November 26, 2013
On Thomas Bernhard

After trudging respectfully through twenty-seven chapters of The Man Without Qualities, one arrives (rather unsurprisingly) at Chapter 28, named ominously “A Chapter That Can Be Skipped by Anyone Who Has No Very High Opinion of Thinking as an Occupation.” Musil proceeds to discourse plangently on the burden of thinking; without the risible angst of Zapffe or Camus, he bemoans that thinking only augments our existential misery, and that it is really not all too unlike “a colic affecting all the convolutions of the brain.” In an otherwise chronically convoluted masterpiece (a deliberate one; the worst kind) this is a brilliant moment of lucidity. (More on that later.)

The burden of thinking is a burden of which we have gladly delivered ourselves; Western culture has long declined, as Spengler presaged, and is coping well with it. Contented to observe faraway reality as mediated by mass media, most of us have no longer to think for ourselves, and instead receive our perceptions premasticated. The intellectuals manqués reach a tired, equally pre-packaged nihilism which teaches that if a disaffected youth can only pick up a copy of Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (preferably the hardback Anaconda Verlag edition), and pensively expatiate on the benign indifference of the universe, then one’s condition is in some way improved; thinking is so often an affectation like any other, and rarely challenges itself as it does in Bernhard. The elephant-in-the-room nothingness is seen in one of two (actually mutually inclusive) ways – as an emancipatory anomie, or as something obliquely dispiriting.

Thomas Bernhard is not for such people, and I doubt that he would have wanted to be. Bernhard was a storyteller, as he said, of stories which he hated – a ‘destroyer of histories’ who liberated himself, a time beset by pastiche and aesthetic exhaustion, from the burden of literary tradition. He repudiated the history of his country, Austria, and its complicity in the crimes of its neighbour; so unwontedly vicious was he toward Austria that in his will he forbade any publication or staging of his works within her borders. He inveighed derisively against the ubuesque excesses of his society (springing from the same tendencies, he thought, as Naziism), against insidious ways of dispelling the absurdity of our existence (flight either to religiosity or secretly-affirming absurdism), inter alia; yet these targets are derided not from superiority, scorning fatuity in the name of some higher ideal, but rather out of a ludic sense of the ludicrosity of our earnest beliefs, leaders and world at large. He conveyed the meaninglessness which we all skirt around, and did so in such a way that it strikes us as a mere state of affairs.

Joyce wrote that a writer must write first of what he knows best, but derided his earlier collection, Chamber Music, in Ulysses; his disciple, Beckett, dismissed his contemplative earlier work as immature and unworthy (Deirdre Bair takes this as his way of dismissing “blatant, undisguised autobiography”); Auden, to cite a personal favourite, dismissed his embarrassingly pellucid moment in September 1, 1939 in a prolegomenon to a later anthology (“Mr W. H. Auden considers these five poems to be trash which he is ashamed to have written”). Bernhard alone dealt unashamedly with these perceptions without polyphonic games, and without the ambiguity of texte scriptible. (This assured unambiguity bedevilled his political involvement – in an Austria which wanted to atone for its legacy whilst carefully feigning discontinuity, his sesquicentennial quip that “there are more Nazis in Vienna now than in ’38” was not kindly received, ironically. It turned out to be a Parthian shot.) This is not a recommendation which is likely to be taken by many, nor is it thus posed as a challenge – for a literary challenge, for a hermeneutic puzzle, there are better choices. There is very little, despite its immense import, which can be said to recommend Bernhard’s oeuvre – it is certainly not easy or heartening reading. It is not aesthetically worthy - he apparently considered his work more musical than others do - nor is it cathartic, edifying, or much else. Such a gloriously nihilistic body cannot be justified with reference to lies such as the ‘human condition’ used to sell Shakespeare to first-formers. It is most apposite, in light of this, to close with the words of an influence of his:

“This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it.”

April 23, 2013

theramblertwo said: I'm so glad I happened to run across your blog. Do you publish your posts elsewhere? If not, you seriously should look into it. All your wisdom is just kind of astounding (like, Exactly how old are you?) I hope to write essays similar to yours someday but I'm not quite sure where to start, nor am I aware of the kind of work other people would be interested in reading and publishing, or how pieces even reach the publisher. Would you have any advice for a young writer? Again, great postings! xx

In answer (at least partially) to two of your questions, I’m 16, so I’m not entirely sure where to direct you with regard to recommended essayists; you could do worse than Christopher Hitchens, without doubt. As for me, I read obsessively and assimilate whatever interests me, but I don’t intend to be the fount of knowledge for anybody - indeed, my perhaps overly referential style aims to avoid any possibility thereof. I’ll always recall Borges’ dictum that doubt is one of the names of intelligence (on a somewhat related note, there are fields of meaning in anything, so reading things - preferably texte scriptible - in different ways is important); thank you for the question, and good luck.

April 19, 2013
Parallel deaths; the final calculations of Camille Desmoulins.

The third issue of Le Vieux Cordelier, published on 25 Frimaire in the feverishly sanguinary excesses of la Terreur, is often taken as the desperate manifestation of la vertu gone mad. Its almost propitiatory exordium - ‘the reigns of the most cruel emperors…had pleasant beginnings’ - progresses in that same apologetic manner, and thus seemingly ineluctably, to a restating of Tacitus’ Annals and the descriptions therein of the despotism of Tiberius, ending by asking whether we must look so far back in history for such examples. We, needless to say, must not; yet Desmoulins’ translation is not the record of desperation which it purports to be, but rather one of the most calculated and erudite political attacks in all history. The context of Desmoulins’ having paraphrased (incidentally through Gordon’s 1737 Discourses on Tacitus intended to imply the same about the corrupt system of British politics) the Annals of Tacitus is manifest. Desmoulins, who had known Robespierre for most of his life, doubtless felt the same contrition Tacitus did at having been complicit with Domitian - Robespierre’s France had brought about servitude and called it civilisation, desert and called it peace (both words attributed to another but clearly the authorial voice). Thus Desmoulins’ attack aimed to imply that the French Revolution was midway through these Tacitean records of Tiberius’ despotism and downfall.

