Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Apostle of Common Sense

Since we were talking about money and technology, I thought this paragraph from The Apostle of Common Sense was appropriate.

It is worth repeating, since we so seldom hear it, that it is possible to be happy without being rich. Happiness can indeed be a hard taskmaster. It tells us not to get entangled with many things. And one of the things with which we have most entangled ourselves is technology. Chesterton says that machines are neither good nor bad, but he does say that beocming dependent on machines can be bad. The point about machines is that we have to be as free not to use them as to use them. Depending on them for our happiness means giving machines the power to make us miserable, which of course they do, as anyone who owns a computer knows." Dale Ahlquist


  1. Yes, indeed... I shall take up this discussion on a future Thursday.

    But for the present, I might just point out this excerpt, which demonstrates (unlike some companies I could name!) GKC's real understanding of Juvenal's warning about "Who's watching the Watchers?":

    It may be easier to get chocolate for nothing out of a shopkeeper than out of an automatic machine. But if you did manage to steal the chocolate, the automatic machine would be much less likely to run after you.
    [GKC The Ball and the Cross]

    But, speaking as a computer scientist, the NUMBER ONE funniest line in all of GKC is this:

    "I often stare at windows."

    [GKC, "The Crime of Gabriel Gale" in The Poet and the Lunatics]

    Me too... I use the Roman Catholic "Stained Glass" edition for the Chi Rho (XP) Operating System. Hee hee.

  2. ",,,,technology can cease to be man's ally and become almost his enemy, as when the mechanization of work 'supplants' him, taking away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to creativity and responsibility, when it deprives workers of their previous employment or when, through exalting the machine, it reduces man to the status of its slave." - John Paul II, Laborem Exercens

  3. You've left out the important part:

    19. The development of industry and of the various sectors connected with it, even the most modern electronics technology, especially in the fields of miniaturization, communications and telecommunications and so forth, show how vast is the role of technology, that ally of work that human thought has produced, in the interaction between the subject and object of work (in the widest sense of the word). Understood in this case not as a capacity or aptitude for work, but rather as a whole set of instruments which man uses in his work, technology is undoubtedly man's ally. It facilitates his work, perfects, accelerates and augments it. It leads to an increase in the quantity of things produced by work, and in many cases improves their quality. However, it is also a fact that, in some instances, technology can cease to be man's ally and become almost his enemy, as when the mechanization of work "supplants" him, taking away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to creativity and responsibility, when it deprives many workers of their previous employment, or when, through exalting the machine, it reduces man to the status of its slave. [Laborem Exercens 19. Emphasis added.]

  4. Ah, here we see the value of the entire quote, don't we.

  5. Unfortunately for most of us, " some instances..." has become nearly the universal case.

  6. I’ll wait for Dr. Thursday’s analysis, but it seems to me that in general people who understand technology are quite scared of it. Especially as it is growing out of proportion, it becomes uncontrollable and scarry. Many people, like many of the original Distributists, like Penty are quite cynical about it. I do believe in Murphy’s Laws like:

    “If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.”

    (Like the woodpeckesr that damaged the shuttle some time ago?)

    But my favorite is:

    “To err is human, but to really mess things up you need a computer.”

    Wild Goose


    Not unlike Tom, I also lost 2 posts to this blog yesterday. That proves my point - technology is beyond infallible. The more complex it gets, more buggy it is. And it also explains why there are more and more frustrated programmers, resulting in less and less programmers overall who are willing to put up with the buggy reality of the monopolized computer technology.

  7. A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, "How can you who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me to reduce you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter." Moral. You should not look a gift universe in the mouth.

    (written by Chesterton)

  8. Wild Goose:
    Occasionally, the management (meaning me) might find reason to reduce comments made by others to the cyber recycling bin if the comments either a) don't come to a point, or b) come to a point which is unrelated to the original post or c) seems to negate or minimize the point of the post or d) are just innappropriate.

    This is that which happened recently on this blog.

    If you'd like to know why these things might happen, you can cease to be anonymous and allow contact in a less public way.

