Considered by some to be one of the best novels ever written, “A Passage to India” exposes human fragility. The story is beautifully narrated by Sam Dastor but the poetry of E. M. Forster’s writing shines best in its reading.
Published in 1924, “A Passage to India” is a primer on colonialism, ethnocentrism, and discrimination.
Forster shows human nature is immutable and omnipresent, a force of good and evil.
Forster introduces Dr. Aziz, a Muslim Indian physician, Cyril Fielding, a British school master who teaches at a college for Indians, Mrs. Moore, the mother of a British magistrate governing India, and Adela Quested, a school teacher considering engagement to the British magistrate. There are many more characters, but these four characters exemplify the best and worst of being human. They carry the principle thread of life and what it means to be human.
History is replete with stories of nations, governments, leaders, and corporations that believe they know best for those they dominate. Because self-interest (a lauded and reviled quality of human beings) pervades society, it distorts nations’, governments’, and corporations’ actions and decisions.
In the early the 20th century, the British govern India’s people by imposing their own vision of what is best for India. The British leadership is convinced that their culture is superior to India’s; not unlike America’s belief that Anglo/American culture is superior to American Indian culture in centuries past and present.
When Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore ask to meet local Indians, a British city collector arranges a party for newcomers to India to meet locals.
The party is depicted as a crashing bore by British wives who gather on one side of the dance floor, demean Indian dress, habit, and intelligence. On the other side of the floor, Indian wives wish they were somewhere else. The British city collector mingles with Indian leaders as a duty of office. The city collector feels he offers high recognition; first, by inviting Indian guests and then by crossing the floor to say hello.
Ethnocentrism is clearly pictured in Forster’s book. The newcomers to India, Mrs. Moore and Ms. Quested, feel they are not seeing the real India at the party. They suggest a visit to an Indian household.
Cyril Fielding, an admirer of Indian culture, suggests an outing be arranged for Mrs. Moore, Ms. Quested, and Dr. Aziz. Fielding offers the idea of a visit to ancient caves outside of town.
Arrangements are made for the next day. In exploring the caves, Ms. Quested and Dr. Aziz are separated from Mrs. Moore. Ms. Quested enters a cave by herself; she feints and thinks she has been assaulted. Dr. Aziz is arrested.
In the course of a trial for the alleged assault, discrimination is on display. Ms. Quested is faced with great pressure from her British compatriots to verify details of the assault. She realizes she has made a false accusation and recants. Dr. Aziz is vindicated.
The ugliness of colonialism (cultural domination), ethnocentrism, and discrimination is exemplified in Forster’s beautifully crafted story.
Thankfully, the characters of Mr. Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Ms. Quested give a sliver of hope for mankind’s redemption, a hope for cultural respect and truth. Though cultures around the world are different, honesty and respect level cultural differences, and reveal how human justice is universal.
UPTON SINCLAIR, JR. (1878-1968, WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION)
It seems appropriate to revisit Sinclair’s book in light of the current administration in Washington D.C.
In the era of Trump, it is not meat packing but the coal industry that needs help. Trump’s pandering to the American coal miner offers air without oxygen to an industry that is dying.
Private industry and the American government need to step in and offer a way out for coal industry’ laborers. The Trump administration undervalues American labor by presuming laborers can only be cogs in a machine rather than complete human beings.
Instead of insisting on continuing an industry destined to fail, private industry and government should be offering living-wage transition, and education for new jobs; i.e. jobs that look to a future rather than a past.
Sinclair exposes the dark side of poverty and immigration in the United States. It reminds one of Charles Dickens’ stories of child labor in London but does not offer much warmth or balance. Sinclair’s story offers no respite from utter degradation. There is no respite for the reader to believe there is any redemption for being poor in Chicago in the early 1900s.
“The Jungle” is a grim tale written by Upton Sinclair about the meat-packing industry in early 20th century America.
Lessons of “The Jungle” are reminders of the limits of unregulated capitalism, industry’ greed, and government neglect. Sinclair attacks the meat-packing industry of the 1900’s.
Descriptions are given of spoiled meat ground into sausages; loaded with chemicals for appearance and smell, with too much production to be adequately inspected by too few inspectors. Employees lose limbs and lives in accidents; with corporate lawyers preparing to swindle the uneducated with unfair financial settlements. Wages are too low to offer enough money for shelter and food; let alone any savings, to break the cycle of poverty. Promotion is limited to those who are willing to compromise their morality by feeding a corrupt system that thrives on human exploitation.
