Friday, July 03, 2015

Capital by Marx: End of Volume 1

Purgatory will not be so bad.  Marx goes on to project every evil of the last two centuries onto the capitalist, regardless of which continent it occurs on.  That petty tyrants of foreign nations were involved in the slave trade is noted, but it is the capitalist who is at fault.  The same goes for the massive transformation of Ireland both before, during and after the famine.  Listening to Capital does help clarify why it is that the only language Marxists understood was the language of the gun.  Marx's goal was to fill his followers with an all consuming and unquenchable hatred that would seek domination at all costs.  What Marxists lack to this day is any notion of forgiveness and reconciliation, which is a key component of Christianity.  They also had no notion about how they would improve on anything.  There was only a notion that if only they could grab all power to themselves, things would automatically improve.

As I have already noted, there is not a single crime of the capitalists that the communists didn't commit, and while the capitalist had the excuse of being too narrow in focus and blinded by capital to see the consequences, the communist can make no such claim.  The famines of the Ukraine, China, Cambodia, North Korea, ... all were man made, rather than the product of something like the potato blight.  Yes, there were mass migrations due to capitalism, but when the communists took over, it was the proletariat fleeing for survival to the more generous bourgeoisie, with the communist first putting up fences to stop them and later shooting them in the back.  Early capitalism was hard, but compared to the gulags, work camps and re-education camps?  Capitalism may facilitate prostitution, but where do we find a state like Cuba enticing pedophiles to engage in prostitution for foreign exchange?  When was there a tyrant in a third world country that was too vile for the communists to deal with for natural resources?

It is tempting to pronounce a curse on the Marxists.  This would be a wish that all the punishments that they had determined to be merited by the capitalists be given to them in eternity according to their standards.  But still, I must restrain myself since as Christians we are to ask for forgiveness of others and not vengeance.  May God bring some of these madmen to their senses.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Hegel's Constitution

In spite of the confusion in The Philosophy of History (1830-1831), there are a few things of interest.  One is the note on the gradual devolution of languages from their more pure and sophisticated grammatical form.  Another point that Hegel shares with me is that there are "rights" and there are "wrongs".  Today, both are placed under the heading of "Human Rights".  He considers the family - i.e. the human family according to the laws of nature - to be sacred.  Being a good German, Hegel is very much tuned in to the fact that different nations and cultures have different characteristics, a different spirit and a distinctive life.  Americans view everyone as being the same as us, but with some inexplicable peculiarities.

Hegel also is reluctant to embrace the Greek belief in the circular nature of government from aristocracy to oligarchy to democracy, and instead tends towards a view of humanity in a state of progress.  The Germany of his time might be a candidate for this belief, since the German people had been raised upon from barbarism to an advanced state by Christianity.  The idea that we are in a cyclic situation didn't seem to fit.

What really stuck out to me is the idea that the constitution of a country would necessarily be distinctive in that it reflect the religion and culture:

"We shall have to show further on that the constitution adopted by a people makes one substance — one spirit: — with its religion, its art and philosophy, or, at least, with its conceptions and thoughts — its culture generally; not to expatiate upon the additional influences, ab extra, of climate, of neighbors, of its place in the World."

If this is the case, the secularists attempt to decouple the constitution from religion and culture will have some complications:

"... for in secular matters only force and voluntary subservience are the principles of action; and the forms which are called Constitutions are in this case only a resort of necessity, and are no protection against mistrust."

My sense is that Hegel is doubly right as we apply this to our current era.  We haven't really succeeded to move beyond the principle that constitutions are derived from religion, but instead have embraced this notion to its fullest:  The SCOTUS has duly recognized that America has a new religion and culture now.  Before we were a Christian nation.  Now we each worship our lusts, desires and envy.  These are our gods.  Hard work was our former culture value.  Sloth is the new one.  Before we wrung our hands over slavery.  Today we have embraced slavery to vice sponsored by the government and available to all races.  Our art is the art of desecration.  Yes, our Constitution perfectly reflects our religion.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Hegel and the Philosophy of Senility

This is embarrassing.  I am nearing the end of Marx's Capital, Volume 1, but wanted an interlude.  Since Marx and Engels were both reported to have had some connection to the German philosopher, Hegel, I decided to listen to the one work that was on by Hegel:  The Philosophy of History.  At about half way through the work I was reflecting on this missing author in my study of philosophy, and was beginning to research some minor details, when I noticed that a blogger by the name of Looney already posted on this topic on March 24, 2012.  Not only that, but this imposter did a very good job of imitating me and, per the comments section's discussion with Delirious, it appears that he had already connected Hegel to Marx.  OK, it was likely me, but somehow I completely forgot having posted on this topic, which does have me wondering how much of my blogging is simply repeating myself.  (Please don't enlighten me on this.)

Perhaps we can formulate an opposite principle to déjà vu for this:  ne l'ai pas déjà vu.  It is when you see something old and feel that it is entirely new to you.  Others might call it Alzheimer's syndrome.  From a metaphysical standpoint, it is proof that there is a part of you that didn't come from a former existence.

But back to Hegel, I still agree with my former post.  The only thing I would add now is regarding Hegel's ignorant worship of the Goddess of Liberty.  I tagree with the Greeks even more on this now, that the Goddess of Liberty will always, eventually reveal herself as the Demon of Licentiousness and Lawlessness.  Then she will proceed to devour her followers.

