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 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 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. The only counterweight among this generation appears to be ecological idealism, something I respect even while considering the battle long lost.

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 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.

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

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

No To Political “Movements”

I have just been reading about the nineteenth-century assumption that too much sitting caused constipation, which in turn caused political disgruntlement. Could it really be that simple?

That a sedentary lifestyle conduces to constipation is probably quite true. The trouble comes with the second step of the argument. “Disgruntlement” is a heavily loaded term, implying a regrettable deviation from how things ought to be. When applied to politics, the assumption is that we should all be so to speak perfectly gruntled – that is to say, with our betters. “Disgruntlement” thus shares a rhetorical universe with froward “malcontents”, ranting “rabble-rousers”, insolent “tub-thumpers”, and other purportedly objective condemnations of those who have their enthusiasm for their rulers well under control.

If healthy sports and games really built the Empire, not only by rendering the British able to venture into the challenging terrain of exciting new peoples and kill them, but also by reducing the disgruntlement with one’s social superiors consequent upon constipation, then perhaps we should make a case for eschewing dietary fibre. A more sluggish digestion might help us to look around and see more clearly what is being done to us.

On Pathetic Male Neediness

In Isabel Allende’s novel Daughter of Fortune, I read how the Californian Forty-Niners used to walk miles merely to look at a woman. Her just sitting there was enough. In the miners’ dance, moreover, having a kerchief in your belt meant that you were playing a woman, and would be asked to step out. The second item reminded me of the origins of the tango, danced by customers outside the brothel with one another. If any thinker about gender has mentioned the latter two habits, it would surely have been Camille Paglia; but I do not know whether she ever encountered Allende’s marvellous example of the male need even for the most trivial amount of female company.

Paglia’s work on the history of art concentrated on paintings as a source of nekkid wimmin; Boucher was essentially for jacking off to. The more high-minded approach to “Art” seems to require a belief in some kind of female spiritual superiority, of which men can vicariously partake – either by looking at an Old Master nude, or walking miles just to gaze at a seated woman. But if we suggest that this male belief in Das Ewige-Weibliche comes from having a mother, then we need to ask why women do not have it too? Well, perhaps half the women honestly believe that they are themselves a window onto a better world, while the others find the scam lucrative.

However that may be, the extreme example of those footsore Forty-Niners may suggest something to the present generation of men. We have all grown up as the product of centuries of quasi-religious veneration of women and many decades of ruthless mockery of what used to be considered specifically male values. Which need not mean killing people in duels over silly points of honour; that equation is just precisely what has been so long foisted upon us. The fact that ninety-nine people out of a hundred assume that male separatism, literal or psychic, must be synonymous with rape or at least Trumpish groping is the fruit of this long eclipse of the masculine. Let us therefore develop a new creature: a modest, courteous, and celibate gentleman, all his energies devoted to science, arts and letters. Or even gardening!

May The Force Be With You

I take my title from the modern pop-culture greeting, so common as to be known even to me, who am far from being a fan of Star Wars. When people start putting “Jedi” on their census forms, perhaps we should consider what people actually mean by it. What exactly is The Force supposed to be?

More urgently, perhaps, we might as ourselves why we have chosen precisely that word as a shorthand for something-or-other. The thing that Jedi Knights are supposed to employ for good, the heart of the universe, is given a name that in other contexts means either a body of soldiers, the police, or thumping somebody to make him do what we want – but was this really a good idea? I doubt people truly want to go round saying, “May the Military Formation be with you” or “May Violence be with you”. But that is what they risk suggesting.

As a term of physics, on the other hand, “Force” is part of a very unfortunate metaphorical conglomeration chosen several centuries ago. The operations of a “clockwork universe” were described in terminology taken from human concepts of rules and coercion. (Biology had to wait its turn, the model 17th-century sciences were mechanics and chemistry.) Einstein later argued that it was not right to think of gravity, which was omnipresent, as a “force” at all, but ordinary people never took this on board.

Calling an observed correlation or regularity a “Law” of Nature was by no means logically inevitable. It was driven by a belief in a creating deity that could hardly, in those days, be publicly repudiated. The nearest that age could get to a godless universe was Deism, according to which the Sky Man wound up the clockwork and set it ticking, but then refrained from day-to-day interference. In theory observed regularities might instead be called just “patterns”, but since the concept of god was modelled both conceptually and emotionally on human kingship, taking the terminology from human legislation was probably unavoidable. The term “Laws” thus implies someone standing behind Nature and giving her orders. Or at least, it implies a something that compels the phenomena to happen in “obedience” to these “laws”.

