mfioretti: history*

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  1. what happened to cause such a profound shift in the human psyche away from egalitarianism? The balance of archaeological, anthropological and genomic data suggests the answer lies in the agricultural revolution, which began roughly 10,000 years ago.

    The extraordinary productivity of modern farming techniques belies just how precarious life was for most farmers from the earliest days of the Neolithic revolution right up until this century (in the case of subsistence farmers in the world’s poorer countries). Both hunter-gatherers and early farmers were susceptible to short-term food shortages and occasional famines – but it was the farming communities who were much more likely to suffer severe, recurrent and catastrophic famines.

    Hunting and gathering was a low-risk way of making a living. Ju/’hoansi hunter-gatherers in Namibia traditionally made use of 125 different edible plant species, each of which had a slightly different seasonal cycle, varied in its response to different weather conditions, and occupied a specific environmental niche. When the weather proved unsuitable for one set of species it was likely to benefit another, vastly reducing the risk of famine.

    As a result, hunter-gatherers considered their environments to be eternally provident, and only ever worked to meet their immediate needs. They never sought to create surpluses nor over-exploited any key resources. Confidence in the sustainability of their environments was unyielding.
    The Ju/’hoansi people have lived in southern Africa for hundreds of thousands of years.
    The Ju/’hoansi people have lived in southern Africa for hundreds of thousands of years. Photograph: James Suzman

    In contrast, Neolithic farmers assumed full responsibility for “making” their environments provident. They depended on a handful of highly sensitive crops or livestock species, which meant any seasonal anomaly such as drought or livestock disease could cause chaos.
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    And indeed, the expansion of agriculture across the globe was punctuated by catastrophic societal collapses. Genomic research on the history of European populations points to a series of sharp declines that coincided first with the Neolithic expansion through central Europe around 7,500 years ago, then with their spread into north-western Europe about 6,000 years ago.

    However, when the stars were in alignment – weather favourable, pests subdued, soils still packed with nutrients – agriculture was very much more productive than hunting and gathering. This enabled farming populations to grow far more rapidly than hunter-gatherers, and sustain these growing populations over much less land.

    But successful Neolithic farmers were still tormented by fears of drought, blight, pests, frost and famine. In time, this profound shift in the way societies regarded scarcity also induced fears about raids, wars, strangers – and eventually, taxes and tyrants.
    Fruits and tubers gathered by the Ju/’hoansi.
    The Ju/’hoansi traditionally made use of 125 different edible plant species. Photograph: James Suzman

    Not that early farmers considered themselves helpless. If they did things right, they could minimise the risks that fed their fears. This meant pleasing capricious gods in the conduct of their day-to-day lives – but above all, it placed a premium on working hard and creating surpluses.

    Where hunter-gatherers saw themselves simply as part of an inherently productive environment, farmers regarded their environment as something to manipulate, tame and control. But as any farmer will tell you, bending an environment to your will requires a lot of work. The productivity of a patch of land is directly proportional to the amount of energy you put into it.

    This principle that hard work is a virtue, and its corollary that individual wealth is a reflection of merit, is perhaps the most obvious of the agricultural revolution’s many social, economic and cultural legacies.
    From farming to war

    The acceptance of the link between hard work and prosperity played a profound role in reshaping human destiny. In particular, the ability to both generate and control the distribution of surpluses became a path to power and influence. This laid the foundations for all the key elements of our contemporary economies, and cemented our preoccupation with growth, productivity and trade.

    Regular surpluses enabled a much greater degree of role differentiation within farming societies, creating space for less immediately productive roles. Initially these would have been agriculture-related (toolmakers, builders and butchers), but over time new roles emerged: priests to pray for good rains; fighters to protect farmers from wild animals and rivals; politicians to transform economic power into social capital.
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  2. After World War I the U.S. Government deviated from what had been traditional European policy – forgiving military support costs among the victors. U.S. officials demanded payment for the arms shipped to its Allies in the years before America entered the Great War in 1917. The Allies turned to Germany for reparations to pay these debts. Headed by John Maynard Keynes, British diplomats sought to clean their hands of responsibility for the consequences by promising that all the money they received from Germany would simply be forwarded to the U.S. Treasury.

