Wednesday, June 22, 2016

In Praise of the Reprehensible

Last month’s post here on cultural senility and its antidotes discussed the way that modern education erases the past in order to defend today’s ideologies against the lessons of history. While that post focused on the leftward end of the political spectrum—the end that currently dominates what we still jokingly call “higher education” in today’s America—the erasure of the past is just as common on the other end of things. Between the political correctness of the left and the patriotic correctness of the right, it’s hardly surprising that so many Americans stumble blindly toward the future in a fog of manufactured ignorance, sedulously shielded from the historical insights that could give them a clue about the troubled landscape about them or the looming disasters ahead.

This week I’d like to discuss another aspect of that erasure of the past. I’ll be concentrating again on the way it’s done on the leftward end of things, because that’s the side that’s doing the most to deform American education just at the moment, but I’d encourage my readers to keep in mind that the issue I have in mind is a blade that has two edges and cuts both ways. That issue? The censoring of literature from the past in order to make it conform to the moral notions of the present.

It so happens, for example, that quite a few works of American literature talk about people of color in terms that many people today find extremely offensive. Now of course just as many works of American literature discuss women, sexual minorities, and just about any other group of people you care to name, other than well-to-do, college-educated, white male heterosexual Anglo-Saxon Protestants, in highly insulting terms, but let’s focus on racism for the moment. In American universities these days, it’s fashionable to insist that such works should either be tossed into the dumpster, on the one hand, or reissued in new editions from which all the offensive material has been expurgated.

The justifications for these projects are appropriately diverse. On the one hand, there’s the claim that members of groups that have been subject to racial oppression should not be required to read books containing language or ideas that justify the oppression they’ve experienced. On the other hand, there’s the claim that people who don’t belong to those groups should not be allowed to read such books, so that they don’t adopt the language or ideas in question. Off in the distance lies the utopian vision of a society free of racism, and eliminating the language and ideas that were once used to justify racism is proclaimed as a step toward that goal.

Fair enough. What does history have to say about projects of this sort?

As it happens, it has quite a bit to say about the results of censoring the literature of the past to support the moral crusades of the present, and in that connection I’d like to introduce you to a gentleman who was once quite famous in his way, though nothing more than his last name survives in our collective imagination these days. His name was Dr. Thomas Bowdler; he was an English physician who lived from 1754 to 1825, and in his retirement he put together a new edition of Shakespeare’s plays, “in which nothing is added to the original text; but those words and expressions were omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.” Yes, he’s the guy who inspired the verb “to bowdlerize.”

He was on the cutting edge of one of the great cultural projects of the 19th-century English-speaking world, the quest to eliminate every reference to sex from public discourse. The era that would take its enduring name from Britain’s Queen Victoria reacted against the relatively freewheeling sexuality of the preceding Regency era by embracing a more than Puritan horror of sex.  This wasn’t simply a pose; people in Victorian society were profoundly sickened and offended by human sexuality and anything even distantly related to it. The result was an era in which the legs—excuse me, “limbs”—of pianos in respectable English homes had little starched cotton skirts put on them to cover their overly erotic curves; in which the British ambassador bullied the Florentine authorities into putting pantaloons on Michelangelo’s David, so that lady tourists from the British Isles would not be scandalized by his state of undress; and in which we all started referring to the male of the domestic fowl by the newly minted term “rooster,” because what had previously been its normal English name, “cock,” had the same genital connotations then that it does now.

The Victorian rejection of sexuality achieved the level of cultural unanimity that today’s advocates of political correctness hope to achieve for their rejection of racism. All through the public sphere, rigid censorship of sexual content and strenuous denunciation of improprieties were universal; reputations were ruined and careers ended by incautious utterances or, in many cases, so much as a rumor of the same; across the English-speaking world, public figures spoke approvingly of the triumph of modern morality over the disgusting habits of the past, in much the same tones of self-satisfaction you’ll hear these days at the American university of your choice.

There’s our comparable historical example. How well did it work?

That’s where things get interesting. Human cultures are governed by something not too different from Isaac Newton’s famous third law of motion:  “every action produces an equal and opposite reaction.” The Victorian moral crusade against sexuality thus generated its inevitable countermovement, and for most of a century—from the 1890s until the late 20th century—just about every avant-garde literary, artistic, and cultural movement in the English-speaking world went out of its way to reject Victorian sexual morality and glorify casual sex. In the mid-20th century, that same reaction burst into popular literature; some of my readers may remember the torrent of science fiction novels from the 1960s—Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is probably the most famous of them—that proclaimed uninhibited orgiastic abandon as the next glorious step in human evolution.

The difficulty that Thomas Bowdler and his many equivalents had not foreseen was that erasing sex from literature and popular culture doesn’t make people innocent and pure, it just makes them clueless.  Growing up in respectable Victorian society, young people were kept ignorant of every attitude toward sexuality except the one hammered into them day after day by all the officially approved voices of their society, and the result was that they had never learned to think critically about the ethics of sex. If you raise lab rats in an environment completely free of pathogens, and then turn them loose, quite often they’ll drop dead from common diseases that a normally raised rat will shrug off with ease, because they’ve never acquired resistance.  Keep young people ignorant of sexuality, and the resulting lack of resistance may not be as lethal but it’s every bit as dramatic.

If the partisans of political correctness in today’s world achieve their goals, in other words, one very likely outcome is a period up to a century in length, starting some decades after political correctness becomes the conventional wisdom of society, in which every avant-garde literary, artistic, and cultural movement in Europe and North America will go out of its way to reject political correctness and glorify racial prejudice. I doubt that the professors who are advocating the political bowdlerization of literature realize that this is where their efforts are leading, but then history has a nasty sense of humor, and seems to delight in playing such tricks on those who don’t pay attention to the lessons she has to offer.

Let’s go deeper, though. The strategy of bowdlerization assumes that the best way, or even the only way, to discourage undesirable expressions and ideas is to keep people ignorant of them. The history of previous attempts at moral censorship shows that exactly the opposite is the case: since it’s never yet been possible to get rid of every expression of an undesirable idea, making people ignorant of that idea simply means that they’ll react to it uncritically when they do finally encounter it—and while some of those reactions will amount to uncritical rejection, there will also be cases of uncritical acceptance.

What’s the alternative? The capacity for critical thinking about whatever issue is in question—and that’s a capacity that can’t be produced without exposing people to the whole spectrum of ideas that relate to the issue, even those that happen to be offensive to modern sensibilities. For reasons we’ll be exploring further on, and in future posts as well, literature is particularly well suited to this kind of examination, and it’s precisely the literature that modern politically (or patriotically) correct thinkers find reprehensible that’s most valuable in this context.

A specific example will be more useful here than any number of generalities, so let’s take a look at a writer who’s come in for quite a bit of condemnation along the lines just sketched out: the American horror-fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft.  Was Lovecraft a racist? You bet; he proudly described himself using exactly that term in at least one of his letters. (You could get away with saying that in America between the wars.  A significant fraction of Americans described themselves as racists in that era, before Auschwitz et al. made it too uncomfortably clear what kind of results then-popular notions about racial superiority could have when put into practice. I mentioned history’s nasty sense of humor earlier; one solid example is the fact that the single most enduring impact the career of Adolf Hitler had on Western culture was to make overt racism and antisemitism unfashionable in many circles.)

Lovecraft’s racism wasn’t simply a privately held opinion, either. He put racist tropes into many of his stories. With very few exceptions, the people of color who appear in his fiction fall into a handful of classic stereotypes—the deferential drudges who “know their place,” the mindless masses who can do nothing right, the sinister and swarthy figures who deliberately serve the Wrong Side—if you know the pop culture of the time, you’ve met them all. Multiracial people tend to get even worse press at Lovecraft’s hands, with all the usual tropes present and accounted for; in particular, when you find out that a group of people in a Lovecraft story are multiracial, you can pretty much take it for granted that they’re in league with the tentacled horrors who are out to devour mankind.

Now it’s entirely possible to make a case that Lovecraft deserves to be read despite these unpleasant habits. That case has been made by a range of gifted writers, who point out that Lovecraft is among the greatest figures in 20th century horror fiction, and that the imaginative depth and the extraordinary richness of the philosophical issues with which he deals justify keeping him out of the dumpster to which politically correct opinion would consign him. I think there’s a lot to be said for that case, but it’s not the case I propose to make here. Rather, I’d like to suggest that if you want to get a clear sense of the underlying psychology of American racism—an understanding of the sort that will make it impossible for you to take racist notions seriously ever again—a close reading of the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft is a very good place to start.

Let’s start by noting something that hasn’t always been given its due in studies of Lovecraft: people of color weren’t the only people who came in for abuse at his hands. His attitudes toward poor rural white people, as set out in such stories as “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and “The Lurking Fear,” were just as bigoted. In Lovecraft, with few exceptions, if you’re not a well-to-do, college-educated white male heterosexual Anglo-Saxon Protestant, you’re probably being demeaned. 

For that matter, what gave the nonhuman critters at the heart of his most famous stories their frisson of horror in his eyes wasn’t so much that they’re hostile, as that they have the effrontery to exist at all. Consider “Dagon,” usually considered the first of Lovecraft’s mature stories, in which the narrator witnesses a huge, vaguely humanoid, vaguely froggy-fishy creature worshipping at a monolith that’s been thrust up out of the ocean by an earthquake. This sight drives the narrator to drug himself with morphine, and when his cash runs out, to fling himself out the window to a certain death.

Why? The froggy-fishy thing isn’t overtly hostile; it doesn’t even appear to notice the narrator, much less resent the intrusion on its religious practices; but the mere fact that there’s another intelligent species on the planet, one with its own religious and artistic traditions, is apparently enough to unhinge the narrator’s mind so deeply that suicide is the only way out. “I cannot think of the deep sea,” Lovecraft has his narrator say, “without shuddering at the nameless things that may be at this very moment be crawling and floundering in its slimy bed, worshipping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite.”  Would he have felt better if the nameless things were worshipping our idols and carving our detestable likenesses?

With one extremely important exception, in fact, Lovecraft’s whole approach to horror centers on trying to make questions of the sort I’ve just posed impossible to ask. The unhuman creatures at the heart of his most famous stories are dim incomprehensible shapes seen only at a distance, revealed to the narrator of a story by a babbling, frantic description uttered by some half-reliable figure unsure of what he’s seeing. Thus the closest the reader gets to the mighty devil-god Cthulhu in Lovecraft’s most famous story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” is a narrative written by one man and summarized briefly in a narrative written by another—and that’s why the story works. Get any closer to Cthulhu and you start to wonder what things look like from his perspective, and then the whole thing falls to bits.

Lovecraft’s tentacled monsters and sinister cultists have been accused of being two-dimensional, but that misses the point entirely. They work as figures of horror precisely and only because they’re two-dimensional. Give them a third dimension, an inner life, a name and a perspective of their own, and they lose much of their capacity to terrify. If you’re going to project your own fears onto something, one might say, the recipient of the projection needs to be treated as a flat screen—a point that has more than a little relevance to the prejudices that Lovecraft himself embraced.

The one time in his fiction that Lovecraft deliberately broke with the approach just described is the exception that proves the rule. At the Mountains of Madness, one of his three novels, features a team of Antarctic explorers who discover archaic life forms, apparently long dead, in a cavern beneath the ice. Shortly thereafter, radio contact is lost, and when other members of the expedition go looking they find that the team and their sled dogs have been torn to bits; the camp has been destroyed, and the critters are gone. It’s classic horror—except that as the story progresses and two members of the expedition follow the trail of the critters, it slowly sinks in to the reader that the critters’ actions are precisely what a group of human explorers, suddenly awakened in the far future and assaulted by bizarre alien creatures, would have done.

It’s a stunning reversal of perspective that adds tremendous force to the story, but Lovecraft can only maintain the horror by bringing in another, even more ghastly monster, whose perspective is excluded from the story by the usual means. It was also, if I may insert a personal note, one inspiration behind my new novel The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, which stands Lovecraft on his head by placing the tentacled Great Old Ones and their multiracial worshippers at center stage, and letting them speak for themselves.

There is, though, another way in which the monster’s-eye view enters Lovecraft’s fiction, and it’s deeply revealing. Over and over again in his fiction—in “The Outsider,” “Arthur Jermyn,” “The Rats in the Walls,” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” to name only the best examples—the revelation that brings the story to a close is the discovery that the main character belongs to the monsters’ side of the equation after all. The connection’s nearly always via an ancestress who wasn’t what she appeared to be—this theme recurs so obsessively in Lovecraft’s fiction that I frankly wonder if Lovecraft himself knew or suspected that someone on the distaff side of his ancestry was merely passing as white.

That sort of skeleton in the mental closet is far from uncommon among racists, by the way. I’m thinking here, among many other things, of a book I read years ago about the neo-Nazi scene in the United States. The author commented in his introduction that practically every one of the neo-Nazi leaders he interviewed claimed that some other neo-Nazi leader was really gay, Jewish, or not entirely white. The author went on to note that in a good many cases, those allegations turned out to be true. I hope I don’t have to remind my readers, along similar lines, of the number of gay-bashing preachers who turned out to have boyfriends on the side. Jung’s cogent discussions of the habit of projecting the shadow are relevant here: we hate most what we can’t tolerate seeing in ourselves, and our most savage denunciations are always directed, in one sense or another, at a mirror.

You can hear that said in so many words, and it might or might not sink in. Watch H.P. Lovecraft doing it, and if you read him closely and pay attention to what he’s doing, it’s impossible to miss. He took his own frantic terror of other races, blended it with the ethnic, cultural, and economic divisions of a troubled time, and turned that bubbling mix of status panic into some of the twentieth century’s most iconic horror fiction. In the process, like all great writers—and I would argue that despite his problems, Lovecraft was a great writer—he took his own idiosyncratic experience of the world and universalized it, creating literature’s most unsparing portrayal of the hatred and terror of the Other that every human being feels at one time or another: a hatred and terror that is always directed at some part of ourselves.

Grasp that—and a close reading of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, again, is a good place to start grasping it—and you’ll never be able to listen to racist cant again without instantly recognizing that the racists are projecting onto the blank screen of another human life something they find intolerable in themselves. For that matter, plenty of other modes of denunciatory cant stop being plausible once you grasp the lesson Lovecraft unintentionally teaches—and a good many of those modes of cant, dear reader, are to be found on the leftward rather than the rightward end of the spectrum. That’s what literature can do, when it’s not gutted of its power by bowdlerization.  That, in turn, is why reading literature that upsets you, written from points of view with which you disagree, is a crucial element in the kind of education that might just get some of us through the profoundly troubled times to come.

Homework Assignment #2

As previously noted, since this sequence of posts is on education, there’s going to be homework. Your homework for the next month, let’s say, is to read a work of literature that offends you. The choice of book is up to you; if there’s an issue that’s too emotionally traumatic for you to tackle just now, read something on another topic instead, but don’t go too easy on yourself without good reason. You’re not expected to agree with the author—that would defeat the purpose of the assignment—but rather to understand why the world looks the way it does to the author and some of his or her readers. The same rule that governs the creation of good villains in fiction applies here: you aren’t there yet until you can imagine some set of circumstances in which you would have ended up doing the same thing.


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Roy from Cascadia said...

The inaugural meeting of The Cascadia Guild will be held on Tuesday, July 12th, at 7:00 PM PDT. The meeting will be held at Salish Sea Brewing Co., 518 Dayton St, Edmonds, WA 98020.

The Cascadia Guild is dedicated to the preservation of useful non-industrial technologies and of regional culture as we enter the Long Descent; you can learn more at The Cascadia Guild website. All interested parties are invited to attend and help with the formation and shaping of this organization.

If you are travelling from a distance and would like to arrange ride-sharing, either post a comment on our blog or on the Facebook page for this event, or send me an email, and I will attempt to put you in touch with others coming from your direction. For those travelling from the west side of Puget Sound, Salish Sea Brewing is a 10 minute walk from the Edmonds Ferry Terminal, so it shouldn’t be necessary to bring a vehicle across on the ferry. Also for those on the west side of the sound, I know of at least one attendee who will be coming from Port Angeles(!), and who is willing to transport others (including the possibility of a pickup at the Port Angeles ferry terminal, in case anybody from Victoria is feeling particularly adventurous and wants to join us).

Send Queries and Comments to roysmith95[at]live[dot]com.

Twinruler334 said...

That was a particularly interesting post today. Mind you, if any would today find HP Lovecraft's ideas unacceptable, it would be The Christian Right. After all, he was an Atheist, in addition to being a racist after all. And, he suggested an uncaring universe, full of aliens that we cannot understand. Thank you very much for changing the way I perceive things!

Leo Knight said...

I appreciate your perspective. I'll have to choose a few books to read. Maybe I'll take another stab at Ayn Rand.

Regarding political correctness, I don't travel in academic circles. Does PC have such pervasive and powerful reach? Myself, I hear far more complaints about political correctness than I see actual incidents of political correctness. But then, I don't get out much.

Breanna said...

My most pressing question right now is: at what age should such offensive literature be introduced? A great many older children's books have a vexing combination of linguistic richness (not dumbed-down) and racial/gender/class ideas I don't want my children uncritically imbibing. So many of the bigotries and prejudices around are subconscious, acquired from cultural background - so I'd like to combat that as much as possible. But I agree with everything in this post. Should such literature simply be delayed until critical thinking is possible?

Ray Wharton said...

I finished the assignment yesterday. Glen Beck's Agenda 21; borrowed to me by a friend. We were trading political thrillers to make sense of the craziness of the world these days. My friend received 'Twilight's Last Gleaming', and the better end of the deal.

If I decide to take another book for the assignment I think I need to find something better written. Maybe more Ayn Rand, though she isn't much better written, she at least has Glen beat. I am kinda curious about Anthem. Hmmm, I need to think on this some, about what's really been getting my goat recently.

Anyway, Agenda 21 review. The UN passed some laws that said that humans had to respect the environment. At some point in the future there are handsome and "solid" god fearing folk from the American Midwest locked up in concentration camps which were half way between the Giver and 1984 in general evilness. Spoiler Alert they escape their camp and, mercifully, the book ends. Apparently evil people wanted to take away their America Rights to Suburban Life on rural old family style mega farms; so the people from the coasts moved everyone to concentration camps. People are starving but the squirrels (possibly the only wild animal Glen could think of) are fat.

The prose is what you would expect if a middle school short story by Ayn Rand were padded out to the lower threshold for being a novel.

Sorry Glen, I am picking on you, and, really I feel for you. The book, and the afterword more so, seems saturated with a feeling that the American Dream of the Reagan/Rand flavor is dying. Yeah, I get that feeling too. But, the books explanation for that feeling is very different from my own. To me the cause is complicated enough that a guy could blog about it for a decade, if so minded to, but simple enough to call fate. To me the death of that dream is, at this point in my life, a given. For Glen, not so, he doesn't display any interest in the issues that seem more explanatory to me. The book seems to float on a suspicion that a malicious and cruelly misguided intention must be directed against the American Dream.

I think so much of the American Dream here because the book reads much better if one takes it as the account of a bad dream. I grant that some of its critiques of how power corrupts are painfully accurate when projected on to 'The Authorities' and that poetically it does represent the feeling of being trapped against a vague and threatening future that is deafening right now.

Repent said...

"but rather to understand why the world looks the way it does to the author and some of his or her readers."

Brilliant !

In my own personal quest for enlightenment and spirituality I have run face first into the concept of non-duality. This is something really hard to wrap your head around. Everyone is part of God, and there are no dividing lines. We are each God subdivided, yet a part of the whole nonetheless. We are each drops of water, and together we form the ocean of God.

Everything is one, there is only one creature in the multiverse and that is God.

This is still difficult for me having lived an apparent life of duality. I believed (believe) that I'm not you and you are not me, and someone in a cave in Afghanistan is someone else entirely. Still an understanding and a movement towards non-duality seems to be the direction life and my pursuit of truth is taking me, despite my reservations.

To admit to yourself that every evil or disgusting thing out there is really a part of yourself sends a cringe down my spine. Everything I hate, the opposite of every preference that I have, and also of other yet unknown of things that I have yet to experience or judge are all a part of the one thing that IS. To know truth, to know God, is to experience non-duality firsthand.

I think I will be troubled with your 2nd homework assignment, but it is the process at hand.

alex carter said...

What we call the N-word now, was merely a descriptor. Now it's a combination of descriptive and pejorative, mostly weighted toward the pejorative. I grew up where people of my skin color and facial features were and are called a term, "Haole" which again is a combination of descriptive and pejorative, with probably about a 50% weight on each. But I can see it eventually leaning toward being more pejorative as times passes by. I can see how myself, in say another 30 years if I'm still around, using the word as I grew up using it, would really grate on the ears of the young.

I could never figure out what was supposed to be so scary about H.P. Lovecraft's stuff. I read one story of his that had these frog-beings who could happily swim around anywhere underwater, and were part of some ancient and planet-faring civilization, and then the supposedly horrifying part is where the protagonist finds out he himself can swim around underwater and in fact is part frog-creature. Disregarding the biological impossibility of this, my reaction would be something like, "Wow, cool!" because I'd get to explore the oceans, and learn all this neat ancient spacefaring civilization stuff.

But I guess to a white, straight, Anglo-Saxon patrician from New England, being anything but such is a horrifying thought, and Lovecraft was only able to get such thoughts published by couching it in terms of frog-creatures.

Dylan said...

Speaking of Robert Heinlein, that might be the author I'll have to return to for this month's homework assignment. I got halfway through Stranger In A Strange Land before giving up, and not more than one or two chapters into Starship Troopers.

The class lecture that followed however, followed a similar line of investigation to what you've done here- Heinlein's insectoid evil aliens are, like the hive-minded Communists that were menacing all dutiful, virile Americans in those days, projections of the dark side of a culture of conformity and fear that had taken hold on this side of the ocean. I remember thinking after class that maybe I would have done better to overcome the intense feeling that I was being polluted by reading the book at all.

This lecture, it's worth mentioning, took place on the other side of the ocean, while I was on a semester abroad in the UK.

Last, I've polished up my submission for this year's Space Bats contest, which can be found here:

Thanks for another great post.

Wizard of Tas said...

I left Christianity while doing my third year of bible college in part because I could no longer accept the 'mono-everything' aspect that couldn't accept anything outside of its own little worldview (gays, other gods, etc). However, one lesson I remember taught by the dean was (in relation to an east European atrocity raging at the time) was that the only difference between 'us' and 'them' was circumstance. Growing up there, developing along those lines, given a gun... Probably.

I have been a white master and a black slave. A gay and a gunman. I have slept in sheets and worn them. A priest and a prostitute. A monotheist and a polytheist.

But not bl00dy Irish!! :)

Chris Smith said...

Great post today!

