“Give Me Back The Berlin Wall, Give Me Stalin And St. Paul”

I have seen the future, too, brother, though presumably in a different place from Leonard Cohen, and yes, it is murder. Some years before going to that place, I had seen much of the future and started this website to cover both the coming Great Immiseration and many other things that weighed on my heart. But it has been so much worse than I expected. Although I used to joke that the Confederacy actually won the Civil War but it took over 150 years for us to notice, the blatancy and aggression of the return of the property-owning and race-based concept in the middle of a very different technological situation has astonished me.

But those who have not yet understood what is coming down the line never will, so here I am merely going to use Leonard Cohen as a hook upon which to hang something else.

I have never worn a black leather jacket like Stalin and other early Bolsheviks, but I have worn a leather peaked cap au Lenin. I have never worn a Mao-suit either, but to general astonishment I would say that I fully get the idea of everyone wearing the same. On the kibbutz we drew uniform work clothes from the laundry, not our “own” garments.

As an ideal, this does not work for long, for human self-promotion is obviously not going to be eradicated, while some people can make their uniform look chic and others can’t. Myself, I belong not to the segment of humanity that could be dragged through rivers and hedges and yet look as if they were clad in the most expensive possible suit, but the opposite segment – the one that could be fitted out in the most expensive possible suit and within five minutes look as if dragged through rivers and hedges. Perhaps it is for that very reason, among others, that I have a sneaking sympathy for the old Communist levelling. I also get why Muslim converts say that hijab reduces the pressure to sexual display and makes them more visible as merely people. Or perhaps it comes from my loathing of all advertising, or perhaps again I am simply a monk manqué.

(Fiddle date-stamp to May 23, 2011)

Posted on January 17, 2022 at 17:56 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Fine Feathers

What Happens When Words Disappear? Part Four

The obsolete words treated so far in this my mini-series – Jelly-bean, Fop, Heel, Rake and Mountebank – have tended to be for male types. If we want to study obsolete words for female types, however, the list is vastly longer. About some of these words I myself would say “good riddance”, but other omissions have serious consequences that deserve unpacking.

Long before the term Woke was invented, I had a straw boss who forbade the use of the word “bitch”, not merely as a synonym for one’s girlfriend or woman in general – something I find utterly revolting anyway – but to describe certain a kind of behaviour in either sex. The same applied to “bitchy”, and it was absolutely no defence that I could confess to being sometimes bitchy myself. Her reason for the ban was that the use of a female canine to derogate anybody or anything was inherently offensive. Calling someone a dog or a pig would have been all right, as this would not involve femaleness. I did not essay the term “catty” for a kind of behaviour, indeed a related one; no doubt this would have been prohibited but only if used about a woman, as I would then be implying that she was an animal. “Vixen” would have gotten me into even worse trouble; and indeed it is rarely heard now. How fortunate I was to be able to “kvetch” about something instead of bitching.

It should be immediately obvious that this was a game with two objectives. The one was self-assertion by convicting the other person of having said a Bad Word (Wash out your mouth with soap and water!), a form of pure one-upmanship that has always been with us and that is never going away. We might call it Critical Mothering. The other deserves more attention: its aim is to render impossible any mention of a well-known but unpopular kind of behaviour, whatever the gender of the perpetrator. Next comes the cui bono? – who benefits from this? Anyone who wishes to be bitchy, of course. Or, if female, catty. Until we develop some other word, universally understood, to denote vicious put-downs badly disguised as sympathy (or however else you might define being a “bitch”), we have ourselves a Bitch’s Charter.

It is a common myth that the medieval ducking stool was used only against praiseworthily assertive women, but in fact malicious gossips of either sex could be thus punished. The result is to make it harder to talk about malicious gossip, an immensely destructive force both in villages and on the Internet. It is equally misguided to imagine that only women can be “scolds”; husbands can be scolds to their wives and fathers to their children. Precisely the same applies to “nagging”. The crux is when occasional scolding turns into compulsive behaviour, and when a calm rebuke for not taking out the trash or whatever turns into a tirade built around “You always” and “You never”, which psychologists tell us is deeply toxic. We may thus imagine the medieval “scold’s bridle” with its tongue-depresser as the last resort of a community containing a member who just would not shut the hell up. There is no reason why such a person should necessarily be female, but if the bridle fits, wear it.

