Towards the end of a long life, the American genre writer – and merchant seaman, jazz-man, and master of many trades – Jack Vance (1916 – 2013) produced an amusing autobiography entitled This is Me, Jack Vance! (2009); the book also carried a parenthetical and apologetic subtitle, Or, More Properly, This is I. In the subtitle Vance takes a jocund swipe at grammatical pedantry, and therefore at pedantry and Puritanism generally speaking, but he also affirms his passion for order, of which grammar is the linguistic species, without which (order, that is) freedom and justice, both of which he held as dear as anything, would be impossible. There are a number of scholarly anthologies devoted to Vance’s authorship and at least one book-length single-author study of his fiction, Jack Rawlins’ Dissonant Worlds of Jack Vance (1986). It is a pity, however, that no intellectual biography of Vance exists. This is Me gives the essential details of its writer’s curriculum vitae, but it is largely bereft of information concerning Vance’s artistic-philosophical formation. So is Rawlins’ study although it remains otherwise useful. If only, like Henry Miller, Vance had written his version of The Books in my Life! Concerning Vance’s artistic-philosophical formation, however, one might plausibly infer and arguably surmise a few probabilities. A writer is liable to be a reader, a prolific writer a prolific reader. A merchant seaman, as Vance remarks in his autobiography, finds himself with a good deal of time on his hands. Vance, who had briefly studied English at the University of California Berkeley, spent long stretches at sea during the Second World War, with a good deal of time on his hands. Two plausible guesses in respect of books that would have impressed themselves profoundly on Vance as he passed his time in their company are The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père and The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler.
The Count of Monte Cristo would have supplied Vance with a plotline, that of righteous and carefully schemed vengeance against arrogant and powerful offenders, which he used in his own brilliant way many times. Two books of Vance’s Alastor trilogy, Trullion (1973) and Marune (1975), are vengeance stories, as are all five volumes of The Demon Princes (1964 – 1981). As it did for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, and science fiction writer James Blish, among innumerable others, The Decline of the West would have deepened Vance’s sense of meaning and large-scale patterning in history; and it would have stimulated his interest in the comparison of cultures. In Spengler’s theory of the Great Cultures, as he called them, each Great Culture has a distinct physiognomy (Spengler’s term) that imprints and flavors its institutional manifestations and pervades the mental outlook of its every individual. A major element of Vance’s fiction is to establish through detailed description the distinct physiognomy – or as he calls it in a coinage of his own, the esmeric – of each of his fictional worlds and their societies. The Decline would also have honed Vance’s sensitivity to the crisis of European civilization, just as it had for Fitzgerald and Miller. Once again, the breakdown of social structures and the descent of civilization into renewed barbarism interest Vance almost obsessively. Vance’s authorship contains many other signs of Spengler’s background presence, not least in its tendency to insert extended philosophical discussions, sometimes as footnotes, into the unfolding story. In Vance’s later work, commencing with The Demon Princes, references occur to a certain “Baron Bodissey,” who seems to have been the Spengler of the settled cosmos, or the “Gaean Reach,” in the long-colonized solar systems of which, and among immensely old societies, Vance’s stories tend to occur. Spengler saw his Great Cultures as living entities. Vance’s Ecce and Old Earth (1991) quotes Bodissey’s study of “The Morphology of Settled Places,” in which he argues that “towns behave in many respects like living organisms,” a decidedly Spenglerian proposition.
The Texas killer, whose name I omit, was a proselytizing atheist, which puts him in the same circle as Lenin, Stalin, the Austrian demon Schickelgruber, Mao, Pol-Pot, and Che Guevara, to name but a few, and not merely for his atheism. As Richard Cocks pointed out to me in an email exchange earlier today, main-stream media have let the homicide’s religious convictions go unmentioned, but even the alternate sources of information seem not to know how to deal with it. I am struck by a couple of additional details.
