The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Our Society, the Slave Factory

Near the start of the pandemic, I wrote a brief guide on how to emotionally handle isolation. A chunk of it was about self-regulation in terms of schedule:

The third issue is emotional self-regulation. Most of us have routines, things we do every day. Get up, coffee, light breakfast, drive to work, work, chat with co-worker, have lunch, work a bit more, goof of on the internet, etc, etc. We’ve figured out routines that keep us mostly in the same set of emotional spaces throughout the day. This is like walking with a cane: You’ve set up mood assists throughout the day, week, and year.

When you lose that routine, you lose those assists.

But the issue of self-regulation, indeed, of self and routine is much larger.

The fact is that between helicopter parenting and school, most people today have never had to learn how to self-regulate meaningfully beyond the self-regulation required of any good slave or servant. Their schedules, from childhood, were all determined for them. Their self was created by other people, and their fundamental choices boil down to reactions for or against it.

Then, when they become adults they have university (a bit more freedom) and on to jobs, where for 40 of the most useful waking hours, a boss tells them what to do.

Most people have thus never learned to truly manage their own time, thoughts, and emotions without schedules and activities imposed by other people. It’s no wonder that some people retire in their sixties and promptly die, with “nothing to do” absent an overseer.

You can’t be your own person, not truly, without unstructured time, and I would argue, alone time. There’s a study that found most people would rather give themselves electric shocks than be alone with nothing to do.

They rely entirely on the environment, an environment controlled and structured by other people, for emotional regulation.

Without work/school/internet/tv/games, etc… they’re lost. I’d say without those things they stop being a self-regulating person, but the point is that most people have never been self-regulating people.

Worse, activities like school and jobs, despite the lies you have been told, and which some believe (especially, oddly, about school) aren’t designed with your interests at heart. School is a slave factory. You may get some knowledge out of it, but the UR lesson is: “Do what you’re told, when you’re told, the way authority wants it done. Ask for permission to even talk or go to the bathroom.”

That’s what children are trained to do for 12 years. Then university trains them some more: At elite universities, they’re trained to have a bit more freedom to meet goals (deadlines are negotiable at Ivy league universities, but not at most State universities), and you’re released into the job market, where those who went to elites have to make some decisions, and those who didn’t are expected to be good little slaves, and sure as hell not to think or feel for themselves.

We have a society that endlessly talks about freedom, but in our daily lives, the vast majority of us are not free and never have been. We have spent almost all our lives with our primarily daily activity is determined by other people, who often also tell us what to think and how we should feel.

Such a people are not, and cannot be, suited to freedom.

Forget all the other criticism, the fundamental problem with capitalism is that it allows only a small percentage of the population to live free lives, and makes the rest into either slaves or (if they don’t have work) so poor that they have no effective freedom because of their poverty.

Our society is a slave factory and until we recognize that and reorganize it so it isn’t, it will produce slaves.

What we call freedom today is simply the ability, sometimes, to choose who our master is.

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Open Thread


Jackson, Mississippi in Third Week Without Water


  1. Keith in Modesto

    I think this is an extremely important topic. I remember a period immediately after graduating from university feeling utterly lost. I had planned to spend a year or two with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp, but that fell through. I had nothing to do and was deeply depressed. I hope you, Ian, write more on this.

    Also, I at least would appreciate a little background on what you mean by “UR lesson”. I did a little searching and found a definition for “urtext” that says (in part) this:

    “Urtext is a word of German origin; ur- means “original,” and text is as in English. In the humanities and social sciences, the word is often used in a metaphorical fashion to refer to a primitive, seminal, or prototypical example of an artistic genre or the basis of an ideological movement.”

  2. Chicago Clubs

    >the fundamental problem with capitalism is that it allows only a small percentage of the population to live free lives, and makes the rest into either slaves or (if they don’t have work) so poor that they have no effective freedom because of their poverty.

    That’s not just capitalism, that’s civilization.

  3. Freedom exists in the mind, not in activity. I spent about half my working life being employed by others and half being manager of my own business. There was no disernable difference in my sense of freedom, because in both cases I was free to think for myself and to form my own opinions, political and otherwise, based on my own observations. What I was doing to earn money was just an activity to earn money. It was not who I was.

    Today’s generations have never been taught to think for themselves. From “helicopter parenting” onward they have been taught what to think and how to think it. They have not been taught to observe. The do not even make observations, let alone connect those observations logically and use them to create original thoughts.

  4. Plague Species

    Slaves picking cotton in the sweltering heat of the deep south were free to think for themselves too. They were so free, in fact, they could sing songs while they picked all the live long day and they didn’t have to worry about a mortgage or healthcare costs and their groceries were provided free of charge by dear master.