    Another option is to obtain your own newspaper (or blog as the case may be) and begin to publish your thoughts as you will. Publishing here is mostly open, but still subject to the local law enforcement...ah I mean...editorial staff...

    All comments are welcome, but subject to being edited.

  9. Anon: good point. It is difficult to take criticisms of the technology seriously when we are using technology to criticize technology. We must at the very least acknowledge that the technology is affording us the chance to share these thoughts and communicate with each other, which is good. And the use ot said technology is up to us. Technology isn't good or bad, it is neutral. It is how we use or abuse it which determines if it works for good or bad, and then the fault is a human fault. Chesterton said we are learning to do a great many we must learn how NOT to do them. In other words, control ourselves.

  10. Like anything else, the democratic test of technology should be what it does for the community.

  11. Hello Mrs B.

    No problem trashing the chain email I posted, if you mean that. (Although I still think a Chesterton chain email letter would be a great idea - world-wide advertizing for free ?!? :-)

    I am talking about two other short posts, totally to the point and nothing objectionable. They simply vanished (like Tom was complaining about earlier, that some of his posts disappeared) or were never saved properly. I really think it is some sort of computer bug of the blogging software.

    Wild Goose

  12. Hi Anonymous,

    You are confusing the issues. Nobody is objecting to the cosmos, which is a wonderfully designed creation of God. As Leibniz said “God assuredly always chooses the best” and he has created the “best of the possible worlds.”

    see --

    What I am objecting to is an impferfect ‘design’ (or rather a perversion) of what one could call the “best possible human design.” Technology can be good, but it can be also evil and dark (all the mass killing technology aimed at innocent civilians, etc.) Another interesting factoid - It has been estimated that most of the technology we use and enjoy has been, in fact, designed for some warfare or military purpose.

    But, even if one considers technology a “neutral” thing, and a question remains open whether technology can be a completely neutral thing, (for example considering that Zyklon B may be eventually used for some good purposes, see history, the question of greed and profit still remains. Do we just design and write “quick & dirty” technology & software full of bugs and holes to make a quick buck, or do we try to put in measures which try to anticipate possible problems and make a piece of technology a safe and reliable thing? In most cases this “quick&dirty” approach may mean just frustrations & inconvenience, although if we have too much of it, we may completely ignore such technology. But, it goes deeper. This is of particular interest in the so called “real-time” programming. (There have been cases of assembly line machines killing workers, or badly designed or badly programmed cars and aircraft which have crashed and killed people.) And, finally, and I think Chesterton would agree, the point I raised earllier - if a thing becomes too complex, too troublesome and and too buggy, and if we have to rely on it, like our modern banking, for example, we may find ourselves in deep trouble. At that point we may want to shoot or burn such a lame “gift” horse gone mad.

    Wild Goose


    This post, enetered shortly after my previous one in this thread, also disappeared, or was never saved. (I waited about 20 min. before re-posting it again.)

  13. Hi folks,
    Just a few ideas from the self-evident folks about how we might appeal to people. Maybe you could help me reduce this to a page, add/subtract, suggest whatever?

    I think if we could frame something like this to pass out at work, it might strike friendly, common sense chords with many good people and call them to conversation.

    We could change the "dissolve" to the corporations – we are dissolving our support for the corporations or something like that:

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 1.

