Umberto Eco: Rules for Writing Well

Umberto Eco

I found a series of instructions on how to write well on the Internet.
I make them mine, with some variation, because I think they can be useful to many, especially those who attend writing schools

  1. Avoid alliterations, even if they’re manna for morons.
  2. Don’t contribute to the killing of the subjunctive mode, I suggest that the writer use it when necessary [Subjunctive in English]
  3. Avoid clichés: they’re like death warmed over [Dictionary of English clichés]
  4. Thou shall express thyself in the simplest of fashions.
  5. Don’t use acronyms & abbreviations etc.
  6. (Always) remember that parentheses (even when they seem indispensable) interrupt the flow of (your) speech.
  7. Beware of indigestion… of ellipses.
  8. Limit the use of inverted commas. Quotes aren’t “elegant.”
  9. Never generalize.
  10. Foreign words aren’t bon ton.
  11. Hold those quotes. Emerson aptly said, “I hate quotes. Tell me only what you know.” [Guilty! It’s because of Twitter]
  12. Similes are like catch phrases.
  13. Don’t be repetitious; don’t repeat the same thing twice; repeating is superfluous (redundancy means the useless explanation of something the reader has already understood).
  14. Only twats use swear words.
  15. Always be somehow specific.
  16. Hyperbole is the most extraordinary of expressive techniques.
  17. Don’t write one-word sentences. Ever.
  18. Beware too-daring metaphors: they are feathers on a serpent’s scales.
  19. Put, commas, in the appropriate places.
  20. Recognize the difference between the semicolon and the colon: even if it’s hard.
  21. If you can’t find the appropriate expression, refrain from using colloquial/dialectal expressions. In Venice, they say “The patch is worse than the hole”.
  22. Do not use incongruent metaphors even if they seem to “sing”: they are like a swan who derails.
  23. Do you really need rhetorical questions?
  24. Be concise; try expressing your thoughts with the least possible number of words, avoiding long sentences — or sentences interrupted by incidental phrases that always confuse the casual reader — in order to avoid contributing to the general pollution of information, which is surely (particularly when it is uselessly ripe with unnecessary explanations, or at least non indispensable specifications) one of the tragedies of our media-dominated time.
  25. Accents should not be neither incorrect nor useless, those who do make mistakes.
  26. Don’t apostrophe an indefinite article before a masculine noun.
  27. Not even the worst fans of barbarism pluralize foreign terms.
  28. Don’t be emphatic! Be careful with exclamation marks!
  29. Spell foreign names correctly, like Beaudelaire, Roosewelt, Niezsche and so on.
  30. Name the authors and characters you refer to, without using periphrases. So did the greatest Lombard author of the nineteenth century, the author of “The 5th of May.”
  31. Begin your text with a captatio benevolentiae, to ingratiate yourself with your reader (but perhaps you’re so stupid you don’t even know what I’m talking about).
  32. Be fastidios with you’re speling.
  33. No need to tell you how cloying preteritions are [telling by saying you are not going to tell].
  34. Do not change paragraph when unneeded.
    Not too often.
  35. No plurale majestatis, please. We believe it pompous.
  36. Do not take the cause for the effect: you would be wrong and thus you would make a mistake.
  37. Do not write sentences in which the conclusion doesn’t follow the premises in a logical way: if everyone did this, premises would stem from conclusions.
  38. Do not indulge in archaic forms, apax legomena and other unused lexemes, nor in deep rizomatic structures which, however appealing to you as epiphanies of the grammatological differance (sic), inviting to a deconstructive tangent – but, even worse it would be if they appeared to be debatable under the scrutiny of anyone who would read them with ecdotic acridity – would go beyond the recipient’s cognitive competencies. [Ecdotica]
  39. You should never be wordy. On the other hand, you should not say less than.
  40. A complete sentence should comprise.


From La bustina di Minerva

George Orwell: Politics and the English Language



George Orwell


Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream— as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

OPERATORS OR VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i. e., e. g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers [1]. The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

MEANINGLESS WORDS. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning [2]. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: ‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence [3], to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.



[1] An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinumforget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-awayfrom the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.

[2] Example: ‘Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness… Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.

[3] One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field. 

William Safire: Fumblerules of Grammar


William Safire


  1. Remember to never split an infinitive.
  2. A preposition is something never to end a sentence with.
  3. The passive voice should never be used.
  4. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  5. Don’t use no double negatives.
  6. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn’t.
  7. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed.
  8. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  9. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
  10. No sentence fragments.
  11. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
  12. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
  13. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  14. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  15. Eschew dialect, irregardless.
  16. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
  17. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  18. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
  19. Hyphenate between sy-
    llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
  20. Write all adverbial forms correct.
  21. Don’t use contractions in formal writing.
  22. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  23. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
  24. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  25. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
  26. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  27. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  28. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  29. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  30. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
  31. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  32. Don’t string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
  33. Always pick on the correct idiom.
  34. “Avoid overuse of ‘quotation “marks.”‘”
  35. The adverb always follows the verb.
  36. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; They’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.
  37. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  38. Employ the vernacular.
  39. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  40. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  41. Contractions aren’t necessary.
  42. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  43. One should never generalize.
  44. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
  45. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  46. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  47. Be more or less specific.
  48. Understatement is always best.
  49. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  50. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  51. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  52. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  53. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  54. capitalize every sentence and remember always end it with a point
The first 36 rules are those William Safire compiled in his October 7 and November 4, 1979 “On Language” columns in The New York Times. Rules 37 to 54 are from Safire’s book, Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage.

Academic Freedom by Shannon Love

There is no more unaccountable group in America today than academics. This is true even when they work for public institutions. This is clearly on display in this story about the American Association of University Professors arrogantly claiming that anyone seeking to bring their work out into the sunshine threatens their “academic freedom”.

Academics tell us all how important they are, how they need great gobs of funding but when when the people ask for an accounting of the work and spending, they declare with great moral outrage that, “academic freedom” is under assault by the people wondering where there money went to and what is being done and said in their name.

Academics have forgotten that academic freedom isn’t a natural phenomena but rather a cultural artifact of the free west that people support because it provides benefits to the greater society. The ideal of academic freedom rest on the implied contract between the general society and academia that says that academia will use that freedom to explore and question every possible subject from every possible perspective. It’s the same contract we have with scientist. We let scientist poke around into uncomfortable areas as long as they use scientific methodology to do so. We expect academics in non-scientific areas to do the same. We expect that any academic should understand all perspectives on their area of study and that they should be able to make cogent arguments from of those perspectives.

Yet, since the 1960’s corrupt leftist have hijacked academia to serve their own political interest. They have abandoned, their obligation to investigate every perspective and instead have used the power and status of academia to advance their own pet political causes. Indeed, many in academia seemed to consider themselves political activist first and foremost and public intellectuals secondarily if at all. Even the very organizational structure of the modern liberal-arts department is built around the leftists obsession with race, sex, sexual orientation, imperialism, colonialism etc. Modern academics actively suppress non-leftists perspectives.

If this seems overwrought, just look at the comments to the article. Many posters cannot separate the idea of “unions are good” from the greater responsibilities of academics to the greater society. Clearly, many poster and apparently the AAUP appear to believe that because leftists think unions are good then therefore academics have not only the right but the duty to use pubic funds to advance union interest. The AAUP post goes to great lengths to point out that the Landmark organization that made the information request is a conservative organization. Why should that matter? It would only matter to people with a profound leftist’s political bias themselves.

In short, academics have broken the implied contract. They have abused the freedoms and latitudes granted to them by the broader society for their own selfish and often self-aggrandizing interest. Why should the rest of us grant them any assumption of the privileges of “academic freedom” when they arrogantly refuse to live up to the responsibilities that come with those privileges?

This is simply pure corruption in the public sphere on the order of using public resources to support specific political campaigns. I think that it far past the time when we called this behavior out for the corruption that it is and root it out of public universities. If professors want platforms to advance advance their pet political theories while suppressing dissenting voices, they can do it with private money at private universities. Professors who want public money must accept the responsibility, the expectations of integrity and the accountability that come with public money and public trust.

It’s time for academics to grow up and learn to be accountable.

