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
In: AGAINST NATURE, Preface

A Forgotten Malady

The translator’s introduction to the first novel I read by Émile Zola talked about his contemporary Cesare Lombroso with his – to our eyes – arrant nonsense about criminal types. I doubt I would have otherwise encountered the nineteenth-century term “spermatic intoxication”, although I was well acquainted with its opposite.

That is, I was well aware of the Ancient, medieval and Taoist belief that a man had only so many ejaculations in his life and was well advised not to waste them. This notion survived into our own time, lightly disguised as General Jack D. Ripper’s terror over contamination of his Vital Bodily Fluids.

“Spermatic intoxication”, on the other hand, would seem to mean that a man would instead be sickened by not ejaculating. And this belief is equally extant nowadays, though not under Lombroso’s label. A term one may meet instead in highly non-academic contexts is “despunking”. By this is meant that men require frequent testicular voiding, though it is never made clear what will happen to them if they are not duly emptied. Men’s percentage from this notion is only too obvious, but outside of bien-pensant circles it is espoused by many a woman also. I suspect that it is in fact the ruling paradigm of Africa and South-East Asia.

Well, which way round is it? As far as I know, neither belief is actually correct. It would be interesting to trace the two perfectly opposite but erroneous beliefs through history. Funnily enough, it followed from the theory of humours that men were weakened by ejaculation but that female satisfaction was healthy. Medieval doctors, who even believed in squirting, thought the female orgasm essential to conception. We are not the first generation to think that a woman should have her bells rung.

(Fiddle date-stamp to September 25, 2009)

Rape On The Railways

Reading Emile Zola’s The Beast Within and its translator’s introduction, I am impressed by how much murder, robbery and rape took place on the early railways. The fuss about unaccompanied females was not the mysteriously all-explaining “repression” we invoked in the Sixties, but something quite different. For the Victorian “gentleman” was actually a serial rapist, at least of his social inferiors.

I myself remember the corridorless carriage, but in those days there was no other kind. Should a malefactor step into one of the compartments with you from one station, you were at his mercy until the next. Although the Wiki page does not say so, I wonder whether the reason why train staff were called “guards” was that they had to protect not only the freight but also the bodily integrity of their female passengers. Since the term was carried over from stagecoaches, it seems likely enough.

The ladies-only carriage has seen a revival in our time. I have encountered them in Japan and there is pressure to deploy more of them in India. We males survived this in the 19th century, so I suppose that we can survive it again. (Let me only hope that the railways do not treat the gendered carriages like the old first and second class, assigning each woman ten seats to herself but giving men standing room only.) Ladies-only carriages would, after all, be cheaper than hiring human security, which would reduce the bottom line. Or perhaps we could revive another Victorian solution, the steel hatpin.

(Fiddle date-stamp to November 27, 2011)

Why The Waltz?

One of the earworms from which I suffer from time to time is the Radetsky March by Strauss Senior. If the Blue Danube (by his son) can be regarded as an unofficial Austrian national anthem, so too can this.

Meeting Viennese popular music again in Claudio Magris’ travelogue of the Danube inspired me to research the waltz. When I was about 13 my parents, who conceptually belonged to a nineteenth century that they had never actually seen, wanted me to learn it and thereby meet girls. They claimed that failure to do so was due to my inability to ballroom-dance, though this being already the Sixties I was not entirely convinced.

I have previously waxed sarcastic about the finding of “romance” in mossy castle walls when it is not detected in Camp Bastion or Abu Ghraib, which fulfil just precisely the same function. Something similar might be said about the way in which costume dramas venerate what is essentially teenage gallantry in extremely expensive clothes – while at the same time mocking the disco era and its successors. But how exactly did the Saturday Night Fever of our own time differ from that of the late Habsburgs?

If we look at the waltz from an evolutionary perspective, we shall probably recognise it as a display of physical mastery. The same goes for all dancing, of course, but grace (something hard to define but we all know it when we see it) may even be a supreme biological signal.

The waltz was quite a revolutionary departure from the stately court dances in which the participants did not actually touch – although the peasants, to whom the waltz can be traced, certainly did. No, as compared with the minuets of Mozart’s day the waltz was an excuse for a good grope, and thus sociologically belongs together with the drive-in movie. In the Renaissance there had been even a step called the volta, in which the man more or less lifts the woman by the pussy, but the Viennese waltz turned such trumpery goings-on into middle-class property. If, as some aver, young people now go to clubs in order to fuck perfect strangers on the dance-floor, then the waltz was the first step on that particular road, and so perhaps its critics had a point.

(Fiddle date-stamp to May 22, 2011)

Posted on August 15, 2018 at 17:51 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Fine Feathers

The Inadmissible Drive

As late as the end of the Seventies, my second university held a Rag Week at which students were put up for sale as “slaves” to other students. It was stipulated that the acquisitions were to do the purchasing students’ housekeeping rather than provide sexual services, but nobody appeared to have had compunctions about modelling the stunt on the institution of chattel slavery as such – until students of Afro-Caribbean descent, none of whom had been on the student committee, understandably protested.

The initiative was stupid and horrible, but might nevertheless serve to remind us of a truth that dares not speak its name – that everyone wants to have slaves. Whatever they like to pretend about their superhuman virtue, women in reality want to get off their knees and put someone else onto them. I have elsewhere touched on Sisera’s mother in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:30) and on the wives of the warriors of the Homeric Age. Their menfolk might have enjoyed the coercive sex with the enemy princesses, but who had the greatest interest in acquiring new warm bodies to do the heavy housework?

Can we understand Hitler’s immense popularity before about 1943 without remembering the little people who were promised new land in the East, complete with Ukrainian serfs to till it for them? Had Operation Sealion succeeded, the plan was to transfer the entire male British population to Germany as slave labour. They would have attracted as much sympathy as the other wretches whom the German civilians passed every day, no more no less. The Holocaust, which had been about disregarding precisely these labour economics, has distracted us from what the Third Reich has to teach us about human nature ¬– that not everyone wants to exterminate the outsider, but by jingo, everyone wants to take his stuff and have her scrub her floors!

What, then, would happen if we offered Mrs. Average Briton and Mr. Main Street American a domestic servant, free, gratis and for nothing? The era that put the Rosie the Riveter back into “the home” also saw, let us remember, the zenith of the robot genre. Not only did the Fifties embrace nuclear power that was safe, clean and too cheap to meter – they also looked forward to flying cars that would take off from suburban lawns tended by metal men who needed no paying, feeding or fuelling (thus probably in defiance of the laws of thermodynamics, but never mind) and who never disobeyed you. The dread that a robot might subvert the Asimovian laws to schtup the master’s wife (yes, really, there were stories like that) shows us exactly where this dream came from.

Nowadays our human slaves are far away and invisible. The ordinary people of the rich countries certainly protest about no longer having factory jobs to go to. About the slave-labour prices of the clothes and trinkets they can buy with their doles, not so much. Perhaps globalisation has been misorganised and missold: instead of exporting the jobs, the elite should have imported even more people, with so-and-so many assigned to each freeborn citizen, to scrub the floors of Middle America. Or even have their babies – Margaret Atwood saw this coming as far back as 1985.

Posted on August 8, 2018 at 20:02 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE ENSLAVING MAMMAL, The Universal Template