I had a slightly different experience when I read HP Lovecraft back in the 1980s as a teenager. I read "Call of Cthulhu" and "Shadow Over Innsmouth." I caught the whole senseless brown savage trope in "Call of Cthulhu," but kept reading anyway. My take away at the end of the story was that our white protestant hero (as a sort of stand in for respectable white protestant culture) just got shown that his whole way of thinking and mode of living was unadulterated bovine feces. His logical, scientific, and Christian worldview was entirely bunk. Instead, those senseless brown savages from the beginning of the story had a firmer grasp about truth of things than the fragile bubble of protestant white culture. I credit Lovecraft (ironically as it turns out) with allowing me to be open to critical theory. (I'm talking about Jurgen Habermas and Derrick Bell and critical legal and social theory, not Derrida and critical literary theory). "Shadow of Innsmouth" left me with the same impression.

Then I found out what a colossal racist Lovecraft was from some of his poems and letters. Whatever - still a great writer who got me thinking about things. It was also an object lesson not to turn your literary heroes into role models for your personal life.

I recently read "The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle. The author was interviewed on "Fresh Air" and said that as a black author who loved HP Lovecraft's writing he'd reimagined "Horror at Redhook." I bought the book and it did not disapoint - either a straight weird fiction or a dialogue with Lovecraft. To me, that's how you deal with literature or (as in this case) authors you find disagreeable - you enter into a conversation with them. You don't Bowdlerize it.

Cherokee Organics said...


Oh yeah, I hear you. Robert E Howard with the Conan tales was in that up to his eyeballs. The black characters in those stories fitted a lot of those particular stereotypes, and I just sort of read it, had a quiet chuckle to myself about it and then went on and did something else. I also recall that Robert E Howard eventually took his own life by shooting himself, so clearly he had some demons riding him hard.

Some of my friends are gay and I've had other people tell me that: "oh, I couldn't hang with them" and the implication is that other than friendship there is some sort of ulterior conversion motive going on. Those fear comments makes me laugh, because I'm secure in who I am, and those comments say so much about the people making them and their own insecurities. I'm always surprised that they themselves can't hear the fear, uncertainty and doubt in their own voices. What a strange world we live in.

The weather bureau reckons it just may snow here tomorrow so I'm excited as snow here is rare and getting rarer!!!



John Roth said...

Well, part of this reminds me of George Orwell's political diatribe disguised as a novel, 1984. It's got the same theme: limit language and you control the mind.

RepubAnon said...

This is why the Democratic Party's top political consultants are so worthless - they can't see themselves as others see them - or understand opposing views. For all the sneering about Mr. Trump's campaign in venues such as the New York Times, he knows that frightened people who have lost faith in the "experts" are easily shifted into anger and fear. We could see President Trump next January - and the plot of "Twilight's Last Gleaming" by 2020.

Mike said...

I am reminded of having stumbled upon and read - mainly because it was short - Swift's A Modest Proposal. I was too young to understand satire, and horrified, asked my mother how such terrible things could be publicly advocated. She patiently calmed me down.

I also firmly believe that live theater can have the same beneficial effects as literature.

John Michael Greer said...

Twinruler, good! Yes, and one of the great lessons of the past is that constellations of prejudices and beliefs change over time. In Lovecraft's day, Christians were more likely to be liberal than not, and atheists were very often staunch conservative racists -- read H.L. Mencken for another classic example. A century from now, people will look back on our current belief systems and find them just as baffling.

Leo, political correctness is mostly influential in the academic industry these days; it also has a hold in some coastal states. Outside of those, not so much.

Breanna, how old are your children? If they're old enough to read complex narratives (say, Tom Sawyer) they're old enough to begin thinking about what they read, and you can begin introducing that sort of thinking in conversations with them -- the sooner you begin that, in fact, the better.

Ray, good. The sense of having the American Dream snatched away is very widespread in our collective life right now, and the range of scapegoats being blamed for it is truly impressive.

Repent, I'm forcibly reminded of one of the Beatles' lyrics: "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together." Whether or not people believe that in a theological sense, it's certainly a psychological reality -- since each of us can only understand another person by modeling that person's thoughts and feelings on things we've experienced within ourselves, whatever we hate is always something we are.

Alex, I know! The only Lovecraft story I find actually scary is "The Color Out Of Space," and it's the one piece where he forgot about being prejudiced and focused on the experience of pure alienness. The others? As I noted a while back in the other blog, I find them delightfully funny, with a kind of earnest absurdity that shines through his efforts at spookiness. But then I think octopi are cute, I kept lizards and snakes as pets in childhood, and if great Cthulhu rose from the sea I wouldn't expect him to destroy humanity -- why on earth should he care enough about humanity to bother destroying it? (It's like expecting Donald Trump to devote his presidency to destroying the world's population of chipmunks.)

Dylan, got your story -- if you'll put through a comment marked "not for posting" with your email address, you'll be in the contest. As for Heinlein, I grew up reading him, and still find some of his fiction entertaining -- but the political subtext is often pretty cloying.

Wizard, nah, being Irish is reserved for your next incarnation. ;-)

Chris, exactly! One of the unintentional lessons of Lovecraft is that white male Anglo-Saxon Protestants have no clue about what's actually going on in the world. I'm looking forward to reading LaValle, but I've made it a strict rule not to read any post-Weird Tales Cthulhu mythos fiction until I've finished writing The Weird of Hali series -- I want to contend with Lovecraft and his sources and peers straight up.

Cherokee, best wishes for snow! No question, Howard was a man of his time -- I'll be referencing him, over on the other blog, in the process of placing Julius Evola in his historical and cultural context. The two men had a remarkably large number of ideas in common, and not by accident.

RepubAnon said...

I've always thought that the fish-people in Innsmouth should come up from their underwater cities - and file class-action anti-discrimination lawsuits against the neighboring towns...

Peter VE said...

I cheated by reading Gilgamesh for our last assignment: it's short. When thinking of the most non PC book possible, Mien Kampf springs immediately to mind, and there are many copies available in the local libraries. My neighbors who denounce Lovecraft for his racism, whilst living across from one of the houses where Lovecraft lived will really go through the roof....

"we hate most what we can’t tolerate seeing in ourselves, and our most savage denunciations are always directed, in one sense or another, at a mirror." I read that while trying to avoid the argument with my wife about how we should react to our teenage daughter. Ouch.

Marcu said...

The next meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne will be held this Saturday. All interested parties are invited to attend. For those people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings, imagine a long descent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in.
If you are interested to join us, meet us this Saturday, the 25th of June 2016 at 13:00. The venue is, Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

P.S. I have created a webpage where I will post the details of the next meeting and any further details for those who don't frequent the comments here. The webpage can be found at

MayHawk said...

So I'm guessing that "Tom Sawyer" would be rejected as politically incorrect by our guardians of racial inoffensiveness. One book that takes on Racial prejudice head on which is what makes it one of the greatest books ever written.

For my assignment I'm thinking of something by a climate change denier or else something by Rush Limbaugh though the latter idea makes my stomach churn!

Bob Patterson said...

You do not have to go very far back in history to see the "eraser effects" The treatment of the 1960's in historical literature is laughable to anyone who lived through them. It was as if the older generation just decided it was a cute aberration of society. Those poor misguided, drugged out, naive utopian dreamers. Have you ever noticed that for 20 years it was almost impossible to get any copy of the more radical films of the period (examples - "Putney Swope", "Getting Straight")? The ideas of financial and cultural independence are only now beginning to reappear due to the dire financial situations many of us find ourselves.

drhooves said...

Great post, JMG. Shouldn't be too difficult to find offending material to read for the homework assignment.

History does indeed have a nasty sense of humor, and like Mother Nature, doesn't like being fooled with. The backlash from the efforts to morally censor history, literature and speech on race is well underway, as 7.5 years of "Hope and Change" have taken race relations backwards at least 50 years.

It's not totally unexpected though, as the future seems to be headed towards a two class system (master and slave), in which critical thought, polite discourse and the truth will be discouraged. The Social Justice Warriors of today are the unwitting foot soldiers whose efforts will take us to exactly the opposite of the intended safe spaces.

Rob Rhodes said...

I think I have already seen the seed of reaction to political correctness growing around the blogosphere. In unmoderated comment sections I read people being rude, racist and using ethnic and religious slurs while bragging about being not politically correct. Trump seems to think anti political correctness gives him leave to be all or most of the aforementioned.

Does "literature" maintain the same definition for this assignment; pre 1900? I notice some commenters have mentioned much more current works they might read.

My local used bookstore presented an anthology of Mark Twain for the last assignment. As a retired coastal and river boat skipper reading a former river pilot I enjoyed every minute of Huck and Jim on the river, usually those trying to write marine fiction induce laughter then putting the book aside as unreadable. In the currents and back eddies (easy water to Huck) Twain is faultless. Still one of the highlights for me was Jim's hilarious and intelligent critique of Solomon's solution to the baby ownership dispute.

Steve Carrow said...

For last month's homework, I read Xenophon's Cyropaedia. Learned a lot, not just the history, which might or might not be accurate, but Xenophon's ( and his era's) view of what a good ruler should be.

Offended.. Hmmm. There are plenty of books out that there that I would strongly disagree with, but I'll have to think about actual offense.

Raging Bull said...

A very interesting post, JMG. When I studied literature at university, there was a strong emphasis on historicism - reading texts in the light of their historical context. So, for example, we read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and understood the Doctor's "workshop of filthy creation" as a metaphor for the industrial revolution. We read The Tempest and tried to find in Prospero and Caliban a critique of early colonial encounters: “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”

There is nothing wrong with historicism as a critical idea, but when it is taken too far, it can obscure the deeper imaginative meanings of a work of literature. This fact became apparent to me when we read Joseph Conrad's great tale of European imperialism, Heart of Darkness and my teacher emphasized the racist aspect of the text to such an extent that I felt he was questioning its place on the syllabus.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Heart of Darkness is racist. It uses the native people of the Congo as a metaphor for human savagery and fear, and describes them in an amorphous, almost mystical style. But if you get stuck on that point, you might easily miss the deeper meaning of the story – its critique of European colonialism in general and of that extraordinary character Mr. Kurtz, an ivory trader who is unable to resist the lure of “primitive savagery” because, in spite of his sophisticated European civilization, he is “hollow at the core.” The racism of the book is even undercut by its opening line of dialogue, in which Marlow describes London in the time of the Roman conquests: “This also has been one of the dark places of the world.”

Great artists tend to evade partisan political readings of their work because they seek the ambiguous depths in human experience. This fact alone ought to be enough to deter calls for censorship. But then, what is a great work? That’s another can of worms…

Kfish said...

I accidentally completed this assignment during the last one - 'Quo Vadis' is both more than 100 years old, and completely alien in its mindset. It's a novel about Christian martyrdom in the days of Nero as a metaphor for the Polish experience with, well, everyone. Trying to understand the mindset in which a gruesome death for Christ could be something to welcome was an interesting experience. As a bonus, it includes a Roman character who is struggling to understand the appeal of Christianity from his own alien perspective.

Josh said...

JMG - off topic again sorry...

You've highlighted how Hilary has been running an inept campaign - but she's going to win, for reasons that you yourself have pointed out previously. The Democrats only have to wave the scary Republicans in front of affluent liberal/progressive voters and they perform dependably every time. Now the Republicans have the scariest possible candidate to wave. So many former Sanders sympathizers are lining up behind Hillary now because they are afraid of Trump. Victory for the Establishment is ensured (as if it was ever in doubt, with so much Wall St backing?). People are talking about how Trump will be unseated by sketchy means at the convention - but why, from the elites' perspective? He's the guarantor of Hillary's election.

Why doesn't Trump just ask Sanders to be his running mate? Wouldn't that spell certain (popular) victory over the widely-hated Hillary? Liberal/progressives would scream over the idea of Bernie joining forces with Trump, but wouldn't that be the only chance for their candidate to achieve a high office? What is the argument against it - that with a Trump-Sanders ticket then people in the gov't would argue all the time and not get anything done? How is that different from now? Yeah so why not?

We thought it was impossible but this is going to be a kick-the-can-down-the-road election and Hillary is going to take the next 4 or 8 years. What do you think?

Jo said...

Many years ago a friend and I were both reading the Dr Dolittle books to our children, and I mentioned to her that I had quietly excised all racist references. She replied that she had read them out and talked about them with her children - she saw that as a form of armouring them against taking the written word as gospel. At which I mentally smacked myself on the forehead and have been doing the same with my children ever since.

Jim said...

I recently (before the assignment!) re-read Hucklebery Finn, Tom Sawyer and read, for the first time Life on the Mississippi. I was a little taken aback by Twain's casual rascist language but when I calmed down I was pleasantly suprised to see his underlying sympathy for the plight of antebellum blacks. Twain was a giant.

I tried two other pre 20th century books. Failed at both. I couldn't get through Lord Jim just because it was so badly written by my measure. I found it, and the second book on a list of best books ever.

the second book was Tom Paine's Common Sense. Wow, what a difference in language between the 18th and the 19th centuries! Lord Jim was easily readable but, to me trivial. Paine was writing political advocacy with a vengeance and sometimes, because of archaic vocabulary and word order, tough going. I got through Common Sense and some of the other essays but being familiar with much of the detailed history of the period I didn't feel I got much out of the struggle.

zach bender said...

i do not want to pretend i do not get the larger point, but i want to ask whether it is actually the case that lovecraft has been stricken from a reading list at some american college on the ground he was racist.

Steve Thomas said...

As I'm wracking my brain for things I find offensive there's one title that keeps coming up. Everything I've read about the author to date kind disgusts me, I loathe the political movement that the author is connected to, and I do not want to read the book. I guess that's the one I ought to go with, then.

You mentioned the way that political groupings reverse themselves over time. This election is showing the way that happens, and it's doing it in a way that makes me feel like I've been sucked into a bizarro funhouse world. Did you happen to read Donald Trump's Big Speech about Hillary Clinton? There is so much that is loathsome about the man. But then he openly attacks the Iraq War, criticizes the decision to intervene in Libya as more of the same, and talks about the disastrous effects of NAFTA and other free trade agreements. It's hard for me to see how anyone who was involved in the anti-war or anti-globalization movements of 15 years ago-- you know, the ones that disappeared without a trace once the Democrats started managing the foreign wars and neoliberal trade agreements-- can vote for anyone but Trump. I made the mistake of saying this in a public forum and was attacked because "Trump could literally be the next Hitler."

The drying up of protest movements once the protesters' preferred political party takes power isn't new. But I wonder if the change will become more permanent this time, and the Democrats will just openly be the Imperial Party from here on out.

On last month's assignment-- I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I tandem-read Little Women and the Mayan Popul Vuh. I was surprised by just how disturbing I found the second of those. Some of its images and moments are powerful, moving... And then there's the part where the followers of a trio of stone gods start secretly kidnapping people for use in human sacrifice. Eventually they become powerful enough that they can step out of the shadows and openly conquer cities and found dynasties. These are the heroes of the story, fulfilling the role of a Moses or an Aeneas. And they would work perfectly as villains in a Lovecraft story!

Speaking of Lovecraft... I also don't find his stories scary, for the most part. I find them strangely comforting. I often turn to Cthulhu when I'm feeling down. As for his racism... It does make some stories unreadable, but it doesn't bother me as much as it might because I just don't buy it. At various times in his stories and his private letters he attacks blacks, Jews, Italians, Spaniards, Asians, "poor white trash," the Irish, the Scandinavians, the Eskimo-- I once described him to a friend by saying "He's great once you get past the fact that he was prejudiced against you, all your friends, and everyone you've met." And once you realize that he was sort of raised as an overprotected shut in, you realize that his "politics" are really just his own terror of the outside world. I guess that's part of the lesson here though, isn't it?

beneaththesurface said...

This week's post and especially the homework assignment reminds me of a quote I came across only in the last week: "A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.” -Jo Godwin

When I was a child my family went camping every summer in Maine, and when we had a rainy day, we'd use it as an excuse to spend the entire day near Ellsworth at the Big Chicken Barn Used Bookstore and Antiques -- a chicken barn full of old books of all kinds on the second level. I have fond memories of exploring rare, old books I never saw elsewhere, and I was allowed to buy a few of my choice (your Homework assignment #1 brought back good memories of being introduced there to books published before 1900). Once I purchased some of the Bobbsey Twins books -- some of the first ones written in the early 1900s. I then remember my mom reading them to me at bedtime, and later on she reminisced on how it had made her uncomfortable. There were a lot of overt racist sentiments and remarks in the stories toward people of color, and prejudice against Gypsies. But I'm glad that despite her discomfort, she didn't stop reading them to me. It was educational to listen to a story from that time, reflect on it, and use it as a springboard for discussion. Later last century, a lot of the Bobbsey Twin books were rewritten and sanitized.

jessi thompson said...

I'm running into the same problem, not much offends me. I may have to do some research to find something really misogynistic, I think.

As for the discomfort with people like Hitler sharing a place in God with us, take heart in this: the other side of the coin is than no soul, no fragment of a soul, no bit of experience is ever lost. That comfort (especially when a lived one dies) far outweighs the discomfort for me.

Unknown said...

I am late in my first assignment - I am actually reading "The Pilgrim's Progress" based on your suggestion. I am about halfway through and I was ready to give up a couple of times but still going. I cannot say that what he says offends me but it definitely annoys me to no end. I realized how well written some parts of the Bible are - direct and very human as opposed to pompous and moralizing like Paul Bunyan. So I guess it pays off already to stick with reading a book that I disagree with... To be clear, I am not a believer. I read the Bible out of curiosity and in turns amazed me, horrified me and opened my eyes to actual human nature.
As for the current assignment, I am tempted to actually try to read news in mass media. I haven't in a long time and I realized I cannot explain my position in conversation with friends. They refer to BBC or other liberal media, I refer to blogs like this and we cannot find any common facts. Yes, I mean actual facts not ideas. How can I provide concrete facts to support my assertions when I don't have any of their context from what they read or listen to. I felt very out on the fringe...
I wonder if you have any idea how to bridge the gap without spending all my time digging through the official story? That would be too offensive for me...

LewisLucanBooks said...

Salutations, Mr. Greer - Just about the time Dr. Bowdler was busy with Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson was busy cutting and pasting (with a real pen knife and paste!) the New Testament. He was cutting out all the parts that had to do with miracles, magic and the supernatural. Age of Reason, critical thinking, or, bowdlerization?

I belong to a 12 Step Program, that was started by a bunch of white, anglo-saxon, well educated guys, who had, clearly, read a lot of Jung. It is "suggested" (everything's a darned suggestion) that if we resent or dislike someone, perhaps it's because we don't like something about them, that we do not like in ourselves. That maybe, we might want to "take a look" at that.

I'd use that holding a mirror up to someone, so they can find the intolerance in themselves, with great caution. It can set off a violent ... even murderous reaction.

I often urge people I know to read widely ... outside their political comfort zone. Not that anyone pays attention to me :-). I read left, right and center. Part of it is, I just am very curious about what makes people tick. Part of it is "know the enemy, and what they're up to." Enemy from my point of view, which I know is very binary.

After the Oklahoma City Bombing, I read "The Turner Diaries", which were very much in the news, at the time, as a blueprint for what happened. I thought it was a poorly written, nasty piece of work. But, I could see what the mindset of the bomber was, and, even found a few of his grievances ... understandable. Lew

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

One of the reasons I like reading Westerns (and wish to devote more of my time to reading Westerns) is that it is one genre where white American writers, even nowadays, are willing to confront the issue of race, and include non-white characters, rather than write only about white people and forget that other races exist. Is there racism? Yes - though the level of racism varies a lot from writer to writer (and interestingly, older Western fiction is not necessarily more racist than more recent Western fiction). However, white Western writers at least have non-white characters and think about race, and the writers which I bother to read try to think about it from the non-white people's perspectives (even though their prejudices may make these attempts seriously flawed). That is more than I can say for a lot of sci-fi / fantasy by white Americans, which often have no non-white characters at all, and even when they do, they often aren't as well written as the non-white characters by white Western writers.

I've also noticed an impulse that, when I criticise a work of fiction for displaying a certain prejudice, people assume that I want to censor that work (for example, if I am critiquing a play, people assume that I mean that the play should never be performed). That's not necessarily true. After all, if a work is censored, then people won't know what I'm talking about when I'm critiquing it!

LewisLucanBooks said...

PS: Gosh. What was that black and white, 1940s (?) British horror movie. The "real" Lord of the Manor, turns out to be a giant frog that flops his way down from his tower, by night, to wend his way through a hedge labyrinth to take a moon light dip in a pool. Much to the horror of the Lord of the Manor's, brother's new bride ... who didn't know she was getting mixed up in family curses. Or something like that. It's been a long time. But, as a small child, it certainly gave me a bad case of the fantods :-). Lew

Yucca Glauca said...

Regarding Dagon, I've always tended to wander in idle moments toward thoughts of other species religious feelings. I lean towards thinking that they do have some and am fascinated by some thoughts on the matter--I think it was in a book by Ivo Domniguez jr. that I encountered the idea that there may be some gods who are primarily concerned with animals but who lean into human awareness now and then--but generally consider it to be fundamentally unknowable. Witnessing another species' religious practice and being able to recognize it as such would be among the coolest things I can think of. Clearly, a similar difference in sensibilities as to why many of us don't find Lovecraft's stories particularly terrifying.

Picking a work for this week's homework is going to be hard! Perhaps the biggest challenge is that in high school I had the embarrassing habit of reading works I disagreed with under the pretense of understanding other views when really I just wanted to gloat in superiority.

Bekah Evie Bel said...

I have long been of the opinion that changing or removing such hotbed words from classic lit, and even not using them in modern lit that is set in such times, is a bad idea. The best way to learn from history is to learn about history, removing all examples of it is to almost deny it happened and most likely lead to it happening again. I like the way you've discussed it much better than my attempts to do so though.

For your homework assignment, I wonder... What if I can think of nothing that offends me? Some things upset me - violence to children inevitably leads me to envision such happening to my kids, for instance. There are things I don't like - the obvious, like racism, sexism etc but I don't know that I actually feel offended by it. Even when people aim pejorative terms at me that I do not like, I don't know that I ever feel offended. Just annoyed maybe, but more often amused, to be honest. I don't know what that means about me. It also means I can't think of any books, nor even any types of books that I could read for this sort of assignment. Any suggestions or alternatives?

steve said...

apropos from wired:

“The Beauty of Laplace’s Equation, Mathematical Key to Everything”

Does ego’s unmet expectations, squared, multiplied by the desired characteristics of the homogeneous, always equal zero ?

Yucca Glauca said...

I've always appreciated the Discordian way of putting this: Imposition of Order = Escalation of Disorder.

I've read some commentary on this law that says that the more severely Order is imposed, the longer it takes for Disorder to escalate, but the more dramatic the disorder will be when it finally does.