From ChicagoBoyz, October 12th, 2009

An excess of conscience & Many rights, some wrong by Edward Lucas


Edward Lucas


Estonia is right and Amnesty is wrong

AMNESTY International used to be an impartial and apolitical outfit, focused on the single burning issue of political prisoners. Your correspondent remembers its admirable letter-writing campaigns during the cold war on behalf of Soviet prisoners of conscience such as Jüri Kukk, an Estonian chemistry professor. He died in jail 25 years ago with the hope—then not widely shared—that his country’s foreign occupation would eventually end.

It did. Since regaining independence in 1991 Estonia has become the reform star of the post-communist world. Its booming economy, law-based state and robust democracy are all the more impressive given their starting point: a country struggling with the huge forced migration of the Soviet era. The collapse of the evil empire left Estonia with hundreds of thousands of resentful, stranded ex-colonists, citizens of a country that no longer existed.

Some countries might have deported them. That was the remedy adopted in much of eastern Europe after the second world war. Germans and Hungarians—regardless of their citizenship or politics—were sent “home” in conditions of great brutality.

Instead, Estonia, like Latvia next door, decided to give these uninvited guests a free choice. They could go back to Russia. They could stay but adopt Russian citizenship. They could take local citizenship (assuming they were prepared to learn the language). Or they could stay on as non-citizens, able to work but not to vote.

Put like that, it may sound fair. But initially it prompted howls of protest against “discrimination”, not only from Russia but from Western human-rights bodies. The Estonians didn’t flinch. A “zero option”—giving citizenship to all comers—would be a disaster, they argued, ending any chance of restoring the Estonian language in public life, and of recreating a strong, confident national identity.

They were right. More than 100,000 of the Soviet-era migrants have learnt Estonian and gained citizenship. In 1992, 32% of the population had no citizenship. Now the figure is 10%.

In 1990, before the final Soviet collapse, your correspondent tried to buy postage stamps in Tallinn using halting Estonian. The clerk replied brusquely, in Russian, “govorite po chelovecheski” (speak a human language). That was real discrimination. Estonians were unable to use their own language in their capital city. Now that’s changed too.

Reasonable people can disagree about the details of the language law, about the right level of subsidies for language courses, and about the rules for gaining citizenship. Nowhere’s perfect. But Estonia’s system is visibly working. It is extraordinarily hard to term it a burning issue for an international human-rights organisation.

Yet that is what Amnesty International has tried to make of it. It has produced a lengthy report, “Linguistic minorities in Estonia: Discrimination must end”, demanding radical changes in Estonia’s laws on both language and citizenship.

The report is puzzling for several reasons. It is a bad piece of work, ahistorical and unbalanced. It echoes Kremlin propaganda in a way that Estonians find sinister and offensive. But most puzzling of all, it is a bizarre use of Amnesty’s limited resources. Just a short drive from Estonia, in Belarus and in Russia, there are real human rights abuses, including two classic Amnesty themes: misuse of psychiatry against dissidents, and multiple prisoners of conscience. Yet the coverage of these issues on the Amnesty website is feeble, dated, or non-existent.

Amnesty seems to have become just another left-wing pressure group, banging on about globalisation, the arms trade, Israel and domestic violence. Regardless of the merits of their views—which look pretty stale and predictable—it seems odd to move to what is already a crowded corner of the political spectrum. To save Jüri Kukk and other inmates of the gulag, people of all political views and none joined Amnesty’s campaigns. That wouldn’t happen now.

From The Economist, December

Many rights, some wrong

The world’s biggest human-rights organisation stretches its brand

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL is the biggest human-rights organisation in the world, with 70 national chapters and 1.8m-plus members. Its battle honours glitter. It has defended moral giants among prisoners of conscience such as Vaclav Havel and Andrei Sakharov.

Amnesty still champions such causes, rattling dictatorial governments (and governments with dictatorial tendencies). But its mission has also become broader and more ambitious, calling for political and economic improvement as well as freedom from judicial persecution. “Working on individuals is important, but if we don’t work on systemic change we just exchange one group of sufferers for another,” says Irene Khan, its secretary-general.

Many of the movement’s most vocal supporters strongly support this stance, increasingly entrenched in Amnesty’s thinking; it also chimes well with the visceral opposition to American foreign policy, and to globalisation, that exists in many parts of the world. All that has made Amnesty more popular in some quarters—but also, perhaps, less effective overall.

Amnesty’s website—admittedly not the same as the organisation, but still a shop window for its main concerns—can certainly be disconcerting for those who have not followed the changes of past years. Instead of named individuals locked up by their governments, it highlights a dozen campaigns. Top comes “stop violence against women”, including discrimination by the “state, the community and the family”. The second asserts: “The arms trade is out of control. Worldwide arms are fuelling conflict, poverty, and human rights abuses.” The third—closer to a traditional Amnesty campaign—is “stop torture”; this focuses mainly on abuses in the “war on terror”, and links to a campaign to close the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay.

Ms Khan infuriated both the American government and some Amnesty supporters in 2005 when she described Guantánamo as the “gulag of our times”. She stands by her statement: like the gulag, Guantánamo “puts people outside the rule of law”, she says. Yet the comparison seems odd in scale and in principle: the gulag embodied the Soviet system; Guantánamo is a blot on the American one.

Not that old-style Amnesty was soft on the West. Using the moral authority it had won by confronting both apartheid and communism, it challenged Western governments whenever they seemed to be cutting legal corners; in that spirit, it opposed Britain’s policy of internment in Northern Ireland.

But these days America does seem to have a strangely high priority, given the enormity of human-rights scandals elsewhere. One of the four “worldwide appeals” launched in March urges the public to press the American government to grant visas to the wives of two Cubans jailed for acting as “unregistered agents of a foreign power” (in effect, spying). Zimbabwe, scene of bloody repression in past weeks, comes fourth—but the appeal deals not with current events but with the persecution of a movement called “Women of Zimbabwe Arise”, an admirable but narrower cause.

Another of Amnesty’s 12 campaigns is on “Poverty and Human Rights” which asserts: “Everyone, everywhere has the right to live with dignity. That means that no one should be denied their rights to adequate housing, food, water and sanitation, and to education and health care.” A similar theme is struck by the “Economic Globalisation and Human Rights” campaign—reflecting Amnesty’s enthusiastic support for the World Social Forum, a movement which holds annual anti-capitalism shindigs. Sometimes there seems to be a desire to be even-handed between pariahs and paragons: Amnesty recently surprised observers of the ex-communist world by producing a critique of the language law in Estonia—a country usually seen as the best example of good government in the region.

The big question in all this is priorities. Cases do exist where violations of political rights and of economic ones are hard to separate; one such case is Zimbabwe, whose government has engaged in politicised food distribution and slum clearance at the same time as judicial repression.

But the new Amnesty is surely open to the charges both that it is campaigning on too many fronts, and that the latest focus comes at the cost of the old one.

Amnesty’s website is, insiders acknowledge, a campaigning tool; it does not fully reflect the depth of the organisation’s expertise, or its internal priorities. Ms Khan admits a tension in the organisation’s “business mix” between high profile and less immediately rewarding work.

But she insists that there is no drift towards America-bashing for the sake of popularity, and that the emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights does not reflect a preference for any particular system of government.

Perhaps unavoidably, the stance taken by Amnesty’s increasingly autonomous national chapters in the domestic affairs of their countries is decidedly political. In Colombia, for example, the movement opposes a law that offers reduced sentences to right-wing paramilitaries but made no objections to past proposals for amnesties for left-wing guerrillas.

Amnesty may to some extent be the captive of its need to keep a mass membership enthused with new and compelling causes, even at the cost of narrowing its appeal to those with unfashionably positive views about America or global capitalism. Its expert researchers and analysts still continue in their work, but sometimes feel let down by what the leadership chooses to showcase. Amnesty has to compete for attention and funds with other human-rights organisations: its “unique selling proposition”, says Ms Khan, is that it gives ordinary people a chance to participate. Yet the best means of ensuring that—writing letters to, and about, prisoners of conscience—has shrunk.

The collapse of the Soviet empire and of apartheid rule in South Africa cut the number of visible prisoners of conscience. Countless tens of thousands may languish in China’s laogai forced labour camps (a system that truly deserves to be called a gulag), and many are incarcerated in places such as North Korea and Myanmar (Burma). But even getting the names of the inmates is hard, let alone embarrassing the governments. Writing letters on behalf of a Havel or Sakharov sparks members’ enthusiasm far more than a few blurred pictures of a remote camp with anonymous inmates.