Tacitus’ voice in this whole affair is sine ira et studio – the impartial voice which nonetheless condemns in its objectivity the Terror and tyranny – the voice, in Desmoulins’ eyes and doubtless those of contemporary readers, of history. All history, of course, is a history of the present. The voice of Desmoulins is not that of Tacitus, but that of Cordus; contained within the narrative of his translation, Desmoulins was postulatur novo ac tunc primum audito crimine – by the Comité, or Sejanus’ Praetorians. When Robespierre attempted to silence him, he responded with his now-historic remonstration that brûler n’est pas répondre – indubitably recalling Tacitus’ derision of ‘the stupidity of those who think that present power can destroy the memory of the future’. When he was executed a month later, perhaps he considered the promise of Tacitus that ‘the authority of great writers is enhanced by their suppression.’ Yet this was not the summation of his plan. The implications of the Annals and the historical precedent were that the Comité, like Sejanus’s Praetorian Guard, were to plan against the Tiberian Robespierre, and that Robespierre, after his mysterious seclusion comparable of course to the sojourn of Tiberius in Capri, was to crush them as Tiberius did Sejanus. Needless to say, these two allegations were a self-fulfilling prophecy (the acknowledgment of which could never do anything to prevent the historic outcome) and, because of those fears of both sides, occurred. The third issue of Le Vieux Cordelier was, as is most of history, not a result but a cause of that which followed it – la Terreur, sans laquelle la Vertu est impuissante.

March 15, 2013
Thoughts on the fashion system.

The link between signifiant and signifié has never been more tenuous than in the context of fashion. With paint-splattered shoes, torn accoutrements and visually deteriorated fabrics, haut couture seems to be flirting with the floating signifier. Fashion could never have not been one of Barthes’ deconstructed mythologies, but the Barthesian structuralist interpretation of fashion, dating from his early days before S/Z, is in desperate need of updating. Barthes’ Système de la mode – with all of the obvious implications of monde – relies on a dyadic semiotic of signifier and signified – the sign is constituted of the relation between these two, the image and the text, the perception of the garment and the visual garment. The protean nature of fashion highlights that there is a dyadic relation, but not in this way.

The Fashion System delineates an essentialist system, intentionally or otherwise, and one feels that this was less intentional than a function of semiotics at the time. It suggests that the red light constitutes our understanding of it, even if qualifying that our understanding of it can be transferred to another signifié. Following this mode, one would expect the fashion system to be structurally determined by the clothing – that a newcomer could vanquish sartorial doyens through constructing a garment which complies more with the signifiant, the archetype, than their own work.

This is not the case. It does not justify the incomparable extent to which social structural relations dominate the fashion system. The essentialist structuralist understanding, while being of its time, fails to explicate the manner in which fashion is leant meaning by social context. It does not explicate the vastly different, yet equally valid, meaning that one signifié – in this case, one garment – may have to two observers. It doesn’t explain the notion that the système de la mode is supported not by the transient designs but by the rigid social structure of those involved. Indeed, the receiver is often factored into semiotic relations, but never as an integral part of the sign. I propose that we sever the signifiant and the signifié. The red light is not lent meaning in any way by the signifié. Indeed, the red light is a product of the meaning constituted by the dyadic link between the signifier and the receiver. The red light is an after-effect.

March 12, 2013
Adam Smith, the invisible Marxist.

The common understanding of Adam Smith’s work is of course that it was intended to buttress a fledgling free-market capitalism and equally nascent classical economics; as for Karl Marx, it is understood that he advocated an overthrow of the capitalist system due to the flaws inherent in and inextricable from it. The common view of orthodoxy is that it is correct, which is why, of course, it is orthodoxy. This says little to nothing of its veracity other than that it is assumed, and a closer examination of Smith’s opus elucidates that this interpretation is far from reality.

Indubitably, most of what is taught and learnt about Adam Smith centres on the invisible hand, far out of proportion to the fact that 122 words (‘by preferring the support…for the public good’) of his five-volume work was actually dedicated to explicating this vague assertion, which is certainly only ever an assertion, unless the sentiments of the merchants with whom he is familiar are to be taken as proof – it seems unlikely that Smith, of all people, would have adjudged that. The way in which is it is treated by modern usage is certainly nonsensical and far beyond the scope of even what Smith may have actually intended. This vague dictum pertaining to the preference for domestic trade over foreign trade was exploited as much in favour of protectionism as it now is in favour of free trade. This is closer to biblical hermeneutics than economic work and it is difficult to believe that Smith wasn’t well aware of it, considering that this putative master theory of his does not even appear in the two first books of The Wealth of Nations, which actually pertain to the markets.

