Category Archive 'Modern Society'

05 Aug 2011

Product as Opposed to Process

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Detail of Connecticut 18th century armchair

The author of Sippican Cottage lives in Rumford, Maine and builds furniture for a living. Looking at a YouTube of a wood-working shop, absolutely stuffed with tools, he was moved to reflection.

Unlike most of the world, I am not allowed to have the Process be the Product. At the end of the day there has to be something tangibly different with the world or we don’t eat. Sometimes we don’t eat anyway. Most of the world we inhabit now is all Process and no Product. What is Twitter, or Tumblr, or Facebook, or a million other things you could name that consist solely of: This is how I go, when I go like this.

The federal government thinks the process is the entire product. The public school system can produce only public school teachers. The EPA is now supposed to protect the air from humans. The Department of Energy doesn’t make any, and would prefer you didn’t as well –or else. Cities like Detroit are trying to exist with no population now. Search your mind. You’ll have to search hard to find exceptions, not examples.

Via Vanderleun.

12 May 2008

Pirates Did Not Have Superdelegates

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Members of today’s rising generation (for some mysterious reason) love pirates. They turn pirate movies into hits, frequent pirate bars, throw pirate parties, and as the Boston Globe explains, they even look to pirates as a political model.

Marcus Rediker, the author of the pirate histories “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” and “Villains of All Nations,” sees pirate democracy less as a means for order than as a political statement, a pointed reaction to the working sailor’s life. When pirates roamed the seas, Rediker says, it was the law-abiding merchant ships that were run like miniature tyrannies. Captains held absolute power. Floggings were routine and often deadly. When pirates recruited sailors from the ships they pillaged, they opened a window to a different kind of society – far from the one the working-class sailors would otherwise find on land or sea. Rediker argues that pirate democracy “is not about human nature at all. It’s about the specific experience of sailors and the way that they wanted to imagine a better world.”

Piracy, says Rediker, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, was “a fascinating, almost utopian kind of experiment.” Indeed, he says, pirate democracy was purer than what was practiced in Athens: The Greeks didn’t give slaves the vote, but pirates offered the right to everyone, black or white. (It’s probably also safe to say that pirates didn’t have superdelegates.) Before each voyage, the crew elected a captain who could be deposed at any time, as well as a quartermaster whose main purpose was to make sure the captain didn’t have too much power. A written charter outlined ship rules, which tended to prohibit theft and violence aboard and set strict rules for the presence of women. (Contrary to popular myth, Leeson, says, pirates usually set limits on drinking. “A drunken pirate crew,” he points out, “would be less effective than a sober crew.”)

Pirates even conducted a version of a fair trial, Rediker says, when determining the fate of captured captains. If any pirate on board knew the man from his merchant ship days, he could testify about his treatment. A captain who turned out to be kind was sometimes spared his life. And in a precursor of our own democratic love of political satire, pirates wrote coarse, hilarious plays that mocked the upper classes’ criminal justice system.

24 Feb 2006

John Derbyshire Reflects on Coverage of Cheney’s Accident

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John Derbyshire discusses how press coverage of the Cheney hunting accident demonstrates the devastating impact of  suburbanization and economic change.

One of the more thoughtful takes on the Dick Cheney “Quailgate” incident was offered by The Economist. They looked at hunting from the class angle:

The proportion of the population that goes hunting has been shrinking for the past 20 years. The number of hunters fell by 7% in the decade ending in 2001; the number of small-game hunters fell by 29% …. The biggest decline in hunters is taking place among the working class — among the “Deer Hunter” crowd in the small towns of the north-east, the rednecks of the South, and the cowboys of the West.

Well, we all know what the cowboys of the West are up to nowadays, thanks to Brokeback Mountain and Willie Nelson. To judge from some recent public grumbling by Mike Helton, the president of NASCAR… well, let the man say it himself: “We believe strongly that the old Southeastern redneck heritage that we had is no longer in existence.” Northeastern deer hunters can still be found, but as The Economist’s numbers show, they are slowly fading away.

As an English small-town boy, I feel no surprise at hearing that hunting has a class aspect to it. I am old enough to recall seeing adult males from my street, railroad and brewery workers mostly, walking along in the direction of the local rookery with shotguns under their arms, with the intent to get some free game-pie fillings for their families. Meanwhile the local gentry would be gathering outside a nearby village pub, mounted and liveried, to enjoy a stirrup cup before setting out across the fields after some unlucky Reynard.

