Monthly Archives: January 2015

Lethargy

Lethargy

“Believe!” the wall-eyed man shouted, raising Bible in one hand. A couple of tourists laughed nervously, uncertain how to take the clearly disturbed street preacher. Anne continued on down Dundas, this was nothing new – he’d be there the next time she used the subway, startling another group of Asian tourists or moon-eyed suburbanites.

“Believe in what?” she thought to herself, cutting across the busy street. “It’s not like that’s any sort of argument – who would be convinced by that?” Christmas lights began to wink on in the drawing gloom, casting green red blue reflections in the icy snow crusting the curbs. A gust cut threw her light coat – time to change to something warmer.

Across the way, plastered on the side of an office building the other side of Yonge and Dundas Square, was an advertisement for Suncor – “The Oilsands, powering Canada’s economy into the 21st century and Beyond!” it proclaimed, above the smiling visage of a man decked out in heavy industrial gear, standing arms folded in front of a mammoth Cat 797 truck.

“Ha, might as well believe in that as anything else,” Anne thought sardonically, reflecting on the latest reports of the disastrous spill at Kitimat. Anne was born the year the Exxon Valdez ran aground. Kitimat made that look like a stain on the garage floor. Suncor, Syncrude, Enbridge, they were running some serious damage control now, for all the good that it would do them. The shipping channels were devastated, the Natives had been occupying the roads and important buildings since the spill, demanding an end to the destructive practices. There had been violence. A Mountie had died, and dozens had been arrested. Great stuff for the current news cycle. No, it didn’t look like the oil companies could provide a future, any more than a crazy man with an old book and a bad case of halitosis.

Anne got back to her Annex apartment, perched over a franchised coffee shop. Mug of hot chamomile in hand, she cleared her desk of pencil nubs and soiled paper, sweeping it all to a side. Sitting down, she looked out into the night – snow had begun to fall, big, fat wet flakes. Heavy weather due for the weekend, the news had said – lake effect snow squalls to start Friday evening and carry through till the middle of next week. Maybe it would hold out until the 24th, for a change.

Christmas. No chance to see her family, this year. No chance to get back to BC, not on this budget. Her dad has just lost his job, and both her parents had always been terrible at budgeting their money, so no hope they could fly cross-country, either. She shrugged off the spasm of guilt – she had come to Ontario to escape the doldrums of Vancouver Island, to get away from the hum-drum sleepiness of it all – to start her future.

A car lazily drove down the street below her, leaving slushy tracks in the newly-fallen snow. Left to start her future, and now here she was, in snowy Toronto, while the whole country held its breath and looked back home. British Columbia, where tomorrow was being decided.

Did it really matter, though? The damage had been done, would continue to be done, whether or not the Natives won this one or not, whether or not the public had had its fill of petro-company crude or not. There would be no change, not any real one. Things would continue to grind down, the sickness would spread.

Anne looked around her apartment, the scattered, half-finished canvasses, her current work, the pile of laundry growing with silent reproaches. Her eyes fell on the easel, where the painting sat, waiting for her. Waiting and writhing, or so it seemed – eager to be enfleshed, eager to be realized and shout its ominous message. A great hole – swallowing the future. Shouting from its horrible encompassing maw, there is no tomorrow. No improvement. These are the end times.

She looks beyond the partially composed omen to her bed, left rumpled from her quick exit this morning. It would be easy to climb under the sheets, lying open for her. Easy just to slip away for a few hours, and leave the painting to itself, leave it alone with its needs and hungers. After all, isn’t that the point? Isn’t the objective of this freeze of progress, this suspension of movement, just that – to just stop? To leave things stuck, unfinished? Why go through the trouble of it, what’s the point, if there isn’t a tomorrow where it can place itself, and have it’s own time? No tomorrow…

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Marxist Economics: A Primer

What follows is taken almost whole-cloth from a public talk I recently gave on the subject. It’s not meant as an authoritative take on Marxist economics – it’s nowhere near long enough – but rather as a quick and loose intro with an eye to drumming up interest in a possible reading-group, that can more intricately examine the subject matter. A portion of the contents came about from my own research, but I owe a heavy debt to the English translation of Michael Heinrich’s An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital – the quotation in the section on Crisis is indeed lifted in full from there. I’ve broken the material into several different sections, starting with the classical economic genesis of Marx’s thought and carrying on to a contrast with modern theories, in order that the content be rendered more easily understood. Finally, there is a conclusion, which summarises some of the key points of each portion.

Without further ado:

Labour Theory of Value

Marxist economics is an example of what is known as the “Labour Theory of Value.” This theory was first formulated by the likes of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and during the time in which Marx himself was writing, the latter half of the 1800’s, formed the mainstream thought of political economic theory. The crux of the theory is that it is human labour, the application of human effort, that creates the value which we find in certain objects in the world. It should be stated here that the term “value” holds a special meaning, divorced from the way we commonly use it: “value” here is something very different from “price.” For example, we can say that undeveloped land, or diamonds, or things of this nature have a “price” but not a “value.” This is because they have not been worked on by human beings – the money that you pay when you buy a diamond ring is not tied to the “value” of the object, but rather determined by scarcity – more on this later.

The specialised concept of “value” is further subdivided in this theory – into what are called “Use Values” and “Exchange Values.” When we confront objects in the world with an eye to making use of them – sitting on a chair, typing on a keyboard – we interact with their “Use values.” However, when we begin to approach objects as commodities, as an abstract collection of goods meant to be traded, we don’t really care about their individual “Use Values.” Here, we are more interested in their “Exchange Values.” Only objects treated as commodities have both a “use value” and an “exchange value.” “Use values” naturally inhere in the object – they are determined by the physical make-up, whereas “Exchange values” are the product of a societal relation – the act of being associated with trade.

So, how do we get to the heart of what we mean by “value”? How do we figure out what things are worth? We see fairly quickly when we enter the level of exchange that commodities stand in relation to one another in more or less fixed ratios – it is possible for objects to be exchanged above their value, or below it, but this price does not affect their value. Marx, given the time he was writing, talks a great deal about textiles. He posits that you can take one coat, and exchange it for, say 3 sheets of linen. Further, you can take three sheets of linen, and trade them for several dozen yards of yarn. By the same logic then, you should be able to trade that much yarn for one coat. What is being measured here, in the comparison? The answer that the Labour Theory of Value puts forward is that it is what is known as “socially necessary labour time.”