For a man who was possessed of a Nabokovian obsession over words perhaps engendered by his speech impediment (a thinker who saw fit to call Samuel Johnson a ‘son of a b——’ according to Johnson’s own biographer) it seems dubious that he would pen such an unclear paragraph with such grand intentions, and other theorists vary from declaring it spurious (Grampp) to intentionally ironic (Rothschild). What is most likely is that Smith is expounding upon his Theory of Moral Sentiments, and attributing this public good not to the rationality of self-interest in mutually beneficial exchanges, but to our moral intuition in which he so singularly put his faith. One presumes that if Smith had elected to illustrate such a monumental idea in such a small space, he at least would have accomplished this in less nebulous and almost flirtatiously ambiguous terms. It is very rarely taken seriously in objective analyses, which is perhaps why this one-paragraph musing was cherry-picked and used to represent Smith in a way which has only been suffered equally by Blaise Pascal and Yeshua bin-Yosef.

Having hopefully cast some doubt on the notion that Adam Smith intended that his life’s work be capsulized in one badly-written paragraph, where it is perhaps most apt to note the convergence of Smith and Marx is with regard to their understanding of the alienation brought about by the contemporary capitalist system in their respective times, Marx’s situation not being vastly different to that of Smith aside from, crucially, the revolutions which informed the only small ways in which Marx actually went further than Smith, i.e. in dealing with the socio-political aspects of his dialectics. The first person to use the term alienation with regard to the industrial capitalist system, before Marx expounded upon Entfremdung, was Smith – I challenge anybody to dispute that. Marx’s alienation, which he viewed as an inexorable result of the internal contradictions of capitalism, focused on how Verfremdung was effected through powerlessness (distance from the means of production), isolation (the structural relations of humans mechanically as labour and not socially as is natural), and self-estrangement (how the worker’s work is externalised, that ‘in work he does not belong to himself’). 

Similarly, while Smith uses the kind term ‘cordialisation’ where Marx might have preferred ‘placation’ or something in that vein, his analysis of powerlessness as a facet of alienation is actually remarkably similar, Smith concurs with Marx’s idea of depotentiation; his judgment that the division of labour isolated workers from their work was not stated as a criticism, but agrees with Marx regardless; self-estrangement is a theme in Smith’s work in the same way. When Smith comments that ‘the man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations…has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his intervention’ and that ‘he naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become’ it would be, respectfully, an act of abject intellectual dishonesty to dispute that he views the capitalist process as alienating and sees it as stultifying and subjugating the human spirit. He clarifies that ‘in every improved and civilised society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to defend it’. The government of his time was unwilling and unprepared to defend it, and, since Smith was so pellucidly against the free market, it takes an exceedingly small leap to arrive at Marx’s work. That leap, incidentally, was constituted of the lessons taught by the Age of Revolutions (viz. that social repudiation of absolute authority was a viable method of societal improvement) and not of any ideological deviance whatsoever.

The obfuscatory tactic which dismisses this as the ‘alienation passage’ is just that. Scholars such as Rosenberg and Meek have demonstrated, to no counterproof thus far, that Smith’s lectures, consistently from almost three decades back in 1749, focused obsessively on this alienation. In Smith’s Lectures, for example: ‘it confines the views of men…where the division of labour is brought to perfection every man has only a simple operation to perform…few ideas pass in his mind but what have an immediate connection with it’. Or, this time returning to his pin factory, ‘a person’s whole attention is bestowed on the seventeenth part of a pin…it is remarkable that in every commercial nation the low people are so exceedingly stupid’. When Smith proclaims that ‘the minds of men are contracted and rendered incapable of elevation…education is despised and heroic spirit is utterly extinguished…to remedy these defects would be an object worthy of serious attention,’ he could be mistaken for Marx when he said that labouring man ‘does not develop freely his mental and physical energies but is physically exhausted and mentally debased’. This cannot be dismissed, not even with reference –  or, rather, deference - to popular misunderstanding.

It is thus thoroughly unsurprising that (as far as possible from what Smith suggests when he mentions the invisible hand with regard to a landlord’s desire to redistribute voluntarily in his Theory of Moral Sentiments) Smith declared that ‘the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than that proportion’ in order ‘to remedy inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and burdening the rich’. When Marx wrote ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,’ he was undoubtedly drawing on Smith’s first maxim of taxation - ‘the subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities’. The two are indistinguishable – different ways of phrasing precisely the same sentence.

Nor therefore is it surprising that Smith and his continental epigone agree so unreservedly in their critique of monopoly capitalism, as illustrated, and that the only difference is that, due to the aforementioned revolutions, Marx felt more able to propose a system of replacing these. He did not venture into the Comtist ‘recipes for cookshops for the future’ which he so despised, but he certainly did delineate a way in which he could remove these from the economic system to the benefit of all. Like Marx, Smith did not blame the companies themselves but the contradictions of capitalism – ‘it is the system of government, the situation in which they are placed, that I mean to censure, not the character of those who have acted in it’. Smith believes, with Marx, that the structure of capitalism was such that a bourgeois class must necessarily be created and shaped – if one bourgeois owner of the means of production is not willing to exploit labour to lower costs, another will be prepared to do so, and so it works.

The notion that Smith thought that the interests of the bourgeoisie were aligned with those of the proletariat is also desperately misinformed. Primarily, and counter to some laughably mendacious analyses, Smith distinguishes clearly between the bourgeois and the proletariat, ‘those who live by wages and those who live by profit’. Smith concurs perfectly with Marx’s dialectics insofar as he agrees that the opposition of these interests is one of the key contradictions of capitalism and the reason why the profit motive has fomented so much discord and political strife: ‘the interests of the dealers is always in some respects opposite to that of the public’; ‘to narrow the competition must always be against [the interests of the public] and can only enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they would naturally be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow citizens’. He judges that ‘the workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little as possible…the former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower the wages of labour’. Of course, Smith had no free-market solution, nor did he want one – ‘it is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into compliance with their terms’. 

