Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Melville on "Design"

The Shark Massacre (from Moby Dick)

Chapter LXVI

"Then in the Southern Fishery, a captured Sperm Whale, after long and weary toil, is brought alongside late at night, it is not, as a general thing at least, customary to proceed at once to the business of cutting him in. For that business is an exceedingly laborious one; is not very soon completed; and requires all hands to set about it. Therefore, the common usage is to take in all sail; lash the helm a'lee; and then send every one below to his hammock till daylight, with the reservation that, until that time, anchor-watches shall be kept; that is, two and two for an hour, each couple, the crew in rotation shall mount the deck to see that all goes well. But sometimes, especially upon the Line in the Pacific, this plan will not answer at all; because such incalculable hosts of sharks gather round the moored carcase, that were he left so for six hours, say, on a stretch, little more than the skeleton would be visible by morning. In most other parts of the ocean, however, where these fish do not so largely abound, their wondrous voracity can be at times considerably diminished, by vigorously stirring them up with sharp whaling-spades, a procedure notwithstanding, which, in some instances, only seems to tickle them into still greater activity. But it was not thus in the present case with the Pequod's sharks; though, to be sure, any man unaccustomed to such sights, to have looked over her side that night, would have almost thought the whole round sea was one huge cheese, and those sharks the maggots in it. nevertheless, upon Stubb setting the anchor-watch after his supper was concluded; and when, accordingly, Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small excitement was created among the sharks; for immediately suspending the cutting stages over the side, and lowering three lanterns, so that they cast long gleams of light over the turbid sea, these two mariners, darting their long whaling-spades, kept up an incessant murdering of the sharks, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly their only vital part. But in the foamy confusion of their mixed and struggling hosts, the marksmen could not always hit their mark; and this brought about new revelations of the incredible ferocity of the foe. They viciously snapped, not only at each other's disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound. Nor was this all. It was unsafe to meddle with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures. A sort of generic or Pantheistic vitality seemed to lurk in their very joints and bones, after what might be called the individual life had departed. Killed and hoisted on deck for the sake of his skin, one of these sharks almost took poor Queequeg's hand off, when he tried to shut down the dead lid of his murderous jaw. Queequeg no care what god made him shark, said the savage, agonizingly lifting his hand up and down; wedder Fejee god or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

From Hegel's "Philosophy of Right":

"The Eumenides sleep, but crime awakens them, and hence it is the very act of crime itself which vindicates itself. — Now although requital cannot simply be made specifically equal to the crime, the case is otherwise with murder, which is of necessity liable to the death penalty; the reason is that since life is the full compass of a man’s existence, the punishment here cannot simply consist in a ‘value’, for none is great enough, but can consist only in taking away a second life."

Hegel makes it clear that retribution is not merely revenge of a feudal sort, but a type of universalized morality which the criminal's act made possible: the state in some sense acknowledges the rational maxim of the criminal--i.e. "felonies are permissible"--and applies it to the criminal himself.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


"One who believes as I do, that free intellect is the chief engine of human progress, cannot but be fundamentally opposed to Bolshevism as much as to the Church of Rome. The hopes which inspire communism are, in the main, as admirable as those instilled by the Sermon on the Mount, but they are held as fanatically and are as likely to do as much harm."
— Bertrand Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, 1920

I understand the marxist and utopian impulse but feel it's ultimately naive and futile, especially in regards to the economy of America. In Europe perhaps a leisure economy might eventually come about--in England or US unlikely (except for the wealthy or the heirs and heiresses of the wealthy--who already do live that life). Besides, the vindictive and retributive aspects of leftism are driving the engine as much as the utopian do. And there are so many other problems which Marxism really never addressed-- basic pathopsychology for one. Bosses and capitalists enjoy power and even sadism. So do lots of people. Prostitutes won't be eliminated in the near future either, no will soldiers or criminals. Marxism again seems very close in ways to the sort of, well, nearly Blakean visions--or perhaps zionist-- of pastoral bliss which poets and preachers always refer to, and as much a sentimental and a-historical fairy tale as is protestantism.