Again, the net result of the way people think they know all about the word “scold” is to make it very difficult to name and rebuke compulsive negging, as we now call it. And that obstacle means normalising and encouraging the behaviour. Even anyone who objects to such degradation without using either word can be dealt with by saying, “Ah, I suppose you would put me in the ducking-stool, right?” In these days there is no possible come-back to that without sounding feeble.

Yet another word for an aggressive female is “shrew”. Unless you are putting on a certain Shakespeare play – if we are still allowed to do that – this word is pretty well defunct. Once again, there is no particular reason why the behaviour, objectively considered, should be confined to women. But unfortunately the word meant what it meant, which means that anyone with the appropriate genitalia who wishes or is inwardly compelled to be shrilly aggressive can employ the unfortunate fact of it having been gendered language to forbid all criticism of her unpleasantness.

This does not even exhaust the list of special words for female bullies. It is many years since I have heard of a “minx”, and perhaps this is just as well, as it seemed to correlate not with any real nasty trait of personality but with female inconvenience to the male speaker. “Banshee” had an independent meaning in Scots folklore and still persists in the language as a dead simile for shrieking. Because of that, however, it could be used of a woman who shrieked ¬– perhaps for the perfectly good reason that she was being mistreated. Or for the less good reason that she was out to silence anyone who differed or was uncooperative. Another mythological background gave us “gorgon”, which could mean either a very unattractive face or a sociopathic style of behaviour in a female.

“Termagant” is equally dead or perhaps even deader, which means that anyone wanting to be one has a free run. Yet another dead word was much more specific: a young and slender woman, however much a bully, could not be a “battleship”. This word of my youth meant a middle-aged woman who used her big bust as an icebreaker or snowplough to push in queues. The penultimate word I will list is so extinct that it is not known to most online dictionaries (oh for the days of the dead-trees OED!) except with quite different meanings. It is doubtful that any of the parents who named their daughters “Jade” knew that this word used to mean something other than the green semi-precious stone; a jade used to be an overbearing or unspecifically unpleasant woman. It is now so forgotten that not even I would use it to stir things up.

With my last disappeared word I shall change tack away from the theme of defunct words making it impossible to call out female bullies, as it has different implications. That “virago” has gone extinct is less interesting for the permission-giving aspect than for what it tells us about men; why should a man-like woman (for that is what it meant) be identical with an uncouthly dominant person unless that is what we ourselves know ourselves to be?

Posted on January 10, 2022 at 17:30 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, Some Notes On Language

I Remember Free Museums!

I did not read any Peter Kropotkin until I was 67 – well, better late than never. Young, politically active people could do a lot worse than to try him. Something struck me as thoroughly bizarre about his dream, however, through no fault of his: under his prescribed anarcho-communism, certain services were to be provided without charge: roads, bridges, water, parks, museums and libraries. Why this seemed bizarre is that I had grown up with all those things, in a place calling itself capitalist. Well, I suppose roads and bridges were not exactly free – in the sense that they were built out of taxes – and no doubt the same can be said about water, parks, libraries and museums. But that is not the same thing as paying upfront for every use.

Where I live now, the husk of a once-viable social democracy, water is still unmetered. One big city park is fenced in with closing times, though still free, while small ones are not even fenced. Public highways, on the other hand, have reverted to the pre-nineteenth century norm, that is to say, with tolls; and this is certainly the right country for trolls under bridges. Since I travel on foot or by bus, I myself do not notice, but motorists complain that they are suffocating under tolls every few kilometres, not just for the daily commute but on every suburban movement.

We ought not to have built our cities and suburbs on the American model, necessitating a car to buy groceries and take the kids to schools and day-care, while I do see the point of road-pricing to even out congestion; and yet even I wonder where the neo-feudal end-point will be. Tolls for pedestrian use of a privatised street, perhaps, or the robber-baron’s jus primae noctis? It goes without saying that we shall still pay tax for roads and bridges even though the infrastructure raises its own money; the excess will go to dividend for the aforementioned trolls. Where the eighteenth century budget was spent mostly on sinecures, or pretend-jobs for the pals, the coming ones will be spent mostly on consultants – but I repeat myself. Metering of water will come, as will charges for air breathed. The latter will be called either a carbon footprint tax, or else royalties for the particular mix of atmospheric gases, which will be patented.