Due to Smith’s redistributionist stance, which was based (as has been illustrated) on the intervention of a government radically different to the one under which he was living (though at that point the mechanism of revolution in an established autonomous society was untested), what naturally follows is his exhortation of heavy regulation, defending it with the logic that ‘these exertions of the natural liberty of a few individuals, which may endanger the security of a whole society, are and ought to be restrained by all governments’. To suggest that this is the statement of a small-government libertarian in favour of liberty over security is simply at odds with Smith’s own writing; indeed, the utilitarianism of this statement, wholly aside from the similitude of the statement itself, is Marxian. The exertion of the rights of a society against those of the individual in the name of security and well-being was a key Marxist doctrine (its eventual effects being of course known to all).

Adam Smith progresses from providing an understanding of alienation which agrees with and would fundamentally inform Marx, through the logical steps which Karl Marx took – the suppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie due to the profit motive, the necessity of a new government impossible within a capitalist system which would redistribute wealth equally from each according to his ability to each according to this need, and the unsustainability of the industrial capitalist model due to these inherent contradictions. He is, in the most manifest sense, an early Marx. To compare Marx and Smith is indeed a simple matter; to distinguish the two is a more toilsome task.

March 2, 2013
We are sinners all; hypocrisy as a virtue.

Hypocrisy has always been one of the cardinal vices of the individual. No tort or trait elicits such a censorious and emotional reaction as he who promotes higher principles than his own. One needs not look further than how we have contrived our lowest characters, from Iago to Tartuffe, from the Pardoner to Elmer Gantry; yet the hypocrisy of these individuals only exists and is exprobrated in the dimension of social structural relations. Iago’s hypocrisy inheres relatively to Othello and Desdemona; Tartuffe’s relative to Orgon and Elmire, that of the Pardoner and Elmer Gantry to their respective disciples. Yet hypocrisy is stigmatised in the individual, not in the society, even in situations where the ‘moral’ rectitude of the society is dubious. Hypocrisy trivialises all other sins.

Yet as individuals our urges are illimitable. They extend far beyond what social mores dictate, and this is true of all of us. They are repressed on a social level, and little engenders more controversy than when these urges come to the fore. When it does, nevertheless, who can say he sympathises not with Humbert but Quilty? Hypocrisy is viewed as a mitigating factor in an individual, and in intrapersonal and dual interpersonal relations. The inclusion in the closing words of ‘do not pity CQ’ is an oft-overlooked reminder that, while these urges will always exist, one must choose between hypocrisy and overt inhumanity. Between ego and id, between society and the individual. In order to maintain order, we did not evolve as individuals but as societies. It has never been necessary - evolution not being teleological - to eradicate these tendencies on an individual level. As a society, we act on the conscious level of the individual and restrain these tendencies; as individuals, we are our worst. The misanthrope is not notably collected.

Why, then, do we reserve this singular disdain for he who maintains order while being allzumenschliches? We refuse to acknowledge that the visible hypocrite is simply caught between the criminal and the dissembler, on a spectrum on which we all place. Our misconception, clear throughout all of religion and historical psychology, is that our shadow can be expiated and atoned for on an individual level. The choice is between hypocrisy and repudiation of all that is valued. The judge-penitent affirms humanity - il forniquait mais il lisait des journaux; hypocrite lecteur - mon semblable - mon frère!

January 28, 2013
Trust, peace, and to put aside the bayonet; the forgotten presidency of Rutherford Hayes.

It is a challenge to be known as the least-known President; a title which is usually afforded to Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan and a few select others. A true test of being unknown is that you are scarcely remembered at all, and this is an achievement which can only be ascribed to one man; Rutherford Birchard Hayes, President of the United States from 4 March 1877 to 4 March 1881, and quite possibly the beau idéal of democracy, equality and isonomy in presidential history. Icons such as Lincoln, Roosevelt and Wilson benefit from being public figures, relentless self-promoters and partial populists at the least - Rutherford Hayes did not. His reforms are unremarked, but not unremarkable. This is the life of an intellectual progressive who was ahead of his time, who, unlike some others, paid the price for that in his lifetime, but deserves to be remembered hereafter.

Rutherford Hayes grew up without a father in Delaware, adopting his uncle, Sardis Birchard, as a role model. He attended public schools in Ohio and Connecticut, graduating as valedictorian from Kenyon and eventually transferring to Harvard Law School where he graduated with an LLB. While working for a law firm in Cincinnati, he became engaged to Lucy Webb in 1851, with whom he would later remain married until she died, and remain single thereafter. His indefatigable efforts to, through his law firm, uphold the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to defend escaped slaves led to his being recognised by the fledgling Republican Party, formed to oppose slavery in 1854, but he joined the Army with the outbreak of the Civil War, and in 1861 set out to fight with the 23rd Regiment.

In 1864, while serving as brevet brigadier general in the Union Army of the Shenandoah, he received the Republican nomination to the House of Representatives; he responded, by letter, that “an officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress ought to be scalped; you may feel perfectly sure that I shall do no such thing”. It becomes manifest, from this stage, that Hayes valued ideals over politics, and if he ever became engaged in politics, he would value ideals yet more. He did not contradict this during the rest of his time in the military - when George Crook, his superior, submitted that their men be put on the enemy’s front, he responded undeferentially and conscientiously that “that would be simply murder”. On December 9th 1864, he was given the full post of brigadier general for his gallantry, and Crook abided by his advice, despite Hayes’ strictly inferior rank. Hayes would later write in his diary, after Crook’s death in 1890, that “he wears the double wreath - the soldier’s and the humanitarian’s”.