    The sums were so unpayably high that Germany was driven into austerity and collapse. The nation suffered hyperinflation as the Reichsbank printed marks to throw onto the foreign exchange market. The currency declined, import prices soared, raising domestic prices as well. The debt deflation was much like that of Third World debtors a generation ago, and today’s southern European PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

    In a pretense that the reparations and Inter-Ally debt tangle could be made solvent, a triangular flow of payments was facilitated by a convoluted U.S. easy-money policy. American investors sought high returns by buying German local bonds; German municipalities turned over the dollars they received to the Reichsbank for domestic currency; and the Reichsbank used this foreign exchange to pay reparations to Britain and other Allies, enabling these countries to pay the United States what it demanded.

    But solutions based on attempts to keep debts of such magnitude in place by lending debtors the money to pay can only be temporary. The U.S. Federal Reserve sustained this triangular flow by holding down U.S. interest rates. This made it attractive for American investors to buy German municipal bonds and other high-yielding debts. It also deterred Wall Street from drawing funds away from Britain, which would have driven its economy deeper into austerity after the General Strike of 1926. But domestically, low U.S. interest rates and easy credit spurred a real estate bubble, followed by a stock market bubble that burst in 1929. The triangular flow of payments broke down in 1931, leaving a legacy of debt deflation burdening the U.S. and European economies. The Great Depression lasted until outbreak of World War II in 1939.

    Planning for the postwar period took shape as the war neared its end. U.S. diplomats had learned an important lesson. This time there would be no arms debts or reparations. The global financial system would be stabilized – on the basis of gold, and on creditor-oriented rules. By the end of the 1940s the Untied States held some 75 percent of the world’s monetary gold stock. That established the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency, freely convertible into gold at the 1933 parity of $35 an ounce.
    It also implied that once again, as in the 1920s, European balance-of-payments deficits would have to be financed mainly by the United States. Recycling of official government credit was to be filtered via the IMF and World Bank, in which U.S. diplomats alone had veto power to reject policies they found not to be in their national interest. International financial “stability” thus became a global control mechanism – to maintain creditor-oriented rules centered in the United States.

    To obtain gold or dollars as backing for their own domestic monetary systems, other countries had to follow the trade and investment rules laid down by the United States. These rules called for relinquishing control over capital movements or restrictions on foreign takeovers of natural resources and the public domain as well as local industry and banking systems.

    By 1950 the dollar-based global economic system had become increasingly untenable. Gold continued flowing to the United States, strengthening the dollar – until the Korean War reversed matters. From 1951 through 1971 the United States ran a deepening balance-of-payments deficit, which stemmed entirely from overseas military spending. (Private-sector trade and investment was steadily in balance.)
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  3. It turns out the Romans were lucky. The centuries during which the empire was built and flourished are known even to climate scientists as the “Roman Climate Optimum.” From circa 200 BC to AD 150, it was warm, wet, and stable across much of the territory the Romans conquered. In an agricultural economy, these conditions were a major boost to GDP. The population swelled yet still there was enough food to feed everyone.

    But from the middle of the second century, the climate became less reliable. The all-important annual Nile flood became erratic. Droughts and severe cold spells became more common. The Climate Optimum became much less optimal.

    The lesson to be drawn is not, of course, that we shouldn't worry about man-made climate change today, which threatens to be more severe than what the Romans experienced. To the contrary, it shows just how sensitive human societies can be to such change — now amplified in speed and scope by human activity.
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  4. Il Cavallo di Troia non era un cavallo, ma una nave. È quanto sostiene, da circa un anno, un nostro “cervello in fuga”, l’archeologo navale Francesco Tiboni, dottore di ricerca dell’Università di Marsiglia, collaboratore di diverse università e enti stranieri ed italiani.

    L’equivoco millenario sarebbe nato da un errore nella traduzione dei testi successivi a Omero, ai quali si ispirò lo stesso Virgilio (avvalendosi di un traduttore) per comporre l’Eneide. Secondo Tiboni, il manufatto realizzato dai greci per penetrare nelle mura di Troia non sarebbe stato letteralmente un cavallo, in greco hippos, bensì un tipo di nave fenicia che veniva abitualmente chiamata “Hippos”, appunto.

