Friday, August 31, 2018

Hierarcheology: The Peter Principle, The Peter Prescription, and The Peter Plan

The Peter Principle by Laurence J Peter and Raymond Hull
NY:  Bantam Books, 1969

(7)  The Peter Principle:  In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

(8)  Peter's Corollary:  In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.

(10)  Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.

(18)  ... in every hierarchy_the cream rises until it sours_.
NB:  Edgar Bergen to Charlie McCarthy at a society party:  Here we are among the cream of society.  Do you know why they call it the cream of society, Charlie?  Because cream rises to the top.
Charlie McCarthy:  Yeah, so does the scum.

(25)  But if the superior has reached his level of incompetence, he will probably rate his subordinates in terms of institutional values:  he will see competence as the behavior that supports the rules, rituals and forms of the status quo.  Promptness, neatness, courtesy to superiors, internal paperwork, will be highly regarded.  In short, such an official evaluates input...

In such instances, internal consistency is valued more highly than efficient service [output]:  this is Peter's Inversion.

(28)  ... in most hierarchies, super-competence is more objectionable than incompetence.

Ordinary incompetence, as we have seen, is no cause for dismissal:  it is simply a bar to promotion.  Super-competence often leads to dismissal, because it disrupts the hierarchy, and thereby violates the first commandment of hierarchical life:  the hierarchy must be preserved.

(38)  Employees in a hierarchy do not really object to incompetence (Peter's Paradox):  they merely gossip about incompetence to mask their envy of employees who have Pull.

(56-57)  In any event, neither sound nor unsound proposals can be carried out efficiently, because the machinery of government is a vast series of interlocking hierarchies, riddled through and through with incompetence.

(58)  Even if the majority of the nominating committee consists of competent judges of men, it will select the candidate, not for his potential wisdom as a legislator, but on his presumed ability to win elections!

(62-62)  As we have already seen, an employee's prospects of reaching his level of incompetence are directly proportional to the number of ranks in the hierarchy - the more ranks, the more incompetence.  The area DC [Dominant Class], for all practical purposes, forms a closed hierarchy of a few ranks.  Obviously, then, many of its employees will never reach their level of incompetence.
NB:  Why upper-class twits may demonstrate competence

(72)  C. N. Parkinson, eminent social theorist, accurately observes and amusingly describes the phenomenon of staff accumulation in hierarchies.  But he tries to explain what he calls the rising pyramid by supposing that senior employees are practicing the strategy of divide and conquer, that they are deliberately making the hierarchy inefficient as a means of self-aggrandizement.

(76)  Unfortunately Parkinson's investigation does not go far enough.  It is true that work can expand to fill the time allotted but it can expand far beyond that.  It can expand beyond the life of the organization and the company can go bankrupt, a government can fall, a civilization can crumble into barbarism, while the incompetents work on.

(86)  A favorite recommendation of efficiency experts is the appointment of a co-ordinator between two incompetent officials or two unproductive departments.  A popular fallacy among these experts and their clients is that "Incompetence co-ordinated equals competence."

(106)  Many executive conferences consisted of the high-ranking employee telling hard-luck stories about his present condition.

"Nobody really appreciates me."

"Nobody co-operates with me."

"Nobody understands how the incessant pressure from above and the incurable incompetence below make it utterly impossible for me to do an adequate job and keep a clean desk."

This self-pity is usually combined with a strong tendency to reminisce about "good old days" when the complainant was working at a lower rank, at a level of incompetence.  

This complex of emotions - sentimental self-pity, denigration of the present and irrational praise of the past - I call the Auld Lang Syne Complex.

An interesting feature of the Auld Lang Syne Complex is that although the typical patient claims to be a martyr to his present position, he never on any account suggests that another employee would be better to fill his place!
NB:  The rich today

(121)  [Substituting]  The rule is:  for achieving personal satisfaction, an ounce of image is worth a pound of performance.  (Peter's Placebo.)

Note that although this technique provides satisfaction to the user, it does not necessarily satisfy the employer!

Peter's Placebo is well understood by politicians at all levels.  They will talk about the importance, the sacredness, the fascinating history of the democratic system (or the monarchic system, or the communist system or the tribal system as the case may be) but will do little or nothing toward carrying out the real duties of their position.

(133)  The method [of creative incompetence] boils down to this:  create the impression that you have already reached your level of incompetence.

(140)  The more conceited members of the race think in terms of an endless ascent - or promotion ad infinitum.  I would point out that, sooner or later, man must reach his level of life-incompetence.
NB:  Has homo sap reached the level of our incompetence?

(150)  You can apply the power of negative thinking.  Ask yourself, "How would I like to work for my boss's boss?"

Look, not at your boss, whom you think you could replace, but at _his_ boss.  How would you like to work directly for the man two steps above you?  The answer to this question often has prophylactic benefits.

The Peter Prescription:  How to Make Things Go Right by Laurence J Peter
NY:  Bantam Books, 1972
ISBN 0-553-12686-5

(6)  True progress is achieved through moving forward - not through moving upward to incompetence.

(46)  Unless you know your real position you may be an Unwitting Incompetent.  As an Unwitting Incompetent you will not know the truth about whether Incompetence lies within yourself, within others, or within the system.

(57)  ...hardening of the categories...

(60)  ...bureaucratic pollution

(62)  The ultimate Hierarchal Regression is the Mediocracy in which the political leadership is derived from selling to the Processionary Puppet a leader conceived in his own image.  This is achieved through utilization of the same technology that is employed in mass producing, packaging, and selling a vast array of products.
NB:  Political elections

(77)   Each one has to find his peace from within, and peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.  - MK Gandhi

(86)  Hierarchies are unlike most ladders in three fundamental ways:  (1)  the step size, or distance between one rung and the next, varies;  (2)  the rungs are movable;  and (3) eligibility to take a step is determined by a number of different systems of promotion.

Dow's Law:  In a hierarchical organization, the higher the level, the greater the confusion.

(119)  Greed enables a person to buy things money can buy while losing the things money cannot buy.

(125)  Take care of the means and the end will take care of itself.  MK Gandhi

(140)  Today's objectives are tomorrow's realities, therefore management for competence must be management by objectives.

(144)  Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.  F Nietzsche

(145)  The purpose of an objective is to give everyone a means to decide what has to be done, so that it can be done without constant instruction and direction. 
NB:  A clear, shared vision, chance for mastery, and a degree of autonomy - what people want from work

(146)  The Peter Panel:  Involve the personnel in establishment of objectives.

(147)  The Peter Policy:  Make group goals compatible with individual goals.

(148)  The Peter Proposition:  State the objective in terms of the need it serves rather than the form it takes. 

(150)  The Peter Practicality:  Make the objective one that can be achieved.

(152)  The Peter Portion:  Let others join in the process of establishing interim objectives.

(153)  The Peter Precision:  State objectives in specific, observable, or measurable terms.

(154)  The Peter Peace:  Be satisfied to stop.

(155)  Happiness and a state of contentment can only occur in the present. 

(159)  Three Rational Questions:  1.  Where am I?
2.  Where do I want to be?
3.  How do I know I am getting there?

(162)  The three questions focus your attention on the starting point, the ending point, and the intermediate measurements.  Unless you are one of these people who simply cannot make a decision, the questions automatically elicit decision making.

