This blog has been up since 2009 and has had a psychology category since that date. But… this is the first post in the category. In fact, this post aims to finally establish the category for future posts. Certain human behaviors can be noticed repeatedly as patterns and can be observed in a large percentage of people. These patterns that seem to be general to all humans are best described as basic human nature. By looking for and understanding this basic human nature we can better understand what a person is really thinking or trying to communicate. Or, better yet, when we seek truth, we can understand what a person is really thinking when we think they intend to mislead us away from truth. We can use science to arm ourselves with the best possible questions for interrogating liars, fabricators, and the subconsciously ignorant.
I have a friend that doesn’t put much stock in psychology or people who call themselves psychologists. He has some funny and valid points he makes when he diminishes the legitimacy of a professional psychologist. But, I disagree with him on many points as well. I believe by understanding core human motivations for behavior, you can predict and better understand a person’s actions and can prepare yourself for statistically standard responses and situations. You can read the posts in this category and decide for yourself. Am I perceiving these signals correctly, or am I totally full of shit. Go ahead, peer review it; because if it can’t stand up to peer review, it’s just horse shit anyway.
The following is an example topic of a psychology post forthcoming in this category: if someone prefaces what they’re about to say with “Ya know, I’m not really worried about this, but did you hear that…” that person is about to tell you something they’re worried about. This behavior of verbally disclaiming the true sentiment of what you’re about to say seems to hold true regardless of the situation or subject. I call this behavior hypocritical disclaimer theory and find it to be standard among all people. Hypocritical disclaiming, for example, will be the topic of a future post. Some more examples of hypocritical disclaiming to drive home the point:
Band of Horses had just come through Detroit on a Tuesday and I missed them. I just couldn’t make it. I made a promise to myself that if a band comes through Detroit that I want to really see, I can’t let the opportunity slip. Lo and behold, 89X plays Jump Into the Fog on August 12, 2012 and I couldn’t believe it, I had never heard The Wombats on the radio in Detroit before. Then the DJ says The Wombats are coming to The Loft in Lansing on September 8. Twat’s that? Exsqueeze me? Did you say The Wombats are going to be in Lansing September 8?
I immediately called my friend Coy because he’s always down for a good show. Coy says he can come with me and things are looking good for a fun Saturday night. I tell him I’ll take care of tickets. Then after golf league and over beers, I ask Sean about Sept 8 as my backup because Sean’s always down too. Sean has something going on that night and can’t be my backup, but he tells me that The Loft is a great place to see a show.
Coy was being coy and I had a feeling he was going to pull the chute on me. It wasn’t long before I confirmed that Coy was indeed backing out of our plans. This is a dilemma because I’m realizing I’m going to have to do this solo or it ain’t gonna happen. My wife, bless her heart, said she would come with me and we could get a babysitter and all that shat, but I wasn’t going to drag her to a show that she wasn’t into. I would not have fun if she was there against her will and if we had to move a mountain to find a babysitter. But, because she’s the coolest wife ever, she had no problem watching the kids so I could make a solo run. It felt super weird to go solo, and I’ve never gone to a show solo before, but I had just promised myself I wasn’t going to miss a band that I really wanted to see. So what’s the big deal, hour drive there, watch a band, and be home by midnight-ish… it was on like donkey kong, I was going to Lansing to see The Wombats on a solo mission. Schweetness.
The Loft was an endearing little venue. Approaching The Loft on East Michigan Ave as the sun was setting was a visually pleasing little drive in from the freeway. The State Capitol building was backlit by the sun, due west from The Loft’s entrance, and was framed with a pretty amber and blue sky. Entering The Loft from the street, you immediately ascend a narrow 40 foot stairway which was the only entrance. I remember thinking that this place would be a real motherfucker if there was ever a fire. The ‘will call’ girl was at the top of the stairs. After checking in with her, you make your way through a short hallway where there are bathrooms and then proceed into the main room which is about 100ft by 50ft. There were brick walls with large iron framed pane glass windows all along the stage side of the rectangle room with hardwood floors. The ceiling was about 15 feet. Opposite the wall with the windows were two cavernous alcoves: one for serving drinks and playing billiards, and the other where they were selling tee shirts.