“Socially necessary labour time” is just that amount of labour, within a society during a particular epoch, that is required to create the commodity. It is qualified by “socially necessary” because, as we see in practice, simply because someone should take longer at creating a particular commodity does not give it more value – no, this is tied to the average time across the whole society that it would take to do so. For example, just because it would take you, an unskilled labourer, a long time to make, say, a chair, that chair isn’t therefore “worth” more than one built by a skilled carpenter.

The way commodities stand in relation to one another we mentioned a moment ago sheds light on another aspect of the economy, that of money. Money, in this understanding, can be considered the abstracted relation between all commodities. I’ll speak to what are known as Bourgeois economic theories, those that we call “Mainstream,” a bit later, but it is worth noting that no other theory aside from Marxist economics can account for the money form in this way, and that, for this reason, all other economic theories are “pre-money theories.” Getting back to the subject at hand, Marx believed that the money form had to be tied to a particular money commodity, historically usually that of gold or silver. Of course, we know that that is no longer the case – money’s representative “worth” hasn’t been tied to gold since the end of the Bretton Woods system in ’71 – but this in no way complicates Marx’s position. We see money acting in several different ways – namely, as a hoard, where it is taken out of circulation, as payment, where it is exchanged in lieu of a commodity, or as the general abstraction – the “Universal Money.” Without the money form, Capitalism as a system would not be possible.

The Capitalist Economy

Things have been traded since the dawn of civilization, if not even before that. However, it is only under a properly Capitalist system that almost all objects are treated as commodities, able to be exchanged for others.

It is important to note the over-arching nature of Capital in its status as a system. As noted, we’ll look in more detail at Bourgeois systems later, but this is another failing of theirs, to not treat economics in a wide enough systematic manner. What is meant by that is, there are three main portions of the Capitalist economy: the realm of production, where commodities are created, that of circulation, where they are traded, and finally the realm of consumption, where they are converted back to use values and, for a time, drop out of economic consideration. It is necessary to take all three levels in view when approaching the subject of political economy.

In the Marxist approach, human beings are called Capitalists when they take up the role of Capital personified. Capital is more than just a large amount of money or wealth, it is what is known as “self-valorising value.” Its sole interest is in increasing itself. Thus, Industrialists, Bankers, etc., are only Capitalists when they act this out. This is why, for example, Thomas Piketty’s recent book, while it presents a wealth of useful stats, doesn’t actually address Capitalism as a system. Unlike the model we mentioned earlier, where a person heads to the market with their own commodity, exchanges it for a certain amount of money, and then either sits on it or exchanges that amount for another, different commodity, the Capitalist process starts with money. Capitalists advance a certain amount of money in the knowledge that they will get a larger return on it. It’s important to note that, though this advance generally takes the form of wages “purchasing” labour-power, and that this is described by both Capitalist and the worker as a form of payment for work done, this is untrue. It is a hallmark of Marxist Economics that the true workings of the system remain obscured to most actors, operating underneath the surface of apparent relationships. Though both Capitalists and the working class remain ignorant of the actual operations of the economy, this is no way impedes the process as a whole.

What is “self-valorising value?” For this, we have to look at the other side of the divide, the working class, also known as the proletariat. Unlike other commodities, which are mere carriers for use values and exchange values, labour-power has within itself the ability to create value. It is able to do this because of the particular way it is valued itself. Like other commodities, labour-power derives its “value” by the “socially necessary labour time” for its (re)creation. In this instance, that takes the form of the daily necessities for the continuation of life for the labourer, eg, the food, the clothing, the shelter, etc. Further to this, it also contains the cost of reproducing the labour, and so, alongside those more mundane commodities, carries with it those necessary to supply for the labourers’ offspring. The queer element of labour-power, however, is that it can achieve these things and more within one “working day.” Now, the concept of the “working day” is an important one, and one that we’ll return to later, but, for now, suffice it to say that a labourer produces what he or she needs for themselves, as well as an excess of value on top of that, within the working period.

Here we reach another term with special meaning – that of exploitation. As discussed above, the money advanced by the Capitalist in the form of wages, wherein they bought the labour-power of a worker for an agreed-upon portion of time, was reflective of the value of that labour-power. This, coupled with the fact that the application of labour-power, ie., labouring, produces value in excess of this, gets us to Marx’s conception of “exploitation.” The labourer is given money for the recreation of their daily labour, but the Capitalist takes the excess value, the “surplus value,” in the form of the commodity created with that labour. The time required to reproduce the labour potential is referred to as paid labour, while surplus-value creating labour is unpaid. Hence “exploitation,” for Marx, is a purely logistical affair, and doesn’t speak to a moral component. I think it’s worthwhile to hold a moment here, as the concept of exploitation is a central one. The idea of “unpaid labour” hearkens back to what we were discussing a moment ago, the reality that most of what transpires in Capitalist economics happens underneath the surface. It’s not as if labourers are forced to work without compensation, like we see in unpaid internships or work-fare or the like. No, it’s just that the wages that are given to the worker, while they appear to correspond to the hours worked, are actually tied to the necessary labour time to reproduce the labour-ability. The time after that, which we refer to, technically, as unpaid labour, creates surplus value, on top of the value of the labour-power itself.

Capitalist Production

Now that we have to acquired the concept of “surplus value,” we can better explain how commodities gain their value. Earlier we said that value is generated by “socially necessary labour time” – while this remains true, under the Capitalist system, it is further divided into a composite of the surplus value and the value transferred by the earlier advanced capital. This “earlier advanced capital” itself is an aggregate, which divides into what is known as “constant capital” and “variable capital.” Variable capital is the name for those commodities which are used up in the production process, namely, the paid-labour and the raw materials. Constant capital, by contrast, only partially transfers its value to the finished commodity. Constant capital takes the form of the machinery used to facilitate the process – as one can see, from this perspective, machinery on the factory floor can be used to create many commodities, and only gives up it’s own value in increments. Thus, the value of the finished commodity is a combination of three entities, the value of the consumed variable capital, a portion of the constant capital, and the surplus value created by the application of labour-power.

Understanding the nature of value in commodities sheds light on the nature of profit, which we will further explore in a moment, but also clarifies the nature of the working day and the process of Capitalistic production itself. Clearly, Capitalists are driven to maximize surplus value, as this is the ultimate source of profit. There are two different methods of looking at surplus value, one, the absolute surplus value, is tied to the length of the working day, while the second, relative surplus value, is connected with driving down the value of labour-power itself. The first, absolute surplus value, is increased when the working day is lengthened, allowing more time for what we called “unpaid” labour. This also includes more effective use of labour-time, both by intensification of the labour process and also by more efficient factory lay-out and the like. Of course, there are only so many hours in a day, which is why we arrive at the second method, driving down the value of labour power itself. While, on the face of it, this might seem counterintuitive, reducing the cost of labour-power, ie., those commodities necessary to reproduce labour-power, leaves more time in the day for “unpaid labour.” Some of the ways this is done include the adoption of machinery, in the sense of automating commodity creation, as well as the division of labour within the factory.

