- That the ever-dominant and only inherent impulse in all living beings, including man, is the will to remain alive — the will, that is, to attain power over those forces which make life difficult or impossible.
- That all schemes of morality are nothing more than efforts to put into permanent codes the expedients found useful by some given race in the course of its successful endeavors to remain alive.
- That, despite the universal tendency to give these codes authority by crediting them to some god, they are essentially man-made and mutable, and so change, or should change, as the conditions of human existence in the world are modified.
- That the human race should endeavor to make its mastery over its environment more and more certain, and that it is its destiny, therefore, to widen more and more the gap which now separates it from the lower races of animals.
- That any code of morality which retains its permanence and authority after the conditions of existence which gave rise to it have changed, works against this upward progress of mankind toward greater and greater efficiency. I
- That all gods and religions, because they have for their main object the protection of moral codes against change, are inimicable to the life and well-being of healthy and efficient men.
- That all the ideas which grow out of such gods and religions — such, for example, as the Christian ideas of humility, of self-sacrifice and of brotherhood — are enemies of life, too.
- That human beings of the ruling, efficient class should reject all gods and religions, and with them the morality at the bottom of them and the ideas which grow out of them, and restore to its ancient kingship that primal instinct which enables every efficient individual to differentiate between the things which are beneficial to him and the things which are harmful.”
“To sum up our political doctrine: Satanism IS Americanism in its purest form, with only the outdated moral codes altered to fit the times, and with recognition of the fact that only if man’s most basic instincts are satisfied can a nation receive his best. When it becomes common knowledge that we do not advocate or even approve of denial or desecration of such sacred American traditions as home, family, patriotism, personal pride, etc., but instead champion these things, our one-time opponents in “The Establishment” will not have a leg to stand on.
Actually, in view of the vast numbers of religious leaders defending and expounding the extreme liberal philosophy of the hippie or drug culture, conservative organizations will (and already do) find Satanism far more compatible with their doctrines than they now think it to be. I feel rather sorry for (but, I must admit, amused, by) the poor old “dyed-in-the-wool” conservative who considers The Flag and God to be inseparable institutions, because the “New Christianity” is composed of the drug-befuddled wretches they find totally reprehensible. It looks as though one is going to be forced to choose between God and The Flag, or else become part of a dying society. I realize most would think me far too optimistic, but I can simply see the change coming.
I think back just five short years ago, when I formally founded the Church. How many theologians were admitting to the irrationality and inconsistencies of their religions? Practically none! And once the stern, unyielding Christian Churches have admitted their errors, they might as well admit to defeat.
It is in young people such as yourself — proud walkers of the Left-Hand Path — whom I place my faith for the future of this, our fair land. America shall, indeed, have a bright future, once she has “weathered the storm” of those two opposing factions who respectively hate and love her, but would see her torn asunder in order to prove their respective points.
Love for one’s country must be shown In much the same way as love for another person. We must be able to see her faults and work towards changing them, without robbing her of all pride and dignity in the process. On the other hand, we must not blindly accept her faults and constantly make excuses for her, for that is not love — it is infatuation!”
-Anton Szandor LaVey, “Letters From The Devil”
The first issue of HL Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s The American Mercury had a German oriented spine.
In the photo above, in the middle, are the first 5 issues… Vol.1 No.1 – Vol. 2 No. 1. The first issue had the text of the spine reading from bottom to top, rather than from top to bottom. Not sure why, but I do know that that’s how the spines of German books are done.
Next to those are 4 issues from the 1950s, including an article from George Lincoln Rockwell.
As is clear from the photograph, the three other items are bound collections of 4 issues that make up a volume.
I can’t remember if I posted this before, I might have, I’m not checking right now and you probably didn’t see it when I did:
From “Clinical Notes”, published in The American Mercury vol. 1 no. 2, Feb. 1924
by HL Mencken and George Jean Nathan
The beautiful day, the day of blue and gold and sunshine, is God’s gift to the plain people; the bad day, the day of gloom and gray and rain, He has reserved for the exclusive pleasure of the aristocracy. The artist, the connoisseur of emotions, the philosopher —these have no use for the fair day: it distracts them, summons them from their introspection and solitude, calls them into the open. On such a day, work and those pleasures dear to men with a taste for the sequestered are impossible: the outdoors beckons too persuasively and too disconcertingly. But when the world is full of wet and fog and the monotony of rain, then the artist, the connoisseur of quiet, the philosopher and all their brothers are happy. It is on such days, while the yokelry is eating dill pickles and cheese sandwiches on the roadsides, or riding in Fords through the Jersey swamps, or chasing small white balls across the grass with a repertoire of clubs, that men of soul and sadness revel in the happiness that only God’s elect can comprehend.
I thought the following comment I made in a thread was quite clever, but that also leads me to think I’ve unknowingly stolen it from someone else. If you know the source, clue me in.
I’ve found much truth in all religious texts as well. Mainly the words “the”, “a”, “and” and “to”. The other words get fuzzy from there.