  5. John Bernard

    Being able to self-regulate is what farmers love about farming, and independent contractors too. Farmers work harder than anyone, often for much less money, many depend on federal subsidies, and they are inexorably being absorbed into agribusiness, but whole areas of the country are dominated by more or less distorted versions of this ethic, which tends strongly Republican.

  6. Ian Welsh

    People have weird ideas about history before capitalism and industrialization. A lot of it was unfree, yes, and terrible, but a lot of serfs and free farmers had more free time and less close supervision than most of us do. Many hunter gatherers before agriculture seem to have had a lot of free time, and in many societies, freedom.

    Our society has more technology (and especially medicine), but it isn’t better in all ways.

    The problem with hierarchical civilization is that most of us work a lot of hours so OTHER people can have good lives, not so we can.

    But even if no other society had ever had more practical freedom than we do, my criticism would still stand. We don’t need to have all these people working like dogs to have a good lifestyle and civilization. It’s ridiculous that we do, and it’s ridiculous we train humans to be as obedient as well trained dogs.

    UR – meant “the primary/prototypical/main lesson of school.”

    Which reminds me, a commenter once put in a quote from the 19th century, complaining about lazy peasants, who could get alone if they had a cow, and didn’t need to work hard. Can’t find it, if you happen to read this and could drop it again (or email me), that’d be much appreciated.

  7. Jason

    Being able to self-regulate is what farmers love about farming, and independent contractors too. Farmers work harder than anyone, often for much less money, many depend on federal subsidies, and they are inexorably being absorbed into agribusiness, but whole areas of the country are dominated by more or less distorted versions of this ethic, which tends strongly Republican.

    Dependency on federal subsidies is not self-regulation. Their Republican vote – certainly on the federal and largely on the state level – would be in the interest of the same agribusiness that is relentlessly looking to subsume them.

    That’s not to say that a vote for a democrat would be in their better interest.

  8. Stirling S Newberry

    Anyone who has a goal has things to do.

  9. Mary Bennett

    I think, if I remember right, that something similar was the gist of the Luddites complaint against industrialism. They were not against technology as such, but did strenuously object to having industrialization forced on them. I have also read that studies of farming life in the 18thC have revealed that tenant farmers usually enjoyed not only more free time, but lived better as well than did the first generations of factory workers. The novel Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell gives a picture of the lives of urban factory workers and it is not pretty.

  10. Purple Library Guy

    @Mary Bennett Very true. In fact, I’ve read a book called “The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation” by Michael Perelman, which claims pretty persuasively that a lot of the changes being made around then, what with enclosing the commons, draconian anti-poaching laws to similarly put the forest off limits, and other moves to shrink the land available to tenant farmers, were to a fair extent intended to make subsistence impossible for them so that they would have no options left but to move to the cities and take wage labour. This also came at the same time as what you might call the invention of policing, with vagrancy laws, workhouses and so on to make it untenable for the ex-peasants to just hang around.
    After all, the revolution–ah, I mean, the Devil–makes work for idle hands.

  11. S Brennan

    While I come from an effed-up background, I found schools teaching of basic skills & critical thinking most useful. Sadly, it took a while for my brain to develop, to decompress from the constant stress my early life had imbued upon me but, in the fullness of time, I was free to move forward.

    Jobwise, I had an awful start but, I learned much by doing the simplest task and took increased complexity of work over pay…then I started City College at night. The instructors of that time were interested in pushing you up the ladder and I thrived in that environment and to my surprise, I had the gpa to have a shot at a top state university but, to pay for the show I had to enlist. I choose the highest skill US Army MOS I could, knowing that mastery of each skill set would help expand my choices. University was rough for me, I was socially isolated in a rural community, poor, but, I made it through and got a job.

    The job in a corporate research lab paid less than I was paid before I went to school, it was so low that that the man who offered it thought I would refuse. His boss, who recruited me, had forced me upon him when he had wanted to hire a friends son. While I was quite poor from student debt, I got a lot of practice at applying my university knowledge and when the man was finally able to push me onto the lay-off list, I had a decent resume when I hit the door. I had followed developments in my field of interest and could see a new technology would change things. So…I took one more shitty wage job to master this and…I was free to make decent buck with a skill set that still survives to this day.

    In all, about 13 years of shit, and that, after spending my later teen-age years living on the street. Would I want better? Sure…sure I would but, I learned a lot in the process of standing myself up. And my birth family? Through relatives I have kept in touch with, they still denigrate me at every opportunity and…always will. What am I gonna do, cry about it, no, I have an appointment with a cremation fire, as best I can, I want to be ready for that day.

    Yes Lord, I have messed-up [insert excuses here] but, with your help and time the healer, I think I made some pretty good lemonade.

    Almost nobody is FREE in the sense they can do/say what they want. If you haven’t ever been around them, rich parents are some of the worst control freaks around. The utopian world most here seek is not of this life, unless it’s that moment that the purple haze surrounds you before you blackout on the pavement. Do what you can, while you can, don’t be afraid of life’s work…change that…be afraid of that work but, overcome that fear.

