cj#453> Mark Twain: Archimedes overrated

1996-02-02

Richard Moore

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Date: Thu, 1 Feb 1996
From: •••@••.••• (Joe Ferguson)
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: archimedes

"A Gem!  Three thumbs up!" - J.C.Ferguson. of CyberJournal

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     "Give me whereon to stand", said Archimedes, "and I will
move the earth." The boast was a pretty safe one, for he knew
quite well that the standing place was wanting, and always would
be wanting.  But suppose he had moved the earth, what then? What
benefit would it have been to anybody? The job would never have
paid working expenses, let alone dividends, and so what was the
use of talking about it? From what astronomers tell us, I should
reckon that the earth moved quite fast enough already, and if
there happened to be a few cranks who were dissatisfied with its
rate of progress, as far as I am concerned, they might push it
along for themselves; I would not move a finger or subscribe a
penny piece to assist in anything of the kind.


     Why such a fellow as Archimedes should be looked upon as a
genius I never could understand; I never heard that he made a
pile, or did anything else worth talking about.  As for that
last contract he took in hand, it was the worst bungle I ever
knew; he undertook to keep the Romans out of Syracuse; he tried
first one dodge and then another, but they got in after all, and
when it came to fair fighting he was out of it altogether, a
common soldier in a very business-like sort of way settling all
his pretensions.

     It is evident that he was an over-rated man.  He was in the
habit of making a lot of fuss about his screws and levers, but
his knowledge of mechanics was in reality of a very limited
character.  I have never set up for a genius myself, but I know
of a mechanical force more powerful than anything the vaunting
engineer of Syracuse ever dreamed of.  It is the force of land
monopoly; it is a screw and lever all in one; it will screw the
last penny out of a man's pocket, and bend everything on earth
to its own despotic will.  Give me the private ownership of all
the land, and will I move the earth? No; but I will do more.  I
will undertake to make slaves of all the human beings on the
face of it.  Not chattel slaves exactly, but slaves
nevertheless.  What an idiot I would be to make chattel slaves
of them.  I would have to find them salts and senna when they
were sick, and whip them to work when they were lazy.


     No, it is not good enough.  Under the system I propose the
fools would imagine they were all free. I would get a maximum of
results, and have no responsibility whatever.  They would
cultivate the soil; they would dive into the bowels of the earth
for its hidden treasures; they would build cities and construct
railways and telegraphs; their ships would navigate the ocean;
they would work and work, and invent and contrive; their
warehouses would be full, their markets glutted, and

     the beauty of the whole concern would be
     that everything they made would belong to me.

     It would be this way, you see: As I owned all the land, they
would of course, have to pay me rent.  They could not reasonably
expect me to allow them the use of the land for nothing.  I am
not a hard man, and in fixing the rent I would be very liberal
with them.  I would allow them, in fact, to fix it themselves.
What could be fairer? Here is a piece of land, let us say, it
might be a farm, it might be a building site, or it might be
something else - if there was only one man who wanted it, of
course he would not offer me much, but if the land be really
worth anything such a circumstance is not likely to happen.  On
the contrary, there would be a number who would want it, and
they would go on bidding and bidding one against the other, in
order to get it.  I should accept the highest offer - what could
be fairer? Every increase of population, extension of trade,
every advance in the arts and sciences would, as we all know,
increase the value of land, and the competition that would
naturally arise would continue to force rents upward, so much
so, that in many cases the tenants would have little or nothing
left for themselves.

     In this case a number of those who were hard pushed would
seek to borrow, and as for those who were not so hard pushed,
they would, as a matter of course, get the idea into their heads
that if they only had more capital they could extend their
operations, and thereby make their business more profitable.
Here I am again. The very man they stand in need of; a regular
benefactor of my species, and always ready to oblige them.  With
such an enormous rent-roll I could furnish them with funds up to
the full extent of the available security; they would not expect
me to do more, and in the matter of interest I would be equally generous.

     I would allow them to fix the rate of it themselves in
precisely the same manner as they had fixed the rent.  I should
then have them by the wool, and if they failed in their payments
it would be the easiest thing in the world to sell them out.
They might bewail their lot, but business is business.  They
should have worked harder and been more provident.  Whatever
inconvenience they might suffer, it would be their concern, and
not mine.  What a glorious time I would have of it! Rent and
interest, interest and rent, and no limit to either, excepting
the ability of the workers to pay.  Rents would go up and up,
and they would continue to pledge and mortgage, and as they went
bung, bung, one after another, it would be the finest sport ever
seen. thus, from the simple leverage of land monopoly, not only
the great globe itself, but everything on the face of it would
eventually belong to me.  I would be king and lord of all, and
the rest of mankind would be my most willing slaves.