    Plinio il Vecchio sembra spiegare il perché di questa denominazione riferendo che tale imbarcazione fu inventata da un maestro d’ascia fenicio il cui nome era Hippus. Queste navi, non a caso, erano dotate di una caratteristica polena: una testa equina.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-11-03)
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  5. The American social structure, as Sacks notes, was based on biblical categories. There was a political realm, but the heart of society was in the covenantal realm: “marriages, families, congregations, communities, charities and voluntary associations.”

    America’s Judeo-Christian ethic celebrated neighborliness over pagan combativeness; humility as the basis of good character, not narcissism. It believed in taking in the stranger because we were all strangers once. It dreamed of universal democracy as the global fulfillment of the providential plan.

    That biblical ethic, embraced by atheists as much as the faithful, is not in great shape these days. As Sacks notes: “Today, one half of America is losing all those covenantal institutions. It’s losing strong marriages and families and communities. It is losing a strong sense of the American narrative. It’s even losing e pluribus unum because today everyone prefers pluribus to unum.…”

    Trump and Bannon have filled the void with their own creed, which is anti-biblical. The American story they tell is not diverse people journeying toward a united future. It’s a zero-sum struggle of class and ethnic conflict. The traits Trump embodies are narcissism, not humility; combativeness, not love;; the sanctification of the rich and blindness toward the poor.

    As other relationships wither, many Americans are making partisanship the basis of their identity — their main political, ethnic and moral attachment. And the polls show that if you want to win a Republican primary these days, you have to embrace the Trump narrative, and not the old biblical one.

    The Republican senators greeted Trump on Capitol Hill and saw a president so repetitive and rambling, some thought he might be suffering from early Alzheimer’s. But they know which way the wind is blowing. They gave him a standing ovation.

    Even Alexander Kerensky didn’t abase himself so humiliatingly.

    The people who oppose Trump make a big error: “Let’s Get Togetherism.” This is the belief that if we can only have a civil conversation between red and blue, then everything will be better. But you can’t destroy a moral vision with a process. You need a counter-moral vision.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-11-02)
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  6. determining when radical physical changes in the Earth system happened provides a basis for determining which human activities were responsible, and thus what measures humans might take to prevent the change from reaching catastrophic proportions. In this article I offer an overview of the issues and stakes in the “when it happened” debate.

    in fact, a dozen or more proposals for dating the Anthropocene have been made to the AWG. While they differ substantially from each other, the starting dates under serious consideration fall into two broad groups that can be labelled Early and Recent, depending on whether the proposed starting date is in the distant past, or relatively close to the present.
    An Early Anthropocene?

    The first Early Anthropocene proposal was advanced by U.S. geologist William Ruddiman, who argues that the Anthropocene started when humans began large-scale agriculture in various parts of the world between eight and five thousand years ago. Those activities, he believes, produced carbon dioxide and methane emissions that raised global temperatures just enough to prevent a return to an Ice Age.9

    Other Early Anthropocene arguments suggest dating the Anthropocene from the first large-scale landscape modifications by humans, from the extinction of many large mammals in the late Pleistocene, from the formation of anthropogenic soils in Europe, or from the European invasions of the Americas in the 1500s. Some archeologists propose to extend the beginning of the Anthropocene back to the earliest surviving traces of human activity, which would take in much of the Pleistocene, and others have suggested that the entire Holocene should simply be renamed Anthropocene, since it is the period when settled human civilizations first developed.

    This outpouring of proposals reflects humanity’s long and complex relationships with the earth’s ecosystems—many of the proposed beginnings are significant turning points in those relationships, and deserve careful study. But the current discussion is not just about human impact: “the Anthropocene is not defined by the broadening impact of humans on the environment, but by active human interference in the processes that govern the geological evolution of the planet.”10 None of the Early Anthropocene options meet that standard, and none of them led to a qualitative break with Holocene conditions.

