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« Saturday Morning Politics Thread: Energy Issues [Y-not] | Main | Saturday Gardening Thread: Farm Report [Y-not, Weirddave, and KT] »
January 03, 2015

Fundamental Concepts - Everything Old is New Again [Weirddave]

Every time I write one of these, I try to dink theeply about important shit, and then do my best to express my thoughts for discussion. Sometimes I do rather well. Sometimes I fail miserably. The column I was working on for today went hopelessly pear shaped, and it's going to take me a while to slap it into shape, so here it is, 2 AM, and I got nothing. Perhaps it's time to revisit someone who had something, something that's infinitely better than anything I'll ever write in any three lifetimes.



The Gods of the Copybook Headings
Rudyard Kipling

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


To my mind, that's the most brilliant piece of political and social commentary ever written, and Kipling did it in verse, no less. Every time I read it (and I have it framed, hanging on the door to my office), I marvel at just how damn correct it is.

Some translations for modern reader. "Copybook Headings" were little aphorisms written at the top of the workbooks of 19th and 20th century British schoolboys. Sayings that they would copy to practice their penmanship, sayings that were intended to subtlety impart knowledge to the children without them noticing. "A penny saved is a penny earned" or "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", that kind of thing. Copybook headings were the distilled wisdom of centuries of English and human experience, captured in a simple proverb, and schoolboys had to write them dozens of times, by rote. I wonder if that had anything to do with the success of British culture.....nah, stupid thought. Forget it.

The other phrase that needs clarifying for modern audiences is "The Gods of the Marketplace". What Kipling meant by that was the transient, the trash, the fads, rumors or innuendo of the day. Kim Kardashian, or YouTube commentators, or People Magazine or HuffyPoo or Twitter ... you get the idea. These would be The Gods of the Marketplace in 2015, and this poem sets them against the enduring truths of mankind. Go back and re-read it with that in mind.

Now reread the 5th, 6th and 7th stanzas. Is this staring to sound familiar to anyone? This nation was built on the foundation of the Gods of the Copybook Headings, and as such it built up tremendous wealth and prosperity, but we've been coasting on that for quite some time now, feasting at the table of the Gods of the Marketplace. The Gods of the Copybook Headings have been rudely shown the door, yet they are patient and enduring. They'll wait outside in the cold, until the time comes when the Gods of the Marketplace inevitably falter, and then they'll bring that cold into our homes and our beds.

"As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man"

The terror.

And slaughter.

Return.

Happy New Year Y'all.

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posted by Open Blogger at 11:01 AM

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