Stray thoughts while I avoid the massive pile of drafts that, you know, are my good writings … (1)
Orphans used to more or less promptly die. Widows, too. Up to perhaps 200 years ago everywhere, and in some places even now, being a parentless child or a woman who’d lost her husband meant that their was no one to help you get enough food to survive, let alone protect you from violence. The scriptural admonitions to care for widows and orphans is in part a recognition of these cold facts.
This grim fate is part and parcel of the historian’s grim euphemism ‘harvest sensitive’: When there’s plenty of food around, even the widow and orphan may get fed; when the harvest is bad, the weakest – that would be widows and orphans – get to starve first. Sure, we’d like to imagine, in our plenty, that the extended families of the widows and orphans would take them in, and that probably did happen sometimes. We underestimate the difficulty and sacrifice that generosity might entail: the food supply doesn’t magically expand to accommodate more mouths. As a peasant (about 90% of people across all but the most recent history) I couldn’t just put another acre under cultivation and simply catch more fish. Those scriptural admonitions are a call to real sacrifice, more often than not.
Once read about Charlemagne that he, as is appropriate for an emperor, tended to take a dim view of any attitude or behavior that might threaten his reign. Unlike his ancestors and contemporaries, he is remembered for his mercy – he didn’t just automatically kill people, but would use less bloody ways to remove them. For example, he would banish anyone who offended against the Frankish empire to distant monasteries, where they were to reevaluate their decision making paradigms. Such reevaluation might take the rest of their lives – oh well. (2)
The thing about Charlemagne is that this practice of his is no different in concept from the practices of any vigorous king or, for that matter, any vigorous culture. What defines a culture as vigorous is its ability to promote that which strengthens it and suppress that which destroys it. Mostly, this action of suppression and promotion has not been controversial: murder and theft must be suppressed, and family and commerce must be promoted.
Those who refused to support the efforts of the people of a culture to sustain and propagate that culture found themselves, at the very least, outside the bounds of polite society. Thieves and murderers were most often executed. But other acts of defiance to the cultural norms were also punished. Homewreckers – think Don Juan for an extreme literary example – were dragged to Hell by the Stone Guest, often not too figuratively. The shotgun wedding is a delicate refinement of merely being shotgunned.
And so on – if you violated the expectations of the people you lived among enough, you weren’t going to get a job or a spouse or a place to live. At best. (3) Then, without family and position, your fate would stand to be determined by that same harvest sensitivity mentioned above.
These two thing – the need to support or at least not tear down the culture, and the often fatal results of not being tied in to a family – tended strongly to winnow out certain behaviors that were destructive to a culture. This didn’t really start to change anywhere until the middle of the 19th century, (4) when food production and storage finally started to ease the threat of starvation from the most civilized countries. Not coincidentally, that’s also when Marx published Wage Labour and Capital (1847) and Communist Manifesto (1848). Marx attacks the culture that produced him just at the moment when it was just becoming possible for a common man to live the sort of dissolute and irresponsible personal life Marx lived and still stand a decent chance of survival. That train has kept rolling on, so that, today, a person with no family ties to speak of and who lives in constant defiance of all traditional social norms not only does not die, but lives to reproduce and, sometimes, vote.
The winnowing fan is in ashes. This is not entirely a bad thing – we really don’t want widows and orphans to starve. But what has happened is that our current desiccated and anemic culture has absorbed all sorts of bad ideas, ideas that do not support this or any other culture. (5)
And so we run a grand experiment upon the ashes. What if no man must raise and care for his children? No woman need be married to be a mother? No child need even know who his father is? No recognition that society, and especially political society, is a result of families, not a cause ot definition of families? Heck, what if we punish any who claim otherwise?
Already the non-controversial actions of the culture – suppressing theft and murder, for a pertinent example – have been made controversial. We ask who is doing the stealing and killing and from or of whom before we are allowed to disapprove, and judgement is to be based on the group, not the individual actors. Whipping up hatred of one group for another is not loathsome and despicable, but just good politics. And those who would only keep their culture alive are persecuted from the high places of government.
So we will see. This should be interesting. (6)
- Chesterton says something like this about a book he hadn’t gotten around to writing: like everything I haven’t written, it was the best thing I ever wrote. Beautiful potentiality is always the theoretical winner when compared to any brute actuality. Sigh.
- One hopes flatterers would get this treatment.
- It is odd to contemplate that a medieval village was in most ways more tolerant of oddball behaviours than we are. See Don Quixote, for examples.
- In the early 19th century, the rules still seemed to hold. I’m thinking of Mary Shelly and her crowd and how much death and misery resulted from their free thinking. That part tends to get glossed over, or, worse and more dishonest, blamed on the society and not on the idiotic adolescent fantasies of the perps.
- Marx wastes no ink describing how the new paradise is to arise in any practical sense – it just does, once you’ve killed enough Capitalists. That it hasn’t yet is not seen as proof that it’s a dumb idea, but merely as evidence you’ve not yet killed enough capitalists. The solution is to increase your efforts and broaden the definition of Capitalist until it includes, say, kulak farmers or, today, anyone who makes more money than you and fails to get in line.
- There are some potentially funny developments – funny, unless you’re a woman who has spent a lifetime training for the Olympics only to lose to some mediocre guy who says he’s a woman and takes steps for 12 months to suppress his testosterone levels. My prediction: in 4 years, there will be few world record in women’s Olympic sports held by women. There are enough unstable guys who are decent athletes who will ‘become women’ just long enough to snag a gold medal or two.