Hayes was voted in as a Representative to the 39th Congress, despite his campaign consisting only of epistolary correspondence due to his commitment to the Union cause, and voted as part of that Congress for the Fourteenth Amendment - the repudiation of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford 1857 -which rendered African-Americans citizens. His opposition to Andrew Johnson when Johnson (who had previously maintained Lincoln’s opposition to the Wade-Davis Bill, vetoed the renewal charter of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and tolerated the Black Codes in the South, wanting to restore the Union even if it meant accepting racism in the Southern states) vetoed the 1866 Civil Rights Act made him integral in coordinating the first ever Congressional override of the Presidential veto. While in Congress, Rutherford Hayes also voted for the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, which established the legal basis for the later attempted impeachment of Andrew Johnson (also supported by Hayes) for his unconstitutional dismissal of Edwin Stanton.

Having made his name in Congress for his progressive stance, Hayes was considered a reputable candidate for the 1867 gubernatorial election in Ohio. He ran against Alan Granberry Thurman, a tentatively anti-slavery Democrat who nevertheless campaigned on an anti-black-suffrage platform, and won. As governor of Ohio, he reformed mental hospitals and the education system, pioneering girls’ education, during his first term. He campaigned for his second term against “Gentleman George” Hunt Pendleton, a Jacksonian Democrat who had opposed Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson unsuccessfully, on the issue of equality for African-Americans and won for the second time. During this second term in office as the Governor of Ohio, from 1870-72, he supported extended suffrage and tax reductions.

In 1872, he declined to run against the Republican incumbent John Sherman for a Senate position, having no ideological disagreement with Sherman, a liberal Republican who had in 1859 risked his career to endorse Helper’s ‘The Impending Crisis of the South’ (an economic attack on slavery). He retired, as he had no cause for which to fight politically, but later returned to politics in 1875 to contest Democrat William Allen to the position of governor, in order to defend the proposed Blaine Amendment, which upheld that “no money raised by taxation in any State…shall ever be under the control of any religious sect”. In 1876, due to his unparalleled success in becoming the only Ohio senator to hold the position for a third term, he was among the top Republicans being considered for the Presidential bid, and was supported by John Sherman, against whom Hayes had declined to run, who championed his nomination.

His campaign was against Samuel Jones Tilden, a Bloomberg-esque figure who was the Governor of New York and maintained close links with business, an opponent who was in many ways similar to himself. Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but the newly-enfranchised blacks, who the Democrats violently attempted to suppress at the polls, came out in droves to vote for Hayes. The electoral dispute which resulted is perhaps the only infamous aspect of Hayes’ life, and if so only in the realm of lists and trivia. Tilden had won 184 votes and Hayes 166 with 19 uncertain votes, raised to 20 when an Oregonian elector was disqualified; these votes were the crux of either candidate’s election. The Electoral Commission established by Congress consisted of eight Republicans and seven Democrats (the eighth Republican, jurist Joseph Bradley, being the most independent of the Supreme Court judges left after an independent refused the position), and ruled to assign the 20 remaining dubious votes to Rutherford Hayes. When the Speaker of the House, Democrat Samuel Randall, refused to allow contumaciously dilatory motions, Hayes was elected 19th President of the United States at 4:10 am on 21 March 1877.

The inaugural address which he gave was one so incongruously progressive that it ought to live among those of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. Characteristically, it did not. In it, Hayes promised “a government which guards the interests of both races carefully and equally” which would “establish the rights of the people it has emancipated”. He described the basis of prosperity as “the improvement of the intellectual and moral condition of the people,” proclaiming that “universal suffrage should rest on universal education”. He pledged to “wipe out in our political affairs the colour line and the distinction between North and South”. His vision would not be realised for almost a century, but his words remain forgotten long after that.

Hayes peacefully brought an end to Reconstruction, but that did not negate his support for universal civil rights across the United States - to the contrary. He vetoed a Democratic Bill which would have overturned the Force Acts, which criminalised the prevention of voting based on race. The legislature attempted twice more to pass it; Hayes vetoed it both times. He ensured that the Bill which eventually was passed did not contain the rider which would have repealed the Force Acts. In his diary, he later wrote that “my task was to wipe out the colour line, to abolish sectionalism, to end the war and bring peace - to do this, I was ready to resort to unusual measures and to risk my own standing and reputation within my party and the country”. That was no exaggeration.

Under his administration, the civil service saw unprecedented reforms. The system put in place by Andrew Jackson - “King Andrew” - was based on party allegiance and contributions made. Hayes brought about a meritocracy prescient of its European counterparts. He came into conflict even with factions in his own party (the ‘Stalwart’ Republicans) and yet characteristically persevered to little contemporary avail but long-lasting benefit. He wrote decades earlier that “for honest merit to succeed among the tricks and intrigues which are now so lamentably common, I know is difficult; but the honour of success is increased by the obstacles which are to be surmounted”. He could have been describing his ideals or himself, but, as is the mark of a great man, the two were indistinguishable.

In 1878, after the Paraguayan War of 1864 to 1870, he arbitrated the borders of Paraguay and Argentina, assigning the region between Rio Verde and Rio Pilcomayo to Paraguay (a decision for which the Paraguayans were so grateful that they dedicated a department to him, which today remains Presidente Hayes) without any backlash from the Argentinians (who had already been short-changed on the border arrangements). Another of his long-forgotten foreign policy successes - and successes in the name of peace and diplomacy, not military supremacy - is the agreement he came to with Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, who was angered and left politically attacked by the US Army’s power to pursue bandits across the Mexican border, to pursue bandits using the forces of both nations. In any case, Hayes later revoked the order which allowed American forces across the border.