Yesterday was a milestone event in my PHP programming career; I wrote my first PHP robot script. It was a nerd triumph of sorts. My friend David, who got me started on PHP about 3 years ago, once again helped me get to the next level. He’s not really a PHP programmer per se, but he works data magic on spreadsheets and knows the PHP syntax well enough to pop data variables into PHP scripts brute force style. We collaborated to create a straight up PHP brass tacks script that did some real work. Which as it turns out, was a real epiphany for me.
Let me begin this story with an analogy about drywall and demolition. When I had first set out to remodel our kitchen in our first house, I had never done drywall or demolition. My father was an engineer, and most things we worked on together as father and son were precision in nature: rulers, pencils, straight lines, diagrams, graph paper, &c. So I really didn’t know what I was getting into when it was time to demolish my old kitchen. Luckily, I had my father-in-law coming over and this was his type of work, and I was about to learn from one of the best.
I woke up one spring morning and made myself breakfast in my kitchen for the last time. My father-in-law shows up after breakfast with a couple of sledge hammers and some other tools. He hands me one of the sledge hammers, takes a swing at a wall in my kitchen with the other and knocks the fuck out of it. A little explosion of dust and debris came from the contact of that hammer against the wall. That visual coupled with the loud THUD! noise made my goes wide. I was thinking ‘what the fuck!?!? we’re just going to knock this motherfucker the fuck down!?!?’. It was very liberating to swing that sledge hammer; it was intoxicating. I got into a zone smashing walls, cabinets, old nasty range-tops, counter-tops, soffets, &c. It all happened so fast. The kitchen that I had just eaten breakfast in was gone before lunch time. My kitchen was naked down to the studs and what used to be my kitchen was a scatter of debris in my backyard. It was awesome.
A couple months back, my friend Sean tells me he’s getting tickets for Jane’s Addiction, Gomez, some other band I can’t remember, and for the Arctic Monkeys / Black Keys. I told him I was in for sure on the Black Keys. A couple weeks after that, I was talking to Sean again and told him I was pumped for the Black Keys coming up and I’d been listening to a lot of Arctic Monkeys as well. He tells me “Remember I told you I never got tickets for that show”. I had forgotten he told me that and I was bummed for a day or two and then asked him if it was still possible to get tickets. It would be a shame to miss an opportunity to see two great bands at JLA. Sean, as it happens, is the ticket acquisition master and within a day we had tickets on the floor. My friend Eric also thought it would be a fun show and was able to get a ticket on the floor at the last minute too, nice. So it was three of us, our crew was set, and we we’re on our way from northwest metro Detroit to downtown Detroit with a bunch of beers for some tailgate drinking.
When we got downtown, Sean didn’t have his ticket, he had left it on the coffee table which would be an hour & a half lost in the round trip to get it. We had a crisis now and Sean thinks he can access a computer & printer at the Marriot. Luckily, there are two Marriots downtown but the one in the GM building is out because the enormity of the Renaissance Center is like a giant maze from a scary movie, so we make for the one on East Jefferson. Sean parks the car in front of the sign you see at the bottom of this post that says Private Property – NO PARKING – Violaters Will Be Towed. When we got into the Marriot, we didn’t have a key to access the computer room. We were able to find someone nice enough to let us in and within a minute, Sean was on stub-hub printing himself a new ticket. Car is still there, we’re back in, on our way, crisis averted.
Every time I visit downtown I’m held in awe of the the beautiful buildings that reign from the 1920’s. I had been snapping so many pictures it caused Sean to ask me if I had ever seen the inside of the Gaurdian Building. I told him no. I told him I felt like a tourist in my home town. He said it was worth illegally parking one more time, which he did, and I ran inside to snap some more pictures that are attached at the bottom of this post. The building is magnificent. Detroit was once the Paris of the world and amidst so much decay you sometimes forget how beautiful some of its gems truly are; you’re for a moment caught awestruck at her marvel and beauty. But we gotta get moving and get to the show.