Amnesty’s American-based counterpart, Human Rights Watch, has also changed its emphasis, but less controversially. It keeps classic human-rights questions at the centre of its activities and gives only modest attention to other concerns. On weapons, for example, it campaigns to limit the use of cluster bombs, but not against the arms trade in general. It sticks to situations where its fastidious, legalistic approach will work, “namely, the ability to identify a rights violation, a violator, and a remedy to address the violation.” That covers arbitrary government conduct that leads to a violation of economic rights (such as the right to emigrate), but steers clear of general hand-wringing about poverty or poor public services.

Current and former Amnesty insiders worry that an increasingly grandstanding and unfocused approach makes it ineffective. Sigrid Rausing, a top British donor to human-rights causes, says she regrets the “blurring” of the original mission: “There are so few organisations that focus on individual prisoners of conscience.” Her husband, Eric Abraham, was supported by Amnesty while under a five-year sentence of house arrest in South Africa in 1976.

Some wonder if Ms Khan has been too keen to impress constituencies in what NGO-niks call the “global south”: code for developing countries, where opinion—at least among the elite—supposedly favours economic development over a “northern” concern for individual rights. She vigorously contests that. But an organisation which devotes more pages in its annual report to human-rights abuses in Britain and America than those in Belarus and Saudi Arabia cannot expect to escape doubters’ scrutiny.

From The Economist


Steven E. Landsburg: Why I Am Not An Environmentalist – Science of Economics Versus the Religion of Ecology