(169)  The Peter Parsimony:  Make your decisions solution-directed
The simplest course of action that will do the job is the one to select.  In the hierarchy of solution characteristics simplicity must be near the top - it yields so many untold benefits and avoids so many unseen pitfalls...

The Peter Partition:  Separate the solution from the people problem

(171)  The Peter Promise:  Watch for the decision no one asks you to make

(178)  The Peter Particular:  Define the job clearly before the candidate is selected or promoted

(182)  To the small part of ignorance that we arrange and classify we give the name knowledge.  Ambrose Bierce

(206)  As a university professor working with doctoral students who were supposed to be capable of independent study and research, I rarely found one who could evaluate his own work.

(207)  I began by having the student define the objectives for his project, establish his criteria for successful completion, identify the checkpoints, and evaluate the project at each checkpoint.  I then reinforced the student for his evaluation of his own performance,  In other words, instead of providing reinforcement for doing the project the way I thought was best, I reinforced him for _his evaluation_ of _his project_ in terms of _ his own criteria_.

(217)  The Peter Proposition:  Provide discriminable differences between the rewards given for good and poor performance

(221)  The Peter Pantry:  Allow each employee to select the compensation benefits he or she would like to achieve

(222)  The Peter Participation:  Reward group performance

(223)  No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing.  RW Emerson

(224)  The Peter Power:  Compensate competent performance by providing opportunities for individual initiative.

The Peter praise:  Communicate for specific acts of competence

(226)  The Peter Prestige:  Communicate with competent subordinates in all ranks
NB:  It's good to have friends in low places

(238)  In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.  MK Gandhi

The Peter Plan:  A Proposal for Survival by Dr Laurence J Peter
NY:  William Morrow and Co, 1976
ISBN 0-688-02972-8

(10)  A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul. - GB Shaw

(28-30)  In contrast to the hit-or-miss method, the systems approach seeks to arrange all the components of a system to work in harmonious, interrelated cooperation.  It is not a magical solution, nor is it a new solution.  What is new is the degree of the development of the skills of systems analysts in dealing with large-scale problems.  The essence of the approach is still only common sense and logic applied realistically and consistently.  Although its core is common sense, the method requires that this be enhanced by large quantities of detailed and accurate knowledge, along with the intellectual discipline to bring that knowledge to bear on the problem.  Nature is not easily duplicated by man

(48)  Callous greed grows pious very fast. - Lillian Hellman

(55)  Modern man tends to believe that competition is the driving force behind progress, but this belief does not stand up to close scrutiny.  Competition has no inherent virtue.  There is plenty of competition in organized crime.

(71)  Lobbyists are the touts of protected industries. - Winston Churchill

(82)  "The energy companies stand ready to engage in solar energy research if we are given exclusive, long-term rights to the sun, adequate federal subsidies and development money, government backing of our investment, and a twenty-seven percent radiation depletion allowance."
NB:  Positive vision for 1990 from 1975 with solar-saline +

(106)  The earth does not belong to man - man belongs to the earth.

(146)  Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. - Will Rogers

(160)  Corporations have at different times been so far unable to distinguish freedom of speech from freedom of lying that their freedom had to be curbed. - Carl Becker

(161)  Liberty!  Liberty! In all things let us have justice, and then we shall have enough liberty. - Joseph Joubert

(186)  Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man. - Stewart Udall

(214)  Achievement of an ecologically sound economy based on renewable resources would be true progress today.

(217)  Perfection of means and confusion of ends seem to characterize our age. - Albert Einstein

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Selected Fables of La Fontaine

Selected Fables of La Fontaine by Jean De La Fontaine
NY:  Oxford University Press, 1995
ISBN 0-19-282440-6

The Frog and the Rat
(84)   The ruse best ordered
can turn against its inventor
and often treachery
returns to its author. 

La ruse la mieux ourdie
Peut nuire á sone inventeur;
Et souvent la perfidie
Retourne sur son auteur.

This was the last fable told by Aesop.  He was condemned to death by the Delphians, whom he had insulted in a fable.  They planted a sacred vase on him, accusing him of theft and sacrilege.  He told them this fable in the hopes of saving his life by persuading them that by destroying him they would incur the anger of a powerful foe.  The Delphians, unimpressed, put Aesop to death by throwing him off a cliff.

The Ass Who Carried Sacred Relics
(112)  To an ignorant Magistrate
it is the Robe that one salutes. 

D’un Magistrat ignorant
C’est La Robe qu’on salue.

The Ass and His Masters
(129)  Never happy with our plight, 
our worst day is today.
We tire Heaven with our petitions.
When Jupiter does grant our requests,
we batter Him again about the head.

Notre condition jamais ne nour contente:
La pire est toujours la présente.
Nour fatigons le Ciel á force de placets.
Qu’á chucum Jupiter accorde sa requête,
Nous lui romprons encor la tête.

The Cobbler and the Businessman
(183)  The care of Providence had not done well
by failing to sell Sleep at the market, 
just like eating and drinking.

Que les soins de la Providence
N’eussent pas au marché fait vendre le dormir,
Comme le manger et le boire.

The Two Friends
(199)  Monomotapa - African empire acquired by Portugal in 16th century

(200)  A true friend is a sweet thing.
He seeks your needs at the bottom of your heart;
and saves you your modesty
to discover them yourself.

Qu’un ami véritable est une douce chose.
Il cherche vos besoins au fond de votre coeur;
Il vous épargne la pudeur
De les lui découvrir vous-même.

The Husband, the Wife, and the Burglar
(234)  I infer from this tale
that the strongest passion
is fear

J’infére de ce conte
Que la plus forte passion
C’est la peur

The Man and the Snake
Reason offends them;  they put in their heads
That all is born for them, quadrupeds, and people,
and serpents.
If someone loosens their teeth,
He's a fool. - I agree with that. But what must we do?
- Speak from afar, or be silent. 

La raison les offense;  ils se mettent en tête
Que tout est né pour eux, quadrupèdes, et gens,
Et serpents.
Si quelqu’un desserre les dents,
C’est un sot.  - J’en conviens.  Mais que faut-il donc faire?
- Parler de loin, ou bien se taire. 

The Fishes and the Cormorant
(260)  It taught them to their cost
that one must not have confidence
in those who eat people. 

Il leur apprit á leurs dépens
Que l’on ne doit avoir de confiance
En ceux qui sont mangeurs de gens.

The Old Cat and the Young Mouse
(306)  Youth flatters itself, and believes all can be obtained;
Old age is pitiless.

La jeunesse se flatte, et croit tout obtenir;
La viellesse est impitoyable.

Love and Folly
(314)  The result in the end by the supreme court
was to condemn Folly
to serve as the guide of Love. 

Le résultat enfin de la suprême Cour
Fut condamner la Folie
A servir de guide á l'Amour

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Notes on The Language of the Third Reich

I first learned of Victor Klemperer’s The Language of the Third Reich in a column Mike Godwin of Godwin’s Law (“As an online discussion continues, the probability of a comparison to Hitler or to Nazis approaches one”) wrote in June 2018 in the LA Times (

Godwin quoted Klemperer on how, at the beginning of the Nazi regime, he “was still so used to living in a state governed by the rule of law” that he couldn’t imagine the horrors yet to come. “Regardless of how much worse it was going to get,” he added, “everything which was later to emerge in terms of National Socialist attitudes, actions and language was already apparent in embryonic form in these first months.”  Klemperer was, by training, a philologist, the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history, and linguistics, and kept a diary throughout the Third Reich which I’ve always meant to read.