This process is part of the antagonism between the labouring class and the Capitalist class – the purchaser of labour-power, the Capitalist, like any good consumer, wants to get their monies’ worth. The proletariat, meanwhile, wants to sell their labour-power as dearly as possible, as one would do. Unchecked by regulating laws or the will of a united working class, the drive to increase surplus value leads to the immiseration of the workers, exposing them to bodily danger and stultifying the mind.

Profit

Now, turning to profit itself. If the rate of surplus value is determined by its relation to variable capital, the rate of profit is determined by the surplus value in relation to the combination of constant and variable capital. In that sense, it would make sense to refer to the combination of constant and variable capitals as the “cost price” of the commodity. For Capitalists looking to increase their profit, once they’ve done their best to increase surplus value over all, the obvious lever to pull is that of the constant capital – variable capital of course transferring all of its value immediately already. An increase in the proportion of constant capital can be achieved in three separate ways – the more effective use of it, the more effective use in the creation of it, and what is known as the acceleration in the turnover of capital, which refers to the heightened work pace.

These three methods grant access to the frenetic and unrelenting nature of life for the Capitalist – in order to remain a Capitalist, they must constantly reinvest their Capital. Because they are, by definition, driven towards valorisation, they must seek out the highest profit they can, lest they be outdone by their competing Capitalist brethren, and lose out on the expected return of their advance. The push towards innovation in the realm of constant capital, eg., the means of production, is undying, and comes out of a hope to better the ratio of surplus value to cost price. Coupled to this, however, is the attendant worry that some other Capitalist will innovate before them, rendering their own constant capital, their own machinery, outmoded and slower than the “socially necessary labour time.” Given the massive investments machinery represent, it is a perpetual worry that it will be outmoded before it can fully transfer its value to created commodities. From this comes the desire to never let it sit idle – so long as the rate of profit will allow for it, more shifts of work are tacked on, in the hope of constantly using the machinery.

In passing, it is worth noting that there isn’t a difference in kind between talk of value and talk of production price and rate of profit. Rather than some temporal difference, as if there were a transition from one stage to another, it is simply a matter of transitioning between levels of description.

Merchant Capital, Finance Capital

Of course, as we well know, the work done in creating commodities, whether it be done in factories creating textiles, on a farm rearing cattle, or in an auditorium with a concert orchestra, is only one portion of the Capitalist economy. The creation of commodities takes place under what is termed Industrial Capital, as does the sole creation of surplus value, which underwrites the whole system. The other two branches, at least for the Capitalist, are known as Merchant Capital and Finance Capital.

If surplus value is only created during the Industrial Capital stage, why would the Industrial Capitalist want to share it around with the others? Why share a portion of the profit they have “earned” through the advancement of their capital? Because the creation of surplus value is only one stage of the valorisation process, of course. The Industrial Capitalist, now that they have converted their initially advanced money into a valorised commodity must now exchanged this commodity for a second sum of money, larger than the first, to complete the process. Rather than sell directly to consumers at the market price, an Industrial Capitalist will often sell to a Merchant Capitalist below the market price, but still above the cost price, in order to get the finished commodity out of their hands and to advance the newly gained surplus value. This reduces the risk for the Industrial Capitalist of finding themselves sitting on too many commodities and not being able to get access to the fruits of their earlier advancement.

The Merchant Capitalist, for their part, finds the process worthwhile due to the margin between the price they acquired the commodity for and its ultimate market price. Those workers that labour to get the commodity to market, whether it be as truckers, sailors, or clerks, off-set the cost of their employment by way of the unpaid labour they do – but the money for the paid labour, the labour-power that goes into reproducing themselves, comes directly from the surplus value created earlier in the Industrial Capital stage. Unlike their Industrial colleagues, the Merchant proletariat’s unpaid labour is unproductive when it comes to surplus value.

The benefits to the Industrial Capitalist of Merchant Capital are fairly clear. What then of Finance Capital? Unlike pre-capitalist economies, Finance Capital, in the form of interest-bearing capital, does not occur as a crushing burden on the debtor. In pre-Capitalist eras, interest, or, as it was called, usury, would occur in such staggering rates that a loan was often a sentence to bankruptcy. It was this state of affairs that developed the moralistic distaste for lending money, that we see codified in the Bible and as a hold-over in our own times. Contrary to this, though, interest rates nowadays are much more manageable. Furthermore, much like the necessity of the money form, Capitalism could not operate as a system without the lubrication of Finance Capital.

Without going into too much detail, Finance Capital allows for liquidity within the Capitalist economy, in that it allows for the raising of funds to be applied in areas of high expected returns with alacrity, as well as providing a sort of force-multiplier for the Industrial Capitalist. Much like the relationship between the Industrial and Merchant Capitalist described a moment ago, the Financier receives their profit as a slice of the surplus value created earlier in the system. Just as the Industrial Capitalist strikes a favourable balance between the cost price and the market price, here they look for a reasonable balance between the average rate of profit and the rate of interest on the loan, which is in turn determined by the levels of supply and demand within the system as a whole. Access to large amounts of finance capital can act as a what was termed a force multiplier because it allows the Industrial Capitalist to advance greater sums into their own affairs, whether it be in the form of improved constant capital, which in turn benefits their rate of profit, or as the means to benefit from a temporarily high demand for certain commodities unmet by other market forces.

As well as benefit to individual Capitalists, Finance Capital, under the Capitalist system, is used by the working class. Some use it to set themselves up as Capitalists in their own right, while, on a systemic level, it provides some extra room for the consumption of commodities. For example, the end of stagflation in the 1980’s and the economic growth up until 2008 was due in large part to this extension of cheap credit to the working classes, who’s buying power over that time otherwise stalled. A clear indication of this is the widespread reliance on credit cards to maintain an accustomed style of living.

Crisis

So, why oppose Capitalism? It seems like it has it’s good points – it is massively more efficient than any previous economic form we’ve seen, and it looks like it has the mechanisms to allow the working class, through savvy investment and thrift, to better their own situations.