The most startling item in Kropotkin’s list remains, however, museums. I grew up with free admission to everything in that direction, but where I live now you have to pay an arm and a leg to see any venerable paintings. The gate money seems to go to paying staff to take the gate money and man the gift shop. After these functions have been moved compulsorily online, the staff will be dispensed with, and the receipts will be spent only on return on short-term investments. That is to say, the roof will fall in, and our cities will resemble pre-Renaissance Rome, selfied by nouveau-riche East Asians. (Perhaps the medievals never actually looked at their nearest ruins of Antiquity either, but only told their neighbours that they had been there. And brought back the conch of Compostela and the palm of Jerusalem to prove it.)

As for my public library, it is still free but makes its living from toilet charges (honestly, they told me that), refusing donations of valuable books on the grounds that they want fewer of these not more. Granddad, what is a Library? And what were these “book” thingies anyway? Oh. Were you charged by the word or by the minute?

Posted on January 6, 2022 at 15:18 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, The Age Of Enron-cence

What Happens When Words Disappear? Part Three

An important word whose disappearance I have noticed is “mountebank”. Like my preceding examples, it is used wholly or mostly about men, though there seems no good reason why it should be. Spiritualism and fortune-telling is mostly a female enterprise, but of women the word seems rarely if ever used.

I did not know before checking that “mountebank” also means a Mexican card game; perhaps my vehement ill-will towards card-play, which I have nurtured since the age of about twelve, is why I am immune to what we now call “social engineering”. Someone who does not gamble is unlikely to give money to a con-man in the hope of obtaining many times more.

The term “con-man” is of course still extant, as are “swindler” and “fraudster”. We have even invented “bankster” on the model of the latter. I suspect, however, that “shyster” is on the way out, as is “grifter” and certainly “chancer”. These appellations are, however, somewhat wider than “mountebank”, who is a specifically medical or religious charlatan. An investment counsellor and Ponzi schemer will be a grifter but probably not a mountebank unless he claims supernatural sources for his hot tips.

If “mountebank” is now forgotten, how does it stand with “charlatan”? I suspect not well. Where I live used to have a Quacks Act prohibiting the practice of medicine without a licence; we no longer do, or at any rate not under that name, so that we are knee-deep in osteopaths and health-food stores peddling nostrums for whatever ailment you may mention to the uneducated staff. If only you could get the raw material you would probably find a market for “organic” plutonium – you could make a bomb, boom boom.

And if ever we needed words for medical and religious fakers it is now, during the covid pandemic. We have seen it all, from the injection of presidential bleach to preachermen telling their flocks that the Sky Man will protect them, and everything in between. This age of “alternative facts” is no time to be losing words for grifters specialised in quasi-medical mumbo-jumbo. If people have really forgotten “mountebank” it would be a good opportunity to revive it by calling as many of the charlatans out with it as possible. Any requests to explain the venerable word would give the remaining believers in science an opening.

Posted on January 3, 2022 at 14:44 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, Some Notes On Language

The Language Of Virginity

It may seem an obvious question, but it is still worth asking why we say that a girl (and sometimes a boy) “loses” virginity – rather than acquires knowledge or experience. There are other locutions for this event, but most if not all imply that something is taken away rather than added. In describing it as an easily curable minor medical condition, Robert Heinlein is not at all typical. Catholics may embroider the concept and talk about virginity as a thing to be treasured and a ticket to salvation, but even the rest of us have been known to switch off our brains and borrow their language of a fatal “loss”. This is odd.