We park at the structure by Cobo Joe’s on Congress to carb up which is a sweet place for a show at JLA because the elevator takes you straight down to the bar. It’s awesome because you can basically take the elevator back to your car very easily when you leave the bar to attend to any last minute things you need to do. That $10 parking pass is almost like having a sweet tailgating spot right next to Cobo Hall with an elevator to Cobo Joe’s doorstep. So we eat, we leave the bar, quick trip back up to the car, and this is the kicker with regard to that parking location: you can walk inside through Cobo Hall all the way to the river front when it’s butt-ass freezing outside. You only have to walk one short block outside to JLA if you cut through Cobo Hall. It’s the smart thing to do when visiting Joe Louis Arena. It works for Red Wings games too.
So we were a little behind schedule because of the ticket situation and a couple photo ops but we had built in enough cushion time to not miss any of the show. We had to find the wrist-band chick so we could get our wrist-bands to get on the floor, grab another beer, and we were off. We were watching center stage when I took this video of Suck It and See:
It’s a shame the audio quality was so poor on the video. I charged up my old iphone 3GS for taking some vids and got some footage, but the audio was poor. But, I still actually think the footage is decent and entertaining so I have watched it all a few times now. The footage above is part of the song titled Suck It and See. It sounded a lot better live, trust me. These guys are in the pocket. They have been jamming for a long time. I remember when they were first introduced in the US, or when I first saw them anyway, was after the release of Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not. It was MTV that was running the Arctic Monkeys hard. If I’m remembering correctly, MTV was playing 24/7 footage of Arctic Monkeys in concert. I remember them rocking pretty good back then, but MTV was over the top with the 24/7 shit and it ended up being good and bad for the band’s PR at the same time. It’s like you’re getting sweet coverage, but by repeating it so much people resent the over-coverage and you take some downside because people feel force fed… corporations… But, that was a long time ago anyway, and, like good bands do, they have persevered and continued to produce good music and sound/perform well live. Here’s the tail end part of Suck It And See and the beginning of Library Pictures:
This next bit of footage still has poor audio but it’s by far my best footage of the Arctic Monkeys on the evening and it grew on me a little more after I watched it a couple times:
Because of the old beat up iphone 3GS, the sound quality is lacking, but if you were there live in JLA, it sounded really good. In this video there is a little intro before RU Mine and then the lead singer, Alex Turner, gives a shout out to the drummer, Matt Helders, as the Rhythm Panther and exclaims “we know you love drummers Detroit” which is totally true. And Matt Helders did steal the show a little. He came out in American Flag pants and he totally rocked. He reminded me of someone who would play middle linebacker or strong safety in football. They were playing RU Mine for the first time live I think and it all sounded good. At this point in the Arctic Monkeys setlist, from about RU Mine forward, the crowd was into it. The crowd had still been filing in for the first couple of songs, but by the time they got to RU Mine it was pretty much a packed house and people had established their positions for the night. Their next song was Brick by Brick and they still had This House Is A Circus, Still Take You Home, and When The Sun Goes Down left to play. I think the setlist was well structured to bring out some big gun songs after we achieved the full weight of a packed JLA audience.
Overall, I would have to say Arctic Monkeys were awesome and I’m really glad they came to Detroit. I’m thankful I was able to see this band live as I have liked their music over the past decade. Their songs are pretty well interspersed in my Pandora stations and I find them to be very solid. It’s a shame the 3GS had such shitty audio quality. I still think my vid clip of RU Mine and Brick by Brick is a solid keeper and was my best Arctic Monkeys clip of the night. I would have to say they rocked it and the crowd loved them. It’s always nice when a band can bring it in the city of truth, because if you suck, you will get your shit handed to you. The whole city of Detroit can be like the Apollo theater sometimes and it was nice to see everybody rockin.
Below are some pictures of the old train depot from the movie Transfomers, the inside of the Guardian Building, and some shots from the streets of Detroit. Even with all the splendor of that beautiful Guardian Building, the picture of the old brown Cadillac with low tire pressure is one of my favorites. The picture of the Renaissance Center with the moon is pretty cool too. Another footnote is that I saw a picture of a couple of the guys from Arctic Monkeys with a Cadillac CTS-V that looked somehow connected to General Motors and that’s a sweet ride. My friend Jeff has a Cadillac CTS-V and they’re super fast.