As to the connection between Hegel on the one hand and Marx and Engels on the other hand, a comparison can now be done.  All three were senselessly long winded so that only the mentally ill would try to listen through to the end.  But Marx and Engels rejected sophistry that revolved around theo-philosophical techno-babble, and instead pursued down-to-earth topics like the computation of profits for the factories.  Hegel's discourses were entirely pointless, whereas Marx and Engels never deviate from their point regarding the need to destroy civilization as we know it.

There is one quote from Hegel that I both admired and would like to highlight:  "Among us, the so-called 'higher criticism,' which reigns supreme in the domain of philology, has also taken possession of our historical literature.  This 'higher criticism' has been the pretext for introducing all the anti-historical monstrosities that a vain imagination could suggest.  Here we have the other method of making the past a living reality; putting subjective fancies in the place of historical data; fancies whose merit is measured by their boldness, that is, the scantiness of the particulars on which they are based, and the peremptoriness with which they contravene the best established facts of history." - The Philosophy of History

This is from the earlier chapters of this book which are coherent and sensible, unlike the later three quarters.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Taxing Experience

I never take taxis in the US, so an exception needed to be made.  This one put a television in front of my face and expected me to watch advertisements the entire way to the airport.  What kind of people take taxis these days?  I requested the driver to turn it off, for which he at least killed the sound, making it bearable.  This stands as one more reminder that I am an alien here in the US.

On the way to the airport my driver caught the attention of a policeman, and we got stopped.  He pointlessly explained to the officer that I was late for my plane, even though I had said nothing on that subject and I was actually an hour earlier than I needed to be.

I wasn't much into photography for this trip, so will just leave the one picture below.  The young lady at the hotel desk tried to interest me in paying a higher fee to get a room with a better view, but I refused, so this is from the lowest floor.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Capital, Volume 1 by Marx: Onward Luddites!

This section I am listening to now touches on the concept of machine depreciation.  A problem of industrialization is that the return on capital is maximized in machine intensive operations by running the machines 24 hours a day.  We have three 8-hour shifts now, but this was arrived at in an uneven manner.  The power of machinery also had the wonderful affect of equalizing women and children with men, thus, turning natural relations upside down.  Each new improvement to machinery resulted in workers being thrown out of work, while the amount of excess value attained by the free portion of the laborer (i.e. the labor beyond what would have resulted in zero profit) necessarily increases, thus, increasing the degree of blood sucking that the capitalist is doing.  In our era we recognize that only through a net improvement in productive efficiency can living standards be improved, but Marx only sees evils in this.  He goes on and on and on chronicling the improvement in efficiency of the factories, as if this were self-evident proof that the factories were evil.

Marx has repeatedly come back to accusations of genocide, which has been expanded to the accusation that factory work caused women to lose their natural instincts leading to infanticide.  Of course infanticide (i.e. abortion) has been universally decreed by his followers as being a moral imperative.  This gets into the big problem with all this howling:  The population of England doubled in the 18th century and quadrupled during the 19th century while life expectancy improved and surplus population was exported to America and Australia.  There was also net immigration to England from elsewhere in Europe, due to better conditions.  Certainly there were plenty of horrors to document in the 19th century factory system of England, but the observation remains that Marx has not offered a single opinion on how to make things better, nor has he done this indirectly through the many quotes he includes.

Update:  Marx clarifies a bit later that while the fury of the workers at the machines is understandable, it is misplaced:  The true crime is that of the capitalist who employed the machine and the machine is actually innocent.  I would really like to know what Marx would think of The Terminator.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Capital, Volume 1, continued

The first 11 hours of listening to this work were a rehash of classical economics, whereby Marx successfully proves that money exists, along with capital, labor and profits.  At the end of this section we have the notion that the worker spends a certain amount of his time working for himself, and another part doing free labor for the capitalist.  This reminds me a bit of our "tax freedom day", which is the initial part of the year that we spend working exclusively for the government followed by the part that we get to work for ourselves.  As noted in the last section, Marx quibbles here and there, but he has neither contributed to economics nor contradicted anything of substance.

The work transitions to a narrative similar to Engels writings about the laborers in England during the first half of the 19th century.  There is a lot of rhetoric directed at capitalists, who are likened to vampires and everything else evil.  With all the documentation and detail, it is notable that there is almost nothing in the way of comparing the English laborers lot to those elsewhere.  Would life have been easier in Africa?  Since the situation got much better for the English laborer in the latter half of the 19th century, this all seems dated now.

The section I am at now is about 20 hours, of listening and Marx is now giving us a brief history of the machines of the industrial revolution after having spent considerable time discussing the difference between a machine and a tool, which is a subject of interest to me.  It is good to be a bit more than half way through this.  So far I don't recall a single instance of Marx making a recommendation about how to make anything better.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Capital, Volume I, by Karl Marx

The full name of this work is Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production.  Engels adds to the preface, which is really the first of three volumes, that "Capital" is the "Bible" for the working class.  This raises an eyebrow, because Engels complains elsewhere that workers don't even know who Samson was, and this "Bible" of Marx, being a lengthy discourse on economics, has so far never risen above the dryness of the most dry portions of the Bible, plus, the length of Marx's volume one at 40 hours of listening is the same as for the entire Bible.   Clearly only the mentally ill would read Marx's work through, or if they had not already been mentally ill, then they certainly would be if trying to read and follow all his arguments from beginning to end, which I must keep in mind as I proceed!

At this point I have listened to a few hours of discussions of how many yards of linen is worth a coat as Marx tries to develop the concept of value.  Marx has now sensitized me that my last sentence used both the Latin word "value" and the Teutonic word, "worth", indicating my conflicted capitalist upbringing that resulted from a blend of the passionate Irish with the calculating Anglo-Saxon.  This eventually proceeds into the concept of money and price, which still needs a few hours of clarification.