This would be a good introduction to Klemperer and seems to be very apt in these days when the public discourse is full of misinformation, propaganda, and outright downright lies. Klemperer classified the language of the Third Reich as LTI [Lingua Tertii Imperii].  Very interesting book which I’m still digesting.  Thanks Mike Godwin.

The Language of the Third Reich by Victor Klemperer
NY:  Continuum Books, 2000
ISBN 0-8264-9130-8

(14)   Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic:  they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all.  If someone replaces the words ‘heroic’ and ‘virtuous’ with ‘fanatical’ for long enough, he will come to believe that a fanatic really is a virtuous hero, and that no one can be a hero without fanaticism.

(21)  One of their banners contends that ‘You are nothing, your people is everything.’  Which means that you are never alone with yourself, never alone with your nearest and dearest, you are always being watched by your own people.

The sole purpose of the LTI [Lingua Tertii Imperii] is to strip everyone of their individuality, to paralyse them as personalities, to make them into unthinking and docile cattle in a herd driven and hounded in a particular direction, to turn them into atoms in a huge rolling block of stone.  The LTI is the language of mass fanaticism.  When it addresses the individual - and not just his will but also his intellect - where it educates, it teaches means of breeding fanaticism and techniques of mass suggestion.

(24)  But clichés do indeed soon take hold of us.  ‘Language which writes and thinks for you….’
NB:  Listen for how often clichés and buzzwords become common among politicians and pundits and the public

(26)  On our university noticeboard there is a lengthy announcement (it is supposed to have been put up on all German university noticeboards:  ‘When a Jew writes German he lies’;  in future he is to be forced to label books he publishes in German ‘as translations from Hebrew’.

(28)  But do they really feel so sure of themselves?  There is also a good deal of hysteria in the government’s words and deeds.  The hysteria of language should one day be studied as a phenomenon in itself.

…Surely there is direct fear and indirect fear in equal measure.  What I mean by this is that this artificial generation of suspense, copied from American cinema and thrillers, is obviously just as much a premeditated means of propaganda as the direct creation of fear, but that, on the other hand, only those who are themselves afraid turn to this kind of propaganda.

And what is the purpose of the endlessly repeated articles - endles repetition indeed appears to be one of the principal stylistic features of their language - about the victorious battle over unemployment in East Prussia.

(29)  At the moment he [Hitler] appears to be omnipotent, perhaps he is;  but this recording testifies to almost blind rage.  But do you go on talking in that way about enduring for a thousand years and about annihilated enemies if you are so sure of this endurance and this annihilation?  I left the cinema with what almost amounted to a glimmer of hope.

(40-41)  Every speech delivered by the Führer is historical [historisch], even if he says the same thing a hundred times over, every meeting the Führer has with the Duce is historical, even if it doesn’t make the slightest difference to the existing state of things;  the victory of a German racing car is historical, as is the official opening of a new motorway, and every single road, and every single section of every single road, is officially inaugurated;  every harvest festival is historical, every Party Rally, every feast day of any kind;  and since the Third Reich seems to know nothing but feast days - you could say that it suffered, indeed was mortally ill, from a lack of the everyday, just as the human body can be mortally ill from a lack of salt - it views every single day of its life as historical.
NB:  Lack of everyday as we seem to be living in crisis all the time, a symptom of living within an addictive system according to what I”ve read and observed

(46)  In both cases [Italian and German Fascism] the aim is to bring the leader into direct contact with the people themselves, all the people and not just their representatives.

… politics is after all the art of leading a polis, a city.
NB:  Charles Olson’s Maximus poems is very well worth a reread, I think

(47)  Populist (volkstümlich) means more concrete:  the more emotional a speech is, the less it addresses itself to the intellect, the more populist it will be.  And it will cross the boundary separating populism from demagogy and mass seduction as soon as it moves from ceasing to challenge the intellect to deliberately shutting it off and stupefying it.

(49)  Hitler on the other hand, regardless of whether he was playing up the unctuousness or the sarcasm - the two tones between which he always liked to alternate - Hitler always spoke or rather screamed, convulsively.

… Even when triumphant he was insecure and would shout down opponents and opposing ideas.

(50)  I also believe that he really did strive to see himself as a new German savior, that within him there was a never-ending conflict between excessive megalomania and delusions of persecution, whereby the two illnesses aggravated each other, and I believe that it was this disease which infected the body of a German nation already weakened and spiritually shattered by the First World War.
NB:  USA after a decade and a half of continuous war, increasing inequality, and a disintegrating middle class

(52)  Fanatique and fanatisme are words which the French enlightenment uses as terms of the utmost censure.  There are two reasons for this.  Originally - the root of the word is fanum, the shrine, the temple - a fanatic was someone in a state of religious rapture racked by ecstatic convulsions.  Because the Enlightenment thinkers oppose anything which leads to the dulling or suppression of thinking, and because, as enemies of the Church, they attack religious mania with particular ferocity, the fanatic is the natural adversary of their rationalism.  For them the personification of the fanatique is Ravaillac who murdered good King Henri IV out of a religious fanaticism of this kind.
NB:  Napoleon’s invention of “ideologue” and “ideology”

“Idéologie: was the creation of the self-proclaimed “ideologists,” a coterie of savants centered around Destutt de Tracy, who enjoyed state support for their research on projects of scientific governance….  As Yann Cloarec points out, in his original introduction to this collection of Napoleonic maxims, Napoleon invented the term “idéologue,” in order to mock them. 
Napoleon How to Make War assembled by Yann Cloarec, translated by Keith Sunburn  NY:  Ediciones La Calavera, 1998  ISBN 0-9642284-2-4

(55)  ‘Language which writes and thinks for you…’  Poison which you drink unawares and which has its effect - this can’t be said often enough.

(63)  Long before the Nazi SS even existed, its symbol was to be seen painted in red on electricity substations, and below it the waning ‘Danger - High Voltage!’  In this case the jagged S was obviously a stylized representation of a flash of lightning.

(65)  The reason being that the entire thrust of the LTI was towards visualization, and if this process of visualizing could be achieved with recourse to Germanic traidtions, by means of a runic sign, then so much the better.

… Renan’s position:  the question mark - the most important of all punctuation marks.

(68)  Because the LTI loathes neutrality, because it always has to have an adversary and always has to drag this adversary down.

(72)  In the Physics Department the name Einstein had to be hushed up and the ‘Hertz’ unit of frequency could not be referred by its Jewish name.

…. Initially my food ration-cards bore a single J, later the word ‘Jew’ was printed diagonally across the card and in the end every tiny section bore the full word ‘Jew’, around sixty times on one and the same card.

(73)  When Laguardia, the hated mayor of New York, is referred to, it is always as ‘the Jew Laguardia’ or at least ‘the half-Jew Laguardia’.

(79)  In general Nazi posters all looked alike.  One was invariably confronted with the same breed of brutal and doggedly erect warrior, with a flag or a rifle or a sword, in SA, SS or military uniform, or alternatively naked;  they always displayed physical strength and fanatical Will;  muscles, toughness and a complete absence of introspection were the characteristicis  of these advertisements for sport and war and obedience to the Will of the Fuhrer.