I’ll put the photos up later – come back and check them out later. I also will try to write a quick post for Black Keys. They were awesome. I have some 4GS video of them and it’s better than 3GS video.
I’m bestowing upon myself the rank of WordPress Blackbelt. A couple years ago, I wrote a post about how to copy your WordPress installation from your internet server to your localhost server. I was new to WordPress and had trouble with the simplest things. A lot of people have posts and help on the internet, but when you’re new web development and you’re stuck on something – and I mean really stuck, and there’s no one to turn to, you have two choices: you can give up or you can persevere. I keep choosing to persevere and I’m glad. It has made me so much stronger and has given me so much confidence.
Two years later, I still have a lot to learn. But, I have the basics down and I can survive in this jungle they call the internet. I fear no hacker. Two years ago, when someone said HTML, I said gesundheit. Today I can tell you how to launch a WordPress site with secure table prefixing, protect your wp-config file with htaccess, firewall your site from malicious hackers, sniff out base64 injection hacks and find the IP address of the motherfucker who tried to jack you and block his ass. I can tell you how to block proxy access from malbots that come to steal my shit and put them on the blacklist until they come back on their knees with an apology. I feel like finally I can survive in this jungle of web development.
Even if you can get through my black belt defenses, I can re-spawn in under a half hour like a I didn’t miss a beat. I can’t tell you what confidence that gives me. It makes me feel so good to be writing this post [that no one will ever probably read]. It makes me feel like I can put some teeth behind my testament to a future client that your code is safe with me.
The post tag named: Khan Echo Syndrome is named to give thanks to Salmon Khan and his educational website Khan Academy. This tag is appropriate for this website because a significant portion of the posts to come on this site are just rehashes of what you can see on Khan’s website. Let me back up a little and explain how I heard of the site and the profound effect it has had on me and so many millions of others.
My friend Prathiba and I were talking about our kids’ education. Her kids are little bit older than mine and she was talking about how well they’re doing in math. She asked “have you heard of khanacademy.org?” to which I replied “no”. “Oh” she said, “you should check it out.” and she preceded to explain a little bit about it and how her kids were using the site and really enjoyed the math exercises.
I checked it out and was astonished to see how many courses there were. Every type of math you could imagine, but that wasn’t all. There are courses on: biology, chemistry, astronomy, economics, the housing crisis, US Treasury plans, history, &c. I couldn’t believe how busy Sal had been making these videos. My first thought was “what should I check out first?”
Having just read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, I was into learning more about economics. Wealth of Nations was a real eye opener with regard to economics and it led me to check Khan’s videos on banking first. I was amazed. All this talk about mortgage backed securities and collateralized debt obligations on the radio and I just didn’t quite understand how all this stuff really worked. Needless to say, now I do. Which is why I’m writing this post right now. Because that’s what the site does, it gives anyone with internet access a chance to get educated on a wide array of topics.
One of the things I really look forward to learning is calculus. I never qualified for it in highschool and only rated high enough for pre-calculus at University. And, even if I did qualify by then, I couldn’t afford to take a class I wanted to because I only had enough money to take classes that I “needed” for my degree. That’s the real blessing about the site for someone like me, I can learn calculus now on my own terms at 39 years old! I don’t need permission, or money, or to have someone tell me I’m not smart enough to study that, I can study it and learn it in spite of all those roadblocks from my youth. I’m truly thankful to Sal for that.
After watching the videos on Collateralized Debt Obligations, I watched the housing crisis videos, the economics videos, the currency exchange videos, the astronomy videos, the trigonometry videos, and now I’m rewatching the housing crisis videos. Wow! What spectacular work and what an amazing mind. It’s pretty obvious that I’m hooked. I can’t tell you how many hours in aggregate I’ve spent watching those videos.
So many of the topics that I want to cover on this website have already been covered by Khan. So my goal with this post is to give credit to Sal Khan and include this post tag everytime I’m rehashing something I learned from Sal.