Herbert Hoover is the 31st President of the U. S. when the meat packing industry is at its worst. Like Herbert Hoover, Trump seems to think the strong survive and the poor deserve their fate.
To some, this is the same as today’s stories of the coal industry.
Don Blankenship (Former CEO of the 6th largest coal company in the U.S., Massey Energy)
Convicted on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety and health standards in 2015. Sentenced to 1 year in prison and fined $250,000.
Images of poverty and what it leads to are still seen in American cities; i.e. people living on the street, begging for a dollar to eat; some drinking the dollar away at a local tavern because it blunts the pain of being poor and offers a haven from a cold winter day. Young people, some children, turning tricks to survive; selling their body because low paying jobs of high volume/low price conglomerates do not pay enough for rent and food.
Hearing of the meat industry–its lax government oversight, greedy corporate owners, and corrupt politicians deeply offends American ideals. Grinding poverty changes a family of ambitious immigrants into cogs in a meat butchering machine that breaks spirits and turns good people into bums and latent criminals.
In Dickens novels, there are some remnants of human joy; even in impoverished London. In Sinclair, the only glimmer of light is small-scale concern for fellow human beings. The early days of the union movement offer some hope. However, even Sinclair’s positive sentiments are corrupted by politics. Sinclair idealizes socialism and touches on early communism.
America still offers the best known vehicle for freedom in a regulated democracy.
Since 1789, America’s relationship to immigrants has been a work in progress.
The United States has a growing need for younger workers; not to the extent of countries like Japan, but after 2020 it is increasingly important.
America needs more youth to re-balance its economic growth.
The influx of immigrants generated much of America’s success in the industrial age. Immigrants offer the same opportunity for America in the tech age.
To some immigrants, the avenue out of poverty is crime and immorality, but that has always been true in America’s history. That is why American democracy is founded on rule-of-law. Human nature does not change.
The life cycle for an honest immigrant is grim; arriving poor; staying poor, and dying. American Presidents who only focus on the business of business fail to understand or care about the trials of the poor, the newly arrived immigrant, or the social condition of impoverished communities.
Every country in the world benefits and suffers from the nature of man and the effects of urbanization; none offer Eden. America remains a land of opportunity, but to close our doors to those who want to improve their lives with freedom and honest work is an unconscionable mistake. Demographics are destiny. America’s and many post-industrial economy’s populations need help.
Modern America is not quite so dark but inequality of opportunity still plagues capitalism with wealth, greed, and political corruption hiding the dire condition of the poor.
As long as the poor remain hidden; the rich and middle class will avert their eyes, mutter “get a job”, and think the poor get what they deserve.
America is Constitutionally responsible for the welfare of its citizens.
Those who think the business of government is only business are incorrect. Business is a tool to use in forming a more perfect union; governing with justice, supporting domestic tranquility, providing for a common defense, and promoting the general welfare.
Sinclair Lewis’s “Babbitt” is categorized as a satire, a parody of life in the early roaring twenties, but its story seems no exaggeration of a life in the 20th or 21st century. Published in 1922, it is considered a classic. It is said to have influenced Lewis’s award of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930. (Lewis is the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.) Lewis is highly praised for describing American culture. “Babbitt” is the eighth of thirteen novels Lewis published by 1930. Lewis creates a body of work that intimately exposes strengths and weaknesses of American democracy and capitalism.
Reader/listeners are introduced to George F. Babbitt, a man in his forties. Babbitt is a realtor. He is successful financially; bored, and relatively happy in his married-with-children’ life. His best friend, Paul, is equally bored, less financially successful, but deeply unhappy in his marriage. Paul is harried by a wife that men categorize as shrewish. Babbitt’s best friend chooses to cheat on his wife. When Babbitt finds Paul in a clandestine meeting at a Chicago restaurant, he waits for him at a hotel to try to understand what is happening.
In a male-bonding moment Babbitt forgives Paul and agrees that his friend’s wife is a shrew. Babbitt offers to mislead the betrayed wife by lying about her husband’s out-of-town business trip. Later, the spurned wife argues with Paul. Paul responds by shooting her in the shoulder. Babbitt sticks by his friend; even when he is convicted and sentenced to prison for three years.
After a year of his friend’s incarceration, Babbitt tries to get the spurned wife to forgive her husband and petition the parole board to release Paul early. She neither forgives nor forgets. She chastises Babbitt for his deluded belief that her husband deserves any leniency. This seems a satirical vignette where women are rarely viewed as equal to men, and expected to forgive men for violent treatment.