  12. John Bernard

    Jason: You totally missed the point. I concede the points you made. But independent farmers self-regulate their day and their week. They’re constrained by various natural cycles, by the needs of their crops / livestock, and by the market, but within those limits they plan their own time. And yes, they’re subsidized, as I said. But they self-regulate within those constraints.

    I wasn’t endorsing their choice to vote Republican, but noting that that’s their most common choice between the two they’re given. They identify Democrats and liberals with large, officious bureaucracies, and not without reason.

  13. Jason

    John: You’re right. I was focused on the larger framework and lost sight of the human details. My apologies, and thank you for your thoughtful clarification.

  14. Hugh

    The purpose of an educational system is to create an informed citizenry. Obviously, we don’t do this. Our educational system is daycare, sometime vocational school, all time defender of the status quo and its class system. Citizenship doesn’t get mentioned at all, because it is dangerous. Once people learn what their duties and responsibilities are to others, they might just start asking what the duties and responsibilities of our ruling class are to them., and next and even worse, why there is a ruling class at all. Much safer to treat us like interchangeable cogs and talk about mandatory universal tests instead.

  15. Jose Galvin


    Someones life must really suck, so badly that they transfer their black-and-white perspective onto everything around them

    Personally I worked my way to an engineering degree and make a pretty good living for a company developing renewable energy.

    Though I am not rich by anyone’s measure, I love my job and find it fulfilling.

    Making sweeping statements that lack any nuance or complexity is a bad habit that many extremists have. They want to force reality to conform to their narrow and oversimplified ideology.

  16. Joan

    Another reason a lot of people are retiring in their 60s and then dying is because they put off any kind of medical checkups until they’re on Medicare.

  17. Willy

    @ Jose Galvin

    Modern society is structured by power on behalf of power. I don’t think this is the way the human species evolved to become so successful on this planet. That was a combination of social and personal responsibility working together towards tribal success. But that’s so very primitive, so very yesterday.

    In the corporate world (engineering) I always did everything I was asked to do well above and beyond, with all the awards to back it up. Yet disposing of me when I became inconvenient for just one PTB was a simple matter. Just flush the guy, rewrite his history, and whatever doesn’t go down the memory hole will serve as a warning for anybody thinking about similar behaviors.

    They don’t teach that in school. They also don’t teach that these days, most people project whatever it is that worked for them onto everybody else. If one gets screwed, only a few will take the time to actually care enough about it to ponder any consequences for their society or even themselves. Because mental defenses.

  18. Willy

    Speaking of self-regulation and society, I read somewhere that we currently have only 10 companies controlling almost every large food and beverage brand in the world. Most of what they heavily advertise is shit that’ll eventually kill you.
    My dentist takes my blood pressure. My last visit the numbers have ballooned up to Stage 2 hypertension. Yet I exercise and stay away from cholesterol, trans fat and cane sugar. I still look far younger than I really am. WTF?

    So I looked into the Nutrition Facts from my daily staples like canned chili, ramen noodles, pasta sauces, oatmeal cereals… and found they’re all sky high with added sugars and salt. You can ruin the healthy goodness of a simple Japanese meal like chicken, rice and spinach with the sauce you flavor it with.

    Sure Mr. Yoshida’s has “no artificial preservatives no added MSG” and it’s still got his proud picture on the bottle. But he sold out to one of the Big 10 and in exchange for royalties (I assume), it’s not Mr. Yoshidas anymore. It’s an institutionalized profit-formulaic taste-good crap loaded with sodium and high fructose corn syrup.

    On the positive, it is possible for someone addicted to heavily-advertised taste-good death foods to discipline themselves to new taste habits. And I don’t fool myself into thinking that I look like a power lifter when I’m actually just fat. It’s hard work at first, but over time good habits become second nature.

    Hopefully I’m not projecting any lack of “fat genes” onto humanity as a whole, but if I’m remembering correctly, there were almost no fat kids in my grade school. Today when I load up at Costco it seems that half the kids are overweight.

  19. Hugh

    Willy, most people still buy into the myth of merit. They think if they are doing OK or even more than OK, it is because of their character, hard work, and smarts. They refuse to accept that it was mostly luck. That would offend what the French call their amour propre, their self-image of themselves.

  20. Ché Pasa

    As I ask libertarians, “Liberty for whom? To do what?” If there is an answer at all — generally there isn’t — it boils down to something like: “I demand the liberty to impose my authority on you without government [or other] interference.”

    When we talk about and consider “freedom” however, we can be all over the place, generally objecting to specific aspects of modern society in the West that constrain our outlook, actions, behavior, and limit our lives. We may believe we should be “freer” and perhaps we believe we would be freer somewhere else or in a different society. To me, that is a very superficial view.

    Society by its nature is constraining. We live within the context of our societies; most of us cannot live outside them — no matter our self-regard and supposed self-sustaining abilities.

    But I think what Ian points out is that there is something so deeply problematic about modern Anglo societies in particular that they are not sustainable. Their populations are not just constrained by their conditioning (through schools, media, work — much of which is unnecessary — and struggle) they are effectively constrained from even thinking of a better life or a better way of life. Because some few make it into a materially abundant and psychically rewarding position in life does not mean, at all, that most do or can.

    For some, of course, “freedom” or “liberty” means impunity, for that is what our elites strive for and often achieve. They can do what they want — following their desires — without apparent consequences. For everyone else, too bad so sad.

  21. Willy

    Speaking of success and luck, I have another personal anecdote.

    I worked with a guy who came to dominate the culture of our ≈25 person engineering office. He had the least experience of the bunch and no-post high school education whatsoever. He was similar to a young version of Trump, physically attractive, endless alpha-winner bombast, good in front of a crowd, but had a better command of verbal English than Trump though it always seemed superfluous to me. He was also very good at understanding the political landscape, getting the ear of the boss, and finding weaknesses in rivals which he’d always exploit.

    I was their top young dog, earning their best project. I was pretty anal when it came to specs, standards, and manuals, yet could get creative with “outside the box” solutions if need be. My weakness was in believing that my peers were intelligent enough to figure out the truth, over time, plus I had no knowledge of the nature of psychopathy.

    Mr. Alpha came after me by loudly joking that “only women read manuals”. A few sycophants fell in line and he slowly grew the poisoning of my rep. Bizarre rumors surfaced. Suddenly my project which he’d wanted, scored a huge success. Our supervisor (an honest Scotsman the size of Danny Devito) called an all hands meeting and profusely praised me and warned the crew about “playing games to get ahead”. Mr. Alpha followed me back to my desk and up-volumed his support for me, then down-volumed this: “You don’t know who you’re messing with, asshole.”

    For a full year after that he wore the “bro” and “buddy” masks for me. He played being my new best friend. I played along. In the midst of his going on about his family’s “Rockwellian” adventures, I asked him how he’d gotten so successful. He said he’d been hired as a shop painter, because “that’s what marines do, paint ships all the time”. He said he’d gotten kicked out of the Capitol honor guard for a prank and had to find a real job. I later went to my ex-marine friend who told me that he couldn’t find Mr. Alpha’s (uncommon) name in any alumni records. I later found that name associated with his picture on a Coast Guard website.

    He buddied up to our lead, of course. While I was out on sabbatical they staged a coup where Mr. Scotsman got walked out and I got canceled due to “lack of work”. The new supervisor gave Mr. Alpha my project and he floundered badly, eventually running it into the ground. I’d said many times it was difficult and took much effort. It then got canceled and everybody had to find new jobs.

    Twenty years later I find Mr. Alpha living in a million dollar home with a very impressive looking Linked-In resume. By all appearances his career has been a rousing success. I think this is what we mean by “luck”. I come from a large family and the most successful amongst them were well connected.

    Back to Mr. Alpha, I still wonder how so many were fooled. I used to suspect an unconscious component, little known human instincts like a “respect for alphas” not much taught in school. He never overtly bullied anyone and was typically diplomatic. But he did have a commanding physical presence which few would ever want to mess with if things ever got physical. But then I think of another successful psychopath I worked with. Even though she was all of 5’1”, something told you that you dare not cross her.

  22. joe

    Born in the anglo world, this freedom is getting stranger all the time. I have been lucky enough to live in non Anglo countries one may describe as third world. The return is starting to be a shiny beacon. The routines and the rhythm the sound of musicians working thier crafts. All of it so important to what it means to be a real human. Music on the steps of the plaza the values and the architecture strange and interesting. The streets weaving narrow and wide, through alleys small enough to squeeze through open only to a body on foot. The smell of sewage then a stunning display of flowers . A dead woman sitting on a park bench with her groceries an impromptu ceremony organized by random passes by. Cock roaches fed like stray cats by adoring residents.They have a favorite. fortune telling birds in the market the smell of rotting fruit. Lately I’m thinking that sewage smell is not so bad. The anglo countries are getting intolerable. keep hearing others are thinking the same.

  23. Willy

    Che, my BIL in earlier days, screwed up on his half of re-engining my car. He smashed an antique dresser on a curvy road thinking he could hold on to it with his hands. My sister caught him yelling for help hanging off their 2nd story gutter. She caught him rummaging through her purse for gambling money while they were in Vegas. He sold me a “reliable and wonderful” old truck which in two years required so many repairs that I had it towed to the wreckers. And finally, he prefers that my sister keep her hair short and wear clothes that, well, make her look a bit like a boy. As a superchurch evangelical he’s a typical staunch Trumper who used to love Bush but now not so much.

    Yet this Clark Griswold of a latency man is wealthy, an MLB team physician, respected community leader and church elder. I remember when he was hired by a 50-year-established medical clinic chain as a mere osteopath. Strangely, while in osteopath school my sister told me he never needed to study. Also strangely, his best friend the medical MBA was always located nearby whenever he moved cross-country between 4 different cities. BIL made it to top manager (#10 out of thousands of employees) and later with his partners (that MBA included), Milton Friedman’d the hell out the place so they could sell out to a large corporation. Today I find that half the reviews are from pissed off former patients bitching about how fucked up their once-beloved clinic has become.

    Maybe this is the freedom and liberty they keep talking about?

  24. S Brennan


    Good to see you grabbed the bull by the horns and hung on…life can be a crap-fest but, we only get one shot. It’s not where you start, it’s not where you finish, it’s the distance between the start and where you end up. Thank you for your comment…good stuff !

    Best Wishes…..

  25. Z

    Hope … ?

    I guess we now know that trying to psychotically trade climate incineration in exchange for Murkowski’s vote for Neera’s fancy job title was a bit too far, even for swamp creatures. At least we now know there is a bottom somewhere in the deep pit of despair that is Washington.


  26. Eric Anderson

    “I never met a man who cast a free and healthy glance over life.”

    — Henry David Thoreau

    It’s so true it smarts the conscience like a whip smarts hide.

  27. someofparts

    Krake once made the point that what libertarians mean by freedom is really license. They want the “freedom” to sacrifice your freedom to privilege themselves.

  28. Jason

    Thoreau’s mother did his laundry while he was out exploring our dangerous world..err, I mean at Walden Pond on the outskirts of town.

  29. Ché Pasa

    So what is this Freedom and Liberty of which so many speak and for which so very many pine?

    The people of the United States are only “free” in the sense that once they are adults, they are not directed by The Hated Government to be or do or… — unless of course they are part of that Government or serve it in the military or are imprisoned or… well, you get the picture. Of course they are obligated (unless they are of the elite class) to follow Government regulations and laws.

    On the other hand, they are bound by a web of private sector obligations, primarily Debt, which force them to live a certain way, share certain beliefs, and gain enough money (somehow) to pay their sacred bills.

    I noticed one of the loudest objections to further direct payments (“checks”) to the Lower Orders was that many “didn’t need it” and were (horrors!) using the bounty to pay down debt!!!!1!, than which essentially nothing could be worse. Or they were saving the money for some rainy day or something! OMG, the world will end!

    Debt is what binds nearly everyone to the System of rule, not patriotism, loyalty or fellow-feeling toward society. Canceling debt for the masses, which should have been the priority back during the GFC, would have had horrifying consequences for the Overclass. Just as universal health care would. Anything that frees the Rabble from their obligations to their betters is threatening to those who rule us.

    At least some of the motivation for the January 6 uprising at the Capitol was based in somehow freeing a portion of the rabble-bourgeoisie from their own crushing debts.

  30. Jason

    Get rid of the debts, get some power back, then use that power to eliminate the mechanisms that allow people to rule via debt servitude in the first place. Easy peasy. Get to work.

  31. someofparts

    “Rebellion is its own justification. It erodes, however imperceptibly, the structures of oppression. It sustains the embers of empathy and compassion, as well as justice. These embers are not insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human. They keep alive the possibility, however dim, that the forces that are orchestrating our social murder can be stopped.”

  32. Plague Species

    At least some of the motivation for the January 6 uprising at the Capitol was based in somehow freeing a portion of the rabble-bourgeoisie from their own crushing debts.

    I’m not seeing it. This has to be proven to me because it’s not apparent or obvious. It’s generous conjecture.

    If such were the case, the insurrection should have and would have taken place on Wall Street and the well-guarded enclaves of the wealthy elite. Instead, the moronic insurrectionists attacked the errand boys and grocery clerks for the wealthy elite.

  33. Jason

    Just in:

    The D.C. National Guard chief told lawmakers he would have “immediately” activated his forces to assist Capitol Police on Jan. 6 if his authority had not been restricted by the Pentagon.

    “I would have sent them there immediately as soon as I hung up,” Commanding General William Walker told lawmakers at a hearing evaluating the security breakdown when a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol.

    “My next call would have been to my subordinate commanders, to get every single guardsman in this building and everybody that’s helping the Metropolitan Police…to the Capitol, without delay.”

    Walker spoke Wednesday of a Jan. 5 letter from acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller that restricted his ability to deploy the Quick Reaction Force and seek approval from higher ups before moving his National Guard forces.

  34. Willy

    Occams razor tells me the insurrectionists were mostly what they so proudly appeared to be, a bunch of brainwashed entitled losers bigly into mooing with the herd so they can feel more relevant. They weren’t “fighting” for anybody else but themselves.