Maybe by teaching something back that I learned from Khan I’ll be able to learn it a little better myself. Maybe I’ll add a little angle or color to something that helps someone else along the way. Maybe I’ll point someone toward Khan’s website and they’ll be better off it.
They say that practice makes perfect. They say that repitition sinks things into your memory. They say that immitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If anything here with the post tag: Khan Echo Syndrome can help even one person further educate themselves, it will be worth it.
So, thank you very much Sal Khan, my hat is off to you. Any post on this site with the post tag Khan Echo Syndrome is a tribute to your hard work and philanthropy.
This is the twenty first post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters. Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion. The following is an excerpt from Letter 117:
Protestant countries ought to be, and are in reality, more populous than Catholic ones. It follows, first, that revenue from taxes is higher, because it increases proportionately to the number of taxpayers; second that the land is better cultivated; third, that business is in a more flourishing state, because there are more people with their fortunes to make, and because, although their needs are greater, there are also more resources. When the number of people is only enough for the cultivation of the land, trade inevitably collapses, and when there are only enough for the maintenance of trade, agriculture is inevitably ruined; which means that both decay together, since a man cannot engage in one except at the expense of another.
As for the Catholic countries, not only has agriculture been abandoned, but industriousness itself is harmful: it consists only in learning five or six words of a dead language. As soon as a man has equipped himself in this way, he no longer needs to trouble about his career; in a monastery, he can have a quiet life which he would have sweated and labored to achieve in the outside world.
This is not all. The dervishes have almost all the wealth of the nation in their hands. They form a society of miser, constantly acquiring and never giving back; they accumulate income all the time so as to build up capital. All this wealth becomes paralyzed; it no longer circulates, and there is no more commercial, cultural or industrial activity.
There is not a single Protestant ruler who does not raise more taxes from his people than the pope from his subjects; yet the latter are poor, while the former live in opulence. With them, commerce brings everything to life, while with the others monasticism carries death with it everywhere.
Comments on the excerpt above:
Montesquieu uses Catholicism and Protestantism to draw contrast between two starkly different socio-economic groups existing in 1718; roughly 200 years after the Reformation had begun. At first glance, it might seem the author is implying religion itself is the sole reason for these socio-economic differences. This is not, however, entirely true. Montesquieu was the first to use structuralism, comparative models, and ideal types in his sociological analysis. This means that he’s always making comparisons between things by taking *all things* into account. A true sociologist, anthropologist, or economist will never look at things in black in white, he’ll try to, holistically, see *all things* in their full color and take into account the entire complexity of the situation. Also, Montesquieu was a Catholic and he married a Protestant, so please don’t incorrectly assume he’s picking on Catholicism; he’s just making honest and objective observations of the world around him.
The reason one society has a flourishing economy and one society is failing has religion only as one component of a bigger equation. The Catholic Church is not necessarily at fault for the socio-economic decay across their demesne, but the socio-economic dynamic across the Catholic demesne around the Mediterranean countries (Southern France, Spain, and Italy) does offer a well defined example of what happens when the society’s wealth is trapped by a few misers in power. The bishops and deacons of the church had acquired such a disproportionate amount of wealth and power over the last fifteen centuries they had become corrupt. The corruption of their actions was harder and harder to conceal.
This is the twentieth post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters. Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion. The following is an excerpt from Letter 115:
It was not the same with the Romans. The republic used its slave population to incalculable advantage. Each slave was given an allowance, which he had on the conditions imposed by his master: he used it to work with, taking up whatever his own abilities suggested. One would go in for banking, another for shipping, one became a retailer, another applied himself to a technical trade, or farmed out lands and improved them; but there was no one who failed to do everything he could to make a profit from his allowance, which both made him comfortable while he remained a slave, and assured him of freedom in the future: this made for a hard-working population and stimulated industrial and technical skills.
These slaves, who had become rich by hard work and application, were made freemen and became citizens. The republic constantly renewed itself, allowing new families in as the old ones were destroyed.