    The essence of democracy is very simple and, as Jefferson said, self-evident. If ten men are wrecked together on a desert island, the community consists of those ten men, their welfare is the social object, and normally their will is the social law. If they have not a natural claim to rule themselves, which of them has a natural claim to rule the rest? To say that the cleverest or boldest will rule is to beg the moral question. If his talents are used for the community, in planning voyages or distilling water, then he is the servant of the community; which is, in that sense, his sovereign. If his talents are used against the community by stealing rum or poisoning water, why should the community submit to him? and is it in the least likely that it will? In such a simple case as that, everybody can see the popular basis of the thing, and the advantage of government by consent. The trouble with democracy is that it has never, in modern times, had to do with such a simple case as that. In other words, the trouble with democracy is not democracy. It is certain artificial anti-democratic things that have, in fact, thrust themselves into the modern world to thwart and destroy democracy.
    Modernity is not democracy; machinery is not democracy; the surrender of everything to trade and commerce is not democracy. Capitalism is not democracy; and is admittedly, by trend and savour, rather against democracy. Plutocracy by definition is not democracy. 2.
    One thing we know for sure: there can never be democracy without good jobs for all. We need to fight for that. We want good jobs for all workers and their families – office workers, nurses, teachers, engineers, autoworkers, steelworkers, mechanics, professionals, soldiers – everyone who works for an honest living. We want a return to honest, small and responsible community-based businesses. We want everyone to at least own his or her own home – and we mean own it on an honest, worthy basis – not have the bank own most of it. We want family farms to come back. We want a return of vibrant small towns and fully employed, friendly, inner-city neighborhoods. We want community owned sports teams like the Green Bay Packers and Boston Celtics. We want big production to be run – not by cheating, self-interested capitalists or communists, “free” marketers or dictators of any sort – but by the production, skilled, engineering, design, craft and managerial workers who are the true experts on technology, quality and value.
    Help us save our country and world. Help expand this conversation on common sense production and commerce by carrying it to everyone you work with. Help organize Solidarity and direct action like the Holiday Movement. Take it easy. Take over your plant. Control the docks.
    Join the Battle for the Common Good!

    The Friends of James Connolly and G.K. Chesterton


    1. Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

    2. G.K. Chesterton, Democracy and Industrialism

  14. Tom,

    i don’t like the word “job” in your manifesto, and, i think neither did Chesterton. i know what you mean, but it is a very overloaded word, with many meanings, and with contrary meanings to what you (or Distributists) mean. There ought to be a better word or description.

    Wild Goose


    i don’t know what has happened with this wretched computer i am using, but today i cannot type capital “i”, for some reason. There must be some glitch or a “devil” in the system, and i don’t have time or patience to reinstall everything. :-(

  15. Here's a flyer by my friend Gregg Shotwell, a Delphi worker. What do you think?


    Live Bait & Ammo #85: That our children may have peace

    “In the progress of politics, as in the common occurrences of life, we are not only apt to forget the ground we have traveled over, but frequently neglect to gather up experience as we go.”
    -- Tom Paine

    The bad news is, I have a long commute since I transferred back to GM from Delphi. The good news is, I’m working the road to rule. I drive slower than a mule with hot cargo and expired plates. Screw the oil companies. I get forty miles to the gallon. I relax like a poor man with a radio and nowhere to go. I lean like a lowrider whose vehicle is the destination. I pause in motion with an unlikely simile — a silo in a wind — knowing I’ve already arrived where I am. I treat the highway of American industry and commerce like a place of idleness and repose. This isn’t Zen, it’s revolt. My time is worth more than money to me because I can’t earn any more of it .... I can only spend it wisely.

    I work in a warehouse which is a place where goods are stashed and money is made literally hand over fist. It’s all in the turn over. We produce no thing. We add no value. We receive the goods and we ship the goods and the mark up for the time between makes the loan sharks on Shake St. look like Saint Vincent DePaul. But the magnum of profit doesn’t halt the speed up. We can’t march fast enough for the General. There’s only one solution: shoot the drummer.

    Is it maximum profit or minimum conscience that drives our nation to compete for the lowest standard of living? Even children are sideswiped in the race to the bottom line. Schools are turned into sweatshops. Hospitals are managed like maquiladoras. Homelessness is mental health therapy. Prison is substance abuse treatment. Every program or agency whose purpose is to serve the public interest is underfunded, abused, and degraded. Our families suffer under the yoke of double wage earners without disposable income or time to spend with their children. Meanwhile congress debates whether a minimum wage which snorkels the poverty line will ruffle the feathers and furs on Wall Street.