    Had you been there wearing an “FDR was a progressive”, or “Jesus was a socialist” tee shirt, you would’ve gotten your ass kicked. Double that if you were antifa or BLM.

    We need a higher quality of insurrectionists.

  35. Hugh

    Thanks, Jason. The Trumper take on this would be that acting SecDef Christopher Miller was actually Deep State working with the antifa forces attacking the Capitol.

  36. Let’s face facts: Societies cannot be structured societies without at least a modicum of totalitarianism and socialism.
    By “default” a society has to have a given set of rules, rituals, traditions, beliefs, laws, rules of conduct, standards (moral, social, professional, and interactive). These factors always give ANY society a perfunctory social climate.
    It’s either those factors or a social climate of anarchy, where only the most aggressive, prosperous, physically attractive/approved-of, or most manipulative take over. Ironically, over time, even the most structured societies become corrupted (due to becoming so “used to themselves” to the point they “rest on their laurels” and become hubris in their past and present achievements) those same type of personalities eventually take over anyway.

  37. Eric Anderson


    What a petty remark. Are you a petty human?

  38. Jason

    Hugh, it will be interesting to see the various responses. Maybe they’ll dig up something on Commanding General William Walker.

  39. Jason

    Eric, I can’t imagine that’s a wholly serious question. But then I’m not a wholly serious guy, so I’ll indulge you.

    1) It hasn’t been well-established, outside your own mind, that mine was a petty remark. This is merely your conjecture.

    2)Even if it were to be established by reputable outside parties we both agreed to that I indulged in pettiness in this instance, that would not be nearly enough evidence to define me as a “petty human” in my entirety. You would have to accrue more evidence – evidence I am, given my nature, sure to provide – to advance your theory.

  40. S Brennan

    I really hope they reinstate the comment section over at NC.

    Over the years, Yves & Lambert selected for inclusion, the weakest minds, the most vainglorious, the natural dissemblers, those who use straw man argumentation as their primary debate tool, those who confuse endless ad hominem with convincing evidence…

    As we can see, those selected for inclusion were chosen with the precision of the good Monk Mendel.

  41. Jongleur de Dieu

    Many are not aware of what a certain philosopher once called our irreducible element of rascality.

    We all have it; some are more honest about it than others. The honest ones are fun. The vainly serious ones are an utter bore. Both seem to be “right” in their prognostications, oh, about half the time. This according to another philosopher king of ours: Mr George Carlin.

  42. rangoon78

    “The possession of a cow or two, with a hog, and a few geese, naturally exalts the peasant. . . . In sauntering after his cattle, he acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half, and occasionally whole days, are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting; the aversion in- creases by indulgence. And at length the sale of a half-fed calf, or hog, furnishes the means of adding intemperance to idleness.”

  43. rangoon78

    From our files: Funny how one news story can lead me to find out other stuff. I was intrigued by this story this morning in the Telegraph UK:
    Amateur gardeners inspired by TV being turfed off overgrown allotments – Telegraph

    With an estimated countrywide waiting list of 200,000 for plots, a record number of allotment holders this year have been asked to vacate their land, for leaving their soil unworked.

    The term allotment was unclear to me so I Googled “England garden allotment” –
    This took me to Wikipedia:

    These were created in 1809 following a letter from Rev Stephen Demainbray to King George III in which he asked the king to spare, in perpetuity, 6 acres from the Inclosure Acts for the benefit of the poor of the parish.[24][25] Following these Inclosure Acts and the Commons Act 1876 the land available for personal cultivation by the poor was greatly diminished.

    So far so good but what were these Inclosure Acts? Wikipedia gave a general definition:
    The Inclosure or Enclosure Acts were a series of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country. They removed previously existing rights of local people to carry out activities in these areas, such as cultivation, cutting hay,grazing animals or using other resources such as small timber, fish, and turf.

    Wanting to know more of the socio-economic impact of these land grabs I searched, coming upon this summary of a book by Libertarian Economist Friedrich Hayek which sought to dismisses the Socialist critique of the Capitalism and the industrial revolution :


    They hang the man, and flog the woman,
    That steals the goose from off the common;
    But let the greater villain loose,
    That steals the common from the goose.
    Anonymous, in The Tickler Magazine, February 1, 1821.

    An understanding of the Enclosure Acts is necessary to place aspects of the Industrial Revolution in proper context. The Industrial Revolution is often accused of driving poor laborers en masse out of the countryside and into urban factories where they competed for a pittance in wages and lived in execrable circumstances.

    But the opportunity that a factory job represented could only have drawn workers if it offered a better situation than what they were leaving. If laborers were driven to the cities, then some other factor(s) must have been at work.