     It hardly needs to be said that it would not be consistent
with my dignity to associate with the common rank and file of
humanity; it would not be politic to say so, but, as a matter of
fact, I not only hate work but I hate those who do work, and I
would not have their stinking carcasses near me at any price.
High above the contemptible herd I would sit enthroned amid a
circle of devoted worshippers.  I would choose for myself
companions after my own heart.  I would deck them with ribbons
and gewgaws to tickle their vanity; they would esteem it an
honour to kiss my glove, and would pay homage to the very chair
that I sat upon; brave men would die for me, parsons would pray
for me, and bright-eyed beauty would pander to my pleasures.
For the proper management of public affairs I would have a
parliament, and for the preservation of law and order there
would be soldiers and policemen, all sworn to serve me
faithfully; their pay would not be much, but their high sense of
duty would be a sufficient guarantee that they would fulfil the
terms of the contract.

     Outside the charmed circle of my society would be others
eagerly pressing forward in the hope of sharing my favours;
outside of these would be others again who would be forever
seeking to wriggle themselves into the ranks of those in front
of them, and so on, outward and downward, until we reach the
deep ranks of the workers forever toiling and forever struggling
merely to live, and with the hell of poverty forever threatening
to engulf them.  The hell of poverty, that outer realm of
darkness where there is weeping and wading and gnashing of teeth
- the social Gehenna, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is
not quenched - here is a whip more effective by far than the
keenest lash of the chattel slave owner, urging them on by day,
haunting their dreams by night, draining without stint the life
blood from their veins, and pursuing them with relentless
constancy to their graves.  In the buoyancy of youth many would
start full of hope and with high expectations; but, as they
journeyed along, disappointment would follow disappointment,
hope would gradually give place to despair, the promised cup of
joy would be turned to bitterness, and the holiest affection
would become a poisoned arrow quivering in the heart!

     What a beautiful arrangement - ambition urging in front,
want and the fear of want bringing up the rear! In the
conflicting interests that would be involved, in the
throat-cutting competition that would prevail, in the bitterness
that would be engendered between man and man, husband and wife,
father and son, I should, of course, have no part.  There would
be lying and cheating, harsh treatment by masters, dishonesty of
servants, strikes and lockouts, assaults and intimidation,
family feuds and interminable broils; but they would not concern
Me.  In the serene atmosphere of my earthly paradise I would be
safe from all evil.  I would feast on the daintiest of dishes,
and sip wines of the choicest vintage; my gardens would have the
most magnificent terraces and the finest walks.  I would roam
mid the umbrageous foliage of the trees, the blooming flowers,
the warbling of birds, the jetting of fountains, and the
splashing of pellucid waters. My palace would have its walls of
alabaster and domes of crystal, there would be furniture of the
most exquisite workmanship, carpets and hangings of the richest
fabrics and finest textures, carvings and paintings that were
miracles of art, vessels of gold and silver, gems of the purest
ray glittering in their settings, the voluptuous strains of the
sweetest music, the perfume of roses, the softest of couches, a
horde of titled lackeys to come and go at my bidding, and a
perfect galaxy of beauty to stimulate desire, and administer to
my enjoyment. Thus would I pass the happy hours away, while
throughout the world it would be a hallmark of respectability to
extol my virtues, and anthems would be everywhere sung in praise.

     Archimedes never dreamt of anything like that.  Yet, with
the earth for my fulcrum and its private ownership for my lever,
it is all possible.  If it should be said that the people would
eventually detect the fraud, and with swift vengeance hurl me
and all my courtly parasites to perdition, I answer, "Nothing of
the kind, the people are as good as gold, and would stand it
like bricks, and I appeal to the facts of today to bear me witness."

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     (The above article appeared In Henry George's paper,  _The
Standard,_ July 27, 1889, with the by-line "Twark Main." Mark
Twain scholars have endorsed it as authentic, including Dan
Beard, Caroline Harnabarger, and Cyril Clemens. They note that
the style of the article represents "Mark Twain at his best" and
that the famous author often signed odd names, or distortions,
to articles he wrote.  Mark Twain and Henry George,
incidentally, knew one another in San Francisco.)

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 Posted by Richard K. Moore (•••@••.•••) Wexford, Ireland
 •••@••.•••  | Cyberlib=http://www.internet-eireann.ie/cyberlib
    Materials may be reposted in their entirety for non-commercial use.
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