Yet another success and achievement of the Hayes administration began with the Burlingame Treaty, made in 1868, which allowed Chinese immigration into the United States. When these immigrants effected a drop in wages, rioting pressured Hayes to abrogate the treaty. He would do no such thing; he vetoed the efforts of Congress to do so, stating that he was not willing to violate the treaty. Some Democratic Representatives attempted to impeach Hayes due to this, but their efforts came to nothing. His domestic policy is no less distinguished: Carl Schurz, as Hayes’ Indian Secretary, promoted a policy of assimilating American Indians into American culture using education and coordination. Hayes and Schurz reformed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to give these indigenous people more autonomy. Nevertheless, when a Ponca chief, Mantcunanjin, brought suit in district court in Omaha (Standing Bear v. Crook) in 1879 - making a speech in his defence which has some marked yet indubitably coincidental similarities with that of Shylock - Hayes, overriding Schurz and his old army superior Crook, established a commission in 1880 which allowed the Ponca to stay in Nebraska. He declared that it was “my particular duty and earnest desire to do all I can to give to these injured people that measure of redress which is required alike by justice and by humanity”.

True to his promise not to stand for a second term, Rutherford Hayes did not seek reelection in 1880. He spent the rest of his life supporting educational charities, encouraging black students (one of whom was W.E.B. Du Bois) to apply for scholarships from the Slater Fund, one of his charities, and advocating better prison conditions. His funeral after he died in 1893 was small, as was the cemetery in Fremont in which he was buried. Mark Twain wrote once, before Hayes’ death, that “its quiet & unostentatious, but real & substantial greatness, would steadily rise into higher & higher prominence, as time & distance give it a right perspective, until at last it would stand out against the horizon of history in its true proportions.” Perhaps, in time, it will.

January 20, 2013
Vae victis; an examination of the War between the States.

The doctrinal narrative of the ‘Civil War’ reads thusly: the secession of the Confederate states evidenced the position of the southern states as fighting only for slavery, while the cerebral Union took up arms in defence of the rights of man. Few stories read this smoothly and reality is not one of them. To provide the fundament for a more percipient understanding of what engendered the war from the information available, it is necessary to appreciate that the war was not in any case a civil war in any meaningful sense of the words; it was fought to prevent a collection of states which (by way of the 10th Amendment) was legally justified in seceding - hence, the war was motivated more by an attempt to retain the separatist states, not a war between citizens of the same country. It seems more apparent, in light of this, that the jus ad bellum would need to be more defensible than it would need to be otherwise.

This is where the slavery thesis becomes necessitous. A war undertaken in order to surcease the ownership by humans of humans is certainly a noble aspiration, perhaps even regardless of whether that war is fought against sovereign states (indeed, only a decade prior the British had provided assistance for Akintoye to overthrow Oba Kosoko for the sake of abolition in Lagos). Nevertheless, there are no right and wrong until one is looking back with the benefit of hindsight - hindsight, the wave-function collapse of ethics - and slavery was so rooted in the cultural mindset of America that it would be casuistic to suggest that any party was more than mildly interested in race equality for its own sake. Since the days of Europe’s first intrusion, the San Miguel de Gualdape settlement, European culture brought its slaves to establish, both physically and psychologically, the United States. Nathaniel Bacon’s rebellion, not mitigated but motivated by the socially progressive reforms of the House of Burgesses, determined that slaves identified themselves through socioeconomic structure, not through race or origin, and such was the nature of the contemporary American social system, and the irrelevance of race to the economic issues determining the Civil War. At the time, man was born enslaved and everywhere was in chains (Rousseau, himself an ardent fan of bondage in the other sense, often conveyed the enslaved condition with the correct psychological insight). Abolition, and with it the 13th Amendment, was but an epiphenomenon to the minds of the Lincoln Administration.

I must emphasise that the intention of this piece is not to imply that slavery is in any way acceptable - rather, it is to establish that it was accepted. Abraham Lincoln may have been against ‘making voters or jurors of Negroes,’ against ‘qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people,’ and against ‘bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,’ but he was certainly ‘in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race’. Lincoln stated the case better than I ever could when he famously wrote to then-journalist Horace Greeley that ‘if I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it’. Having heard Lincoln speak for himself on the matter (credibly, or else the situation grows Epimenidean), the reasons why Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union are equally manifest, and identically ignoble.

The economic import of the secession was not negligible. Richard Hofstadter expounds in his article, The Tariff Issue on the Eve of the Civil War, that ‘bankers expected the repudiation of Southern debts amounting to over $200,000,000, if the South should secede’; the motives for seceding on the part of the Confederacy are equivalently unrelated to slavery, with the protectionist tariff impositions of the Union (and the similar response from European trade partners) affected the agrarian export-based economy of the South more than it did the wealthy importing economy of the North. King Cotton indeed - the confederate states would indubitably have fared better under full sovereignty, and this galvanised both sides of the Disunited States during the war.

Since Douglass North analysed in his 1961 paper Early National Income Estimates of the U.S. the economic prosperity afforded to all of the United States by slave-driven cotton production south of the Mason-Dixon line, nobody has impugned his conclusion - yet nor has anybody alluded to this as a proximate reason for why no effort was made to curtail southern slavery prior to Lincoln’s tenure. Indeed, if it weren’t for the question of tariffs, nothing would have been done (and slavery would have run its course, being etiolated as it was earlier in Europe by its comparative economic inefficiency - a little scrutiny will reveal that slavery after this point was politically, not economically, motivated).