We have, however, already numbered some of the internal antagonisms within the system – the way it pits Capitalists against the proletariat, the manner in which Capitalists necessarily compete amongst themselves. The greatest pitfall has yet to be mentioned – the constant, cyclical event of Crisis.

Under Capitalism, a Crisis occurs when a large percentage of the commodities produced are no longer saleable. This occurs not because there is no demand for them, but because there is no longer the “buying power” with which to do so. The interconnectedness of the system allows for a chain reaction when this happens:

“Commodity capital can no longer be completely transformed into money capital, so that the advanced capital is poorly valorized and accumulation decreases. The demand on the part of capitalist enterprises for the elements of productive capital—means of production and labor-power—also decreases. Mass unemployment and a decline in the consumption of the working class are the consequences, thus leading to a further decline in demand that further intensifies the crisis.”

During Marx’s own time, these periodic Crises of Capitalism would happen with more or less regularity every decade. During the Post-War years, however, it looked as if this had been overcome. Unfortunately, this was simply a product of the benefits of the modern industrial process: division of labour, mass production and the like. This became apparent during the previously mentioned period of stagflation during the 1970’s. It was no longer possible to drive down the relative surplus value by way of automation. This lead to the political choice to dismantle the gains made by the working class, undercutting the social-welfare state and destroying the power of labour unions, in order to make a reasonable gain in productivity. Of course, as mentioned earlier, this lead to the extension of cheap credit without increasing buying power, which has sense caught up with us. Unlike other efforts at understanding economics, Marx points to the internal workings of Capitalism itself as the creator of Crises. You cannot have Capitalism without them.

Bourgeois Economics

And what about those Bourgeois economists? Where do they go wrong? Quickly, I’ll take a brief look at two important schools of non-Marxist economics.

The first school is that which is commonly referred to as Mainstream Economics. It’s a combination of a few different styles, but mostly holds to the work set out by the Austrian School and the economist Hayek, and holds true to the affirmations of marginal utility theory. Roughly, this position assumes that the true focus of economics is the rationally acting individual who seeks their own benefit. Furthermore, they hold that markets should be left unfettered and that, given enough time, the storied “Invisible hand,” emerging from the individual actions of rational entities, will guide the greater bulk of commerce to the benefit of society.

Of course, as we have just argued, this is an entirely wrong-headed approach – Capitalism is fraught with internal contradictions which drive the creation of Crises, and, furthermore, it simply doesn’t make sense to approach political economy from anything less than a systematic view: the rationally self-interested individual is not the proper subject of economics, society is. If you cast your mind back to the tri-partite division of Capitalist economy we discussed earlier, the separate realms of production, circulation and consumption, it would be appropriate to think of Mainstream economics as solely focused on the middle portion, that of circulation, to the detriment of the other two. For this reason, they can say that all agents, in the market, are equal, and there is no imbalance of power between them. Of course, the inherent imbalances, the way that wealth tips the scale and monopoly over the means of production sets actors on different levels, only becomes apparent when you take the system as a whole, which they refuse to do!

Another approach to economics which has regained traction, in light of the Great Recession of 2008, is that of John Maynard Keynes. Keynes himself laid the basis of his economic thought during the Great Depression, and, unlike other Bourgeois economists, took note of the friction between the working class and the Capitalists. For Keynes, however, the problem of Capitalist Crisis lay in what is known as effective demand – rather than try to flatten out the market the way the laissez-faire Mainstream economists would do, Keynes argued that the solution was to halt the vicious circle of unemployment breeding decreasing demand by way of an injection of purchasing power back into the system, usually taking the form of Government stimulus.

However, this is to mistake the source of Government finances and the nature of value– the Governments of modern nation states do not create wealth ex nihilo – they acquire it through taxation. In a point of crisis, the working classes cannot afford an increase in taxation, and the Capitalists are mobile enough to avoid it. Of course, Governments can dip into the World Financial markets, but this is a short term solution, and one that we have seen to lead to disaster just within the last few years, what with the rather distastefully-named PIGS.

Conclusion

            Thus, we have laid out a sketch of Marxist Economics, as well as some rough comparisons with other, Bourgeois, modes.

In quick summary, Marxist Economics rests on the Labour Theory of Value, which posits that value is created by application of human labour-power. Capitalist Production is the process of self-valorising value, which is derived from harnessing human labour-power and the creation of value-bearing commodities. Capitalists advance money, which is the abstract relation between all commodities, in the expectation that it will return a profit. The rate of profit is derived from the ratio of surplus value, created by the labourer, to the combination of constant capital and variable capital, where constant capital is the means of production, transferring its value in slices, and variable capital is that which is consumed in the productive process, the raw materials and the wages. Merchant Capital and Finance Capital, while necessary for the liquidity and flexibility of the system as a whole, derive their profit from the surplus value created under Industrial Capital. Because of its internal contradictions, Capitalism is not only prone to, but actively creates, periods of Crisis, which no Bourgeois theory can properly account for.

Charlie Hebdo: A Return to Tribalism?

Charlie Hebdo: A Return to Tribalism?

            I don’t know, of course, I wasn’t there. People that were, though, and the records others left, attest to a shift in attitudes during the later half of the Twentieth Century. It’s true, the USSR was busy oppressing its populations, and the Americans were eagerly establishing their hegemony everywhere else, but, so I’ve been told, perspectives of some people were shifting.

Done away with was the old mode of thought, and there was a realisation that we’re all in this together – one species, one planet, and a fragile balance that we could readily tip towards disaster if we so chose. In short, for some, the concept of Tribalism was dying off. Shortly around the time of my birth, the rotten fabric of Stalinism ripped itself apart, and even that division looked as if it were gone (though we all know how that has turned out). I suspect this was, at least in part, the frame of mind Fukuyama possessed when he declared the future to be over, even if he himself helped build the road we walk now.

I’m having some trouble with this piece – I feel as if I’ve not the right to authoritatively talk about the situation, that I’ve nothing new nor insightful to add. A large part of the desire to say anything, on this subject, is due of course to the recent attack on the Charlie Hebdo paper in France, and its aftermath. Trying to make sense of it.

There have been reams of position papers and statements and blog posts over the last couple of days, from every perspective under the sun. Some of which, are quite good. A lot of them, though, and the language they frame the situation in, provide evidence for a return to tribalism, and that is more of what I want to talk about, here. The conversation around Charlie Hebdo is only the latest piece in this development.