In his mid-forties Babbitt is becoming more restless. He rationalizes infidelity and discounts the value of his wife and family. He chooses to cheat on his wife because he feels his wife does not understand him. Babbitt deludes himself with the idea that another sexual relationship in his life is his right, and that it will not hurt anyone. One may presume this is another satirical vignette. On the other hand, how many men and women rationalize their way to extra marital affairs today?
Lewis, through his characters, infers there is a struggle for fair, if not equal treatment, in women. In “Babbitt”, Lewis never gives women a role as superiors or equals that have intellectual interests in government, society, or culture. Rather, Babbitt suggests women often feign interest in a man’s thoughts for the desire of companionship, attention, and affection.
Babbitt implies women rarely seek intellectual stimulation or sexual gratification. Men are shown to classify women as shrewish because they are pushing husbands to be more expressive and attentive. There are many ways of interpreting Lewis’s intent but this is not an exaggerated satire, it is a truth of many men’s view of women.
An underlying theme in “Babbitt” is the inequality of American capitalism. Women and most minorities are less equal because they are either not in the work force, or in the work force at a lower wage. The union movement is struggling for recognition in the 1920s because of low wages being paid by business owners. Lewis suggests Babbitt begins to modify his opinion about the labor movement as he becomes entangled in the lives of less successful Americans like Paul and his spurned lover.
Wealthy capitalist see the answer to the union movement is electing a business President that cracks down on unions. Capitalists who have money and power classify the union movement as anarchic, communist, or socialist. (This sounds familiar today.) Babbitt suspects there is something wrong when he sees some union supporters are from the educated class. What makes Lewis’s observations fascinating is that they are written when America is in the midst of the roaring twenties; before the 1929 Wall Street’ crash. In the early 1920s, capitalism seems to be a tide raising all boats when in fact it is a torpedo being readied for launch.
Babbitt experiences peer pressure that causes him to recant any perceived support of union sympathizers and eventually returns to the fold of do-nothing conservatism. He recants his libertine ways and returns to hearth and home. But Lewis offers a twist by having Babbitt’s son shock the family by rebelling against standards of upper middle class life. He decides to marry without the blessings of his family or his church. George F. Babbitt is the only family member who whole heartedly supports his son’s unconventional act.
Babbitt writes in the midst of a burgeoning American industrial revolution. It seems what happened in the 1920s is similar to what is happening today. The industrial revolution is now the technology revolution; women are still undervalued, many Americans want a business President elected, and unions are being busted. Today’s young men and women are still breaking social conventions. The stage seems set. One hopes 2018 is not America’s roaring twenties; pending another economic crash.
Timothy Shutt’s lectures on “The Divine Comedy” are a valuable guide to understanding Dante’s masterpiece.
The origin of the story seems simple but its meaning is complex and revelatory. Dante Alighieri is a wealthy aristocrat that represents a major leadership faction in 13th century Italy, the “White Gulphs”, which are vying for power with the Ghibelline. Their conflict is over the integrity of the Pope in Rome when the papal enclave is to be relocated to Avignon, France. The move occurs in 1309 and lasts for 67 years.
Pope Boniface VIII sides with the Ghibelline to over throw the Gulphs and excommunicate Dante. Dante loses his political position, his wealth, and coincidentally, the life of the woman he loves, Beatrice. This crushing change in Dante’s life compels him to complete (between 1308 and 1321) what Shutt calls the greatest single piece of literature ever written.
Over a century before Martin Luther posts the “95 Theses” objecting to the church’s sale of indulgences; i.e. the sale of “the word” is a preeminent issue between the Gulphs and the Ghibelline. Pope Boniface betrays the Gulph Christian community by siding with the Ghibelline who endorse sale of indulgences.
The Pope, in Dante’s view, is a traitor to his community. In the pit of Dante’s despair, he creates an image of purgatory. He writes of a hell and heaven that crystallizes human belief in the divine. Virgil becomes Dante’s guide on an imagined journey from earth, to purgatory, to hell, and back.
Dante meets the souls of the dead and explains where they are, what sin they committed, what fate awaits them, and why some sins are greater than others. Dante reveals how all sins in life may only be forgiven with the grace of God. The keys to heaven lay in asking God’s forgiveness before death.
Dante defines sin, and redemption. Human death places souls in one of three places; i.e. purgatory, hell, or heaven. All sins are not created equal but all humankind begins life in sin and can only be redeemed through good works, baptism, forgiveness, and the grace of God.
Good works alone do not protect one from hell, or purgatory. It seems all transgressions can be forgiven but only with a request for grace from God before death. Sins have a weighted hierarchy; i.e. lust as the lesser; while being a traitor to one’s community is the greatest sin of all.