In the following letters I shall perhaps take the opportunity to prove to you that the more men there are in a state, the more trade flourishes; the two things are interdependent and provide mutual stimulus.
If this is so, how great an increase there was bound to be in this huge number of slaves, always working hard! Industriousness and affluence produced them, and they in turn produced affluence and industriousness.
Comments on the excerpt above:
Slavery comes in many forms and invokes an array of thoughts amongst different people. If you asked 100 people in America about their thoughts on slavery, you’d probably get 100 different accounts of what it means to them. Many people in America might tell you about the British East India Company or the Dutch West India Company that were responsible for most of the slaves brought to North America, Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and South America because that’s what Americans relate to with regard to our geographic location and our short 235 year history as a nation.
Slavery, however, has been around since before recorded history began, is alive today, and probably will continue to exist into the future as we can see it. Worldwide, there are more slaves today in 2011 than there have ever been in recorded history. By percentage of people, slavery has diminished, but by sheer numbers, there are more slaves in the world today. This post is not written to argue which slaves from what time period had it worse, its purpose is to talk about the economics of slavery and the morality of man. In the passage above, Montesquieu is setting up for an entire discourse on the ills of slavery and this passage sets up his argument that men should be free from slavery for a healthier economy by way of a healthy society.
This particular Montesquieu excerpt brings to mind a movie called The Matrix which was written by Larry and Andy Wachowski. Authors like the Wachowski brothers and Philip K. Dick are extraordinary presenters on the dynamics of human societies. They are right brain artist/creative types and even though many people would not think of them as economists, their interpretations of socio-economic dynamics are absolutely fascinating regarding the interconnectivity between society and economy and the whole spectrum of variables between the two that affect one another. The reason the machines in the movie created the Matrix was to give the people a purpose and a fabricated sense of freedom to choose their own destiny, which in turn kept the entire population working and prospering. Whether you’d say these slaves had it bad off is a moral judgement that is moot to the machines, because to them, their system worked. The working class of people, if happy and free, turned their labor into more prosperity for the society which is exactly what the machines wanted. The people were only slaves depending on your frame of reference; in their own minds they were free. Win win?
In The Matrix, there’s a scene where the protagonist is told that unbeknownst to him (at the 2:37 mark in the clip above) he’d been born into indentured servitude. He had thought he was a free man through his entire life, but in reality he was nothing of the sort. Not to go into too much detail about the movie here, but the point is that even though the protagonist was living what he thought was a normal life, he was slave. He felt free: he had a name, he had a job, he earned money, and he lived his life to the best of his ability. The society he lived in was functioning but there was a general malaise on the society and his psyche and he just couldn’t articulate what it was.
In this excerpt from letter #115, the slave wage Montesquieu’s referring to was called: peculium. In Roman law, peculium was the master’s property, but used by the slave for his own enterprises; which were sometimes on a large scale. So even though the slave operated in the society with capitalistic intentions, he was not even close to being part of the ruling class; and in fact never could be. This interesting paradox can be confounding to tea-partiers, anti-capitalists, and conspiracy theorists alike; because, it is pretty easy to draw a parallel between the Roman slave class and the American middle class in that you’re free to make your own decisions on how to use your peculium as long as you bust your ass servicing your debt and the nation’s debt. And, by the time you’re done paying off your debts, you’ll be free too. But, you’re also a lot older and the most vibrant years of your life have passed you by. It’s confounding to some when they come to realize they’ve been born into a caste that doesn’t have it as easy as another. And, the only way to advance their caste is through the value creation that labor and ingenuity, the mother and father of wealth, can produce.
This is the nineteenth post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters. Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion. The following is an excerpt from Letter 107:
They say it is impossible to tell the character of Western kings until they have been subjected to two great ordeals, their mistress and their confessor. It will not be long before we see both of them hard at work to seize control of the king’s mind; it will be a mighty struggle. For under a young prince, these two powers are always rivals, though they are reconciled and join forces under an old one. Under a young prince, the dervish has a hard time maintaining his position; the king’s strength is his weakness, while his adversary’s triumphs come from his strength and his weakness as well.