I guess the mask really came off back in 2001 – it was clear following the start of the “war on terror” that we were returning to an “us vs. them” narrative. Since then, the majority of Western nations have seen reductions in civil freedoms, ironically enough usually in the name of defending those same “founding” freedoms and “core” values. Muslims of all ethnicities have been vilified, portrayed as the sole-source of violence and perpetrators of “terrorism.”

Don’t get me wrong, there are well-established connections between fundamentalist Islam and violence. The key point, however, is the fundamentalist part. Fundamentalist Christians have chalked up a higher body count – granted, they’ve had a longer time to kick at the can. Fundamentalist Buddhists, contrary to the Western stereotype of peaceful saffron-robed mystics, are doing a great job out in Myanmar at slaughter – killing Muslims, I might add.

Invariably, the fundamentalist aspect points to people’s religiousity being co-opted politically. Using ostensible differences between groups of people to drive a wedge between them, manipulating them for power/gain/what-have-you. There’s likely a conversation to be had about how much any religion is a mere power-play, but I don’t think that this is the place for it.

We see this division happening elsewhere, as well. Invariably, post-2001, it is tied up with difference of religion, but the nascent success of UKIP, and the Front National, and the Dutch Party for Freedom (I can go on…) are all couched in the masterful use of dividing domestic populations against “immigrants” (so long as the “immigrants” are brown/Muslim/Eastern-European) – positing all of, or the most grievous of, society’s ills on the Foreigner, rather than looking at the situation in a systemic and nuanced manner.

Furthermore, on the level of geopolitics, we’ve seen the recent, tri-directional, flare-ups between Russia, the EU, and the States, played out in the Ukraine. We here in the West have been handed a stock narrative – the Russians are bad, and they are motivated to do bad things because they are Russian. Meanwhile, the truth of the matter, as ever, is much more complex. The pro-EU Maidan protests were, from the start or shortly following that point, co-opted by fascists. Eastern and Southern Ukraine, including what has become the Donetsk Republic, are filled with a variety of perspectives, including strong voices for autonomy from both Kyiv and Moscow. We don’t really hear about that, though. Another situation, thrown into decidedly stark relief by all the attention, demonstrations, and solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, is the on-going slaughter of Nigerians at the hands of Boko Haram. Mainstream media is beginning to look into the situation, as they well should, but solidarity for the people affected there is minimal in comparison with the few to be killed in the attack on the magazine. And why would it be? They aren’t white, nor Euro, nor even, you know, civilised – it’s just black people killing black people, like they always do. Like, in Rwanda, right? Who saw that one coming? Another geopolitical example – Kobane. The Kurds were able to fend off Daesh, by the way. I imagine you didn’t hear about it, though. Doesn’t really serve to stoke the fears of ISIS, does it?

Even those with comparatively positive messages are buying into this narrative – this article, here, for example, argues that Muslims world-wide ought to speak out against atrocities. The author states

“CNN featured a Muslim American blogger whining about the fact that Muslims are expected to condemn jihadist attacks.  I no longer have any patience for this sort of view.  Those of us who are proud of our heritage, who have diverse and complex relationships with the Islam of our forebears, can make a difference by speaking out against every single one of these crimes whose miserable perpetrators wrongfully claim to act as agents of the religious heritage we value.”

I don’t take issue with anyone speaking out against the ills they see in the world – but the fact that the author so brusquely throws aside nuance – “I no longer have any patience for this sort of view” – is problematic. Speak out if that is what your conscience compels you to do, but don’t essentialise people based on creed, “race,” or gender. American Muslims speak out against the assumption that they should comment on these atrocities for a very good reason – because the assumption that they ought to is tantamount to lumping them in with the offenders, with stripping them of their agency as persons, and declaring that their faith is the totality of their being, incontrovertibly setting them apart from “the rest of us.” For my part, I’ve not any patience for patsies, however well-meaning they may be.

I don’t think I’m proposing anything new here – if you’ve been paying attention this last decade and a half, none of this should come as a surprise. It’s just that, for myself, I’ve always looked at the world as a totality – we might have our cultural differences and our experiential ones, but, for me, those were ephemeral, accidental to who we were as human beings. Our commonalities outweighed our differences, and it was through that, through exploration of common ground and the things that we hold together, that progress could be made. As it stands, the world is being carved up, and we are being told to believe that there are Others out there, outside the well-known walls of the Tribe, that we can never know nor come to agreement with. There is no conspiracy here, no cabal with a master plan. Like everything else in this world, this path to division is built of an aggregate of small choices, decisions made day-to-day. The path, though, is leading us to a world I don’t think is worth living in. Don’t settle for the easy answers. Don’t let yourself be twisted against your brothers and sisters. All we have on this ball of rock is one another.

The Long Road to Quietism

The Long Road to Quietism

            I have, for a good while now, held a decidedly non-critical belief in the benefit of what is known as “full automation” – the point in time where we, as a species, have harnessed the technological abilities possible to shift the way we produce the necessities of life. Full automation, when looked at this way, should free up the greater body of people from banal, monotonous labour, as well as getting us to a place where production volume has reached its maximal height. We’ve already seen some of this – the Industrial Revolution has allowed the species to bootstrap ourselves out of the bad old days of the Dark Ages, while also endowing us with material wealth previously undreamt of. Or, at least for some.

These early days of the 21st century, with untold technological prowess at our command, we’ve more, at least numerically, disenfranchised, enslaved, and desperately poor people than ever in our 200,000 year history. And arguments could be made that they are, at the same time, more fundamentally destitute than ever before, as well. It could be otherwise, at least in theory. But, given merely a change in the level of applied technology, removing from the necessary workforce perhaps, at a rough estimate, 95% of the population, why would we not see a continuation of this trend?

Full automation, keeping the same societal dynamics as present, would not prove to be an emancipatory agent. We would have wealth without need of work, we would have more than enough to go ‘round. And yet, do we not already approach that? And look around, misery everywhere the eye alights. The logical result of full automation is not some halcyon existence for all, no, it would be the addition of billions to the ranks of the unnecessary. Not even required for the reserve-labour army, these billions would be excess in every meaning of the term.

So, the problem is not one of technique, but of approach. And yet. These days mark a low ebb for the Labour movement: the class consciousness of yesteryear is on the wane, previous tools to fight for a better world – labour unions, mass strikes – prove either corrupted or altogether useless. What is to be done?

Is it really worth-while to try to unionise in the workplace, knowing that unions nowadays invariably prove to be mediators for workers conduct, rather than vehicles for agitation and progress? Is it worthwhile to “build the party,” knowing that the working classes take no interest in mass political struggles? It is true, gains are made, every once-in-a-while. A working wage here, a factory kept open there. But, systematically, the tide is against us. And we don’t have the tools or perspectives to turn it.