Dante’s hell is sometimes hot and sometimes cold—just below the ninth and lowest circle of hell, Dante sees Lucifer who dwells in an ice-cold wasteland. The devil does not speak but has three faces with three stuffed mouths that eternally chew on the bodies of three traitors; i.e. Brutus, Cassius, and Judas—the greatest of earth’s sinners in Dante’s poem. Surprisingly, some say, Pope Boniface VIII is at the eighth circle of hell; presumably because his betrayal was the lesser of Dante’s selected and unrepentant traitors.
After passing through the final depth of hell, Virgil guides Dante back to the beginning of the journey; here, Dante meets the soul of Beatrice. Virgil leaves, and Dante accompanies Beatrice in a journey to heaven.
Dante’s heaven encompasses all that is known and unknown. Dante journeys to the planets and stars. He sees God and views an inversion of time and space. He finds earth is the center of all that is God and that nothing exists that is not created by God.
Heaven is a circle of angels that dance and spin so fast that heaven and God are everywhere at all times and in all places. There are degrees of heaven but all who are worthy will have eternal life. Degrees of heaven have no consequence to those who dwell in higher or lower levels because they are happy in their place–without envy; and with acceptance, and grace for the imperfection of their souls.
Purgatory may be a way-station to heaven for a believer that is cleansed of their sin, or it may be an eternal home for the traitor, non-believer, or pagan. Hell is perdition for eternity with no surcease of pain or opportunity for escape. Heaven is a place of eternal rest, peace, and love.
One is overwhelmed by Dante’s genius whether or not he/she is a believer. Shutt gives one a better understanding of who Dante was and why “The Divine Comedy” is a classic.
Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America
Published by: The Great Courses
Lectures by: Professor Peter Conn
Professor Peter Conn prefaces his lectures on “Great American Bestsellers” by noting a bestseller’ label is not necessarily a measure of good or great writing but of popular consumption.
Historically, bestseller has meant high purchase volume for a book; usually, higher than expected. In the modern age, a bestseller label is often degraded by publishers; i.e. it is used as a marketing ploy rather than a measure of sales volume.
However, by more accurate measure of popular consumption, Conn argues bestsellers shape American culture, either by reinforcing or changing the direction of cultural norms. The books Conn identifies are American bestsellers because they fulfill two criteria. One, the books Conn selects and reviews are widely purchased. Two, Conn’s bestseller’ selections arguably reflect or shape American’ belief.
Most books Conn selects are well-known today. A few, like “The Bay Psalm Book”, “Ragged Dick”, and (at least to me) “The House of Mirth”, are obscure. Some of Conn’s selections have been reviewed by me in the past; e. g. Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth”, John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, Richard Wright’s “Native Son”, and Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”, Each of these books profoundly shape my view of America; partly from personal experience, but mostly from an author’s ability to paint pictures of others’ lives.
These lectures are informative. Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man” is as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century. It became a best seller because it reflected rising discontent with the direction of government. Todays’ political demonstrations offer similar resentment about elected representatives and an election system (now corrupted by money) that Paine railed against when writing about the rights of man.
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is another bestseller that moves modern readers with as much force as it did in the 1850s. Conn recounts the apocryphal (likely untrue) story of Abraham Lincoln’s welcome for Stowe to the White House—“So this is the little lady who started the great war”.
It is interesting to find that Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is criticized for what might be called “Black Samboing”. The last half of the book reflects a characterization of Huck’s companion, Jim, a runaway slave who compels Finn to choose between what is morally or legally right. The last half of the adventure makes Jim look like “Black Sambo”; i.e. one who shucks and grins rather than seeks freedom and the right to be treated as a human being. Twain seems to covet laughter at the expense of truth.
Conn identifies why Twain is a puzzle that confounds critics’ understanding. On the one hand, Twain is a man ahead of his time; on another he is a huckster seducing his audience with stereotypical and offensive characterizations of the poor and uneducated. Twain is an acquired taste; i.e. bitter like beer or coffee that either dulls or sharpens one’s senses.
“Native Son”, the first bestseller by an African-American, is a compelling and brutal picture of the consequences of discrimination. Conn tells of Richard Wrights’ hard life and its lessons in “Native Son”. It is a story of what being Black in America means. Many consequences of Wrights’ hard life are still being played out today.
In 24 lectures, Conn surveys many of yesterdays’ bestsellers; some of which have outlived their relevance but many that continue to speak “…volumes about the nation’s cultural climate” (a partial quotation from the publicist of the series).