It becomes even odder when “innocence” is used as a synonym. This ought to disturb us, and all the more so when we consider the word’s ambiguity between – or equation of – lack of knowledge and lack of guilt. For we are said to lose our innocence when we find out how the world really works. Gaining sexual experience certainly counts as finding out something about how the world really works, but why is this discovery regarded as negative? Are we to understand that everyone using this language is in reality a kind of Gnostic – that is, believing that the world is a thoroughly evil place? But unlike the old dualists in that they do not want to know the truth. Some Christians are well aware of the Gnostic streak in their religion, calling the world a Vale of Tears, but are probably unaware of just how far they are now taking it; others explicitly call Satan the lord of this world, while others again simply do not realise what they are doing.

If lack of guilt is what we mean by the word “innocence”, what is happening when we call one’s first sexual experience the loss of it? What is guilty about it? Original sin was about disobeying God over that apple-tree, not about having sex. On the one hand it is true that sexual life offers vast scope for manipulation and malice; but on the other hand, are those evils restricted to sexual life? In other words, is it true that virgins never act unethically? Not a chance. I cannot see why sex and the malice should be inherently connected; you can have one or the other or both or neither. We can see manipulation and malice, sometimes to a quite psychopathic degree, in even the smallest children. Some Hollywood films have exploited our consequent unease, but otherwise it seems as if the whole language of the “loss of innocence” is specifically designed to allow us to evade contemplating this enormous truth.

(Fiddle date-stamp to December 17, 2010)

Posted on December 25, 2021 at 13:15 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Religion And Sex

New Child, Same Name

I have never seen this done by anyone I actually know, but in my special period of historical study, the 12th century, there are at least two royal examples of a child being renamed after an older brother who had died. The more obscure is in Aragón-Catalonia; better known may be a son of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, christened Conrad but later taking the name of the original heir, Frederick of Rothenburg, who had died at the age of 22.

What we have probably all encountered among our contemporaries, on the other hand, is parents engendering a new child to “replace” the one they have lost. This is so common as to attract no notice, and of course we do it with spouses too. And pets: even the father of the animal-rights movement, Arthur Schopenhauer, gave all his successive poodles the same name.

But let us rather stop a moment and ask ourselves what is going on here. To expect one poodle to be more or less the same as its predecessor is perhaps forgivable, and in any case the dog will know nothing of the previous pet and cannot be informed beyond what his nose tells him about the residence. Spouses, on the other hand, will usually know of the previous partner and may be assumed to understand what they are getting into. What, however, about a child who is engendered (or adopted) to “replace” one who has been lost? He or she will certainly know. Will it be possible for the parents to avoid giving him the sense of being a regrettable substitute? I doubt it.

Children, then are highly fungible. This is an economist’s term for one unit being equivalent to any other, thus readily convertible. The renaming practice emphasises the fact that inasmuch as a lost child (or pet) is usually replaced, what we really want is not the individual but the role. It is all about satisfaction of our own needs. This offends against the Kantian imperative to treat others as an end not a means. And of course the most egregious violation of that principle is the deliberate engendering of children. We cannot possibly do it for their benefit, as they do not yet exist and so there is no “them” to be either benefited or harmed – our language is not well adapted to telling non-existence like it is – and so we must necessarily be doing it for our benefit.

There is, then, a child-shaped hole in most of us, which we fill with whatever we can get, and chop or stretch it to fit like Procrustes. Most of the time people are sufficiently moderate about their methods to sneak under our radar, though perhaps we should improve our detection; when a woman steals someone else’s baby from its pram, or a father renames his son after the previous heir, we owe them gratitude for showing us what is really going on.

(Fiddle date-stamp to August 24, 2020)

Posted on December 20, 2021 at 14:17 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: AGAINST NATURE, Breeders And Thinkers

What Happens When Words Disappear? Part Two

There are some similar terms for human types that I did not cover in my riff on the archaic “Jelly-Bean”. This personage and his synonym the Fop might have lived within their means, even given their enormous clothes-budget. If they did not do so, however, they were Wastrels. In theory this term could have been used by conservatives when explaining why the poor ought not to be helped, but I don’t think it ever was. They had “workshy” and “layabouts” for that kind of job. No, the Wastrel was an upper-class person who blew his income or inheritance at the gambling-tables, or on the horses, or on women. (Funnily enough, I do not think that a woman who blew her own or her husband’s money on roulette or horses or dancing-partners was ever termed a Wastrel; we shall return to specific terms of disapprobation for women in later essays.) To be a Wastrel you had to have something to waste; living from hand to mouth in a garret did not qualify. Now, do we use this term for the modern sons of millionaires who spend their money on hideous bling until they are obliged to throw themselves on the mercy of the Italian or Russian mafias? And even then do not stop, since Wastrels are very hard to reform. I do not think we do. So if the word has vanished, what do we call them (other than Mr. President)? Is there in fact an extant term of the same compactness?