But that compulsion is just precisely the thing that we cannot observe. As far as I know, David Hume was the first to point out that we do not see this thing called “causation” happening. What we do see is regularity, or correlation. If X occurs, then Y occurs. It always occurs, and occurs close in time and space to X. That is what we observe, end of story. We must go beyond the empirical evidence to speculate that in some way Y had to happen. Our minds, conditioned by millennia of reward and punishment under monarchs and warlords, attribute to the phenomena of the natural world the coercion that we know in our own flesh. Even consciously regarding phenomena of mechanical or planetary motions as entirely inanimate, does not stop us projecting onto them the familiar patterns of human power.

Motivation for our own action we understand so to speak from inside, which means understanding what is nowadays called social engineering. The king threatens to flog us, behead us or torture our families if we do not do as he says; or at best he bribes us to do his will; we then imagine a similar coercion happening to inanimate objects, and denote this by the impersonal-seeming word “force”. But the term “force” is not actually impersonal, it is a metaphor. A third party can observe the king giving us a motivation to do something, but we cannot observe an equivalent “compulsion” acting on a billiard ball, or on a planet.

Ultimately, therefore, the term “force” is just hand-waving – it says that stuff always happens, with the question of why it happens remaining beyond our reach. Names such as “gravity” are merely ignotum-per-ignotius dodges for transferring the problem to a higher level of generality. When Sartre said that Nature had no laws, only habits, he was using another anthropomorphism; but at least he reminded us that we could have used a language other than that of obedience to law and coercion by superior force.

The attraction of the ideas of law and force must surely lie in the illusion of someone – rather like the warlord we already know – operating the gears and levers of an inanimate universe in much the same way that the warlord dispatches his soldiers and police. If there really were such a personage, we might then influence him, both to benefit ourselves and to punish everyone who annoys us. We project our own intra-group violence and its later elaboration in “law” onto the whole universe, because it has to be all about us. And yet the universe is under no obligation to conform to our monkey-hierarchy metaphors.

In the last analysis, asking “why?” of any inanimate phenomenon is therefore a category mistake, a projection onto the universe of what we know about ourselves – namely that we have “reasons” for doing things. Unless the universe as a whole is actually sentient and has reasons not unlike our own, asking why things happen is sheer anthropomorphism. The Thusness of things may not require a Why.

The Battle Of Gettyburqa

While I was living in an African country, with a culture wildly promiscuous yet strangely bashful about nudity, the former colonial power was having conniptions about allowing the burqa on beaches. At one time and place it was actually banned, with an explicit rider that went far beyond the idea that a woman could go nude or topless if she wanted to. No, women going to the beach were now informed that they were obliged to show skin, or else. Not to do so was un-French. Apparently “Society” was still in the business of saying what clothing a woman could don, except that now she had to wear the opposite of what it had mandated a hundred years ago.

This struck me as a highly peculiar thing to enact, since in all other contexts having one’s body looked at was supposed to be such a dreadful fate. Two questions occurred to me: were all the people insisting that Frenchwomen should be legally compelled to show their skin on beaches male lechers? And if the showing of a bare midriff was now the admission ticket to society itself, at what age should it start and finish? That is, was it now the case that a 15-year-old Muslim girl ought not to show skin but that her mother should be obliged to do so?

A few years later the Alternativ für Deutschland ran a poster campaign showing two frolicking young ladies underneath the text, Burkas? Wir steh’n Bikini. Whether the pun of my title comes from the party itself or from some Web proliferator, I do not actually know.

One need not be a SJW to wonder, “Who is this ‘we’, kemosabe?” The AfD’s first person plural makes me almost uncomfortable as did the French burqa ban. Perhaps my unwillingness to leap from personal tastes to state coercion makes me the last of the liberals.

Obviously nobody on either side has been legislating for males anyway. Which in my case is just as well, as I have fair skin and use the textile method of sunblock in rather the Victorian manner. Like Prufrock, then, let me “wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach”.