Steven E. Landsburg
At the age of four, my daughter earned her second diploma. When she was two, she graduated with the highest possible honors from theToddler Room at her nursery school in Colorado. Two years later she graduated from the preschool of the Jewish Community Center, where she matriculated on our return to New York State.
At the graduation ceremony, titled Friends of the Earth, I was lectured by four- and five-year-olds on the importance of safe energy sources, mass transportation, and recycling. The recurring mantra was “With privilege comes responsibility” as in “With the privilege of living on this planet comes the responsibility to care for it.” Of course, Thomas Jefferson thought that life on this planet was more an inalienable right than a privilege, but then he had never been to preschool.
I’d heard some of this from my daughter before and had gotten used to the idea that she needed a little deprogramming from time to time.But as I listened to the rote repetition of a political agenda from children not old enough to read, I decided it was time for a word with the teacher. She wanted to know which specific points in the catechism I found objectionable. I declined to answer. As environmentalism becomes increasingly like an intrusive state religion, we dissenters become increasingly prickly about suggestions that we suffer from some kind of aberration.
The naive environmentalism of my daughter’s preschool is a force-fed potpourri of myth, superstition, and ritual that has much in common with the least reputable varieties of religious Fundamentalism. The antidote to bad religion is good science. The antidote to astrology is the scientific method, the antidote to naive creationism is evolutionary biology, and the antidote to naive environmentalism is economics.
Economics is the science of competing preferences. Environmentalism goes beyond science when it elevates matters of preference to matters of morality. A proposal to pave a wilderness and put up a parking lot is an occasion for conflict between those who prefer wilderness and those who prefer convenient parking. In the ensuing struggle, each side attempts to impose its preferences by manipulating the political and economic systems. Because one side must win and one side must lose, the battle is hard-fought and sometimes bitter. All of this is to be expected.
But in the 25 years since the first Earth Day, a new and ugly element has emerged in the form of one side’s conviction that its preferences are Right and the other side’s are Wrong. The science of economics shuns such moral posturing; the religion of environmentalism embraces it.
Economics forces us to confront a fundamental symmetry. The conflict arises because each side wants to allocate the same resource in a different way. Jack wants his woodland at the expense of Jill’s parking space and Jill wants her parking space at the expense of Jack’s woodland. That formulation is morally neutral and should serve as a warning against assigning exalted moral status to either Jack or Jill.
The symmetries run deeper. Environmentalists claim that wilderness should take precedence over parking because a decision to pave is”irrevocable.” Of course, they are right, but they overlook the fact that a decision not to pave is equally irrevocable. Unless we pave today, my opportunity to park tomorrow is lost as irretrievably as tomorrow itself will be lost. The ability to park in a more distant future might be a quite inadequate substitute for that lost opportunity.
A variation on the environmentalist theme is that we owe the wilderness option not to ourselves but to future generations. But do we have any reason to think that future generations will prefer inheriting the wilderness to inheriting the profits from the parking lot? That is one of the first questions that would be raised in any honest scientific inquiry.*
Another variation is that the parking lot’s developer is motivated by profits, not preferences. To this there are two replies. First, the developer’s profits are generated by his customers’ preferences; the ultimate conflict is not with the developer but with those who prefer to park. Second, the implication of the argument is that a preference for a profit is somehow morally inferior to a preference for a wilderness, which is just the sort of posturing that the argument was designed to avoid.
It seems to me that the “irrevocability” argument, the “future generations” argument, and the “preferences not profits” argument all rely on false distinctions that wither before honest scrutiny. Why, then, do some environmentalists repeat these arguments? Perhaps honest scrutiny is simply not a part of their agenda. In many cases, they begin with the postulate that they hold the moral high ground, and conclude that they are thereby licensed to disseminate intellectually dishonest propaganda as long as it serves the higher purpose of winning converts to the cause.
The hallmark of science is a commitment to follow arguments to their logical conclusions; the hallmark of certain kinds of religion is a slick appeal to logic followed by a hasty retreat if it points in an unexpected direction. Environmentalists can quote reams of statistics on the importance of trees and then jump to the conclusion that recycling paper is a good idea. But the opposite conclusion makes equal sense. I am sure that if we found a way to recycle beef, the population of cattle would go down, not up. If you want ranchers to keep a lot of cattle, you should eat a lot of beef. Recycling paper eliminates the incentive for paper companies to plant more trees and can cause forests to shrink. If you want large forests, your best strategy might be to use paper as wastefully as possible — or lobby for subsidies to the logging industry. Mention this to an environmentalist. My own experience is that you will be met with some equivalent of the beatific smile of a door-to-door evangelist stumped by an unexpected challenge, but secure in his grasp of Divine Revelation.
This suggests that environmentalists — at least the ones I have met — have no real interest in maintaining the tree population. If they did, they would seriously inquire into the long-term effects of recycling. I suspect that they don’t want to do that because their real concern is with the ritual of recycling itself, not with its consequences. The underlying need to sacrifice, and to compel others to sacrifice, is a fundamentally religious impulse.
Environmentalists call on us to ban carcinogenic pesticides. They choose to overlook the consequence that when pesticides are banned, fruits and vegetables become more expensive, people eat fewer of them, and cancer rates consequently rise.* If they really wanted to reduce cancer rates, they would weigh this effect in the balance.
Environmentalism has its apocalyptic side. Species extinctions, we are told, have consequences that are entirely unpredictable, making them too dangerous to risk. But unpredictability cuts both ways. One lesson of economics is that the less we know, the more useful it is to experiment. If we are completely ignorant about the effects of extinction, we can pick up a lot of valuable knowledge by wiping out a few species to see what happens. I doubt that scientists really are completely ignorant in this area; what interests me is the environmentalists’willingness to plead complete ignorance when it suits their purposes and to retreat when confronted with an unexpected consequences of their own position.
In October 1992 an entirely new species of monkey was discovered in the Amazon rainforest and touted in the news media as a case study in why the rain forests must be preserved. My own response was rather in the opposite direction. I lived a long time without knowing about this monkey and never missed it. Its discovery didn’t enrich my life, and if it had gone extinct without ever being discovered, I doubt that I would have missed very much.
There are other species I care more about, maybe because I have fond memories of them from the zoo or from childhood storybooks.Lions, for example. I would be sorry to see lions disappear, to the point where I might be willing to pay up to about $50 a year to preserve them. I don’t think I’d pay much more than that. If lions mean less to you than they do to me, I accept our difference and will not condemn you as a sinner. If they mean more to you than to me, I hope you will extend the same courtesy.
In the current political climate, it is frequently taken as an axiom that the U.S. government should concern itself with the welfare of Americans first; it is also frequently taken as an axiom that air pollution is always and everywhere a bad thing. You might, then, have expected a general chorus of approval when the chief economist of the World Bank suggested that it might be a good thing to relocate high-pollution industries to Third World countries. To most economists, this is a self-evident opportunity to make not just Americans but everybody better off. People in wealthy countries can afford to sacrifice some income for the luxury of cleaner air; people in poorer countries are happy to breathe inferior air in exchange for the opportunity to improve their incomes. But when the bank economist’s observation was leaked to the media, parts of the environmental community went ballistic. To them, pollution is a form of sin. They seek not to improve our welfare but to save our souls.
There is a pattern here. Suggesting an actual solution to an environmental problem is a poor way to impress an environmentalist, unless your solution happens to feed his sense of moral superiority. Subsidies to logging, the use of pesticides, planned extinctions, and exporting pollution to Mexico are outside the catechism; subsidies to mass transportation, the use of catalytic converters, planned fuel economy standards, and exporting industry from the Pacific Northwest are part of the infallible doctrine. Solutions seem to fall into one category or the other not according to their actual utility but according to their consistency with environmentalist dogma.
In the last weeks of the 1992 presidential campaign, George Bush, running as the candidate of less intrusive government, signed with great fanfare a bill dictating the kind of showerhead you will be permitted to buy. The American Civil Liberties Union took no position on the issue. I conjecture that if the bill had specified allowable prayerbooks instead of allowable showerheads, then even the malleable Mr. Bushmight have balked — and if he hadn’t, we would have heard something from the ACLU. But nothing in the science of economics suggests any fundamental difference between a preference for the Book of Common Prayer and a preference for a powerful shower spray. Quite the contrary; the economic way of thinking forces us to recognize that there is no fundamental difference.
The proponents of showerhead legislation argued that a law against extravagant showers is more like a law against littering than like a law against practicing a minority religion — it is designed to prevent selfish individuals from imposing real costs on others. If that was the argument that motivated Mr. Bush, then — not for the first time in his life — he had fallen prey to bad economics.
There are good economic reasons to outlaw littering and other impositions (though even this can be overdone — walking into a crowded supermarket is an imposition on all the other shoppers, but few of us believe it should be outlawed). But in most parts of the United States, water use is not an imposition for the simple reason that you pay for water. It is true that your luxuriant shower hurts other buyers by driving up the price of water but equally true that your shower helps sellers by exactly the same amount that it hurts buyers. You would want to limit water usage only if you cared more about buyers than sellers — in which case there are equally good arguments for limiting the consumption of everything — including energy-efficient showerheads.
Like other coercive ideologies, environmentalism targets children specifically. After my daughter progressed from preschool to kindergarten, her teachers taught her to conserve resources by rinsing out her paper cup instead of discarding it. I explained to her that time is also a valuable resource, and it might be worth sacrificing some cups to save some time.
Her teachers taught her that mass transportation is good because it saves energy. I explained to her that it might be worth sacrificing some energy in exchange for the comfort of a private car. Her teachers taught her to recycle paper so that wilderness is not converted to landfill space. I explained to her that it might be worth sacrificing some wilderness in exchange for the luxury of not having to sort your trash. In each case, her five-year-old mind had no difficulty grasping the point. I fear that after a few more years of indoctrination, she will be as uncomprehending as her teachers.
In their assault on the minds of children, the most reprehensible tactic of environmental extremists is to recast every challenge to their orthodoxy as a battle between Good and Evil. The Saturday morning cartoon shows depict wicked polluters who pollute for the sake of polluting, not because polluting is a necessary byproduct of some useful activity. That perpetuates a damnable lie. American political tradition does not look kindly on those who advance their agendas by smearing the character of their opponents. That tradition should be upheld with singular urgency when the intended audience consists of children. At long last, have the environmentalists no decency?
Economics in the narrowest sense is a science free of values. But economics is also a way of thinking, with an influence on its practitioners that transcends the demands of formal logic. With the diversity of human interests as its subject matter, the discipline of economics is fertile ground for the growth of values like tolerance and pluralism.
In my experience, economists are extraordinary in their openness to alternative preferences, life-styles, and opinions. Judgmental clichés like “the work ethic” and the “virtue of thrift” are utterly foreign to the vocabulary of economics. Our job is to understand human behavior, and understanding is not far distant from respect.
Following our graduation day confrontation, I sent my daughter’s teacher a letter explaining why I had declined her invitation to engage in theological debate. Some of the opinions in that letter are more personal than professional. But the letter is above all a plea for the level of tolerance that economists routinely grant and expect in return. Therefore I will indulge myself as an example of how the economic way of thinking has shaped one economist’s thoughts.
Dear Rebecca:
When we lived in Colorado, Cayley was the only Jewish child in her class. There were also a few Moslems. Occasionally, and especially around Christmas time, the teachers forgot about this diversity and made remarks that were appropriate only for the Christian children. These remarks came rarely, and were easily counteracted at home with explanations that different people believe different things, so we chose not to say anything at first. We changed our minds when we overheard a teacher telling a group of children that if Santa didn’t come to your house, it meant you were a very bad child; this was within earshot of an Islamic child who certainly was not going to get a visit from Santa. At that point, we decided to share our concerns with the teachers. They were genuinely apologetic and there were no more incidents. I have no doubt that the teachers were good and honest people who had no intent to indoctrinate, only a certain naïveté derived from a provincial upbringing.
Perhaps that same sort of honest naïveté is what underlies the problems we’ve had at the JCC this year. Just as Cayley’s teachers in Colorado were honestly oblivious to the fact that there is diversity in religion, it may be that her teachers at the JCC have been honestly oblivious that there is diversity in politics.
Let me then make that diversity clear. We are not environmentalists. We ardently oppose environmentalists. We considerenvironmentalism a form of mass hysteria akin to Islamic fundamentalism or the War on Drugs. We do not recycle. We teach ourdaughter not to recycle. We teach her that people who try to convince her to recycle, or who try to force her to recycle, areintruding on her rights.
The preceding paragraph is intended to serve the same purpose as announcing to Cayley’s Colorado teachers that we are notChristians. Some of them had never been aware of knowing anybody who was not a Christian, but they adjusted pretty quickly.
Once the Colorado teachers understood that we and a few other families did not subscribe to the beliefs that they were propagating,they instantly apologized and stopped. Nobody asked me what exactly it was about Christianity that I disagreed with; they simplyrecognized that they were unlikely to change our views on the subject, and certainly had no business inculcating our child withopposite views.
I contrast this with your reaction when I confronted you at the preschool graduation. You wanted to know my specific disagreements with what you had taught my child to say. I reject your right to ask that question. The entire program of environmentalism is as foreign to us as the doctrine of Christianity. I was not about to engage in detailed theological debate with Cayley’s Colorado teachers and they would not have had the audacity to ask me to. I simply asked them to lay off the subject completely, they recognized the legitimacy of the request, and the subject was closed.
I view the current situation as far more serious than what we encountered in Colorado for several reasons. First, in Colorado we were dealing with a few isolated remarks here and there, whereas at the JCC we have been dealing with a systematic attempt to inculcate a doctrine and to quite literally put words in children’s mouths. Second, I do not sense on your part any acknowledgment that there may be people in the world who do not share your views. Third, I am frankly a lot more worried about my daughter’s becoming an environmentalist than about her becoming a Christian. Fourth, we face no current threat of having Christianity imposed on us by petty tyrants; the same can not be said of environmentalism. My county government never tried to send me a New Testament, but it did send me a recycling bin.
Although I have vowed not to get into a discussion on the issues, let me respond to the one question you seemed to think was very important in our discussion: Do I agree that with privilege comes responsibility? The answer is no. I believe that responsibilities arise when one undertakes them voluntarily. I also believe that in the absence of explicit contracts, people who lecture other people on their “responsibilities” are almost always up to no good. I tell my daughter to be wary of such people — even when they are preschool teachers who have otherwise earned a lot of love.
Steven Landsburg
* My friend Alan Stockman has made a related point. There seems to be general agreement that it is better to transfer income from the relatively rich to the relatively poor than vice versa. It seems odd then to ask present-day Americans to make sacrifices for the benefit of future generations who will almost surely be richer than we are.
*I owe this observation to the prominent biologist Bruce Ames.