And of course, Order is simply whatever agenda someone wants to impose on the underlying Chaos.

ed boyle said...

I'm almost finished with divine comedy and have read hard times and great expectations. Next I go back an finish Iliad and I dug out Niebelungenlied. Epic poetry is preprosa. Paradise lost was excellent and Pushkin's Onegin.

excellent post. Know thyself goes the old saw and 'walk for a mile in a man's mocassins befoore criticizing."

PC thought is deeply ingrained in the West in a particular way. In Eastern Europe and monoethnic countries like Japan or China with independent cultures racism is much more readily acceptable. Americanization means acceptance of US films, music, TV series and ideology which have since hitler and 60s race riots become a pamphlet for racial toleration and integration of women into workforce. Latter is universally accepted and pop music based on jazz, rock coming out of US black music streams. People from the East however are more direct and often racist in their attitudes. Contact with minorities was negligible. Two germanies still exist side by side in point of fact in this regard. OTOH in the west PC does not mean tolerance but ignore till it is too late and white flight, similar to USA liberal white thought. Impoverished ghettoes are not romantic and the limits of ethnic contact is eating at a take out or using public transit. My Russian wife came from a Russia where, similar to USA, all 'whites' were really mongrels from various ethnic groups and one never noticed it until after end of soviet union. Now though racism, combined with identity search in newfound nationalism out of chaos of collapse creates stereotype thinking of every group. Jugoslavian war had similar trajectory. Decades of 'imagine' from john lennon mindset reverts to severe primitivism. The same is happening now to EU. It collapses soon likely as not and then it's 'every man for himself'. Millions of noneuropean whites here will then be all the more suspect if the french and german and brits begin to despise one another. Racism would appear to be their only commonality in 10-15 years. Collapse will lead to deportations of long tolerated minorities without national passports or local religion or local ethnic marriage partner and children. Integration will likely come to mean assimilation.

Everyone has character faults and external group 'x' is always a good foil. In USA Africans have served whites as scapegoats. In Europe jews were always available during a crisis to kick around and blame for own mistakes. Now I imagine Islam will be to blame for ECB incompetence and climate change in Europe. And so the story goes.

Meg Tapley said...

You seem to imply that college academics are largely behind the bowdlerization of literature. Having recently completed a four-year tour of duty in higher education, I'm not sure that's entirely the case. Though my degree is in the relatively non-controversial field of music, I still had to take core classes in topics like English and history, and didn't really pick up on much political-correctness-motivated tampering with curricula. Instead, I saw "banned books" being celebrated, and the urge for censorship examined. And a bit of research suggests that the majority of book bans are the result of parents complaining to middle and high school administrators - not college professors pursuing the latest intellectual fad. ("Harry Potter", which is pretty inoffensive except to fundamentalist Christians, tops this list of last decade's most-banned books - which, in a beautiful piece of irony, also includes Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.)

Then again, it's entirely possible that academic types just have more subtle ways of making sure certain "offensive" books never see the light of day than by outright banning them, and I wouldn't know anything about it - as noted, this isn't my field at all.

John Michael Greer said...

John, well, it should. It's not often remembered that Orwell was criticizing the Left of his time ("Ingsoc" = "English socialism").

RepubAnon, oh, I think Clinton would be at least as well qualified to fill Jameson Weed's shoes, with her monomania for regime change!

Mike, plays are literature. Of course watching live theater can have the same effect -- can you imagine the impact of Shylock's soliloquy in The Merchant of Venice on its original Elizabethan audience in the Globe?

RepubAnon, funny. That's a story I'm not going to write, but would love to read.

Peter, Mein Kampf is a good choice for most people these days. I'm rereading Julius Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World -- that's partly because I plan on discussing him at length on the other blog, but partly because I'm also doing the assignments.

MayHawk, Limbaugh's a really, really bad writer, so there's some real amusement to be had watching him struggle with the English language and lose. That might be some consolation...

Bob, that's a good point, too. I'm also thinking of the way that the Seventies conservation and environmental movememts have been erased!

Drhooves, nah, "masters and slaves" is a brief transitional phase -- Toynbee calls them the dominant elite and the internal proletariat -- and is followed by total collapse, the slaughter of much of the dominant elite, and the emergence of a standard dark age society. My book Dark Age America will cover that in detail.

Rob, nope, that was the last assignment. This one can be from any period from the invention of writing to hot off the presses, so long as it offends, disgusts, or upsets you.

Steve, disagreement will do if you can't find something that gets a stronger reaction. Still, I'm sure if you look for one, you'll find something that makes you want to fling it across the room.

Raging Bull, any approach to criticism makes a mess of things if it's the only approach that's permitted. Historicism is a very useful tool for making sense of writing, but of course it needs to be combined with other approaches in order to give a properly rich sense of a story's meaning.

Kfish, but did it offend and upset you?

John Michael Greer said...

Josh, there I think you're quite wrong. Clinton is running a campaign that appeals powerfully to the wealthiest 15% or 20% of Americans, and to certain pressure groups outside that class, and pretty much nobody else. I've heard from a lot of people who voted for Sanders, and the vast majority of them say they wouldn't vote for Clinton if she was running unopposed. She's defining herself as the candidate of business as usual at a time when business as usual has most Americans up against the wall. Could she still win? Of course -- it's not over 'til it's over, as Yogi Berra liked to say -- but the tactics she's trying to use are the same ones that got all those other GOP candidates steamrollered by the Trump phenomenon, and my guess is he's still more likely to be sworn in next January than she is, by a significant margin.

Jo, glad to hear it. That's exactly the sort of insight, and change of direction, that helps teach children to think for themselves about hot button issues.

Jim, Twain was definitely a giant, and America has had few authors who could stand beside him -- though there have been some. Paine and Conrad, well, not my favorites either...

Zach, I haven't the least idea, and I didn't claim that this has happened, either. I simply said that this has been advocated. His image has recently been struck from the World Fantasy Award (formerly the "Howard") for the reasons I cited, though.

Steve, "Little Women and the Popol Vuh" would make a really, really good band name! Yes, I did read Trump's speech, and in an upcoming post will talk about what it means that the Republican candidate is considerably to the left of the Democratic candidate on the whole range of economic, political, and military issues. If the mainstream pundits keep yelling "Hitler! Hitler!" while Trump keeps hammering on Clinton's neoconservative warmongering, this may turn into one of those elections in which the media loses control of the dialogue and things go spinning off in strange directions!

Beneath, that sounds like my favorite kind of bookstore! Thank you for the reminiscence.

Jessi, one of the things I've noticed is that many people have no idea just how offensive some published literature is. You can find stuff that will turn even the stoutest stomach. Go hunting!

Unknown, you may just have to get yourself a new set of friends.

Lewis, I don't recommend trying to make other people acknowledge their own shadows. I recommend that each of us make the choice to get to know our own. Trying to force knowledge on another person never ends well.

Notes, fascinating! I've read next to no Westerns. Can you recommend a good author or two?

Lewis, I don't remember that one at all. By the way, congratulations for using the word "fantods" -- a fine bit of ornate vocabulary!

Yucca, me too -- I'd hope to have the chance to watch the whole ceremony.

Bekah, if mild dislike is the best you can do, you may have to settle for that. Still, it might be worth looking for stuff out on the fringes, as far as possible from your own viewpoint; you may be able to find something that will set off a stronger reaction.

Steve, I'd be willing to take that as a working hypothesis!

Yucca, no argument there. Fnord.

Ed, racial antagonisms rise in the early phases of collapse, and decline thereafter as new aggregations emerge from the husks of the old. I see no reason to expect anything different this time.

John Michael Greer said...

Meg, by all accounts a lot of it depends on which institution you attend. You may simply have been lucky.

Mikep said...

Too late. You are suggesting a feasibility study into costing a new stable door when the Alt-Right horse is already disappearing down the road with the wind in his mane. Too many idealistic young white liberals with their smug heads stuffed full of ideas of their own moral superiority, have gone out into the world expecting to bestow the benefits of their tolerance upon the long suffering "Noble Negro" only to have the "Truculent Dindu" relieve them of their illusions along with their wallet and mobile. For too many people the cognitive dissonance created by the difference between Hollywood/BBC/Media etc picture of modern "Post Racial Society" and their own experience of living in a multicultural reality is too great to overcome.
On the other hand once meaningful economic growth as measured on a per-capita base re-starts, then all we have to do is increase the proportion of public spending going to affirmative action programs and the damage will no doubt be speedily undone.

Yossi said...

"I've read next to no Westerns."
Try Cormac McCarthy.

Chloe said...

Here's an irony: the phrase "political correctness" is itself now undergoing erasure in certain areas by means of an internet-based app/widget/thing which replaces the phrase with "treating people with respect" wherever it shows up. Now people no longer have to even see that they're being accused of political correctness… The term's never been non-controversial, and a large part of the problem is that it conflates two sets of ideas: the set of beliefs espoused by the left, and the imposition of orthodoxy relating to those beliefs such that all other discussion is shut down or, as we see now, treated as if it simply doesn't exist. The beliefs themselves may be reasonable enough (the only major quarrel I personally have with what we might call the "social left", or the feminist/LGBT/minority rights constellation, is its unshakeable conviction in its own righteousness) but that's going to quickly get lost in the backlash against being told what to think by a cultural mainstream that doesn't necessarily reflect the ideas of the majority of the population. (The loss of critical faculties in the process, as you've highlighted, certainly doesn't help.)

Your use of the word "justify" ("… containing language or ideas that justify the oppression they've experienced…") raises an interesting point, though I don't know if it was intentional on your part: a thing can only be justified if it is justifiable. That is, if the ideologies of these banned works are as flawed as people nowadays believe, then the works cannot justify the ideology - they can only excuse it. And this does seem to be the case, as seen in the ways Lovecraft unwittingly deconstructs his own racism and provides insights into the psychological causes of it, rather than providing any compelling reason to adopt the racism itself. So why erase it? Do the censors simply believe we're all too stupid for a critical reading, and will become racist by merely being exposed to racist works? Or do the zealots of anti-racism struggle with that critical reading themselves? (After all: we attack our mirrors.)

Anyway, I'm another one struggling to think of any work of literature that will actually offend me. I think I'll join a few of your other commenters and hunt down Ayn Rand.

And I have a Space Bats entry! Here you go:

Joel said...

Good point about unintended consequences.

I have to say, though, my experiences match Leo Knight's. Having spent more than a third of my life at West Coast universities, I've never seen an academic advocate that people remain ignorant of past or current racism.

There is pressure not to adopt or employ offensive terms for groups of people, but I haven't encountered any "let's never read that, the author was racist". Lot's of "let's all stand around and point fingers at this dead author," which may have other sorts of unintended consequences, and certainly lots of "let's read this one, too, because the author was unfairly ignored for the last couple decades".

I did have the experience of using the term "hysteresis" in a circuits lab and having a classmate take offense at it (she had conflated the Greek terms for history and for uterus), but when I explained the term's actual etymology she didn't push the issue.

Max Osman said...

Personally, i prefer the theory that 1984 showcases Orwells notorious hatred of the other irish/catholics.

>I had the great pleasure of reviewing [two pro-Catholic books]:It was the first time I have been able to lay the bastinado on a professional RC at any length.

>I found Vacandard’s history of the Inquisition quite interesting:It appears:that the pendulum in Poe’s story was actually used:Torture [was dropped] in the middle of the 18th century, but the Pope did not formally abolish it until 1816. Our hedgehog has disappeared.

Consider the real names of the men who have governed Britain-and then explain why Orwell named his villain “O’Brien.” Bad conscience trumped sense yet again. He hates the O’Briens so much that he foolishly imagines they’re going to rise to the top in the coming Soviet Britain and take their revenge on the Orwells

Also the fact that in the appendix, the first thing INGSOC did was change the engkish time to a continental clock. “It was a cold, bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

I could add the obsession he has in homage to catalonia with burning catholic churches, but i'll leave that beside.

L said...

I definitely feel that reading viewpoints by people you currently oppose often leads to a new understanding of where they come from. I've taken quite a meandering road in my (admittedly relatively short) years of considering politics, moving from right-wing based on ignorance and upbringing, through a few years of gradually moving left in an uncritical manner as I discovered that section of the internet and made left wing friends at uni, through discovering this blog, and then briefly considering myself anarchist, before ending up in my current opinion of vaguely left libertarian with strong belief in limits of growth. There are definitely multiple issues on which I no longer agree with my left wing friends.
I actually read a reasonable amount of things written by more right wing libertarians these days. After the Orlando shooting, my entire social media feed (yes, I know, it's a timewaster...) was filled with people expressing how tragic it was and calling for America to increase its gun control (gun control in the UK is pretty much taken as a given, being as we are at the moment where carrying anything bigger than a 3 inch folding knife without good reason is illegal, and self defense isn't counted as good reason, and if you carry something else with intention to use as an offensive weapon, that's also illegal) but I felt this really wasn't the whole story so I went looking for pro-gun accounts of the event and actually ended up on the Donald Trump reddit, which I discovered was surprisingly not homophobic.
On the topic of the homework, I will have to think what will cause me offense. I think it would probably be something that was overtly and unapologetically homophobic, seeing as I am a lesbian. Not in a just pretending gay people don't exist at all way, but in a "we included gay characters and portrayed them as sinful/mentally ill/depraved/evil and this didn't change by the end of the book" sort of way. But I don't know what books would be like that, so I could probably do with some recommendations...
The Brexit vote is today (actually, I will probably have voted by the time this comment goes through) and I'd like to thank JMG and the other commenters who commented on it. I've pretty much decided to vote leave because I want sovereignity, not to be dragged into ridiculous trade deals like TTIP, better control over borders in the face of the fact that the UK is the 3rd most populated country in Europe that isn't one of those super tiny countries that's basically a city-state, and I think that despite likely short term pain, it'll enable us a better chance to survive the escape from the status quo in the future.
Thanks for another excellent post,

YCS said...

Hi JMG/All,
Might I suggest something that will terrify contemporary Red Guards? The fact that our own beliefs and actions will be regarded as wrong and hypocritical in the future.

What else could you say when university students in affluent countries protest racism while wearing sweatshop made clothes? Send youth delegations to faraway places, burning fuel to protest climate change? Our apparent obsession with sexuality while we trample on working class people?

It's heretic to imply that morality is an evolutionary, not a progressive construct, that there's no perfect 'utopia' and even today's 'progressive society' is oddly oppressive in many ways. I always get the feeling that people who denounce racist thought crime (particularly privileged people) in others have some deep-seated insecurity or guilt themselves. They're perfectly happy to loudly proclaim things while doing nothing to actually mitigate the harms of privilege (Hillary Clinton, case in point).


John D. Wheeler said...

And another cherished myth gets destroyed by John Michael Greer.... I always pictured the Dark Man helping Cthulhu as a mystical Man-In-Black, a universal Shadow, a patch of darkness in humanoid form. How disappointing to learn that Lovecraft was picturing a mere melatonin-rich human.

And amusingly, for last month's assignment, I went to The Gutenberg Project's Top 100 list and started scanning down. I was pleasantly surprised by just how many were disqualified because I had already read them. I was a little annoyed at the ones that were disqualified by being non-fiction. And I didn't particularly feel like starting something as long as War and Peace. So, the book I chose was Uncle Tom's Cabin. Which, as it turned out, fits very nicely with this month's assignment, as I only got a few chapters in before I couldn't stand it anymore.

Monica said...

Another excellent post, thank you. Brings to mind a little conversation I overheard at work - a colleague was taking a phone call on a dog complaint, with the caller saying to my colleague "Oh my dog wouldn't ever hurt another dog, I even feed it vegan food!". Another one for the utopian vision of the future, where all dogs are vegan and all unpleasantness has been eradicated.

On a separate note thank you for your recommendations on drawing an astrological chart by hand without log tables, and also thank you to the couple of commenters who recommended books - I do read all the comments here even though I don't comment that often.


Twinruler334 said...

I may as well read Joseph Stalin's books then. For he is about the only historical figure I hate more than Adolf Hitler himself!

Kim Arntsen said...

The same urge to censor literature from the past is on full display on this side of the Atlantic too, unfortunately. For example, here in Norway there was quite a fuss a few years back when someone decided re-issues of beloved (Swedish) children's classic Pippi Longstocking had be edited for political correctness. At least the PC editors met significant resistance, even if they were ultimately successful.

I've also got a quick question about the homework assignment. Does it have to be a work of fiction, or is non-fiction fair game as well? If so, I have the perfect book in mind, if I can get hold of it (out of print, apparently, even though it's fairly recent).

Finally, for anyone who's having a hard time finding an offensive book, there's always ,Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts by Leigh Phillips. A very explicit defense of the Religion of Progress (it's even in the sub-title), and a polar opposite of the world view and values I'd assume most readers of this blog would hold.

Don Plummer said...

Well, since I work in a community college, not in a four-year university, I don't know whether the kind of censorship you describe here is happening in such places anymore, but I know it's not happening where I teach. Your comments about expurgating the teaching of literature that contains racist notions might have been current twenty years ago during the height of the campus speech code movement, but I'm not so sure they're current anymore.

In fact, the reading anthology we use in our composition classes contains an essay that was written during the height of the speech-code period--that would be the mid-1990s--written by Johnathan Rauch and called "In Defense of Prejudice." In this essay, Rauch makes essentially the same points you make here. I assign Rauch's essay to my first-year composition students and usually find it's one of their favorite readings.

I am honestly far more concerned with the historical revisionism going on in the Right, in particular their rewriting of American history to support the notion of America's founding as a "Christian nation" and supporting the nationalist and militarist notion that all our actions have been just and right. I think the Right's revisionism has far more chance of causing negative consequences down the road than anything happening the left is offering these days; the Right, in truth, is far better organized, far better funded, and far more conscious of their goals and objectives than the scattered and tattered remnants of the Left are.

An aside: since the term "political correctness" has become such a common term with such a vague meaning (including it's frequent use as a snarl term), it would be very helpful for one to offer a working definition before using it, if one decides to use it at all. I don't use the term myself because I honestly don't know what it's supposed to mean.

C.L. Kelley said...

BeneathTheSurface, The Big Chicken Barn is still there! I drive past it every Saturday on my way to peddle our long-ferment breads & bagels at the small-but-growing farmers market in Ellsworth. Your recollections have made sure I will stop there this week as I've been meaning to check it out. I will give the old place your regards.

Matt said...

My question, from the other side of the pond, is how much of this bowdlerisation is really happening?

I ask because most of the PC stories over here turn out to be either outright fabrications or the attitudes of a very few individuals being blown out of all sensible proportion. After all, in a world of billions you can find someone who believes anything! I don't want to make assumptions about it being the same over there, but it would be good to have some kind of evidence to help form a judgement.

I'm finding the stuff about projection very interesting. I think a while back JGM talked about the US government's negotiating stance as being one which seems unable to attribute interests to the opposite party - there's no need to do that if you think you hold all the power and can get your way with enough bullying. And this essay adds extra weight - without interests they can be the Other on which we project.



Justin said...

JMG, you really should listen to or watch Trump's speech rather than reading it - the delivery was incredibly good, and although I don't know too much about these things he seemed like he was using some vaguely hypnotic techniques. When I get home from work today I'll come up with a few timestamps from his speech that I think were interesting because of how he delivered them, not necessarily what he was saying (to the extent that they can be separated).

I was thinking about Evola this week - I haven't read any of it yet, but I have become very skeptical of democracy lately while still keeping in mind the idea that it's the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried. I think that if a country like Norway, Israel or Switzerland made the periods of military service optional, but tied voting rights to service, that might be the best form of democracy yet - and yes, I've read Starship Troopers. I think the idea that Heinlein was projecting the fear of antlike, conformist communists from within an antlike, conformist, communist institution (the military) is certainly valid but agree with the premise that voting rights should have a cost higher than surviving to a particular age and that the price should be paid in time rather than money - we all get more or less the same amount of time after all.

David, by the lake said...


Not caught up on the comments yet this morning, but I wanted to get a few thoughts out. First, I have been a long-time fan of HP Lovecraft, from the time I first discovered his stories back in middle school and the RPG associated therewith (being an old-time D&D gamer, it was a natural fit). At the Mountains of Madness and Shadow Over Innsmouth were my two favorites. My copy of your first installment in en route.

Second, a quick report of last month's homework. I read The Moonstone, which turned out to be rather fascinating adventure/mystery written told with multiple narrators (similar to Dracula). The aspect of the world portrayed which stood out to me was how significantly personal the inter-class relationships were and how the loyalty was reciprocal -- not just retainer to master/mistress/family, but the reverse as well, particularly in terms of care of retainers in their old age. (Also, despite my first impression, the story turned out to be rather sympathetic to the perspective of the Indians whose gem had been stolen in the first place.)

Third, a quick shout-out to Joel, as my first issue of Into The Ruins arrived the other day and was quickly devoured. Story ideas a already bubbling in the back of my head and perhaps, just perhaps, I will actually finish one and get it submitted before the next scheduled apocalypse.

I will have to give some thought to this second assignment. No work leaps to mind, but I'm sure I can find something relevant.

How does one foster an educational environment supporting a free and open examination of ideas? Is such a thing sustainable or can it only exist under certain, transient circumstances?

Twinruler334 said...

I used to desire to write Science Fiction. I remember, I even endeavored to write stories, a whole series of novels even, set in a Galactic Empire. Looking back now, I realize how Colonialist that idea really was. I now decided that I should write fairy tales instead.

I think that would be a good idea. For, fairy tales last longer!

234567 said...

I am a son of the south. Ancestors in the Sons of the Confederacy on both sides. If you think your blood is pure after being in this country for 7 or 8 generations, then you need to get your genetics checked.

I think George Carlin has the feel of things with respect to racism - the intent is to remove the humanity. It is to make a group of 3D folks into 2D caricatures, replete with every stereotypical slur ever tossed their way. One of the things Twain did was to 're-inflate' these stereotypes by restoring their humanity.

Now, to be fair, I am part black but appear white. Where does that leave me with using the term 'nigger'? I can tell you that it upsets those more black than I am, so even within the culture of a particular race, there are degrees of tolerance. Carlin would say that my family isn't "openly black", because unless we share our heritage nobody can tell we aren't white-bread. We look white and thus we are white - genetics be damned because they are inconvenient.

Many of us are in this boat of mixed racial heritage. Once you know, things change in your worldview. It also makes you very inconvenient for those trying to keep their boogeymen 2D - you can deflate most efforts at dehumanizing from either the black camp or the white. And it can be fun to do...

Johnny said...


Another great post. Some of your thoughts about Lovecraft remind me of Michel Houellebecq's "HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life" - he also thinks that the source of Lovecraft's horror was his racism. I got the impression that at the time he wrote it (around 1990) this was quite against the grain. He thought it was just foolish to deny this and seemed interested in the way Lovecraft had really dug into these feelings and amplified them.