One feature of any economic discussion is that it can never be sufficiently caveated and remain finite in size.  Thus, Marx finds cause to quote and quibble with everyone, but I am in doubt as to whether or not any of Marx's quibbles put at risk the content of an argument.  Mixed in with this are a number of remarks going back to classical writers such as Homer and Aristotle.  So what I see so far is that Marx is discussing capitalism, coming to descriptions that are essentially identical to capitalist economists, while having left a record of quibbles.

Having gone through several of the works of Marx and Engels, I am now leaning to a viewpoint that is quite different from the one that I held before I started.  Namely, that Marx and Engels never defined a system and to speak of "Marxism" is nonsensical.  All that was proposed by Marx and Engels is that capitalism should be overthrown.  Marx has the notion that social circumstances change over time, necessitating different political conditions which should naturally evolve, but capitalism has thwarted this process.  Capitalism stands in the way of this natural evolution.  I tend to an opposite viewpoint, that capitalism is the natural process of evolution, whereas intellectuals forever desire to impose themselves, creating chaos.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Two Short Pamphlets by Marx

The first of the was Eleven Theses of Feuerbach.  He is dismissive of Feuerbach for thinking abstractly, whereas reality is only concrete.  I know nothing of Feuerbach, so can't comment, beyond the point of noting that the man who has the grandest of all unifying abstract "sciences" should find fault with someone for talking abstractly.

The second is Wage Labour and Capital.  This work was originally by Marx and brought into an updated edition by Engels.  There is much that corresponds simplistically with economic views of supply and demand.  Marx seems to be making the case for a "living wage", since the fact that a wage can be insufficient for a family to survive is highlighted.  Engels adds a preface to this edition because it was produced after Marx's death from previous articles.  In this preface, Engels explains that the point to be noted is that, whereas the fair price should go to the value of the labor (errr, labor power) + the inputs, there always seems to be a markup, which is related to the corruption of the Bourgeoisie.  Marx notes that the markup can be negative as well as positive, so it isn't clear to me that Engels and Marx are on the same page.  This work was originally a series of articles published in the Rheinische Zeitung, which was closed by the government before the series was completed, so we really aren't in an easy position to say what Marx's aim was.

I haven't been keeping score, but will note that Marx, along with Burke and Paine who I have read recently, all use "Jew" as an insult.  Or so I have heard each one of them do this at least once.

Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844, by Frederick Engels

This is 12 hours of listening to the itemizing of the social ills of England, Scotland, and Ireland over a ten year period.  For reference, Dickens work, A Christmas Carol, was written a year earlier in 1844.  The discussion covers a large amount of territory, beginning with the long, hard work in the factories, the accidents and diseases, and ailments such as asthma from inhaling metal dust.  The pay amounts to barely enough to cover an existence, which is of the most horrid sort, given that masses of workers are thrown into common housing.  The result is stunted growth, whether it be physical or mental.  Added to this are the social problems caused by women and children working, destroying family relations, encouraging prostitution and leading to illegitimacy and the spread of STDs.  It is a painful bit of listening, and no doubt there is much truth to it.  Compounding the problems were about a million Irish immigrants looking for work, but we must note that the Irish Potato Famine doesn't occur until 1845.

Mixed in with this longwinded description is a large quantity of vitriol directed at the Bourgeoisie and Christianity.  More specifically, he was hostile to capitalism, Christian education and monogamy.   One argument that caught my attention was his rejection of the possibility of Bourgeois charity.  His  argument is that if the Bourgeois hadn't cheated the Proletariat, they should have had no money to give, while also noting the Proletariat are more generous among themselves and the Bourgeois charity is negligible.

My response to all this is that yes, there were a lot of horrors in the early stages of industrialism, which were largely rectified over the decades.  We cannot say the same for his communist children, however, as these horrors all live on today in Communist countries.  Yes, the Bourgeois can be unfeeling, but communist leaders have been even more brutal and callous over time than the Bourgeois.  And besides this, there have always been poor in every country and every age, thus, this work had shock value only to the naive.  After all this fist shaking at the Bourgeoisie, I am finally wanting to ask him in return, "What about you, Fred?  What do you propose?  After you burn everything down, what would you put in its place?".

Monday, June 15, 2015

Marx and Engels continued

I am on travel, so there is plenty of time to listen to windbags.

Revolution and Counter-Revolution, or Germany in 1848, outlines the communist reaction to a tepid revolution(s) that didn't succeed.  These events correspond to the transition from feudalism (Lord-Surf) relations to capitalist (Bourgeoisie-Proletariat).  The main lessons drawn by Marx and Engels are that revolutions must be all out and there must be no scrupling about legalities and niceties of any kind.  Even a suicidal revolt that leads to a defeat is beneficial, since those who survive will be permanently harboring feelings of revenge.  Finally, they see a middle class revolt as being that of useful idiots who are clueless in the unlikely event that they actually get power, since they will set up a system of checks and balances and seek a consensus.  Instead, the communists don't seek a revolution, but to revolt against the revolution.  All this helps me understand much better what Trotsky was ranting about in his works.  So what is it that they want to accomplish?  Stamping out religion, monogamy, and classes are clearly stated, but what are they to be replaced with?

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, by Engels, 1880.