    The madness of the method isn’t just about money. The vultures already have all the money. They have plans for all the money you and I will ever make in our life time. They have plans for our pensions, our 401k’s, the money that falls through the hole in the doughnut they call prescription drug coverage for seniors. They have plans to profit off the deaths of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not just about the money. It’s about control.

    When the debt comes due, when the dollar deflates, when property values tank, and the market collapses, what will the wealthiest of the wealthy do? Seize everything of value. Buy up the homes of workers for a dime on the dollar; snap up utilities at bargain basement prices; then jack up rents and rates in tandem. They’ll commandeer all the hard assets, the natural resources, the oil and the gold. Just thinking about it makes me drive slower.

    And the slower I go the more the knowledge of where I’ve been and where I’m going comes into focus. The more I listen to the radio spin circles around my vehicle, the more I notice what’s missing from our conversation about the common good, namely, the working class. There is no “middle class” and “lower class” in America. There are only workers who have decent jobs, and workers who don’t have decent jobs. Those who do hold decent jobs are only one catastrophic illness, one plant closing, or one indefinite layoff from destitution. The victims of capital’s creative destruction aren’t strangers. They are working class Americans made destitute by a system that requires unemployment to hold down inflation.

    Lou Dobbs is wrong about the growing demise of the middle class in America. There is no middle class to demise. The mantle of middle class status presumes a degree of security and upward mobility which doesn’t exist. The notion of safety draped like the boss’s arm around one’s shoulder is based on the premise that hard work pays off and loyalty is rewarded. The middle class dream is as dead as the deer I see splattered on the highway everyday. There is no middle class for special workers. There is only a working class, and we — however special we may feel — all work in the same demoralized place, under the same relentless pressure to sacrifice our lives for the success of a godless corporation. Where will it end?

    Despite expectations to make a billion dollars in net profit, Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee demanded the union impose a two tier wage and benefit cut in order to secure “new” work. Union members voted the double-cross down soundly. But union leaders pursued a vigorous campaign to promote the competitive ideal. On the second try the traitor’s deal was narrowly ratified.

    The soul of a union leader who pushes two tier is darker than the pupil of a well digger’s eye. Every union leader knows there’s no water at the bottom of that hole. Two tier is not just about money, it’s about control. Harley-Davidson’s extortion didn’t stop at the doorstep of the union hall. The state of Wisconsin agreed to provide help with infrastructure improvements, training costs, and even capital. The assault on workers is state sponsored. Health, education, and social programs get slashed while the corporate blitzkrieg on the working class is subsidized. Mussolini would be impressed, but Tom Paine would shoulder the musket of conviction: "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."

    Two tier is not just about the money, it’s about who owns whose soul. The most effective way to break the spirit of the working class is to compromise our moral code by forcing a choice between fighting back or betraying what is most precious — our children.

    We stand at the crossroad knowing full well where both roads lead. One road to leads to dishonor and the other to the dignity of struggle. One road points to the hope and courage of collective action and the other to shame, despair, and isolation.

    After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

    Will reduced wages mean the work will be safer or more humane? Will reduced benefits mean more security? Or will it simply mean the collective power of workers will be harnessed to serve our masters’ driving passion — maximum profit for minimum wage. The corpos must think we are dumber than horses. The yoke never lightens, the hardship never wanes, and the hope for retirement in dignity fades like a dope smoker’s dream.

    Last year while Delphi was making headlines with threats and intimidation, Hastings Piston Ring, an auto supplier in northern Michigan, quietly and with the blessing of the federal court, cut off pension and health care for retirees. Production of piston rings didn’t miss a beat and the profit kept pumping like a flathead eight on a straightaway.

    Two tier for new hires and a kick down the stairs for retirees. That’s the refrain. Verses in between change only the names not the scheme.

    Hastings Piston Ring, Harley-Davidson, and Delphi are not isolated cases. The degradation of the working class is chronic and contagious. We need collective action not more concessions. We need to try our souls in the temper of our times that our children may have peace.

    (sos, gregg shotwell)


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