Houellebecq's fiction might interest you, I think he has some similar questions about the validity of progress (I thought his novel "The Possibility Of An Island" was quite good for this), questioning what "our project" in the western world really is all about and ridiculing it's values. I am not always completely sure if he agrees with everything he discusses or is just entertaining the ideas and exploring them - his process I think is the opposite of yours, you have said that you are deliberately working through a single idea where I think he is just feeling his way through things, trying to expose some truths society seems desperate to hide, also I believe you are genuinely hoping to help people where I don't think that is true in his case, but still I find I get things from him. He's also quite a bit more vulgar than you, I should warn.

Jon said...

I started reading Thucydides last month. Right from the first chapter some of his statements reminded me of the internet, like People believe the first thing they hear without verifying it. I read Mein Kampf years ago. Maybe I should dust it off.

RPC said...

Tangential to this week's topic, but keeping to H. P. Lovecraft's legacy: I just realized the character "Davey Jones" in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is physically modeled directly on Cthulhu!

Eric S. said...

I thought you might enjoy this open letter to Yale students about that very necessity of sitting back and working with older material even when it offends you, it’s a little apologetic for my tastes (it is, after all, A: from a fairly liberal publication, and B: attempting to get through the delicate sensibilities of modern college students)… but it gets the point across:

I was discussing equal and opposite reactions yesterday right before this came up with a friend in a conversation about the referendum. We were talking about how, in an attempt to prevent the rise of the sort of malignant nationalism that brought about the world wars, the EU had transformed itself from a reasonably benign trade and border agreement into a political institution that took things to the extreme of denying national sovereignty itself, and the result was quite reliably, an equal and opposite reaction across Europe with radical nationalist movements of the early 20th century variety currently on the rise all across the continent.

As for finding something offensive… Hmm… I think I’m going to go with… The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie…

John the Peregrine said...


If your Newton's Third Law is valid, then there doesn't seem to be a way to "win" or come out ahead. If the educational system tries to foster critical thinking, then the inevitable outcome will be a counter-reaction that rejects critical thinking in favor of emotionalism, superstition, or Romanticism, leading to the growth of a puritan movement similar to what we have today. There is no end-state here. It's an endless back and forth of temporary fads and no ultimate winners.

MayHawk said...

Oops! My previous post should have referred to Huckleberry Finn, not Tom Sawyer.

Allexis Weetman said...

Considering some of the filthy horrid things I've read I think I better go get a copy of the turner diaries to be truly offended. I think a lot of the books I've read have been upsetting rather than exactly offensive ('the source' and "chains" come to mind), but I'm guessing you want true moral offense at the authors message rather than just visceral disgust in reaction to horror. Can you clarify?

I read mien kampf once when I was babysitting for my neighbors. When I'm alone in someone elses house I always like to peruse the bookshelves. I found it too badly written to be offensive even with the aid of contemporary hindsight. A hell of a lot of words but very little meaning.

Will self truly makes me want to hurl in his short story anthology "A Rock of Crack as Big as the Ritz" so I recommend it to ya'll if you hate yourself that much. Definitely written with offending the reader in mind.

Ian banks book "song of stone" turned my blood cold. An unsympathetic read.

Frank Herbert's written some horrible books, for example "the white plague"

Can anyone else recommend an offensive book that they have already read?

Professor Diabolical said...

Since Huck Finn is coming up, I'd like to make a pitch for the modern edition (Kaplan I believe) that re-adds the chapter "Life on the Mississippi" which he sold off for rent, includes some other events he meant to add but didn’t make the printer, and mercifully reduces the long pointless end with Jim's escape. It's not "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"; all the passages are Twain, and much of it the way he meant to do it, just reassembled.

Since most of us have read Huck Finn anyway, it makes a nice second counterpoint and investigation into the author's process, as well as IMO, improving some of the failings in the standard edition storyline.

While Twain was laudably or even dangerously advanced for his time, modern Americans are so hypnotized to the Call/Response of racism they cannot even hear the word Huck without speaking of racism, so I'd be amiss not to mention that while they fascinate endlessly on the use of the most or only common word for African-Americans at that time, they're hilariously blind to the overt racism against the Irish, i.e. "Finn", **the very title of the book** as shown in Huck and his stereotypical, terrifyingly alcoholic father. -- A standard scary Irish trope of the time, as in the 1850’s it was those immigrants who "need not apply", could not intermarry, and lived in their own ghettos the previous wave of immigrants (English) burned from time to time. Now all forgotten, so racism is only by color now. –As shown by our own and far better, far more read, far more insightful commenters repeatedly talking about "white" (hetero, saxon, evil, etc) if their targets like Lovecraft would not have blown a fuse if their daughters brought home a Slav, a Celt, an Italian, or even a Catholic. Nope, all gone, never happened. "Race" is only color. And that's the most dangerous Bowlderization of all.

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain

cat said...

You are right that "political correctness" broadly defined is being used for manipulative purposes by both the right (Trump uses an anti-"political correctness" stance as an excuse to be racist and sexist) and the liberals (Clinton campaign in a different way to dismiss the left). However, as a university professor at a mid-level state institution I don't see any evidence that university professors are the chief perpetrators here. All the university professors I know in the humanities teach books that reflect their times, warts and all, precisely because those offensive ideas give students a critical perspective and handle on both the past and the present. Education should shake people up - that is the whole point for the many professors I know.

Owen said...

It is already happening, this uncritical acceptance. /pol/ is in the saddle and is riding mankind.

Owen said...

Trump is not Hitler. A modern day Hitler would be a guy who liked D&D or video games, didn't do well in school, was something of a dorky cut up. Tried his hand at indie game dev (or something vaguely artsy in this era) and failed. Went into the military and did 5 years in Afghanistan or Iraq. Afterwards hung out in a college town and joined a fringe party nobody had ever heard about. And then started to attract followers.

Trump is more like FDR, born into wealth, got an Ivy League education, traitor to his class, etc. And most important, only guy other than Sanders who saying "Let's face the problems and fix them. Here are some ideas on how to do it. Some of them are probably risky, but here we are and we need to do something." There are differences (his wife is hotter), but there are more similarities than differences, IMHO.

Rest of establishment didn't like FDR too much either. And he more or less gave America another 80-90 years of life.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Thank you for reminding us (in your comment to John) that Orwell was often critical of English socialism. I am 'feeling the heat' right now due to the EU referendum, on which people are voting as I write. I've been backing 'Brexit' for reasons of thinking national democracy is preferable to whatever the EU has become. This puts me in a minority of one among my peers and I have received various messages ranging from the 'you're a misguided fool' variety to full-on accusations of being something far more sinister. My favourite comment directed at me was that by opposing the increasingly authoritarian policies of an unelected supra-national authority I was 'Disrespecting the millions who died during the last two world wars so that you could vote'.

The takeaway lesson for me here is that people will tolerate musings on peak oil and civilisational dysfunction etc. right up to the point when they feel their (highly privileged) lives threatened. I have effectively committed social suicide - although there is some slight solace in the fact that I managed to persuade one person to break away from the collective two minutes' hate, and actually think for himself.

As for all the rest, sadly, war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.

Allexis Weetman said...

I Just recalled now that the most offensive book I ever read was Brave new world by Aldous Huxley - give it a go as its also a cracking read and it forces you to confront some deep assumptions. It made me fiercely angry at it.

Rebecca Brown said...

Hey JMG,
Thanks for another great post. I'm also on the side that's never found Lovelace actually scary. I'm going to have to go back and do some rereading now, because it's also been so long that I can't remember a lot of the racist connotations you're talking about (either that, or I missed them; I was pretty young at the time).

It's not just universities that are bowdlerizing literature. People on both the left and right are doing it to all sorts of children's literature. We've recently begun looking into options for homeschool curricula for our daughter (there's no way she's going to public school in this day and age) and we keep running into it. Take Huck Finn for example. It's a classic every child should read. The right has released editions scrubbing the profanity and the left has released editions scrubbing the racism (when they don't just recommend dropping it altogether).

Nor is it limited to literature; I'm having a difficult time finding core curricula such as history that isn't slanted one way or another. Even math. Why would you want to create a Christian version of a math program?????

Erik Vanderlieb said...

Racism or ethnocentricity is far too natural and "baked into the cake" to ever be excised. So it just goes underground where it thrives.
I'm put in mind of life in the old Soviet Union where people spoke in a certain way in public and another "between 4 eyes".
Once you get away from the muzzled press and the cultural suppression of the universities, you'll find tens upon tens of Americans who happily use racial, cultural, homophobic slurs when speaking amongst like minded peers.
In the life of public America a "party member" may have his career destroyed by an injudicious slip of the lip. Look what happened to Helen Thomas and others.
Meanwhile though, your plumbing contractor ( who may be wealthier than the profs at the local university) is still enjoying the freedom to use all those expressions recently ascribed to the Clintons in Dolly's tell all book about them.

Twilight said...

It seems like the common thread is the belief that ignorance provides some sort of protective function in society - that we'd be better off if we didn't know about this particular thing. If we feel the thing is negative, then it will go away if we hide it well enough and long enough that it is forgotten about. It's true that keeping one's eyes open can sometimes be a painful burden and takes a lot of time and effort, but ultimately that is nothing compared to the costs of ignorance.

I can see how the elite of a declining society may feel that an ignorant population provides protection to them, but in the end the cumulative costs of an ignorant population will also overwhelm any short term advantages.

zach bender said...

there may be a difference between striking an author's work from a college reading list and deciding not to use his image on an object someone is going to put on display in their home. i liked your comment about using historicism alongside other tools. some of your readers might be amused by an excellent book written probably fifty or more years ago by a guy named frederick crews, called "the pooh perplex," which purports to be a collection of critical essays from an assortment of very disparate camps on the subject of winnie the pooh and milne. there is actually a nugget of "truth" in each of the essays, no matter how ridiculous the [fictitious] critic's pose.

Ray Wharton said...

I am thinking about reading something from the Celestine Prophecy series. I think that will really get me steamed up. I think for offense it has to be something fairly close. Too great a distance of time or culture and I am over whelmed by the difference, and loose the inclination to judge. But something close, something that rots the minds of those I know, that I can get steamed about! I read one of the books with an ex some 6 years ago, we would laugh much at the book. I will see about borrowing a different book from the series.

Louis L'amour and some of James A. Michener's works are nice starting places for western fiction. Other commentators who are more widely read could certainly offer better suggestions.

Clay Dennis said...


I like to think about the things and attitudes that we have in our literature ( and visual media) that we think are perfectly normal and wholesome that future generations will find abhorrent. Of course, we can only guess at what things that seem normal to the average american of today will seem downright evil to our decedents. Will future academic institutions censure references to Children being made to play football, or teenagers getting licenses to drive petroleum powered automobiles at the age of 16, or of words such at bank account or interest? Only time will tell.

Hiero said...

Before the time of sparkly vampires, Bram Stoker's Dracula was another tale of existential horror of the eastern European "other" - a creature intent on sucking the life-blood of good Christian women and enslaving mindless Renfields to do their horrible bidding. A creature produced by England's audacity to explore those deep dark corners of the earth - which all good Christian men have a duty to go and destroy.

Whats particularly amusing to me is that a large number of these literary horrors have been usurped and turned on their heads, from Anne Rice's bodice rippers, all the way to Mormon-highschool-workshop-fiction-gone-wrong Twilight. The horror of the originals has been colonized by curiosity borne of ignorance, then elevated to supernatural ideal.

CSB: The university classes I took in fiction chose not to ignore these "low brow, poisonous texts" and instead chose to investigate them with precisely the close readings that you are advocating. I read texts such as Dracula, Trilby, and A rebours while being guided through their subtexts and contexts by skilled instructors. And afterwards, I was not interested in typecasting all others as Svengali (which, god forbid, I finally get the cultural reference, or understand what the heck is a Trilby) or becoming a hedonistic naturalist pasting gems on turtles - instead these readings began to reveal the echoes and counter-echoes in modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern lit which shines a light to the culture that I inhabit.

What worries me is that this type of literary education is siloed away from general population by puritanical culture warriors, both on the left and right. The dominant culture is the only acceptable one; to examine those that don't agree or inhabit a separate cultural-tribal space is a taboo. You could possibly become infected, and become a Lovecraftian monster after merely even brushing against the other.

It takes effort to analyze "offensive" texts within their cultural context (and don't get me started on people who focus ONLY on either pure textualism or intensionalism); it is much easier to bowlderize Huck Finn or toss it into the dust bin than guide people through the viewpoints that Twain is playing with.

Alexandra said...

Okay, I confess I haven't yet done the last homework assignment. I love old literature and read a lot of it so I figured I'd inevitably accomplish the task. Procrastination, in other words.

But thinking about this month's homework assignment, at first I was stumped: If I haven't already read a book, how do I know if it's offensive? Of course I could just surf Facebook for a while...but while it's almost guaranteed to offend my sensibilities it's also guaranteed to contain nothing potentially edifying whatsoever. No, the best bet, I thought, would be to find an author who could reliably be counted upon to offend.

And then I hit on the perfect one: H. Rider Haggard. I don't know what is more offensive in his works, the racism, the misogyny, or the reveling in the wanton slaughter of animals (most of them now endangered). I encourage those of your readers who are having trouble coming up with a suitable book to give HRH a try. (Plus it can also satisfy Homework Assignment #1.)

onething said...

Dear Repent,

My take on the conundrum you brought forth is two things. First, a lot of times I see people (in my opinion) slightly misunderstanding nonduality. That is, they get the concept but somehow come to the conclusion that because unity is the ultimate truth that duality is somehow not (also) true. Duality is the juice that gives rise to the manifestation of the universe. One does not overcome evil by proclaiming it a delusion. So duality is a subsidiary of unity, it is indeed LESS real, but it operates within its sphere. Brick walls and all that.

The other point somewhat follows from the first, and it is the idea of "not either or, but both-and". We don't have to fully understand it but we are all one and we are all individuals, it is a simultaneous truth.

In support of my argument I offer the Tao Te Ching verse 42: The Tao gives birth to One, the One gives birth to two, the two gives birth to three, and the three gives birth to the 10,000 things.

Myriad said...

It's easy to see why the book I chose, Uncle Tom's Cabin, has been not so much denounced or censored but rather quietly ignored for the comfort of all sides of U.S. racial issues. It strongly and eloquently suggests that one can oppose monumental injustice on the basis of shared universal humanity, without loudly asserting universal equality. It could certainly complicate things, if that idea (which I suspect remains privately widespread) were admitted into present-day public discourse. (For instance, it might undermine the polarity of present positions on illegal immigrants and Muslim refugees, threatening the necessary deadlock of the status quo. Worse, it might lead to comprehension of the actual moral basis of present class dynamics in the U.S.)

For the new assignment, well… I've been meaning to read the Quran, but I don't expect to be greatly offended by it. Just a bit more of the same kinds of unease and disagreement I have with portions of my own preferred scriptures.

That means, instead, I'm going to have to read another Sherri Tepper novel. Yes, that's what came to mind the moment I read the assignment, as something that offends me, all the more so because the prose is good and the plots quite enjoyable. It's the combination of Tepper's adulation of nature with her evident, unbounded, and exquisitely expressed loathing of human nature that puts me off.

And is that because it reflects something in myself? Oh, no doubt.

Still, the assignment could have been harder. You might have asked us each to write the novel that would most offend us. There's a good chance a number of masterpieces would result, but at what cost?

WW said...

One lengthy series of books I loved as a child was "Bomba the Jungle Boy." It reflected all the racial attitudes one would expect of a boy's adventure serial of 1926-1937. Looking back, the unadulterated glee with which my mother approached hamming up these parts when reading them aloud to me is probably why I have always regarded these notions of racial superiority as... the author presenting me with the gift of hilarious nonsense.

Really, if you're never taught to spot the strange notions in a text, and don't enjoy doing it, how are you ever going to get good at it? Reading a book is not necessarily like drinking Coke, where if you're going to do it you have to ingest all the ingredients and suffer the consequences.

On the other hand I have noticed the trend in higher education. Colleges now are a lot like cruise ships, competing on amenities and the quality of the entertainment.

Clark said...

Tao Te Ching, Chap 36, Mitchell's translation, "If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand. If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish..."

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

I'll give three suggestions for (white) writers of Western fiction:

- Dorothy M. Johnson. She was meticulous in her research on the lifestyles of the people depicted in her fiction (Blackfoot Indians, cowboys, etc.)

- Larry McMurtry. He's considered one of the greatest Western writers of all time, and he is so highly regarded he's even been acknowledged who aren't fans of the genre. I am not sure of the genre of all of the Pulitizer-Prize winning novels, but as far as I know, Lonesome Dove (by McMurtry) is the only Western to ever win that prize.

- Owen Wister, specifically The Virginian, which is often considered to be the first Western novel every written. I admit that I found the descriptions of how people saw the world in 1902 more interesting than the actual plot, but since you are also interested in that kind of thing, you may find it worth reading.

S.Treimel said...

For the previous homework assignment, I read "The Epic of Gilgamesh". You were right about noticing the change in cultural perspective between then and now. My negative and positive judgements of the hero's behavior were flying left and right, alternating from "what a jerk!" to "smart move!". An insightful assignment.
This week's homework seems a bit more burdensome. Oh well, I suppose I could read some of the Clinton campaign literature.

Scotlyn said...

I'll have to think about being offended... but another interesting assignment, thanks!

I'm thoughtful about the attempts you reference to "excising references to racism" (political correctness) which aren't the same thing at all as ending racism.

Racism is itself a phenomenon operating in part by excising from the dominant cultural narrative any evidence of the humanity of people of colour, and is itself continually reacted to and pushed back against in a myriad of ways - both overtly in social political movements and "behind closed doors" with deliberately opaque alternative cultural narratives.

I don't see the main energy for the "Political Correctness Crusade & Censorship project" coming from people of colour, but more as the dominant political elite's Rescue Game writ large, stoked by their fear lest the rest of us find common cause with each other.

This means that "pushback" and "reaction" could take diverse forms, some involving unabashed racism, and some involving, perhaps, a mixing and matching unprecedented in America's stubbornly unmelted pot...

Thomas Parker said...

JMG, isn't The Shadow Over Innsmouth, from the perspective you've laid out here, a rather ambiguous story? After all, it's a first person tale in which our narrator goes over to the enemy, deserts the ranks of clean humanity, and joyously anticipates his full initiation into the ranks of slimy abominations - and judging purely from the tone, it has the most upbeat ending in all of HPL's fiction. Maybe that's why it's always been my favorite...

nrgmiserncaz said...

JMG - I've started to steer back to fiction after a couple of decades of primarily non-fiction. Primarily because it forces me to think about the characters and context instead of having information spooned into my brain.

Off topic - from last weeks discussion: I went for the straight razor. It took me about a year, on and off, to get it nailed down. Now I can shave easily, maintain my razor on stones and a strop and have developed a skill that I'm kind of proud of. Plus, my razor will likely last me my entire life...

Donald Hargraves said...

I'm preparing to read Hunter by Andrew MacDonald, the same guy who wrote The Turner Diaries.

As for Hillary/The Donald, the sanctimoniousness of many of the Hillary supporters keeps pushing me into the Donald's camp – especially those folks who act like I'm only able to not vote for Mme Clinton out of privilege. If it weren't for an allergy to the blind hatred I heard from some Trump supporters I would have pledged my vote to him by now.

Twinruler334 said...

I think Great Britain will break up before America does. Not only will Great Britain break off from the European Union, but England shall, in its turn, break off from the rest of The United Kingdom. Indeed, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Northern Ireland shall each go their own ways, if not necessarily in that order.

What makes me truly sad to think about is that once enough White Britons flee London, that Great City will be sealed up. This is not something that I look forward to thinking about, especially since Great Britain will no longer be great, in any sense of the word.

And it is already happening. There is slowly beginning to be a Politically Incorrect avant Garde, even as we speak.

Patricia Mathews said...

Anyone who wants to find something offensive in someone's body of work need only read Catullus in an unbowdlerized translation. Something besides his love-hate poems to Rome's mist notorious populist flapper.

pygmycory said...

I'll have to see if I can find the first one one of the Left Behind series again. I got about two pages in last time.

MayHawk said...

Off topic but is your book "The Weird of Hali: INNSMOUTH" going to be available any time soon in a trade or paperback version. I would like to send several copies to friends and relatives. I loved it by the way.

Cú Meala mac Morrígna said...

"That’s where things get interesting. Human cultures are governed by something not too different from Isaac Newton’s famous third law of motion: 'every action produces an equal and opposite reaction.'"

How strange—at almost precisely the moment this essay was posted, I was having a conversation with a friend about the EU and today's 'Brexit' referendum, and used this exact analogy of society being every bit as susceptible to Newtonian law as matter is. We were tracing the history of the European Union, trying to determine the point at which it stopped being a series of perfectly sensible trade agreements and open borders between a relatively small region, and started acting like a federal government, which erased the sovereignty of a host of nations with long and storied cultural histories reaching back for centuries if not millennia. Turns out the straw that broke the camel's back was laid in 2009, with the Lisbon Treaty, and in the seven years since we've seen the spread of the exact sort of extreme nationalism that the EU was first put into place to try to prevent!

The Newtonian Society analogy first occurred to me a few months back, during a discussion with my wife about how the rabid Christian defense of 'traditional' marriage is largely a reaction against the increased secularism and (purported) de-mythologizing of society, the dismantling of the long-standing complex of symbolism and myth that surrounds the Christian concept of marriage, and the consequent crumbling of the concept of marriage in secular society as it stands as a grandiose hollowed out shell with no myths to fill in the void (at least, in many circles).

The myths-of-marriage thing is of course off topic, but you using just about exactly the same metaphor as myself, almost word for word, at the exact same time, gave me the eerie feeling of having my phone tapped! Tell me, do you keep a crystal ball by the side of your keyboard, or are we just tapping into the same frequencies?

avalterra said...

Lovecraft was certainly a racist but a racist of a very particular type. If you take him at his word then he was more of separatist than a supremacist. For example from his letters:

"Only an ignorant dolt would attempt to call a Chinese gentleman — heir to one of the greatest artistic & philosophic traditions in the world — an “inferior” of any sort… & yet there are potent reasons, based on wide physical, mental, & cultural differences, why great numbers of the Chinese ought not to mix into the Caucasian fabric, or vice versa. It is not that one race is any better than any other, but that their whole respective heritages are so antipodal as to make harmonious adjustment impossible. Members of one race can fit into another only through the complete eradication of their own background-influences — & even then the adjustment will always remain uneasy & imperfect if the newcomer’s physical aspect forms a constant reminder of his outside origin."

and further:

"Living side by side with people whose natural impulses and criteria differ widely from ours, gets in time to be an unendurable nightmare. We may continue to respect them in the abstract, but what are we to do when they continue to fail to fulfil our natural conception of personality, meanwhile placing all their own preferential stresses on matters and ideals largely irrelevant and sometimes even repugnant to us? And don’t forget that we affect alien groups just as they affect us. Chinamen think our manners are bad, our voices raucous, our odour nauseous, and our white skins and our long noses leprously repulsive. Spaniards think us vulgar, brutal, and gauche. Jews titter and gesture at our mental simplicity, and honestly think we are savage, sadistick, and childishly hypocritical. […] What’s the answer? Simply keep the bulk of all these approximately equal and highly developed races as far apart as possible."

