than most. Now, the seven miners did not necessarily have to be ancient. Old Germanic “dwarves” probably began as some kind of nature spirit, and it is thought that their being small and ugly is a later development. In all modern visuals, however, the dwarves are neither Dark Elf metalsmiths nor Tolkienesque axe-wielders, and certainly not the Velasquez achondroplasics, but merely short bearded men in their fifties and upwards. And the sexuality of “dirty” old men is the last redoubt of popular opprobrium, which political correctness has not touched and for good reasons of evolutionary biology never will.

Offensiveness can hardly lie in the polyamory per se. If a lady chooses to have seven bedmates, who nowadays can object to that? You go, girl! Perhaps the problem is how victim theology now demands that gangbangs be perceived as invariably coercive rather than (at least sometimes) a woman wanting the narcissistic supply – that is, wanting to be the centre of male attention. And this is a definite choice on our part, driven by male fear of female capacity.

Snow White might therefore be an extreme case of the theme that dominates all chicklit, namely a female keeping several men in play and thus drawing on the multiple economic and emotional resources of a de facto harem. While at the same time spouting off about romance and fulfilment and what have you. The thing that we really, really do not want to think about is not so much the very young girl of the original Snow White story having sex as it is female strategising.

Posted on November 6, 2018 at 16:05 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment

The Starbucks Psychometric

Every day I spend some time on a comfortable bench in my local Starbucks, drilling my kanji. For I have set myself to learn as many Chinese characters (actually via the Japanese elementary-school syllabus) as possible, primarily as a way of staving off senility: “use it or lose it” as they say. Other people may do crosswords or Sudoku in the same spirit, and good luck to them, but these puzzles simply do not interest me.

Chinese tourists and students generally take an interest in what I am doing, presumably because they do not see very many old codgers learning to write their ideograms. Exactly the same goes, of course, for Japanese, while educated Koreans are familiar with the classical Chinese characters. Such curiosity can trump even the Asian Millennials’ addiction to their smartphone screens. Some Europeans and Americans also enquire. Norwegians ask but rarely, for they are in general an astonishingly incurious people.

Or perhaps this is because higher-educated Norwegians are not the core Starbucks market. This consists of teenagers with unlimited funds – they often order food and drink then leave without having touched it – combined with an unlimited indifference to everything beyond fashion and Facebook. Which is exclusively what they talk about, hour after hour. Females who are concerned only with cliques, it has been said, remain fourteen forever; and this is the best place to watch them doing it.

At my Starbucks there is a minority of intellectual types, even a philosophy professor, but also a minority of pigs. This type may be defined by his shoving past a person standing two feet from a door labelled W.C. in foot-high letters to rattle the handle or even enter first. Even when not doing this, they exude an air of menace, it is something about the way in which they take up space. Meanwhile, other customers are whereas other exuding an air of general inoffensiveness. Is this the general division of humanity into predators and prey, or is it something more specific to Starbucks? I am by no means sure, but would suggest that if the theme of being stuck at a certain age is part of the subculture, then the Starbucks customer base includes not only does not apply solely to the female students who clearly intend to remain fourteen forever but also men in their forties who just as clearly intend forever to remain the 14-year-old schoolyard bully.

Probably the teenagers of all countries are squealing narcissists. It should be noted that they are the core market for practically everything, on the grounds that they have such low sales resistance. Cerebral underdevelopment combined with extreme others-dependence is a lethal combination for world culture.

Given the core market, therefore, I do wonder whether the clinical psychologists should borrow the name of this actually well-run chain to create a new psychometric. They could measure everyone along the dimensions not only of extroversion, risk aversion, authoritarianism and so forth, but also of “Starbuckery”. One end of the spectrum would be nerdhood, which is self-evidently uncool and risible, the other extreme would involve an extremely limited mental horizon. Perhaps the indifference to everything outside the cool-kids status bubble is related to attention-deficit disorder.

I have noticed that children as young as three know what Starbucks is, and bully their parents to go inside. So the test could be applied at primary school.

Finally, I wonder whether the astonishingly long-winded ordering options that seem so mandatory at a Starbucks are powered by the lack of choice in other aspects of life. If Marcuse said something similar in his day, well, it has all gotten so much worse since the Sixties.

Posted on October 29, 2018 at 19:47 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, The Monkey Agenda

The Nightmare Of Juventus

Everyone will surely be well aware that the film “If …”, in which bullied schoolboys gun down the prefects, masters, stuffed-shirt Governors, rich parents and so forth at a public-school Speech Day, was a fantasy sequence. In the Britain of 1968 not even gangsters, let alone alienated teenagers, had access to automatic weapons. But the audience will at least know what a Speech Day was.

