Monday, February 29, 2016

The Proletarian Mind

THE PROLETARIAN knows that his work enriches not himself but somebody else. He cannot, by saving in a proletarian society acquire independence as a small owner, for in a proletarian society the small owner is ruined. An exceptional man can rise out of the proletariat into the privileged owning class, but he does so at the expense of his fellows. The mass of him can never be other than proletarian, or at least the proletarian mind gets into that mood and is fixed in it.

The proletarian mind feels every incentive to spending what it earns and no incentive to saving, just as it has no direct incentive to work save for the necessity of keeping alive: and livelihood which is, in social justice, no more than his due. Is not the product of his own choice and effort, but is doled out to him by another.

His ideal can only be to get as much as possible for as little effort as possible. In pursuing that ideal his capitalist master set him the example; for the owners who in a capitalist state (that is, a proletarian society) are a privileged minority. They live by profit and by obtaining as much as possible for as little effort as possible—often with no effort beyond the gambler’s effort.

The proletarian mind is not conscious of duties to the commonwealth, save, still, in one particular, that of patriotism; and even that is growing weaker with the proletariat as proletarian conditions grow weaker with the proletariat as proletarian conditions grow more hopelessly permanent.

Far worse spiritual consequences follow. The proletarian mind loses the sense of home. For a proletariat has no roots. It drifts from place to place. Its habitation is “the labor market.” It inherits nothing and has no hope of handing on anything to posterity. To tell the plain truth, the proletarian mind despairs. So do the minds of its masters, for the evil we do others bears fruit in ourselves.

The proletarian mind cannot but fall into hatred of its oppressor and that hatred is enhanced by the contempt of which it feels itself to be unjustly the victim.

In such a mood how is it possible for men to enjoy leisure, to keep their sense of beauty and to exercise the Arts? The whole thing is inhuman.

Meanwhile the privileged owners live in dread of falling into the proletarian condition. That catastrophe lies before them on every occasion and this dread affects especially those who think wrongfully to benefit by the suffering of their fellow men.

The proletarian mind easily adheres to the profession of democracy. It will acclaim leaders who talk of democracy. But it is incapable of democratic action. It has forgotten what it was to be free. That is why modern industrial capitalism, as it is called (but we know that its true name is “proletarianism”) more and more in one country after another accepts a despot and under whatever name the despot is labeled looks to it for salvation from its misery.

There has never been such a mood before in the history of the world and of it nature it cannot endure, but in passing it may breed something worse still. Never before has there been a social system based upon destitution combined with political freedom; upon free citizens lacking economic freedom.

Note particularly that the worst feature in the whole affair is the lack of human bonds. To a man who has not experience of anything but the modern social injustice and who is filled with bitterness, the strength and value of a human bond, of loyalty, affection, neighborly custom between the poorer and the wealthier man can mean nothing. But to those who have experience of such human bonds, they mean everything.

It is not too late now to attempt a restoration of the old loyalties and personal contacts and long domestic familiarity which humanized and modified and made tolerable the older inequalities among men. When we come to speak of restoring better things we shall not begin by taking the proletarian mind for granted, we shall rather begin by aiming at destroying that mind and substituting for it conditions of economic freedom and the free mind of the free man.

~Hilaire Belloc: The Way Out, excerpt from Chap. 10.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

On Advertisement

FISHES do not know that they live in water. They think they live in the worlds at large, and very glad they are to be in so comfortable an air. When you take them out of the water into the real air they object, they protest, they kick, they gasp and they die. This is by way of telling you (if you did not know it already) that men do not grasp the characteristics of the place and time in which they live. That place and time in which they have become a part of their nature. They have long ceased to imagine anything other. And when you tell them that their environments are only those of the place and time in which they live, they either protest or tell you it is unimportant.

Now the characteristic of the place and time in which we live, here and to-day, is advertisement. It is by the universal presence of advertisement that our lives differ from those of our fathers. It is by the obsession of advertisement that our minds are moved in a manner peculiar to our generation, unknown to earlier generations and (please God!) to be equally strange to future generations. Not only things for sale, advertised by those who desire us to buy them, but false characters, false fame, false ill-repute, are drummed into us morning, noon, and night. Repetition has taken the place of emphasis and of reasoning. In that which men most eagerly pursue—I mean wealth—advertisement conditions everything.

Next to wealth, perhaps, what men desire is being talked about. It is a strange thing to want, but a great part of mankind do want it, especially in youth. Now to be talked about to-day you must be advertised. Indeed, men are not talked about at all nowadays unless they are advertised. Though the dead should rise, they would need advertisement. And the converse is true. If you would persuade men that the dead had risen having no other proof whatsoever of something so extraordinary, sufficient repetition of the falsehood would do the work.

Through advertisement all values are to-day sent awry. Each of us meets among a numerous acquaintance some few men who powerfully affect his mind, having more knowledge or more wisdom or more intensity than the rest. If they have more knowledge or more wisdom they are of high value to their fellows. If they, added to knowledge or to wisdom, have a desire to propagate such truths as they have discovered, they are of the highest value to their fellows. Yet none will know of them; while all will know too thoroughly the names at least of the advertised.