Comments on the excerpt above:
Louis XIV had ruled France with a firm belief in the divine right of kings. As I write this today, Libya has just ousted Muammar Gadaffi after 42 years of rule and he’s most likely hiding like a rat in Surt, or somewhere between Tripoli and Benghazi awaiting exile or death. Being 39, I have not seen any other leader of Libya in my life time. By contrast, Louis XIV, ruled France for over 70 years! His run as monarch is the longest ever recorded by a Western king. Montesquieu had lived his entire life while France was under the rule of Louis XIV and would have known France in no other way than under the absolute rule of Louis XIV.
Louis XV, heir to the throne, was 5 years old when Loius XIV died and was 7 years old when this letter was written; his health was of concern. Louis XV had no heir. If he was to die, the possibility of war breaking out was very real. This led to international intrigue and the Cellamare Conspiracy. This is when this letter was written and it was a tumultuous time to be living in France.
When a seven year old boy is the ruler of the sovereign, there is always jockeying for power amongst the noble classof adults. Humans covet power by nature and easily silence the voices of virtue and reason within themselves to obtain it. Montesquieu, being a polymath and student of history, had seen this a thousand times in his studies. It’s true that history is the best teacher when studying the human species; Montesquieu knew this and applied it with this passage.
I’m reminded of a couple things by this letter excerpt and the first is the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. Malthus wrote the book Essay on the Principle of Population (published 1798 – 1826), which is a book you can read for free at gutenberg.org. I hate to boil down a great thinkers’ thesis to a couple words or a catch phrase, but I happen to know a very wise friend who described Malthus’ thesis as this: people are going to fuck. The desire to procreate which leads to sexual intercourse is within the human species’ DNA and Malthus knew this. My friend boiling down Malthus’ thesis to this one crude sentence should not detract from the brilliance of the man’s writings. It is what it is and the truth is the truth; whether it would make you blush or snicker is irrelevant.
Another great writer that comes to mind regarding this excerpt is J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien’s literature on man’s weakness toward coveting power is classic. One of Tolkien’s characters in the book The Lord of the Rings was Wormtongue. Wormtongue, if you didn’t know, was basically the regent to a king that had been put under a spell by a wizard. The king would do whatever Wormtongue whispered into his ear. There are so many countless examples of this consultant & king relationship in history that can be considered a metaphor for both Montesquieu and Tolkien to draw from and paint their ever so elegant prose. Montesquieu has a way of putting this truth so succinctly as he anticipated it in France. He’s not the first one to think of this or the last to think that he’s thought of it, he was just so skilled at seeing it and summing it up for us.
A young heir would be preyed upon through his formative years by both women and men competing for their share of the power they coveted so much. Each would use every weapon in their arsenal to seize it. The men would kiss ass and appeal to the king’s reason for their share of power and use every other advantage they could muster to compete for it. And, the women would use the powerful influence of their sensuality and sexual allure to seduce the king’s attention in their direction just the same. Eventually, a young king will select one top man and one top woman into his most intimate consul. As Montesquieu says, a young king’s physical strength undermines the dervish’s position as his desire for the vagina makes the dervish more irrelevant. The woman benefits from the king’s strength and weakness simultaneously. I think Montesquieu was correct; the woman has the advantage in the battle for control of a young king’s mind.
And, although as Montesquieu points out, both the dervish and the mistress would reconcile forces under an older king, the powerful influence a woman holds over a man can always be considered the greatest regardless of a man’s age and should never be underestimated.
“In October 1838… I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population… it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species.”
— Nora Barlow 1958. The autobiography of Charles Darwin. p128
I think I may fairly make two postulata.
First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.
Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state.
These two laws, ever since we have had any knowledge of mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of our nature, and, as we have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are, without an immediate act of power in that Being who first arranged the system of the universe, and for the advantage of his creatures, still executes, according to fixed laws, all its various operations.
— Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population
This is the eighteenth post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters. Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion. The following is an excerpt from Letter 98:
I find, Ibben, that Providence is to be admired for the manner in which it shares out wealth: if it had been granted only to good people, it would not have been possible to differentiate clearly enough between it and virtue, and its worthlessness would not have been fully appreciated. But when you consider which people have accumulated the largest amounts of it, you come at last, through despising rich men, to despise riches.