I am actually just finish up "The Weird of Hali". I am enjoying it but it is not very "Lovecraftian". The existential horror is missing. Which is ironic as you have written what I would consider one of the best modern "Lovecraftian" pieces. Care to guess which one?

You even point out the fact that for some there will be a feeling of dread at this, " Does that fact horrify you, intrigue you, console you, leave you cold?" Those who are horrified are experiencing what Lovecraft was aiming at.


Gabriela Augusto said...

Dear JMG,
Whereas it doesn’t directly address this week topic, I would like to bring the thought of the French philosopher, Michel Onfray, was saying that while polytheism prevailed people looked at their surroundings to understand the world, but monotheism imposed one book as the reality and many and more stopped to look around them and had only eyes for the book. I do fill that there is really something in here.
At a certain point in History, the intellectuals stopped looking at the nature, sun, stars, lightning’s and storms, to examine the world. The only reality was the one described in one book containing some histories and legends of the cradle of civilization. Did we overcome that, or are we still looking at (other) books to try to understand what the reality is?
Never read a book that I considered offensive, some have disconcerted me though...

Spanish fly said...

I'm thinking on reading Marquis de Sade, a writer that is very popular between as lot of "free thinkers" and bondage&SM sex freaks...but probably a few of them know from first hand the marquis perverser imagination (and practice).
Some years ago I started watching Passolini "Saló, or the 120 days" and I didn't manage to resist that movie until "the end". It was too disgusting.
However, dear John, I accept your challenge and I'm going to read "120 days of Sodom", better in original French; if I can't cope with it, the spanish translation. Here in English, for everybody who wants "enjoy" it:

I expect the worst atrocities, more even than in the film version (Pier Paolo idyosincrasy changed some aspects, according to film pundits).
I will read it fasting like a pious monk and after some enemas, because I don't want wasting my reading time going to the toilet after getting sick...

Spanish fly said...

About PC topic, I agree with Ed Boyle. Russian/Ukrainian and Romanian immigrants here in Spain are not abduced by PC orthodoxia yet, at least the Eastern ones that I've known (a lot of them having been living more than 5 years here and anothers married with spanish people). Romanian people promoted several years ago an image campaign (with some official support) against criminal stereotypes: "Hello, I am Romanian" (indoeuropean, not gypsy!). Russian people I've known don't like very much Arab immigrants, and are "a bit" homophobes...but I've seen them in a party shoulder to shoulder with African black people with much less problem than "native" spaniards.
Spanish people is a lot more xenophobic against Romanians than Russians, although spanish press, like other western media, is selling every day Russian-phobic propaganda.
Spanish gypsies are here from the 15th century, and even nowadays are sometimes discriminated.

However, they are themselves xenophobous against non-gypsies ("payos"-including their hated
competitors for subsidies: Arabs and Blacks) and a lot of men are very macho attitude against their women.
I think racist and xenophobic attitudes are very fool, but they provide some membership
feeling for people that cannot think about social life in positive and inclusive terms: upper elites...or low class and/or non-integrates minorities.
My girlfriends is Brazilian, so he doesn't my mockery about laziness, funny language and Olympics. She is from the northwest, where African ADN is far less abundant than coastal and north-east zones. She has a beautiful light-brown skin, long dark and straigh hair. I guess that she's the product of 3 centuries mixing-up Portuguese people with Native 'Indians'. If I see her long nose I think that first Jew guetto in Western Hemisphere was settled in colonial Brazil.
However, she consider herself mainly as "white European", racially and culturally. She is a
devout catholic and she tals about Lisbon as her "great-grandparents" home. She likes
sunbathing, but not too much because they doesn'ty want to seem a "black woman". Her family
are low class people, they are called "caboclos" by others "ethnical" groups in their country.
She has black and mixed black&white friends. She had a daughter with a "moreno" and a son with another man (supposedly "white Portuguese ancestors"). You can bet what child looks like Caribbean and what could be mistaken with Italian or Spaniard people.
She has come from the mixed-up country par excellence, but she has that little racist
attitudes. At the same time, she sometimes complains about legalist bureaucratic xenophobia
and cliches against Brazilian people (They work hard, they aren't only lazy and lusty samba
dancers!; they are the biggest country in Latin America, they are richest between the poor
countries, and so on).
Last year my father hired two bricklayers that were from El Salvador. They didn't like much
Chinese people, and they overtly hated Moroccans and Algerians as thieves. I think that they were not exactly racist men. they were deep christian believers (Evangelical) so they shared conservative Right bias (islamophobic and israelophile, of course). It was funny and shocking hearing these Jerry Falwell style prejudices spoken by these dark skinned Centro-American men...from Mayan or wathever indian ancestors they have had.

ganv said...

Thanks, that is very insightful.

I like the provocative comparison of modern attempts to suppress racism and Victorian attempts to suppress sexuality. The obvious response from the modern left is that sexuality is inextricable from what it means to be human while racism can be overcome. But in the end, I think you are right that modern abhorrence of racism will be replaced by avant guard embrace of racism. The root reason is rather unpleasant, but one great thing about the Archdruid report is that truth isn't avoided just because it happens to be unpleasant. At its roots, racism is also inextricable from what it means to be human. We are the result of evolution. And evolution will continue. No question that eugenic racism has created terrible suffering. But we continue to evolve and humans are going to take an active role in the evolution of our species and that will likely continue with species that descend from us....maybe more than one species at once. It is hard to see a far future that doesn't have multiple 'human' races or species that compete with each other. Even utopian visions like Star Trek regularly come back to the problem of genetic enhanced augments and the intractable conflicts that ensue. It might be simple selective breeding or it might be high tech genetic engineering, but it is hard to see a future more than 100 years after Adolf Hitler that continues to suppress what we know about how humans came to be. To be clear, I don't like it one bit. But if we take our history seriously, we may need to conclude that evolution includes genetic competition (which is a kind of racism) which is inextricably linked with what it means to be human (or any other biological creature). Of course people claim that we should rise above our history...and we 'should'. But that is exactly what the Victorians claimed about sex. If the analogy holds, the conclusion is that we probably won't rise above our history.

Yellow Submarine said...

Speaking of Mein Kampf, I have a copy that I bought a while back but only got a few chapters through before giving up, partly because of the turgid prose and partly because it was such an offensive read.

So that settles it. For this months homework assignment, I am going to go back and read Mein Kampf cover to cover.

Yellow Submarine said...

Speaking of HP Lovecraft and political correctness: many of you no doubt remember the recent tempest in a teapot over the terms "Black Lives Matter" vs "All Lives Matter" and the competing accusations of racism from both camps directed against one another.

Well just the other day, I saw a Cthulhu for 2016 bumper sticker with the slogan "No Lives Matter", hehehe...

Amy Olles said...

Ye gods - I have a terrible feeling this homework would have me reading ultra conservative christian works (bill gothard anyone?), conservative christian pro life literature, and anything creationist/god will save us/climate change deny-ing. Having grown up under some of the influence of that brand of conservatism, I've spent most of my adult life not so adroitly avoiding anything connected to organized religion unless social situation demands it. I will take a deep breath and a long pause before choosing my topic. Maybe some bourbon will help with this homework. Are we allowed that luxury?

Justin said...

Jason, I'm not British, but would be thrilled to see Brexit succeed. It requires very little mental effort to be a statist social liberal these days - you get a constant stream of confirmation bias starting in school and continuing into adulthood from the traditional media and social media.

Ganv, there are worse things than a racist government, sometimes even for the oppressed race. I would rather be a black person in Apartheid South Africa than say, a Ukranian shortly after the Russian Revolution or a Cambodian during Pol Pot's day.

262,000,000 people were killed in the 20th century by their own governments, not including war deaths. I don't particularly care for the notion that people should be free to own any sort of gun they want, but on the other hand maybe we should have gun control for the state rather than for the citizens.

Dammerung said...

It's already happening. /pol/ is of course the internet's foremost theater for the political avant-garde, and they openly embrace Nazi regalia with an irony so passionate it could almost be mistaken for sincerity. I doubt they really mean to resurrect the excesses of the Third Reich - they've taken it up in the same way teens took up Satanism and Death Metal in the 80s. They joyfully disfigure Ben Garrison's political cartoons to include anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi imagery, and this is a guy with whom they agree about politics. But it makes for a good goof, which is the entire raison d'être of the site.

The Know Your Meme article about /pol/ is a treasure trove. I won't link it but it can be found easily by the curious.

Brian said...

I wonder if Canadian universities are different than American ones? Over the past five years I've spent a fair amount of time in the history department of a Canadian university, and while there's been lots of discussion of racism, I've never seen any work censored - or even heard the suggestion that something should be censored.

At home when my son was little, we used to enjoy reading the 'Tintin' books together. I liked the fact that the stories hadn't been sanitized and Disneyfied to protect the delicate sensitivities of modern children, and it provided the opportunity to talk about the racist stereotypes in the stories - especially the earlier ones. I also liked the fact that the stories are complex and multilayered, making them interesting for both kids and adults to return to for rereading.

Tomuru said...

Speaking of reprehensible, take a look at this historical article that Raul Illargi just dug up. Truly mind opening.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

Two examples sprang to mind when I read this, both from the realm of higher education.

The first one happened at my alma mater while I was there:

On September 11th, 2001 this tenured professor (an awesome teacher by the way) said to his western civ class "Anyone who can bomb the Pentagon has my vote." and there was a huge up roar. People wanted him fired or banned from scaring the minds of large classes of impressionable freshmen. The thing that stuck in my craw was that the vast majority of the students were old enough to vote, serve on a jury, and get drafted.

The second happened later elsewhere:

Here is the short version: Emory University President James Wagner has infuriated many on his campus and scholars elsewhere by using the president's letter in the new issue of Emory Magazine to say that the "three-fifths compromise" of the U.S. Constitution was a model for how people who disagree can work together for "a common goal."

The salient issue here is that universities exist in large part to develop 'critical thinking skills' (mentioned whenever there is an opportunity to do so) but both examples illustrate the huge push back from exposing students to real world examples that require critical thought.


PS Looks like it's finally time to read Atlas Shrugged.

sgage said...

@Justin said...

"JMG, you really should listen to or watch Trump's speech rather than reading it - the delivery was incredibly good, and although I don't know too much about these things he seemed like he was using some vaguely hypnotic techniques."

Of course he's using a more than vaguely hypnotic technique - he's a demagogue for godz sake! That's why I steer away from videos and such, and prefer written transcripts. The you can see what ideas, if any, are being put forward, rather than emothional hot-button pressing.

John Michael Greer said...

Mikep, the Alt-Right is a fringe movement. It may turn into more than that, or it may be a flash in the pan; we'll see. In the meantime, I hope to convince readers of mine who might have imbibed either the politically or the patriotically correct viewpoint that there really is a point to reading things that upset and offend them. Oh, and are you so sure that meaningful economic growth on a per capita basis is going to start again? I'm not, for reasons already discussed at length here.

Yossi, thanks for the tip. The reviews I read of The Road had basically convinced me never to read anything by him, but I'll consider revisiting that.

Chloe, political zealots on all sides of the continuum have a vested interest in discouraging critical thinking, since it might be applied to their own arguments, with awkward results. Thus they encourage uncritical acceptance or rejection of ideas in order to keep themselves in business. Got your story, btw -- you're in the contest!

Joel, I did my BA at a West Coast university and I heard quite a bit of it, so it does seem to vary from place to place.

Max, well, yes. Keep in mind that an author can, and usually does, have multiple axes to grind in a single books.

L, I don't happen to know my way around homophobic literature, so can't offer any suggestions -- still, no doubt somebody can come up with something!

YCS, good. If I do another narrative set in the middle future -- say, a hundred years from now -- I'll have to include the spectacle of people huffing self-righteously at something we do now that nobody, but nobody, thinks is morally problematic.

John, in Lovecraft's eyes the melatonin and the patch of darkness are the same thing. That's one of the features of his that leaves him open to parody.

Justin said...

Dammerung, although 4/pol/ is pretty silly and best avoided, a certain other /pol/ actually discusses neo-nazi ideas in a more serious sense. On the one hand, it is a fringe idea, but on the other, so was the NSDAP until it wasn't. I suspect that we will see another round of Jew persecution, which will in no way be unrelated to the Arab 'immigration' to Europe - Mein Kamph is a very popular book in the Arab world, and nobody has too much love for Israel these days. Whether or not it will happen in North America remains to be seen.

Regarding JMG's 'Strange Bright Banners' post (, there is absolutely no question in my mind that I would have been a card-carrying Nazi - from where I sit, I can see the problems with the ideology but I find it hard to imagine that I wouldn't have been marching in those first parades when the NSDAP still polled in the single digits.

I still think the Nazis were right about most things except for the moral imperative to build something more humane on top of the eternal fascism of nature.

latheChuck said...

When "The Road" was assigned reading for my high-school student son, I read it. The whole world has apparently been rendered biologically sterile (not even algae can be found in the water) several years before, and yet somehow SOME semblance of life goes on. Even the offensive slavery/cannibalism wouldn't sustain human life THAT long! And yet, somehow we're supposed to think that it has a happy ending...

Varun Bhaskar said...


Do climate change skeptic books count for this assignment?

latheChuck said...

What might seem as absurd to people 100 years from now as a Roman feast of peacock tongues seems to us? How about loading a pair of bicycles onto a car, driving for two hours (100 miles), to ride the bikes up and down a trail which used to be a (useful) railroad bed, and then put the bikes back on the car to drive home. 10 gallons of refined hydrocarbons converted to CO2, for no apparent purpose, just because they could!

Ahavah said...

For my previous homework assignment I read an anthology of four works by H Rider Haggard: She, Cleopatra, King Solomon's Mines, and Alan Quartermain. The perspective was that of a wealthy white Anglo Saxon protestant male who was educated and from a family of relatively high social class living off investment income along with some earned wages. In other words, the author's wealth and privilege made it seem like simply deciding to go on safari or take an extended vacation or tour were ordinary things that everybody does and nobody is surprised about.

It is also clear that in his era, men and women had completely different and often separate lives, which is very odd to modern Americans (but not so much to me, being familiar with ultra Orthodox Judaism...).

His biases were, frankly, white male supremacism. His views of the so called primitive Black Africans was patronizing at best, but he held several of these characters in high regard for their bravery and faithfulness. Female characters? Hardly. Literally the only female character in all four stories that was not portrayed in a negative fashion was a small child. Even "good" females were depicted as being led around by the nose emotionally, incapable of rational decisions.

But mostly, women are conspicuous by their absence in the main characters sphere of normal activity. It's like the whole world runs fine without us.

Being in love with a woman is described in very disparaging terms, rather like being taken over but a hostile alien force.

As for being offensive, the biases are strong but I wouldn't say it was enough to enrage anyone.

Not sure what would enrage me or offend me greatly. Perhaps Ayn Rand as some have suggested? Or are we sticking with the pre-1900 rule?

Rita said...

I would like to observe that the Victorian attempt to tame sexuality by eliminating all public reference to it did not just backfire in the following generation's embrace of sexualized literature. Victorian London was rife with prostitution. At one point the age of consent was 12. An anti-trafficking crusader named Stead, purchased a virgin girl from her mother and wrote about the ease of so doing. He and his fellow crusaders were tried for abduction, partially on the grounds that they had not procured the father's consent, only the mother's. He served three months in prison. And while Victoria herself may have been "Victorian" her son Prince Edward was notorious for his affairs. Being royal, he had to confine his affairs to married women, so as not to clutter the field with possible claimants to the throne.

The Tarzan series is another wonderful (in the sense of causing wonder) display of Anglo Saxon racism. The African tribes are portrayed as savage cannibals, morally inferior to the great grey apes (not gorillas) who raise the infant Tarzan. As one might expect from a fantasy version of an English lord, Tarzan is a superb physical specimen and also excels intellectually. He is able to teach himself to read English with the books left behind in his parent's tree house. He teaches himself French by eavesdropping on the Belgian officer in the European expedition that penetrates the jungle in which he has grown up. He quickly adapts to civilized ways, but prefers the pure company of animals to the corruption of modern society. The books--not the films.

Jim of Olym said...

John, you touched on Victorian sexuality and Wilde, but not on the pervasiveness of the 'sexual underground' of the time, where prostitution, BDSM as well as the caning of school boys andother hanky-panky went on behind the scenes. For every action there seems to be an equal reaction, eh?
Jim of Olym

Jim of Olym said...

John, you touched on Victorian sexual mores, but I think it should be mentioned that there was an underground equal and opposite reaction: rampant prostitution, dalliances between upstairs and downstairs, caning of schoolboys etc.

Don Plummer said...

I suppose I ought to read something by Anne Coulter because I find her public persona to be thoroughly disgusting. But I don't know if her language arts skills are any better than Rush Limbaugh's. Or are her books ghost-written?

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Patricia Mathews--

Lesbia does it in doorways.
Lesbia does it for free.
Lesbia does it with Senators' boys.
I wish she would do it with me.

John Michael Greer said...

Monica, I bet the dog kills and eats her one dark night when it just can't stand the vegan food any longer. You're most welcome, btw -- getting under the hood of a horoscope by doing the math yourself gives an insight into the workings of the chart you just don't get when you cast everything by computer.

Twinruler, by all means!

Kim, by all means read nonfiction if you prefer.

Don, glad to hear it. As for patriotic correctness, I did mention that it's just as much of a problem, you know.

Matt, I'd encourage you to do the research yourself -- in the age of the internet, that's not too difficult, after all.

Justin, I'll pass -- I much prefer to read such things. I'll take your word for it that Trump is an effective speaker.

David, your last question doesn't yet have a known answer...

Twinruler, true enough. Nothing is so dated as yesterday's vision of the future.

234567, did you ever read about the process by which Louisiana finally dumped its law requiring everybody to be labeled by race? As I recall, they still followed the "one drop" doctrine, whereby if you had any black ancestry at all you were legally black, and the legislature refused to repeal the law. Then some activists thought of doing genealogical research into wealthy and politically influential families, and went public with lists of the rich white people who, under Louisiana law, should have had to be registered as black. The law got repealed in a matter of days.

Johnny, I've read Houellebecq's essay on Lovecraft; I'll definitely look at his fiction once I'm done with the Weird of Hali project -- I'm avoiding all neo-Lovecraftian fiction until that's done, to keep from being influenced.

Jon, Thucydides makes excellent current headline fodder -- read his chronicle of how Athens destroyed itself via too much military adventurism, watch what America is doing right now, and the parallels are harrowing.

RPC, haven't seen the movie, so I'll take your word for it.

Eric, thanks for the link -- and by all means enjoy Rushdie.

John, no, there's no way to win. All you can do is try to solve the problems of your own time, knowing that every solution is the cause of the next round of problems. Isn't life fun?

Allexis, I'd prefer to be vague. As long as you find yourself completely out of sympathy with the author's viewpoint, that's good enough.

Professor D, yes, we discussed the complexities of the American caste system here a while back -- Irish ranked below Germans but above Italians, who looked down on Jews, and so on; the very top of the ladder consisted of white Episcopalian men whose ancestors came from England before the Revolutionary War, while the bottom was occupied either by blacks or Native Americans depending on region. The flattening out of a finely textured caste system of that kind, into large unstable groupings such as "white," is a common feature of a society on its way down.

Cat, I'm glad to hear that that approach is still out there.

Owen, good. I've been considering a post comparing Trump to FDR for a while now -- or, to cite an even more explosive parallel, Trump and Lincoln. Have you read the vilification the East Coast establishment heaped on Lincoln all through his presidency, until his assassination turned him into a plaster saint? Let's just say there are remarkable similarities.

Jason, over here, if you mention that you don't support Hillary Clinton, you can expect the same treatment. I had an old friend hang up on me in midsentence because I expressed a lack of enthusiasm for her -- and he hasn't called back. Fascinating, that the privileged have become so fundamentalist about their causes!

Rebecca, used book stores are your friend; the older the edition, the better. As for Christian arithmetic, I suppose it helps in claiming that 1 = 3 in the case of the Trinity... ;-)

Patricia Mathews said...

@team10tim - so you're another Lobo? Berthold comes regularly to Bubonicon, our annual s/f convention, usually with a lecture on classical history on the program. If you'd like to attend, it's the last weekend in August at the Uptown Marriott. Type Bubonicon into your search engine for the website, I think it's but won't swear to it.


Patricia Mathews said...

I am currently on a Golden Age of British Mysteries reading binge, and just ordered the first 4 Lord Peter Wimseys. The dates given on the blurb are quite recent: it would be worth seeing if they've been bowdlerized, or if the period attitudes are still intact. Though in the case of Unnatural Death, they'd have to be or there's be no plot. Another thing to see is if I've become too 21st century in my attitudes to accept them for what they are.

John Michael Greer said...

Erik, I'd put it more broadly. Xenophobia is hardwired into the human nervous system, and so is xenophilia; we want to attack and drive off what's strange to us...and we also want to mate with it. Those two instinctual drives flow together into some remarkably strange behavior patterns.

Twilight, good -- and of course in our society, the dominant elite stopped thinking about the long term a long, long time ago.

Zach, I remember The Pooh Perplex well -- in fact, I own a copy. Great fun, and yes, a good reminder that any one critical stance will give you certain truths and a great many more absurdities if practiced exclusively.

Ray, by all means. I once considered writing a parody titled "The Cellophane Prophecy."

Clay, good! Yes, and that's one of the other benefits of reading offensive literature from the past.

Hiero, and that's why I'm trying to drag that kind of approach to literature out of the silo and hand it out freely to my readers. It deserves more attention than it gets.

Alexandra, by Frith, that'll do!

Myriad, I haven't read any of Tepper's later works, but The Awakeners, A Plague of Angels, others of that period? That's another matter. A very capable writer, and I'm used to the kind of SF that treats testosterone as the Original Sin, so had no trouble with them. Has she gotten into a more general misanthropy (as distinct from misandry) at this point? That could be entertaining.

WW, I somehow managed to miss Bomba the Jungle Boy. Thanks for the recollections!

Clark, good. Still good advice...

Notes, many thanks!

S. Treimel, didn't Hillary Clinton have one of those ghastly ghostwritten politician's books published under her name? That might be a fine choice.