(93)  Because they have a system as well, after all, and are proud of the fact that absolutely every expression and situation in life is caught up in this network:  that is why ‘totality [Totalität]’ is one of the foundations on which the LTI is built.

(94)  … writers for whom an organization is a way of doing away with the organic, of taking out the soul and making a machine.

…Later they took our [the Jews’] pets away from us, cats, dogs, even canaries, and killed them, not just in isolated cases and out of individual malice, but officially and systematically;  this is one of those acts of cruelty which will not be mentioned at any Nuremberg Trial and for which, if it was up to me, I would erect a towering gallows, even if it cost me eternal salvation.

(95)  …The reason being once again, as I wrote at the beginning of my notebook, that language writes and thinks for us.

(99)  ‘“Duty as a German’ is not something you would have said in the past.’ I interjected, ‘what has being German or non-German got to do with highly personal or universal human questions?  Or do you want to talk politics with us?’

(113)  They [the SS] were also branded with a cattle stamp like animals.

(118)  Coventry was an English ‘armoury store’, nothing more, and populated exclusively by the military, because on principle we only attacked what in every report were referred to as 'military targets’, for we also only engaged in ‘retaliation’, had certainly not started anything, in contrast to the English who had started the air raids, and who, as ‘pirates of the air’, mainly directed them at churches and hospitals.
NB:  Mrs Miniver and Coventry from both sides

(126)  What distinguishes National Socialism from other forms of fascism is a concept of race reduced solely to anti-Semitism and also fired exclusively by it.  It is from here that it distils all its poison.  Absolutely all of it, even in the case of foreign political enemies whom it cannot dismiss as Semites.  It therefore turns Bolshevism into Jewish Bolshevism, the French are beniggered and bejewed, the English can even be traced back to that biblical line of Jews considered lost, and so on.
NB:  Romany people then and today as scapegoats, along with mentally and physically challenged….

(141)  There were no clothing or ration coupons for Jews, they were not allowed to buy anything new and were only given second-hand things by special clothing and household stores.  Initially it was relatively easy to get something from the clothing store;  later a petition was necessary which was passed from the appointed ‘legal advisor’ of the district, and the Jewish division of the Gestapo, to the police headquarters.

… It is telling how often during the twelve years the word ‘blindlings [blindly]’ appeared in oaths of allegiance, and in telegrams and resolutions paying homage or expressing support.  Blindlings is one of the linguistic pillars of the LTI.  It denotes the ideal manifestation of the Nazi spirit with regard to its leader and respective subordinate leaders, and it is used almost as often as ‘fanatisch’.

(141-142)  National Socialism certainly does not want to encroach upon the individual personality, on the contrary, it seeks to reinforce it, but that does not preclude it (as far as it is concerned!) from mechanizing this personality at the same time:  everyone should be an automaton in the hand of his superior and leader, and at the same time he should also be the one who presses the button to activate the automatons under his own control.  This construction disguises universal enslavement and depersonalization, and explains the excessive number of LTI expressions lifted from the realm of technology, the mass of mechanizing words.
(153)  Shortly before this, in Spring 1944, Goebbels writes:  ‘The peoples of Europe ought to thank us on bended knees’ for fighting to protect them, perhaps they don’t even deserve it!'  (I only noted down the beginning of this sentence verbatim.)

(155)  Today I ask myself again the same question I have asked myself and all kinds of people hundreds of times;  which was the worst day for the Jews during those twelve years of hell?

I always without exception, received the same answer from myself and others;  19 Semptember 1941.  From that day on it was compulsory to wear the Jewish star, the six-pointed Star of David, the yellow piece of cloth which today still stands for plague and quarantine…

(162)  Race, as a scientific and pseudo-scientific concept, only appeared in the middle of the eighteenth century.

(163)  The Jew is the most important person in Hitler’s state:  he is the best-known Turk’s head of folk history [der volkstümlichste Türkenkopf] and the popular scapegoat, the most plausible adversary, the most obvious common denominator, the most likely brackets around the most diverse factors.

(164)  The golden rule is always:  don’t let your listeners engage in critical thought, deal with everything simplistically!

(165)  A lie (this it has in common with a joke) is all the more effective, the more truth it contains.

(182)  The gradual drifting apart of the Germans and the German Jews had begun in Germany immediately after the First World War, Zionism had gained a foothold in the Reich.  All kinds of emphatically Jewish publishers and books clubs were founded, publishing exclusively Jewish history and philosophy books, along with literary works by Jewisn authors on Jewish and German-Jewish themes.

(184)  The simplistic herding together of people into the singular:  the German Jew who set his hopes on something;  the simplistic reduction of humanity:  the German people - these crop up again and again….

(186)  The language of the victor… you don’t speak it with impunity, you breathe it in and live according to it.

(189)  ‘He definitely got the idea from Herzl of seeing the Jews as a people, as a political entity, and of categorizing them as “global Jewry [Weltjudentum]”’.
NB:  Hitler and Zionism, beware of who you take as an enemy for you become like them

(193)  Later, using a number of key words and quotations, I set down clearly the similarities and dissimilarities between Herzl and Hitler.  There were, thank God, also dissimilarities between them.

(196)  Of all the things on which Herzl bases his idea of a unified people, there is only one which truly fits the Jews:  their common opponent and persecutor;  seen from this point of view the Jews of all nations certainly unite into ‘global Jewry’ in their opposition to Hitler - the man himself, his persecution complex and the precipitous cunning of his mania gave a concrete form to that which previously had only existed as an idea, and he converted more supporters to Zionism and the Jewish state than Herzl himself.  And Herzl once again - from whom could Hitler have gleaned more crucial and practical ideas for his own purposes?

… The problem is that Hitler and Herzl feed to a very large extent on the same heritage.

(200)  ‘A confusion of quantity and quality, an Americanism of the crudest kind’, I noted at the time, and the fact that the newspaper people of the Third Reich were quick to learn from the Americans was demonstrated by the increasing use of headlines in ever thicker type, and the increasing omission of the article preceding the noun that was being highlighted…

(201)  But did the Americans and the Nazis really go in for the same kind of intermperance when it came to numbers and figures?  I already had my doubts at the time.  Wasn’t there a bit of humour in the thirty feet of intestines, couldn’t one always sense a certain straightforward naivety in the exaggerated figures of American adverts?  Wasn’t it as if the advertiser was saying to himself each time:  you and I, dear reader, dervie the same pleasure from exaggeration, we both know how it’s meant - so I’m not really lying at all, you subtract what matters and my eulogy isn’t deceitful, it simply makes a greater impression and is more fun if it’s expressed as a superlative?

… It may well be that the LTI learned from American customs when it came to the use of figures, but it differs from them hugely and twice over:  not only through exorbitant use of the superlative, but also through its deliberate maliciousness, because it is invariably and unscrupulously intent on deception and benumbing.
NB:  Barnum from  The Humbugs of the World: An Account of Humbugs, Delusions, Impositions, Quackeries, Deceits and Deceivers Generally, in All Ages:  "But need I explain to my own beloved countrymen that there is humbug in politics? Does anybody go into a political campaign without it? are no exaggerations of our candidate’s merits to be allowed? no depreciations of the other candidate? Shall we no longer prove that the success of the party opposed to us will overwhelm the land in ruin?”
Trmp (or Tony Schwartz) from The Art of the Deal:  “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”

(202)  The bulletins of the Third Reich, on the other hand, start off in a superlative mode from the very outset and then, the worse the situation, the more they overdo it, until everything becomes literally measureless, twisting the fundamental quality of military language, its disciplined exactitude, into its very opposite, into fantasy and fairy-tale.

