The People's Poet!

The People's Poet!
Right on, kids!

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Advantages of Cowardice

The following is an opinion piece penned by Bertrand Russell for The New York American on 2 November 1931:

The Advantages of Cowardice 

 During the French Revolution, when the Reign of Terror came to an end, it was found that no one was left alive among the politicians except prudent cowards who had changed their opinions quickly enough to keep their head on their shoulders. The result was twenty years of military glory, because there was no one left among the politicians with sufficient courage to keep the generals in order. The French Revolution was an exceptional time, but wherever organisation exists cowardice will be found more advantageous than courage. Of the men at the head of businesses, schools, lunatic asylums, and the like, nine out of ten will prefer the supple lickspittle to the outspoken man of independent judgement. In politics it is necessary to profess the party programme and flatter the leaders; in the navy it is necessary to profess antiquated views on naval strategy; in the army it is necessary to maintain a mediaeval outlook on everything; in journalism wage slaves have to use their brains to give expression to the opinions of millionaires; in education professors lose their jobs if they do not respect the prejudices of the illiterate.

 The result of this state of affairs is that in practically every walk of life the men who come to the top have served a long apprenticeship in cowardice, while the honest and courageous have to be sought for in workhouses and prisons. Is this regrettable?

 The modern world, owing to industrialism, requires social co-operation more than it was required in any earlier stage in the world's history. Now there are three reasons for which you may co-operate with a man: because you love him, because you fear him, or because you hope to share the swag. These three motives are of differing importance in different regions of human co-operation: the first governs procreation, and the third governs politics. But the ordinary everyday business of government, whether in the state or in any other social institution, depends upon fear. A collection of fearless men would be ungovernable. The Vikings were men whom the King of Norway found ungovernable; they left Norway because they would not submit themselves to his sway. After a few centuries of adventure, they became peasants in the frozen valleys of Iceland.

 Consider, as a contrast, the great Duke of Marlborough. He secured the first steps in his career by causing his sister to become the mistress of James II. His great days were due to the passionate between his wife and Queen Anne. Whenever he fought the French he beat them, but he was always ready to refrain from fighting if the King of France made it worth his while. He left a great name, and a great fortune, and his descendants to this day are patterns for patriots. The arts of success have changed little since his day, in spite of the nominal advent of democracy. Now, as in the past, if you wish for success you should be insinuating and pusillanimous rather than bold and self-reliant.

 To those, therefore, whose ambition it is to die in the odour of sanctity, respected by bank managers, admired by friends and neighbours, and universally regarded as models of what a citizen should be, my advice is: don't express your own opinions but those of your boss; don't endeavour to realise ends which you yourself think good, but pursue rather those aimed at by some organisation supported by millionaires; in your private friendships select influential men if you can, or, failing that, men whom you judge likely to become influential. Do this and you will win the good opinion of all the best elements in the community.

 This is sound advice, but, for my part, I would sooner die than follow it.  

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes (The real story)

 Once upon a time there was a wise Emperor who was much loved by his subjects and he returned that love through ruling wisely and evenly.

Into his peaceful empire journeyed a couple of merchants vending wares of extraordinary luxury and mystery. The Emperor, upon learning of these two traders demanded they appear before him.
 When they presented themselves before the Emperor he demanded to see their most luxurious and mysterious object.

The tall slim merchant looked uncertainly at his shorter colleague who was already smiling confidently. “Your Royal Highness!” fawned the shorter of the pair, “We have a magnificent magical cloak that only the stupid cannot see!”

 Upon hearing this the Emperor demanded to see the cloak.

 The diminutive merchant gestured to his partner to open their most ornate trunk.
 With his colleague holding open the trunk lid the smiling merchant reached in and appeared to be draping an ornate cloak over his arms. Turning to face the Emperor he offered,”Your Royal Highness, this is the cloak of which I speak. You no doubt notice the intricate embroidery and exquisite fabric!” The Emperor looked around uncertainly before exclaiming, “Of course! This is some of the finest needle work I have ever seen!”
 Soon the entire court was praising the beauty and majesty of the exotic cloak.

The Emperor gladly paid the merchants a handsome price for the magical cloak. The entire court praised the Emperor for his exquisite purchase and the Emperor glowed with pride. One of the more senior courtiers suggested the Emperor display his new cloak to his subjects publicly and the Emperor agreed that this would be a marvellous idea.

So it came to pass that the day arrived for the Emperor to appear in public in his beautiful new cloak. The crowd in the courtyard was abuzz with anticipation as rumours of this magnificent garment had swept through the empire. The Emperor, followed by his Queen and most favoured courtiers, strode onto his balcony overlooking the courtyard wearing nothing but his beautiful new cloak.

The crowd fell silent, yet soon there were gasps of astonishment and cries of admiration until, eventually, silence once more descended on the assembled mass.

 Then, from the very back of the crowd, a plaintive voice belonging to a small boy was heard to exclaim, “ But the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes!”

Rumblings swept through the crowd, the Emperor's guards snarled, the courtiers jeered, the Queen fainted, but the wise, beloved, Emperor just smiled. Then the Emperor began to laugh, the Queen recovered and began to giggle, the courtiers joined in followed by the guards and soon the entire crowd was laughing with the Emperor and his entourage.

Wiping tears of mirth from his eyes the Emperor held his up his hands for silence.

And in his wisdom. And out of love for his people the Emperor decreed that from this day forth stupidity should become a capital offence.

And the little boy was summarily put to death on the spot.

And from that day forth nobody throughout the empire was so stupid they could not see the Emperor's beautiful new cloak.

And according to intensive polling, focus groups and scientific surveys carried out by the empire's most reputable market researchers, at least 80% of the population
(with a margin of error of + or - 3% ) lived, relatively, happily ever after.