We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“The Vickys have an elaborate code of morals and conduct. It grew out of the moral squalor of an earlier generation, just as the original Victorians were preceded by the Georgians and the Regency. The old guard believe in that code because they came to it the hard way. They raise their children to believe in that code – but their children believe it for entirely different reasons.”

“They believe it,” the Constable said, “because they have been indoctrinated to believe it.”

“Yes. Some of them never challenge it – they grow up to be smallminded people, who can tell you what they believe but not why they believe it. Others become disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the society and rebel – as did Elizabeth Finkle-McGraw.”

“Which path do you intend to take, Nell?” said the Constable, sounding very interested. “Conformity or rebellion?”

“Neither one. Both ways are simple-minded – they are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity.”

– Neal Stephenson. The Diamond Age (his best book, in my opinion).

17 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Pa

    Diamond Age is great but Cryptonomicon is better.


    Agree with “Diamond Age” – every time I read it I come away impressed with some new insight. “Snow Crash” is funnier and very good but loses traction towards the end. “Cryptonomicon” is a sprawling mess: the mixing of narratives from “modern” and “WWII” only served to make the modern story seem rather unimportant in comparison to the real challenges of the past.

  • Trespassers W

    Me, I love them all. But I named my daughter Nell, so what does that tell you?

  • M. Thompson

    The best code is one that works for you.

    And The Diamond Age is an excellent book. Great reading after a Navy class in King’s Bay, GA on a sunny spring afternoon.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I endorse Mikes view about the Diamond Age.. I failed to finish Anathem. Cryptonomicom was a bit disorganised although I liked it. The Baroque Trilogy was too long.

  • De gustibus non disputandum est, as Seamus Costello might say.

    I read Snow Crash about a year after it came out, and found it to be a wonderful, hugely intelligent romp written by someone with even more voracious curiousity and corresponding wanderlust than I have.

    The Diamond Age still has a weak ending, but it struck me as an amazingly polished subtle and interesting creation with a strong underlying message that I more or less agreed with (and occasionally feel the need to quote, although it seems that nobody wants to discuss the message and everyone wants to discuss what is their favourite Neal Stephenson novel). After that, though, Stephenson seems to have got more esoteric and less focused every time. He is erudite and fascinating – the Baroque Trilogy was a hard slog, but oh boy did I learn a lot from it – but I am not sure that what he is is a novelist any more.

  • the other rob

    I found that Cryptonomicon made a lot more sense when I re-read it, after reading the Baroque Cycle.

  • Laird

    The other rob’s observation seems reasonable. I shall have to re-read Cryptonomicon. It was a fascinating book although very difficult to get into (sort of like Catch-22 in that regard), but should make much more sense with the Baroque Cycle as background.

    The Diamond Age started off well but didn’t end so much as peter out. To me it was very unsatisfying. I don’t think Stephenson had an ending in mind when he started the book, and he when he got there he didn’t know how to finish it. I had much the same reaction to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, another fascinating book which doesn’t really end, but rather he simply stopped writing. Worth the read, though.

  • Alisa

    Here we go again…: Catch 22 was difficult to get into???

  • Alisa

    Sorry, Michael, I guess I’m carrying on with the OT line. FWIW, I like the quote, but can’t think of anything substantial to add…

  • Laird

    Alisa, I found the constant jumping around in time thoroughly confusing. It took me a good 50 pages to figure it out. After that I was fine.

  • Personally, I’ve found all of Stephenson’s endings to be weak. I’m willing to forgive him that, as his concept pieces and set-pieces are excellent, but it still means that when I finish a Stephenson book, I feel unsatisfied.

    With Diamond Age, I get the feeling that the, er, ceremony that the Drummers carry out was a powerful image that came to Stephenson one day, and then he had to figure out how to incorporate it into some story somewhere. I don’t think he really succeeded.

  • Of course, he ended Anathem with a double wedding, which is probably a joke on his hearing over and over again that he didn’t know how to finish a story.

  • Paul Marks

    “The tragedy of the half educated person”.

    It is commonally stated that an educated person will question traditional morals (and so on).

    Of course that assumes that a person has actually learned the traditions of society – which they need to do before they can sensibly question them. But let that pass.

    Look at the romantic “rebel” figures themselves – the 1960s type, sex without committment (killing the children that result from it – or leaving them to rot on welfare), Che on the shirt, and picture of Mao on the wall. Later on such person will dress in an expensive suit and sit in an important office – but the basic assumptions of their mind will (very often) not change much.