I’ve been wary, for a long time, of the “scientific” application of Marxist theory, that holdover of Hegelian idealism that dictates that things will happen, for such-and-such reasons. It’s likely that Capitalism, as a system, will be brought down by its own internal contradictions. But then again, it might outlive us, as a society – we’re running up against a hard wall here with massive environmental degradation. I don’t know what to do, in light of that.

I harbour fears that the whole heap, it’s just too complicated for us to grasp. I know that not all of Marxism, as a set system, can simply be laid out on top of the world in the expectation that reality will conform to it – and very few people, except perhaps certain tankies, actually believe that that would work anyways. But my fears run deeper than that. I don’t know that we’ll ever have a system complex enough to understand the whole thing, despite our best efforts, and certainly not in time for what’s coming.

In light of this, what’s the most appropriate behaviour? Should I just sit, and wait, and read, like so many of the Leftcom advocate, watching for a shift in the material structure? Should I instead shore up what walls I can, building for the storm? I don’t reckon I’ll stop reading, and, despite Bordiga’s injunction against activism qua action, I don’t think I’ll break off political struggle. Maybe it’s for the best that I do so, though, with eyes open to the bleakness of the situation. So. No Quietism today. There’s still tomorrow for that.

 

As I mentioned, these are concerns that have been eating at me for a while, but it was this and this that helped precipitate this post. Have a look, if you’re interested.

Journey’s End

Mid-January, 187-

Josephine

You must forgive me the horrors I am about to relate, if ever this missive finds its way to you. My hands falter in the writing, and yet I will stay true to my pledge, I will make my account known, in spite of its attendant darknesses.

What fools we were! What blind innocents, taken in by the first smiling countenance we stumbled upon! I know not how much time I have remaining to me, so I will relate what I can with due haste.

As of my last record, we were waiting for Chief Rezu, the devil, to organise a mission to guide us back to society. Ah! If only we had cleaved more closely to the exact wording of Mbubu’s translations! We ought to have seen this fate in wings – but, no, we must confront what this life gives us as per our station, lest we be unmanned in His vision. Forward!

As I said, we waited for this mysterious feast the Lord of the Mahagger told us of. A day passed, and another. As they ran by, spent in idleness here amongst these savages, our numbers began to thin, though we did not notice it at first. On the third morning, I was awoken by a great hubbub. Kaseem, who had since become the nominal leader of the Mohemmadans, in their reduced state, was accosting a rather ill-bred exemplar of the Mahagger. Of course, neither man, despite the invective ejected by both sides, could understand the other, and it wasn’t until Mbubu arrived that any sense could be made of the situation.

The noise of there altercation, though, was decidedly great, and crowd began to form. Soon enough, the ordained translator was located, and the two men were able to finally communicate. Kaseem, finding the first Mahagger he could, had started berating the man, demanding to know where his three compatriots were. It seemed that, over the course of the last three days, one after another of the Moslem mariners had simply disappeared. None had mentioned anything about leaving the camp to their brethren, nor had they elicited any odd behaviour, the way the bedeviled Faisal had before his own disappearance.

As dialogue was laboriously translated, one side to another, the gathering came to the attention of Chief Rezu. When the Head Man was made fully aware of the situation, it was as if a dark cloud passed over his Blackamoor’s face. All would be made clear to us in time, he said, and we were forced to concede to his authority in the matter.

Tensions rode high the remainder of the day, with a near-brawl between another two of the Arabians and a lone Mahagger tribe member. Thankfully, Kaseem was able to reign in his comrades, else, I’m not sure what would have happened. At last, night drew near, the appointed time for this mysterious feast, and for the revelation of the whereabouts of the absent Arabs.

We all gathered at the paved parade grounds that had been the site of our earlier celebrations. Evening was drawing on, and a great fire had been built in the centre of the space. A troupe of dancers began to wave and writhe before the flames, in a most diabolic manner – the twistings of their bodies, the infernal rhythm, it could in no-way be born of a well-intentioned purpose. Watching the spectacle, I grew aware of a strange furnace-like protrusion amidst the fire.

After a hair-raising crescendo of drums and wind instruments, the dancers abruptly withdrew, and, in their place – the missing Arabs! The three men, draped in chains and battered bodily, were dragged out from some hidden corner and forced to kneel before the raised dais of Chief Rezu and his Consorts. There were shouts from the imprisoned men’s peers, surprised to see their comrades returned in such a state. Before any could more than raise himself from where he sat, Mahagger guards armed with wickedly sharp spears cautioned against any brash action.

A Mahagger man, a Lieutenant of Rezu’s, stood on the platform and called for silence. These men, we were told, had committed the crime of assaulting the Chief’s Consorts, a crime for which there was only one punishment: death. Rezu’s grim face split into a smile, revealing those evil, cruelly pointed teeth. The men, for their own part, seemed to understand the gravity of what was said, and protested their innocence. Vicious blows from spear shafts silenced them.

Following a signal from the Lieutenant, two Mahagger approached the furnace, and, with the aid of pairs of metal tongues, removed a red-hot bronze vessel from the fires. The fiendish vessel, a bowl of broad dimensions, was carried to the first of the accused. Initially, we were at a loss as to what was meant to happen, and then, then it became all to clear. It was the first victim that understood ahead of us, letting out a low, animal howl before the glowing urn was up-ended over his head. I, I cannot put to writing the horror of that poor soul’s demise. I but close my eyes now and I see it playing out before me, again and again.

Amidst the howls and wild screeches, the Lieutenant once again signaled his accomplices. One of the chained Mohemmadans fainted dead away, and the other broke out into gibbering uncontrollably, at times laughing, others weeping, switching ‘tween the two in the blink of an eye. As the Mahagger brought a second bowl to bear, a great “Nein!” rolled across the plaza.

Hans had leapt to his feet, brandishing a revolver he had secreted somewhere about his person. Without waiting to see if his directive was followed, he shot dead the men holding the bowl. There was a moment of stillness once the incandescent object thudded to the ground, and all gathered paused, trying to grasp what had transpired. Then Chaos was loosed.

A battle erupted, as Hans turned his weapon on those spear-wielding Mahagger closer to us, and the Moslems sought to avenge their murdered comrade. Several of us, Anhalt, myself, others of his company, repaired to our erstwhile dormitories to arm ourselves. We had, of course, not brought our rifles with us to the “feast.”

