“Les tyrans ne sont grands que parce que nous sommes à genoux.”
Étienne de La Boétie, from the essay Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr’un, published posthumously in 1576.
The line, modified by the replacement of “Tyrants” with “The great” and by the unnecessary and anticlimactic coda “let us rise”, would later be repeated by, and misattributed to, the French journalist Élisée Loustallot (d. 1790); his contemporary, the celebrated orator and leader of the Girondists, Pierre Vergniaud (subjected to show-trial and then guillotined in 1793); Russian proto-anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (d. 1876); and Big Jim Larkin, the Irish trade-unionist (d. 1947); followed by an endless succession of increasingly minor left-wing scribblers. Larkin is the most popular misattribution on the English internet, owing to his having spoken English (other kinds of people being widely, if privately, suspected by English-speakers of being merely imaginary) and to its appearance on Larkin’s Dublin memorial.
History has a tendency to move in and out of believability: is this façade not beyond parody? Was this possible? It was more than possible, it was imperative; it was accompanied by the percussion of not-merely-metaphorical truncheons. Next time you are tempted to believe that matters will take care of themselves, that the powerful are as trustworthy as the powerless, that the contingency of human affairs does not extend to the unthinkable, remember: Si. This, this, was how people decided they would live.
Submitted via web form Tuesday, January 8, 2013, and preserved here for posterity as a sterling example of my own peculiar variety of “breathless, raving, hysterical baloney.”
Just put six granola bars in the box. I’m sure your extensive psychological research and detailed behavioural studies and market testing and sinister backwoods mind control juju all demonstrate conclusively that you can make more money from the mouth-breathing rubes if you sell them a package sized for six units but only put five in the box; I know the packaging tells the rubes clearly and unambiguously, in several places, exactly what they’re getting; and I know every second I spend writing this is a second I won’t get back; but I’m begging you: strike a blow for common human decency. Put six in the box and charge what you need to. Every time an ordinary person, who should really know better by now but, as your money-extraction technicians have no doubt proven by way of a half-dozen exhaustive PowerPoint presentations, can’t really afford the brain cycles it would take to be actually vigilant with respect to the question of whether a box contains as much granola as it looks like it should, and therefore buys your product with the implicit, unexamined expectation he or she will get six bars, and then gets home and opens it and is just that tiniest bit betrayed and disappointed, you have eroded a single grain of honesty from the world and replaced it with a speck of pointless venality. It is disgusting. “It’s business.” It’s un-American. It’s loathsome. I am in absolute earnest, and it is only my certain knowledge that there is not the slightest possibility you will ever put six bars in the box that leads me to adopt such a facetious tone.
Well, at any rate this will surely brighten someone’s otherwise soulless corporate day.
Also: “Without limitation, General Mills shall exclusively own all now known or hereafter existing rights to the suggestions of every kind and nature throughout the Universe” is such perfect legal department claptrap, such breathless, raving, hysterical baloney. I particularly appreciate the capital U. Someone deserves a bonus.
In a certain underdeveloped country, the story circulated about a prominent father who was worried that his son, propelled into a senior job in a ministry by his father’s influence, was being led into bad habits by his large salary. The father approached his friend the minister, and begged him to re-allocate his son into a more junior post. The minister expostulated: “But my dear friend, if your son is to have a junior post, he’ll have to pass exams!”
Occupants of subordinate posts are meant to do a definite job, with clear job specifications. Hence, clear, publicly checkable criteria for performance and suitability exist. If these criteria are not applied, we feel that we are in the presence of corruption. Our efficiency depends on fair selection of persons for posts, and we believe in meritocracy. But at the top? Or in choice of fundamental policies? … No Delphic oracles for small issues, where reason prevails; but for really big questions, oracle-surrogates remain in use.
Ernest Gellner, Plough, Sword and Book
Napoleon on his Imperial Throne, 1806, as hideous as it is engrossing:
Is this bad art? It certainly oozes moral ugliness. Its Napoleon is not merely idealized, he is fetishized; I find the typically delicate little Ingres-hands (and his wee foot) almost nauseating in the middle of all this material concupiscence. The picture prefigures the Nuremberg Rallies. It is one of the most reactionary things I’ve ever seen. There is nothing lovely about it at all, and no trace of anything human. But I can’t stop looking at it.
I too felt a certain ill-defined awe and wonder upon watching the following document, a feeling of having encountered something powerful and unfamiliar. Having dwelt a little on the wherefores, I think I have pinpointed the source of this feeling: the film depicts people in an advanced condition of knowing what the fuck they are doing, which state of being I have certainly heard of, but often despair of observing first-hand.
This is a ten-minute silent film made in 1923 in central Sweden. A man forges nails; then two men make ox-shoes. Afterwards we pay a visit to a sawmill. It is not boring. If you find it boring, you should ask yourself some searching questions. Notice that the ox-shoes are made (with great and fascinating aplomb) in pairs, and that the winter models sport spikes. Also note the clean modernist typeface used for the captions. I encourage you to watch all the way to the end, where an odd insult awaits those who cannot speak Swedish. You will laugh at its impertinence, and then you will feel bad and stupid for laughing at someone else’s language, which is a little like pointing at a fat person, especially if the fat person then turns out to be your own reflection. Or something.
Men’s footwear may take only one shape, and that is shoe-shape. Long and pointy toes may be worn only if you are a 14th-century French courtier or a crazy Mexican, and in either case they must be very long and pointy indeed, in order to demonstrate that you are Very Serious about long and pointy toes and not just an idiot in shiny pants. I can’t think of anyone who is permitted to wear those shoes with the very square toes and the shiny buckles, including Italians. Linesmen? Frankenstein’s monster? (Putting on the Ritz!)