Shooter Bill Simmons wrote me: “…If things continue to muddle along into the progressively improving future as they always have in the grand scheme of things…”
I whipped back, “I suggest that for the first time in our enjoyable growing acquaintance you had better check your premises. Start with a period known as ‘The Dark Ages!’ Or work your way backwards using Japan as a good example of how things do NOT improve progressively. Zimbabwe, Iceland, the USA, England, Venezuela, Greece…
Times of social upheaval seldom improve the lot of any nation or sector of society, especially true in our own where the votes to pass legislation disapproved of by over 70% of the citizenry turned on the vote of Senator Mary Lou Landrieu being purchased with money extorted from taxpayers and threatening Senator Nelson with closing the big air base in his state at the cost of thousands of jobs. Californians, earlier, had the threat of martial law levied at them. This is scarcely what the Constitution advocates, but is reminiscent of ancient Rome, Venice, and the worlds of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.
“In the centuries in between you will find innumerable periods where nothing much happened and others were there was alternating forwards and backwards movement with occasional side drifts,” I continued. If we contemplate the past up through the Renaissance, discounting such things as the scarcity of good plumbing and the home hairdryer and the plethora of things that bite and itch (such as lice and bedbugs), there were numerous periods when life was rather nice for most people in agrarian economies—yes, even those at the bottom in periods where “upward mobility” meant an extraordinary opportunity to marry “above one’s station” or distinguishing one’s self in battle—we find that in general there was a high level of contentment. Ours is a very ethnocentric society and many of you will be aghast that I would discard the microwave, the cell ‘phone, and political correctness for peace, stability, and belief that we can succeed by our own efforts. I have a very great talent for being happy—and making those around me happy.
The basics of a stabile society are common mores, customs, beliefs, and guardrails, where demagogues and the lawless are kept in check. Ignoring the very occasional slave revolt, a superb rule of thumb is that revolutions are started by pampered scions of a growing bourgeoisie, otherwise known as parvenus who have been educated above their stations, or religious zealots—again, those with more time and too little work to keep them from making trouble. The American Revolution—as good an idea as we think that was—was the result of 3% of the population, almost exclusively from the privileged classes.
The more “advanced” societies grow, the more things they find to fight about, instead of good old-fashioned stuff like booty, outlets to the sea, arable land, and slaves. Our modern versions of slaves in this country are “wage” ones and outsourcing jobs to areas where labor is cheaper, and the unions don’t get a bit of sympathy from me; they priced themselves out of the market—and our pampered bureaucratic drones are now averaging $30,000 more for comparable jobs on the private economy without turning out any useful work product. Our devastating national debt stems from giving in to increasing demands for “entitlements,” pushed by those with political agendas and others who find endless opportunities for graft, corruption, and reelection. Our so-called “advances” are not worth the lifestyles we forfeited for them, doing “good” only for the very few who profit monetarily at the cost of millions who could have been at least content a hundred years ago.
I find the ancient Egyptians very sensible most of the time, their pantheon of gods notwithstanding. Above all else they prized STABILITY. They liked “dominion,” but “stability” was the primary goal. I’ve said this before, but for new readers Pharoah’s idea of an excellent reign was one in which he won any wars others insisted upon starting and built gaudy monuments to his prowess if he lost.
A MAGNIFICENT century in the most stabile and long-lasting country the world has ever known was one during which absolutely NOTHING changed. They dated events by who the king was and whether or not it was raining! (“Month two, day seven, innundation, in year ___ of the reign of…”) The currency remains stabile, the social structure remains stabile, and every five or six hundred years art forms and pottery decorations may changed slightly without threatening the peace and stability of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. In time hieratic develops because it is faster to write, but only grubby shopkeepers and shipping magnates care because the real business of the land—seeing to it that nothing changes—is done in the language of the gods. Everyone else is perfectly happy with the status quo, just as I would be quite happy in 1910. Or even 1810 or 1776.
The Egyptians had a very simple system that worked magnificently: don’t mess with success. Build your tombs and temples, keep the nobility and priesthood under control, make good dynastic marriages, get rid of an occasional disaster like Akhenaton, and it is perpetual summer time an’ th’ livin’ is easy. You start enlarging your empire with a lot of foreigners with strange customs and no good will come of it, mark their words. One of the most emphatic things you can do in hieroglyphics is to assert that you, yourself, aver, avow, or attest that something is true! You have your nerve, saying a thing like that. Keep that sort of nonsense up and the priesthood will fall and people won’t believe in the divine right of Pharoah to rule and the next thing you know we’ll have mummy cases made out of cartonage with Greeks in them.
“Improve” the lot of the peasants? Whatever for?! They’re happy and employed, and if you go and develop a bigger middle class they’ll rock the boat wanting what the upper class has and leave a shortage of labor making the peasants restless and greedy, too. Goatherders, artisans, brewers, rock carvers, scribes, house servants, game beaters, bakers, potters…there are lots of useful tasks that need doing and somebody has to do them. Precisely how are we better off having a professional class that has illegitimate babies (and the highest abortion rate in the land), does drugs, commits most of the street crime, and remains illiterate simply because they vote for Statists reliably? Are those on the Welfare Plantation happier, more useful, or given even much chance to escape the class into which they were born? That system destroyed Rome, and it has destroyed America.
The Egyptians went to great pains to make it difficult to learn to read. The language is full of deliberate in-jokes. Literacy was reserved for the elites—the court, the priests, those with a genuine need to know, and the scribes who did it professionally. The elite knew instinctively that no good could come of educating the working classes; if you need a reader in your household go buy an educated Greek slave and treat him well. There wasn’t enough literature to talk about anyway.