My own school also maintained Combined Cadet Forces, with enough square-bashing to delight the heart of an 18th-century king, not only on Speech Day but also on all Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Some weekends under canvas, I think. The masters held whatever rank they had achieved during the war and the prefects doubled as corporals and sergeants; on certain days of the week, therefore, you would be taught your languages or math by people in military uniform.

Of course, this sort of thing was only considered absurd or offensive when the Communists did it. Schoolchildren under Mao Zedong wickedly marched with wooden guns, whereas ours were the real thing, even though I am not sure about the ammunition. The whole thing was designed to train the boys of a particular class to be officers in the next war. Because in twentieth-century Britain, “mudbloods” did not rise from the ranks, neither in the Army nor in industry and finance. You were born to command, or not.

You think that is weird? My own school also had an annual public exercise in swimming strokes and in breaking the grasp of a drowning person, performed in pairs by the whole school whether they could in fact swim or not. This might have been part of Speech Day or else a separate department of the petting zoo, I cannot now remember.

In itself the idea of an annual school concert is far from weird. Probably most scholastic institutions do it, as well as a school play. People brought up under a different system might find two particular aspects more bizarre. One, that it was both universal and not in the least voluntary. Ability to sing was not remotely a requirement, and there was no possible excuse other than having been run over by a train the previous day. The boys were not even taught to sing as a choir; that was simply not how this school’s mind worked. You were put on a stage and ordered to sing, end of story. I do not remember what they did about the solo parts; that did not concern me.

The second bizarre aspect was the choice of material. It was always Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Why Elgar? Other than his being a native of a country that had not distinguished itself in music for centuries, I have no idea. The roots of the school were Church of England, the work had been banned by the local Anglican bishop a generation previously, so the choice could have had nothing to do with Cardinal Newman. (Unless, perhaps, the school in general was modelled on the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.) Why the journey of an old man from death to judgment? I have even less idea. We were not even told that this is what it was; for all we knew at the time, Gerontius was just the guy’s name. Telling us that it was Latin for “old man”, or why we were singing about his post-mortem experiences, was equally well not how the school’s mind worked.

Performing unpleasant and utterly meaningless tasks is a vital part of the life of the soldier, so my only hypothesis is that having to sing (for some values of the word “sing”) Elgar’s oratorio was deeply connected with the Prussian strutting of the masters and prefects pretending to defend the Brutish Empire.

(Fiddle date-stamp to February 11, 2011)

There Is No Alternative

For millennia, probably ever since the Agricultural Revolution, people have been complaining about one another’s pursuit of wealth and worldly success. All right, all right, grinding the faces of the poor for the sake of gold-plated bathtubs is indeed horrible, but wait a moment. Do we ever wax moralistic about a lamb’s wanting to eat grass, or condemn a lioness for chasing down gazelles? No, we are content to accept the “nature” (feeding and reproduction) of all species other than our own.

The difference appears to be threefold. One, we expect more from human beings than the pursuit of food and sex. Which is wishful thinking. Two, the animals do not have our so very complicated forms of feeding themselves and accumulating for the future. At any rate neither the grazers nor the predatory mammals can store more than they can eat at the moment, and enslaving others of their kind to gather their food is quite beyond them. Although it may not be quite true to say that predators never kill more than they can eat; perhaps the fox in the hen-house agrees with human plutocrats that “who dies with the most, wins”.

Three, once we invent a critique of extraction above and beyond one’s own needs, there is nothing to prevent us applying this further and further down the scale, until at the last we arrive at the equation of sinful materialism with someone else’s money. It would be amusing to watch someone try to translate that into Rabbit. “I support myself on this meadow here; but browsing that meadow there is Materialism”.

I would like to graze that patch or eat that prey myself rather than watch you do it. That we humans can express this desire as an abstract principle, the mere vocalisation of which gets us immediate self-esteem and perhaps even the esteem of others, is no doubt a side-effect of the big brains we evolved in order to screw one another over.

If this sounds like something Ayn Rand might say, well, I am wondering whether she actually had the right of it in purely descriptive terms: whether the language of redistribution does in fact boil down to “Thanks for catching that, now let me eat it instead”. The main difference between Rand and myself would then be the way in which she failed to take the final step between her ethic of selfishness and outright Gnostic misanthropy. She squared the circle by means of her aristocratic sense of being a superior variety of human. Myself, I would keep her sense of anti-materialistic dogmas applying only to the other guy’s nutrition while rejecting her megalomania.