    One factor was the Enclosure Acts. These were a series of Parliamentary Acts, the majority of which were passed between 1750 and 1860; through the Acts, open fields and ‘wastes’ were closed to use by the peasantry. Open fields were large agricultural areas to which a village population had certain rights of access and which they tended to divide into narrow strips for cultivation. The wastes were unproductive areas – for example, fens, marches, rocky land, or moors – to which the peasantry had traditional and collective rights of access in order to pasture animals, fish, harvest meadow grass, collect firewood or otherwise benefit. Rural laborers who lived on the margin depended on open fields and the wastes to fend off starvation.

    Enclosure refers to the consolidation of land, usually for the stated purpose of making it more productive. The British Enclosure Acts removed the prior rights of local people to rural land they had often used for generations. As compensation, the displaced people were commonly offered alternative land of smaller scope and inferior quality,sometimes with no access to water or wood. The land seized by the Acts were then consolidated into individual and privately-owned farms, with larger and politically connected farmers receiving the best land. Often small land-owners could not afford the legal and other associated costs of enclosure and, so, were forced out.

    In his pivotal essay “English Enclosures and Soviet Collectivization: Two Instances of an Anti-Peasant Mode of Development”, historian Joseph R. Stromberg observed,

    “[T]he political dominance of large landowners determined the course of enclosure….[i]t was their power in Parliament and as local Justices of the Peace that enabled them to redistribute the land in their own favor. A typical round of enclosure began when several, or even a single, prominent landholder initiated it….by petition to Parliament….[T]he commissioners were invariably of the same class and outlook as the major landholders who had petitioned in the first place, it was not surprising that the great landholders awarded themselves the best land and the most of it, thereby making England a classic land of great, well-kept estates with a small marginal peasantry and a large class of rural wage labourers.”

    When access was systematically denied, ultimately the peasantry was left with three basic alternatives: to work in a serf-like manner as tenant farmers for large landowners; to *emegrate to the new world; or, ultimately, to pour into already crowded cities where they pushed down each others’ wages by competing for a limited number of jobs.

    But the eviction of the peasants began much earlier:

    In Liberty Against the Law, Christopher Hill tells the story of the redistribution of land and wealth from rural labourers to the landed classes between the 16th and 18th centuries, and the rack-renting, eviction and persecution of the poor. For landless labourers, he says, the termination of rights to common land “meant the difference between a viable life and starvation”. Many died in the famines of the 1590s, 1620s and 1640s. Many more – 80,000 in the early 17th century, according to the historian Peter Clark – became vagabonds whose wandering put them on the wrong side of the law. They were branded, flogged back to their parishes, press-ganged by the navy and the merchant marine, or forced into industries whose conditions and wage rates were “little better than slavery”.

    The children of vagabonds and paupers were transported to Virginia, effectively as slaves. Many of them died in transit. There were enclosure riots (attempts to resist the landlords’ seizure of the commons) all over the country. Almost all of them failed, and many of the rioters were transported or executed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Marion Shoard records in her book This Land is Our Land, a further 7m acres of England – 20% of the total land area – were enclosed by landowners.

    *In the 1880’s three generations of my family left England for America. They were probably not the peasants described above as they were skilled laborers; but I think this history is important to us living in another time of redistribution, when the rich are by all accounts once again impoverishing “the peasants” world wide.


  44. X


  45. Ché Pasa

    Yes, rangoon78, that’s the Yasha Levine piece I thought of when Ian asked about lazy peasants and their cows.

    Of course I wouldn’t have known where to look at this distance in time, so thanks for posting the link.

    And when one reflects on the deliberate destruction of a relatively sustainable way of life by a British aristocracy unleashed, it gives a somewhat different flavor to the persistent romanticism about the Empire and all its works.

  46. bruce wilder

    I don’t understand beliefs. Some people seem to have a lot of beliefs. Why have beliefs at all, never mind how ridiculous some of the elaborate ones are. Simple beliefs are often just as absurd.

    So much social energy gets consumed with trying to understand other people’s beliefs. Why bother?

  47. nihil obstet

    bruce, it’s kind of like playing 4-suit spider solitaire. You know you’re going to lose at least 80% of the time, but there’s this addictive urge to keep playing.

  48. Marcus Gardner

    “So much social energy gets consumed with trying to understand other people’s beliefs. Why bother?”

    laugh out loud at that one…tell me about it.

    Yeah I think many people miss that understanding (or trying t0 understand) another’s beliefs can happen in organic and very not organic ways. Most public forums (twitter, newsmedia, facebook, website comments, group meetings, committees, protests, advertisements) are inorganic. There’s absolutely no real relationship between the two parties – even if they know each other in real life – so it’s just a free for all of rhetoric and a chance to really and fully identify with whatever ideas are being put on show.

    Beyond that is the great big realm called real life, which, sadly, seems to be shrinking more and more, because from what I can tell people seem content to bop around with others whose beliefs match theirs, and then reserve their “praxis” for the above staged battles.