Scotlyn, here in the US the mixing is well under way. I live just south of the Mason-Dixon line, in a poor neighborhood dotted with small churches, and I see mixed-race couples and multiracial kids every single day.

Thomas, it's a favorite of mine, too -- but you need to keep in mind that to Lovecraft, the ending wasn't upbeat at all. To him, the ending was a plunge into the shrieking heart of terror, because the protagonist got sucked down body and soul into the abyss, and ended up wanting that. Ambiguous? Of course. Revealing? You bet. But it's precisely the gap between Lovecraft's interpretation of those final scenes, and yours (and mine), that I find most interesting.

Nrgmiserncaz, I read mostly nonfiction, for a variety of reasons, but no argument -- fiction works a broader range of mental muscles.

Donald, the sanctimoniousness is a fascinating thing, when you remember that Hillary Clinton supports all the policies that Democrats insisted they'd never forgive George W. Bush for supporting.

Twinruler, well, we'll see. I have a different take on the way things are probably headed over there.

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, I've chosen my novel. It is "The Handmaid's Tale", by Margaret Atwood. In the former US government, a Christian theocracy has risen and submitted women to their will, taking away all their former rights. Why have I chose it? Because the presentation of the novel's theme - the institution of a patriarchal society as something that can go horribly wrong and do little to no good and many evils - is unsettling to me. I will report back when I've finished it.

pygmycory said...

I remember getting thoroughly ticked off at the greek gods in the Iliad for their lack of morals and compassion when dealing with human beings, and feeling some bewilderment as to how people could worship anything that behaved like a pack of unusually selfish children afflicted with adolescent hormones and superpowers. But if it was simply paying respect to capricious power that they feared, I can understand it.

The world certainly looks different through Homer's eyes.

Christophe said...

Everyone's tastes are different, but for those quite stumped about finding a book to offend their sensibilities, I would like to suggest anything from the repetitively consistent canon of the late Ayn Rand. Her themes are reliably blunt and her characters reliably two-dimensional. Not that I would wish the experience on anyone, but it might well satisfy the needs of the assignment.

Myriad said...

The Tepper novels I read, I read in the early noughts, so I don't know about later ones either (but it looks like I'll be finding out!)

After enjoying Six Moon Dance, I read two other Tepper novels: The Family Tree and A Plague of Angels. Since we've both read the latter, I'll focus on that [with a strong spoiler warning for others]. It was very well written and entertaining adventure story, a very enjoyable read. What I objected to was the revealed back-story. The "angels" who were responsible for diverse acts of genocide, including introducing irresistibly addictive lethal drugs and AIDS-like diseases into the inner cities and releasing mythical monsters to ravage rural areas, were cast as the good guys on the side of God (literally) and history. Of course, the only characters opposing the "angels" were the most loathsome of villains, even stooping so low as to try to use (shudder!) technology to try to survive. I also found it it a bit questionable that the suburbs were spared the devastation (by having been literally elevated—they merit this why?), and the last straw was the dialogs near the end, stating outright (or at least strongly implying; I don't recall the exact wording) that real-world AIDS itself is a warning from God that we're foolishly failing to heed by seeking cures and treatments via medical science (rather than, I suppose, some sort of "just shut up and die" campaign). The Family Tree had charming qualities of its own, but no need to get into that one.

Grebulocities said...

I made a comment last week about the increasing pace of historical change in the past year or two...and yet another interesting change just happened. It was of course totally missed by the pollsters, who expected the other side would have it. Apparently some of the Remainers are consoling themselves with the fact that low education level was the single biggest predictor of a Leave vote, so it was a decision by the ignorant masses. They don't see that education is itself a bias far more than a way to determine who is intelligent or informed. And of course the amount of critical thinking that higher education provides is somewhere between zero and highly negative.

I'm amazed that something finally happened in an important Western country where the entire elite was united in one opinion but failed to get their way because they were unable to sway the masses despite endless scare stories about economic disaster. Propaganda doesn't seem to work as well as it used to. Now we get to see what happens to the EU now that the first domino has fallen. The neoliberal order is definitely now collapsing, and we officially live in Interesting Times.

Renaissance Man said...

Well, thank you for the previous assignment; I'd been meaning to read "Gulliver's Travels" for ages.
Apropos of language and blinkers and being able to formulate ideas and, more critically, being un-able to formulate such things, a friend forwarded this item from JSTOR on the current use of ((( ))) by racists online.
What is interesting is the discussion on the use of assumptive norms in language, i.e. happy versus unhappy, where happy is the default which requires modification.
I believe that racism or, to put it in more concrete terms, 'differentism' will always be with us. As a kid nicknamed "Duracell", I quickly learned that people in general, and children in particular, place a high premium on conformity. Any deviation from a putative norm is subject to social ostracism partly as a means of re-enforcing normative forms amongst the in-group. (This is why sub-groups like goths or mods or technos or biker gangs adopt very stringent yet unwritten rules about acceptable clothing and hairstyles.) thus, in all-white schools, absent anyone more obviously different, I got picked on for red hair and buck teeth and glasses. Wasn't any good at team sports, either.
I am in no way claiming discrimination typical of racism in my life, but I was picked on for being different.
I found out recently that, apparently, "Ginger" is considered a term of disrespect, akin to "nigger" according to some, both those who use it and those who are called it. All that I have left is a vestige of russet hair growing on the lower part of my face (the rest having long since turned dark, then mostly departed, leaving behind but a rime of frost around the back and sides). Still, it is curious to become aware that there are people who think of me that way.
It is equally curious to pull apart the thought processes that demand people stop reading literature from previous times because it contains thought patterns deemed unacceptable to our current sensibilities, when George Orwell explored what happens when officialdom tries to erase or re-write the past in "1984".
Personally, I'd rather know about it, explore it, and understand why this is wrong and thereby inoculated against adopting such ideas, gain the ability to see racism for what it is, especially when it comes wearing a different guise, than to be ignorantly susceptible to the lies about the past and about other people that is required by racists in order to perpetuate their hatred.
Apropos of this current assignment:
1) do political speeches of current candidates for the Presidency of the United States count as fiction? I'd argue that they do, because they are pretty much full of it and are very offensive to my sense of rationality, but I'd like your call on it, please.
2) How would I know if I'll find some piece of writing to be offensive until I've read it, especially since I find myself offended mostly by the absence of any valid logic or objectively provable reality on which the writers base their arguments? My sensibilities are otherwise pretty robust. Any advice?

Cherokee Organics said...


The BREXIT referendum vote has just been announced down here as 52% in favour of leaving the EU. I do hope you have a chance to critique the campaign to stay at some point in the future? Did you know that articles in the newspapers here this morning, were still confidently proclaiming that the vote would be in favour of staying within the EU? The articles I did read on the subject over the past few weeks spoke endlessly about the risk to the banking sector and not much else, but that may have something to do with the source of the articles. It was weirdly one sided though and objectivity appears to be a far distant memory.

Oh, Mr Evola is a fascinating character, and wow, did he have his prejudices or what? Of course, he had the confidence of birthright and he allowed his opponents to believe that they were using him. A clever strategy! Also, he was quoted as saying something about the fascist party, which I once wrote here on your blog about the anarchists! It still amuses me to this day, how quickly I was shouted down. (This next bit is not to you, but to those cheeky so called anarchists) Honestly, people get a grip! :-)! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself from poking them!

Back to this weeks topic at hand. The English weren't the only ones in that game of censorship. The German's had a deft hand for censorship too and I only discovered today that the original story of Rapunzel told a delightful tale of a rather appealing and accommodating young lady who engaged in a bit of erotic play with her Prince and only had to spill the beans when she became knocked up. The Grimm brothers re-write was a fascinating case study in censorship where they took out all of the naughty bits whilst changing the underlying morality and also feeding the prevailing attitudes of male / female roles into that story! They had sharp minds those brothers. Incidentally the Grimm brothers notated the original story, but their motivation for censoring and shaping all of the rest of the tales too was for the pragmatic reasons of having to make some money. Their tale was one of a couple of hard working intelligentsia fallen on hard times, through circumstance and outspoken anti-establishment views.



Cherokee Organics said...


Almost forgot to mention that it lightly snowed here today!!! Woo Hoo! I took some photos of the snow falling on the solar panels (apologies for my sense of humour!) which I'll post on the blog next Monday, as well as other more aesthetic places on the farm too. Snow! Ooooo! Nice!



Kevin Warner said...

I had selected the book "Mein Kampf" as an obvious candidate for this months assignment as I wanted to select a book that had a murderous impact on humanity causing untold grief and misery but you said that it should be a book that you would feel the need to fling it across the room in disgust so right, Ayn Rand it is. Last month's assignment certainly threw me as, when I was reading the "The Canterbury Tales" the Canon's Yoeman's Tale on the alchemists and their lives I realized, my god, these are exactly the same sort of people that 500 years later would be working in the financial industry. Check it out yourselves. Now to this week's essay.
In reading about your thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft and how some of the horror in his stories were centered around the fact that there could be another race of intelligent beings with their own souls I thought - that is something that has changed. What to H.P. Lovecraft was ultimate horror can now be regarded as a potential away-mission for first contact in today's fiction. That is an certainly an improvement. The horror of the unknown now seems to have been replaced with horror of ourselves leading to a raft of rules and laws to outlaw human nature and feelings i.e. if you outlaw it, it will all go away - just like sexuality in Victorian society. Now how did that work out?
It seems that the obsession over the correct terminology is no longer content to be limited to questions of race but is now seeking new horizons as it moves into the area of gender as can be seen by such new acronyms such as LGBTQIA+ Saywhat? This is starting to verge on the insane rather than the obtuse. Recently in the Parliament of Brandenburg, Germany, a motion was lodged to extend hate speech laws to matters of gender which caused one politician to make the following response at

Owen said...

Problem with comparing Trump to Lincoln, Lincoln never grew up in wealth on the East Coast. He was a flyover from the very start (although I guess the distinction between the coasts and the interior wasn't as - stark - as it is today). His daddy didn't make or inherit a fortune, nor did his granddaddy either.

Perhaps Trump's money is slightly less of a legacy and is somewhat newer than FDR's but they both had the backing of generations of ancestors that built a deep foundation.

I suppose the original Roosevelts were somewhat more respectable - the original Trump basically made his money building brothels disguised as hotels in gold rush regions. I think Trump's father made his money building legitimate housing in Brooklyn? And the Big Haired One made his money building and speculating in Manhattan, and more or less selling himself and anything else he could make money on to the world?

Now I'm kinda curious what the original Rooosevelt did. Huh. One of FDR's grandfathers was an opium dealer to China! :P Ok, I guess neither family was all that respectable. Both were pirates, more or less. Arr, shiver me timbers.

I'm not sure who the Lincoln would be in this era, someone who is rising in politics due to sheer smarts and hard work but came from humble backgrounds with a no-name family lineage of farmers and such.

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, good point! He's even more, shall we say, colorful in Latin than in English, but there are some tolerably good English translations.

Pygmycory, that'll certainly fulfill the requirement!

Mayhawk, I'll have to check with the publisher. I know a trade paperback edition is in the works, but I don't know the timeline.

Cú Meala, either synchronicity or the simple fact that it's a good description of many aspects of the universe, take your pick.

Avalterra, oh, I know; that's why I call it a Lovecraftian epic fantasy. It's not horror -- how could it be, when it's from the perspective of the other side? To the worshippers of Cthulhu, Cthulhu isn't horrible and the thought of his reappearance isn't a subject of dread; it's the fulfillment of their wildest hope. I wrote it, if you will, from the perspective of the people who had the other reaction to the post you cited -- the people for whom the claim that "Man is the measure of all things" is as arrogant as it is absurd. (Owen's comment is mine: "Here's a child's six inch ruler; go measure a galaxy with it.")

Gabriela, I haven't read Onfray, and that's a mistake I'll have to rectify. Lynn White Jr., in a famous essay from almost fifty years ago, made some of the same points, and to my mind they're entirely valid.

Spanish Fly, de Sade will certainly do! As for prejudices, everyone has them, and the only significant difference -- and it is significant, though not as universally so as sometimes alleged -- is that some people, and some categories of people, have more power to act according to their prejudices than others.

Ganv, exactly. As I noted in a comment above, xenophobia is hardwired into our nervous systems for valid evolutionary reasons -- primates are generally wary about admitting outsiders into their troops, though they'll do it under the right conditions -- and so is sexual xenophilia; the combination of the two makes for explosive emotional reactions in response to anyone perceived as the Other, who becomes at one and the same time an overt target of hatred and a covert target of desire and jealousy. Try to suppress that bubbling cauldron of passionate reactions and the result is going to be a mess.

Submarine, by all means -- but hey, at least it's more readable than Ayn Rand.

Amy, you are indeed. The drink of your choice can be a necessary tool for getting through assignments like this one.

Dammerung, 4chan is well outside my reading list, so thanks for the heads up.

Brian, it's quite possible that Canadian universities have stayed outside the sort of thing I'm discussing. Canada is a different country -- yes, unlike most people in the US, I know this! -- with its own distinctly different intellectual culture.

Tomuru, and totally plausible, given the behavior of the Brussels bureaucracy.

Tim, many thanks for the examples. Atlas Shrugged -- gah. I had to put on hip boots to get through Anthem ; that was bad enough.

LatheChuck, yeah, that's one of the reasons I decided not to bother with McCarthy. Another was that gratuitous wallowing in shock value just isn't my cup of tea. Your example of modern absurdity, by the way, is very good.

Varun, sure, but only if you can read it without feeling a sense of superiority. Try to find something that irritates you.

Ahavah, no, you don't have to stick to the pre-1900 rule -- that was only for that one assignment, not for all assignments.

John Michael Greer said...

Rita and Jim, true enough. There's a fine book, The Other Victorians by Steven Marcus, which discusses the Victorian sexual underworld in quite some detail.

Don, I have no idea -- I haven't read any of her screeds, as I find her picture on the front cover sufficiently off-putting that I've never gotten past that.

Patricia, certainly my wife's copies show no sign of bowdlerization!

Bruno, so long as it offends you, it's a suitable choice.

Pygmycory, good! And I imagine you've had days -- I certainly have -- when the world does seem as though it was being run by a bunch of Homeric gods...

Christophe, you seem to be in the majority here!

Myriad, oh, granted. I enjoyed the story, having occasionally wished -- for the benefit of the other living things on this planet -- that there were a lot fewer of my species here. I definitely recommend The Awakeners -- it was originally published as two volumes, Northshore and Southshore -- which has a whole series of fun features of its own -- though it's also brilliantly written, with a fine sense of atmosphere and some images that still remain in my imagination.

Grebolucities, I'm going to be discussing the Brexit vote at length in an upcoming post. You're quite correct, of course -- this is huge. (One might even say "Yuuuge"...)

Renaissance, I'd rather you tackle something more substantive than a campaign speech, though I have to admit I could be talked into making an exception for either or both of the current candidates. As for bad logic, there's plenty to feast on -- do you enjoy wildly illogical books about Atlantis, for example? I can recommend some doozies. (There are also some very good books about Atlantis, but for some reason that subject seems to attract people who can't think their way out of a wet paper bag if you hand them a bowie knife and a booklet of instructions.)

Cherokee, I didn't know that about Rapunzel! Good to know; it sounds like it was a better story before it got bowdlerized. Congrats on the snowfall -- it's hot and humid here tonight, and the thought of a little snow is rather appealing.

Kevin, the acronym I've seen most in use is QUILTBAG -- don't ask me what all the letters mean; at least it's memorable. I'm personally rather sympathetic to people who just want to live their lives, including the sexual and gender-related aspects of their lives, without being harassed by others; as Clark Ashton Smith pointed out in a typically funny story of his, the capacity to mind one's own business is way up there among the social virtues -- but whether yet another round of regulations is the best way to foster that useful habit is quite another matter.

Owen, the comparison with Lincoln I had in mind was purely one of the level of vitriol that's been flung at the two men by the establishment. You're right that in most other ways, FDR is a lot closer fit.

John Michael Greer said...

Also, I'd like to congratulate those of my British readers who voted for Brexit, and who faced down very nearly the entire British political and cultural establishment in the process. As I hinted in a comment to Grebulocities above, this is immensely important -- quite possibly a significant turning point in modern history, and one that might just enable the industrial world to avoid, or at least postpone, the lethal disconnect between the dominant elite and the internal proletariat of which Arnold Toynbee warned so presciently most of a century ago. More on this in an upcoming post!

Jasmine said...

Dear Mr Greer

As I predicted last week Britain has voted to leave the EU. I don’t know what the end result of it will be, but the jigsaw has certainly been thrown onto he floor. It should make interesting viewing. Mind you, even though I expected it, I still have a sense of shock that its actually happened. You usually expect people to prefer the status quo on the basis that its better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. The establishment, big business, the world of finance, academia, the IMF, the EU and even the President of the USA have tried to put the fear of god into us to stop us voting out. All the experts including the Bank of England, hundreds of economists tried to convince us that voting out would be a disaster to our economy. Hundreds of A List luvvies from the world of film and theatre have pleaded with us not to vote leave. The fact the the people have been prepared to vote out in the face of this shows just how disconnected the elite has become from ordinary people.

Jasmine said...

Dear Jason

I left a comment on your blog last week. I’ve had the same experience as you from most of the middle class liberals I know. They seem to think that if we vote to leave the EU, then we will lose all our human rights and descend into some kind of racist, bigoted hell. You wouldn’t think that they lived in a country that had a tradition of human rights and rule of law that dates back to the Magna, a country that chopped its Kings head off a 140 years before the French got round to doing the same to their King, a country with and a democracy that survived two wold wars and a great depression. Don't get me wrong, there is a hell of a lot wrong with our system of government and democracy; but at least we still have a democracy which enables us to kick a government out. And yet these middle class liberals prefer to be ruled by an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels. They always talk about reforming the EU, but it is difficult to do this if you can’t kick your rulers out at an election.

The one thing that has really shocked me is how dismissive many middle class liberals are about democracy. I have had some pretty arrogant responses to my arguments that we need to leave the EU to get our democracy back. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about this, as democracy threatens the class interests of the middle classes and it gives the working class a vote. They don’t appreciate that democracy that might prevent them from hanging from a lamp post.

The one thing that really annoys me is the way middle class liberals claim to have a monopoly if virtue and portray the brexit side said as being racists and bigots. I suspect that there is a real class snobbery behind this as much of the impetus for brexit comes from the working class. There is that tweet from Will Self that goes

“Not all brexiters are racists, but most racists will vote Brexit tomorrow”

You could respond

“Not all Remainers are rich sociopathic neoliberals who invade other countries and cause hundreds and thousands of deaths, but most rich sociopathic neoliberals will vote Remain tomorrow”

Thankfully democracy has triumphed and the next thing is to heel the wounds this vote might cause and start making cups of tea. So that will be the end of my rant

averagejoe said...

Thanks, I was one of the exit voters. But as the result came in, it left a bitter sweet taste. Because as I recall you writing before, that the result does not necessarily guarantee the outcome I desire! As an example, one of the biggest failings of the EU, and there are many, is that about 40% of the EU budget is spent on agricultural subsidies, which have no cap. The largest beneficiaries of this in the UK are the uber wealthy land and gentry who largely own most of the land. And they have many representatives in this current government. You can rest assured that as part of the exit plans they will do their level best to preserve the flow of subsidies to their own pockets. Other benefits that goes to the masses, will be chopped, as will environmental protections that hinder corporate business. However, it improves democratic accountability, and I felt that was worth the risk. As a Scot, I also support Scottish independence for the same reason. Hopefully that is one step closer. The evidence is that the smaller the country the more democracy works, and the poster child for that is Iceland, with a population of a few hundred thousand. Look forward to your post on this.

Twinruler334 said...

You really have a genius of thinking way outside the box, Mr Greer. I deeply admire you for it!

Travis Marshall said...

The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.

Travis Marshall said...

(It's like expecting Donald Trump to devote his presidency to destroying the world's population of chipmunks.)
Did Mao not begin the four pests campaign? Maybe not as absurd as you intended it.

Phil Harris said...

Correction on British referendum. Most British newspapers with the largest readership are owned by plutocrats with political agendas. These came out as a bloc in favour of Brexit. The Guardian and FT are distinctly minority flavours.

Note also that the internal proletariat in Scotland already decided last year it was Scottish and voted Scottish Nationalist (SNP), dumping a British Labour Party allegiance of long standing. (In your phrase as a class they "went under the bus" decades ago and finally seem to have woken up to the fact.) Yesterday, however, it looks like they added enough of their vote to stay with SNP policy and remain in EU. SNP has tried and will probably try to preserve the previous British post-war social settlement in the form of re-distributive public goods, mostly health, pensions and welfare and educational services, which serve a good political as well as sensible economic purpose. (I rely on people like Steve Keen for my understanding of monetary function of public goods.) The Scottish working class having found they probably no longer exist politically had a fairly rational choice to make.

We await further analysis but my understanding is that younger people (<30?) voted 60/40 majority to remain in EU.

I hope of course you are right about turning point. Other people whose analysis like yours I very much generally respect, including economist Steve Keen, took / take a dim and terminal view of EU, so this is nothing personal. Clearly the larger English internal proletariat did not have Scottish identity to vote for and in my view thereby were not faced with rational choice. We await outcomes but our PM David Cameron will certainly go down in history. Arguably, bad economics leads to bad politics. Economics is not working and if we double-down on 'austerity' (i.e. cut off those in the bottom third) then the real explosion could yet be to come.

Phil H

Maria said...

I think I covered both assignments in one by reading Huckleberry Finn. It was not on the curriculum when I was in school in the 70s and I somehow hadn't got around to it since then, so while I was aware of the controversy surrounding it, I came to it with fresh eyes. It was a great book, despite the fact that there was plenty in it to make me flinch.

Still, I'm intrigued by this new assignment...

Don Plummer said...

I certainly agree about Ms Coulter's appearance on her book covers! She could easily stand in for the White Witch in a stage production of one of CS Lewis' Narnia tales, and she could probably do it without wearing any makeup.

Phil Knight said...


Actually, we faced down a large portion of the international establishment as well.

Personally, for the first time ever I'm grateful that I'm congenitally irresponsible.

Quos Ego said...

Dear John Michael,

I must admit I fail to see how the English and Welsh move is wise in any way : England has a population density of more than 400 inhabitants per square kilometer (and quickly growing!). The country cannot possibly feed itself in isolation.

The EU in its current state is a complete disaster, of course, and yet to me, Brexit is akin to suicide.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks, the snow was fun. Sorry to hear about the humid night. I reckon our planet is getting hotter and wetter, but what do I know...