This is a short history of the invention of industrial machines, and how they transformed manufacturing in several waves.  That productivity increased by orders of magnitude in the weaving industry is noted, but Engels is one to note that the glass is half empty.  Billions of yards of cloth were produced employing thousands of people, but the output apparently was exported out of the galaxy, since we have no idea who benefited from the cheap product.  Some things are noted in passing that beg to have Engels stopped for some cross examination.  For example, he notes that a factory requires an officer core in the same manner as army.  Yet he only leaves rooms for a bottom class and a top class that is idle.  There are no traders nor are there agents looking for markets nor are there sailors or trains or ships in his "scientific" socialist analysis.  All Engels sees is that there is a wage given to the worker who adds value, and an idle industrialist who sells that work at a higher price.  Subtracting the two prices, we obtain the exact value of the oppression, according to communist accounting.

We must also consider boom and bust cycles, which have continued into our current era.  When there is an over supply, factories clearly need to be shut and workers cut.  This is an oppression too, even if the industrialist goes bankrupt.  The only solution proposed is to confiscate the property of the rich and give it to the poor.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Communist Manifesto, by Engels and Marx, 1847

I spent a long time going through European histories as a prelude to going through the works of Marx and Engels.  The Communist Manifesto is a shorter rant from 1847 that I vaguely remember some reading of when I was young.  It is good to go through it again.  The observations of social upheaval associated with the industrial revolution are noteworthy, although it would hardly need a communist to observe the obvious.  As I am writing this, I have also started "Revolution and Counter-Revolution, or: Germany in 1848", by Engels and Marx.  The social changes were causing upheaval in social structures and politics, with the main change being the old aristocracy being superseded by a Bourgeoisie (i.e. a prosperous middle class).  The give and take associated with this messy process was certainly great fodder for rabble rousers.  Marx seems to think that the trend would eventually lead to some international brotherhood of oppressed workers who were mutually sympathetic and supportive.

One thing that sticks out is the fact that the communists wanted to abolish the family on the grounds that it was invented by Bourgeois capitalists for the purpose of exploiting women.  Fast forwarding to our own day, much of America - particularly the black underclass - lives in a family-less dystopia that is the inevitable consequence of such behavior.  Meanwhile, intellectuals continue enraged at the institution and desperately pushing for change which is quite literally "for the hell of it".  But back to women.  In the process of identifying class and class struggle, it seems that the class of women is one more to be indoctrinated with exploitation theology.

Universal, government supplied education is proposed in here, which is hardly novel.  I am wondering how Marx would view our current age where class struggle and exploitation indoctrination is spoon fed to the indigent classes through the Bourgeois designed, government schools.

So what remains?  We can always divide people up into categories based on different features, then compare their relative prosperity.  If the contrast of situation is great enough, we can then exploit these differences for the purpose of stirring envy and riots - and - if we happen to be a well positioned Bourgeoisie, we can profit from the chaos.  But Marx and Engels noted this as well, as they observed that the clever wealthy classes quickly jumped onto the socialist bandwagon.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Escape from San Francisco?

It didn't go quite as I had planned, but then I again, I am not as capable as Snake.  A heat wave has finally come through the East Bay and I had plans of taking my beloved to the ocean to cool down in the fog.  Household chores took up our morning, so it was early afternoon before we commenced with our "escape".  We got onto Highway 17 headed for the redwoods and Santa Cruz, only to be caught up in a jam that went for miles.  Eventually it became apparent that the highway was likely jammed all the way to the coast, so I took an exit at Los Gatos and made my way down to Saratoga, then up Saratoga Gap road to my old bicycling haunts where I know all the secret routes through the redwoods.  This went without too much trouble, and I was having visions of ice cream and fresh berry pies at the country store in Pescadero, but then the unexpected happened as a highway patrol car blocked the road and I came to a stop where an officer was waiting to chat.  He informed me that a motorcyclist had gone down, and they were doing an accident investigation, and that we would need to wait a half hour or more since they had sent for a coroner who would need to complete his work before the road was re-opened.  My condolences to the family of the man who died.  Since we had already passed the top of the ridge between Silicon Valley and the Pacific, we had gotten a nice view of the cool fog along the coast.  Disappointed, we turned around and retraced our path to Saratoga, although perhaps we had the consolation that we did all this safely and weren't in an accident.  I wasn't willing to make any further attempts to drive out to the ocean, even though there were more routes to the coast, so instead we went to a little shop for some iced coffee, lemonade and chocolate cake.  Then back home for a nap.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Donner Expedition: Living with the consequences

Having finished The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate, by Eliza Donner Houghton (1843-1922), the book is not at all what I expected.  The story of the Donner Party's tragedy is just the first quarter or so of the book.  The remainder is about the Donner daughters being scattered as orphans who would not be together again for many years.  Eliza and her youngest sister end up at a German family, where they are raised speaking German, dressing like little German girls, imbibing a German work ethic and eventually translating German correspondence.  The German mother speaks to her Swedish neighbor in French.  Later the girls are sent to boarding school where they have Spanish speaking classmates, while one of the Spanish nuns was formerly engaged to a Russian officer who died before their marriage.  News of Eliza's father's grave is brought to her by a Cherokee Indian (from the East Coast of America), so we have a story of displaced peoples from all over being thrown into the California crucible during the Gold Rush.  This is entertaining and informative in a completely different way from the story of the wagon trains pushing west.

