Friends who live far away necessarily write to each other a lot. Sometimes a stray idea from this correspondence gets developed into an essay, but more often than not it’s forgotten. We decided to collect and share a few instances of wordplay to save them from oblivion, because they’re fun, and who knows, maybe even useful.
- The Parable of the Antelope
- The Parable of the Jester
- Fading Afterglow
- Puddle in the Desert
- Flower in the Desert
- Monolith in the Desert
- The Map and the Compass
- Projections of Earth
- The Grasshopper and the Locust
- Treading Water
- The Suzy Problem
- Better Dragons
The Parable of the Antelope
(dawn of humanity)
- jill: i hate how jeff piles all the fruit in the center of the village and stands over it with a spear and won’t give us any unless we lick between his toes.
- jack: yeah, it sucks.
- jill: like maybe we should all gang up on jeff and divide the fruit equally?
jack: eh… but hey, i saw this thing with four legs, an antelope i think it’s called. and you can eat it! if everybody just started eating that, we wouldn’t even have to fight jeff, and we’d have
- jill: are you sure? that seems… speculative.
- jack: i totally promise. have you tried antelope? it’s delicious. jeff’s gonna feel like such an idiot when he’s left standing over that pile of fruit and we’re all feasting on antelope.
The Parable of the Jester
(in the palace)
- my lord, the peasants are at the gates.
- i shall consult my jester.
- your… jester, sir?
- yes, my advisors are all fools. bring me my jester!
- very good, sir.
- m’lord, what lovely jowls you have this morning.
- enough japes, you. tell me, what of this peasant uprising?
- their cause is just! for too long have you ruled over them! their day of reckoning is at hand!
- thank you, jester. you may go.
- yes m’lord.
- how shall i proceed, my lord?
- have the peasants killed.
- very good, sir.
- and give my jester a raise.
Capitalist claw-backs over the last few decades, of welfare programs in the West and lending arrangements internationally, demonstrated that the Soviet Union was indeed the bulwark of the international socialist movement, even and especially for those who opted for non-alignment and engaged in stern and self-ingratiating condemnations. Even today, anarchists and trade unionists and social democrats in the West look backwards rather than outwards when trying to understand their own history. They never understood that they were basking in the fading afterglow of someone else’s revolution.
Puddle in the Desert
When a colonial (or neo-colonial) empire grows large enough, in order to trade intrigues for stability, it forms pools of liberalism in its core territory. All other times, both in its beginning and near its end, this puddle evaporates, and all that’s left is the perennial boundary violence: fascism.
Flower in the Desert
Capitalists have waged a relentless campaign to shutter Marxism out of art and science. Unsurprisingly, after Marxism is reduced to a “purely political” question, Marxists appear like clowns.
It’s not that political power is unimportant: “Everything is illusory except power.” It’s just that Western Marxists supposedly left art and science alone so that they wouldn’t come across as aesthetes or bookworms, and instead focused on the hard-headed questions of wages and survival. Paradoxically, this only made their political commitments seem goofier and more disconnected from the rest of society.
Precisely when political views are not part of an integral and unified worldview, they appear a fad. To try to advance Marxist politics without rejecting bourgeois attitudes to art and science is to try to grow a tropical flower in an arid desert.
Monolith in the Desert
Classic works of theory can appear as towering monoliths of knowledge in a philosophical desert when the skyline to which they originally belonged is forgotten, or too hastily dismissed. This will lead to such works being either accepted as dogma, or treated as an incomprehensible alien object. In either case, they will not be truly engaged with and built upon, or alongside.
The Map and the Compass
Ultraleftists imagine they possess the true compass, and the reason they’re so sure they’ve got it is because of their unwavering line, their consistency, their intransigence. (We could say: their compulsive repetition, their obstinacy, their dogmatism.) But do they have a map?
A person following a good map doesn’t usually travel in a straight line. Marxist-Leninists are often accused of abusing dialectics to justify unprincipled zig-zags in policy. If it were simply a question of heading north at full speed, zig-zagging would be inappropriate, and compasses would trump maps. But it’s not.
Following a compass bearing is easiest by air or by sea, but quite difficult if we’re going overland. Which is a better metaphor for communism, do you think? Running in a straight line is a terrible idea if you’re getting shot at.
A compass is personal, an inner feeling. A map is a report from the empirical world that may be more or less accurate, corrected, refined, fought over, etc. That’s why some prefer Marxism as critique rather than science.
Projections of Earth
Earth, with all of its continents and oceans, exists as a three-dimensional sphere. However, we often find it necessary to represent it in a two-dimensional plane: a map.
We refer to this image as a projection, and it is essential to understand that it is always, due to the loss of one dimension, necessarily distorted. We simply cannot preserve all of the original properties of the spheroid. This isn’t due to any lack of aptitude or creativity or willpower; the very fact of losing one dimension imposes a mathematical limit to the fidelity of the projection.
When evaluating alternatives in real life, we need to consider that we are often not looking for the perfect solution, but for the most appropriate set of trade-offs.
The Grasshopper and the Locust
Locusts and grasshoppers are the same organism, with different gene expression depending on circumstances.
When practicing categorization, we must not overly privilege essence or environment.
Whether similitude or difference is primary depends on purpose and perspective.
Reactionaries moored social reality on very rigid and unnatural structures. Modernism and reason melted them away, so that there was nothing left but endless continuity, an ocean of lapping and ephemeral phenomenological waves. Marxist-Leninists believe we need to build a ship to navigate the resulting blue. But radical liberals insist on their postmodern over-commitment to intangibility, so we just keep treading water.
The Suzy Problem
Suzy bought 10 apples, but gave away 3. How many apples does Suzy have left?
Who’s Suzy? Why does she trade in apples?
Name-dropping often makes newcomers to political literature anxious and insecure. Readers should understand that figures are often cited as a matter of academic respect and bibliographic convention — they help trace the genealogy of an idea. Writers should write in such a way that names can be reasonably glossed over, with the ideas of the thinker in question paraphrased and explained for the benefit of the uninitiated, if important.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter who Suzy is.
If society were ruled by gigantic fire-breathing dragons sitting on vast hoards of treasure who monthly demanded virgin sacrifices, and to ensure public order they occasionally went out and razed whole villages, people would make jokes about the dragons.
They’d claim their dragon was better than other dragons, and argue that any society without a dragon would be total chaos and barbarism.
People who talked about killing dragons would be treated as cranks and loonies — everyone knows you can’t kill a dragon! (“It’s common sense.”)
There would be well-meaning people who wanted to improve society without killing the dragons (“Let’s be realistic”), and there would be people who said “If you manage to build a weapon that can take down a dragon, what’s to stop you and your friends from being just as bad when the dragon’s dead?”
They’d argue that really what we should do is hide underground until the dragons just die out on their own.