I thought you may enjoy this short extract from the 1812 edition of the Rapunzel story, which was taken from the original work of the German brothers Grimm. It casts a whole new light on the story:

"At first Rapunzel was afraid, but soon she took such a liking to the young king that she made an arrangement with him: he was to come every day and be pulled up. Thus they lived merrily and joyfully for a certain time, and the fairy did not discover anything until one day when Rapunzel began talking to her and said, "Tell me, Mother Gothel, why do you think my clothes have become too tight for me and no longer fit?""

That is really funny and was probably part warning for young ladies and part bawdy joke! The later 1857 edit reads differently enough that the bawdy humour was taken from it completely and Rapunzel sounds like a simpering mooncalf rather than the more likely young lady in the 1812 version. Anyway, the living merrily and joyfully bit sounds like a lot of fun!!!

I'd also like to congratulate the clever British readers who have had the excellent common sense to walk away from a failing empire for a second time in recent history. For what can't be sustained, generally won't be.



Phil Harris said...

Correction for myself. I wrote just now of Scottish working class transferring allegiance from the 'British' Labour Party. No such thing, of course. I should have written 'The British Labour Movement'. The English Labour Party is going to have a hard time re-inventing 'Britishness'.

Phil H

Alex Blaidd said...

Sorry this comment is not about the above post, it's of course about Brexit, so please do feel free not to publish if too off topic. I feel very lost and confused with it to be honest. In a different context and sentiment I'd have voted leave, but I fear that the leave vote will just strengthen the grip of the neo-liberals. I fail to see how we'll be better off with Johnson, Gove, IDS, etc. I don't see how the average British person will be better off. I'm not pro EU, I'd happily leave the EU, but I'm concerned where that takes us next. So with all that in mind I voted remain.

I didn't want to vote remain, but I didn't want to support Johnson and Gove. It was one of those votes where I wanted to vote against an undemocratic EU, and the big banks, but also didn't want to vote for the alternative. Is that what it's like in these situations? I have such mixed thoughts, so very much looking forward to your post - it's particularly hard over here to remain objective, though I have tried my absolute hardest to do so. I didn't feel an allegiance to the remain campaign nor the leave. I don't feel like either side represented me. And I find the comments from the remain camp today arrogant, yet I find the comments from the leave camp ignorant.

One thing for sure, it's huge! Expect the collapse of the EU and the Eurozone pronto.

latefall said...

Such an apt title for this weeks diplomatic developments.
I tend to think that "the right thing" happened yesterday (for the wrong reasons). But this really is only where is starts to get interesting. I don't want to derail the discussion more than necessary, and will try to keep this short and undiplomatic.

I found the debate difficult to bear due to the abysmal quality of most of the (most) voiced opinions/arguments. The term "Independent United Kingdom", the fact of claiming not to be able to get rid of a layer of politicians, while being in the process of a referendum to do exactly that, and somehow accepting the caricatures of statesmen from an elite pipeline one layer below as god given perhaps makes this point quickly.
Of course the other side is not significantly more "professional" about it, though I feel much better about their intentions. One thing I find unforgivable is to equate anti-European with anti-EU (or EU-critical), where you could perfectly well use the simple term "anti-Union" (avoiding the ill advised monopolization of "European Union" - like there could be only one).
Still, I think the safest path may not be the straightest nor the most obvious path by now. This one certainly is not the fairest if you look at how the young population voted (or wasn't even allowed to) when most of the economic forecasts (for whatever they are worth) predicted that the largest effects would come to bear 10 years from now. I think all this could have been avoided, perhaps in a mere 10 years by a demographic shift of the sentiment, but it was not to be. Perhaps something can be arranged with Ireland or Scotland. We'll see how things turn out, and it certainly is a good opportunity to straighten a few things out on the continent.

If you can find yourself in some of that, or just wonder about a non-elite continental perspective I would recommend reading this pro-Brexit rationale from a German perspective.
I very much look forward to next weeks installment.
By the way if someone wants to vent steam into the direction of the World Bank, I'll be sitting down with some of the MENA people after the weekend. If you have good rants (preferably with references I'd like to hear them).

For my homework I will try to give the Koran translation by Paret's a shot.

Patricia Mathews said...

And, John, as predicted, they'll probably be exiting Scot-free. The logical next step has already been proposed north of the border. Or revisited. The English bookies have just lost a bunch of money right now, too.

Alex Blaidd said...

You know, what I wanted was a third option. An option to leave, but not being led by Johnson, Gove, IDS and Farage. Not because of xenophobia, but because the EU has become undemocratic, supports the big banks, is neoliberal etc. etc. Am I just naive? I voted remain, purely because of my doubts, yet am partly excited by leaving. What a strange species we are!!

luna said...

I don't think it's true that most of the British establishment were agaist Brexit - most of the right wing press and some senior Tories were on the Brexit side. I disagree with Grebulocities on the propaganda issue - for example Rupert Murdoch's propaganda machine was in full throttle for Brexit, using a classic Rescue Game tactic (ie. blame the immigrants).

I share the ambivalence towards the EU and it's Byzantine ways. There is also wage class here too that has been thrown under a bus and wants it's voice heard.

However I feel that the most of the pro-Brexiters are even more pro-austerity than the EU, and that British political institutions, being stuck in the 18th century, will be unable to protect us. For that reason I voted Remain.

I'm keeping my fingures crossed that things will ultimitely work out for the best...

donalfagan said...

Brexit: Cenk Uygur says he was for staying, as was the murdered Jo Cox, but Uygur understands that the vote expresses a rejection of austerity and desire for change.

Regarding other books by Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men is stay with you kind of frightening, and All The Pretty Horses is somewhat romantic. McCarthy's prose, of course, is notable for the absence of quotation marks, quote identifiers and most contraction marks. It just flows and you often have to go back to figure out who said what.

I read The Fountainhead in high school, before I knew it was supposed to be loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright. I didn't hate it. They showed the Gary Cooper film at college, and all the architects laughed when Roark's mentor told him, on his deathbed, to remember that form follows function.

I suppose that one of Bill O'Reilly's screeds would probably be fairly offensive, but I ain't giving that tool a nickel.

Justin said...

JMG/Kevin, QUILTBAG is great - it's an actual pronounceable word, likely includes the identities of 999 out of 1000 people, and is resistant to endless appending of just one more letter. Of course, this makes it utterly unacceptable to a certain subset of the 'intelligentsia'. Unlike a rainbow, a quilt implies a degree of unity.

It's occurred to me that Trump's visit to Scotland and his frequent claims to be a "great builder" are quite possibly related - what do you think, JMG?

Owen/Dammerung, it's quite something to see various imageboards, including a 'fringe' one taking the notion of magic seriously - less so on 4/x/ and /pol/ but on others...

John Roth said...

Re: Western fiction

I grew up on Zane Grey. I recently tried to read one of my early favorites, “Wilderness Trek,” the story of a multi-year cattle drive in Australia, and found it unreadable. It wasn’t the story, the plot or social/political/racial/etc context. It was his habit of using “eye dialect” for the way the characters spoke. There’s only so much of that I can take these days. Your tastes may differ.

Zane Grey precedes Louis L’Amour. He was wildly popular in his day.


Yeah, that’s a common problem with the non-duality thing. The illusion of duality has a purpose, and that purpose is not less important for it being illusory. We will, in the fullness of time, realize that separation is an illusion; there is no need to hurry the process, which in any case can’t be hurried.

@Spanish fly

Justine and Juliet aren’t that vanilla either.


I like your take on the Brexit vote; it’s one of the better ways to end the 80-year cycle without a Crisis War. However, I saw that Britain did it twice before, unfortunately I didn’t make a note of the dates. One was more-or-less peacefully letting the British Empire go; I think the other was a financial crisis in the 19th century. More research is needed.


A lot of the stuff out of the LGBTQIwxyzectpdq crowd seems to be self-destructive in the extreme if they want to get the great mass of people on their side. The wheel turns, and the next piece up will be a tightening of standards - an “anything goes” attitude is more than likely to get you stomped on 15 to 20 years down the road. I personally think we need two new pronoun sets; we don’t need “everyone has a right to their own personal pronoun.” The way things are going, though, we’re likely to be stuck with using the grammatically absurd “they” as a singular. It will not be a singular until it takes a singular verb.

Rumighoul said...

Hello JMG,
I'm storing your homework assignments for a future date and for now I'm still participating in spirit with the blog's larger reading list - I recently finished Decline of the West and was powerfully affected by much of it; really astonishing stuff. It has made me want to tackle more philosophy and I've ended up now trying to chew my way into Kant's Critique, as a prelude to schopenhauer (as recommended via your other blog).

In some ways Spengler fulfills your criteria of reading stuff that offends, (although the effect will have been softened via your introduction to his ideas): I'm sure I recall that the first time I heard of the Decline was in a Guardian article about 10 years ago. The description made me think "that sounds kind of interesting actually", but the author then huffily dismissed it as reactionary anachronistic nonsense of some kind or other,and I'm ashamed to say I probably just thought "oh well, better not bother with him".

If a response to your Brexit aside is permitted...I'll certainly be eager to read your post. As I'm sure you are aware Scotland voted entirely to remain by council areas, 62% of the vote overall, but we are set to be dragged out nonetheless. Everyone I know is pretty shell shocked. My wife is Spanish and she is frankly heart broken. She tends to see the whole thing as largely xenophobic, though I don't necessarily agree with that myself, and the feeling of being cut off further from comity with Europe is a very real thing to her.

I voted remain myself also, but would welcome your analysis of why it could be a good thing a marginal majority of people didn't. I don't think I've every seen you make such a strong statement regarding another country's political decisions BTW.

Dammerung said...

I figure you'd have something instructive/amusing to say about 4chan's current purgatory - it was geniuses pretending to be complete idiots for so long that the actual idiots showed up and thought they'd found their true home.

Dirk & Joh's Wildswan said...

Yes Brexit is that brick pulled from the wall of elitest denial that JMG has educated me about.
Onward through this current fog of neo-liberal delusion.

aunteater said...

I finally read Pudd'nhead Wilson, for the first assignment. Perhaps when my kids are older, I'll have the time and focus to tackle something challenging again ;) But for #2 it is obvious I should finally vet the Limbaugh kids' books that have been sitting untouched on my dresser since the grandparents gifted them at Christmas. The thought fills me with loathing.

Ursachi Alexandru said...


Your British readers who voted for Brexit seem to be mostly from England (notably without London who voted overwhelmingly to remain) and Wales. Also, they are likely not among the youngest age groups:

Scotland and Northern Ireland, who mostly voted to remain, are already hinting at going their separate ways. I don't live in the UK so I'm not for or against Brexit because it's not my country, but I'm just trying to understand the figures. And the future now seems uncertain not only for the EU, but also for the UK itself.

Ironically, some are already blaming Cameron for destroying not one, but two unions.

Sylvia Rissell said...

I suspect I will probably end up slogging through a copy of "Left Behind", but I havn't decided what to drink with it.

I'd like to recommend a couple of books.
Feminists will be offended by Rose Peale's "The Adventure of Being a Wife", who cannot imagine that there would ever be a good reason for a woman to refuse sex with her husband.

For the reader considering "the Handmaid's Tale," if it does not sufficiently offend, try "Native Tounge" or "Judas Rose". (can't remember the author)

I'm not looking forward to this assignment.

avalterra said...

Finished the book. Nicely done. Not what I was expecting but interesting and fun. I will definitely buy the sequels.

pygmycory said...

Actually, reading both your blogs gave me a bit more of a clue as to why people might see the world through those eyes, and what it might look like.

I see the world as someone who believes in a singular God who is ultimately just and merciful, although he operates on a much longer timescale than a human lifetime, and much of the balancing act occurs after we die. And yes, he gets thoroughly angry with the human race sometimes, and often allows the consequences of our own foolishness to catch up with us.

So seeing a bunch of gods running around like children squabbling over toys came as a shock, and a large part of me insisted that had I been there I'd make a rude gesture at them all and walk away. (Though were they real and as portrayed, that would probably be suicidal).

After reading the Iliad, the Odyssey really didn't shock me, though I enjoyed it.

pygmycory said...

I'm watching what happens after the Brexit vote with bated breath, given that the vast majority of my relatives live over there.

Glenn said...

I think I'll finally have to read "Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia" by Herbrt Warington Smyth (1906). I've browsed it casually due to my interest in boats, but not bothered with the text. A cursory glance at the first chapter reveals some horrible racist attitudes dismissing black Africans and American indigenes as inferior and never having developed sail or ocean going craft. Among other things this displays a stark ignorance of the great canoes of the Pacific Northwest. I suspect a thorough reading of his comments in the text will reveal a Protestant Anglo Saxon male attitude of centrism and superiority right up there with Lovecraft.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Zach said...

Regarding Westerns...

I have not read in the genre, but there is a film I can recommend. The 1993 film "Geronimo: An American Legend" is chock-full of good acting, splendid vistas, and was nominated for an Oscar for its musical score. It (thankfully!) avoid the "noble savage" trope, and lets both the Apache and the U.S. Army be populated by three-dimensional humans with strengths and flaws. It's easy to be sympathetic to both sides of this final Indian War.

More to the point of this week, it gives an interesting study in prejudice. One is reminded that the Civil War was still a living memory; a character might be "white", but their being a Virginian or a Texan is hugely significant. (Robert Duvall's Scout is prejudiced against everyone. "Texans!" he spits. "That's the lowest form of a white man.")


Owen said...

>4chan is well outside my reading list

Although you really can't think of just 4chan, it has now mutated into a whole archipelago of chans. And it really is the subconscious of the internet, every forbidden thought on promenade to be examined and considered.

It will seem to be stupid and juvenile but don't make the mistake of underestimating the chans, they can smarten up frighteningly quick when they get motivated to do so.

You will probably facepalm after visiting /x/ for instance, which is probably the more relevant board to your interests.

The establishment is just beginning to try to get their head around the phenomenon and they are failing. And failing. And failing.

RPC said...

"As for prejudices, everyone has them, and the only significant difference -- and it is significant, though not as universally so as sometimes alleged -- is that some people, and some categories of people, have more power to act according to their prejudices than others." I'd argue that another significant difference is that some people are more aware of their prejudices than others and so at least have the capability to compensate.

"Owen, the comparison with Lincoln I had in mind was purely one of the level of vitriol that's been flung at the two men by the establishment." Amen to that - "monkey in a top hat" is about the mildest of the epithets of which I know.

On Brexit, I'm interested in seeing whether Parliament is willing to ignore the will of the people and choose to remain - it wasn't a binding referendum, after all, and as you've pointed out the gap between the elite and their constituents is widening rapidly.

BoysMom said...

I suppose I shall go hunt down The Communist Manifesto, though Mein Kampf in translation would also do. Or perhaps there's something by one of the revolutionaries of the First French Revolution: their results tending to be offensive probably their writings would be closely enough related to qualify and stretching my French would be good in and of itself, or a translation of Mao. I don't really find many ideas to be offensive (though Charles Darwin managed to do a darn good job at one point, but I've already read his pro-racism arguments--someone else might find him useful, and he should be read anyway for his other ideas), most of the time, (and I'm not going to read kiddie erotica for any assignment, no matter how important!) it's more the execution of them that bothers me--the idea of communism is quite pretty, really, it's just that humans are far too messy and complicated to achieve it on any large scale: it seems to work rather well on the very small scale.

On the subject of old books and home schooled kids, the key is always to talk about it. It is sometimes better to introduce some of those materials before the child can read them alone, so the conversation can happen as you read the book aloud, mid-text. Otherwise, find a good way to talk (my boys are fond of in-van discussion, rather than at home!) and have a talk. Language changes, there's always 'ass' in the Christmas story, if your kids are exposed to a traditional reading annually, and 'gay' in Deck the Halls, as prime examples of word-meaning-shifts that kids naturally meet early on. So a word may have been commonly accepted at one time for one meaning, then later become a slur. It's worth discussing. Huckleberry Finn is great for this, because the moral of the story is so good and so strong. Sure, the ending is neatly contrived and perhaps a bit unsatisfying to us these days, but the kids can easily follow Huck's change in how he feels about Jim.
There are some very problematical new books out there. A friend gifted one of my kids an award winning book for Christmas this last year that ends with the kid who is the main character dying in the Holocaust. Which would be well enough, had it been aimed at fourteen-year-olds rather than seven-year-olds! (For those of you not around many seven-year-olds, a good many of them are still afraid of the dark and the monsters under the bed: books where the protagonist dies, horribly or not, tend to cause nightmares.)

David, by the lake said...

Vicious attacks on the Brexit, absolutely vicious. Express support for the result and bam! -- you are instantly an ignorant, bigoted, racist moron. Wow.

Another chink in our imperial armor, however...

Violet Cabra said...

Love the homework. Last month read Frankenstein. What a fantastic book and primal narrative of Science! Love the framing of the narrative - letters and new attempts of navigating the globe, plus the characters of Dr Frankenstein and his verbose monster are both so endearing.

When I was younger I would frequently read books that I disagreed with "to see what the other side thinks" Now that I'm older it seems clear that since humans think it stories and symbols and different people from different backgrounds, cultures or even just life experiences have different narratives and symbolic frameworks there will often be extreme differences in principals, ethics and outlook. the darker side of this doesn't really irritate me except when there's bad writing. the lighter side, the one promising of a better tomorrow does deeply offend me (as detailed so brilliantly by Barbara Ehrenreich Bright-Sided) and so this week I will finally grit my teeth and read The Secret.

Myriad said...

"… having occasionally wished… that there were a lot fewer of my species here."

Exactly. Me too. But there's a difference between wishing things were otherwise, and cheering for an intentional genocide, or even for a tsunami. Isn't there?

And that little doubt, "isn't there?" is where revulsion for the self-shadow sneaks in, turning the fictional plague of angels (for me) into black humor that's too close to home to be funny, or outright monkey's paw (be careful what you wish for) horror.

Of course, I didn't understand any of that fifteen years ago, I just had the emotional throw-the-book reaction. So as a lesson, this week's essay and this discourse seems to be working. Thanks! I'll read The Awakeners next.

re Brexit: Would you call it a victory for the contraneoantidisestablishmentarianists?

On another forum I wanted to post a joke about "Texit" being next, but I discovered that term (inevitably) is already in use.

(That got me thinking about other states' possible "exit" coinages. Massachusetts would seek to lead a MassExit, Connecticut would demonstrate paradoxical separatist solidarity with a Connexit, Ohio would turn away in disgust and cry "Ohexit," Wyoming would ask "Wyexit?", Florida would try to keep multiple options open with a Flexit, and California would settle for nothing less than a Supercaliforniaisticexitalidocious.)

Juhana said...

I don't know if archdruids living in US know about bygone girl band called Spice Girls, from the UK. When that band started to break up and eject it's members, it was end of the world for many pre-teenage girls around Europe. Today, next to nobody cares about that band anymore. I believe that Brexit started same process for European Union. It is like artificially constructed girl band long after it's "best before"-stamp, just waiting to erode one notch farther. EU has been total disaster for anyone below the wealthiest 20 % here in Europe. Same processes that drive popularity of Trump upwards are working here to shift balance of power towards nationalist Right. And not a day too soon. There is no reason to believe that "fear of the Other" is somehow wrong. It may be that those fears are deeply rooted in reality. This dual "either-or"-thinking you have been talking about, you call it binary thinking, it has been hardwired into human nervous system for a reason. Evolution doesn't make mistakes in basic instincts, or the story of said species on Earth would be abysmally short. At least in Germany, where all expression of nationalist pride is strictly shunned and forbidden if it isn't expressed with connection to football, they are realizing that these teddy bear Others from Middle East come with very, very sharp claws and teeth. While in Germany during European Championship game, the long-shunned nationalism which natives expressed had a new flavor in it. There was one spoonful of despair, and other spoonful of awakening. One whole street was closed, and German flag was flied with such a pride with young men that nobody has seen it in Europe for decades. For a random traveller, chance of mood was palbable. They were truly championing their nation, in guise of football.

If people doesn't share ancestry, bonds by marriage, religion, primary language or cultural norms with each other, it is pure insanity to have trust towards others. Human beings are not gentle, co-operative creatures as a default mode, towards all and everyone. They save their tender feelings for their own, whomever they may be, and outsiders are seen as neutral force or threat.

This fact has been proven myriad times through history. I am not saying that common identity has to be centered around one said quality like race. It can be religion or even bonds of marriage between groups, which solidify certain level of basic trust between two groups. But John, are you not playing down the part of slow collapse that means fracturing of safety? It leads directly into in-group morality, where every group fights only for it's own. Universal moral ideals of humanism, derived directly from monotheistic worldview anyway, shatter as result. Universalism is offspring of high trust. If you offer your hand and it is bitten every time, only fool would keep on trusting. So why to pretend? Why to pretend that civilized, high-trust modes of behaviour are going to extend into future without abundant energy?

Maybe Lovecraft was right after all. Maybe all "foreigners" are really monstrous, scary shapes in the dark, to be expelled at all cost. Point is that all these shattered groups are foreign landscapes to each other, as they all are shivering around their campfire of shared identity, in the dark of the night. They all cast monstrous shadows to all the other campfires which are on the range to see them. What Lovecraft missed is that as they are foreign to "us", we are foreign to "them". And when these differing worlds collide, it is scary, alien landscape opening before each other, from both points of view. Then it is only question who has might to stamp his imagined reality over the imagined reality of the other. Is it us or the fish-people of Innsmouth? For the loser, history has reserved a sad part to play.

whomever said...

JMG: You know, you've prompted me to go visit my (very good) local public library to browse for offensive stuff, a place I've not been to for a while (used to borrow stuff all the time, but just got busy etc etc). So for that alone, thanks!

Meanwhile, back here in reality, apparently Puerto Rico has...1 week until they completely run out of cash. Unless congress acts first of course.
Nice to see that the US has their own version of Greece.
BTW, turns out a surprisingly large number of US people own Puerto Rican debt without realizing it because of it's tax-free status, so it tends to show up in the various tax free "municipal bond funds".

Timothy Dicks said...

Great challenge. We are currently in the process of selling our home and may be living in a camper for a while. My racist, jew hating father in law (who self admits to being part jewish) has loaned me a book about how 'everything is fine with the world', climate change, resource depletion, etc are not to be worried about. I won't know until I read it if the author is simply denying they exist or if he thinks we will tech our way out of it. Should be interesting.

Gabriela Augusto said...

It must be wonderful to ha such a vast culture :), Lynn White Jr., and the acceptance of the superiority of the book leading to the disrespect of reality and nature, thanks for the hint! I will read it as soon as I can.
And also, I think, how well do we accept the developments in virtual reality as amazing technological advances. Are they really? When I bought my car for the second time in my life (I drove the first during 20 years), I was surprised by the lack of technological innovation. This car has a few extra filters, but everything else is very similar. My husband says that it is because I asked for no computer on board - for good reason, most of the money he leaves in the repair shops is for the computerised parts of his several cars! So there is where all technological innovation went in one of the more dynamic industries of our days?
Are we being "possessed" by our brains? Is our book-conceptual-abstract educated brain blinding us to all reality?
That said I totally agree that all the "politically correct" is extremely dangerous, as it will necessary cause a reaction, in Europe we are starting to see that reaction may be violent.