Yet it is still about the Donner Party, because these girls are tormented by the awful rumors of what happened in the snowy mountains in '46-'47.  They hope to be anonymous, but can't escape, because someone always lets out the secret about their past.  The worst of the rumors is from the last "Relief" effort that was sent to rescue those from the wagon train.  Actually it was a salvage operation in which those who went were promised half of what they brought back, and they were disappointed to find a lone survivor, having made no provision for bringing back any survivors.  This was the man who saw Eliza's mother last, and he was accused of killing and eating her.  He was accused by those who were engaged in the salvage operation, and it was their testimony that made it into the papers.  Later in life Eliza was finally able to meet the poor old man who had been accused and who went through the rest of his life as a pariah.  Eliza went through all the documents and testimony that she could, and finally convinced herself and another writer that the old man was innocent and the accusations falsely made by those who lusted for the wealth of the Donner family, since they brought considerable sums of money and valuable goods with them to California.  What the complete truth of the matter is will remain a secret until the final judgment.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Donner Expedition - 1846 to 1847.

There are a few great events in Northern California history that form our identity, at least for those who have been here more than a few years.  The Gold Rush is one.  Then there were Zoro and Dirty Harry.  But the one that really stands out is the Donner Expedition where 87 immigrants were stranded near the present town of Truckee, California and next to what is now Donner Lake.  Heavy snows came early that year, burying the trail and making it impossible to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains in their weakened state.  I know roughly of the story from the plaque that is stationed there.  These days Intestate 80 makes travel over the pass a two hour journey, but it still shuts down for heavy snows and I have a 4-wheel drive because I really don't like dealing with putting chains on and off the car.

The version of this that I am listening to is "The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate", by Eliza P. Donner, who survived this trip as a 3 year old girl.  She had few memories herself, but compiled her work from notes of others and the memories of her sisters.  Of the original 87, only 48 survived.  The problems began in Wyoming when an adventurer promised a shortcut to California, and the group succumbed to the temptation.  This resulted in much wasted energy and time crossing the Wasatch mountains in Utah, followed by a terrible ordeal crossing the basin of the Salt Lake.  The group distrusted each other, spread out, and made themselves a tempting target for Indians.  The situation was already terrible before they reached their winter camp.  The starving time soon set in, and a few were reduced to cannibalism to survive.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Age Of Reason (Final Notes) by Thomas Paine

There is a certain fatigue to listening to eight hours of someone mocking, accusing and condemning your religion.  There is hopefully a constructive goal in all this beyond simply blurting "same to you".

One curious claim that Paine came up with is that God would never use human language to communicate with humans, because human language is imperfect.  Of course human language is imperfect because humans are imperfect, so we are left concluding that any attempt by God to bother with humans would be beneath His dignity.  Certainly we can argue that way, but it begs the question of why a deist would concern himself with God in any way.

Since Paine has denounced all classical studies as being useless, unless it is to criticize the Bible, I would note the points where Paine has taken on a classical viewpoint unwittingly.  Since I have no doubt that most of his opinions arrived from somewhere else, I doubt that they are independent.

The first area of similarity being Paine's claim that under deism God can never make an evil command.  This was first noted by Epicurus, who claimed that his gods who never interacted with men likewise never commanded anything evil.  Of course such gods never commanded anything good either, nor did they ever reprimand anyone for doing evil or speaking falsehood.  For this reason, Plato in his Laws asserted that both atheism and deism should be condemned equally, since those who embraced this viewpoint would not be restrained by anything.  It must also be noted that Epicurus was the one who popularized the notion that he believed in "science", not religion, and this was done about 300BC.

This gets to one of the key points: Paine asserts that organized religion is the source of evil.  Christianity asserts that evil has its origin in man, so that with or without organized religion man will be evil.  That some evil men would concoct religion for their purposes is hardly surprising.  If religion were good, evil men would corrupt it, as they will do with everything.  At this point Paine and I aren't too far apart, except that he has not taken the step of acknowledging that man is by nature evil, and instead has blamed evil on something external to man.

Another point where Paine seems to match the ancients is in the employment of attack tactics similar to the Academics.  It is never the case that evil isn't intertwined with some specious form of good, so that we usually have to temper an attack by separating these things out and weighing the overall recipe.  The academics indiscriminately attacked everything.  The Roman emperor Julian's attack entitled Against The Galileans was a similar diatribe.  Their opponents  (e.g. Epictetus) simply note that this kind of attack rhetoric can be employed against everything, including anything that the academic finds necessary for the tolerance of life.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Flat Earth Notion according to Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine has a short note on the Flat Earth that deserves to be put into my collection.  After a brief note on Galileo, he gives us this:

"And prior to that time Virgilius was condemned to be burned for asserting the antipodes, or in other words, that the earth was a globe, and habitable in every part where there was land; yet the truth of this is now too well known even to be told." - The Age of Reason

The theory of the antipodes and whether it is agreed to or disagreed to both presumed a spherical Earth.  It assumes that the Earth is mostly water and that there might be widely separated land masses where men cannot sail between.  If men existed on these separate land masses, then we can dispute over whether or not they were descended from Adam, as we might now dispute whether men - or intelligent life - could exist on a different planet.  Paine clearly misunderstood the nature of this dispute.  Since Paine wrote long before Washington Irving wrote his fictional account of Columbus being opposed by clerics convinced of a flat earth, it appears that atheists had been actively working up this myth in the 18th, rather than the 19th century as I had previously thought.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine

This work invites a lot of comment on many subjects.  Given that I have been through several of Paine's earlier works, it should be first noted that he was a person whose every opinion was so self evident that anyone who disagreed was guaranteed to be deficient in their mental faculties.  This is all part of his extended world view, which is that his generation is the first to have encountered the phenomenon that we call "reason", it having been completely unknown to all prior generations.  Everything else derives from this.

One thing that Paine highlights is that the only things worth studying are science and technology.  Based on that viewpoint, I should have tossed his work away early on, especially since I am a technologist by profession, but I have persevered on in spite of this being a waste of mental resources.  We find that all ancient writings are mythology or errors, so we have nothing to learn from them, while Paine's generation had rediscovered, embraced and extended science, which was previously invented and known exclusively by the ancient Greeks.  A corollary is that there is nothing to be gained by studying dead languages, so only a handful of linguists need concern themselves with these matters.  Since Monarchy comes from ancient times, it is clearly wrong and needing to be reformed.  The same applies to religion.  His fury, however, is exclusively directed at Christianity, so the later half of this work is dedicated to proofs of the fabrication of the Bible.  For example, he clearly proves that the author of the book of Judges was not named Rabbi Judges, thus, this work has no authority.  This is so self evident that only a moron would disagree, and for making this great discovery, Paine is deemed a "philosopher".

My own opinion is that Reason has always been with mankind, this having been given to us by God.  The problem is that Reason is morally neutral, so that it can be employed for either good or evil, or to pass on truth or falsehood, depending on the character of the one who employs Reason.  It is Paine's failure to observe this most basic, self-evident truth that places him and his like-minded intellectuals purely into the class of Sophists, while entirely excluding them from the category of Philosophers.  So there.

A final point that I will note is that Paine calls himself a deist, while crediting his parents for giving him a good moral teaching from the Quaker religion.  Yet at the same time, he expects to live after the grave, while having no expectation of judgment for sin.  This seems to me to be just one step removed from Quakerism, since this religion was always closer to deism than to Christianity.  He wants to credit Jesus as a moral teacher, while rejecting any teaching that he doesn't like as being fraudulent.  The inconsistency in all this is his belief that deism is inherently superior morally to Christianity, yet acknowledging the moral upbringing that he owed to Christianity.  In the end, this sort of deism is doomed to moral decay, as it has proven, while at the same time it boasts of its morality more than any other religion.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Give Me Snarky Or Give Me Death: Thomas Paine continued

This is mainly some comments on the second half of The Rights of Man, and also includes a number of excerpts from Common Sense which are collectively entitled The American Crisis.

The reason for the title is that Thomas Paine's writings give me a sense of an early version of Baghdad Bob or Tokyo Rose.  It is an endless series of long winded articles full of sarcasm and mocking.  But then I found that Paine was from a Quaker family, thus, it all makes sense, since this was the manner of their founder, George Fox.  But now I am descending into the same morass so that perhaps I am hearing myself in the mirror.  The main thing that stuck in my mind was the alternation between claiming that the American colonists had been oppressed by taxation whereas elsewhere the English peasants were mocked for being poorer than their American counterparts.

The Rights of Man come across as a series of articles like Common Sense was.  The beginning part of this is a declaration of the Rights of Man by the French, which sound to me extraordinarily reasonable, but perhaps this is due to our current situation where those rights have multiplied astronomically.  An objection I had to the fixation on Rights was that it had nothing to say about Responsibilities, as if mankind should be utterly lacking in these.  This objection seems to have been raised at the beginning, and Paine's rebuttal is that their can be no Rights of Man unless their our Duties to protect the Rights of others.  While I can see some sense in this, it seems to me that if the Rights which were self evident needed to be explicitly enumerated, how much more so should the Duties of Man, since these, being derived from the Rights, should necessarily be less obvious.

A complaint that Paine gives is against governance by precedence, since the wisdom of the present age should be as good or better than precedents.  I will just note that America's judicial system continues to work by precedents to this day, under the name of case law.  A repeated insult hurled against monarchies is the epitaph of Political Popery.  America at this time included a number of Catholics, so I wonder how this was received.

The theme that Paine keeps returning to is taxes, which are outrageous due to the wars.  A key goal of his reforms is to shrink government by eliminating armies, thus, eliminating war.  But we must wage war to have the freedom to eliminate war.  He laments that in the process of raising taxes, government has intruded into vast areas of human industry with regulations designed to raise money or hamper trade so that monopolies can be engineered.  An evil associated with this lust for money is the raising of debt, and he blast those who take on unseemly levels of debt, and then boast of their wealth because of what they have been able to buy with the debt.

Finally, Paine makes some modest proposals for what could be done with the, um, Peace Dividend that would arise.  We could use a small sum to pay young families so that they could afford to pay to have their children taught.  A little more might be used to provide for those who were too old and worn out to continue at their labors.  Little did he know where that would lead.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Rights of Man, Part 1, by Thomas Paine

This work is on the French Revolution as a rebuttal to Burke's work on the French Revolution that I read earlier.  Paine had stayed at Burke's house for a time, and they seem to have both taken opposite positions on just about everything, with the unifying theme that they are both prone to filling their works with lots of rhetorical fluff.  Paine is thus as critical of Burke as Burke is of the French Revolution.  Since Burke expended many pages on describing the superiority of the English Constitution, Paine spent a similar amount of verbiage denouncing it.  I am inclined to agree with both:  That the English system is/was messed up, but it was still superior to the French one.  So far, except for some Biblical references, the opinions of both seem unaffected by any classical writings, as if Aristotle never had a worthwhile opinion on the subject.

One of Paine's amusing claims is that Monarchy is the source of war, and war is the source of overtaxation, hence, by eliminating Monarchy we should eliminate both war and taxation!  This is one of those points where classical studies, in particular the Peloponnesian Wars, should have dispelled the ignorance.  For the moment Democratic-ish Europe is peaceful, but this is only because the people have determined to direct their resources towards materialism and idleness, while the US protects their mercantilist' interests.

The core complaint of Paine against Burke is that Burke argues that all change is to be perpetually banned, which Paine mocks as Governance by the Dead.  That this system had to come into existence at some time proves that the perpetual system of governance wasn't always perpetual, thus, we must conclude that perpetual governance is a fraud.  Paine then gives us a definitive lecture on what government was like before government and what religion was like before religion, along with how both came about, which I won't dispute since he lived closer to that era than I do.  Instead, Paine argues that each generation has the right to completely overthrow what went before, so I wonder if he meant this to apply to religion as he meant it to apply to government.

As Burke complains that the French know little or nothing about England, so Paine blasts Burke for knowing little or nothing about the French Revolution.  That being true, Paine is useless as to telling us about the irregularities that led to the legislature and although we hear constantly of how oppressed the French people were, there is not one detail as to the nature of that oppression, unless it is that the government frowned on rioting.  The French Revolution seemed to have wanted to do away with prisons, apparently thinking that crime was exclusively a product of Monarchy, so that without Monarchy we should no longer need prisons.  That many innocents were killed Paine acknowledges, but he helpfully explains that they were not killed due to hatred towards them as individuals, but rather as proxies of ideals which needed to be exterminated.  It would have been fitting if Paine too had been killed during the Reign of Terror that happened a few years after, as a proxy for an idea that needed to be discarded.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Common Sense, by Thomas Paine

There are two recorded works of Thomas Paine at  The first is this pamphlet about the American Revolution.  The second is on the French Revolution.  Common Sense is clearly a polemic advocating war against England, while given its name, "Common Sense", it speciously declares itself to be neutral and guided only by reason.  One point I found sympathy with is the claim that the division of people into poor and rich was rarely the result of oppression.  There are many factors.

The most amusing part of this was Paine's argument that the constitutional monarchy of England was irrational and to be rejected because the king and the various chambers had checks on the others.  Apparently checks and balances in government are contrary to Common Sense!  His arguments for doing away with the monarchy are taken from the biblical texts of Gideon and Samuel, so that nothing of classical viewpoints intrudes into the discussion.  He postures himself as being strongly pro freedom of religion, with the only deviation being criticism of the Quakers who insist on both being pacifists and being politically noisy.  Verbal warfare is OK, but physical warfare isn't.  Somehow I suspect that he isn't going to employ this kind of argument in his other work, The Rights of Man.  There were also some crazy claims that the US was militarily very strong, which proved to be about as wrong as could be.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

France in the Nineteenth Century, by Elizabeth Latimer

Onward from the French Revolution!  Or perhaps I should say into the continuation of the Revolution.  This work at times is a bit like a polite tabloid as we are often treated to a verbal image of the queen's (or the aspiring queen's) dress.  There is also an emphasis on personal accounts, so that at times there is a sense that the overall picture is not being given with regard to economics and government.  There is little sense of what happened in the French Revolution of 1848.

What does come through is an impression of mediocrity in leadership that lasts from the time of Napoleon almost through the entire century, with only a few brief exceptions.  The French were divided between monarchists, depotists, socialists and communists.  What they did not have were any of what would have formerly been known as liberal republicans, even though they spoke of a republic.  What they called a republican was someone who intended to achieve socialism through the mechanisms of a superficially democratic, constitutional government.  But there was no regard for any constitution, which whatever it might be would be in need of constant change, or so everyone seems to think.  The text gives us a bit of Louis Phillip, Napoleon III, along with some peripheral characters like Maximilian.  Another novelty was to learn that the French only had one central body for deliberation, so that the municipal and state elections that we take for granted were unknown to in France.

The largest piece of writing is reserved for the Franco-Prussian War and the chaos and carnage of the Paris Commune.  The French clearly get the stupidity award for starting this war, but the thing that stuck out most in my mind is how the Prussians seem to have anticipated the revolt that led to the Commune and cleverly exploited this to their benefit.  But then the atheist Communists could not be restrained to any of the laws of humanity, which resulted in a counter-blow nearly as ruthless.  One has a sense that modern terrorism was invented at this time, but that may be a leap too far.  What seems clear is that the Prussian success with their policy likely inspired the Kaiser to repeat the trick by supporting Lenin in Russia during World War I.

The French finished this period with the Third Republic, which featured the removal of the Romanists from all teaching positions, as well as from charitable activities.  How - or if - they modernized during all this isn't quite clear, but perhaps it was just a spill over from the other side of the channel.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

French Revolutions: Burke (final)

This "letter to a gentleman" turned into a long winded book as Burke proceeded to critique the whole of the French government, military and economic system as it was then stumbling along.  There are a number of highlights.  The first was the note on how the intellectuals (i.e. "philosophers") managed to achieve a monopoly of the teaching institutions, so that a monotonous teaching of a single viewpoint was enforced to a degree that exceeded what the inquisition had obtained.  At the same time, the confiscation of the church property largely blocked further clergy from becoming learned, leading to a situation like our current one in which the orthodox christian clergy are generally less learned than the government funded clergy of atheism.  Charity was taken up by this government, not in the sense of Christian charity, but rather a false one that uses other peoples' money together with various contrivances for buying the favor of the masses.