Hayek wrote “The Road to Serfdom” during WWII. His observation was that Nazi Germany and its rise to power had a direct relationship with the growth of socialism, a belief that central planning and control are keys to national prosperity.
Hayek suggests that America and Great Britain suffer a similar strain of belief. He argues that central planning and control leads to totalitarianism. “The Road to Serfdom” is a prescient vision of the dangers of socialism.
The dilemma of government is in drawing the line between central planning and public service. It is particularly complicated by what the intent of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution meant when it said a part of the purpose of government is to “promote the general welfare”
It seems common that authors of popular, sometimes classic, books are often interpreted by people who have not read them. Authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Wright, Ayn Rand, Vladimir Nabokov, and Friedrich Hayek are frequently commented on but content often becomes a surprise to actual readers.
Friedrich Hayek’s book is frequently lauded by American conservatives and vilified by American liberals.
In truth, Hayek is a seer for both ignorant American’ conservatives and liberals; i.e. Hayek is neither a spokesman for modern American conservatism or liberalism but a strong proponent of classic liberalism.
To be clear, today’s conservatism and liberalism are not defined in the same way Hayek defines them in his 1944 publication. Liberalism in 1944 meant belief in freedom of choice and endorsement of laissez-faire economic principles. 1944 conservatism meant a rejection of the principles of equality with an aristocratic, “rank has privileges”, ideology.
Principles of equality and laissez-fair economic principles are less doctrinaire in the 21st century because American political parties blur the difference. Modern liberals are closely associated with government regulation and intervention but not necessarily laissez-faire principles.
Modern conservatives are opposed to government in most forms of regulation and intervention, but only in principle; not in practice. Modern conservatives, as well as liberals, endorse subsidization of private enterprise. Subsidization comes from tariffs, tax incentives, and other preferential treatment for private business and industry.
Contrary to a wide perception that John Maynard Keynes (a liberal economist in today’s parlance) denigrated “The Road to Serfdom”; Keynes, in fact, praised it. John Maynard Keynes believed in government intervention when a state’s economy is in crisis.
According to Thomas Hazlett in the July 1992 issue of “Reason Magazine”, Keynes wrote “In my opinion it (Road to Serfdom) is a grand book…Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it; and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement”.
Though Keynes praised “The Road to Serfdom”, he did not think Hayek’s economic’ liberalism practical; i.e. Keynes infers that Hayek could not practically draw a line between a safety net for the poor, uninsured-sick, and unemployed (which Hayek endorsed) while denying government intervention in a competitive, laissez-faire economy.
When businesses have an unfair advantage that denies competition, Hayek suggests government regulation is required.
Where modern conservatives get “The Road to Serfdom” wrong is where Hayek writes that government has an important role in a nation’s economy that goes beyond a simplistic notion of laissez-faire.
Where modern liberals misunderstand “The Road to Serfdom” is where Hayek explains that freedom of choice is essential within the bounds of safe pursuit of economic success. When human safety issues from uncontrolled industrial pollution threatens the safety of society (which most modern scientific opinion calls global warming) Hayek writes government intervention is necessary.
After listening to “The Road to Serfdom”, one cannot help but believe that Hayek would be as appalled by “private” industry’s greed in the 21st century.
Hayek wrote that big business is not bad in itself but big business that fails to compete on a level playing field because of government subsidy, through tax concession and special treatment, should be regulated by government to ensure fair play.
In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Trump denies the reality of global warming.
One is compelled to agree with Hayek when he observes that government programs interfere with free choice when government officials create social programs they think are good for someone else. Hayek is not saying that government should not care for the poor, work-disabled, or technologically unemployed. He writes: “Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.”
Hayek goes on to suggest that technological change that causes unemployment warrants government assistance. The danger Hayek tries to make clear is that government interferes with free choice when social programs try to create false equalities.
Hayek writes: “Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.”
Hayek is acknowledging a role for government. The role is to regulate private enterprise in those areas where freedom of choice or equal opportunity is infringed upon.
Hayek’s only caveat is that the insurance be offered as an affordable, free enterprise, and individual choice, not as an entitlement.
Hayek opposes government programs that interfere with free competition among similar businesses.
The weakness of Hayek’s argument is in idealization of humanity; i.e. human nature is that leaders in government and the private sector will drive for advantage. In the case of one country, that advantage may theoretically be mitigated by impartial government regulation but, in a world of sovereign nations, power is inherently limited.
If China wants to subsidize steel exports, American options are limited to creating import tariffs that further distort market competition. This is the mistaken route that President Trump has taken. Further, Hayek’s idealization presumes that politicians cannot be bribed, human beings are not prejudiced, populations have an equal opportunity to succeed, and humanity is inhumanly perfect when left in a state of grace.