It is salutary, of course, and most definitely simple, to maintain that the War Between the States was a Civil War fought between two diametrically opposed ideologies, one right and one wrong, one hero and one villain, the righteous battle ultimated as one ineluctable vanquishment in the grand theatre of the moral metanarrative, the malefactor consigned to the realm of proven immorality. This is not true; the War was fought between two motley interests, each believing as we all do in their own vindication, in the name of unalloyed egoism - not extrinsic storylines - and in history, what’s right and what’s wrong is determined after the fact. The abolition of slavery was indeed a noble achievement - but, the fact remains, not an aim.

The remarkable, if and by virtue of being less elegantly explicable, nature of the War was that through the interaction of self-interested parties, an outcome arose which established the rights of man as the citizen, an outcome which entrenched the (now-commonsensical and accordingly rationalised after the fact) political and social isonomy now so rightly taken for granted. Perhaps it is befitting that Abraham Lincoln should not be lionised and heralded as a saint, should not be venerated as even a flawed or tragic hero, but should be remembered, as W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, ‘not because he was perfect, but because he was not and yet triumphed’. It may be said that he was not the first who with worst meaning had incurred the best.

January 17, 2013
Every inch a king; Lear as a reflection of political thought.

The object of Shakespeare’s obeisance in writing King Lear was clear, being manifested as manifestly as Regan or Goneril, in stark contrast to his heroification of Cordelia; King James, who orated to his Parliament that ‘kings are justly called gods,’ would have found in Lear a tragic hero, a fond exhortation of absolute monarchy, and a justification of his own advice to his son, Prince Henry - that he ought to bequeath the kingdom solely to his son, Isaac, on the basis that ‘by dividing your kingdoms, ye shall leave the seed of division and discord among your posterity’. It would be naïve to surmise that Shakespeare did not have this in mind when he elected to base the play on King Leir of Britain, yet the import of Shakespeare’s own intentions in writing the play pales in comparison to the wealth of information afforded to us by how Lear has been interpreted throughout the centuries, and how this has often accurately conveyed the political atmosphere and consensus of the day.

The role which Richard Burbage played as Lear was typical of the consensus of the times; without any conflict or competition, he played the role of Lear, written by Shakespeare intended for him, with skill and with adroitness not adjudged but expected, and with his prepotence presupposed (and, debatably, unquestionable). He by no means inhered without the realm of critical consensus, nor did Charles at the time, who struggled with Parliament to maintain his (Blackstonian, not at this point Diceyan) royal prerogative. This historical context certainly cannot be overlooked, and nor can the parallel between Burbage’s Lear and the political milieu at the time. At a time of absolute monarchy (strong through its weakness), Richard Burbage fit the role of laudable autocrat perfectly.

An elegy composed for Richard Burbage closes thusly: ‘Kind Lear, the Grieved Moor, and more beside, that lived in him have now forever died.’ This perhaps could be said to be a tenable prediction, especially during the period from the late 17th to early 19th centuries when Nahum Tate’s bowdlerised Lear held the stage, if only it weren’t for David Garrick. The expurgated History of King Lear (notably closer to Shakespeare’s 1608 quarto ‘True Chronicle of the History’ than his 1623 First Folio ‘Tragedy’) also shares a remarkable parallel with the time in which it dominated the theatrical scene. The Union of Britain as a recent event starkly opposed the division which formed the tragic aspect of King Lear (the metaphorical division of the body politic and the corporeal existence of Lear). The background of unification also marked the enhancement of the constitutional system at the cost of precluding any real possibility of monarchical overthrow; therefore it is fitting that in Nahum Tate’s Lear ended ‘happily’ with the restoration of Lear as monarch (albeit at the cost of merrily casting off almost all the original meaning). David Garrick’s tenure of Tate’s Lear was similar; he was noted for portraying a more realistic Lear than the aureate actors of days gone by, reflecting the gradual degradation of the divine right and the royal prerogative since the time of Shakespeare and Charles, the regnant George II having historically shifted the balance of power between monarch and parliament, and having also been a human - all too human? - king, remembered for his abrasively apoplectic nature and his mistress.

The next stage of Lear was constituted of the dramatic contest between William Charles Macready and Edwin Forrest in the early nineteenth century; it is therefore unsurprising that this time was a time of contest of post-Revolutionary War tensions between the fledgling United States and the contemporarily monolithic British Empire - the War of 1812, the Caroline Affair, the Aroostook War, the Pig War and many more conflicts evidence an age in which open enmity between the US and the UK was taken for granted. The competition between the British William Macready and the American Edwin Forrest became fomented inimical tensions which culminated in the riot at the Astor Place Theatre. The Lears of Macready and Forrest still inhered within the trappings of majesty, but the import at this point becomes crescively clear; contemporary interpretation of Lear provides an almost unparalleled insight into the regnant - and latent - political feelings of the time, in a manner and to an extent which is simply not possible by any other mode of historical scrutinisation.