Some people exhibit an amazing lack of interest in reality, content to imagine living in a wholly invented world. The notion that much of subjective experience is illusory is strongly connected with the beginnings of “modern” philosophy.
Galileo and Locke claimed that only things which are physical and measurable really exist. Galileo argued that primary qualities; solidity, motion, figure, extension and number were really real – being the objective properties of objects and that secondary qualities; color, sight, sound, small, taste and touch did not actually exist per se. They are merely artifacts; products of the sense organs that really have nothing to do with the objects being perceived. They are merely what our brains do when confronted with sensory input and primary qualities.
Yes, her name is “really” Reality Winner. (That’s what I would name my daughter.) When this, or she, or it, is the First Reality, it automatically produces the Second Reality; the process is akin to that of a college-student on Spring Break taking a “selfie,” or rather innumerable “selfies.” The Second Reality is always in the character of a “selfie.” This is an open thread. Like, totally, way open! Comments are invited. (“On what topic are comments invited?” — “Whatever, Dude.”)
Witness another version of the Second Reality below —
Dear Representative Pelosi:
My wife and I are stalwart Democrats seeking advice. We are planning an elaborate summer tour of several nations, some of them transatlantic, and we would like to know the correct order in which we should visit those nations. Here are some questions that we hope you can answer. –
Supposing that we planned a visit to London, should we list that on our itinerary as a trip to Britain or a trip to England? In either case, if we wished also to visit Edinburgh, in Scotland, would we need to visit either Britain or England first?
If we listed our London and Edinburgh destinations as the United Kingdom rather than Britain, England, or Scotland, would we need to visit Serbia, Slovenia, or Ukraine first? And does the Byelo in Byelorussia count, or is it the same, by your reckoning, as Russia? Again, how should we count Abkhazia, were we to visit there? Is it subsumed alphabetically by Georgia?
When visiting Finland, should we list it as Suomi, as Finns call their nation, and touch base Somalia first?
In what order might we correctly visit the different places called Georgia?
Finally, on a related topic, which bathrooms should we use when visiting the autonomous region of Trans-Dniester?
We are sincerely yours,
Mr. and Mrs. Qwerty
When you reduce selection pressure as the West has massively done since the Industrial Revolution, you get a lot more depravity (you get r instead of K), because the relative penalties to error and vice go way, way down. And vice versa: when you increase selection pressure, the relative rewards to virtue go way, way up, so you get lots more virtue.
We have no immediate prospect of an uptick in natural selection pressure, although the handwriting is on the wall. It’s out there (it always is).
But Trump is imposing artificial selection pressure (in part because he and his ilk can comprehend the writing in flame on the wall (to the depraved at their banquet, it is gobbledygook, nonsense, mere noise: mene, mene, tekel upharsin)). His basic message is simple: Playtime is over, no more pretend, everybody out of the pool, time to get dressed and back to work.
The liberals are going crazy because this strictly artificial – i.e., merely social, rather than biological – increase in selection pressure pushes the same neural and cognitive levers as would be triggered by a sharp uptick in natural selection pressure. It feels to them like a sort of death. They are terrified of death. Trump makes them aware of their death. Like death, he just doesn’t care about their whining (as much as they are used to). So they panic, and then they turn to defensive rage. It’s a tantrum.
The more you can attribute blame for some bad thing to others, the less blame you need to shoulder yourself, and the less guilt you then need to suffer. And as guilt lessens, so does the costliness of the personal sacrifice adequate to its expiation.
You may have noticed a recent news item reporting that mankind stands on the threshold of a new era, in which his most intimate relations will increasingly be transacted with robots. Pandering to human prurience, the report dwells upon the impressive possibilities for carnal knowledge of automatons, but it does not limit itself to the automation of solitary vice. Apparently one can already purchase a “chatbot” that will simulate interest in whatever maundering drivel one cares to type into one’s keyboard, and it is only a matter of time before these apps that simulate interest in our yakety-yack (or, rather, tapety-tap) receive a voice, a face and a body.