Space Seeder said...

So I'm here at the library with some time to kill, and I remembered the "homework assignment." Now obviously I didn't sign up for a course, so I'm in no way obligated to do it, but neither do I have any real reason not to, and it sounded interesting.

It's hard to know something I'll disagree without having read it first. The book that immediately suggested itself was "The Secret". There's two different (ahem) non-fiction books by two different authors with that title, and I don't know which one it is. Still don't, because it turns out neither one is in.

So there I was in a section of spiritual and religious related material. It occurred to me that you have probably read many of the books I found around myself, Mr. Greer, and I had the amusing thought that I might unwittingly choose as my "disagreement book" something that you are firmly on board with.

So what I actually selected was something called "The Pocket Dictionary of New Religious Movements", by Irving Hexham. Advertised on the cover is "Over 400 groups, individuals and ideas clearly and concisely defined". I thought amusedly to myself that as someone who has mostly tended towards rationalism, I ought to find, at a conservative estimate, at least 50 things to firmly disagree with. In reality, I actually only expected to be informed about some things I know little or nothing about, having paid scant attention to them. I found that acceptable as I'm not here at the library to complete your assignment, but to charge my phone, before I finish my daily duties and then go get shalefaced. No expectation of having a mental debating exercise or anything of the kind.

So, imagine my surprise at the following entry:

"druids: An ancient pagan religious priesthood found in Celtic lands, including Britain and areas of France. The Romans totally destroyed druidism, with the result that our only knowledge of it comes from Roman sources that describe it as entailing a bloody system of human sacrifice. Since the eighteenth century, various new religious groups have claimed to be druids, but there is no historical evidence that any of them are remotely related to ancient druidism. Today, many "druid" groups seek to perform their rituals at Stonehenge, which was a ruin long before the Celts entered Britain and has no connection with ancient druidism."

Now, my own knowledge of modern druidry is limited at best. But I have been reading TADR for the last five years. Also, I caught up on the previous blog entries, and even read the material related to the AODA one summer when I got laid off and was looking for a way to fill the time. I don't remember much about it, but didn't Hexham set up a straw druid here? I don't recall where you guys say that you have any kind of a historically verifiable connection to the ancient Celtic druids. Isn't Hexham refuting a claim that you're not even making?

I don't have much else to say about that entry or about druidry itself, that not being my thing, but I think I should stop reading this book, lest I fill my head with road apples.

Probably the types of mistaken ideas that circulate about your religion are well known to you, but I thought you should be informed anyway.

Everyone else: I'm sorry. I usually try to at least read all of you on the rare occasion that I comment, and in fact I'll sometimes go back and read the comments on old posts. It's awesome, you guys add really great stuff to what Mr. Greer says.

I think next for this assignment I'll try "The Singularity". About 25 years ago I wasted some money on a book called "the next 50 years". It was nothing but technology fantasies run wild with no supporting logic, never mind evidence. It made me angry, so much so in fact that I tore it along the spine and threw the two halves one after the other into the wall. And this was years before I was disabused of the belief in sustained progress.

Yellow Submarine said...

As an American who lived in England for three years and has relatives from the UK, let me also congratulate the people of Great Britain for their declaration of independence from that undemocratic, bureaucratic monstrosity known as the European Union. In particular, let me congratulate them for looking past the fear mongering and smear tactics that were aimed at those who wanted to leave.

The EU started out well enough as a customs union and free trade zone for Western Europe, but morphed into a dysfunctional and increasingly intrusive leviathan state ruled over by an unaccountable and largely parasitic elite. Its no surprise that a great many Brits, Frenchmen, Italians, Swedes, Greeks and others want out.

I think that one thing that contributed to the outcome was that the crassly manipulative campaign of fear mongering and attempting to tar the "leave" campaign with the sort of guilt-by-association smear tactics that we were discussing on The Other Blog backfired.

It has been noted that the opponents of British independence tried to use the murder of MP Jo Cox to smear those who wanted to leave the EU by claiming they had "created a climate that contributed to violence" and all of the usual standard-issue rot like that, as well as generate sympathy for their side. It's been noted that while the proponents suspended their campaign for a few days out of respect for the deceased, the establishment continued to engage in blatantly manipulative propaganda by using the death of MP Cox for partisan political advantage.

Nick Griffin, the former head of the British National Party, wrote a scathing editorial about the attempts by the establishment to exploit Cox's murder for the Vineyard of the Saker, a blog run by a Russian exile living in the US. Whether you like Griffin or not or agree or disagree with his political views (I most definitely do not on both questions), its well worth reading.

It seems to me that towards the end, people realized just how unscrupulous the establishment's tactics were and how they were trying to play the British people for fools. I also think President Obama's blatant attempt to interfere with the referendum and sway the vote by making thinly veiled threats ended up backfiring as well. Imperial bullying is seldom popular with those who are on the receiving end. It overjoys me to see that all of this backfired in the end and the British people voted to regain their independence.

Again, my congratulations to the great British people, who so bravely faced up to some of the greatest tyrants in history, including Napoleon and Hitler and saw them fall.

Hereward said...

Great sequence of posts (again!)
As far as reading books outside of your comfort zone goes, I did that quite comprehensively when I moved to the Netherlands 30 years ago.
The great thing about learning another language is being able to get into the psyche of the people who habitually think in that language by reading their literature. What you then find is that language really does determine how you think and how you express yourself.

Once my Dutch had reached a sufficiently good level, a colleague gave me a whole list of books I might like to read. The titles came from his high school reading list.
One of the first books I read was Willem Frederik Hermans' De Donkere Kamer van Damokles (The Darkroom of Damocles). Set in occupied Holland during WWII, the ending absolutely astounded me; it is already a very dark, brooding kind of a story and then things just get so much worse. I had no idea from reading standard English-language literature, that people could have such a black outlook on life. That's not to say that Dutch people are gloomy ordinarily, but from reading the book I realized that deep down they have an unspoken fear about being overrun be it by the Germans in the Second World War, the French in Napoleonic times, the Spanish in the 15th century and ultimately the sea.

The next book was Turks Fruit (Turkish Delight) by Jan Wolkers. In the England of my youth this would most certainly have been classified as pornography and very graphic it is too! Even so, it was on the high school reading list! The story opens with the main protagonist, Erik, who has taken a fancy to a girl who has just moved into one of the rooms in the same house, draws round his "member" with a pencil on a piece of paper, writes next to it "My penis" and shoves it under the door. Such an act would be seen as sexual harassment at the very least, these days. Anyway, after a catalogue of sexual antics all described in the minutest of detail, a beautiful and very moving love story emerges. Erik, the sexual deviant, wins you over, if not to his particular predilections, at least to see that, rather than a monster, he is another beautiful human being.

After a series of Dutch literature, a girlfriend recommended I read Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Now, I have never even been to the American South and I am a white heterosexual male, so to find myself inside the mind of an abused black girl who is terrified of all men and finds lesbian love, was about as far away from my world as possible! This book gave me a whole new perspective on life, the vulnerability of women and the abuse of power.

The last book I shall mention here was another recommendation from a girlfriend: Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Which, I am sure everybody reading this knows, follows Humbert Humbert's pursuit of the twelve-year-old Lolita. As horrendous as this sounds, I eventually found myself feeling pity for Humbert. I am not trying to justify paedophilia here, just that Humbert knows that his feelings are wrong but cannot help himself.

PS On the different tiers in Retrotopia, I am coming round to your way of thinking, also thanks to Ray Wharton. To do so involved me finding out more about the geography of Ohio and quickly seeing that the population density there is much lower than here in Holland. In addition, the counties are similar in size to English counties, rather that the twelve Dutch provinces. Holland has a population density similar to that of New Jersey - the US's most densely populated state. I can certainly imagine that it would not be feasible to have all the counties at the same tier. I do think that, in general, it would be unlikely to go directly from tier 5 to tier 1 for neighbouring tiers.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear Mr. Greer, et all - Someone mentioned reading Bill O'Reilly for the assignment. Years ago, in the interest of reading some things I might not agree with, I read a bit of O'Reilly. I forget which book of his I read, but I was very surprised. Being an Irish Catholic, and attending some pretty preppy and Ivy League east coast schools, he has a really sensitive grasp of status and class. At least in those areas, the guy really "gets it."

Late last night, when I was reading around a bit on the Net, when it became clear the exit vote would prevail, I ran across an article from the Atlantic Monthly magazine, about the vote. I don't know how tongue in cheek the article was, but the author speculated that what it was all about, was this. The people voting to leave are Anglo-Saxons. The people voting to stay are Normans. The Anglo-Saxons voted to leave because for almost 1,000, they have been butt hurt over the Conquest. I suppose over the next few months, several other equally bizarre theories will be floated.

But another article said not to worry. The TV production of "Game of Thrones," probably won't be affected. Much. Maybe not as high of production values, but still watchable. What a relief. I can sleep at night. :-) Seriously, though, I've never been a fan of either the series, or books. Once I found out that I'd have to keep track of 7 royal houses, well, life's too short. Lew

@ Violet Cabra - Barbara Ehrenreich is a genius writer. And, while I've got your attention, I'd just like to say that I really like your posts.

Leo Knight said...

JMG, off topic, but I wonder if you heard of the untimely death of actor Anton Yelchin, who was crushed when his Jeep SUV rolled backwards and pinned him against a pillar? It seems the "advanced" electronic shifter has a flaw, in that it always rebounds to a neutral position. Just looking at the shift lever, a driver has no way of telling if the vehicle is in gear, neutral, or park. Progress!

latefall said...

@Alex & luna
I am sincerely sorry for the situation you find yourself in. If it is any consolation, you could look at this as the fast lane towards something like Retrotopia. I would strongly suggest to try out (partially) non-English media (e.g. via google translate) that may not have a horse in the race.
Regarding (democratic) alternatives for Europe I can recommend this relatively long discussion of Varoufakis and Chomski on the topic: (perhaps also qualifies as a homework for Juhana?)

@Phil Harris Thank you for those points.

@Juhana The "Spice Girls" may be gone but the genre (sadly) still is pretty popular. Where we may agree is that there is a realistic chance that will go out of style for some time. But that was not a European invention, certainly not a German one. (Within) The EU may have been the most convenient way to influence important decisions though. So that is where the other end of the Atlantik Brücke comes down.
Regarding the cooperation issue I think we're currently going into a direction you would be increasingly correct. However I would say it is not always that simple. Explained a little dryly here:

Unknown said...


off topic but worthy of note:

My local, non mainstream, news source just ran this article about the Kessler Syndrome.

Its worth a read because it recognises the problem and its ramifications, but then goes on to promote the "off earth" solution.

Florid is the term the psychology profession use to describe such nuttyness, I believe.

eagle eye

onething said...


"since each of us can only understand another person by modeling that person's thoughts and feelings on things we've experienced within ourselves, whatever we hate is always something we are."

I'm struggling with this here, which has been said in a couple of ways throughout the commentary and the main post. Are you talking about a kind of knee-jerk hatred? If you take the offensive thing calmly you are all right?

Because this is confusing. For example, I loathe the neocon agenda, the mindless killing and assumption of the right to do so and to lie and dissemble publicly about it. So that means in reality I want to kill?

Is there then no such thing as actual virtue, character traits that are real? Or the best people have little emotional reaction?

I understand the way projection works, but it cannot always be the case that any indictment carries this twist.

On another note, and partly for this reason, I am not at all sure what to read. Suggestions by the commentariat are welcome. If I read something offensive there ought to be some redeeming value in it.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hello JMG!

Regarding my homework, reading Ana Karenina, what I took most from the experience wasn't exactly the parts that gave me pause or a sense of strangeness, and there were a few. What astonished me was how much similar we still are, as a culture and more broadly as a civilization, more than a century after it. Many, many things are more a measure of different (larger) scale and (greater) quantity of energy used than deep, foundational differences, specially in human relations, expectations, goals and organization.

There was a feeling of frustration behind this realization, but then I also learned how deep the myth of progress goes, because it's only frustrating if your expectation is that things have "progressed so much" over the decades, how come it's not so different...

For the next homework I plan to read from an author who is considered a brazillian classic, writer of a series of famous children's books. He just happened to be part of the north american eugenics project and described in letters how his books were doing a "racial cleansing" of a subtler kind...


alex carter said...

I never really had an opinion on the brexit thing, but hearing on what shippets of the BBC news are allowed here in the States, where pro-brexit voters are being called "peasants" and "uneducated" etc., I'd say it's a good thing. Anything that pisses off rich people is pretty likely to be a good thing.

Unknown said...

SamChevre says:

I finished the previous assignment, reading The Blithedale Romance; what struck me was the background assumption that looks and character are related.

I'm trying to think what to read for this assignment: I'm not willing to read the thing that irritates me most, which is arguments that make sense when made well, made badly (think the typical self-help/airport-kiosk management book). I may try "The Handmaid's Tale", but would welcome suggestions that show a pro-Jacobin view from inside/

Suggestions for books that others may find offensive (I find all these thought-provoking).
Michael Pearl, To Train Up a Child--very dominance-focused child training book.
Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource--the ur-text of the unlimited growth crowd.
Sheri Reynolds, The Rapture of Canaan--a first-person picture of a controlling church/family. I have read it multiple times, but my wife says it makes her feel like scrubbing her brain with bleach.
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism: from de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse. The competent version of "Hitler and Stalin were on the same side." (Also, the first politics book I ever read--I found a copy in a dumpster when I was 15.)

Kevin said...

Great news about the Brexit. I confess myself astonished by the display of backbone on the part of the public of a developed western nation (how often has that happened recently?). Meanwhile, here's a somewhat off-topic data point concerning the decline of empire:

The short version: in the USA's largest university system, the California State University, ten percent of students are homeless; twenty percent don't quite know where their next meal is coming from. The source is a study conducted by that institution in February 2015.

The Spanish language TeleSur news network reports that food prices in Argentina have recently tripled. President Macri is a neoliberal whose policies appear to consist of dismantling the institutions created by his predecessor, President Kirchner; my guess is that this probably has a good deal to do with developments there.

Last time around, I read H. Rider Haggard's "She." Or rather, I listened to it on Librivox. I hope they have something sufficiently annoying to listen to this time around. That book has its share of racist content - pretty standard for the period - and a really gorgeous romantic description of sunrise, and of moonlight on the ancient ruins of Kor. I loved the latter. Didn't care so much for the part where ancient mummies are used as torches to light up a dance party that doesn't come off so well anyway. Too macabre by half. (Also, why would a brilliant beautiful woman want to spend 2,000 years in the company of bad-tempered people who have no conversation to speak of?)

Incidentally, I'm a graduate of CSU. Anyone care to guess how many great jobs my diploma has landed me in the past couple of decades?

latheChuck said...

Quos Ego said...
I must admit I fail to see how the English and Welsh move is wise in any way : England has a population density of more than 400 inhabitants per square kilometer (and quickly growing!). The country cannot possibly feed itself in isolation.

But no one said England was going to ISOLATE itself! Norway is not an EU member, and it trades with the rest of Europe. There was plenty of trade before the Lisbon Agreement. But even more to the point, the vote seemed to turn on the issue of unlimited immigration. If the country "cannot ...feed itself" now, how will welcoming more immigrants address that predicament?

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160625T021606Z

(A) Well, I may as well express polite dissent - although some say Brexit is an exercise in political courage, I suspect that it hurts Europe (Germany, for instance, now loses a hitherto effective diplomatic counterweight). I further suspect that what hurts Europe will in the long run hurt that European nation which is the UK. I argued these points in a restrained way in my blog, a few days ago, less by outright assertion than through a short line of editorial-voice questioning.

(B) We can perhaps, however, all cheer up a little by contemplating British political comedy from the 1980s. Perhaps the wittiest thing the BBC ever did was that old series called "Yes, Minister". On this sticky day in history, we can all, regardless of our political convictions, get a laugh from the short clip called "Yes Minister — Why Britain Joined the European Union", and uploaded to YouTube on 2016-03-18 by YouTube user "Hostis Humani Generis". (Nope, that user is not me - no idea who it is: as they say in Britland, "No idea at all, actually-actually; and I'm not even lying.")

Although different people will have different surfing experiences, some MAY find that the clip can be found at URL If that URL fails, one can search in the YouTube interface under the strings "Yes Minister — Why Britain Joined the European Union" and "Hostis Humani Generis".


(in Estonian diaspora, just north of Toronto in Canada)

PS: I hope that I will not give too much offence if I add on a serious note that I have today received from a London friend a PDF of some "Leave" literature, a one-page flier. If this flier is indicative of the general tone of the Brexit debate, there are things to worry about. (a) The flier frames the question in almost exclusively economic terms. (b) The flier has in essence just ONE economic argument (it seems to be pitched at people who do not study issues) - that argument being that the EU costs the UK 350 GPB per week. But if we are to argue honestly, we have to say something about terms of trade - if only (I am trying to put this from the standpoint of my political opponents, the people in the Leave camp, as fairness here requires) that terms of trade are "Nothing to worry about," that the UK can "Negotiate favourable trading arrangements from outside the EU, as Norway already has," something like that. (c) The flier has a map which shows Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey in red, as candidates for membership, and additionally shows Syria and Iraq in orange (with that orange colour left unexplained in the accompanying words). The rest of Europe is in shades of grey. But the grey is not uniform. The grey is quite dark over the Baltics, Byelorussia, and Ukraine (conveying to the incautious the suggestion that Byelorussia and Ukraine are in the same current treaty position as the Baltics). The shading is lighter over western continental Europe, with Portugal virtually disappearing on my screen (while Spain and Italy are duly visible). The oddest thing of all is that while Northern Ireland is correctly visible, Eire disappears altogether, at least on my screen. Was the artist trying to make the prospective voter forget the treaty position of Eire?

PPS: No, no, no: I GENUINELY did not upload that short YouTube clip. Honest.

Caryn said...

Thank You, JMG. I am very much looking forward to reading your thoughts on Brexit. I was shocked at the result, really didn't think it would happen.

Reading assignment #1) I read Turgenev's "Father's And Sons", as we had a copy, I've always loved the Classical Russians and their heavy-on-the-metaphor, kitchen-sink-dramas; and it was short enough to complete in ample time. I was very surprised that within the first few pages, I found myself in completely alien territory simply with the pace and formality of the writing. I had not realized how my brain has changed to a digital processing speed. It took awhile to get into the groove of the slow, singular focus of the story. You have to go slow to catch the clues, metaphor as well as to let the scene and pace of their lives sink in. It was a wholly different mental exercise. Thank You for that!!

This week's reading assignment: As I've said before, we're in the process of moving and have now cleared out all of our books and tchatches, We're leaving in 1 1/2 weeks, so I may have to hand this on in late. I'm in the camp of commenters who have read dissenting views extensively, so it will be a challenge to find one that can repulse me for more than simply being horrifically poorly written. Even Ayn Rand, I can see where she and her fans coming from. IMHO she's wrong cherry picking scenarios to support her scenario and I often suspect just being a provocateur, but I understand the impetus of their fandom to such scenarios and philosophy. It helps that my father and one of my closest friends were at times in their lives fans and followers.
I don't think your proposing this assignment was simply to find a book that repulses us for any reason, but a point of view - expressed in a book, no? I think this would disqualify reading a book we expect will be rubbish - like "50 Shades Of Grey", (just terrible writing) or Ann Coulter, who seems to say anything weirdly provocative to stay in the news, (not likely to be genuine); but an honestly held belief that we disagree with or find grotesque.
I'm sure we have a copy of Mein Kamph in our books in the US, but I think it would serve me better to stay away from disagreeable perspectives centered on race and prejudice - as that is the blind spot we are trying to illuminate. It's often best illuminated from the side - a.k.a. from a completely different issue that can be analogous.
The only book I can remember throwing away in disgust 1/2 way through was Henry Miller's "Tropic Of Cancer" due to his strong and boorish self puffing authorial voice. He just came across as a self-important azz to me and I couldn't believe so many women were clamoring to bed him as he bloated on. Blech! ((OK so maybe I need to get a copy of it again from the library when we get home.)) Like "Lolita", I found Anais Nin ((short story, "Little Birds)"), very unsettling and squirmy, but beautifully crafted. Definitely put me in the shoes of someone I find abhorrent and expanded my empathy-muscle.

Cormac McCarthy is one of my favorite writers, IMHO, if you are interested in giving him a go, you might start with his magnum opus: "Blood Meridian". I've read it 4 times to delve deeper, and gotten much out of it each time. Not to delve deeper, but for different odd reasons, I ended up reading "The Road" 3 times. It did get better, I did see the hopefulness in it finally. It IS a good book, but it is not why he is considered a master or one of the most 'important' writers of the 20th Century. "Blood Meridian" is why, so I would offer: go for the gold and read it if you try anything of his. "No Country For Old Men" OTOH: is I think much 'easier' to parse and digest, therefor somewhat more enjoyable and in tune with a traditional Western paperback. A good read :)

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@BoysMom--Have you read At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald? It qualifies well for the first homework assignment.

This is a children's fantasy novel in the style of an extended fairy tale or fable. According to Wikipedia, it was serialized in a magazine in 1868 and published as a book in 1871. When I read it twenty or thirty years ago, a number of things stood out apart from its literary quality, which is pretty good.

The protagonist is a young boy who is very ill at the opening of the story; the text holds out no hope for him and eventually he expires. The mortality rate of children in that period was such that no young reader would have been shocked or surprised by that situation. The religious value system of the book is interesting because it is saturated by the same late Victorian Christian sensibility as Little Women, in which children are assumed to be innocent and the suffering of innocents is valorized. Yet it is also rather an openly pagan book like The Wind In the Willows; the second most important character in the book is clearly the Goddess of Death, and she is presented as a kindly and sympathetic figure. Finally, the tone of the book and the way the tale is told made it appear to me to be aimed at pre-adolescent readers roughly age nine to twelve, but the complexity of the vocabulary and sentence structure would make it a challenging read for many high school students these days.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160625T030543Z

Woops, sorry: when I posted some minutes ago, under timestamp UTC=20160625T021606Z, that the intellectually thin pro-Brexit flier whose PDF I got today in e-mail from a London friend was costing UK membership in the EU at 350 GBP weekly, I misreported its argument: the flier in fact says that the cost is 350 million GBP weekly. I did not mean to do this. I got a bit worked up over politics, and left out the necessary word "million".

I should perhaps also have taken the opportunity to remark that at my blog, I have this week addressed the ADR discussion from around 2016-02-17, on the Michelson-Morley experiment.



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