Comments on the excerpt above:
I find this quote very insightful but must qualify it: the Baron lived in a castle surrounded by a moat which was surrounded by acres of lush garden. It’s a little easier to say this when you have nothing to worry about as far as financial concerns. This does not make the statement less profound in that wealth comes not solely from material riches; there is great wealth in a man’s virtue. How could a man come to this thought if he truly did not own it? Let’s face it, Montesquieu is one of the greatest sociological thinkers of all time. The society and the economy are so interwoven, they’re like a Siamese twins that cannot be separated from each other without both of them dying. Siamese twins is the best analogy I can think of for the complexities of society and economy living together as one being sharing the same organs. It’s important to never think of society or economy in separate terms or in terms of black and white. There are whole spectrums of color that overlap and connect to form one socio-economic science.
Let’s dig into this quote to see how Montesquieu can deliver so much information in so few words. Since the beginning of time man has struggled to understand the complex degrees of morality and materiality. Where does an increase in one encroach upon the other? If you want heat, you need a furnace. That’s not asking for more than you deserve because you cannot survive without heat, right? Are you asking too much if you want a furnace? Is that an immoral request made out of materiality? I don’t think so. This is reasonable. But, when does your desire for a material possession in your life approach prodigality or avarice? This is a question that is not so black and white. What is acceptable to the people in your sovereign, at your geo-coordinates, in your climate, in your season might not be acceptable elsewhere.
Here’s the point of the excerpt: the distribution of richness in virtue is irrespective to the caste of the citizen. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth or you’re born into the proletariat, your chances of being a greedy asshole are just the same. There are rich assholes and there are poor assholes. And vice versa, by being born poor in material wealth does not mean that you cannot be endowed with a richness of virtue which is what truly creates wealth for your society. In fact, wealth without virtue leads the society to poverty, and virtue irrespective of current wealth leads the society to future wealth.
Montesquieu is further singling out the most despicable kind of asshole: the guy who just wants more when he stopped needing more a long time ago. The guy that has so much in his material possession that he can’t possibly make use of all he has acquired, but he still wants more. And through his increased power on the sovereign, he influences the law to inflict increasing hurt on castes beneath him in order to propel his own personal gain further. When a guy has twelve houses, and can only live in one, he is paralyzing wealth that could be put to the good of society if it were employed. What means naught to the miser, could employ two, or three, or four families potentially. Whenever capital is paralyzed for whatever the reason, the two biggest reasons being greed and ignorance, it is to the bane of the economy and society. This is an example of why the society and the economy are so intertwined.
The opportunity cost of the miser paralyzing wealth out of greed creates a loss of wealth to the miser’s own surrounding society even though he feels richer through his short sighted prism of avarice. The miser is hurting his own society and his own wealth because of his greed. He would actually be more wealthy if he could increase his empathy for his fellow man and release into society that wealth which could help others more than himself. His return on investment is much higher when the people in the society are happier. But, his greed blinds him into wanting more. He turns a blind eye to the suffering of the people in his own country and isolates himself further by building fenced in communities, and attending only private institutions for his caste. He loses sight of his fellow man and perhaps will never understand that his empathy could raise the tide for all boats including his own when it comes to virtue. And that’s why virtue causes you to despise material wealth.
If the law of the sovereign cannot separate power from those who lack virtue, the law has failed the republic. This is a tricky thing to accomplish and requires ingenuity of the law and diligence from the people. The people in the society must educate themselves and read the legislation and demand to know who wrote it and demand it in human readable form. If a lobby holds sway over the legislation stronger than the will of the people, virtue has been dealt a death blow and the republic cannot last. If the society is indolent or ignorant to the point that the laws produced by the society do not seek to separate power from those who lack virtue, the society is on its way toward economic collapse just the same. In simpler terms: if greed wins, society loses, regardless of the ‘ism’ used to label the society.
Here are a couple of links to some spectacular photos of Montesquieu’s Château de la Brède: