Friday, 24 August 2007


“Every philosophy which believes that the problem of existence is touched on, not to say solved, by a political event is a joke — and a pseudo-philosophy.”
F.W. Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer as Educator”, Untimely Meditations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp.147-8.

A Galton-Survey

“Whenever I have occasion to classify the persons I meet into three classes, ‘good, medium, bad’, I use a needle mounted as a pricker, wherewith to prick holes, unseen, in a piece of paper, torn rudely into a cross with a long leg. I use its upper end for ‘good’, the cross-arm for ‘medium’, the lower end for ‘bad’. The prick-holes keep distinct, and are easily read off at leisure. The object, place, and date are written on the paper. I used this plan for my beauty data, classifying the girls I passed in streets or elsewhere as attractive, indifferent, or repellent. Of course this was a purely individual estimate, but it was consistent, judging from the conformity of different attempts in the same population. I found London to rank highest for beauty; Aberdeen lowest.”
Francis Galton, Memories of My Life (London: Methuen & Co., 1908), pp.315-16. (Available online at

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Some Sense of Culture

Liverpool is to be European Capital of Culture in 2008. One must charitably suppose that it is culture in the anthropological sense.

A Human Concern

“Nothing of human concern is really outside psychiatry.” [1] In this universal purblindness, much of human concern is lost from sight, falling outside the scope of a professional morbidity that sees every kind of behaviour as an ailment, every belief as a delusion, and every attitude as a sickness to be cured.
[1] Karl Menninger, quoted by Jeffrey Oliver, “The Myth of Thomas Szasz”, The New Atlantis, 13, Summer 2006. (Presumably psychiatry itself — as a human concern — is also a mental disorder to be treated. Cf., Karl Kraus’s saying: “Psychoanalysis is that mental illness for which it regards itself as therapy.”)

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Fewtril #211

Anthropology is the study whereby for every bad idea proposed by Western sophisticates, there can be found a tribe of savages testifying to its usefulness.

Fewtril #210

Evil is very far from banal — it is exciting, intoxicating, and brings spiritual weight and animation to even the most mundane of tasks. If it were otherwise, it wouldn’t prove so attractive, nor would life-dulling piety be needful for those who feel the attraction most strongly.

Fewtril #209

The modern liberal — let us say it: the smug bourgeois — is fit only for comfort and cowardice. All his principles, ideals, values, and aversions stem therefrom.

Fewtril #208

If we wish to know all about the age in which we live, we must also read the writings of those who died before it began, who knew nothing about it at all.

Fewtril #207

Fawney-scholars and frivolous mediocrities, in trivial and low-regarded fields of study, take seriously the work of promoting geniuses from amongst themselves.

Fewtril #206

Be under no illusion: should a terrible and morbid regime be instituted tomorrow, all kinds of shabbiness will step out from the shadows of moral uprightness: excited eyes will fix themselves on the aesthetics of destruction; and pallid minds will feel refreshed in brutal expression, revived and ardent after long oppression.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Nothing Personal, Old Chap