The Wastrel, of course, wants to be a Toff – another near-synonym of Fop, except that the now obsolete Toff was more about class and income. A Toff was not absolutely obliged to think of nothing but clothes, just as a Jelly-Bean might not really have the money on which to support his sartorial excellence. Since Toffs were thus named from much lower down the social scale upwards, the non-toffs probably did not make such fine decisions. They would have noticed only that shabbily dressed Toffs were extremely rare (though there are stories of eccentric aristocrats who dressed like tramps because everyone knew who they were anyway, dear chap).

Even more obsolete than Toff is Swell, which some online dictionaries only recognise in the sense of oceanic motion. One interesting aspect of this term is that it seems to be based on the same watery sense of expansion. It thus has a natural connection with “swelled head”, and whoever coined the term may or may not have intended this. One would like to think that the invention was made by some member of the lower orders – perhaps a mere “lout” – and not meant as a compliment. In that case it would be quite the question how “swell” came also to be the American for “excellent”. The answer is surely connected with that society’s veneration for wealth however viciously acquired, its complete break with the Judaeo-Christian (and Islamic and Buddhist) reservations about throwing your big-monkey weight about.

The word “brash” has not in fact vanished, and I am mentioning it here because online dictionaries cite Scottish or French origins to do with violent assault. For I would have guessed, apparently wrongly, that it was a member of the same family praising ungodly behaviour: related to “brass”, as in “brass face” – aggressively unashamed of one’s own vices. It is at any rate certain that the alloy has given us “brassy”, a word that used to be employed for females who were assertive in a way people used to find unpleasantly crude or in-your-face. We shall return to these specifically female epithets later, but it occurs to me that I have not heard “brassy” or “brass face” for a long time.

Back in the days of Fitzgerald where we came in, a man who treated women in a certain way would be called a “heel”. My principle of protecting a species by losing the word to describe them would certainly not apply here, in this age of #MeToo and its weaponisation of complaints about male behaviour going back to Adam. Not that the “heel” has necessarily done anything felonious, it is a matter of at best poor sexual manners and at worst predation within the law. The consequence appears, not to prevent us talking about heels, but to make sure that such condemnation is done only in the pseudo-sociological and millenarian language of the Woke, committing us to all sorts of things that merely calling a man a heel might not. It may also be noted what a marvellously compact word it is with its mere four letters. Come to think of it, “cad” means the same thing in only three letters.

Related to “heel” and equally vanished we might cite “Rake”. Short for “rakehell”, it properly embraces drunkenness and being a Wastrel, but tended to specialise in the sexually promiscuous male – that is, the swordsman, the wencher, and a lot of other words that are much less condemnatory than the terms used when the ladies retaliate in kind. The eighteenth-century Hellfire Club got up to things that would deeply shock us even today, as well as blasphemies that wouldn’t.

Do we talk about Rakes today? Not as such, and doing so would make you instantly unpopular as a moralist. What has happened is that the components of Rakehood have been isolated and medicalised. The drunkard is an alcoholic who suffers from a disease, the gambler suffers from a compulsion that is again not his fault, while the cocksman is nowadays a sex addict. Note the decreasing sympathy shown to these three conditions. Once again, any description or condemnation of what used to be called the Rake is likely to be both pseudo-scientific and very long-winded; and once again, the substitution of complicated for simple language serves only the interest of those needing to raise a great dust.