There is a consequence following on so strange and, let us hope, so ephemeral a state of affairs. It is this: that those who control the gates of advertisement are the masters of commerce and of opinion. Those who have in their possession the machinery (particularly through the Press) of repeating that this or that should be bought, that this or that is good, that this or that is wonderful, that this or that is true, hold and will hold the power to proclaim or to impose silence. For some time past these few “masters of the gate” (and in our urban modern way of living they are but a handful) were principally content with levying a toll, saying to the advertisers “you shall not pass through my gate until you have paid so much each.” The vast revenues they thus captured were at first sufficient for them. But there came upon them gradually, what more intelligent men would have discovered earlier in the business, the discovery that they could act positively as well as negatively. They could not only levy a toll but command. They could refuse or obstruct or encourage the passage through the gate. This gave them power, which, like fame and money, is very much desired by men; and so the masters of advertisement came not only to great fortunes but also to ruling.

Providence has so happily disposed the world that men desiring money and (in a less degree) men desiring fame, and (in a still lesser degree) men desiring power, are commonly stupid in proportion to the strength of such desired in them. Were it not so the harm done by the controllers of advertisement would be infinite. As it is, through their stupidity the harm is limited. But it is growing, as day by day the men upon whom advertisement depends discover and enlarge their opportunities. Their effect is as good an example as one could get of the universal truth, that evil comes from the substitution of the means for the end.

Are their limits to this evil? It is growing, manifestly. It is worse now by far than it was fifty years ago. Yet anyone who will look at the thing dispassionately, without allowing his disgust for the vileness of it to deflect his judgement, must admit that the disease does tend to a maximum and therefore to a limit; and, what is more, in that tendency to a maximum and to a limit we shall find the ultimate remedy for this disease. It will not be a remedy (alas!) of our own choosing. It will be a remedy imposed, as perhaps are most remedies to epidemics, by the nature of things.

Advertisement tends to a maximum and therefore to a limit in many ways. First of all it depends on repetition. It does not weary the crowd as soon as it wearies the more cultivated or the more contemplative, but at last it wearies even the crowd.
Picadilly Circus (2006)
Then there is the tendency to a maximum, and therefore to a limit through the exaggeration of competition, and through the decay of competition through merger. In commercial affairs this is evident. The fierce battle of advertisements between two rival sellers dies down because they are rivals no longer but have combined to bleed the public. They are whole departments of goods and services in which this slackening of advertisement through merger is already manifest. It is no doubt a bad remedy for a bad thing, but it is a remedy. It would seem that the only obstacle to such tendencies is that general merger of all control in one despotic centre, which is just now so fashionable a panacea for the misfortunes of human society. In the despotisms, where all competition is under control, any branch of it may be killed at a moment’s notice. But the despotisms themselves are founded upon advertisement—and advertisement carried to monstrous, inhuman lengths. Some name, some policy, some “slogan” (to use the jargon of advertisers) is shouted till men are deafened with it. Indeed, the modern despotisms would seem to be the very deification of advertisement. Yet under them particular advertisement dies, and that is the end of advertisement by powerful competing individuals. Satiety will do its work at last in this major case also. It looks as though here, as in much else, we shall not return to sanity and reasonable right living until there has been catastrophe. An unhappy conclusion! But it is the conclusion to which one road after another leads as we follow the misfortunes of our time.

When advertisement in every form has lost its power through excess, there will at last return, slowly and imperceptibly in a society grown barbaric and therefore simple, the proper process of fame, of commerce and the rest of it: the attainment of what men desire, not through publicity and repetition, but rather, as it was in better times, publicity and reputation coming as a natural fruit of living action. Men may then once more be famous for what they have done. Their characters may be admired or detested through the good or evil of their deeds and we shall be free once more to judge thing as they are.

~Hilaire Belloc: The Silence of the Sea and Other Essays (1941)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

"Time must always ultimately teach"

"SOONER or later Time brings the empty phrase and the false conclusion up against what is; the empty imaginary looks reality in the face and the truth at once conquers. In war a nation learns whether it is strong or no, and how it is strong and how weak; it learns it as well in defeat as in victory. In the long processes of human lives, in the succession of generations, the real necessities and nature of a human society destroy any false formula upon which it was attempted to conduct it. Time must always ultimately teach."

~Hilaire Belloc: Reality

Read the complete essay here

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"The popular Press"

"It [the popular Press] tends, for instance, to substitute notoriety for fame, and to base notoriety upon ridiculous accidents of wealth or adventure. Again, it presents as objects for admiration a bundle of things incongruous: a few of some moment, the great part trivial. Above all it grossly distorts.

"Its chief force as a sustainer of the "Modern Mind" lies in its power to intensify any disease prevalent in the masses, and especially in the human dust of our great towns. Thus the "Modern Mind" dislikes thinking: the popular Press increases that sloth by providing sensational substitutes. Disliking thought, the "Modern Mind" dislikes close attention, and indeed any sustained effort; the popular Press increases the debility by an orgy of pictures and headlines. The "Modern Mind" ascribes a false authority to reiteration; the popular Press serves it with ceaseless iteration."

~Hilaire Belloc: Survivals and New Arrivals, Chap. IV―The Main Opposition.

The Distributive State

“The Distributive State is the natural state of mankind. Men are happiest in such conditions; they can fulfil their being best and most perfectly themselves when they are owners and free.”

~Hilaire Belloc: Economics for Helen.

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