As I had said, these buildings were but sticks and mud, hardly defensible. Following Anhalt’s lead, once we had acquired our guns, we made for the stone pyramids and their trackless galleries. As formidable as our modern arms are, we were hopelessly outnumbered without sufficient shelter.

It was as we beat our way across the village to the relative safety that the worst betrayal of all befell us. Just as we were nearing the portal to the underground catacombs, I espied Mbubu. I called out to him, thankful to see that he had made it through the carnage thus far unscathed. A Mahagger warrior rushed out from behind a building, running at his top speed toward us, equipped with spear and shield. Anhalt, my dear friend Herr Anhalt, shot the knave down, the force of the well-struck blow knocking the kaffir back some yards. Alas, he proved his worth as sportsman at the end! As the German knelt to reload his rifle, Mbubu, the deceiver, picked up the fallen spear, and, before I could utter warning, hurled it at Anhalt. The deadly missile struck the man full-on in the chest, his topee tumbling off his head into the dust at his feet.

Had I not restrained him, Hans would have run to engage Mbubu, hand to hand. Alas, a troop of Mahagger, lead by none other than Rezu himself, had just rounded the corner. We made haste to find a secure position within the complex, but, before we had quit the scene, Mbubu called to us. His face, lit from underneath by fire, was terrible to behold. “I am slave no-longer, devil white!” It was the last I saw of him.

We made it into the tunnel, though another spear caught one of the accompanying Germans, a man named Alexis, in the leg. He bravely held the entrance while we travelled further in. I can only hold to hope that he passed quickly. As it was, the black demons were on our tails promptly enough. We paused for a moment at a junction, shooting off a volley back at our pursuants. There were four of us then.

Conrad was felled when the rogues rushed us once more – the tightness of the corridors, it made reloading our guns exceedingly difficult, and we didn’t have time enough to cover our own retreat. The situation was growing desperate. Seeing an opportunity, knowing that we would be picked off individually if we didn’t come some defensible redoubt, Hans ushered myself and Jorge, the doctor, into the first room we came upon. The door, made of stone, was quickly shifted into place. It was then that we took notice of what dungeon we had barricaded ourselves in, what our last resting place would likely be.

Once we got a torch going, we saw that the room was filled with a grotesque menagerie of artefacts, likely some store-house for the holy relics of these villainous Mahagger. It was at that point that any lingering doubts about the innocence of those poor Moslems, any vestige of confusion, was removed from my mind. Jorge examined what looked to be the flute used in the celebration at our arrival. Scheinbein. Mensch. Shinbone, human. A shudder ran through me, remembering the haunting melodies played on that macabre instrument. If only we had listened to what our bodies were trying to tell us! Too late. Under Jorge’s expert eye, it was determined that the flesh had been removed not by tools but by teeth, human teeth. Not only have we fallen in with a tribe of murderous barbarians, but they exhibit that most unholy of tendencies, that most vile of sins, cannibalism.

The other artefacts, and there were many, showed much the same source in their construction. Things too ghastly to describe in close detail, but the use of skin, and bone, is quite common. Or, I should say, was. Whatever our fate, I can rest easy knowing that we have destroyed these evil relics.

Our situation is grim. They have tried the door three times, and thrice we have turned them back. But time is on their side. We are short of shot, and, what’s worse, we have no food nor any water. We will stand to the last, but I fear for our fate should we be captured alive.

I doubt that this will ever reach you, but, on the faintest glimmer of hope, I write.

Goodbye, my love,
Hugh Octavius Pleasant

The Ancient City of Tör

Early January, 187-

My Darling Josephine,

Sultana amongst Queens, Contessa of the Peerage

We are saved! Oh, my heart, we are saved!
The auspicious choice to cut in-land, to leave behind the false promise of the river and the far shore, has set us on the course of success. Soon, no doubt, the suzerain Rezu, in his great beneficence, will organise a deputation to lead us back to civilisation! But, I jump ahead of myself.

As I wrote, there was a vote cast some few days ago, on whether to return to the sight of our stranding, or, on the advice of Herr Anhalt, to forge on into the wilderness. We were pushed into the decision due to a veritable cataract, a cascade that belongs more to a bestial epoch than our diminished age. Impassable, by any effort. So, we cast our ballots, as there was some disagreement, and kept to the rule of vox populi. Onward we strode!

The first leagues were difficult, to be sure. But, as I had mentioned, we were strengthened by the growing indications of inhabitance. Anhalt’s congenital interest in the antiquarian seemed to spread out amongst the rest of the group – we all shared the excitement he had earlier elicited, and it took but the smallest stack of masonry, the merest mud-bespattered periapt, uncovered in our zest to blaze a path, to set us all alight with a jovial perturbation! Well, I say ‘all of us,’ but I recall that the Moslems of our band were, at that point, possessed of a decidedly dolorous demeanour. We others, though, every mile brought an increase in levity we hadn’t felt since even before our ill-luck at mouth of the river, since before we visited those slave isles with their wicked trade.

The first signs of the Mahagger people, which is the name of this tribe that make their home here in the decadent city of Tör, were their eyes. Like animals of the wild, great hunting felines and such, we could see their eyes at night. At first, it set loose a prodigious fear in our breasts. They stalked us, those first nights, haunting the darkness as we delved deeper into their lands. Finally, when I could take no more, I instructed Mbubu to make an overture to them, to open dialogue and precipitate whatever was to come. I had had enough!

Rousing his whipchord body, Mbubu called out into the gloom. From amidst a group of three, maybe four sets of eyes came a barked, unintelligible response. A time elapsed, and then three of the natives entered into the glow of our campfire. One of them, whom must have been their leader, continued to speak to Mbubu in that queer, click-laden language. After some time, an accord seemed to be struck. The language being indiscernible, body language alone let us see this, the natives and Mbubu untensing visibly. They broke into smiles, revealing startlingly white, filed teeth. Ghastly in appearance as it was, the incontestably human gesture still put us at ease. Physically, they were smaller than Mbubu, though just as lean. Their heads are hairless – whether by artifice or naturally, I could not say. All three of the men, and the others that we would meet later, had a raised line of scars along their cheek bones that swept up to behind their ears. The women of the Mahagger tribe, who we would meet when we finally reached Tör, had instead of the facial scars a pictogram of sorts, a circle with an angled double line, on their stomachs. Perhaps dictated more by the environment than any sense of decorum, both sexes were quite scantily dressed, allowing the eye to discern the virility of their bodies, the simple power they possessed in their svelte musculature. There is something to be said for simple living, after all!