Excerpt from The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life (pp. 223-231)

სულხან-საბა ორბელიანის წერილი სასუფეველისა კლიტეთა მპყრობელსა წმიდა პაპასა რომისასა

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წმიდა პაპასა რომისასა, მეათერთმეტეს კლემენტოსს
ზეცისა სასუფეველისა კლიტეთა მპყრობელსა და ქუეყანასა ზედა წმიდათა შესაკრებლთა თავსა, თავისა მის მოციქულისა პეტრეს მოსაყდრესა, იესოს ქრისტეს სისხლით მოსყიდულთა ცხოვართა მართალსა მწყემსსა, წმიდათა უაღრესსა, ცრემლით და შევრდომით აღუარებ ყოველთა ცოდვათა და ვევედრები, წმიდათა ფერხთა მთხვეველი, მეუღლითურთ ჩემით, მინდობილნი მადლისა მაგათისანი, რათა ცოდუათა ჩუენთა სიმრავლეთა აღხოცად ევედროს ღმერთსა და წმიდა კურთხევა მათი მოგვფინოს და ლოცვა ყოს ჩუენ, უღირსთათვის, რათა სიმტკიცით ვეგნეთ მართალსა სარწმუნოებასა ზედა შეურყეველად სიტყვით და საქმით. უწყით, რამეთუ შენ გაქუს ხელმწიფება მიტევებად ცოდუათა, რომელი მოგცა განხსნა და შეკრვა იესო ქრისტემან.
თქვენის მადლის მფარველობითა უხილავ მტერსა ზედა მომეხმარე, თუარა ხილულს მტერს ჩემზედ არა შეუძლია რა.
ოღონდ ეს ვინცავინ აქ მართმადიდებელნი არიან, ამათზედ თქუენი ლოცუა და საქმითაც მოხმარება იყოს ხილულის მტრებისაგან დიდს ჭირშს არიან.
ყოველთა ცოდვილთ უცოდვილესი
ორბელისშვილი სულხანყოფილი, მონაზონი საბა,
მიწა ფერხთა თქვენთა.
15 აგვისტო, 1709
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Мамардашвили об идеологии и рационализации

მერაბ მამარდაშვილი, 1980იანი წლები

Очень часто наше понимание вещей вокруг нас, слова, которыми мы эти вещи обозначаем, сохраняя всю внешнюю форму и видимость понимания, являются вместе с тем чем-то в действительности другим, чем понимание. В 1949 году, когда я приехал в Москву, в этот холодный, то мокрый, то ледяной город, со мной вели «общественную работу» не только в стенах университета, но иногда и на улице. И вот однажды идем мы по улице с одним моим сокурсником [Имеется в виду Марлен Гапочка], который тогда был комсоргом группы, и он мне втолковывает что-то такое очень возвышенное, и мы подходим к кинотеатру «Центральный» (которого сейчас уже нет) на площади Пушкина. Был мокрый, склизкий день. В самой середине его возвышенной речи, которую я молча слушал, подходит к нам мальчик лет десяти, оборванный и явно голодный, с очень выразительными глазами, и просит подать ему. Ну, я дал ему какую-то мелочь и говорю моему сокурснику (его, кстати, звали Марлен, согласно женскому немецкому имени, а у него это было новое русское мужское имя [Имя Марлен образовано от двух имен – Маркс, Ленин]): вот, посмотри, пацан то голодный. А он мне что-то о строительстве социализма говорит в это время. Он по смотрел на меня с большим недоумением, и я понял, что его недоумение искреннее, он этого мальчика не видит. В каком смысле не видит? Он видит его физически, но он не может на него реагировать и что-либо переживать по одной простой причине: явление этого мальчика уже занимает место в его системе мысли, то есть оно отобъяснено. Я имею в виду такой способ объяснения, который позволяет нам чего-то не воспринимать и не видеть, позволяет не воспринимать опыт, потому что мы уже заранее якобы понимаем. Марлен заранее понимал нищету и голод. В каком смысле? А вот при социализме, пока еще не построено коммунистическое общество, есть люди более бедные, чем другие (так же как есть более равные, чем другие равные [Аллюзия заповеди «все животные равны, но некоторые животные – равнее других», одной из заповедей кабана Наполеона, персонажа произведения Дж. Оруэлла «Скотный двор»], так есть и бедные, более бедные, чем другие), — естественный недостаток переживаемого периода развития и строительства, это пустяк.

За пассажами наших собственных мелких реакций и актами мысли скрываются иногда подводные части весьма больших айсбергов культуры. За таким отобъяснением не скрывается никакого психологического обмана, бесчувственности в простом психологическом смысле слова. Работает система нашего сознания, в каком-то смысле система нашего спасения и сохранения, эта спасительная система вы строена, и она сохраняет identity, то есть единство, тождество личности, и тем самым она совершает парадоксальную вещь. Ведь ты видишь! Да нет, мы видим не непосредственно, а в терминах чего-то, то есть в терминах семантических и понятийных сегментаций мира, которые, с одной стороны, позволяют нам что-то видеть, а с другой стороны, исключают из нашей возможности восприятия и понимания целые куски действительности.

Я говорил, что в английском языке есть прекрасный словооборот, который я плохо перевожу на русский как «отобъяснять», то есть избавляться путем объяснения. Англичане говорят explain away — «отобъяснить», «отделаться путем объяснения». Сказав это, я тем самым частично описал то, что было одним из основных предметов психоанализа и что получило более широкое хождение (вообще в культуре), частично переплетаясь с мотивами, взятыми у Ницше, а именно так называемый феномен или эффект рационализации. Внутри термина «рационализация» есть какая-то словесная перекличка, игра с другим термином, а именно термином «рациональность». Но все-таки это не «рациональность», а именно «рационализация», то есть в самом термине уже содержится какой-то оценочный и негативный оттенок по отношению к тому явлению, которое этим термином обозначается. Вот, скажем, мой сокурсник явно рационализировал свои переживания, то есть он видел голодного и нищего мальчика, а сознавал обычные ожидаемые недостатки в развитии общества. Следовательно, фраза «недостатки в развитии общества» не есть элемент научного описания общества, хотя внешне построена как таковой, а есть скрытое выражение и рационализация чего-то другого.

В составе нашего сознания, в составе описания мира, на ряду с утверждениями научного, содержательного и поддающегося контролю вида, мы можем встречать утверждения, которые внешне являются научными, или рациональными, или мыслительными, а в действительности они суть не элемент языка науки, а элемент какого-то другого языка, элемент, являющийся рационализацией, состоящей в том, что некоторый опыт переводится в термины другого опыта и тем самым ему придается какое-то не свойственное ему основание (то есть этот опыт выводится из каких-то высших оснований, из норм, из права, из справедливости и так далее).

Скажем, я могу быть подхалимом и подлизываться к начальству, а себе (я подчеркиваю, себе) и другим объяснять это так: мой начальник — прекрасный человек. Обратите внимание, насколько богата наша сознательная жизнь, насколько в разном смысле, на разных уровнях сознания и с разными последствиями могут выступать простейшие мысленные акции и слова, в которые они облекаются. В одном случае я говорю: «добрый человек» — это просто описание. Я могу ошибаться или не ошибаться; во всяком случае, мое описание доброты человека подчиняется каким-то критериям проверки, например, опыта. Если я ошибаюсь, можно на опыте показать, что я ошибся, или, если я прав, это может быть подтверждено на опыте. В другом случае я говорю: «мой начальник — добрый человек», и здесь не имеет значения проверка этого на опыте, если на этом высказывании можно выявить другой процесс и другие свойства человека. Из страха, из разных корыстных интересов человек подлизывается к начальству, а его поведение выражается как следствие из каких-то оснований и принципов, а именно: мой начальник —добрый человек, поэтому я веду себя так. Эти акты нашего мышления и поведения называются рационализацией. Ничего сложного в этом термине, который вы встретите в более сложных, ученых контекстах, в действительности нет, но по ставьте себя экспериментально, мысленно в другую ситуацию: вы не знаете этого термина и не знаете такого процесса, который называется рационализацией, а просто встречаетесь с некими выражениями сознательной и духовной жизни, со словами, и вы можете неправильно ориентироваться. И на оборот, зная, мы можем теперь представить сознательную жизнь человека в более богатом виде.

