September 28, 2014

This Is Our Responsibility



In an article titled Hong Kong students storm government HQ in challenge to Beijing in the September 26, 2014 edition of Reuters, James Pomfret and Yimou Lee report:

Student leader Joshua Wong was dragged away by police kicking, screaming and bleeding from his arm as protesters chanted and struggled to free him.

"Hong Kong's future belongs to you, you and you," Wong, a thin 17-year-old with dark-rimmed glasses and bowl-cut hair, told cheering supporters hours before he was taken away.

"I want to tell C.Y. Leung and Xi Jinping that the mission of fighting for universal suffrage does not rest upon the young people, it is everyone's responsibility," he shouted, referring to Hong Kong's and China's leaders.

"I don't want the fight for democracy to be passed down to the next generation.  This is our responsibility."



September 25, 2014

Stupid Obedience, Or Revolt



Thank you to Thomas Piketty for opening the door to Balzac's work. Excerpts below from Père Goriot by HonorĂ© de Balzac, first published in 1834 with recent paperback edition published by Signet Classics, 2004:

"You'd very much like to know who I am, and what I've done, or what I do now, wouldn't you?" said Vautrin.  "You're too inquisitive, little man.  No, no, don't get upset.  I shall say far worse things than that!  I've had misfortunes.  Hear me first, and you can talk after.  I can tell you my previous history in a couple of words.  Who am I?  I'm Vautrin.  What do I do?  Whatever I like.  So let's get on.  You want to know about my character?  I'm good to people who are good to me, or whose hearts speak to mine.  I'll let them do anything to me; they can kick me on the shins, and I don't even say, 'Look out!'  But, by God, I'm like Satan with a man who crosses me, or doesn't suit me.  And I may as well warn you that I think about as much of killing a man as I do of that!"  And he spat forcefully on the ground. 



. . . . . . . . 

... "But I was a child at the time, I was your age, twenty-one.  I still believed in things: I believed in woman's love and all the rest of the nonsense you'll soon be getting mixed up in.  You wanted to fight me, didn't you?  Suppose you'd killed me?  Suppose I was in my grave?  Where would you be?  You'd have to clear out to Switzerland and live on papa's money; and he hasn't got very much.  I want to show you exactly the position you're in; to show you exactly how it looks to a man of experience who's examined the problems of the world and sees there are only two courses open to a man: stupid obedience, or revolt.  I take orders from no one: is that clear?  Do you know what you're going to need, to carry out your ideas?  A million; and straight-away.  Without that you might as well go and drown yourself, as others have done before you, to try and find out if there's a Supreme Being.



. . . . . . . . 

... And that's the crossroads of life, young man: choose.  But you have chosen. ...



. . . . . . . . 

"Work, as you understand it at the moment, lands you in your old age at Mamma Vauquer's in a room fit for old boys like Poiret.  The problem of quick success is the problem that fifty thousand young men in your position are trying to solve, at this very moment.  You are a single one in that battle.  Imagine the efforts you have to make; imagine the slaughter!  You'll have to eat each other like spiders in a teapot; for we all know there aren't fifty thousand places.  Do you know how people get on here?  Either by dazzling genius or by skillful corruption.  You must either cut through this mass of men like a cannon ball, or creep into it like a plague.  Honesty is no use at all.  Men bow before the power of genius.  They hate it, they try to throw mud at it, because what it takes it never shares; but they bow to it, if it perseveres.  In a word, men go down on their knees to it, if they haven't managed to trample it in the mud.  


"Corruption flourishes, talent is rare.  I mean that corruption is the weapon of countless nonentities, and you will feel it jabbing you everywhere. ...


"But what do you think an honest man is?  In Paris, an honest man is one who keeps his mouth shut, and takes and doesn't share.  I'm not referring to the poor drones who do the hard work everywhere without ever getting the slightest reward for their labors, the ones I call the Brotherhood of God's Down-at-Heels.  To be sure, that's virtue at the height of its stupidity; but it's poverty too.  I can just see the faces those fine people will pull if God plays us the dirty trick of not being there on Judgment Day.  So if you want quick success, you must either be rich to start with, or look as if you were.  To get rich, what you have to do here is play high.  Play low, and you're sunk!  In any one of the hundred professions you might enter, if there are a dozen men who get on rapidly, the public calls them thieves.  Draw your own conclusions.  That's life as it is.  It's no prettier than cooking, it smells as nasty, and you can't make a stew without getting your hands dirty.  What you have to know is how to wash them properly after - those are the ethics of our age.


"If I talk to you about society in this way, it's because I have the right to, I know it.  Do you think I'm complaining?  Not at all.  It's always been like that.  Moralists will never alter it.  Man is imperfect. ...

. . . . . . . . 

... And if I dare give you one more word of advice, my angel, it's precisely that: stick to your opinions as little as you stick to your words.  When they're asked for, sell them.  When a man boasts that he never changes his mind, he's taking it on himself always to go along one straight line, an ass who believes in infallibility.  Principles don't exist, only events.  Laws don't exist, only circumstances.  The intelligent man weds himself to them in order to control them.  If fixed principles and laws really existed, nations wouldn't keep changing them like shirts all the time.  A man can't be expected to be better behaved than a whole nation. ...

. . . . . . . . 

If there are exceptions to the draconian laws of the Parisian code, they are to be found in solitude, in men who ignore society completely and pass their lives near some clear, hidden, but ever-running brook; who are faithful to their green shades and content to listen to the language of the Infinite written all about them, which they rediscover in their own selves.  Such men can wait patiently for their heavenly wings and commiserate the earth-bound.


September 16, 2014

A Fiscal Revolution



Excerpt below from Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014:

Taxation is not a technical matter. It is preeminently a political and philosophical issue, perhaps the most important of all political issues. Without taxes, society has no common destiny, and collective action is impossible. This has always been true. At the heart of every major political upheaval lies a fiscal revolution. ...