Hayek correctly points out the importance of money as a measure of success in a free society. However, in today’s America, “Moneyocracy” has become an American form of government. “Moneyocracy” is the aristocracy of the 21st century that elects public officials, denies equality of opportunity—for education, economic mobility, and employment.
The gap between the rich and poor is widening by degrees that may bankrupt America because of an enlarging safety net for the old, the sick, the unemployed, and the unemployable.
The field of competition for free enterprise is becoming more unequal. Hayek observes that government intervention slips into socialism when free enterprise is artificially manipulated. The fear is that America will begin looking for their Hitler to manage a sick economy.
Conservatives that rant against government regulation based on Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” are as incorrect as liberals that argue Hayek wrote against social government programs for the poor, disabled, and unemployed.
In reading “Cry, the Beloved Country”, one should remember it was published in 1948. Alan Paton’s book updates Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. It is less brutal than Wright’s “Native Son” or Morrison’s “Beloved” but it strikes at the heart of apartheid and the insidious nature of discrimination and slavery.
Paton was a South African white man who lived the life he wrote about. Paton, among other things, managed a black reform school in South Africa in the early 40s. One is reminded, in some ways, of Nelson Mandela’s life in Paton’s main character, Stephen Kumalo. In other ways, Mandela moves way beyond Kumalo.
Contrary to one’s belief about Mandela, Kumalo is like Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book. He is a good man; a wise man, but he fails to understand the terrible truths of discrimination and its insidious effect on society–both on the discriminated and the discriminator. One doubts that Mandela ever had any misunderstanding of discrimination’s effect on society.
One can argue Kumalo deserves the pejorative meaning of a modern “Uncle Tom” definition. But Paton makes the reader or listener walk in Kumalo’s shoes. Maybe Kumalo is “a black man considered to be excessively obedient or servile”; on the other hand, Kumalo is a hero—the best of what human beings can be in the circumstance of history. Therein lays a comparison with Mandela and his decision to invite a suppressive white government into his administration. The goal of Paton, his character Kumalo, and Mandela was to preserve a beloved country.
The execution of Kumalo’s son, the prostitution of his sister, the corruption of his brother are consequent behaviors of discrimination; Kumalo sees but fails to act because he is seduced by faith and constrained by white suppression.
Life is full of compromise; full of good and evil. The fictional Kumalo and real Mandela did the best they could in the circumstance of their lives; which seems better than can be said of 99% of the human race.
“Cry, the Beloved Country” begs the question of what is right by inferring much of South Africa’s suppression was driven by white’ fear. More succinctly, discrimination is shown by Paton to be a complex evil.
Paton creates characters with a growing white understanding of the damage caused by discrimination while subtly injecting a more militant black movement. Again, one is reminded of Mandela’s early life which led to imprisonment.
“Cry the Beloved Country” gives one some sense of what life must have been like for Nelson Mandela.
By: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Donald M. Frame (translator)
Narrated by Christopher Lane
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a sixteenth century philosopher and writer, wrote and re-wrote “Essays”, originally published in the 1580s. Essay was a new form of writing. Montaigne’s subject is the philosophy of life and death.
Montaigne writes his collection of essays while cloistered in a château in southwest France. Donald Frame translates and compiles three volumes of Montaigne’ essays into one book–“The Complete Essays of Montaigne”, first published in 1957.
Montaigne, born into a family of wealth, affords the luxury of time for personal reflection and contemplation. Not surprisingly, Aristotle wrote that life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation. In one respect, this quiet life is a contradiction in Montaigne’s philosophy. Montaigne reflects on history and ancient times to explain how life should be lived when his life seems a shadow of most people’s reality, the reality of a day-to-day fight for survival. There is reader skepticism about the 1% life of Montaigne versus the 99% life of most people.
Montaigne, with great family wealth and a storied education, becomes a Mayor of Bordeaux. He draws on a privileged life and recorded lives of great philosophers and leaders to create insight about lives of those that “do”, and have little time, or no time, to contemplate.
Montaigne suggests the appeal of his essays lies in the middle of the human population. Montaigne suggests the in-between are those who are not highly intelligent, who are abysmally ignorant; preferentially plebeian, and ordinary. In other words, people of course nature and manner, like this critic. In spite of this elitist leaning, the wisdom noted in Monsieur Montaigne’s essays is enlightening.