… The extraordinary thing was the shameless transparency of the lies revealed by the figures;  one of the fundamentals of Nazi doctrine is the conviction that the masses are unthinking and that their minds can be completely dulled.

(203)  Tout se tient as the French say, everything hangs together.  The expression ‘hundretporzentig [100 percent]’ comes directly from America and goes back to the title of a novel by Upton Sinclair which was widely read in German translation;  throughout the twelve years it was on everybody’s lips and I often heard the adjunct ‘Steer clear of that chap, he’s a 140-per-center!’
NB:  100%: The Story of a Patriot, originally published in 1920, is about an undercover agent for the police during the first Red Scare.  I’m thinking that what Upton Sinclair planned as a warning was, as usual, taken as a business plan by the very people Sinclair was trying to warn us against.

… ‘Total’ is also a number of maximum value, and, in its concrete reality, as pregnant with meaning as the Romantic excesses of ‘zahllos’ [countless] and ‘unvorstellbar’ [unimaginable].

… Ewig [eternal, everlasting], the religious elimination of duration, is often used - the eternal guard.

(204)  The numerical superlative can also be arrived at from another angle:  ‘unique’ is just as much a superlative as a thousand.
NB:  One of my favorite teachers, Mr Nielsen, impressed upon me the idea that unique means one of a kind and thus cannot be modified, a notion that is violated every day multiple times.  Language is speech, meaning what people say, if it is understand, is proper grammar, but I still prefer not to modify unique myself.

(205)  When I Nazified the elephant joke earlier, I had a sentence ringing in my ear which Generalissimo Grauschitsch used at the time to spice up military commands;  the best soldiers in the world are supplied with the best weapons in the world produced by the best workers in the world.

… (Once again the shameless reliance on the forgetfulness of the masses:  how often the same enemy, already pronounced dead, is destroyed once more!)

...The word ‘historisch’ [historic] is just as laden with superlative weight and just as common as ‘Welt’ [world] and ‘Raum’ [room].

(206)  Listing [aufzählen] and belittling [Verächtlichmachen].  There can’t be a single speech of the Führer that doesn’t long-windedly list Germany’s successes and sarcastically insult the enemy.  The stylistic means employed in a rough-and-ready manner by Hitler, are polished by Goebbels into refined rhetoric.

… Isn’t the curse of the superlative all too apparent here?

This curse clings to it of necessity in every language.  Because wherever you are, constant exaggeration is always bound to lead to ever greater exaggeration, with the result that a dulling of the senses, skepticism and finally disbelief are inevitable.

(207-208)  … and I also know that a part of every intellectual’s soul belongs to the people, that all my awareness of being lied to, and my critical attentiveness, are of no avail when it comes to it:  at some point the printed lie will get the better of me when it attacks from all sides and is queried by fewer and fewer around me and finally by no one at all.

(208)  … the curse of the superlative is not always self-destructive, but all too often destroys the intellect which defies it;  and Goebbels had much more talent than I gave him credit for, and the ineffective inanity was neither as inane nor as ineffective.

(209)  ‘… The Lord will not deny victory to his courageous soldiers!’

This appeal marks nothing less than the decisive caesura not only in the history of the Second World War, but also in the history of the LTI, and, as a linguistic caesura, it is a twin-headed arrow which rammed into the swollen fabric of that everyday bluster which had been heightened to match the style of Barnum.

It is crawling with triumphal superlatives - but a present tense has become a future tense.

(210)  Movement is the essence of Nazism to such an extent that it unhesitatingly refers to itself as ‘the movement’, and to its birthplace, Munich, as the ‘capital of the movement’.  Moreover, it leaves the word unadorned, despite usually searching for mellifluous, exaggerated terms for everything that it deems important.

Its entire vocabulary is dominated by the will to movement and to action.

(221)  The whole emotional mendacity of Nazism, the whole mortal sin of deliberately twisting things founded on reason into the realm of the emotions, and deliberate distortion for the sake of sentimental mystification:  all of this comes back to me when I remember this hall [in the factory where he was forced to work], just as on festive occasions, after our departure, the factory’s Aryan workforce must have crowded together there.

(222)  To justify the well-organized arson attacks to which the synagogues fell victim at the time, it was necessary to resort to more robust and far-reaching wods, a mere healthy sense of something was not enough.  The result was the phase of the kochender Volksseele [the raging soul of the people].  Of course this expression was not coined for permanent use, whilst the words spontan [spontaneous] and Instinct [instinct], which had just taken off at the time, became a permanent feature of the LTI, with instinct in particular playing a leading role to the last.

(225)  The word used over and over again to express aversion is ‘Asphalt’.

Asphalt is the man-made surface which separates the city-dweller from the natural soil.  It was first used metaphorically in Germany (around 1890) in the poetry of Naturalism.
NB:  Asphalt versus soil

(227)  When, however, at the very last minute - ‘the final hour’ is not the right phase for it any more - the decision is made to go over quite openly to gang warfare, a name is chosen for this activity which evokes the terror associated with the gothic horror story:  on the official radio station the warriors refer to themselves as ‘werewolves’.  This amounted to yet another link with tradition, with the oldest of them all in fact, with mythology.  And thus, at the very end, an extraordinarily reactionary outlooks was exposed yet again through language, the notion of falling back entirely on the primitive, most predatory beginnings of mankind, which thus revealed Nazism in its true colours.

… Finally, the word utilized most powerfully and most commonly by the Nazis for emotional effect is ‘Erlebnis [experience]’.  Normal usage draws a clear distinction:  we live [leben] every hour of our lives from birth to death, but only the most exceptional moments, those in which our passions are aroused, those in which we sense the workings of fate, can be deemed real experiences.  The LTI deliberately draws everything into the realm of experience.  ‘Young people experience Wilhelm Tell’ announces a headline which, out of many similar examples, has stayed with me.  The true purpose behind this use of the word was exposed by a remark made to the press by the provincial head of the Reich’s Literary Chamber in Saxony apropos a week-long book festivel in October 1935:  Mein Kampf, he claimed, is the bible of National Socialism and the New Germany, one must ‘experience [durchleben]’ it from beginning to end...

(228)  Emotion was not itself the be-all and end-all, it was only a means to an end, a step in a particular directon.  Emotion had to suppress the intellect and itself surrender to a state of numbing dullness without any freedom of will or feeling:  how else would one have got hold of the necessary crowd of executioners and torturers?

What does a perfect group of followers do?  It doesn’t think, and it doesn’t feel any more - it follows.

(229)  …but the Nazis had always exaggerated anything and everything militaristic...

(236)  A foreign word impresses all the more the less it is understood;  in not being comprehended, it confuses and stupefies and, in addition, drowns out thought.