Раньше мы представляли так, что наша голова как бы состоит из энного, почти что бесконечно большого, неопределенно большого числа мысленных сущностей, ясных на самим, и наша речь и общение с другими состоит в том, что мы их выражаем, или высказываем, или сообщаем их другим. Вот я сказал то-то — значит, это правильно или неправильно, а Фрейд скажет: нет, простите, вы хотели сказать другое, вы хотели сказать и высказалось то, что вы подхалим, а не то, что начальник добрый. Следовательно, здесь есть допущение каких-то участков сознания и переживания, которые не осознаются, а выражаются или сами говорят о чем-то, ускользая из подсознания субъекта или от его само сознания, и могут быть для него недоступными. Тот простой пример, который я привел, может содержать в себе еще оттенок сознательной, что ли, хитрости: само человек от дает себе отчет в том, что он подхалим, а на словах свое подхалимство приписывает каким-то следствиям из высших принципов (скажем, к доброму человеку нужно хорошо от носиться; начальник добр, поэтому я к нему хорошо отношусь). Но дело в том, что эта ложь не сознательная, потому что человек сам в нее верит.

Слои духовной, умственной жизни настолько просе дают под давлением друг друга, что потом расколоть это сознание, в котором человек твердо считает, что начальник добр и поэтому к нему нужно так относиться, в высшем слое почти что уже невозможно. Если вы кому-нибудь, кто на ваших глазах проделал акт, который вам кажется рационализацией, скажете об этом, то он совершенно искренне возмутится и будет это отрицать. Почему? Мы всегда отрицаем то, что нарушает то единство нашего существа, которое мы создали и которое является условием нашей жизни.

Мир, в котором мы живем, должен быть нам понятен, а это значит, что в мире должны выполняться только такие события, последствия которых нас не разрушают в нашем отношении к самим себе, то есть не разрушают в том числе в сохранении какого-то достоинства, уважения к самому себе как понимающему, чувствующему, совершающему поступки существу. И все те представления, выражения, суждения и так далее, которые служат не для того, чтобы понять мир (понять независимо от того, несет он тебе благо или зло, или, как выражались древние, не плакать, не смеяться, а понимать [Спиноза: «Nec ridere, nec lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere» («He смеяться, не плакать и не отворачиваться, но понимать»)]), а для того, чтобы в этом мире я воспроизвелся в качестве сохраняющего единство с самим собой, — все эти суждения поддаются очень сложному и в том числе психоаналитическому исследованию. Не только психоаналитическому.

Я все время стараюсь провести идею некоторого стилистического единства в разных направлениях мысли в XX веке. Так вот, не только психоаналитическая, а совершенно аналогичная этому работа проделана установившейся в XX веке критикой идеологий, или критическим анализом идеологий (проделана, правда, раньше, начиная с Маркса, то есть с XIX века, но тогда это были отдельные явления, а сейчас идеология стала массовым явлением). Обратите внимание, что такого рода мысленные образования, рационализации, существуют не только в нашей личной жизни и обслуживают единство нашего «Я», они существуют и в социальной мысли. В социальной мысли ведь тоже есть что-то о мире, а раз о мире, то и я в этом мире, о котором говорит социальная мысль, должен быть сохранен в качестве достойного и понимающего существа. Скажем, идеология очень часто наполнена тем, что мы называем упрощающими схемами мира, то есть такими схемами, которые не есть продукт исследования мира, а есть просто исполнение желания самосохранения в мире.

Я рассказывал, что однажды я видел фильм одной французской дамы об Анголе времен, когда там были португальцы. Она, конечно, типичный представитель левых французских кругов, и мышление ее, как было видно по фильму, представляет собой классический образец салонного кретинизма. В фильме еще и в цвете совпадает то, что мы обычно делим мир на белое и черное: там тоже мир поделен на белое и черное, поскольку фильм о неграх, но поделен с другим акцентом — это чёрно-белый мир, но только наоборот (черные хорошие, а белые плохие). Местный просветитель, порт ной по профессии (очень часто радикальные революционеры имели такие профессии, особенно в немецкой социал-демократии XIX века), проводит занятие «политпросвета» (знакомая нам сцена) и объясняет другим своим соотечественникам, как устроен мир: мир устроен так, что все беды из-за того, что в мире есть бедные и богатые. Почему в мире есть бедные? Потому что есть богатые. Если не было бы богатых, то не было бы и бедных. Спорить с такого рода описаниями нельзя, потому что такой человек тебе глотку перегрызет, прежде чем позволит проникнуть твоей критике в свою голову, потому что дело не в том, что он что-то хочет понять, дело в том, что он должен уважать себя как понимающего человека. А в современном мире, чтобы уважать себя в качестве понимающего человека, нужно очень много работать, надо трудиться, что человеку лень, как правило. Вкладывать в себя капитал очень трудно, это сложное напряжение, растянутое во времени, и любой студент это знает. Труд понимания — очень большая обуза для человека. Так же как труд свободы очень большая обуза, и люди стараются сбросить это. В зазор между сложностью мира, который требует большого труда, и ленью совершать этот труд вклиниваются блаженные идеологические упрощающие схемы, которые, с одной стороны, позволяют тебе не трудиться (они простые: в мире есть богатые, поэтому есть бедные, и если не будет богатых, то не будет и бедных), а с другой стороны, ты сохраняешь человеческое достоинство, уважение к самому себе: ты понимаешь мир, ты видишь — в мире есть богатые и есть бедные. И такие сцепления обладают очень большой эмоциональной силой, в особенности, когда они воспроизводятся на массах и на массовых движениях.

Очерк современной европейской философии (курс лекций студентам ВГИКа, 1978-79 гг.), Лекция 17, с. 317-323


Joseph Brodsky: Reflections on a Spawn of Hell – The Immortal Tyrant


Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky


I doubt that in the whole history of the world there has ever been a murderer whose death was wept over by so many people, and so sincerely, as was Josef Stalin’s 20 years ago. While it may be easy to explain the number of weepers by the size of the population and the power of the communications media (in which case, Mao, if he dies, will hold first place), it is extremely difficult to explain the quality of these tears.

Twenty years ago I was 13. I was in school; they herded us all into the assembly hall, ordered us to get down on our knees, and the Secretary of the Party Organization—a masculine female with cluster of medals on her chest—wrung her hands and screamed to us from the stage, “Weep children, weep! Stalin has died!” And she herself was first to begin wailing in lamentation. There was no way around it—We sniffled our noses, and then, little by little, even began to howl for real. The hall wept, the presidium wept, parents wept, neighbors wept; from the radio came Chopin’s “Marche Funebre” and something from Beethoven. In general, it seems, nothing but funeral music was broadcast on the radio for five days. As for me (then to my shame, now to my pride), I did not weep, although I knelt and sniffled like everyone else. Most likely it was because not long before this I discovered in a German grammar borrowed from a friend that the German for “leader” was fuhrer. A section was even called that: “Unser Fuhrer Stalin”. I would not weep for a Fuhrer.

It is also possible that my family’s preparations to move had an influence. For it had become known that as a result of the Doctors’ Plot (and there was no need for the result to be in doubt), all Jews would be resettled in the Far East, in order to pay with hard labor for the guilt of their fellow people—the wrecker‐doctors—for the good of the Socialist fatherland. We had sold our piano, which I could not play anyhow. It would have been stupid to drag it across a whole country—even if they would allow it; They discharged my father from the army, where he had served all during the war, and they would not hire him for any job anywhere; only my mother was working, but her job hung by a hair too. We lived on her salary and prepared for deportation; from hand to hand passed a letter signed by Ehrenburg, Botvinnik and other notable Soviet Jews, told of the guilt of the Jews before Soviet power, and it was supposed to appear in “Pravda” any day.

But in “Pravda” appeared the communiqué about the death of Stalin and how his death meant grief and woe for all people. And people began to weep. And they wept, I think, not because they wanted to please “Pravda”, but because an entire epoch was tied to Stalin (or, more precisely, because Stalin had tied himself to an entire epoch). Five‐Year Plans, the Constitution, victory in the war, postwar construction, the idea of order — no matter how nightmarish it had been. Russia had lived under Stalin for almost 30 years, his portrait hung in virtually every room, he became a category of consciousness, a part of everyday life, we were used to his mustache, to the profile (considered “aquiline”), to the postwar officer’s jacket he wore (meaning it was neither peacetime nor wartime), and to the patriarchal pipe. We were used to them as people get used to the portrait of a relative or to an old lamp. In our antireligious state the Byzantine idea that all power comes from God was transformed into the idea of the interconnection of power and nature, into a feeling of his power being as inevitable as the four seasons of the year. People grew up, got married, got divorced, had children, got old and all the time the portrait of Stalin hung over their heads. There was some reason to weep.