    I was involved with a wilderness school for a good decade and a half, and the one thing I took from that is that beliefs don’t facking matter at all. Once it comes down to day-to-day survival and caretaking of oneself and others, debate just gets in the way. I also did yearly “community building” weekend retreats with city folks that had nothing to do with wilderness stuff, and the same “rules of the universe,” so to say, regarding being willing to loosely hold one’s story, take one’s head out of one’s ass, and look at other people’s attempts to do the same, applied there.

    But then again, eventually both the wilderness school and the community-building organization both got co-opted by the battle over beliefs. So get what ‘real world’ you can while the gettings good.

    And Ian, I keep reading posts of yours (like this one on the domesticating aspect of education) and thinking, “Now he *must* have read my book.” The suspense is killing me….feel free to tell if you find it a long, irritating rant…

  49. Willy

    Until age 12 I lived in a modest starter suburban neighborhood well-stocked with agreeable likeminded kids, adults and teachers with who I had lots of kid fun and adventures. At age 12 we moved cross country to a place less so and I lost contact with my old friends and never returned to visit. So that simple idyllic place became frozen in time for me, a happy but wistful memory.

    Decades later I found that I could go back, thanks to the magic of the internet. What I found disturbed me. A lot. Many changes for the worse. It gave me “beliefs”. I found that some of my old childhood friends have also acquired “beliefs” as well, about what happened. Some similar, others very different from mine.

    But still, I puzzle over the strangeness of some beliefs, this belief that “You’re either with us or you’re against us!!”. My tribe and your tribe must fight to the death. Somebody once told me that it comes from “a need for cognitive closure”, meaning, the uncomfortable emotions felt will continue until one does something about them. Is this enough to make me want to storm the capitol? No, not yet.

  50. Marcus Gardner

    I should clarify that I don’t think it’s inappropriate to have beliefs. That’s a pretty normal existential thing to go to. And there’s also the element that you never really let go of them, because they’re in you – foundational to your values and yadda yadda.

    But the difference between navigating beliefs in real life versus debating about them for show is that in the former you can actually get the amazingly enriching experience of (somewhat) letting go of your beliefs, while those you’re relating to do the same.

  51. Willy

    Werner von Braun did get to carry on as a respected rocket scientist. I think maybe bruce meant irrational beliefs?

  52. Trinity

    Great article, and great discussion.

    To me, the single most important sentence is:

    “Their self was created by other people, and their fundamental choices boil down to reactions for or against it.”

    The most dangerous thing in the world right now, to TPTB, is anyone immune to their messaging. And the most dangerous thing in the world right now, to the rest of us, is that messaging.

    Yes, school trained us but that training is now occurring 24/7/365.25 with every ad (and we are exposed to hundreds of thousands of these now, with monitors displaying ads pretty much everywhere), the “news” (not really, but still called that), some literature, our bosses, movies/cinema, radio, sometimes our families, definitely our neighbors, etc.

    Everything follows from this. Lying to us about facts is one thing, but telling us who to be (by telling us what we are not but should be) is in my opinion a much worse crime against humanity.

    Was it Sartre who said that our selves are created by others? Does anyone know if he ever realized that this is a reflection of our culture (and his terrible mother) but not all cultures?

  53. Jason

    Thank you for your always thoughtful commentary, Trinity. I often reference Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations which was mentioned here a while back. I think it’s one of the best elucidations of humanity’s current predicament.

  54. Willy

    Even Leary revised “Turn on, tune in, drop out” to “Turn on, boot up, jack in”. And now here we are hoping DuckDuckGo will help us avoid being individually tracked by name by corporations forever trying to sell us Chinese made crap.

    And then I’ve tried telling Hindus that having been born in India screwed them up religiously, but they just smile and go back to playing Warcraft on their Surfaces. On the plus, a couple of good devices is all one really needs to keep themselves educated and entertained. This usually works in even one of the most isolated places on earth, Pitcairn Island, where they have internet. But they did have that scandal recently where their mayor was walking around the island naked.

  55. Trinity

    Jason, are you the one who recommended Mander’s book here? If so, thank you to infinity and beyond. If not, then thanks for just understanding where I’m coming from and why it matters, and thanks to whoever did post that book here.

    A year or so ago, at the height of the Orange One’s antics, there were calls for “ideas”. “We need ideas for solving these problems,” they said. “New ideas.” No. I’m tired of “ideas” that are the same ideas repackaged to ensure the continuation of really bad ideas.

    What we need is a complete reinvention based on sound democratic principles, with consideration of time and the understanding of change, not it’s “prevention”.

  56. Jason

    Trinity, yes, I did mention it here a while back. Reading it was one of the biggest “eye-openers” I’ve ever experienced. I’m so glad you took something from it as well.

    I understand!

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