The legislature itself took all power unto itself, and thus a major feature was the abolishment of checks and balances, so that the French Revolution first gave way to a classical democracy:  government of the mob.  A republic is what they had scorned.  A last point of amusement is the usage of paper money.  At that time, the government of England managed to retain a strong paper currency, but this was based on the convertibility of the money to gold.  The French had been more creative, so that the paper currency likely had more in common with that of the current Venezuela.  Burke laments what would happen with the public finances in the hands of populist crooks, which is another one of those perennial problems of government.  There is vastly more to this work, much of which almost prophecies the ailments of our current era.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

French Revolutions: Belloc and Burke (continued)

"Abbe Sieyes, could say, 'What is the third estate?  Everything.  What has it been hitherto in the body politic?  Nothing.  What does it demand?  To be something.'" - A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, by Guizot

Guizot points out that the Third Estate - that is, everyone who wasn't clergy or nobility - had a long history of influence in the government, thus, the Third Estate had always been something.  What it demanded was to be everything, which was a nonsensical demand that doomed it to failure.

Burke delves more into the hypocrisy of the Third Estate, by first making it clear that a majority of the legislature were low-life lawyers, sophists, charlatans and others who stood to personally make a nice profit on the revolutionary upheaval.  In the end, the good among them were driven into exile.  He goes on to point out how these politicians routinely give grand speeches about the virtues of Democracy and popular choice, only to express within the elite cliques their utter contempt for the voting masses.  Some things never change.

Burke is really in a long-winded rant mode, so I have to try to remember the occasional point that falls out of a mass of words.  One point that stood out was that in almost all revolutions that preceded the French Revolution, the goal had been to reform morals and religion for the betterment of society.  The French Revolution stood apart for having been intended to do harm both to morals and religion, thus, leading to the frenzied mob that behaved in a manner similar to that of the St. Bartholomew massacre.  At the time Burke wrote, the king and queen were locked up and not yet executed.  Burke notes that of all the vicious tyrannical kings in history that perhaps deserved an ill fate, the king and queen of France were being persecuted for being too soft, while many of their retainers had been ruthlessly murdered by the mob without any due process.  In the end, those who boasted of the Rights of Man proved to be as frenzied and barbaric as any in history.  Combining Burke's observations with Guizot's, the sense is one of a bunch of ingrates.  The more they received, the more vicious they became towards the ones who gave to them.  A problem for the revolutionaries in arguing that any established institution should be overthrown because it is established is that a generation later, what the revolution established should then need to be overthrown again.  Or we can do what we do in the modern era, which is that the establishment cites a different group as being "the establishment", so that the mobs will be perpetually overthrowing what is not the establishment, while being content that they have done their riotous duty.

An amusing bit was Burke's claim that the French hardly understood England, and the works of great literature from earlier generations were wholly unknown to the educated of today.  This reminded me of Belloc's complaint that few had read Rousseau, and many did not understand Rousseau's French, or were too impatient and rushed through without processing the ideas.  My recorded books include a "rebuttal" by Thomas Paine of Burke's work, entitled The Rights of Man.  I suppose that this would be worth reading next.

Monday, May 04, 2015

French Revolutions: Belloc and Burke

Unfortunately neither of these are actually short histories of the French Revolution.  Belloc wrote his a few generations later with the intent of correcting misunderstandings, while Burke wrote his while the Revolution was in process.

Belloc begins with a praise for Rousseau's Social Contract, which he contends that few have read and those who did read had misunderstood it.  I read it partially, but roughly have the idea that it presumes that government and social institutions are the result of a agreement among the peoples.  My own opinion is that all this was said better by Aristotle with his description of the various forms of government, along with a few other classical authors.

Then there is this thing called Liberty, which is deemed to be a good in itself.  Burke rightly notes that the important thing is what people do with Liberty, and wants to wait and see.  The classical authors note that the first generation who achieve Liberty will use it for good, while following generations will increasingly see Liberty as a justification for vice.  To this Belloc is silent.  So which is it?  Liberty for good?  Or Liberty for evil?  Is Fraternity the brotherhood of virtue and vice?  Equality the sameness of right and wrong?  The classical writers noted that government is called upon to encourage virtue and thwart evil, which is precluded by the non-principles of the French Revolution.  Of course nobody really believes in Liberty, Equality and Fraternity if pushed on specific points.

What Belloc does give is a history of the war between the French and the powers around France that resulted from the civil war.  This is something I knew nothing about, but follows directly from the practice of the European nations to try to impose a choice of king on a country through war, such as the Spanish Succession and the Austrian Succession.  This was not nearly so unequal as the American Revolution, but a disorderly France still had a struggle against the large, organized continental armies.  Superior tactics helped the French at crucial points, but for the most part the war was won by throwing masses of peasants into the battles.  What strikes me here is that for centuries the Huguenots tried desperately to be able to live their principles out in peace, but were ruthlessly persecuted by their countrymen.  Now, in the cause of non-principle, the French finally bother to rise up nearly unanimously and throw off the yoke of a principle that is clearly wrong.

Belloc is a Catholic, yet notes that the Catholic leadership of the times just preceding the Revolution was nearly universally atheist, even though many of the parish priests and church attenders were still Christian.  Why is it that Christianity seems doomed to have atheists worming their way to the top of the power structures, then corrupting the institution, robbing the church, and using whatever power they can obtain to destroy others?  As noted earlier, the French economy was in a complete mess, but it seems that selling assets of the church and the elites was one of their solutions for gaining money.  This I am not so sure about, since I really don't see much in these histories on this subject.  I am just starting Burke's work, so this will take some time to finish.