Why's My Bookbag (or e-Reader Equivalent) so Heavy?
I think it was Bill of Summa fame who pointed me to the online essays of George Orwell. They will be copiously represented including this on Dickens:
"Marxist writer, Mr. T. A. Jackson, has made spirited efforts to turn Dickens into a blood-thirsty revolutionary. The Marxist claims him as 'almost' a Marxist, the Catholic claims him as 'almost' a Catholic, and both claim him as a champion of the proletariat (or 'the poor', as Chesterton would have put it). On the other hand, Nadezhda Krupskaya, in her little book on Lenin, relates that towards the end of his life Lenin went to see a dramatized version of THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH, and found Dickens's 'middle-class sentimentality' so intolerable that he walked out in the middle of a scene...And more...
Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens's attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it WERE overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as 'human nature'. It would be difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the economic system is wrong AS A SYSTEM. Nowhere, for instance, does he make any attack on private enterprise or private property...
[The book's] tendency if anything is pro-capitalist, because its whole moral is that capitalists ought to be kind, not that workers ought to be rebellious. Bounder by is a bullying windbag and Gradgrind has been morally blinded, but if they were better men, the system would work well enough that, all through, is the implication. And so far as social criticism goes, one can never extract much more from Dickens than this, unless one deliberately reads meanings into him. His whole 'message' is one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world would be decent."
"The early nineteenth century was not a good time to be a child. In Dickens's youth children were still being 'solemnly tried at a criminal bar, where they were held up to be seen', and it was not so long since boys of thirteen had been hanged for petty theft. The doctrine of 'breaking the child's spirit' was in full vigour, and THE FAIRCHILD FAMILY was a standard book for children till late into the century. This evil book is now issued in pretty-pretty expurgated editions, but it is well worth reading in the original version. It gives one some idea of the lengths to which child-discipline was sometimes carried. Mr. Fairchild, for instance, when he catches his children quarrelling, first thrashes them, reciting Dr. Watts's 'Let dogs delight to bark and bite' between blows of the cane, and then takes them to spend the afternoon beneath a gibbet where the rotting corpse of a murderer is hanging. In the earlier part of the century scores of thousands of children, aged sometimes as young as six, were literally worked to death in the mines or cotton mills, and even at the fashionable public schools boys were flogged till they ran with blood for a mistake in their Latin verses.And, to switch gears radically to the present, here is something from a NY Times piece on John McCain:
...But, as usual, Dickens's criticism is neither creative nor destructive. He sees the idiocy of an educational system founded on the Greek lexicon and the wax-ended cane; on the other hand, he has no use for the new kind of school that is coming up in the fifties and sixties, the 'modern' school, with its gritty insistence on 'facts'. What, then, DOES he want? As always, what he appears to want is a moralized version of the existing thing--the old type of school, but with no caning, no bullying or underfeeding, and not quite so much Greek."
"Conversely, [McCain] reserves special contempt for those he regards as arrogant phonies. A year after Barack Obama was sworn into the Senate, Salter recalls McCain saying, 'He’s got a future, I’ll reach out to him' — as McCain had to Russ Feingold and John Edwards, and as the liberal Arizona congressman Mo Udall had reached out to McCain as a freshman. McCain invited Obama to attend a bipartisan meeting on ethics reform. Obama gratefully accepted —but then wrote McCain a letter urging him to instead follow a legislative path recommended by Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate. Feeling double-crossed, McCain ordered Salter to 'send him a letter, brush him back a little.' Since that experience, says a Republican who has known McCain for a long time, 'there was certainly disdain and dislike of Obama.' A senior adviser to McCain said: 'The town halls, the ethics bill, immigration reform — all are examples. I think McCain finds it galling that Obama gets credit for his impressive talk about bipartisanship without ever having to bear the risk that is a part of that. It is so much harder to walk the walk in the Senate than to talk the talk.'"And now a catch-22 from Smick's "The World is Curved":
"U.S. policymakers are left with a particularly difficult dilemma. The U.S. financial services sector has dominated the world precisely because of its cowboy-like approach, always pushing the envelope of risk and reacting to market developments with rapid-fire decision-making. This is a system that in recent decades has contributed to an American entrepreneurial renaissance, a period of economic excitement and prosperity that has faded with today’s economic weakness and crisis of confidence. Yet the nature of this same financial system has terrorized the economic well-being of millions of middle-and-low-income homeowners. The danger will come if today’s class warfare politicians respond with an assault on the financial sector itself with no mention of the downside implications in terms of both job creation and economic opportunity."And another from Smick, which illustrates the point that democracies only work as long as her people are good (i.e. regulation works only to a point):
"A well-intentioned government bureaucrat is no match for the kind of creative and clever market wizards, and their lawyers, who begin searching for legal means around any regulatory constraint the instant the regulations are put in place. Today a senior Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officer earns between $143,000 and $216,000 per year. Even junior executive decision-makers at Goldman Sachs garner annual compensation packages in the millions of dollars....And one more from Orwell, on his sad experience working in a used book store:
The wizards within the financial markets have continually demonstrated an awesome ability to find legal means to skirt regulatory constraints. I suspect that many hedge funds, private equity funds, and other more mobile financial entities will also simply move offshore in the event of a new American regulatory regime where, in order to do a deal or conduct a financial trade, say, Federal Reserve or other government regulatory staffers could be part of a new, cumbersome decision-making process. The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip notes: “The Fed is being asked to do a job that may be beyond anyone’s ability: Identify and avoid a crisis in advance.”
But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro. There was a time when I really did love books--loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies' magazines of the sixties. For casual reading--in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch --there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl's Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can't borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.