I have commented elsewhere on the medical camouflage of what are simply bad habits. There is no doubt a real neurological fault that causes ADHD, but the disappearance of the old word “Scatterbrained” is nevertheless cause for concern. If we ask how many genuine sufferers from ADHD were previously dismissed as scatterbrained, we can equally well ask how many scatterbrained people are now hiding behind the label of ADHD. These will not be people who have received the diagnosis after testing and MRI scanning, but rather people who give it to themselves, in everyday conversation, whenever other people complain that they do not pay attention. For not-listening is not a medical issue but a deeply ethical one, an aspect of lack of respect for others. And no longer having a condemnatory word for this behaviour cannot but cause it to increase by leaps and bounds. People will then wonder why the neurological condition is growing so rapidly; they will look at environmental toxins and who knows, they might eventually find them. It took a while before we realised what leaded petrol was doing to us. But I cannot imagine a mechanism whereby medical camouflage for lack of respect will ever be unmasked. This is simply a ratchet.

Another word that has disappeared is “Malingering”, which used to mean the use of invented ill-health to get out of work or other duties. This is a welcome development in that it was often employed to condemn people who thus evaded work or duties because they were not being properly remunerated. Our masters naturally want us all to toil for them, free gratis and for nothing. And yet abusus non tollit usum, and the sheer inability to say that Smith is faking something in order to remain in sweet idleness cannot possibly do us any good. Both phenomena exist, both enslavement/oppression and malingering, and both need to be named when appropriate.

Posted on December 7, 2021 at 14:52 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, Some Notes On Language

The Divine Sword

I no longer remember where, but I once encountered the dictum that women see themselves as “divine swords against all traitors to Beauty”. Schopenhauer taught us that whenever a wife has a child with someone other than her husband, she is serving the interests of the species. Her instincts drive her to breed from the superior specimen. She was, he thought, quite unconscious of this her necessary role; but the above dictum about the sword implies a much greater awareness.

Women do well to be careful how they express their ferocious disdain of the inferior male specimen, a disdain that in all probability they feel and know that they feel. Why? Because it runs counter to the medieval belief that women are kinder than men, in which the Church staked out the claims to moral superiority still being heard a thousand years later. Euripides’ Pentheus would not have felt much of that kindness; and a contrarian female fantasy writer has shown us a cult of the Goddess as based on human sacrifice.

Any cult that sacrificed the biologically inferior in the sacred grove would of course be doing the race a favour. While they are at it, the worshippers should ritually cut the throats of all male geeks, for daring to be interested in something outside themselves and their roles as genetic assay devices and status points in the female hierarchy.

(Fiddle date-stamp to 18 October 2010)

Posted on November 26, 2021 at 14:57 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Love Among The Uglies

What Happens When Words Disappear? Part One

One of Scott Fitzgerald’s early stories is called “The Jelly-Bean”. The collection naturally explained this as ancient slang, I think even Confederacy, for “idler”. The Wiki page, after describing the confectionery, makes no mention of Confederate idiom but summarises the Jelly-Bean as a Gilded-Age term for “a young man who dressed stylishly but had little else to recommend him”, more or less equivalent to “dandy” and “fop”. There is an illustration, from sheet music of the era.

Not only is “Jelly-Bean” quite unknown to Brits of my age, but I am not sure whether Modern Youf would know the word “dandy”, let alone “fop”. A character in Hamlet is listed in the Dramatis Personae as “Osip, a Fop”, as if no more need be said, as of course it doesn’t. But who remembers Shakespeare nowadays?

There are similar vanished terms, this time from my side of the Atlantic. I well remember the “lounge-lizard” and have heard of the “parlour-snake”. The “boulevardier” at least walks, perhaps picking up women on the way as well as exhibiting what Dickens’ Mr Turveydrop would call his Deportment, but the lounge-lizard does not even do that. He expects to be admired on the sofa, and perhaps get picked up from there. That is where Bertie Wooster remains while waiting for his aunts to leave him money. Now, what any women actually saw in Jelly-Beans and Lounge-Lizards remains a mystery to me; the only explanation would seem to be that a certain subspecies, being quite unable to see beyond their own clothes, cannot see beyond a male’s either.

I have not researched it by asking a sample of wired kids, but I have a terrible suspicion that “idler” is almost equally defunct as “fop”.