    Even if Ruddiman’s controversial claim that the agriculture revolution caused some global warming is correct, that would only mean that human activity had extended Holocene conditions. The recent shift out of Holocene conditions, to a no-analogue state, would still need to be evaluated and understood. Noted climatologist James Hansen and his colleagues make this argument clearly in a recent paper:

    Even if the Anthropocene began millennia ago, a fundamentally different phase, a Hyper-Anthropocene, was initiated by explosive 20th century growth of fossil fuel use. Human-made climate forcings now overwhelm natural forcings. CO2, at 400 ppm in 2015, is off the scale … Most of the forcing growth occurred in the past several decades, and two-thirds of the 0.9 C global warming (since 1850) has occurred since 1975.”11

    The Early Anthropocene has been promoted by anti-environmental lobbyists associated with the Breakthrough Institute, because it supports their claim that there has been no recent qualitative change and thus there is no need for a radical response. In their view, today’s environmental crises “represent an acceleration of trends going back hundreds and even thousands of years earlier, not the starting point of a new epoch.

    Moving in exactly the opposite direction, the IGBP’s 2004 book Global Change and the Earth System included several pages of graphs showing historical trends in human activity (GDP growth, population, energy consumption, water use, etc.) and physical changes in the Earth system (atmospheric carbon dioxide, ozone depletion, species extinctions, loss of forests, etc.) from 1750 to 2000. Every trend line showed gradual growth from 1750 and a sharp upturn in about 1950. The authors said that “the last 50 years have without doubt seen the most rapid transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in the history of the species,” but did not explicitly connect that to dating the Anthropocene.14

    In 2005, Will Steffen, principal author of that book, together with Crutzen and environmental historian John McNeill and others, coined the term Great Acceleration for the dramatic social-environmental changes after 1950. The name was a deliberate homage to The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi’s influential book on the social, economic, and political upheavals that accompanied the rise of market society in England.15

    In 2007, in a journal article provocatively titled “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?,” Steffen, Crutzen, and McNeill republished the Great Acceleration graphs, and suggested that the second half of the twentieth century should be viewed as Stage 2 of the Anthropocene. Updated versions of the 2004 Great Acceleration graphs were prepared this year by the IGBP. As in the original graphs all the trend lines show hockey stick-shaped trajectories.
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  7. how to recognize the artists of paintings
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-05-15)
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  8. Lord’s thesis is that the kind of art a society makes and values is joined at the hip with the kind of energy that society depends on to keep itself going. He traces the various forms of energy we have known as a species throughout our pre-history — our millennia spent in the Pleistocene — and in our recorded history — sexual energy, without which societies can’t continue; the energy of the body while hunting and foraging; wood for fire; slaves; wind and water; coal; oil; and “renewables” — and makes some cogent observations about their relationship to art and culture. In his Prologue, he says:

    Everyone knows that all life requires energy. But we rarely consider how dependent art and culture are on the energy that is needed to produce, practice and sustain them. What we fail to see are the usually invisible sources of energy that make our art and culture(s) possible and bring with them fundamental values that we are all constrained to live with (whether we approve of them or not). Coal brought one set of values to all industrialized countries; oil brought a very different set… I may not approve of the culture of consumption that comes with oil… but I must use it » if I want to do anything at all.

    (Photo via

    Those living within an energy system, says Lord, may disapprove of certain features, but they can’t question the system itself. Within the culture of slavery, which lasted at least 5,000 years, nobody wanted to be a slave, but nobody said slavery should be abolished, because what else could keep things going?
    (Sébastien Bonaimé/Getty Images; Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)

    Coal, says Lord, produced a culture of production: think about those giant steel mills. Oil and gas, once they were up and running, fostered a culture of consumption. Lord cites “the widespread belief of the 1950s and early ’60s in the possibility of continuing indefinitely with unlimited abundance and economic growth, contrasted with the widespread agreement today that both that assumption and the world it predicts are unsustainable.” We’re in a transition phase, he says: the next culture will be a culture of “stewardship,” the energy driving it will be renewables, and the art it produces will be quite different from the art favored by production and consumption cultures.

    What are the implications for the way we view both ourselves and the way we live? In brief: in the coal energy culture — a culture of workers and production — you are your job. “I am what I make.” In an oil and gas energy culture — a culture of consumption — you are your possessions. “I am what I buy.” But in a renewable energy culture, you are what you conserve. “I am what I save and protect.” We aren’t used to thinking like this, because we can’t see where the money will come from. But in a culture of renewables, money will not be the only measure of wealth. Well-being will factor as an economic positive, too.