(Fiddle date-stamp to October 8, 2010)

Posted on October 15, 2018 at 17:01 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, Robber Bands Great And Small

A Prize Essay – Where Ricardo Went Wrong?

Throughout my lifetime everybody has been incessantly informed what a mistaken notion was mercantilism and how cosmically correct was Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, which mandates international trade even in those goods you can actually produce for yourself. Ye shall know the tree by the fruits thereof, and an economic theory that produced the world described by Charles Dickens (now making a comeback) must surely have something wrong with it. Not that Soviet Communism was any better, but the capitalist system as modified by a holy terror of bloody revolution was not in fact so bad. I say this having myself grown up under it.

It is a great and valuable principle that whatsoever everybody knows to be true generally just isn’t so. Humanity believed for a long, long time in the Galenic theory of humours and in astrology. If David Ricardo, who tended to derive his opinions from mathematics rather than practical experience, had made a fundamental mistake back in the early nineteenth century, would his paradigm then be discredited? Or would we continue to teach him as orthodoxy, ignoring even the caveats of the man himself? When, for example, Ricardo wrote that “most men of property [will be] satisfied with a low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek[ing] a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations”, he was plainly wrong. Even then, and far more so now. Indeed, the consensus history of his own country’s later decline seems to be that its businessmen scorned investment in domestic plant in favour of overseas get-rich-quick schemes.

Although Schumpeter and others have criticised certain logical fallacies inherent in Ricardo’s theory of free trade, I wonder how deep they actually penetrated. Might there be a case for offering a big cash prize to the person who first demonstrates, not merely that “comparative advantage” does not apply under all technological and developmental conditions, which is pretty well accepted, but that Ricardo made a more fundamental error still. Might he have confused some notional good of all with the good of a few corrupt operators? Yes, free trade and deregulation has brought economic expansion, and will continue to bring it, provided that we define “economic expansion” as the good of said corrupt operators, who find it very convenient to be identified with “society”. Yes, free trade brought cheap food, but was it self-evidently such a good thing to allow metropolitan populations to grow far beyond sustainability?

If, on the other hand, crude protectionism helped lead to the Second World War, no wonder people have subsequently been so afraid of it. So perhaps we need someone to make an intellectual case for a more level-headed kind of mercantilism. Perhaps the mere prefixing of mercantilism with a “neo” will be enough to win this battle. After all, it worked for liberalism, didn’t it?

(Fiddle date-stamp to December 17, 2011)

Posted on October 8, 2018 at 18:39 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, Some Modest Proposals

The End-Point of Dualism?

I was reading somewhere that for a Gnostic Dualist the biggest bad guys after the Demiurge himself were Adam and Noah, because these accomplished the continuation of the evil that is Creation. Yes, I see how that must follow. But I was startled by a rider to this doctrine, that the moral life is “just another temptation of satanael”. What, then, are we supposed to do? It was not made clear. David Lindsay seemed to be taking the same line in his Voyage to Arcturus, which I must confess to not understanding one bit.

(Fiddle date-stamp to 27 February 2011)

Posted on October 2, 2018 at 21:01 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: AGAINST NATURE, Defying The Demiurge

The King Of The Saucy Postcard

I needed the Wikipedia for the statistics on how the miserably underpaid Donald McGill produced 12,000 designs for his “seaside postcards”. These ran ultimately to 200 million copies, from which he saw no royalties. I would not have known that at the time, but the genre itself I remember perfectly well from my childhood. This must necessarily have been well after the initial smashing of the prewar industry by “local censorship committees” (what a Stalinist expression!) in 1954. It revived somewhat in the Sixties, which by no means looked the same among the English provincial lower-middle classes as they did in California.

George Orwell treated seaside postcards as expressive of proletarian culture. This cannot be the whole story. Although my background was not working class, I was nevertheless intensely exposed to the Art of Donald McGill. Sociologists may talk about them being the only printed versions of music-hall jokes, but in fact this low humour not only lived on into the early TV comedy shows but utterly dominated them. These shows the middle classes also watched, if only to prove that they could afford televisions. My father would roar with laughter at the most antediluvian kilt joke, while punishing me for far lesser infractions of the great gentility code of No-Sex-Please-We’re-British.