So, we met with our first examples of the august, most ancient Mahagger tribe. They supped with us that night, and, on the following morning, brought us to their city. Their knowledge of the surrounding area, the secret trails and the more sparsely vegetated glens, allowed us to make better time than we had since we entered this jungley wilderness. Traveling along the worn paths, our party was joined throughout the day by more and more of the tribal fellows, an honour guard to usher us into their burg.

As dusk was drawing close, we at last came clear of the obstructing herbage and found ourselves looking upon the great stone pyramids we had espied from afar previously. Titanic, they dominated the view. From where we stood, we could make out three separate buildings, rising above the treetops to some 150 feet. Not a match, then, for those storied tombs of Khufu, but, it must be noted, these Mahagger, who I have on good authority have inhabited this land since time immemorial, are dealing with a terrain much less hospitable to the human form than the Ancient Egyptians!

Alas, recent centuries have not been kind to the Mahagger, as evidenced by the fallen status we were presented with upon reaching their capitol. The generations that erected those granite monuments are long gone – the current people reside in crude mud and reed huts at the feet of their forebears’ temples.

Their reduced architectural abilities have not hampered their generosity, though! From our position at the edge of the brush, we could see a delegation on its way to meet us – seemingly, some of our escort had run ahead to notify those at our destination. At their head was none less than the Chief himself, the aforementioned Rezu, as well as his Royal Consorts, numbering five individuals of surpassing comeliness. In addition to the standard cheek scars, the suzerain had a pair of dimpled lines running the vertical length of forehead, set apart the width of the bridge of his broad nose. His Consorts, in addition to the customary feminine markings, sported a swirling pattern about their breasts. Yes! It is true! Womenfolk of the Mahagger go as unclothed about their torsos as their men, much to the consternation of we Europeans. When Mbubu translated our rightful shock, the women laughed it off, as if it were a great jest or the like! You must understand, these are a people for whom the Good Word is a novelty, a recent accession. They are a tribe lost to Time, let alone the universal understanding of decency. But, again, I am getting ahead of myself.

The deputation reached us, and a ceremonial proclamation, or so we must assume, was made, with Mbubu doing his hurried best to translate. Following his lead, we made our obeisance to the Regal ensemble. By way of Mbubu’s gloss, we were all individually made known to the Chief Rezu. Upon hearing whom we were and from whence we had journeyed, the man broke into a wide grin, revealing filed teeth identical to his subordinates. It was an image more jarring even than our first introduction to that specific, primal alteration – it could be accepted adorning the rude physiognomies of the tribesmen, but there, set in the stately visage of Rezu, it was a thing out of place. Yes, I admit it, this man bore about him, despite his barbaric surroundings, the stature of Royalty. A true-born King, if albeit a low one.

When our plight was made clear to him, the desperate situation we had been in erstwhile to our discovery of the land of the Mahagger, Chief Rezu grew sombre. Upon some reflection, he said that he knew of a way to help us. Though the Mahagger shunned the outside world, due to a religious taboo of some sort, they knew of the comings and goings on the borders of their land, and could guide us back to our place of resting. Or so Mbubu translated. For now, however, we were to be his personal guests.

That first night there were great celebrations – even if the Mahagger don’t usually mix with folk from beyond their country, they seemed well-enough pleased to have visitors. Much revelry ensued, with plenty of food and special, tribal dances performed for our benefit. You can understand the palpable relief we felt, and the slightly surreal nature of it all – in the span of less than 72 hours, we went from suffering severe deprivation, lost in an unknown land with little hope of salvation, haunted day and night by terrors we could not name, to relaxing amidst this quasi-civilised community, close enough to home to see it in the mind’s eye.

That being noted, the slight lack of balance we were all feeling, can render the next episode somewhat more understandable. Following the dances, a lone figure entered the broad, flag-stoned parade space. A youth of indeterminate sex, scarcely over the age of twelve by my estimation, proceeded to play for us a most haunting dirge upon a flute of what must have been the long-bone of some animal. It was quite beautiful, but disconcerting. Eerie, in an inexplicable way. There was a particular perturbation amongst our Mohammedan peers, but then, their distaste of the Arts is well known, isn’t it? It did, however, leave us all feeling a bit…unsettled. Abruptly, the song was finished, and so too was the night’s festivities. We were shown to the quarters which have housed us these past few nights – a luxury in comparison with what little shelter we could scrounge amidst the wet trees ad damp earth, even if the buildings were beyond vulgar, in truth.

In the intervening time between then and now, we have grown acquainted with our hosts. Spurred on by Anhalt, we have done much exploring of the architectonic wonders abounding this city. Beneath the pyramids is a network of catacombs, running deep into the earth and beyond even the ken of the learned Chief.

Ah! That reminds me! Rezu was telling us: we are not, evidently, the first white people the Mahagger have encountered! Yes, fantastic as it may sound, the Chief swears that, some several centuries ago, this very city of Tör was ruled over by a white woman of exceeding beauty, who was said to have been alive since the world itself was young. An un-aging Queen of terrifying attractiveness! We, understandably, chalked this up to myth – you know how these native-types are – but what a mystery, nonetheless! There are passages in the catacombs, rooms within the pyramids, which I have seen with my own eyes as I am a Christian man, that depict this ancient Queen, and it is true, the graven face is of no Nubian source. A mystery indeed!

I look forward to the exploration of these histories that our visit will no doubt spur on – this is, in fact, a great success for Herr Anhalt, and, no doubt, for the scientific community as a whole! And to think, if not for our wreckage, bleak as it may have seemed, this ancient tribe may have gone on, unbeknownst to the outer world, until at last the final representative died out, taking his secret knowledge with him to the grave. What good fortune we have had! Though the passing of our comrades is a grievous blow, to be sure, what cost is that stacked against the vast increase in human knowledge that will no doubt come of this? I regret only that I am not schooled in these sciences, these archaeologies, that I could do more work while I am here. That labour must be left to others.

The Chief has said that all will be organised for our final travels soon, but, first, there is meant to be a great feast, one to dwarf the celebrations that festooned our arrival. This will take place tonight or tomorrow night, the timing seems to be a bit unclear. These are a very holy people, in their own way, much given to omens and auguries. It is no doubt upon something of this sort that we wait.

Thus, I record, with great happiness, the events of the last few days. With any luck at all, I may soon be drawing this extraordinary Adventure to an end, and returning, if not home, then at least to the company of my compatriots in our most civilised Colony!

 

Your Affianced,
Hugh Octavius Pleasant