Tommaso Salvini’s Lear ended that tradition. His interpretation of Lear as the ‘majestic ancient’ was not of a king who was correct in proclaiming himself ‘every inch a king’, but who perhaps fit Jacques Lacan’s onetime comment that ‘a madman is not just a beggar who thinks he is a king, but a king who thinks he is a king’. Salvini’s Lear was fallible, mortal, and human. He not only reflected growing self-understanding in the sciences (the period of maximum certainty before the quantum mechanical revolution and the world wars of the twentieth century) but simultaneously a comprehension of the fortuity of the British Empire. At a time when self-rule was being offered to colonies under the British Empire in order to cut costs (as Disraeli could have declaimed, to unburdened crawl toward death), so did Salvini’s Lear bequeath his kingdom as a symptom of his weakness, not his magnanimity - a king more similar to Ionesco’s Bérenger in Le Roi se Meurt than to any monarch of prior centuries, always comprehending his own mortality and not making perfectly tragic decisions, but making the wrong decisions. Lear did not escape the national histories of the 19th century either: Honoré de Balzac (one might write Balssa, or Rastignac, himself not being too far from his work) set his Lear, Goriot, against the fall of Napoleon, brought about by Delphine - the dauphin? - the product of the Bourbon monarchy which had engendered Napoleon’s First Empire; Turgenev’s A Lear of the Steppes criticised how the 1861 Emancipation Reform had only led to further revolutionary fervour, Turgenev’s closing sentiment, ‘I am not what I was, as you knew me,’ is perhaps the essence of Lear inside and out, itself echoing the words of Dowson (perhaps not coincidentally an accomplished translator of Balzac); the pastiches go on.

The final incarnation of Lear, until we reach a new age, is indubitably the absurdist interpretation of the play rendered necessary by the calamity that made so long life of the early 20th century. John Gielgud, Donald Wolfit and Brian Cox brought slight and senile Lears to the stage, portraying power and authority as prepared to capitulate to totalitarian control at any time. Lear has not grown old with time; time has grown old with Lear. It has played itself out heretofore throughout history, and it does not end here. King Lear is a portrait of the transience of power and favour, the frailty and fortuity of the human condition, and history looks set to stay the course until the curtains close.

January 4, 2013
More things in heaven and earth? A refutation of the theory of simulated reality.

The theory which what we perceive to be reality - the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary - is not actually reality long predates Bostrom’s rather facile ancestor simulation theory. The aforementioned ancestor simulation theory demands a certain degree of credulity which out of courtesy I will not expect of readers, but insofar as to say that the inaccuracy of the postulates on which Bostrom relies (including but not limited to: simulation would only need to extend to an atomic or photonic level; gravity exists as a universal force and not as space-time curvature in Minkowski space; time can be discretised to a femtosecond, despite physical reactions observed in Planck time giving us no reason to doubt that time is continuous; indeed, as Feynman put it, the continua of the universe would demand infinite logical computations to simulate even the smallest space, each consuming (by Bostrom’s own calculation) around three hundred millennia) implies that the computing power actually required to process a simulated universe would be infeasible. It would be dishonest, however, to treat this theory as representative of most coherent arguments for simulated reality theory, and indeed there are certainly compelling mathematical and physical justifications to be accounted for, with some equally salient problems (not least of which, though this will be its only mention, the expected CPT symmetry having been violated in nature even if not in the kaon system).

The cognitive-theoretical model of the universe (styled as the CTMU) explicated by the intentionally sesquipedalian and obscurantist prose of Christopher Langan, who himself proves that the cognitive-theoretical model fails to apply to IQ and certainly to the universe, and believes that the human mind is an endomorphism of God (in particular, judging from his supercilious responses in interviews, his own), relies on the Borde-Vilenkin-Guth theorem, which does not apply to infinite cyclicity, initial contraction, or asymptotically static space-time; it also occludes the unfounded assertions made by Alexander Vilenkin, including that an emergent universe would collapse quantum mechanically even if geodesically complete to the past with regard to classical mechanical perturbations, made in order to fit facts to theory - this theory being his fealty to a prime mover. Langan himself is of similar fealty, which goes some way, as does the inefficacy of the intelligence quotient measurement, toward explaining the inconsistencies in the theory of this putative genius.

Computability would also be mathematically infeasible; Gödel’s (crescively trite) incompleteness theorems, with appeal to Cantor’s diagonal argument and the implications of quantum mechanics, mean that any virtual reality generator would have to generate its environment including itself. Even if one assumes the Church-Turing-Deutsch principle holds true, and recursive simulation is (which it may very well be) logically possible, the power required to compute not only the universe as we know it, but an infinitely recursive manifestation of it including an infinite number of virtual reality generators, would be inestimable.

The most convincing argument comes from the perspective of phenomenological high energy physics - the fermion doubling problem means that the Wilson term must be added to fermionic fields on a lattice in order to prevent fermion doubling, and thus the simulated reality theory requires a postulate that Wilson fermions are discretised accordingly, though the Nielsen-Ninomiya theorem states that it is impossible to have a local real bilinear translation- and chirally-invariant fermion action without doubling, hence Wilson fermion discretisation breaks chiral symmetry. When one accounts for the limit to the cosmic ray spectrum, even without presuming that a (cumbersome) Sheikholeslami-Wohlert action were required to optimise the Lagrangian of the lattice field, high-energy cosmic rays could be expected to break directly isometrical rotational symmetry in order to reflect the structure of the fundamental lattice. Since the universe is finite (which, if not a facticity, is certainly a requisite of the computation hypothesis), simulation resources must also be so and thus lattice spacing is discretised, meaning that simulation is always cognoscible to those involved. It is irrefutable that any civilisation with the capacity to compute such a civilisation would not do so if the participants were sufficiently cogitative to recognise such indicators of simulated reality, and thus would be affected by the observation of those who intended to observe them behave in a natural and deterministic manner.

As Hamlet commented to Horatio, there are more things in heaven and earth than are contained in your philosophy, than are dreamt of in your philosophy - could there be fewer?

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