(238)  Rather, the real achievement - and here Goebbels is the undisputed master - lies in the unscrupulous mixture of heterogeneous stylistic elements;  no, mixture isn’t quite the right word - it lies in the most abruptly antithetical leaps from a learned tone to a proletarian one, from sobriety to the tone of the preacher, from icy rationalism to the sentimentality of a manfully repressed tear, from Fontane’s simplicity, and Berlin gruffness, to the pathos of the evangelist and prophet.  It is like an epidermal stimulation under the impact of alternating cold and hot showers, and just as physically effective;  the listener’s emotions (and Goebbels’s audience always comprises listeners, even if it only reads the Doctor’s essays in the newspaper) never come to rest, they are constantly attracted and rebuffed, attracted and rebuffed, and there is no time for critical reasoning to catch its breath.

(246)  Be that as it may, something of the Nazi insensitivity about, or indeed positive affection for, the abrupt juxtaposition of mechanistic and affective expressions can also be found in Stieve;  he writes of the NSDAP:  ‘It fell upon the Party to be the powerful motor at the heart of Germany, the motor of spiritual improvement, the motor of active devotion, the motor of constant awakening in the spirit of the newly created Reich.'

(253)  Even if someone is praying for a Wende to Hitler’s disadvantage - Wende is a very popular made-up word amongst Hitlerites.
NB:  Energiewende, the name for Germany’s transition to renewables and away from carbon emissions since the 1980s.  A name picked by Greens.

(257)  The notion of the war ‘forced’ on the Führer is pre-eminent amongst the stereotypical expressions of the LTI.
NB:  Look what you made me do.  It’s always the victim’s own fault.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I

A few years ago, I saw that the second volume of Mark Twain’s Autobiography was available in my local library so I decided it was time to read volume I.

Volume I is a big thick book with plenty of notes from the bevy of editors who assembled the Autobiography from Twain’s papers and I enjoyed every page, even those copious notes.  Twain never finished his Autobiography and wrestled with it for over thirty years.  He wrote it for himself and instructed his heirs and assigns not to publish it until a century after his death.  It gave me a sense of what Twain’s every day life was like and clearly traced the Mississippi River of his thoughts.

I took some time off and now plan to read the second volume of the Autobiography, as I see that the third and last volume is available.  I have a lot of Twain to look forward to.

Autobiography of Mark Twain:  Volume I by Mark Twain
Berkeley, CA:  University of CA Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-520-26719-0

(page 61)  When my father paid down that great sum [$400 for 75,000 acres of Tennessee land], and turned and stood in the courthouse door of Jamestown, and looked abroad over his vast possessions, he said: "Whatever befalls me, my heirs are secure;  I shall not live to see these acres turn to silver and gold, but my children will.”  Thus, with the very kindest intentions in the world toward us, he laid the heavy curse of prospective wealth upon our shoulders.  He went to his grave in the full belief that he had done us a kindness.  It was  woeful mistake, but fortunately he never knew it.

(81)  This was just like General Grant.  It was absolutely impossible for him to entertain for a moment any proposition which might prosper him at the risk of any other man.

(83)  As for myself I was inwardly boiling all the time:  I was scalping Ward, flaying him alive, breaking him on the wheel pounding him to jelly, and cursing him with all the profanity known to the one language that I am acquainted with, and helping it out in times of difficulty and distress with odds and ends of profanity drawn from the two other languages of which I have a limited knowledge.

(89)  He [Grant] was at this time suffering great and increasing pain from the cancer at the root of his tongue, but there was nothing ever discoverable in the expression of his face to betray this fact as long as he was awake.  When asleep his face would take advantage of him and make revelations.

(94)  The Associated Press [asked $500 for Twain’s story of Grant’s book contract] had sent the World’s misstatements over the wires to all parts of the country free of charge for the reason, no doubt, that that statement slandered General Grant, lied about his son, dealt the Century Company a disastrous blow, and was thoroughly well calculated to sharply injure me in both character and pocket.  Therefore it was apparent that the Associated Press were willing to destroy a man for nothing, but required cash for rehabilitating him again.  That was Associated Press morals.  It was newspaper morals, too.  Speaking in general terms it was always easy to get any print to say any injurious thing about a citizen in a newspaper, but it was next to impossible to get that paper or any other to right an injured man.

(103)  He [Hamersley] is a great fat good-natured, kind-hearted, chicken-livered slave;  with no more pride than a tramp, no more sand than a rabbit, no more moral sense than a wax figure, and no more sex than a tape-worm.  He sincerely thinks he is honorable.  It is my daily prayer to God that he be permitted to live and die in those superstitions. 

(115)  The song drones along as monotonously and as tunelessly as a morning-service snore in a back-country church in the summer time, and I think that nothing could well be more dreary and saddening.

(121)  We have been housekeeping a fortnight, now - long enough to have learned how to pronounce the servants’ names, but not to spell them.  We shan’t ever learn to spell them;  they were invented in Hungary and Poland, and on paper they look like the alphabet out on a drunk.

(159)  My teaching and training enabled me to see deeper into these tragedies than an ignorant person could have done.  I knew what they were for.  I tried to disguise it from myself, but down in the secret deeps of my troubled heart I knew and I _knew_ I knew.   They were inventions of Providence to beguile me to a better life.  It sounds curiously innocent and conceited, now, but to me there was nothing strange about it;  it was quite in accordance with the thoughtful and judicious ways of Providence as I understood them.  It would not have surprised me, nor even over-flattered me if Providence had killed off that whole community in trying to save an asset like me.   Educated as I had been, it would have seemed just the thing, and well worth the expense.  _Why_ Providence should take such an anxious interest in such a property - that idea never entered my head, and there was no one in that simple hamlet who would have dreamed of putting it there.  For one thing, no one was equipped with it….

I realize that from the cradle up I have been like the rest of the race - never quite sane in the night.  When “Injun Joe” died..  But never mind:  in an earlier chapter I have already described what a raging hell of repentance I passed through then.  I believe that for months I was as pure as the driven snow.  After dark.

(161)  Besides, I had learned, a good while before that, that it is not wise to keep the fire going under a slander unless you can get some large advantage out of keeping it alive.  Few slanders can stand the wear of silence.

(182)   Mendicancy is a matter of taste and temperament, no doubt, but certainly no human being is without a form of it.  I know my own form, you know yours;  let us curtain it from view and abuse the others. To every man cometh, at intervals, a man with an axe to grind.  To you, reader, among the rest.  By and by that axe’s aspect becomes familiar to you - when you are the proprietor of the grindstone - and the moment you catch sight of it you perceive that it is the same old axe;  then you withdraw within yourself, and stick out your spines.  If you are the Governor, you know that this stranger wants a position.  The first six times the axe came, you were deceived - after that, humiliated.

(216)  I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and “simblins;”  I know how to tell when it is ripe without “plugging” it;  I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting;  I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor-space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering;  I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front of the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end;  I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect;  I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there.  I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art.  Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.
NB:  Twain would probably have deeply appreciated Petey Greene’s "How to eat a watermelon" routine

(228)  I was very young in those days [when writing The Innocents Abroad], exceedingly young, marvelously young, younger than I am now, younger than I shall ever be again, by hundreds of years.  I worked every night from eleven or twelve until broad day in the morning, and as I did two hundred thousand words in the sixty days, the average was more than three thousand words a day - nothing for Sir Walter Scott, nothing for Louis Stevenson, nothing for plenty of other people, but quite handsome for me.

(251)  I took the position of local editor with joy, because there was a salary of forty dollars a week attached to it and I judged that that was all of thirty-nine dollars more than I was worth, and I had always wanted a position which paid in the opposite proportion of value to amount of work.