    Like Barry Lord, Morris is interested in the link between energy-capture systems and the cultural values associated with them, though in his case it’s the moral values, not only the aesthetic ones — supposing these can be separated — that concern him. Roughly, his argument runs that each form of energy capture favors values that maximize the chance of survival for those using both that energy system and that package of moral values. Hunter-gatherers show more social egalitarianism, wealth-sharing, and more gender equality than do farmer societies, which subordinate women — men are favored, as they must do the upper-body-strength heavy lifting — tend to practice some form of slavery, and support social hierarchies, with peasants at the low end and kings, religious leaders, and army commanders at the high end. Fossil fuel societies start leveling out gender inequalities — you don’t need upper body strength to operate keyboards or push machine buttons — and also social distinctions, though they retain differences in wealth.

    The second part of his argument is more pertinent to our subject, for he postulates that each form of energy capture must hit a “hard ceiling,” past which expansion is impossible; people must either die out or convert to a new system and a new set of values, often after a “great collapse” that has involved the same five factors: uncontrolled migration, state failure, food shortages, epidemic disease, and “always in the mix, though contributing in unpredictable ways–- climate change.” Thus, for hunting societies, their way of life is over once there are no longer enough large animals to sustain their numbers. For farmers, arable land is a limiting factor. The five factors of doom combine and augment one another, and people in those periods have a thoroughly miserable time of it, until new societies arise that utilize some not yet exhausted form of energy capture.
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  9. As we mentioned recently, today is "World Intellectual Property Day," an event put together by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to promote ever greater protectionism and mercantilism in favor of copyright holders and patent holders, while ignoring any impact on the public of those things. It's a fairly disgusting distortion of the claimed intent of intellectual property, which is often promoted for the claimed benefits it brings to the public, but extreme supporters, such as WIPO, are never willing to actually weigh out the pros and cons of copyrights and patents, and how over-protection and over-enforcement can cause serious problems for the public, innovators and creators.

    I wasn't sure if I was going to write anything specifically about World IP Day, but Brandon Butler, the Director of Information Policy at the UVA Library put up an excellent suggestion on Twitter, that we should use "World IP Day" to re-read what Lord Thomas Macauley said in the UK Parliament back in 1841 when they were discussing copyright term expansion. We've pointed to it and quoted from it at length many times over the years, but even now, 176 years later, it still remains one of the best statements on how over-monopolizing ideas creates real harms. It's a part of the lesson that supporters of copyright and patents either ignore or wish to hide. So we will post it here in its entirety (after all, it's in the public domain):

    Thomas Babington Macaulay
    First Speech to the House of Commons on Copyright

    February 5, 1841

    It is painful to me to take a course which may possibly be misunderstood or misrepresented as unfriendly to the interests of literature and literary men. It is painful to me, I will add, to oppose my honorable and learned friend on a question which he has taken up from the purest motives, and which he regards with a parental interest. These feelings have hitherto kept me silent when the law of copyright has been under discussion. But as I am, on full consideration, satisfied that the measure before us will, if adopted, inflict grievous injury on the public, without conferring any compensating advantage on men of letters, I think it my duty to avow that opinion and to defend it.

    The first thing to be done. Sir, is to settle on what principles the question is to be argued. Are we free to legislate for the public good, or are we not? Is this a question of expediency, or is it a question of right? Many of those who have written and petitioned against the existing state of things treat the question as one of right. The law of nature, according to them, gives to every man a sacred and indefeasible property in his own ideas, in the fruits of his own reason and imagination. The legislature has indeed the power to take away this property, just as it has the power to pass an act of attainder for cutting off an innocent man’s head without a trial. But, as such an act of attainder would be legal murder, so would an act invading the right of an author to his copy be, according to these gentlemen, legal robbery.