    Such a person may indeed be more intelligent (have a higher IQ) than the “conformist” who goes along with the traditions of civil society, and may even be more “educated” in the sense of having read more books (and engaged in more abstract and questioning thought) – but such rebels produced must WORSE societies (indeed Hell on Earth – in the case of such young idealistic rebels as Pol Pot and so on).

    Why so?

    Because they were HALF educated – they questioned the society around them, but they never learned the reasons for the cultural traditions of civil society.

    Hardly surprising as their “education” was based upon assumptions that were fundementally hostile to civil society (the assumptions of Marxism and also of Freud and so on).

    That is why the young, idealistic and intelligent were (as Ludwig Von Mises noted as long ago as Germany in the early 20th century) the WORST elements of society – worst in the sense of the results they produced. The contempt for traditional morals and for such cultural insitutions as private property – produced SLAVERY and TERROR.

    People (who even when they were middle aged adults – and in positions of great power) were still stuck in youthful “revolt”. A revolt against all that was good (in both individual conduct and politics) and in favour of all that was evil.

    The spirit of individual crime (as with lawless violence of the 1960s – similar to what Germany had already seen in the 1920s) as well as the politics of mass crime.

    “So mindless conforminty is better?”

    Actually this is not true education either.

    True education is to question such things as traditional moralty and traditional political principles – and then FIND OUT THE REASONS THEY PRODUCE LESS BAD RESULTS THAN PLACES THAT DO NOT HAVE THESE PRINCIPLES.

    Sadly the young face great difficulty in doing this – as their teachers and university lecturers do not know themselves (and therefore can explain to others) and, indeed, are full of hatred for the cultural traditions and political principles that created the West.

    The young (and least those of the young who are most under the sway of the education system) are taught to “question” in the most radical way – indeed to hold in utter contempt and hatred every traditional principle of the West. And the most intelligent (tragically it is often the most intelligent) often prove to be the most deadly enenies of the West.

    But one thing they do not question – the assumption there are no good reasons (not just the selfish interests of “the rich” or of “white males”) for these principles. They remain in a state of “revolt” all their lives – with the mental energies devoted to ripping down all that is around them (in the vain hope that some wonderful new society will appear once they have finished the evil “capitalist” society of the West).

    Once it was thought that such people could be ignored – they were a tiny “intellectual elite” with no impact on the “real world”.

    However, they have proved to have very real impact upon the world – via government policies.

    The destruction of such cultural institutions as the family and the rise of the Welfare Underclass is not because most people read radical feminist works (or other outgrowths of Frankfurt School “Political Correctness”).

    On the contrary most of the modern “masses” can barely read at all.

    But they have been influnced by the ideas of the radical left – indirectly via POLICY.

    For, yes, the welfare and social policies of modern Western nations have (at least since the 1960s) been drawn up and put into practice by young (and not so young) idealists with the INTENTION of destroying the West.

    Such people as the husband and wife team of Cloward and Piven were not special – they were, in fact, the NORM among policy makers in the West.

    They start from the assumption that the “capitalist” societies (actually the only semi free socieites of the 1950s) were evil and must be destroyed – and then the draw up polocies (social and economic) designed to achieve this task.

    I do not question their intelligence – they are very intelligent (no doubt much more intelligent than I am), they have also proved very hard working (and so on).

    However, they are (no matter how intelligent) still trapped in the tragedy of the half educated person.

    They see that the society around them is imperfect (which it always was), they question all its fundemental principles.

    But then, rather than working to see if there were any GOOD reasons for these principles (let alone how they could be better applied to make part free societies better – i.e. closer to what the fundemental principles of the West would indicate is a better road), they seek to destroy everything.

    Destroy everything without truly understanding it.

    They viewed a society that was wildly imperfect – but instead of working to see that the funedmental principles of the West were more strongly applied (so that contradictions to them were removed), the elite worked to undermine these very principles.

    Thus they produced bad results – and we have not yet seen anything like the full horror that their undermining of traditional principles (such as, to take a practical example, that all borrowing must be from real savings – the whole “Victorian” idea of thrift, hard work and self denial) has in store for us all.

  • PeterT

    I agree with Mastiff. Neal Stephenson’s endings are usually pretty weak (I think Snow Crash was ok in this regard; and I haven’t read the Diamond Age). The ending of Cryptonomicon was disappointing and the ending of Anathem prompted a ‘that’s it?!’ moment. Reminds me of when I was at school and writing stories about pirates. I’d get bored after a few hours and would kill off all the pirates by having their ship sunk, or something. Everybody died; The End.

    Also, the beginning of Anathem was very very tough going and it took a few false starts before I got into it.

  • Alisa

    That was a rare and interesting glimpse into the mind of a creative writer, PeterT…:-)