Up to a little Rudyard?
I don't recall where this came from, but it was something I decided needed saving, and happened upon it while going through some files. Certainly applies to today's politics. Enjoy.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
The title of Rudyard Kipling's poem is obscure today but would have been clear to any educated Englishman of his day. A copybook was a kind of penmanship exercise in which the student copied over and over again a sentence printed in the heading at the top of each page. These copybook headings were usually aphorisms or statements of commonsense wisdom, so Kipling used the Gods of the Copybook Headings as a symbol for basic, immutable truths.
The point of the poem is that the various schemes for "social progress" being promoted at the time—and most of them are still with us today—are based on denying the basic truths represented by the Gods of the Copybook Headings.
Kipling's derisive reference to the "Gods of the Market Place" was not intended as anti-capitalist. "The market" is not short for "the free market," as it is in contemporary parlance. Rather, the "market" refers to the public spaces where people gather to listen to demagogues who promise the impossible and the irrational—the function performed by CNN today.
Which brings us to modern politicians and the collapse of the European welfare state. See if you recognize this warning from Kipling.
That's a concise summary of the inevitable disaster of the welfare state. And more: it names a key part of the mentality behind it—the systematic evasion of basic, obvious truths.
Who thought this was ever going to work? Who thought we could build a society in which an ever-increasing number of citizens are told that they don't have to work and that their needs will be provided for by somebody else—while the burden is shoved onto the shoulders of an ever-smaller, ever-more-despised minority of producers?
That's what Greece did, shifting a huge number of its citizens onto the government payroll and creating a lavish pension scheme in which the average retirement age is 61 and workers in some fields are guaranteed retirement at age 50. When the overloaded private sector could no longer pay for all of this, the Greek government borrowed money to paper over the shortfall—until the Gods of the Copybook Headings caught up with them and their scheme came crashing down.
We're all headed in that direction. A recent report revealed an ominous statistic. And I'm not using "ominous" in the loose, sloppy modern way that just means "vaguely bad." By "ominous," I mean: this is a harbinger of societal collapse.
The statistic? The percentage of income in the US that is derived from government payments—welfare benefits plus government payroll—is reaching an all-time high, while the percentage of income derived from private-sector wages is reaching an all-time low. If I understand the figures in this report, they imply that the government is paying out two dollars in income for every three dollars of private income.
Put simply, the takers are eating up the makers.
At some point—and it's not too far off—there just isn't going to be enough private income to seize to pay for the public income. The system is inherently, mathematically unsustainable. But nobody cares about mathematics. The welfare state is based on denying the truth that two and two make four.
The report linked to above quotes an economist who worries that "People are paid for being rather than for producing." And that's what reminded me of Kipling. His poem concludes by describing what will happen when "the brave new world begins."
That brings us to the motivation for this evasion of reality. It is not just avarice for unearned wealth, as Kipling implies. It is avarice for unearned wealth—combined with a moral code that makes parasitism seem noble. The altruist creed that one man's need gives him a claim on the wealth produced by others is not just an injustice—Kipling describes it as a system that hands out undeserved rewards, while shielding men from punishment for their vices. It is also an attempt to overturn the law of cause and effect. The cause of wealth is production, but the altruist welfare state is built on the assumption that a man's need will bring him wealth, regardless of whether or not he produces anything. In order to maintain a moral code that makes need into the ultimate moral claim—while denigrating as "greed" the virtues of hard work, ambition, and success—the defenders of altruism have to stage a rebellion against reality. In this, they are supported by a whole network of modern intellectuals and philosophers, who tell them that there is no objective truth and that reality is whatever we collectively choose to believe.
But reality is absolute and always asserts itself in the end, with dreadful consequences for those who rebel against it.
If you think that the last line of Kipling's poem, the part about terror and slaughter, is over the top, remember that this poem was written in 1919, when the terror and slaughter of World War I were still fresh. (The Battle of Loos had claimed an Irish Guard named John Kipling, the poet's only son.) Mercifully, Kipling did not live to see the terror and slaughter to come. As for the terror and slaughter this time around, take the riots in Greece—the firebombs thrown at banks in the heart of Athens, burning three employees to death—as a warning.
Let's hope we don't get around to the terror and slaughter here in America. Kipling tells us how we can avoid it.
There are no Gods of the Copybook Headings—not in the literal sense—so it is going to be up to us, those who insist that reality is real and cannot be cheated, to take on their role and limp up to explain it once more.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
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!
Been reading "The Overton Window", UB?
Originally Posted by BrianW
Not yet. I was somewhat surprised in finding this bit of Kipling. About the only time I ever referred to Rudyard in the past was during my on-air radio days. Then my fav was Gunga Din.
"Gunga Din, Gunga Din...if the door is locked, howya Gunga Din?" My listener lapped that stuff up.
PS I'm alarmed to hear you are still picking dung from your toes, Hugh. Did the Ringling Bros parade their elephants through town for you to follow along barefooted?
I was just curious as this bit of Kipling is one of the book's main protagonists "justification for his life set in verse" in Ch 18: That history always repeats itself, that the same mistakes are made over and over again, only bigger each time. That the wise man knows that, if you can't change it, you might as well take advantage of it.
But his son sees a different meaning: That it's a warning about what happens when you forget common sense. That there really is such a thing as "the truth", the real objective truth, and that people can see it if they just look hard enough and remember who they really are. But most of the time they choose to give in and believe all the lies instead.
Interesting takes on the same bit of lit.
I live in Rudyard kinda funny to see this post. our high school gym is named after him