    Now, Sir, if this be so, let justice be done, cost what it may. I am not prepared, like my honorable and learned friend, to agree to a compromise between right and expediency, and to commit an injustice for the public convenience. But I must say, that his theory soars far beyond the reach of my faculties. It is not necessary to go, on the present occasion, into a metaphysical inquiry about the origin of the right of property; and certainly nothing but the strongest necessity would lead me to discuss a subject so likely to be distasteful to the House. I agree, I own, with Paley in thinking that property is the creature of the law, and that the law which creates property can be defended only on this ground, that it is a law beneficial to mankind. But it is unnecessary to debate that point. For, even if I believed in a natural right of property, independent of utility and anterior to legislation, I should still deny that this right could survive the original proprietor. . . . Surely, Sir, even those who hold that there is a natural right of property must admit that rules prescribing the manner in which the effects of deceased persons shall be distributed are purely arbitrary, and originate altogether in the will of the legislature. If so. Sir, there is no controversy between my honorable and learned friend and myself as to the principles on which this question is to be argued. For the existing law gives an author copyright during his natural life; nor do I propose to invade that privilege, which I should, on the contrary, be prepared to defend strenuously against any assailant. The only point in issue between us is, how long after an author’s death the state shall recognize a copyright in his representatives and assigns; and it can, I think, hardly be disputed by any rational man that this is a point which the legislature is free to determine in the way which may appear to be most conducive to the general good.

    We may now, therefore, I think, descend from these high regions, where we are in danger of being lost in the clouds, to firm ground and clear light. Let us look at this question like legislators, and after fairly balancing conveniences and inconveniences, pronounce between the existing law of copyright, and the law now proposed to us. The question of copyright. Sir, like most questions of civil prudence, is neither black nor white, but gray. The system of copyright has great advantages and great disadvantages; and it is our business to ascertain what these are, and then to make an arrangement under which the advantages may be as far as possible secured, and the disadvantages as far as possible excluded. The charge which I bring against my honorable and learned friend’s bill is this, that it leaves the advantages nearly what they are at present, and increases the disadvantages at least fourfold.

    The advantages arising from a system of copyright are obvious. It is desirable that we should have a supply of good books; we cannot have such a supply unless men of letters are liberally remunerated: and the least objectionable way of remunerating them is by means of copyright. You cannot depend for literary instruction and amusement on the leisure of men occupied in the pursuits of active life. Such men may occasionally produce compositions of great merit. But you must not look to such men for works which require deep meditation and long research. Works of that kind you can expect only from persons who make literature the business of their lives. Of these persons few will be found among the rich and the noble. The rich and the noble are not impelled to intellectual exertion by necessity. They may be impelled to intellectual exertion by the desire of distinguishing themselves, or by the desire of benefiting the community. But it is generally within these walls that they seek to signalize themselves and to serve their fellow-creatures. Both their ambition and their public spirit, in a country like this, naturally take a political turn. It is then on men whose profession is literature, and whose private means are not ample, that you must rely for a supply of valuable books. Such men must be remunerated for their literary labor. And there are only two ways in which they can be remunerated. One of those ways is patronage; the other is copyright.

    There have been times in which men of letters looked, not to the public, but to the government, or to a few great men, for the reward of their exertions. It was thus in the time of Maecenas and Pollio at Rome, of the Medici at Florence, of Louis the Fourteenth in France, of Lord Halifax and Lord Oxford in this country. Now, Sir, I well know that there are cases in which it is fit and graceful, nay, in which it is a sacred duty to reward the merits or to relieve the distresses of men of genius by the exercise of this species of liberality. But these cases are exceptions. I can conceive no system more fatal to the integrity and independence of literary men than one under which they should be taught to look for their daily bread to the favor of ministers and nobles. I can conceive no system more certain to turn those minds which are formed by nature to be the blessings and ornaments of our species into public scandals and pests.

    We have, then, only one resource left. We must betake ourselves to copyright, be the inconveniences of copyright what they may. Those in­con­ve­ni­ences, in truth, are neither few nor small. Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. My honorable and learned friend talks very contemptuously of those who are led away by the theory that monopoly makes things dear. That monopoly makes things dear is certainly a theory, as all the great truths which have been established by the experience of all ages and nations, and which are taken for granted in all reasonings, may be said to be theories. It is a theory in the same sense in which it is a theory that day and night follow each other, that lead is heavier than water, that bread nourishes, that arsenic poisons, that alcohol intoxicates.

    If, as my honorable and learned friend seems to think, the whole world is in the wrong on this point, if the real effect of monopoly is to make articles good and cheap, why does he stop short in his career of change? Why does he limit the operation of so salutary a principle to sixty years? Why does he consent to anything short of a perpetuity? He told us that in consenting to anything short of a perpetuity he was making a compromise between extreme right and expediency. But if his opinion about monopoly be correct, extreme right and expediency would coincide. Or rather, why should we not restore the monopoly of the East India trade to the East India Company? Why should we not revive all those old monopolies which, in Elizabeth’s reign, galled our fathers so severely that, maddened by intolerable wrong, they opposed to their sovereign a resistance before which her haughty spirit quailed for the first and for the last time? Was it the cheapness and excellence of commodities that then so violently stirred the indignation of the English people? I believe. Sir, that I may safely take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad. And I may with equal safety challenge my honorable friend to find out any distinction between copyright and other privileges of the same kind; any reason why a monopoly of books should produce an effect directly the reverse of that which was produced by the East India Company’s monopoly of tea, or by Lord Essex’s monopoly of sweet wines. Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.

    Now, I will not affirm that the existing law is perfect, that it exactly hits the point at which the monopoly ought to cease; but this I confidently say, that the existing law is very much nearer that point than the law proposed by my honorable and learned friend. For consider this; the evil effects of the monopoly are proportioned to the length of its duration. But the good effects for the sake of which we bear with the evil effects are by no means proportioned to the length of its duration. A monopoly of sixty years produces twice as much evil as a monopoly of thirty years, and thrice as much evil as a monopoly of twenty years. But it is by no means the fact that a posthumous monopoly of sixty years gives to an author thrice as much pleasure and thrice as strong a motive as a posthumous monopoly of twenty years. On the contrary, the difference is so small as to be hardly perceptible. We all know how faintly we are affected by the prospect of very distant advantages, even when they are advantages which we may reasonably hope that we shall ourselves enjoy. But an advantage that is to be enjoyed more than half a century after we are dead, by somebody, we know not by whom, perhaps by somebody unborn, by somebody utterly unconnected with us, is really no motive at all to action. It is very probable that in the course of some generations land in the unexplored and unmapped heart of the Australasian continent will be very valuable. But there is none of us who would lay down five pounds for a whole province in the heart of the Australasian continent. We know, that neither we, nor anybody for whom we care, will ever receive a farthing of rent from such a province. And a man is very little moved by the thought that in the year 2000 or 2100, somebody who claims through him will employ more shepherds than Prince Esterhazy, and will have the finest house and gallery of pictures at Victoria or Sydney. Now, this is the sort of boon which my honorable and learned friend holds out to authors. Considered as a boon to them, it is a mere nullity; but considered as an impost on the public, it is no nullity, but a very serious and pernicious reality.

    The principle of copyright is this. It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget, that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures. I admit, however, the necessity of giving a bounty to genius and learning. In order to give such a bounty, I willingly submit even to this severe and burdensome tax. Nay, I am ready to increase the tax, if it can be shown that by so doing I should proportionally increase the bounty. My complaint is, that my honorable and learned friend doubles, triples, quadruples, the tax, and makes scarcely any perceptible addition to the bounty. Why, Sir, what is the additional amount of taxation which would have been levied on the public for Dr. Johnson’s works alone, if my honorable and learned friend’s bill had been the law of the land? I have not data sufficient to form an opinion. But I am confident that the taxation on his dictionary alone would have amounted to many thousands of pounds. In reckoning the whole additional sum which the holders of his copyrights would have taken out of the pockets of the public during the last half century at twenty thousand pounds, I feel satisfied that I very greatly underrate it. Now, I again say that I think it but fair that we should pay twenty thousand pounds in consideration of twenty thousand pounds’ worth of pleasure and encouragement received by Dr. Johnson. But I think it very hard that we should pay twenty thousand pounds for what he would not have valued at five shillings.

    But this is not all. I think it right, Sir, to call the attention of the House to an evil, which is perhaps more to be apprehended when an author’s copyright remains in the hands of his family, than when it is transferred to booksellers. I seriously fear that, if such a measure as this should be adopted, many valuable works will be either totally suppressed or grievously mutilated. I can prove that this danger is not chimerical; and I am quite certain that, if the danger be real, the safeguards which my honorable and learned friend has devised are altogether nugatory. That the danger is not chimerical may easily be shown. Most of us, I am sure, have known persons who, very erroneously as I think, but from the best motives, would not choose to reprint Fielding’s novels or Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Some gentlemen may perhaps be of opinion that it would be as well if “Tom Jones” and Gibbon’s “History” were never reprinted. I will not, then, dwell on these or similar cases. I will take cases respecting which it is not likely that there will be any difference of opinion here; cases, too, in which the danger of which I now speak is not matter of supposition, but matter of fact.

    Take Richardson’s novels. Whatever I may, on the present occasion, think of my honorable and learned friend’s judgment as a legislator, I must always respect his judgment as a critic. He will, I am sure, say that Richardson’s novels are among the most valuable, among the most original, works in our language. No writings have done more to raise the fame of English genius in foreign countries. No writings are more deeply pathetic. No writings, those of Shakespeare excepted, show more profound knowledge of the human heart. . . . Sir, it is my firm belief, that if the law had been what my honorable and learned friend proposes to make it, they would have been suppressed.

    I remember Richardson’s grandson well; he was a clergyman in the city of London; he was a most upright and excellent man; but he had conceived a strong prejudice against works of fiction. He thought all novel-reading not only frivolous but sinful. He said,—this I state on the authority of one of his clerical brethren who is now a bishop,—he said that he had never thought it right to read one of his grandfather’s books. Suppose, Sir, that the law had been what my honorable and learned friend would make it. Suppose that the copyright of Richardson’s novels had descended, as might well have been the case, to this gentleman. I firmly believe that he would have thought it sinful to give them a wide circulation. I firmly believe that he would not for a hundred thousand pounds have deliberately done what he thought sinful. He would not have reprinted them.

    And what protection does my honorable and learned friend give to the public in such a case? Why, Sir, what he proposes is this: if a book is not reprinted during five years, any person who wishes to reprint it may give notice in the London Gazette: the advertisement must be repeated three times: a year must elapse; and then, if the proprietor of the copyright does not put forth a new edition, he loses his exclusive privilege. Now, what protection is this to the public? What is a new edition? Does the law define the number of copies that make an edition? Does it limit the price of a copy? Are twelve copies on large paper, charged at thirty guineas each, an edition? It has been usual, when monopolies have been granted, to prescribe numbers and to limit prices. But I do not find that my honorable and learned friend proposes to do so in the present case. And, without some such provision, the security which he offers is manifestly illusory. It is my conviction that, under such a system as that which he recommends to us, a copy of “Clarissa” would have been as rare as an Aldus or a Caxton.

    I will give another instance. One of the most instructive, interesting, and delightful books in our language is Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.’’ Now it is well known that Boswell’s eldest son considered this book, considered the whole relation of Boswell to Johnson, as a blot in the escutcheon of the family. He thought, not perhaps altogether without reason, that his father had exhibited himself in a ludicrous and degrading light. And thus he became so sore and irritable that at last he could not bear to hear the “Life of Johnson’’ mentioned. Suppose that the law had been what my honorable and learned friend wishes to make it. Suppose that the copyright of Boswells “Life of Johnson” had belonged, as it well might, during sixty years, to Boswell’s eldest son. What would have been the consequence? An unadulterated copy of the finest biographical work in the world would have been as scarce as the first edition of Camden’s “Britannia.”

    ... Sir, of the kindness with which the House has listened to me, that I will not detain you longer. I will only say this, that if the measure before us should pass, and should produce one tenth part of the evil which it is calculated to produce, and which I fully expect it to produce, there will soon be a remedy, though of a very objectionable kind. Just as the absurd Acts which prohibited the sale of game were virtually repealed by the poacher, just as many absurd revenue Acts have been virtually repealed by the smuggler, so will this law be virtually repealed by piratical booksellers.

    At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot. On which side indeed should the public sympathy be when the question is whether some book as popular as “Robinson Crusoe” or the “Pilgrim’s Progress” shall be in every cottage, or whether it shall be confined to the libraries of the rich for the advantage of the great-grandson of a bookseller who, a hundred years before, drove a hard bargain for the copyright with the author when in great distress? Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create. And you will find that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living.
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  10. Qasim Rashid, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., went viral on Sunday for giving a white supremacist—and the internet—a much-needed history lesson.

    Rashid gets harassed on the internet by anti-Muslim a-holes on the regular. One of them, who was likely quite proud of this “hot take,” asked him “Where’s the Christian version of ISIS and every other religion then?”

    Rashid replied with thousands of years of receipts known as World History.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-04-06)
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