This is a one thousand page journey with something for everyone. Montaigne suggests humans need to embrace life and eschew tragic interpretations of death. Life and death are only stories of being. Death is inevitable and should not be feared. Death should be embraced like life; it is merely a final act, a denouement of life; well or poorly lived. In Montaigne’s opinion there are justifications for ending one’s life volitionally but only for valued reason.
Montaigne suggests women may choose to kill themselves rather than be raped. Men may choose to kill themselves and murder their families to avoid enslavement by an enemy. The defeated may kill themselves if mortally ill or wounded. To Montaigne, euthanasia is permissible at death’s door. Today, the lines are only slightly more clearly drawn and only in a few of the American States (like Washington, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and California).
Montaigne is Epicurean in the sense that he believes living life is meant to be a pursuit of pleasure. However, the pursuit of pleasure is not defined by money, power, or prestige. Those pleasures are diminished by their attainment because they are insatiable human desires.
When one makes more money than needed to sustain life, he/she buys more of what is not needed. Those “not-needed” things become human’ handcuffs. Owners worry about losing things; worry about replacing things; worry about keeping up with neighbors. Life becomes an unending accumulation of things that fail to satiate desire.
Power never rests. Power is always moving like an electron around a nucleus of followers. Leaders are enslaved by followers.
Leaders worry about followers, worry about competition for position, worry about their place in history; they die alone just like every human being. Power is an ephemeral pleasure that never rests in one place.
Prestige comes from respect of fellow human beings. It is outside the control of the seekers or the chosen; it is limited by the opinion of others; it changes like the direction of the wind or the habits of the culture within which one lives.
Montaigne attacks cultural shibboleths that are based on unfounded reason. Because one says the earth is the center of the universe does not make it so but a universe of fiction may grow around a culture of mysticism that defies the natural state of being. Montaigne insists on skepticism when confronted with culturally reinforced habit that is not bound by nature.
Pleasure lies in self-understanding; doing what one is best at; and letting go of life when it fails to improve self-understanding or keeps one from valuing existence. Montaigne cites many ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Lucretius that reinforce his arguments.
Plato drives the point of virtue as the human characteristic of doing what one is best at doing. Montaigne notes that both Plato and Aristotle emphasize the importance of education for self-understanding. Self-understanding inures to the benefit of humankind by revealing to each what they are best at and giving them tools (through education) to be the best they can be. Montaigne insists on learning; not rote memorization, but clear understanding. Montaigne argues that it is not reciting what someone has said but understanding what is meant by what is said. This is a somewhat ironic statement in view of Montaigne’s voluminous quotes from dead philosophers.
Montaigne reflects on his upbringing and his Father’s drive to educate his son by making Latin Montaigne’s first language, the language of scholarship in the 16th century. Montaigne did not only live the life of a scholar. He was elected mayor of Bordeaux before retiring to his cloistered existence as a writer of the “…Essays…” Montaigne applauds his father for providing him an education and infers that every family is obligated to support education of their children.
Montaigne died from complications of tonsillitis at the age of 59. Frame’s translation of Montaigne’s essays offers a philosophy of life in a horse-size pill. It encourages the old but escapes the young because life happens too fast.
As George Bernard Shaw notes, youth is wasted on the young; probably because they are too busy for contemplation. “The Complete Essays of Montaigne” is an insightful guide for the conduct of life and the acceptance of death.
ADAM SMITH (1723-1790, AUTHOR OF -THE WEALTH OF NATIONS)
“The Wealth of Nations” is often referred to but rarely read or listened to in the 21st century. Thirty Six hours of an audio book is punishing. However, one is surprised by Adam Smith’s prescient understanding of the value of freedom and his appreciation of the American and British conflict over American’ colonization.
“The Wealth of Nations” is not only about economics. It is about politics as an essential ingredient of economics.
Britain was among the mercantile leaders of the world when his book was published in 1776, the year of American Independence.
Dutch dominance had receded; Spain and France were vying for monarchical rule of Western Europe while Napoleon was soon to dominate the east and west European continent. British imperialism was on the rise. Britain became the dominant moral and economic power of the 19th century.
Adam Smith’s publication defined and codified economics while recognizing the economic limitation of imperialist expansion. Long before Britain’s ascension to the moral and economic leader of the world, Smith noted the error of denying self-determination to distant colonies.
Contrary to President Trump’s “America First”, Smith believed that whatever is produced at the cheapest price and best quality for the consumer is the guiding principle of “The Wealth of Nations”.
Smith argued that business regulation should begin with the best interest of the consumer at the forefront of legislation.