The question arose of how to live without Stalin. No one knew the answer. It was pointless to expect it from anyone in the Kremlin. For in the Kremlin—it’s that kind of place — they always talk about absoluteness of power, and therefore, for men in the Kremlin Stalin is, if not flesh, at least more than a ghost. We all followed with interest the vicissitudes of his corpse. First the corpse was put in the Mausoleum. After the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in 1956 it was removed, subjected to cremation, and the urn filled with his ashes installed in the Kremlin wall, where it is now located. Then—a comparatively short time ago—they raised a rather modest (judging by the standards of our time) bust alongside the urn. If one seeks the symbolic meaning of all these transformations—and there has to be one; otherwise why did they alt occur?—one might say that at first the intention to preserve the status quo dominated in the Kremlin; next a desire to condemn the status quo (only partly, it is true) became dominant; next it was decided to retract—also, partially—the condemnation; All this created the impression that no one knew what to do with the dead man. Or was he a dead man?

Physically he was, of course; But psychologically? At this point it is quite easy to launch into discussions about how the thing is not Stalin but the system he created or that created him; how although Russia needed her Nuremberg Trial, it is even better that there was none, because forgiveness is higher than the idea of “an eye for an eye” (especially if it is unconscious); how sooner or later technical progress will put everything in its proper place, for even a totalitarian system, if it wants to last, must grow into a technocracy; how a general convergence awaits us. All right. But in the case at hand, it is not archaic or progressive systems and their fates that interest me. The “secrets of the court of Madrid” and the psychology of “the strong of this world” do not interest me either. I am interested in the moral effect of Stalinism, and more precisely in that pogrom it caused in the minds of my fellow countrymen and in the consciousness of this century. For from my point of view Stalinism is above all a system of thinking, and only afterward a technology of power, of methods of ruling. For—I fear—archaic systems of thinking do not exist.

For almost 30 years a country with a population of almost 200 million was ruled by a man whom some considered a criminal, others a paranoiac, others an Eastern despot who in essence might still be re‐educated—but all of these categories of people sat down at the same table to eat with him, conducted talks with him and shook his hand. The man did not know a single foreign language—including Russian, which he wrote with monstrous grammatical errors. But in bookstores virtually all over the world one can find collections of his works written for him by people who were exterminated because they performed this task, or who remained alive for the same reason. This man had the foggiest notions about history (apart from Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” which was his bedside book), geography, physics, chemistry; but his scientists, sitting under lock and key, nevertheless managed to create atomic and hydrogen bombs that in quality were by no means inferior to their sisters born in a place called the free world. This man, who had no experience running corporations, nevertheless created a secret police agency unique in its magnitude, one that terrified equally the schoolboy—who noticed a bedbug crawling across the portrait of the leader hanging above his bed and broke into a cold sweat at the thought that his schoolteacher might see this—and the former Comintern member writing his memoirs somewhere in the back areas of South America. He ruled the country for almost 30 years and all that time he kept murdering. He murdered his helpers (which was not so unjust, for they were murderers themselves), and he murdered those who murdered his helpers. He murdered both the victims and their executioners. Then he began to murder whole categories of people—or, to use his term, classes. Then he devoted himself to genocide. The number of people who perished in his camps cannot be calculated exactly, nor can the number of the camps themselves, but surely the total surpassed the number of camps in the Third Reich by a figure proportionate to the difference in size between the U.S.S.R. and Germany. At the end of the fifties I myself worked in the Far East, and I shot crazed wild bears that had gotten used to feeding on the corpses from labor‐camp graves and were now dying off because they could not return to normal food. And all the time that he was murdering, he was building. Labor camps, hospitals, hydroelectric stations, giant metallurgical complexes, canals, cities, etc., including monuments to himself. And gradually everything got confused in that vast country. One could not comprehend who was murdering and who was building. One could not comprehend whom to love and whom to fear, who was doing evil and who good. One was left to the conclusion that it was all the same. Living was possible, but living became senseless. It was then, from our moral soil, abundantly fertilized by the idea of the ambivalence of everything and everyone, that Doublethink into being.

By Doublethink I do not mean simply “I‐ say‐one-thing‐I‐do‐another” and vice versa. Nor do I mean what Orwell described in “1984.” I mean the rejection of a moral hierarchy, rejection not for the sake of another hierarchy but for the sake of Nothing. I mean that state of mind characterized by the formula “it’s‐bad‐but‐in‐general-it’s‐good” (and, more rarely, vice versa). I mean the loss of not only an absolute but even a relative moral criterion. I mean not the mutual destruction of the two basic human categories—good and evil—as a result of the struggle between them, but their mutual decomposition as a result of coexistence. Putting it more precisely, I mean their convergence. However, it would be going too far to say that this process took place quite consciously. When one is talking about human beings, in general it is better, if possible, to avoid any generalizations, and if I permit myself to use them, it is because at the time in question human destinies were maximally generalized. For the majority the advent of a double mentality occurred not on an abstract level, not on the level of conceptualization, but on the instinctive level, on the level of needle-fine sensations, the kind of guessing that goes on in dreams. For the majority, of course, everything was clear; the poet who fulfilled the social order to glorify the leader thought through his task and picked out the words—therefore he was making a choice. The official whose hide depended on his attitude to things was also making a choice. And so forth. Of course, in order to make the correct choice and create this converged Evil (or Good) an impulse of the will was needed; and to this end official propaganda came to a person’s aid with its positive vocabulary and philosophy of the rightness of the majority; but if he did not believe in it—then simple terror came. What happened on the level of thought was reinforced on the level of instinct, and vice versa.

I think that I understand how all this happened. When God stands behind Good and the Devil behind Evil, there at least exists a purely terminological difference between the two concepts. But in the modern world approximately the same thing stands behind both Good and Evil: matter. Matter, as we know, does not have its own moral categories. In other words, both Good and Evil are in the same state as a stone. The tendency to the embodiment of the ideal, to its materialization, has gone too far—namely, to the idealization of material. This is the story of Pygmalion and Galatea, but from my point of view there is something ominous in animated stone.

Perhaps it can be expressed even more precisely. As a result of the secularization of consciousness that has taken place on a global scale, man’s heritage from the Christianity he has renounced is a vocabulary that he does not know how to use, and therefore he is forced to improvise. Absolute concepts have degenerated simply into words that have become objects of personal interpretation, if not mere questions of pronunciation. In other words, arbitrary categories at best. With the transformation of absolute concepts into arbitrary categories, little by little the idea has taken root in our consciousness. This idea is very dear to human nature, for it excuses everyone and everything from any responsibility whatsoever. In this lies the reason for the success of totalitarian systems: They answer the basic need of the human race to be free of any responsibility. And the fact that in this age of incredible catastrophes we have not been able to find an adequate reaction—for it, too, would have to be incredible — to these catastrophes suggests that we have drawn near to the realization of this utopia.

I think that we live in the post‐Christian age. I don’t know when it began. The Soviet writer Leonid Leonov proposed (as a present for one of Stalin’s birthdays) beginning new system of measuring time: from the day of Dzhugashvili’s (Stalin’s) birth. I don’t know why this proposal was not accepted. Perhaps because Hitler was younger. But he captured the spirit of the time correctly. For precisely these two spawn of hell took the first steps toward the embodiment of the new goal: moral nonexistence. It was not they, of course, who began murdering in order to build and building in order to murder; but precisely they ran this business on such a gigantic scale that they completely overshadowed their predecessors and cut off their followers’—and humanity’s in general—paths of retreat. In a sense they burned all moral bridges. The extermination of 10 million or more is not a reality for human perception, but something relative and arbitrary, just as the goal of this extermination is relative and arbitrary. The maximal reaction possible and desirable (because of the instinct for self‐preservation) to such situation is: shock, a blank mind. Stalin and Hitler conducted the first sessions of this kind of therapy, but just as thieves steal not for yesterday, the tracks of their crimes lead into the future.

I do not want to draw an apocalyptic picture; but if in the future the murders are going to go on and the building be continued, the convergence of moral criteria plus the astronomical quantity of victims will transform us and our descendants, the main thing, into moral corpses from the Christian point of view, and the happiest of mortals from their own. As the philosopher said, they will find themselves on the far side of Good and Evil. But—why make it so complex? Simply on the far side of Good.