It all seems long ago and far away now. Those shotgun-bearing neighbors would not make it out of their front gates today before being clubbed to the ground by Tony Blair’s Compassion Police. The scarlet-clad upholders of England’s ancient fox-hunting tradition can similarly expect to be dragged from their mounts and kicked senseless by enforcers of Tony’s caring, classless society. (Supposing said enforcers can spare the time from more urgent crime-fighting tasks — handcuffing and booking perpetrators of anti-Muslim “hate speech,” for example.)

Here in the USA, the decline of hunting, or rather the transformation of hunting from a thing that working-class guys do in their spare time to one that fat old millionaires do to network and assert their status, has not been imposed from above by parliamentary virtuecrats, as in England, but has seeped up from beneath, driven by changes in habits, attitudes, and opinions about what constitutes a good life. It is in fact just one aspect of a much larger phenomenon, one that has yet to be properly documented: the decline of the American working class…

..I remember being a ten-year-old myself, spending hours watching my next-door neighbor, a butcher by trade but an amateur cabinet-maker by inclination, manipulating his saws, planes, chisels, and spokeshaves. My kids won’t even know what a spokeshave is, and won’t care. My neighbor was a keen gardener, too, and also a war veteran. There was nothing much unusual in 1955 about an ordinary working man of little education knowing the arts of soldiering, gardening, butchering, and cabinet-making. I suppose this man’s grandchildren occupy themselves with watching TV, day trading on their computers, and working out their income taxes. I suppose my kids will do likewise. Perhaps they will be happy, but it looks to me like lotus eating — a flight from humanity, from the basics of human existence.

An economist would of course pooh-pooh my doubts. Look (he would say), here’s how it goes. Once upon a time we were farmers. We ploughed fields, made wagons, shod horses, tended livestock, and had five or six kids per family. Then we were factory workers, putting things together, making and using machines, figuring out electrical circuits, having two or three kids. Now the world runs on information, so we’re all “symbol manipulators”, trading commodity futures, parsing laws, persuading each other to buy things made abroad, and having zero to one kids per family. That’s how it is. The world changes. Get over it.

Probably the economists have a point. Probably there are ineluctable forces at work here. Perhaps, as proponents of the “singularity” hypothesis, argue, human nature is about to be transformed by us human beings ourselves on a scale vastly greater than anything that stumbling, bumbling old Ma Nature has been able to accomplish this past 50,000 years, so that worries about us losing touch with our humanity will soon come to seem quaint, or perhaps just incomprehensible. Probably all that one can say about these developments is that one likes them, or not. All right. Put me down as a “not.”

Hat tip to Steve Bodio.

05 Jan 2006

Disney, a Family Company?

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The Guardian reports that a Florida Disney-owned hotel had booked some very non-family-friendly New Year’s activity, but failed to either warn ordinary guests, or keep the naughtiness out of sight.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Some teenage soccer players and their parents saw more sights than they wanted when they stayed at a hotel where about 200 swingers were having a New Year’s party.

Paul Camporini brought his wife, seventh-grade daughter and eighth-grade son from Safety Harbor and said he had to “delicately explain to my Catholic school children that swingers change partners during the evening.”

“My biggest gripe is that the hotel had two distinctly different groups under the same roof,” said Camporini, 49. “A soccer team and middle-aged swingers should not have been booked together.”

The families said the sexually adventurous partygoers sometimes flashed breasts and bare buttocks in front of the children as they sashayed through the hotel atrium. The parents described the dress at the Crowne Plaza Hotel-Airport in Orlando as “raunchy, despicable and worse than prostitutes.”

“The kids could see through the glass atrium into the ballroom where naked people were dancing. There were exposed breasts, thongs and see-through dresses on women who were not wearing any underwear.”

FitzJames Stephen would have predicted all this. The problem with tolerating private vice, it seems, is that its practioners all too frequently will be accorded the proverbial inch, and then proceed to take a mile. Granted liberty behind closed doors, they will invade the public space with celebrations of their life-style and displays of exhibitionism.

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