I could have been exposed to Donald McGill only on visits to the seaside. Given that we lived far inland, therefore, something about the world portrayed in the naughty postcard must have resonated with what I saw around me the rest of the year. The Wikipedia site describes a “working-class outlook that youth and adventure, and even individual life, end with marriage” and “a worm’s-eye view of life where marriage is a dirty joke or a comic disaster”.

Well, not always so comic. The example chosen to illustrate the Wikipedia page is from McGill’s cheerfully “saucy” double-entendre, but what I remember best was desperately pessimistic. In this world, a man’s life ended with marriage because sex was restricted to the honeymoon. Women never saw conjugal relations as anything but bait. The McGill designs I remember were all about the scrawny milquetoast being bullied by the obese battleship. He has not had sex since exactly 30 days after his wedding and the wife was ready to belt him one with the rolling-pin for even thinking about it. McGill’s married woman is an archetypal zero-sum thinker: if her husband gets anything he wants, whether sex or peace and quiet in the potting-shed, it necessarily means less of whatever she wants.

The men of the world I remember remained horny for life, while the women switched overnight from real or fake libido to savage bluenosery, or pretended to. I never saw the slightest real-life approach to Terry Pratchett’s comic creation “Nanny Ogg”; had she existed in my vicinity, we would no doubt have moved. My parents certainly disapproved of a contemporary’s, who in their forties were obviously still having sex with gusto.

At some level, marriage as portrayed by McGill – for the man, a matter of ferocious nagging, celibacy and enslavement – was what I expected and what I therefore avoided. Well, wouldn’t you? Perhaps the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 was after all onto something, though for quite the wrong reasons. Donald McGill may indeed have “depraved and corrupted” me by destroying my capacity for a normal perception of marriage.

Sabotage In Petrograd

Orlando Figes’ magisterial history of the Russian Revolution mentions accusations of “sabotage” by Petrograd industrialists. Now, that word derives from discontented workers smashing the modern machinery that replaced them. So what would it mean for the employer to commit sabotage? As far as I could see, and I would have appreciated greater detail, the Bolsheviks meant that the manufacturer was running down production. Why he should do this in the middle of a losing war was unclear, but I assume they were claiming sinister reasons of personal profit.

One is reminded of the current mania for “financialisation”, which seems to involve getting rich while not actually producing anything, by means that would once have been called “projection” (by Swift), “speculation” or “corruption”. The key to this new century appears to be that when you dismantle anything, you can sell the pieces for more than the functioning whole had been worth. In which case there must have been something amiss with our previous valuation.

This has all happened before. When the Franks smashed the Byzantine Empire in 1204, they parcelled out the wreckage to freebooters. The operation has been compared to taking a hammer to a fine watch and then auctioning the components separately. It obviously worked out for certain individuals. In something of the same way, under Thatcher the obsolescent British industry inherited from a century of imperial distraction by overseas profits was not refurbished but annihilated. Meanwhile, the Koreans and their neighbours seemed to be doing exactly the opposite.

Were it really to be the case that a hegemonic China were to take an interest in making things to dig with, while the old West cared only about taking apart the spade in order to do derivative financial acrobatics with the handle and the blade separately, then our tame media will have to work harder on the Sinophobia. Because otherwise the “ordinary minds” in our population will tend to take the Chinese side.

(Fiddle date-stamp to September 7, 2009)

Posted on September 17, 2018 at 09:28 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, The Age Of Enron-cence

The Inferior Animal On The Platform

If you always seem to wait 14 minutes for a train that runs at 15-minute intervals, is that merely your imagination? There are certainly cognitive processes that can make such patterns appear out of randomness; for example if you forget the times when you caught the just-arriving train, and remember only the just-missed departures.

Another possibility here is that you are more inclined than the average to assume that you are getting special maltreatment from Fate. Why some people make that assumption and others do not would then be the question. The answer in turn is probably that these are people who know themselves to belong at the bottom of the pack. They are then incorrectly but understandably projecting their biological inferiority onto the railways. In that sense, and in that sense only, we are talking about a perfectly real phenomenon.

If you are what – for lack of anything better – we might call a Zeta animal (Omega being taken for other purposes), then by the time you are old enough to take the train without Mummy, you will know it. This awareness of your proper place in the pack cannot but affect your perception of everything else. So your train has always just left, your butty always falls jam side down, the store clerk always serves someone else first, and so on and so forth.

In a society that actually conformed to Nature, you would most certainly never get to reproduce, and might even be eliminated altogether before getting to such an age. The most important question may therefore be why so many losers have used their 14 minutes on the station platform to spin philosophies praising a world that is indeed out to get them.

Posted on September 10, 2018 at 16:10 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment