Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Common Man Sings

In his essay The Common Man, G.K. Chesterton posed that, despite the supposed emancipation in Western society over the previous several centuries, the ordinary man who was supposedly the beneficiary really has just found himself a victim of new persecutions by the State. For the regular person really had no interest or use for the new freedoms being offered by society, but rather, 
If [society] has emancipated anybody, it has in rather special and narrow ways emancipated the Uncommon Man. It has given an eccentric sort of liberty to some of the hobbies of the wealthy, and occasionally to some of the more humane lunacies of the cultured. The only thing it has forbidden is common sense, as it would have been understood by the common people. is the boast of recent emancipated ethics and politics not to put any great restraints upon anybody who wants to publish a book, especially a scientific book, full of psychology or sociology; and perhaps unavoidably full of perversions and polite pornography. As that modern tendency increased, it was less and less likely that the police would interfere very much with a man publishing the sort of book that only the wealthy could publish with sumptuous artistic plates or scientific diagrams. It is much more probable, in most modern societies, that the police would be found interfering with a man singing a song, of a course and candid description, bawling out a ballad of the grosser sort, or even using the more restrained medium of prose with a similar lack of restraint...
Chesterton was writing this nearly a hundred years ago; of course by now society has progressed a bit beyond the occasional pornographic book put out by some upper-class crank...

Continuing on with Chesterton...

...the Common Man does not generally want to write a book, where as he may occasionally want to sing a song. He certainly does not want to write a book on psychology or sociology — or to read, it. But he does want to talk, to sing, to shout, to yell and howl on due and suitable occasions; and, rightly or wrongly, it is when he is thus engaged that he is much more likely to fall foul of a policeman than when he is (as he never is) writing a scientific study of a new theory of sex.
Was Chesterton right? Do we live today in such a society, in which the upper class, who justify their perversions with a thin veneer of 'science' and other fine abstract notions, are allowed to be as obscene as they please, while an ordinary man in the street can no longer open up his mouth to sing perhaps even a slightly bawdy song? 

Well, there is this: Last summer, Jim Osche of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was assaulted by police shortly after he was caught in the incendiary act of singing the Beach Boys' 'Barbara Ann' in front of a fancy downtown steakhouse. Apparently his crimes were: 1. Singing, and 2. Being less than nice to the police officer who ambled over to inquire as to what he thought he was doing. For his gross indecency of trying to entertain people with his singing, the 61 year old Osche was bodyslammed to the pavement out of 'self-defense' by the officer, who apparently didn't like having a finger pointed at him. Seems about fair. Perhaps he should have sung Wrecking Ball, rather than some innocent Beach Boys song. Video below: 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Wrong Side

Our president, and those of our fellow citizens who are inclined to think likewise, are fond of declaring of those whose politics or world view they disagree with, that they are on the "the wrong side of history".  The president opposes ISIS, for instance, as well he should, but declares that that they are to be opposed because they are on the "the wrong side of history". Similarly, if one tells a person of liberal-minded belief that maybe it is not such a good idea that the country allow unlimited immigration and large numbers of refugees from a certain religious demographic that has proven to harbor a certain amount of hostility to the West in general and this country in particular, one gets told that one is simply full of hate and that one is, as the phrase goes, on the "the wrong side of history". Because History is this inevitable process, of course; destined to move in a certain direction and to favor one particular group's ideology and politics.

This is in line with how Marx thought, of course. History is a Science, and with a proper understanding of the past, man can discern the future. Marx was wrong, of course. Nearly all of his predictions of the future failed to materialize.

I am inclined to think of another historical figure, this one of the 20th century, of whom liberals have a certain affinity for — esteemed inventor and founder of our dystopia, Henry Ford, who famously declared that History was 'bunk'. Ford gave birth to one of the great inventions of the century, one for which he is duly celebrated as one of the great benefactors of mankind — the $5 work day. Oh, and he also invented a process to provide a new form of transportation to the masses. But the real trick, of course, was getting people to do the mind-numbing work that went into creating these machines. Because people did not like working on assembly lines, repeating the same repetitive task all day. They were quitting faster than old Ford could replace them. So Ford had to make the generous bribe — er... offer — of an unprecedented wage in order to keep them on the line. Progressives seem to think that he did it purely out of the generosity of his heart — but there was cold, naked self-interest at its core. 

Never mind that Ford spied on his employees and hired thugs to rough up Walter Reuther, the man obviously cared...

It was the $5 work day which created the middle-class auto worker as we know it today, and a reason Ford is so celebrated by Progressives. But really, it created a worker who could only be considered middle class in the sense of his income. Work ethic, skill, self-determination and agency, professionalism — the typical hallmarks of the middle class and by which it had created itself — went by the wayside as the new laboring class was only required to perform the most basic sort of tasks — a sort of work more fit for a monkey than a human being.

But, all this is a digression. The key question is whether history has a wrong or right side or whether it is all 'bunk'. Is history some impersonal force moving inexorably to its own conclusion? Or is it merely the dull record of human affairs, malleable to those Titans — such as that of Industry  who can exert their stamp on it and bend it to their will, perhaps? There is an inherent contradiction in the Progressive notion of history, it would seem.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hitchhiking Robot Meets Grisly End

HitchBOT, a robotic experiment to test the kindness of strangers, had his journey cut short this summer in Philadelphia, after previously traveling across parts of Canada, Europe, and the United States. 

There was a fellow world traveler once, a human, this one, named John Stewart, not the Jon Stewart of fake television journalism fame, mind you -- this John Stewart lived in the 18th century. Interesting character: amateur philosopher and more than a bit of an eccentric, he was called 'Walking Stewart', because he had pretty much walked all over the earth. He had started his career working as a young writer in the service of the East India trading company, but deciding that colonialism and empire weren't things for him and, leaving India, walked back home, via a trek across Asia and hiking through Africa and then all over Europe. Eventually, after tiring of London and Paris, it seems, he came to the Americas and hiked up the South American coast before making his way to the fledgling States. The peripatetic Stewart developed a philosophy that combined Western materialism with pantheism and the yogic conceptions of single consciousness of the East. A true 'Freethinker' of the 18th century, he moved in the fashionable circles of London and Paris, befriended Thomas Paine, and circulated pamphlets espousing ideas which were too radical even for the fashionable European elite. He credited the success of his journeys (meaning, not getting killed) to two surprising things: a vegetarian diet and the refusal to carry arms -- and also to the hospitality and kindness of strangers; without the virtue of 'Xenia' so prized by the ancient Greeks -- it runs all through Homer and the myths -- he would not have been able to wander so.

Well, Xenia does not apply to robots, as far as I'm aware. Good job, Philly. City of brotherly love -- not robot love.

After Philly

Monday, May 25, 2015

Things Drive Mankind

The push for self-driving cars seems to be picking up steam. I hardly even knew they were a thing.

If such a thing were to come to a pass, I would predict that it would not end well. Apparently, self-driving cars make driving much safer -- considerably so, even. Yet they would also further render us as programmed automatons. We would be safer and yet more miserable. 

The whole point of applied science and the conquest of nature was to put man in the driver's seat in his environment, to shape and subject Nature according to his will. But as C.S. Lewis observed a century ago in The Abolition of Man, man's conquest of nature really turns out to mean the conquest of the mass of humanity by a select few, with Nature as the instrument. Soon then, it would be the computer in the literal driver's seat, programmed by a few engineers and congressmen, with you and I as the passenger. And we would lose the shallow assurance we once had, that we are the masters of our fates, with technology as our dutiful servant. The first poor shlub who gets driven off of a cliff to prevent multiple fatalities, or locked into a shipping container, will know that.

Or perhaps, like so many great plans of the elites, it will all come to nothing. I remember hearing over twenty years ago about how we would all have flying cars by now.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Geocentrism Is Okay

A recent poll revealed that one in four persons think that the sun revolves around our planet.

A lot of people might be dismayed by this. I, on the other and, find it refreshing that some people are not cowed by scientific dogma and choose to see their orientation in the cosmos according to their own inclination. And hey, if someone self-identifies as a geocentrist, that's their business. Who are we to judge? Some of them might have even been heliocentrists themselves at one time, and then decided to transition to geocentrism. Again, it's not our place to judge. If you think that's wrong, imagine how stupid you'll feel in forty years when everyone thinks geocentrism is okay.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Athenian Society

There is a particular building nearby where I work and which I drive by occasionally, which was obviously in its original life a church of some sort — not a very fancy or ornate building like some decayed once-grand cathedral, but a quite modest and genteel sort of structure, a former Methodist church perhaps — and which now bears the title "The Athenian Society" on a little green awning which has been placed above the main entrance. Somewhat curious. The Athenian Society. In a plain, old, apparently decommissioned suburban Methodist church. What kind of place could that possibly be? I wondered a few times while driving past it on my lunch breaks. Upon googling it, no success in dispelling the mystery. 

The modest awning over the doorway which serves as the marquee lends a touch — just a touch — of theatricality to it. So I inevitably imagined, when I was driving past this place, a club of respectable, yet eccentric, old gentleman who have somehow managed to get hold of an abandoned church, and sitting around in it, wine or sherry glasses in hand, enthusiastically and maybe somewhat drunkenly reciting bits of Homer to each other, or putting on the occasional play, a little Sophocles — Oedipus or Antigone perhaps — or maybe some Euripides or what-have-you like in some Victorian London club over a hundred years ago. Perhaps I have read too much Dickens. Of course, no such place would likely exist here today, and in this suburban setting. A group of classical devotees getting together to recite the Odyssey at the former Second Methodist next to the 7-11 on the corner? Certainly not. Anyway, the other day, I finally noticed that it doesn't even say, "The Athenian Society" over the door, it says "The Aetherius Society." The Aetherius Society is apparently a new-age religion of some sort. They believe in UFOs and yoga. Ho-hum. Well, of course.

So, there's no Athenian Society in town. But, there should be one. There really should.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thought Experiment

From Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos: Chapter 9, The Envious Self. This always cracks me up. Personally, my answers would be B, 7:
You are standing by your paper-tube in Englewood reading the headlines. Your neighbor comes out to get his paper. You look at him sympathetically. You know he has been having severe chest pains and is facing coronary bypass surgery. But he is not acting like a cardiac patient this morning. Over he jogs in his sweat pants, all smiles. He has triple good news. His chest ailment turned out to be a hiatal hernia, not serious. He’s got a promotion and is moving to Greenwich, where he can keep his boat in the water rather than on a trailer.
   “Great, Charlie! I’m really happy for you!”
   Are you happy for him?
(a)  Yes. Unrelievedly good news. Surely it is good news all around that Charlie is alive and well and not dead or invalided. Surely, too, it is good for him and not bad for you if he also moves up in the world, buys a house in Greenwich where he can keep a 25-foot sloop moored in the Sound rather than a 12-foot Mayflower on a trailer in a garage in Englewood.
(b)  Putatively good news but — but what? But the trouble is, it is good news for Charlie, but you don’t feel so good.
 (check one)
If your answer is (b), could you specify your dissatisfaction, i.e., do the following thought experiment: which of the following news vis-à-vis Charlie and you at the paper-tube would make you feel better?
(1)  Charlie is dead.
(2)  Charlie has undergone a quadruple coronary bypass and may not make it.
(3)  Charlie does not have heart trouble but did not get his promotion or his house in Greenwich.
(4)  Charlie does not have heart trouble and did get his promotion but can’t afford to move to Greenwich.
(5)  You, too, have received triple good news, so both of you can celebrate.
(6)  You have not received good news, but just after hearing Charlie’s triple good news, you catch sight of a garbage truck out of control and headed straight for Charlie — whose life you save by throwing a body block that knocks him behind a tree. (Why does it make you feel better to save Charlie’s life and thus turn his triple good news into quadruple good fortune?
(7)  You have not received good news, but just after hearing Charlie’s triple good news, an earthquake levels Manhattan. There the two of you stand, gazing bemusedly across the Hudson from Englewood Cliffs.
(check one)
In a word, how much good news about Charlie can you tolerate without compensatory catastrophes, heroic rescues, and such?

A few excellent articles about Percy and his ‘self-help book’ can be found here, here, and also here.