You will find the writings of the English landed gentry and above on the social scale quite instructive, and their arguments were ineluctable, not that such good sense halted the Industrial Revolution. What they needed was more and better Luddites smashing looms to keep weaving a cottage industry. Two hundred years ago there were a few people “on the parish,” but they were objects of scorn. There were those in debtor’s prisons, a short-sighted solution because it is usually a little difficult to earn enough to repay one’s debts there. One of the things America needs badly is a nice Botany Bay colony! Instead of housing felons at the cost of a Harvard education, send ‘em off someplace unpleasant to survive as best they can. Such policies certainly reduce the recidivism rates. The best future I can devise really does require that we look backwards, not forwards.
I have spoken of the “anti-industrial” revolution many times since I began writing here; it is coming, and it will be very beneficial—at least, for those who survive the birth pangs. Part of that was shipping our industry off to “third world” countries which do not have any sloppy, sentimental, deleterious ideas about the sacred environment, children who are not excelling in school working, enormous taxation, and “safety nets.” The original safety net is quite sufficient and provided through families and being enough of an asset to the community that your neighbors pitch in when you are ready to raise a barn because you’ve helped enough to have ample chits to call in.
I am NOT, of course, speaking solely of destroying our industrial base through Cap and Tax and even more strangling regulations. I am speaking of a sea change more and more are calling for: sustainable levels of comfort for those who work, and backing off the unattainable dream of every new generation having “more” than their parents did, far less attempting to “give” 3rd world nations the lifestyle that makes many in first world sectors miserable at unsustainable costs in numerous areas. A very simple—but nevertheless quite correct—explanation of reducing the “carbon footprint” by means of reducing our electrical consumption 17% through a combination of increased prices and taxes is not that it “benefits” less advanced countries (not that I consider such a suitable goal), but that it knocks Americans down to the level of India and China without the hope those people have. They, too, will find out that bicycles and meat on the table an extra time a week come at a very high price in terms of cultures they value.
“The enemy of good is ‘better.’“ Quit while you’re ahead. Consolidate your gains and leave well enough alone. Why do you think everyone loves “Happy Days” and “RFD Mayberry?” Back in the Twenties the Grangers were a political movement against unions and trying to hold on to the 1870’s life on the farm. They saw, correctly, that assembly lines were exploitation of those who were leading fulfilling lives. No, that does not mean that all of us must spend bits of time plowing fields and milking cows; it means that for some of us there is far more fulfillment doing those than being tied up eleven hours a day getting to and from offices.
A theme that runs through my correspondence is how greatly those of us who pull away from “civilization” improve our lives. By giving up externals which cost far more than they were ever worth we have consistent large amounts of precious leisure and raise our standards of living sharply. We don’t pay $27/pound for arugula, we grow our own—and we know where it was grown, under what conditions, and that it was touched only by those who do not defecate in the fields but do wash their hands frequently. We have the leisure to cook from scratch, using as many items we have grown ourselves as possible.
We don’t chase our tails and we don’t race rats. We laugh gaily at the thought of worrying about what the Jones have. MDC and I chortle because we do not have to worry about losing jobs; we don’t have any to lose, being retired. We are not worried about upside down mortgages because we don’t have any of those, either. I swapped my McMansion for Green Acres and live in chaos and sometimes near squalor, knowing that we are building and growing towards a time when we will have serene, gracious surroundings again. That can be done; you cannot find what we have in a gated community, slave to high taxes and officious City Councils and Home Owners’ Associations. Pretty much we do what we please, when we please, the way we please—and many of you could follow suit. As our new colonist remarked here, “There are no big shiny rugs to get yanked out from underneath our feet!” He got voted ON the island because his dreams are the same as ours, and he made a soup tonight from potatoes and turnips he had grown, plus cabbage, carrots, onions, and beef sausage that is one of the most delicious things I ever ate in my life.
We have no interest in “full meals” made from the contents of a box and a pound of hamburger—high calorie, low nutrition, and almost no taste. We don’t eat fake cheese or margarine, which will give us cancer. We know what has gone into our free-range chicken that costs you ten dollars a pound, dressed. Free range chickens require that premium because it takes us nearly three times as long to raise a bird to eating size as it does if they are kept in cages and stuffed with hormones and antibiotics and then have their flesh pumped full of chemical “enhancers” sold at the price of chicken. Read the labels, people! It isn’t just ham that’s 30% water these days. We don’t work as long or as hard and we have astonishing amounts of time to spend with our families and on our personal growth. Perhaps the reason that tiny villages in Europe could build great cathedrals was that the enhanced amounts of leisure time and ability to learn new skills unleashed the creativity dormant within most people.
I quote again from the gentleman on barstool # 859, although he was speaking of something JHK wrote: “It is with gladdened heart that I write, now knowing that I have at least one fellow traveler on the journey back from the abyss that America has become. I started my journey 10 years, 3 months and 21 days ago when I saw that we were speeding ever faster toward a cataclysmic end to the pursuit of more, more, more for the me, me, me generation. What I had known, a proud nation of proud people, always willing to help each other, always willing to stand together in the face of adversity, where one’s word was his bond, was going straight to hell in a hand basket, all in the name of consumerism.
“Mr. Kunstler’s latest contribution at least gives me some hope. Knowing that there is one other out there who sees that a long and difficult road lies ahead for this nation before it can get back to the basis it was founded on is indeed heartening. So to Mr. Kunstler I say, welcome fellow traveler and thank you for making your voice heard.” You are less alone than you knew, 859, because I’m standing here behind the Bar dispensing old wisdom when I’m not living La Vida Whiskey.
No…a “progressively improving future” is a false idol that has failed to bring happiness for rising two hundred years. We should have quit with indoor plumbing and gas lighting.
Linda Brady Traynham