(264)  In my enthusiasm I may have exaggerated the details a little, but you will easily forgive me that fault, since I believe it is the first time I have ever deflected from perpendicular fact on an occasion like this.

(281)  The reason I want to insert that account of the Morris case [a woman thrown out of the White House by an aide of President Theodore Roosevelt], which is making such a lively stir all over the United States, and possibly the entire world, in these days, is this.  Some day, no doubt these autobiographical notes will be published.  It will be after my death.  It may be five years now, it may be ten, it may be fifty - but whenever  the time shall come, even if it should be a century hence - I claim that the reader of that day will find the same strong interest in that narrative that the world has in it to-day, for the reason that the account speaks of the thing in the language we naturally use when we are talking about something that has just happened.  That form of narrative is able to carry along with it for ages and ages the very same interest which we find in it to-day.  Whereas if this had happened fifty years ago, or a hundred, and the historian had dug it up and was putting it in _his_ language, and furnishing you a long-distance view of it, the reader’s interest in it would be pale.  You see, it would not be _news_ to him, it would be history;  merely history;  and history can carry on no successful competition with _news_, in the matter of sharp interest.  When an eye-witness sets down in narrative from some extraordinary occurrence which he has witnessed, that is _news_ - that is the news form, and its interest is absolutely indestructible; time can have no deteriorating effect upon that episode.  I am placing that account there largely as an experiment.  If any stray copy of this book shall, by any chance, escape the paper-mill for a century or so, and then be discovered and read, I am betting that that remote reader will find that it is still _news_, and that it is just as interesting as any news he will find in the newspapers of his day and morning - if newspapers shall still be in existence then - though let us hope they won’t.

(287)  I started to say, a while ago, that when I had seemingly made that discover of the difference between “ news” and “history” thirty-nine years ago, I conceived the idea of a magazine to be called _The Back Number_, and to contain nothing but ancient news;  narratives culled from mouldy old newspapers and mouldy old books;  narratives set down by eye-witnesses at the time that the episodes treated of happened.
NB:  Ted Wilentz’ series of first person historical narratives - Indian captive tales, Father Henson’s story, whaleship Essex…

(291)  The General [Sickles] thanked him courteously.  I am sure Sickles must have been always polite.  It takes _training_ to enable a person to be properly courteous when he is dying.  Many have tried it.  I suppose very few have succeeded.

(298)  If the duel had come off, he would have so filled my skin with bullet-holes that it wouldn’t have held my principles.

(316-317)  I said that no party held the privilege of dictating to me how I should vote.  That if party loyalty was a form of patriotism, I was no patriot and that I didn’t think I was much of a patriot anyway, for oftener than otherwise what the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views;  that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn’t;  whereas the king could dictate the monarchists’ patriotism for him - a decision which was final and must be accepted by the victim;  that in my belief I was the only person in the sixty millions - with Congress and the administration back of the sixty millions - who was privileged to construct my patriotism for me.

They said “Suppose the country is entering upon a war - where do you stand then?  Do you arrogate to yourself the privilege of going your own way in the matter, in the face of the nation?”

“Yes,” I said, “that is my position.  If I thought it an unrighteous war I would say so.  If I were invited to shoulder a musket in that cause and march under that flag, I would decline.  I would not voluntarily march under this country’s flag, nor any other, when it was my private judgment that the country was in the wrong.  If the country _obliged_ me to shoulder the musket I could not help myself, but I would never volunteer.  To volunteer would be the act of a traitor to myself, and consequently traitor to my country.  If I refused to volunteer, I should be _called_ a traitor, I am well aware of that - but that would not make me a traitor.  The unanimous vote of the sixty millions could not make me a traitor,  I should still be a patriot, and, in my opinion, the only one in the whole country.

(326)  Susy on prayer:  “Well, mama, the Indians believed they knew, but now we know they were wrong.  By and by it can turn out that we were wrong.  So now I only pray that there may be a God and a heaven - or something better.”

(340)  However, let it go.  It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.  Meantime, I seem to have been drifting into criticism myself.  But that is nothing.  At the worst, criticism is nothing more than a crime, and I am not unused to that.

(355)  In my early manhood, and in middle-life, I used to vex myself with reforms, every now and then.  And I never had occasion to regret these divergencies, for whether the resulting deprivations were long or short, the rewarding pleasure which I got out of the vice when I returned to it, always paid me for all that it cost.  However I feel sure that I have written about these experiments in a book called “Following the Equator.”  By and by I will look and see.  Meantime, I will drop the subject and go back to Susy’s sketch of me:

(364)  Jay Gould had just then reversed the commercial morals of the United States.  He had put a blight upon them from which they have never recovered, and from which they will not recover for as much as a century to come.  Jay Gould was the mightiest disaster which has ever befallen this country.  The people had _desired_ money before his day, but _he_ taught them to fall down and worship it.  They had respected men of means before his day, but along with this respect was joined the respect due to the character and industry which had accumulated it.  But Jay Gould taught the entire nation to make a god of the money and the man, no matter how the money might have been acquired.  In my youth there was nothing resembling a worship of money or of its possessor, in our region.  And in our region no well-to-do man was ever charged with having acquired his money by shady methods.

(372)  When he [the publisher Bliss] was after dollars he showed the intense earnestness and eagerness of a circular saw.

(382)  That question was “With whom originated the idea of the march to the sea?  Was it Grant’s, or was it Sherman’s idea?”  Whether I, or some one else (being anxious to get the important fact settled) asked him with whom the idea originated, I don’t remember.  But I remember his answer.  I shall always remember his answer.  General Grant said:

“Neither of us originated the idea of Sherman’s march to the sea.  The enemy did it.”

He went on to say that the enemy, however, necessarily originated a great many of the plans that the general on the opposite side gets the credit for;  at the same time that the enemy is doing that, he is laying open other moves which the opposing general sees and takes advantage of.  In this case, Sherman had a plan all thought out, of course.  He meant to destroy the two remaining  railroads in that part of the country, and that  would finish up that region.  But General Hood did not play the military part that he was expected to play.  On the contrary, General Hood made a dive at Chattanooga.  This left the march to the sea open to Sherman, and so after sending part of his army to defend and hold what he had acquired in the Chattanooga region, he was perfectly free to proceed, with the rest of it, through Georgia.  He saw the opportunity, and he would not have been fit for his place if he had not seized it.

(389)  We, the mugwumps, a little company made up of the unenslaved of both parties, the very best men to be found in the two great parties - that was our idea of it - voted sixty thousand strong for Mr. Cleveland in New York and elected him.  Our principles were high, and very definite.  We were not a party;  we had no candidates;  we had no axes to grind.  Our vote laid upon the man we cast it for no obligation of any kind.  By our rule we could not ask for office; we could not accept office.  When voting, it was our duty to vote for the best man, regardless of his party name.  We had no other creed.  Vote for the best man - that was creed enough.

(407)  [That the Moro slaughter would shock and shame Roosevelt and the Republican party]  I cannot believe that the prediction will come true, for the reason that prophecies that promise valuable things, desirable things, good things, worthy things, never come true.  Prophecies of this kind are like wars fought in a good cause - they are so rare that they don’t count.

(419)  I can see that marching company yet, and I can almost feel again the consuming desire that I had to join it.  But they had no use for boys of twelve and thirteen, and before I had a chance in another war that desire to kill people to whom I had not been introduced had passed away.

