Review of "Occasional Discourse" by Thomas Carlyle

October 25, 2009

I'm not really sure that I have much to add on this book, beyond what I wrote for this book.

The main distinction with respect to slavery, for Carlyle, is the is-ought distinction.  Abolition was based on an "ought" however the reality, i.e. the "is", is different:

This is the everlasting duty  of all men, black or white, who are born into this world. To do competent work, to labour honestly according to the ability given them; for that and for no other purpose was each one of us sent into this world; and woe is to every man who, by friend or by foe, is prevented from fulfilling this the end of his being. That is the “unhappy” lot; lot equally unhappy  cannot otherwise be provided for man. Whatsoever prohibits or prevents a man from this his sacred appointment to labour while he lives on earth,—that, I say, is the man's deadliest enemy; and all men are called upon to do what is in their power or opportunity towards delivering him from that. If it be his own indolence that prevents and prohibits him, then his own indolence is the enemy he must be delivered from: and the first “right” he has,—poor indolent blockhead, black or white,—is, That every unprohibited man,  whatsoever wiser, more industrious person may be passing that way, shall endeavour to “emancipate” him from his indolence, and by some wise means, as I said, compel him, since inducing will not serve, to do the work he is fit for. . . .

Yes, this is the eternal law of Nature for a man, my beneficent Exeter-Hall friends; this, that he shall be permitted, encouraged, and if need be, compelled to do what work the Maker of him has intended by the making of him for this world!

Here he is again:

My friends, I have  come to the sad conclusion that Slavery, whether established by law, or by law abrogated, exists very  extensively in this world, in and out of the West Indies; and, in fact, that you cannot abolish slavery by act of parliament, but can only abolish the name of it, which is very little! In  the West Indies itself, if you chance to abolish Slavery to Men, and in return establish Slavery to the Devil (as we see in Demerara), what good is it? To save men's bodies, and fill them with pumpkins and rum, is a poor task for human benevolence, if you have to kill their soul, what soul there was, in the business! Slavery is not so easy to be abolished; it will long continue, in spite of acts of parliament. And shall I tell you which is the one intolerable sort of slavery; the  slavery over which the very gods weep? That sort is not rifest in the West Indies; but with all its sad fruits, prevails in nobler countries. It is the slavery of the strong to the  weak; of the great and noble-minded to the small and mean!  The slavery of Wisdom to Folly.

Compare that statement to this one, which I ran across this week, from Newsweek:

Anyone who's lived in D.C. is aware of the city's dirty secret: it essentially operates under an unwritten form of apartheid that the wealthy northwest rarely engages with the swathe of low income people who share their city.

Are these really saying anything different.  No doubt our Newsweek author would cringe from reaching Carlyle's conclusions.  But if we haven't reached the lofty goal of emancipation after this long (and given this many forms of support), isn't possible that Carlyle is correct?

Carlyle's form of slavery is different than our impressions.  He compares slavery to marriage repeatedly.  Here are some thoughts:

My friends, it is not good to be without a servant in this world; but to be without master, it appears, is a still fataller predicament for some. Without a master, in certain cases, you become a Distressed Needlewoman, and cannot so much as live. Happy he who has found his master, I will say; if not  a good master, then some supportable approximation to a good one; for the worst, it appears, in some cases, is preferable to none! . . .

In all human  relations permanency is what I advocate; nomadism, continual change, is what I perceive to be prohibitory of any  good whatsoever. . . . O my friends, what a remedy is this we have fallen upon, for everything that goes wrong between one man and another: “Go, then; I give you a month's warning!” What would you think of a sacrament of marriage constructed on such  principles? Marriage by the month,—why this too has been tried, and is still extensively practised in spite of Law and Gospel; but it is not found to do! . . .

How to abolish the abuses of slavery, and save the precious thing in it: alas, I do not pretend that this is easy, that it can be done in a day, or a single generation, or a  single century; but I do surmise or perceive that it will . . .

And if 'slave' mean essentially ' servant hired for life,'—for life, or by a contract of long continuance and not easily dissoluble,—I ask once more, Whether, in all human things, the 'contract of long continuance' is not precisely the contract to be desired, were the right terms once found for it? Servant hired for life, were the right terms once found, which I do not pretend they are, seems to me much preferable to servant hired for the month, or by contract dissoluble in a day.

Review of "The Illuminatus Trilogy" by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

October 25, 2009

Wikipedia has a good summary.  I'm not going to try to add anything to the summary.  Suffice it to say that parts of the summary from Wikipedia such as, "Wilhelm is killed by the monstrous alien being Yog-Sothoth, Wolfgang is shot by John Dillinger, Winifred is drowned by porpoises, and Werner is trapped in a sinking car" will only make marginally more sense if you read the whole book.

The book is a libertarian classic, so I decided to read it.  It's not really my kind of libertarianism.  It's the more libertine kind.

There is a book review within the book.  I would have a hard time reviewing this book more aptly:

"It's a dreadfully long monster of a book," Wildeblood says pettishly, "and I certainly won't have time to read it, but I'm giving it a thorough skimming. The authors are utterly incompetent—no sense of style or structure at all. It starts out as a detective story, switches to science-fiction, then goes off into the supernatural, and is full of the most detailed information of dozens of ghastly boring subjects. And the time sequence is all out of order in a very pretentious imitation of Faulkner and Joyce. Worst yet, it has the most raunchy sex scenes, thrown in just to make it sell, I'm sure, and the authors—whom I've never heard of—have the supreme bad taste to introduce real political figures into this mishmash and pretend to be exposing a real conspiracy. . . .

"Heavens, I wouldn't know for sure. I told you yesterday, it's absurdly long. Three volumes, in fact. Boring as hell. I only had time to skim it. But listen to this, dear boy: 'If The Lord of  the Rings is a fairy tale for adults, sophisticated readers will  quickly recognize this monumental miscarriage as a fairy tale for paranoids.' That refers to the ridiculous conspiracy theory  that the plot, if there is one, seems to revolve around. Nicely worded, wouldn't you say?"

I shouldn't be too harsh, there were some interesting parts, like their description of the leader of the US, Russia and China:

He was, in fact, characteristic of the best type of dominant male in the world at this time. He was fifty-five years old, tough, shrewd, unburdened by the complicated ethical ambiguities which puzzle intellectuals, and had long ago decided that the world was a mean son-of-a-bitch in which only the most cunning and ruthless can survive. He was also as kind as was possible for one holding that ultra-Darwinian philosophy; and he genuinely loved children and dogs, unless they were on the site of something that had to be bombed in the National Interest. He still retained some sense of humor, despite the burdens of his almost godly office, and, although he had been impotent with his wife for nearly ten years now, he generally achieved orgasm in the mouth of a skilled  prostitute within 1.5 minutes. He took amphetamine pep pills to keep going on his grueling twenty-hour day, with the result that his vision of the world was somewhat skewed in a paranoid direction, and he took tranquilizers to keep from worrying too much, with the result that his detachment sometimes bordered on the schizophrenic; but most of the time his innate shrewdness gave him a fingernail grip on reality. In short, he was much like the rulers of America and Russia.


The child saw clearly that, in every relationship, there is a dominant party and a submissive party. And the child, in its quite correct egotism, determined to become the dominant party. It was that simple; except, of course, that the brainwashing takes effect eventually in most cases and, by about this time, the college years, most of them were ready to become robots and accept  the submissive role.

There was some interesting thoughts on Moby Dick, but this was balanced out by some crazy-hippy-talking to dolphins stuff, the '80s equivalent of this, perhaps.  I was honestly embarrassed to be reading some of this hippy-shit.  For example, on talking apes:

 And the gorillas themselves are too shrewd to talk to anybody but another anarchist. They're all anarchists themselves, you know, and they have a very healthy wariness about people in general and government people in particular. As one of them told me once, 'If it got out that we can talk, the conservatives would exterminate most of us and make the rest pay rent to live on our own land; and the liberals would try to train us to be engine-lathe operators.  Who the fuck wants to operate an engine lathe?' They prefer their own pastoral and Eristic ways . . .

In the end, the summary of their views (after lots of stuff that seems contradictory) seems to be:

We have sought to disperse power, to set men and women free.  That really means: to help them to discover that they are free. Everybody's free. The slave is free. The ultimate weapon isn't this plague out in Vegas, or any new super H-bomb. The ultimate weapon has always existed. Every man, every woman, and every child owns it. It's the ability to say No and take the consequences. 'Fear is failure.' 'The fear of death is the beginning of slavery.' "Thou hast no right but to do thy will.' The goose can break the bottle at any second. Socrates took the hemlock to prove it. Jesus went to the cross to prove it. It's in all history, all myth, all poetry. It's right out in the open all the time."

I'm not really sure this is particularly interesting or inspiring.

The decline and fall of the American Empire

October 25, 2009

A good summary of relativism:

The relativist’s position is that all cultural views are equally valid, unless your culture is that of a white, male racist. In which case, you are wrong and the relativists are right, despite the fact there is no objective right and wrong, only cultural practices.

Sentence of the day

October 24, 2009

From Jim Rogers:

Diversification is garbage — it's something brokers invented to avoid getting sued.

The decline and fall of the American Empire

October 23, 2009

They must be punished edition:

Damn white fire geeks always studying how to save people's lives!

As has been said before . . .

October 23, 2009

Why not go with the obvious answer?  I'll take option 3: The people is an ass:

I can only come up with two explanations for this phenomenon:  one, that many Americans are happy to embrace a symbolic belief in global warming as long as there is no danger that anyone will do anything about it.  The other is that Americans don't know what they want, and also, enjoy messing with pollster's minds.

The decline and fall of the American Empire

October 22, 2009

The second British edition.