Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Return of The Copybook Gods


This poem, written in 1919, is prescient of our own era. Back then, socialist ideas were making inroads against civilized society (the Russian Revolution was in 1917) and various utopian and progressive ideas were in vogue in various countries. The Western world was weary of war (Word War One had ended in 1918) and looked for a better tomorrow, usually in the wrong places.

What, you may ask, was a copybook? It was an exercise for small schoolboys. At the top of the page, in perfect penmanship, was some wise saying or old maxim. The pupil was to copy the heading repeatedly down the page, imitating the penmanship. In the process he learned to be legible. At the same time he acquired a store of conventional wisdom and learned a bit about spelling and good phrasing as well. 

A number of things in Kipling's poem are recognizable today because modern progressive ideas are not actually modern, but old tired ideas. The supposedly modern themes of arms control, sexual liberation and socialism may be found in the poem, and they were not new in 1919.




The Gods of the Copybook Headings 
By Rudyard Kipling


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

China sees what's going on


China has voiced concern over Europe's debts. Well they should. As I have previously noted, the West's debt crisis touches Chinese interests.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao says China wants to help resolve the crisis. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Top stories update


As I noted previously, there are three particularly important news stories in the present day: the Western debt crisis, rising Islamism in the Mideast and discontent and uncertainty in China.

In this morning's news, we have riots in Greece as the government makes some gestures toward cost control, and a report that Iran is prepared to carry out suicide boat attacks in the Persian gulf. The Tibet situation continues to ferment, of course, and has spilled over into parts of Sichuan, and a young nun has burned herself to death.

On the other side of China, the village of Wukan is in the process of electing its own officials. You may remember that late last year, Wukan rebelled against what residents perceived as a dishonest land grab by officials.

No news reports of discontent, at this time, from points between eastern and western China. That must mean nothing is happening. . . or being reported.