In general, Smith argues that trade monopolies are bad and competition is good. Governments that restrict trade hurt the consumer; therefore, tariffs on foreign goods should be abolished. To Smith, anything that restricts free trade is bad.
Former Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew agrees with the father of economics–eliminating tariffs imposed on goods…would help ease inflation (Nov 3o, 2021 CNBC article). Concern over job loss in America if trade tariffs are eliminated is absurd when looked at through the eyes of an economy transitioning from industrialization to technology.
Freedom was a big deal to Adam Smith. The essence of Smith’s view of economics is that the consumer should be the beginning and end point of all economic decisions and actions. In some respect, this narrow interpretation of “The Wealth of Nations” suffers from the same nearsightedness of a more contemporary author, Ayn Rand.
Rand argues that competition, without government interference, is essential to progress. Both authors ignore weaknesses inherent in human nature that demand some level of government regulation.
On the other hand, government regulation is subject to the same human frailties as business. Laws of “unintended consequence” play out in both political and business decisions. The consumer is an employee as well as an employer.
The economic consequences of wages that do not meet the basic needs of family survival because of foreign competition, technology, industrial obsolescence, etc. have real consequence to employers as well as employees. Bankruptcies occur, unemployment rises, the rich become less rich and the poor starve. Just as Smith’s reviled monopolies, free markets have consequences.
Smith is right. Rand is right. But, both are idealistic rather than realistic because of the nature of humankind. They both infer everything works out in the long run when humankind is left alone.
JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (1883-1946)
John Maynard Keynes noted, we are all dead in the long run. (In fairness, Smith does acknowledge limited circumstances in which government regulation is justified.)
What is fascinating about Smith’s work is its historical context. He infers that American colonies have reason for discontent because of British taxation without representation. He also suggests Britain’s imperialist decisions and actions should be tempered by a cost benefit analysis of what British subjects receive in respect to costs of managing economies thousands of miles away.
Smith effectively introduced rationality to economics. Capitalism became a marriage between politics and economics.
One can argue that Britain followed Smith’s advice about imperialism through the 18th and 19th centuries to become the most powerful nation in the world. But Britain’s grasp of the cost of imperialism began to slip in the 20th century and a decline in economic strength began. The cost of imperialist policy exceeded the benefit; not to mention, the inherent immorality and unfairness of cultural subjugation.
Visiting “The Wealth of Nations” is a worthwhile journey into history. Is there a 21st century Adam Smith in America’s future or is he/she pottering around Asia, Europe, the Middle East or Africa and not yet recognized?
Flights of imagination sparkle and spin in this updated 1950s Ray Bradbury classic. This compendium of Bradbury’ tales is titled “The Illustrated Man”.
Bradbury spins stories; reminding one of late night re-runs of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone”. Every episode sparkles with stars and planets, habitable by man but riddled with fear, death, and destruction. Bradbury grasps human nature and turns it against itself by writing stories that illustrate man’s selfishness, insecurity, wantonness, and aggression.
Tattoos come alive on rippling skin to act out a series of plays about mankind’s future. Everyone fears the illustrated man because his tattoos expose the worst in man. Belief that nuclear cataclysm will end life on earth blooms like a mushroom cloud. Traveling to other planets changes mankind’s environment but man’s nature remains the same.
These are not happy stories but they are great flights of imagination. Bradbury tells a story of human exile and deprivation that exacerbates selfishness when personal reward is dangled in front of exiled and deprived human beings. The dangled reward is stolen by one to keep it from the many; in the end the reward is destroyed by the selfishness of each against the other.
Insecurity is a devouring beast in the story of a planet blessed by an appearance of a Visitor (presumably Jesus) just before a rocket ship lands on the planet that has been visited. The captain disbelieves it has happened and is driven to track down this Visitor rather than settle in the insecure surroundings of a unblessed world. The captain is left to wander the universe, never to arrive in time to actually see the Visitor.
Wantonness is illustrated by the husband that is unhappily married. He duplicates himself. His duplicate takes his place beside his wife so he can buy a ticket to Rio to exercise his fantasy. The duplicate is so perfect it becomes as human as the husband. The duplicate places the wanton husband in a box to die, and buys a ticket to Rio for his wife to accompany it in its fantasy.
Human kind is aggressive. Humans conquer and destroy civilizations. One world of the future prepares for a second visit from mankind by becoming the image of a City. This image devours the men of the second visit and assumes their bodies; i.e. the City image is transformed into the bodies of the humans from this second visit. The City image plans to return to earth to destroy those who had destroyed them.
Bradbury is a master story-teller. Paul Michael Garcia’s narration is a tribute to Bradbury’s skill.