Additionally, the blogger left has little interest in say the specifics of socialist agriculture or technology: their hatred of "capitalism" is more akin to lower-management's resentment for executives at the top: they don't really envision some pastoral-Maoist communism, they envision themselves with a management niche, which they cannot presently obtain with their English or philosophy degree or whatever. In the dreamt-of Marxist pleasure-dome, they will have that management job (tho paid for by the Peoples) an office and some real power

Marxism, whatever it once may have been--and we would do well to recall the disdain for Marxism and the so-called "class sruggle" shown by Keynes, a far better economist and thinker than Marx, as well as the trenchant criticisms of Lenin and the bolsheviks raised by Russell, who visited Russia in the 20s---now functions primarily as ideological support for black nationalism and Islam. There is this incredibly hostile attitude to any traces of Western rationalism or culture; a complete rejection of not only capitalism but of the entire tradition of European intellectual life. And really even if you were to join forces with say some of these groups--the WSWS--you put on your gulag rags as you do it; i.e. your race is guilty of historical crimes, even though they may have fought in WWII against the fascists.

People act out of their self-interest: if someone is marginalized, or victim of prejucice, poor, so forth, Marxism might appeal; if not, or stands to lose were the Revolution to be enacted, it probably won't. To demonstrate that this imagined statist utopia is Good (however you define that today) across the board is an issue rarely taken up. Most of the marxist "theorists" continually neglect this basic situationalism: they in effect ask the European or American "bourgeois" to sort of admit that he is part of the oligarchy and a problem to be eliminated.

Having said that, I think there is a valid Marxist point regarding the injustice of the division of labor , yet most of these literary-leftist types don't acknowledge it. There may be something fundamentally wrong with a society which permits one group of people to be teachers, professionals, technicians, etc. while another group must do the dirty work--mechanics, food, assembly, custodial, etc.. Marx's rather abstract approach doesn't really address the potential injustice of the division of labor in much detail, and I feel that without some fundamental notion of entitlement attacks on the division of labor are meaningless. I empathize with the type of old-school social realist who desired to rip lawyers out of their offices and put them in overalls and into the fields--and the same for priests, financiers, bureaucrats of all types-- perhaps humanities professors also could join them in the tractor mechanic job re-hab workshop. Furthermore, who does the maintenance, food service or, egads, custodial work at the shop? Revolving duties it would seem if some egalitarianism is assumed across the board.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Smoke the Perp'

Convicted of multiple murders, the death row inmate known as "Tookie" Williams now faces execution, unless King Arnold decides, maybe after some persuasion from his limousine liberal-spouse Maria, to spare his life. The evidence appears rather convincing that Williams committed the murders--and the jury was not all white, as Williams later falsely claimed. That he continued to lie about his innocence--a lie which the liberals all seem to believe, as naive do-gooders are wont to--annoys nearly as much as do his claims to have been reformed by writing children's books while in stir.

There are arguments against the death penalty: some have argued against executions since the justice of preventing a possibly innocent, or mostly innocent person, from being executed may outweigh the good and the sense of Justice, whatever it is, that the actual execution brings about. That is not a bad argument, per se (though crime victims' family members would unlikely agree with it); and this would imply that all executions --including the execution of human monsters such as a John Wayne Gacy, Bundy, or Larry Bittaker --be prevented, so as to eliminate the possibility of a wrongly convicted person from being killed (and this has occured, possibly in the Chessman case in the 60s). Yet the anti-death penalty crowd, the celebrity sentimentalists and associated cry-babies protesting Williams' impending death are not really arguing that; or if they are, then they should also be working to prevent the death of Larry Bittaker (Free Pliers!) or Scotty Peterson. This will not likely occur.

Though one could do the Sociology 101 research project and argue for death penalty as deterrent (or not as deterrent) etc., my own sense is that the execution functions in a far more primordial fashion than as a preventive measure- -it is a ritual of sorts, a sort of enactment of Justice, which brings a certain sesne of satisfaction, even of pleasure to the victims, or family of the victims. Perhaps it's primitive, as primitive as the Old Testament or Koran, but then not nearly as primitive as the condemned man's murderous acts themselves.

The photos of Old West hangings, or of executions in Europe and the Middle East (the muslim Imams would never permit this sort of debate) provide evidence of this ritual character: in the frontier town a hanging was an event attended by all, and not without a certain glee. I suspect it is a similiar type of festive occasion in Muslim cities. Perhaps some clever opportunists might rally the state to allow public viewing and allow vendors (to have witnessed Aileen Wuornos' death would have been quite delightful); hell, broadcast it on the web.
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