(435)  [Livy’s dying] I always told her that if she died first, the rest of my life would be made up of self-reproaches for the tears I had made her shed.  And she always replied that if I should pass from life first, she would never have to reproach herself without having loved me the less devotedly or the less constantly because of those tears.  We had this conversation again, for the thousandth time, when the night of death was closing about her - though we did not suspect that.

(441)  I intend that this autobiography shall become a model for all future autobiographies when it is published, after my death, and I also intend that it shall be read and admired a good many centuries because of its form and method - a form and method whereby the past and the present are constantly brought face to face, resulting in contrasts which newly fire up the interest all along like contact of flint with steel. Moreover, this autobiography of mine does not select from my life its showy episodes, but deals merely in the common experiences which go to make up the life of the average human being, and the narrative must interest the average human being because these episodes are of a sort which he is familiar with in his own life, and in which he sees his own life reflected and set down in print.  The usual, conventional autobiographer seem to particularly hunt out those occasions in his career when he came into contact with celebrated persons, whereas his contacts with the uncelebrated were just as interesting to him, and would be to his reader, and were vastly more numerous than his collisions with the famous.  

Howells was here yesterday afternoon, and I told him the whole scheme of this autobiography and its apparently systemless system - only apparently systemless, for it is not that.  It is a deliberate system, and the law of the system is that I shall talk about the matter which for the moment interests me, and cast it aside and talk about something else the moment its interest for me is exhausted.  It is a system which follows no charted course and is not going to follow any such course.  It is a system which is a complete and purposed jumble - a course which begins nowhere, follows no specified route, and can never reach an end while I am alive, for the reason that if I should talk to the stenographer two hours a day for a hundred years, I should still never be able to set down a tenth part of the things which have interested me in my lifetime.  I told Howells that this autobiography of mine would live a couple of thousand years without any effort and would then take a fresh start and live the rest of the time.

He said he believed it would, and asked me if I meant to make a library of it.

I said that that was my design, but that if I should live long enough the set of volumes could not be contained merely in a city, it would require a State, and that there would not be any Rockefeller alive, perhaps, at any time during its existence who would be able to buy a full set, except on the installment plan.

Howells applauded, and was full of praises and endorsement, which was wise in him and judicious.  If he had manifested a different spirit I would have thrown him out of the window.  I like criticism, but it must be my way.

(566)  Editors’ Note:  On 27 February 1859 he [Sickles] fatally shot Francis Scott Key’s son on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House, because the younger Key had had an affair with his wife.  Sickles was acquitted on the grounds of temporary insanity by a jury that shared the widespread public opinion that he had acted justifiably.  This was the first time that the temporary-insanity defense was used.

(659)  I will offer here, as a sound maxim, this:  That we can’t reach old age by another man’s road.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time and Nothing Personal

After seeing the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” I remembered how brilliant and direct James Baldwin was.  I’d read some of his work long ago and, more recently, his poems but I hadn’t read his essays.  So I decided it was time to read some more Baldwin, starting with The Fire Next Time (NY:  Vintage Books, 1962, 1963  ISBN 0-679-74472-X):

(page 22)  White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this - which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never - the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

…But the Negro’s experience of the white world cannot possibily create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live.

(25)  Negroes in this country - and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other - are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world.

(30)  Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away.

(40-41)  In the same way that we, for white people, were the descendants of Ham, and were cursed forever, white people were, for us, the descendants of Cain.

(43)  To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be _present_ in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.

(71)  “I love a few people and they love me and some of them are white, and isn’t love more important than color?”

(88)   There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.  People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior.

……. Furthermore, I have met only a very few people - and most of these were not Americans - who had any real desire to be free.  Freedom is hard to bear.

(91)  Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.

(99)   If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring;  whatever it brings must be borne.  And at this level of experience one’s bitterness begins to be palatable, and hatred becomes too heavy a sack to carry. 

(104)  But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand - and that one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.

— 30 —

“The impossible is the least that one can demand” is very close to the quote from Che Guevara, “Be realistic, demand the impossible!” which the Situationists painted on the walls of Paris during the demonstrations of 1968.

In reading about James Baldwin, I learned he and the photographer Richard Avedon attended the same high school, DeWitt Clinton HS in the Bronx, worked together on the school magazine, and did a book together, Nothing Personal (Köln, Germany:  Taschen, 2017  ISBN 978-3-8365-653-8):

(1)  We have all heard the bit about what a pity it was that the Plymouth rock didn’t land on the Pilgrims instead of the other way around.  I have never found this remark very funny.  It seems wistful and vindictive to me, containing, furthermore, a very bitter truth.  The inertness of that rock meant death for the Indians, enslavement for the blacks, and spiritual disaster for those homeless Europeans who now call themselves Americans and who have never been able to resolve their relationship either to the continent they fled or to the continent they conquered.

… but the relevant truth is that the country was settled by a desperate, divided, and rapacious horde of people who were determined to forget their pasts and determined to make money.

(3)  We have, as it seems to me, a very curious sense of reality - or, rather, perhaps, I should say, a striking addiction to irreality.  How is it possible, one cannot but ask, to raise a child without loving the child?  How is it possible to love the child if one does not know who one is?  How is it possible for the child to grow up if the child is not loved?  Children can survive without money or security or safety or things:  but they are lost if they cannot find a loving example, for only this example can give them a touchstone for their lives.   THUS FAR AND NO FURTHER: this is what the father must say to the child.  If the child is not told where the limits are, he will spend the rest of his life trying to discover them.  For the child who is not told where the limits are knows, though he may not know he knows it, that no one cares enough about him to prepare him for his journey.

This, I think, has something to do with the phenomenon, unprecedented in the world, of the ageless American boy;  it has something to do with our desperate adulation of simplicity and youth - how bitterly betrayed one must have been in one’s youth to suppose that it is a virtue to remain simple or to remain young! - and it also helps to explicate, to my mind at least, some of the stunning purposes to which Americans have put the imprecise science of psychiatry….

And they cannot raise them [their children] because they have opted for the one commodity which is absolutely beyond human reach:  safety.  This is one of the reasons, as it seems to me, that we are so badly educated, for to become educated (as all tyrants have known) is to become inaccessibly independent, it is to acquire a dangerous way of assessing danger, and it is to hold in one’s hands a means of changing reality.

….One day, perhaps, unimaginable generations hence, we will evolve into the knowedge that human beings are more important than real estate and will permit this knowledge to become the ruling principle of our lives.  For I do not for an instant doubt, I will go to my grave believing, that we can build Jerusalem, if we will.

(4)  The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us.  The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

“The Way We Live Now” by Hilton Als (2017)
In Nothing Personal, Baldwin wrote a little bit about his New York.  About being hassled on the streets by cops;  as a black man, he lived in a police state.

— 30 — 

What “I Am Not Your Negro” and the writings of James Baldwin have made me realize, more deeply than ever before, is that Hilton Als is correct, black men, black women, black children live in a police state.  Now that police state is coming for all the rest of us.

Celebrate your Independence this Independence Day and every other day.  Be as brilliant, brave, and uncompromising as James Baldwin and remember the revolution is dancing in the street.

PS:  I listen to Charles Ives’ “Fourth of July” on Independence Day.  We still need that barbaric yawp.  Here is Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: