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Unintentionally hilarious comment of the day, ctd

As part of a continuing series where yours truly tracks down particularly barmy comments on the Web that deserve to be protected for posterity:

“Jefferson was certainly a slave master, owning and inheriting as many as 250 at one time, although he professed to have great qualms about the morality of slavery. Thre is also the ongoing mystery of his relationship with one of his Octaroon slaves, Sally Hemmings and her children. She was by all accounts exceptionally attractive. I agree with Taki’s supposition that life in antebellum Virginia must have been a particularly beautiful and wondrous epoch.”

(emphasis mine).

Written by someone called John Bidwell in response to an article by Taki that I link to below. I love that final sentence; at first, the paragraph might appear quite reasonable but the final sentence gives the lie to that. The slave-owning South was “particularly beautiful and wondrous”. You know, a part of the world in which humans were bought and sold at auction, flogged, or worse, for trying to escape.

What the fuck is wrong with these people? What next: the slave-owning society of ancient Rome was “particularly beautiful and wondrous” unlike, say, the boring, materialist world of the liberal West?

Here is my comment the other day, on the US Civil War, prompted by a Taki article.

27 comments to Unintentionally hilarious comment of the day, ctd

  • Well, we’re not talking Rawlsian fantasy here, in which a modern might take the place of any pre-modern person at random. We’re talking about the real world, in which past-life regression has proven beyond all doubt that everybody was Cleopatra and nobody was the slave who cleaned her latrines. So the commenter may take for granted that in antebellum Virginia, he and all his audience were certainly floggers rather than flogged.

    Which leaves the Sally Hemmingses of the milieu to make the Jeffersons’ lives particularly beautiful and wondrous, Or Else.

    It’s good to be king, if being king is your thing – and if you don’t dwell too much on what festers behind the gilt and velvet.

  • Personally I blame “Gone with the Wind”

    People can romanticise anything they don’t actually have first-hand knowledge of. Absolutely anything. Just look at Manchester Town Hall. A massive edifice built on the profits of industrialisation, science and technology and it’s a gigantic Neo-Gothic folly. Or Tower Bridge come to that. especially Tower Bridge because there is high-tech (for the time) inside.

    OK, let Margaret Mitchell off the hook (she wrote a sort of Mills & Baboon* romance afterall) and replace her with Billy Blake (Oh rose thou art sick… – what the fuck is that poem about?) and Rousseau and that utter nonce William Morris. Especially that parrot-faced wazzack. You know as a kid he had a pony and a little suit of armour and (on his own) go off into the woods and play at buying a old-skool knight. I guess that’s what Gray said. He never played at being second dung-chewer did he?

    *Not a typo. Think apes and typewriters.

  • Ian F4

    This example of a mindset is alien to those of a libertarian bent – ignoring the (often authoritarian) construction of a society whilst concentrating on it’s perceived “benefits”.

    You can apply this to the debate on Cuba, where an average man can live for a few months longer with free healthcare (albeit as a Marxist “worker unit” without real liberty), and Islam is often described as “a beautiful and great” religion, pointing to it’s technological and social achievements (as long as you are male and Muslim) and it’s absence of sexual perversions (because marital rape, prostitution and child abuse have simply been excluded as sins).

    Libertarians are primarily interested in personal freedoms and the limits thereof, this subject doesn’t have much importance in the world view of Taki and his ilk.

    Damn shame, really.

  • Paul Power

    Perhaps the last sentence was a poorly-executed attempt at irony?

  • Current

    > Perhaps the last sentence was a poorly-executed attempt at irony?

    That was what I thought too.

  • On planet Earth, it would evidently be intended as irony. However, when you are approaching a Taki, the normal rules of physics appear to break down. There is a point beyond which common sense can no longer escape the powerrful gravitational pull of smug stupidity. After this point, spaghettification of the brain occurs.

  • Laird

    I also suspect that it was ironic, not literal.

    The institution of chattel slavery is as old as mankind itself. It has been a feature of most societies throughout human history; its elimination (for the most part) is a relatively modern phenomenon. If we continue on the path we’re following toward massive economic collapse I suspect it will return. Taki will get his wish.

    NickM, I think that poem is about venereal disease.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I was wondering whether it was irony, but if you read the Spectator comment threads, it is often populated by loons who actually do seem to believe this stuff.

  • Not to sound like a Rawlsian, but I think it’s a fairly safe bet that, when you’re one of the richest people in a society (through nothing more than the accident of your birth), “particularly beautiful and wondrous epoch” becomes context-independent.

  • Laird,
    You think. That’s my point! You’re a bright and erudite soul and you merely think here!

    And you know? You might be right.

    I’ll tell ya what I always thought… It’s about loss of innocence, defloration (hence “bed of crimson joy*) and to a romantic who almost by definition tortures themselves on the virgin/whore dichotomy this is signals the start of inexorable decay, hence the the worm which signals the grave. You know how them romantics were for love (sex) and death. You know like in “Wuthering Heights” and all.

    I don’t get something I once read (about 45s ago on a web crib-sheet) which has the worm standing in for a penis… Well, not unless Andrew Marr was around back then or Blake was hung like a Chinese mouse.

    But thanks Laird. You got me thinking. I may write some poesy on the subject of STDs myself. The muse descended and in a flash, I saw…

    “Pox in Sox” – to be composed in the style of Dr Seuss!

    Hell! They start sex ed in primary schools now in the UK. I might make a fucking fortune out of the DfE!

    Sorry JP.

  • Laird beat me to it.

    I beg to differ, Endivio. These people very much live on this same planet we do. They are called ‘collectivists’ and are quite coomon, although not always easily identifiable at first glance.

  • Sigivald

    I can’t help but think it was attempted irony as well.

    And of course, remember that “wondrous” doesn’t actually mean good, despite the tendency of late to use it as a mere synonym for “really, really good”.

    (Much like “awesome”.)

  • lucklucky

    I am also one of those that thinks this was ironic.

  • Laird

    Nick, isn’t the purpose of poetry to make one think? If you want it cut and dried write prose.

    I should have been a pair of ragged claws
    Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

    What the hell does that mean? I think I know, but how can I be sure? Doesn’t matter; I like it anyway.

    And I’m looking forward to reading “Pox in Sox”.

  • The porpoise of poetry is to give the otherwise unemployable something to do – bless ’em! Think Andy “bowel” Motion.

    Or it is to be spectacular! And to impress ladies from the art’s faculty who are right dirty and know Greek and that.

    It is about creating art from words. I can’t play the Oboe (though I was once asked to in Athens by a dodgy geezer) or dance but we all have language. Weird that poetry is seen as so elitist when it is so accessible to do.

    No, Laird. Poetry is not about thinking. It is about raw emotion put in words. It is sounding that barbaric Yawp of Whitman and taming it. Or the pun on “country pleasures” of Willy the Shake or John Donne in the 20th Elegy discovering his New Found Land. It is distilled passion and rhetoric. It’s balls filtered through brain.

    Not that I want to give Heston any ideas, like…

    Thinking is what you do with a mechanical pencil and integration by parts. Poetry is also integration by parts but not in a way you’d do it in a math class.

    You’d only use a mechanical pencil for the other if you were a right prevert. Unlike me. I’d just give her a 2B (or more likely) a not 2B.

    I do though like Prufrock (I prefer though – “Measured my life in coffee spoons”). But the meaning of your line seems obvious. My mother is an English teacher.

    Poetry matters because language is where we live.

  • Laird

    Nick, I’ll give you “creating art from words”, but doesn’t all good art require thought? It does for me, anyway, but maybe I’m just not as good with “raw emotion” as you are. Anyway, I prefer cerebration to unexamined feeling. But it takes all kinds.

    And maybe Blake’s poem is about defloration. I wouldn’t put it past him. In fact, maybe we’re both right. Isn’t making words perform double duty also part of poetry? And doesn’t teasing that out necessitate careful thought?

    When you have a chance, please ask your mother what the heck “Tyger, tyger burning bright” means. I’ve never figured out that one. Not even emotionally.

  • Nick, that was pure poetry right there!

    You are both right, though.

  • Richard Garner

    Can’t a society be beautiful, inspite of certain horrific aspects? Or can’t we view those aspects as blights in an otherwise lovely epoch?

  • Can’t an apple be thought of as beautiful and delicious, in spite of the worm eating at it from the inside?

  • Paul Marks

    Aristotle (the inventor of the formal “natural slave” argument) freed his own slaves in his will – either he was not convinced by his own argument (or perhaps slaves he actually knew, his own, did not turn out to be “natural slaves”).

    Jefferson (who fully accepted that slavery was evil – said and wrote so repeatedly) did not free his slaves even in his will (although Washington and many others did).

    The normal defence for this is that Jefferson could not – because he died in debt.

    Well then he should have freed them whilst he was still alive, so there could have been no legal dispute.

    Or perphaps he should not have been such a big spender – for example I would like a lovely house built to my own design as well. But I can not afford stuff like this AND NEITHER COULD JEFFERSON.

    The man was bailed out three times (at least once at taxpayer’s expense), perhaps there should have been less of the showing off (walking to the Whitehouse, rather than using a carriage, was showing off – all great displays of LOOK HOW HUMBLE I AM are really showing off) and more real living within his means. Actual “Republican virtue” not pretended Republican virtue (living it is more important than boasting about it).

    I am sorry if the above offends Jeffersonians – and I agree he was a great President. But I do not like the MAN (however much I respect the greatness of the President).

    Nor is it “just” slavery – it is the French Revolution. Jefferson was there – yet he continued to spout on about how wonderful it was (did he walk around with his eyes shut?) and how he would rather half the world was destroyed than the French Revolution fail – did he really mean that?

    “half the world destroyed”, it would be better for one out of every two people (in the entire world) to be killed than that the French monarchy be restored?

    This is nothing to do with likeing French aristocrats.

    John Adams hated them – the very sight of them (and their silly behaviour) made him feel physically sick.

    But that did not stop his horror at the French Revolution – because the mind of John Adams, whilst not the equal of the mind of Jefferson, was not undermined by moral blindness.

    John Adams had a basic horse sense that it is more important (for a man – if not for a President) than the ability to learn 15 languages before breakfast and then invent a new form of mathematics before lunch (or whatever else Jefferson could do).

    Soldiers being prosectued unjustly must be defended – even if they are soldiers of a power (Britain) that you in dispute with.

    Murder is evil and must be opposed – even if it is the murder of people who disgust you (and most of the victims of the French Revolution were not aristocrats).

    And slavery is wrong – even Roman lawyers understood that (“slavery is against natural law, but it is allowed by the law of all nations so….”) NO there is no “so”.

    If slavery is wrong (is an evil – is against the natural law) then one must not have slaves.

    That is why John Adams never had any – even though it was “legal” in Mass for most of his life.

    And if you do have slaves – why then you should free them.

    “But it is more complicated than that”.

    No it is not – at least for those of us who are not so clever as Jefferson.

    I say again – Jefferson was the greater President (I fully accept that).

    But short tempered, ugly, John Adams was the better man.

  • Those who say the war wasn’t about, or caused by, slavery are ignorant or liars. The war was fought to stop secession; and secession was about slavery. Read the justifications for secession adopted by the seceding states. They are all slavery and slaves. Mississippi’s is I think the most horrible:

    “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization…

  • Laird

    staghounds, were you not paying attention when we had a very long thread about that very issue last week? No point in revisiting it now.

  • Jeff Davis

    This whole thread and the one before it is funny to read. The brits were pro-Confederate during the Late Unpleasantness, not only the rich but most of the working class as well. Many of the finest minds of the 19thC, including luminaries like Lord Acton, Thomas Carlisle and Charles Darwin were staunch Confederate supporters, but not because they were “for” slavery. Perhaps they just did not have the modern consciousness to know that it was “about” that peculiar institution, or maybe they were just dupes of the dreaded Slave Power. I’m sure everyone now knows that they *would* have been an abolitionist then, tho…

  • squawkbox

    Oh bullshit, Jeff Davis. There was certainly significant support for the Confederacy from some though not most sections of British society, particularly before 1863, but the British government never recognised the Confederacy and never gave it any meaningful support. They didn’t even break the Union naval blockade, which the Royal Navy could easily have done at a time when the blockade was damaging the British as well as the Confederate economy.

    Your contention that Charles Darwin was a staunch supporter of the Confederacy is, to put it kindly, nonsense. He wasn’t a great supporter of the North, but only because they weren’t abolitionist enough for him.

    “Some few, and I am one, even wish to God, though at the loss of millions of lives, that the North would proclaim a crusade against slavery. In the long run, a million horrid deaths would be amply repaid in the cause of humanity…Great God how I should like to see that greatest curse on Earth, slavery, abolished.” Charles Darwin 1861.

  • Jeff Davis

    I said Darwin was sympathetic, which he was, as were Carlisle and Acton. All of them abhorred slavery (as did many Southerners) but thought more important issues were in play. Obviously they did not think it “about” slavery. Acton, for example, thought the tyranny of the Federal government a bigger threat, which sounds downright prescient. My larger point is that people then, including the best minds of the century, did not see it the same way as many do now. Surely no one would call Carlisle or Acton “intellectually dishonest.”

    As for the British government, they were sympathetic to the Confederacy but did not think it worth a war. However, a bill to recognize the Confederacy was introduced into Parliament when they invaded Pennsylvania in 1863 but was quietly withdrawn after Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg. Britain was the main supplier to the Confederacy — their primary infantry arm was the Enfield rifle and many of their uniforms and shoes came from the Sceptered Isle as well, not to mention sharpshooter rifles and cannon from Whitworth. And let’s not forget the Alabama, which was outfitted in Liverpool. Aside from political sympathies the British gov’t looked the other way because a lot of its subjects were making lots of money.

    If you’d like to know more I recommend The London Confederates(Link) by John D. Bennet, which includes a lot of archival research.

  • Paul Marks

    Which nonslave States tried to leave the Union in 1861?

    Why does the Constitution of the Confederacy say that a State HAS TO HAVE SLAVERY if it is to be a member – the Constitution is formally called the Constitution of the “Slave Holding States of America” (slavery is in the very title).

    By the way it is the Confederate Constitution (not the United States one) that upholds the right of the central govenrment to build ports, and other “internal improvements” (so much for it being libertarian apart from the “little” matter of slavery).

    As for Britain – slavery was outlawed in England by the Masfield Judgement of 1774 and outlawed in the British Empire by Act of Parliament in 1833.

    So any the-Brits-had-slavery-so-they-can-not-talk is a dog that will not hunt.

    By the way it would have been easy for any State to make the war about taxes on imports – not slavery.


    If the war is not about slavery – then free the slaves. It is that simple.

    Why do people not understand that by defending the Confederacy they are PLAYING INTO THE HANDS OF OBAMA AND CO.

    He and the rest of the Comrades want (more than anything) to say than any foe is a racist “neoconfederate” (this propaganda line was on the BBC just last week – and it the American media a lot also).


    If you want to secede in 2012-2013 (if Obama is re-elected) then you must first prove that your secession is NOTHING TO DO WITH THE EVENTS OF 1861.

    One word in defence of the Confederacy and you discredit yourselves.

    I am astonished that people cannot see that.

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