Saturday, 25 July 2015

A REPORT ON THE SUPPRESSION OF SAVAGE CUSTOMS: CONRAD'S HEART OF DARKNESS


 
Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world.

 

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

 

 

The West is the best.

Get here, and we’ll do the rest.

 

Jim Morrison, The End

 

 

 

There are books I return to because they are works of genius, and others from a residual fondness. Then there are those books that cater to both needs, the ones that won’t let you be, that pull on your bedclothes on the blackest of nights. Such is Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness.

Known to cinema audiences via the refracting lens of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Conrad’s novella will be familiar to undergraduates of a certain age. Now, it is doubtless verboten on campus, as many books by reviled dead white males are. More will become so as progressivism tightens its grip on the universities. Imagine Conrad’s Nigger of the Narcissus on a contemporary syllabus.

Conrad, famously a man of the sea himself, based the tale on his own experiences as the stand-in skipper on a Belgian cargo ship on the (then) Belgian Congo in 1890. The captain of the Roi des Belges fell ill, and Conrad was appointed to take his place. Curiously, although he experienced some of the famous ‘horror’ of the interior’s barbarism, it was only when Conrad returned to London that he fell victim to depression, complaining, ironically, of ‘the hot, noisy and dissipated night of my neighbourhood’, that being Gillingham Street between Victoria and Pimlico. I lived round the corner for some years, and saluted the blue plaque on number 17 whenever I passed it.

Perhaps it was the focus of captaincy held that mental enervation at bay in the jungle, which might explain the wonderful reflection in Heart of Darkness on work;

‘I don’t like work – no man does – but I like what is in the work, - the chance to find yourself. Your own reality – for yourself, not for others – what no other man can ever know.’

Conrad’s narrator, Marlow (curiously the same name as Raymond Chandler’s gumshoe), tells his companions of his journey into the interior of the Belgian Congo to report on an ivory trader called Kurtz. A reluctant company man, Marlow comes across Kurtz’s infamous ‘unsound method’, as the European man struggles for sanity and mental order amid chaos, a stranger in a strange land. Value systems, normative cultural standards and Western behavioural protocols are suspended – or, in the case of Kurtz, forfeit – in this primeval state of nature. Marlow travels from acceptance of what a ‘[d]roll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose’ to the dread realisation that he no longer belongs to ‘a world of straightforward facts.’

Of course, if the book were to be read at university, it would be as an example of the evils of colonialism rather than the existential tract it is.

In the modern world, shaped and designed as it is by the PR people in the media and governing classes, the ‘narrative’ (which is what the Left have instead of ‘the truth’ or ‘the facts’) dictates that colonisation is a Great Evil, up there with racism and micro-aggression. Applying my First Law of Political Discourse – that you can more or less reverse anything that the Left holds to be historically true – one realises that, of course, colonialism was a thorough benison for every country fortunate enough to be colonised. An Indian speaker to the Oxford Union the other day was bleating about reparations for the British occupation under the Raj. Fine. Take the money, provided that you expunge your country of all British influence. Tear up your roads, renounce your legal system, undo your agriculture and go back to your Rousseauist paradise, if such it was. And we’ll stop funding your space programme, if that’s okay with you. Robert Mugabe, I note, is now inviting white farmers back onto the land he seized before economic collapse and 500 billion per cent inflation (the actual figure, not hyperbole).

If the British, Belgians, Dutch, Portugese and Spanish were sometimes brutal, then that was the nature of life then. There is no trans-temporal moral equivalence. And moral equivalence is Kurtz’s conundrum. Can morality function in a lawless world? This is the whisper that ‘echoed loudly within [Kurtz] because he was hollow at the core’.

In a week which has seen the publication in that progressivist rag The Guardian of a piece proposing that ISIS are cool because they fly in the face of capitalism, Conrad’s International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs would be busy indeed, although more likely to be prosecuted for racism than receive government funding. Kurtz has been commissioned to write a report on his findings for this fictional society, a report that thrills Marlow with its eloquence. We might ourselves take heed of the mad Kurtz. Of the report, Marlow says;

‘There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the page…’

This marginalia travels into Coppola’s film, and Western leaders – when they begin considering ISIS as what they are instead of trying to protect brand Islam by dissociating them from Mohammedanism – would do well to consider the Kurtzian imperative:

‘Exterminate all the brutes!’

Like Nabokov, Conrad was an eastern European who became one of the greatest prose stylists writing in English, and can be read purely for pleasure in addition to existential insight. And, like Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert, Kurtz is a troubled European who has gone into the least hospitable, most frightening interior of all; his own.

Colonialism is incidental to Heart of Darkness. It is a book about the dissolution of the European soul, and should be read and read again as such now that there is no longer need to travel up the Congo to view savage customs. YouTube now provides that service, until ISIS videos are removed, ostensibly as user service, in actuality to protect brand Islam. Exterminate all the brutes, indeed.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

GREEK FIRE: FORGETTING OIKONOMOS


Astrology became astronomy. Alchemy became chemistry. I wonder what economics will become.

Bernard Lewis

 
A doctor gives his patient six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill. The doctor gave him another six months.

Old joke

 

 Journalists become many things as the news cycles pass one into another. Just now, as Greece descends towards that Ancient Greek word anarkos, it is amusing to watch them becoming expert economists. However, although the scribblers seem aware that ‘democracy’ has Greek roots (demos: a people; kratos: power) they seem unconcerned that economics is also a classical Greek concept; oikonomos.

One would think the PC martinets of the press – today’s hacks are scarcely gentlemen – would have been all over the word, steeped in gender equality as it is. Oikonomos, broadly, referred to domestic financial affairs kept in balance, good house-husbandry, competent financial management, and was the largely the province of the lady of the Ancient Greek household. Economics, to the classical mind, was madame doing what she could with what she had. Would that the modern Greeks had not forgotten these classical, feminine rules and regulations, checks and balances.

Until its recent travails, Greece was a country with a public sector so wasteful and corrupt it made our own bloated state entity look like a lean, mean efficiency machine. Greek shadow jobs, whose staff would clock in and go home for the day, returning only to clock off, were common. Holidays were absurdly long, retirement unrealistically early. Fourteen paychecks a year were not uncommon. They had not read their septuagint, the original translation of the Bible, or they would have noted Luke 12:42;

‘The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful, wise housekeeper (oikonomos) whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?”’

The Greek government, those open-shirted, leather-jacketed, whining Flash Harries arguing with Merkel and her gang, could hardly be accused of being wise housekeepers. But is the rest of the Eurozone, is the rest of the world, any better? Looks at Spain, Italy, Portugal Look at China. Five years ago, I noted in a weblog that a man named James Chanos – famous for smelling a rat scuttling through Enron’s accounts – had found a new Enron. Its name was China.

At the time of writing, Chinese stocks have lost a quarter of their value in a month. Company directors have been banned from selling their own shares. The press has been forbidden from using phrases that indicate economic problems. The Chinese share a ghost infrastructure with the Spanish and a Muslim problem (their Uighur) population) with the rest of Europe. If these are tomorrow’s economic victors, what will the vanquished look like? Possibly much like America.

As Mark Steyn has noted, you can bail out little Greece, but there isn’t enough money on the planet to bail out America. Obama, the sainted black president we had supposedly all been waiting for, is an economic illiterate. In his first three years in office, he borrowed more than America had borrowed between George Washington’s presidency and that of George W Bush. He is a hardcore, supply-side Keynesian with a dash of revolutionary Marxism thrown in. After the disaster of Obamacare – in the defence of which the press dutifully rode shotgun – his latest wheeze is Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, a means by which he can reduce all American cities to the status of Detroit, Baltimore and St. Louis. On the one hand, he borrows financial capital which doesn’t exist; on the other, he destroys social capital which does. Fracking (which our Communist Greens are naturally against) may have slowed the decline of the American economy, but nothing can stop it.

In these times of economic guesswork, and to proffer a monetary metaphor, here is my two bobs’ worth. I think the Greek debacle is a sideshow, a distraction, the magician’s hand waving in the air, diverting the audience’s attention while the real action takes place in the other hand. Greece is a fall guy for the imminent dissolution of the European Union, a folly to rival anything at Louis XIV’s Versailles. The Greeks will be called the first falling domino that brought the others down, when the structural deficit of the UK economy (which we are lyingly told is growing into recovery) is worse than that of Greece.

I believe that the Chinese and American economies will collapse, with all the concomitant financial storms that will produce. The reason will be Communism, which did not simply pack up its bags and leave when the Berlin Wall was dismantled, but mutated and adapted, a malevolent sea-change, Gramsci’s mepamorphosis. The Chinese government is explicitly Communist. Obama is a Communist in all but name, although with a healthy dash of Saul Alinsky and Jeremiah Wright thrown in and a racial agenda which would bring America to its knees even if its economy was in the rudest of health, which it is not.

To return to our clucking, braying journalists. These pointy-headed stringers have had a lot of laughs with the idea of Greek tragedy, but the long financial suicide of a lazy Mediterranean holiday resort with a side-order of olives thrown in is not the central drama; it’s an off-Broadway flop whose demise we will be informed by the MSM will start a chain reaction contagious to the global economy so beloved of the Socialist new world government-in-waiting. But this is to make of Greece a scapegoat, the pharmakos of the ancient Greek city-state. Derrida writes about the pharmakos in Plato’s Pharmacy; simultaneously medicine and poison dependent on the quantity administered.

What will economics become? If you are a progressivist, it must constantly be moving forward, with everything else, into a glorious, Socialist, statist future. If you are a genuine conservative – and I am – then you may feel it is time for economics to go back, back to the Ancient Greek housewife tending to the things of the household, appeasing the simple gods of home and hearth.