We should observe at once that an idler is not at all the same thing as a young man without anything to do because society has afforded him nothing to do and no income on which to do it. It may suit the book of the plutocrats and their sycophants to pretend otherwise, but the old-school “idler” was always well-off. According to Baudelaire, the equally prosperous “flâneur” and “boulevardier” were not doing nothing, but exerting keen powers of observation of the urban scene – the birdwatchers of the bourgeoisie.

No, the true “idler” probably maintained the décadent pose of being too sophisticated to lower himself to anything useful – which is not too far from what we now call “cool” – but it was equally likely that he was, and is, merely stupid and lazy.

But this brings us to the point of my whole projected series on vanished words. It is hardly possible any more to call a person “lazy”, because that will invoke long ages of plutocratic contempt for the poor and so insult and traumatise the poor fellow – if he can be bothered. The word “lazy” nevertheless still exists, although “shiftless” is under pressure, being redolent of the old distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor. Not everybody wants us to have the concept of personal irresponsibility. “Loafer” is hanging on by its fingernails, while “fop” has simply disappeared. “Idler” will, I think, soon follow it.
The principle I shall be advancing in this series is that the disappearance of a word does not mean that the thing no longer exists; rather the contrary, it means that we may no longer object to it. The omissions become a protected species. Cui bono? Who benefits from our no longer having a word for the well-off young man with nothing better to do but wear clothes? Surely the character best served by our not being able to call anyone an idler, or a fop, or a lounge-lizard, or a Jelly-Bean, is – drumroll! The Fop.

A case can be made that “fop” and its ancient synonyms perfectly well cover social media influencers and their vast audiences. On the other hand, at least some of these influencers do things, while the aforementioned sheet-music picture of the Jelly-Bean shows an overdressed young man holding his cane and cigarette just so while three rich ladies in the distance look inclined to approach him. If he is doing anything it all, it is being a sexual object for the latter, and hoping to profit from their female gaze. Now that we have both social media and more sexually assertive females, we should be able to call this the Great Age of Foppery. But we can’t.

Posted on November 18, 2021 at 12:15 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, Some Notes On Language

Higher And Lower Moralities

When I read Parade’s End, I found Ford Madox Ford talking about the Higher Morality in a manner that reminded me of Chesterton. But then again, I had never been sure what Chesterton meant by it. I was merely certain that, whenever capitalised, it was his enemy.

Searching for the phrase now gets me mostly Nietzsche, and adding Chesterton does not answer my question. Sometimes I think that, for the Edwardians, the phrase Higher Morality probably meant what we might now mean by humanist ethics, or an ethical system without a deity. If religion is 50% ethical philosophy and 50% grifting, such a thing as humanist ethics is perfectly possible. One simply throws away the collection plate.

I can nevertheless understand why calling humanist ethics Higher might get up the noses of devout Catholics and Anglicans like Chesterton and Ford. It does sound rather arrogant; absent any analysis of deeds, the freethinker’s assumption of ethical superiority to the believer must be just as offensive as its converse. Whether the Edwardian freethinkers ever accused the religious of having a capitalised Lower Morality, I cannot say. My own conviction is that the Christian-atheist divide runs orthogonally to that between mensch and asshole. Good people with a religion give it the credit for their niceness, while nasty people who get religion practice it nastily, that’s all.

Without being an expert on the period, I am left with the impression that a generation of non-believers were so defensive about the imputation to them of all vice, a libel that has sometimes lasted into my own lifetime, that they went onto a pre-emptive attack and claimed that their ethical level was in fact higher. Or perhaps they meant that, when not sanctioned by a Sky Man, any identical ethical level was disinterested. Immanuel Kant would certainly agree with me that it must be more praiseworthy to do the right thing for its own sake rather than for desire of reward or fear of punishment.

A second thing seems equally certain: namely that the claim to superiority among the bien-pensants is alive and well under another name, equally tendentious and equally insulting to the outgroup: “woke”.

In Chesterton, Higher Thought seems to be the slogan of grifters of the kind that would now be called New Age. If that cap fits the Woke, let them wear it.

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 1, 2018)

Posted on November 8, 2021 at 15:38 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age