In this sense I do not believe in de‐Stalinization. I do believe in it as in a change of methods of ruling—independent of the indubitable circumstance that relapses will occur and one can anticipate not only the restoration of 100‐foot‐high monuments, but even something flashier. To the honor of the current Kremlin administration one can say that it is not too carried away by the idea of Frankensteinian electrification of the corpse. Stalin appears in quasi‐historical films and in the homes of Georgians—who suffered no less, if not more, than any national minority in the U.S.S.R., but who in this way (for lack of a better way) cultivate their nationalism. The retired secret police agent or the former officer, the taxi driver or bureaucrat on pension will tell you, of course, that under Stalin “there was more order.” But they all miss not so much the “iron Ordnung” as their own past youth or maturity. In principle neither the basic mass of the people nor the party utters the leader’s name in vain. There are too many essential problems to spend one’s time in retrospection. The name can still be used as a banner by some right‐wing group inside the party returning to its trough; but I think that even in the event of a successful beginning, this banner will be returned to obscurity rather quickly. Stalinism as a method of governing a state, in my opinion, has no future.

Therefore, it is all the stranger to see these aquiline features in a bookstore window near The London School of Economics, in the Latin Quarter in Paris or in a shop on some American campus, where they decorate the shelves beside Lenin, Trotsky, Che Guevara, Mao, etc.—all the small‐time and big‐time murderers who, apart from the difference of their ideals, have one common characteristic: They all committed murder. No matter what their numerator is, their denominator is common; and the sum of these fractions would produce a number that would confuse even a computer. I don’t know what all the young people are looking for in these books, but if they really can find something there for themselves, it means only one thing: that the process of moral castration of Homo sapiens, begun by force, is continuing voluntarily, and that Stalinism, as a system of thinking, is conquering.

MARCH 4, 1973

New York Times Magazine


გერონტი ქიქოძე: ჯვარედინ გზაზე

Geronti Kikodze

გერონტი ქიქოძე

ერთ დროს ჩვენი სამშობლო ჯვარედინ გზაზე იდგა. ერთი გზა რომ დასავლეთისაკენ მიდიოდა, მეორე სამხრეთ-აღმოსავლეთისაკენ იყო მიმართული და ევროპიელ ჯვაროსანთა რაზმები თუ არაბ-სპარსელ სოვდაგართა ქარავნები ერთიმეორეს ხვდებოდნენ საქართველოს მიწა-წყალზე. ამ ხშირი მიმოსვლისა და ხანგრძლივი ურთიერთობის კვალი დღესაც ატყვია ჩვენს ქვეყანას. ჩვენი ეროვნული კულტურა დასავლეთ ევროპიული და წინააზიური ელემენტების თავისებური შეუღლებაა. ეს ყველაფერი კარგად ჩანს ხუროთმოძღვრებასა, მხატვრობასა, ლიტერატურასა, ხალხურ ჩვეულებებსა და ზნეობრივ შეხედულებებში. დედამიწის ზურგზე სხვაგან იშვიათად დაიძებნება ასეთი ორიგინალური სინთეზი.

ჩვენ გვაქვს წვეტიანი კოშკები და ციხე-სიმაგრეები, როგორც ევროპიელებს და ჩვენ გვაქვს თაღიანი ქარვასლები, როგორც არაბებს, სპარსელებსა და მცირე აზიელებს. ჩვენი საეკლესიო კედლების მხატვრობა ბიზანტიურ ფრესკებს წააგავს, ჩვენი წიგნების სამკაულები _ სპარსულ-ინდურ მინიატურებს. ჩვენს კულტურას, ევროპული კულტურის მსგავსად, ძველი ბერძნული განათლება უძევს საფუძვლად და ჩვენც ევროპიელებთან ერთად რაინდობისა და ფეოდალური წესწყობილების საფეხური განვვლეთ. მაგრამ ინდოელების სიბრძნესა, სპარსელების პოეზიასა და არაბების ფხიზელ მეცნიერებას სხვებზე ადრე დავეწაფეთ და სხვებზე უფრო ადვილად დავაღწიეთ თავი საშუალო საუკუნეებრივ ვიწროობას. ჩვენი დიდი მწერლები ერთნაირად იცნობდნენ ბერძენ ფილოსოფოსებსა და სპარსელ მგოსნებს და ჩვენი დიდი მთარგმნელები გულმოდგინედ აქართულებდნენ როგორც არისტოტელესა და ნეოპლატონიკოსებს, ისე ფირდოუსისა და ფახრედინის ნაწარმოებებს…

ჩვენი ეროვნული სახე ძალდატანებულად ყოველთვის დასავლეთისა და სამხრეთისაკენ იყო მიმართული. ზურგი, პირიქით, დიდ ბუნებრივ ზღუდეზე გვქონდა მიბჯენილი. ეს იყო მაღალი მთაგრეხილი, რომელსაც ჩრდილოეთით ცივი და ნაკლებ სტუმართმოყვარე ქვეყნები ეკრა. აქ თითქმის დღესაც ყველაფერი უცხოა ქართველებისათვის. ნიადაგის ზედაპირი ჩვენი ქვეყნის ზადაპირს არა ჰგავს, არც ჰავა ჰგავს ჩვენს ჰავას. აქ ცოტაა ისტორიული ნაშთი და მათ შორის არ მოიპოვება არც ჩვენებური მოღუშული ციხეები, არც ჩვენებური ნათელმარმარილოსებური ტაძრები. მკვიდრთათვის გაუგებარია ჩვენი რაინდული და ინდივიდუალისტური შეხედულებები. ჩვენ კიდევ მათი ბუნდოვანი მისტიციზმი და მათი უპიროვნო მორალი გვეუცხოება.

უბედურმა შემთხვევამ დაგვაახლოვა ამ უცხო ქვეყანასთან და ჩვენი სულიერი შეუღლება უკანონოა. მეცამეტე საუკუნეში სპარსეთის კულტურა ველურმა მონგოლებმა დაამხეს, მეთხუთმეტე საუკუნეში ოსმალებმა ბიზანტიის იმპერია დაიპყრეს. ჯვარედინი გზა გადაიჩეხა და საქართველო კულტუროსან კაცობრიობას მოსწყდა. ერთი ბილიკი-ღა დაგვრჩა, კავკასიის მთაგრეხილისაკენ მიმავალი. და საქართველო დიდი ყოყმანის შემდეგ იძულებული გახდა ამ გზისთვის მიემართა, მაგრამ ამ გზით სიარულმა ყველაფერი მოგვიტანა გარდა ბედნიერებისა და კულტურული აყვავებისა.

დღეს მსოფლიო ომის ცეცხლში ხელახლა იცვლება ჩვენი ქვეყნის საერთაშორისო მდგომარეობა. ადვილი შესაძლებელია, რომ ჩვენმა ეროვნულმა კულტურამ ხელახლა თავი დააღწიოს ვიწრო ბილიკებსა და ფართო ჯვარედინ გზაზე გამოვიდეს. როგორც არ უნდა დამთავრდეს დღევანდელი ომი, წინა აზიის გამოღვიძება უეჭველად მოსალოდნელია. რუსეთი და გერმანია ერთგვარი ენერგიით მიისწრაფვიან შუამდინარისაკენ, სადაც ბიბლიური გადმოცემის მიხედვით ერთ დროს ამქვეყნიური სამოთხე იყო. დღეს თუ არა, ხვალ უსათუოდ დამთავრდება ბაღდადის რკინიგზა, რომელსაც გერმანელები აშენებენ და ტრაპიზონისა და ერზრუმის შტოები, რომლებიც რუსებმა დაიწყეს. ჩვენი უახლოესი ევრიპიელი მეზობელი ბალკანეთიც იღვიძებს და ევროპიული პროგრესის გზას ადგება. ეს გარემოება ჩვენს საუკეთესო იმედებს უნდა ასაზრდოებდეს. თუ საქართველოს მოსაზღვრე ქვეყნებში ბარბაროსობის წყვდიადი გაიფანტა, ჩვენს თვალწინ ძველი დიდი გზები გამოჩნდებიან და ხანგრძლივი გათიშვის შემდეგ იმ კულტუროსან ოჯახს დავუბრუნდებით, რომელსაც დიდი ხანია ვეკუთვნით ჩვენის სულითა და ჩვენი წარსულით.