Once the idea has arisen that all ideas are merely the accompanying shadows of various social classes, groups, races, etc, cast in the light of their fixed interests, then another idea may very well present itself: that the only — or at least the surest, quickest, and most effective — way to get rid of an idea is to get rid of the class, group, race, etc, in whose interest it is said to be an ever-attendant shadow. [1]
.....The observation that persons of certain ranks, stations, groups, etc, will tend to express some ideas that sit well with their interests is, of course, old; but the inflexible, universal, and theoretical formulation of it is of relatively recent origin; whereunder, with the licence and urgency of revolution, men of that stamp have been quick to draw the conclusion that argument, persuasion, even “re-education” are slow, inefficient, and ultimately futile means by which to eradicate opposing ideas, so long as the social classes, groups, races, etc, that give rise to them remain. As the founder of the Cheka put it:
[C]ouldn’t this correlation [of ideas with social classes] be altered? Say, through the subjection or extermination of some classes of society? [2]
Radical-revolutionaries, for all their idealism, are still practical people, and, given that they see no moral obstacles around which they must go, since the overriding good is the end towards which they strive, they tend to adopt the most direct route to their destination. As Lichtenberg noted sardonically during the French Revolution:
With conversions, one usually seeks to get rid of the opinion, without offending the head; in France one now acts in a shorter way: one takes away the opinion together with the head. [3]
Naturally, the process of mass-killing needn't be anything personal, for, given the premise, and in the absence of stricture or moral scruple, it can simply be an instrumental process towards a desired end, strictly business, ideally conducted as efficiently as possible, though perhaps with a modicum of indulgence to any humane sensitivities that might remain.
Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly. [4]
So wrote George Bernard Shaw, the renowned playwright and noted humanitarian. Perhaps he had got out of bed on the wrong side that morning, and boiled his breakfast-egg a minute too long. I know I’ve had mornings like that.
[1] Socialist intellectuals were the first advocates of mass-extermination as official social policy, conceived as the precondition of progress. As George Watson points out: “In the European century that began in the 1840s, from Engels’s article of 1849 down to the death of Hitler, everyone who advocated genocide called himself a socialist, and no exception has been found.” (George Watson, The Lost Literature of Socialism (Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 1998), p.80.) The reader can accept the challenge, and see if he can find an exception.
[2] Feliks Dzerzhinsky, quoted by George Leggett, The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), p.252, quoted by Paul Bogdanor, “The Communists as They Really Are”, The Bloodbath Left.
[3] G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), I/242,1 from Sudelbuch K, (1793), p.469. [“Sonst sucht man bei Bekehrungen die Meinung wegzuschaffen, ohne den Kopf anzutasten; in Frankreich verfährt man jetzt kürzer: man nimmt die Meinung mitsamt dem Kopf weg.”]
[4] George Bernard Shaw, Preface to On the Rocks: A Political Comedy (1933), republished online by Project Gutenberg. Therein also: “The notion that persons should be safe from extermination as long as they do not commit wilful murder, or levy war against the Crown, or kidnap, or throw vitriol, is not only to limit social responsibility unnecessarily, and to privilege the large range of intolerable misconduct that lies outside them, but to divert attention from the essential justification for extermination, which is always incorrigible social incompatibility and nothing else.” [. . .] “[T]he planners of the Soviet State have no time to bother about moribund questions; for they are confronted with the new and overwhelming necessity for exterminating the peasants, who still exist in formidable numbers. . . . For a Communist Utopia we need a population of Utopians; and Utopians do not grow wild on the bushes nor are they to be picked up in the slums: they have to be cultivated very carefully and expensively. Peasants will not do . . .”. Cf., H.G. Wells, another Fabian socialist: “The men of the New Republic will not be squeamish, either, in facing or inflicting death . . . They will have an ideal that will make killing worth the while . . .”. H.G. Wells, Anticipations, Of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (London: Chapman & Hall, 1902), p.300, reproduced online by Project Gutenberg.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Signs of Age

A social-scientific study, in which participants viewed photographs of persons over the age of seventy in order to assess visual signs of age in the elderly, has concluded that,
The main indicators of age are biological: skin, eyes and hair colour — but supplemented by vigour, style and grooming. [1]
It is to be hoped that this study will finally put to rest the long-standing hypothesis that it is principally cardigans and soup-stains that give the elderly away.
[1] Helle Rexbye & Jørgen Povlsen, “Visual Signs of Ageing: What are We Looking At?”, International Journal of Ageing and Later Life, Vol.2:1, 2007, pp.79-80. (According to the authors, the study has value because it “questions a postmodern [Baudrillardian] fluidity of visual signs — at least when the concern is signs of ageing.” (Ibid., p.80.) Are we really at the stage where scientific research is required to re-affirm the obvious in the face of the absurd?)

Friday, 27 July 2007

The Western Tradition of Humanistic Studies

“So far as there still survives anything of value from the Western tradition of humanistic studies, it is in spite of most of the people in the universities who are the heirs of that tradition.”
David Stove, “A Farewell to Arts: Marxism, Semiotics, and Feminism”, Cricket versus Republicanism (Sydney: Quakers Hill Press, 1995), p.14.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Haldane and Marxism

It is a great pity that J.B.S. Haldane, evolutionary biologist, co-founder of population genetics, and rather clever chap, was addled somewhat by ideology:
[D]ialectical materialism . . . is not merely a philosophy of history, but a philosophy which illuminates all events whatever, from the falling of a stone to a poet’s imaginings. [1]
One can only guess at what deep reasons might have led so clever a man to fall for something so shallow and foolish; but one can see quite clearly that the greatest gift to the persistence of this folly and many others is the favour of such men.
[1] J.B.S. Haldane, Preface to Friedrich Engels’ Dialectics of Nature, tr. C. Dutt, (New York: International Publishers, 1940), reproduced online at (Elsewhere: “I have tried to apply Marxism to the scientific problems of my own day, as Engels did over many years, and Lenin in 1908 [in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism]. I do not doubt that I have made mistakes. A Marxist must not be too afraid of making mistakes.” J.B.S. Haldane, The Marxist Philosophy and the Sciences (London: Random House, 1939), reproduced online at, 2002.

Fewtril #205

Perhaps the efficiency of a process advances to such a stage at which it must decline on account of all the time it frees for bored fools to have their brightest ideas on its improvement.

Fewtril #204

Relativism is the compliment that desperation pays to failing ideas.