For me, I’ve never claimed there was no “truth” to any religious system, but that Islam, Christianity, Judaism, et. al. are not the truth they claim. They claim to be divinely inspired. What this means is that you pretty much need to take the bad with the good. You don’t HAVE to, but then you’re not a follower of the religion, you’re a tourist with a camera who picked up something from the gift shop to take home.What “truth” or “goodness” does the Quaran or Bible contain that cannot be found completely independent of it?
Since the book is so readily available online, and I’m reading a hardcopy, I’m going to excerpt interesting passages here. I’m ineterested in parts of his book that contrast what I’ve come to understand as the canonical story of slaves and blacks in the South, or other bits I want to make note of. Page numbers correspond to the Penguin Classic edition.
One may get the idea, from what I have said, that there was bitter feeling toward the white people on the part of my race, because of the fact that most of the white population was away fighting in a war which would result in keeping the Negro in slavery if the South was successful. In the case of the slaves on our place this was not true, and it was not true of any large portion of the slave population in the South where the Negro was treated with anything like decency. – pg. 12
In order to defend and protect the women and children who were left on the plantations when the white males went to war, the slaves would have laid down their lives. The slave who was selected to sleep in the ” big house ” during the absence of the males was considered to have the place of honour. Any one attempting to harm ” young Mistress” or ” old Mistress” during the night would have had to cross the dead body of the slave to do so. I do not know how many have noticed it, but I think that it will be found to be true that there are few instances, either in slavery or freedom, in which a member of my race has been known to betray a specific trust.
As a rule, not only did the members of my race entertain no feelings of bitterness against the whites before and during the war, but there are many instances of Negroes tenderly caring for their former masters and mistresses who for some reason have become poor and dependent since the war. I know of instances where the former masters of slaves have for years been supplied with money by their former slaves to keep them from suffering. J have known of still other cases in which the former slaves have assisted in the education of the descendants of their former owners. – pgs. 13-14
I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery. I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. This is so to such an extent that Negroes in this country, who themselves or whose forefathers went through the school of slavery, are constantly returning to Africa as missionaries to enlighten those who remained in the fatherland. – pg. 16
The following quotes are from my Kindle, and do not have page number associated with them:
This experience of a whole race beginning to go to school for the first time, presents one of the most interesting studies that has ever occurred in connection with the development of any race. Few people who were not right in the midst of the scenes can form any exact idea of the intense desire which the people of my race showed for an education. As I have stated, it was a whole race trying to go to school. Few were too young, and none too old, to make the attempt to learn. As fast as any kind of teachers could be secured, not only were day-schools filled, but night-schools as well. The great ambition of the older people was to try to learn to read the Bible before they died. With this end in view, men and women who were fifty or seventy-five years old would often be found in the night-school. Sunday-schools were formed soon after freedom, but the principal book studied in the Sunday-school was the spelling-book. Day-school, night-school, Sundayschool, were always crowded, and often many had to be turned away for want of room.
I have great faith in the power and influence of facts. It is seldom that anything is permanently gained by holding back a fact.
The influence of ancestry, however, is important in helping forward any individual or race, if too much reliance is not placed upon it. Those who constantly direct attention to the Negro youth’s moral weaknesses, and compare his advancement with that of white youths, do not consider the influence of the memories which cling about the old family homesteads. I have no idea, as I have stated elsewhere, who my grandmother was. I have, or have had, uncles and aunts and cousins, but I have no knowledge as to where most of them are. My case will illustrate that of hundreds of thousands of black people in every part of our country. The very fact that the white boy is conscious that, if he fails in life, he will disgrace the whole family record, extending back through many generations, is of tremendous value in helping him to resist temptations. The fact that the individual has behind and surrounding him proud family history and connection serves as a stimulus to help him to overcome obstacles when striving for success.
From any point of view, I had rather be what I am, a member of the Negro race, than be able to claim membership with the most favoured of any other race. I have always been made sad when I have heard members of any race claiming rights and privileges, or certain badges of distinction, on the ground simply that they were members of this or that race, regardless of their own individual worth or attainments. I have been made to feel sad for such persons because I am conscious of the fact that mere connection with what is known as a superior race will not permanently carry an individual forward unless he has individual worth, and mere connection with what is regarded as an inferior race will not finally hold an individual back if he possesses intrinsic, individual merit. Every persecuted individual and race should get much consolation out of the great human law, which is universal and eternal, that merit, no matter under what skin found, is, in the long run, recognized and rewarded. This I have said here, not to call attention to myself as an individual, but to the race to which I am proud to belong.
The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women. Instead of studying books so constantly, how I wish that our schools and colleges might learn to study men and things!
I have referred to this unpleasant part of the history of the South simply for the purpose of calling attention to the great change that has taken place since the days of the ” Ku Klux.” To-day there are no such organizations in the South, and the fact that such ever existed is almost forgotten by both races. There are few places in the South now where public sentiment would permit such organizations to exist.
Naturally, most of our people who received some little education became teachers or preachers. While among these two classes there were many capable, earnest, godly men and women, still a large proportion took up teaching or preaching as an easy way to make a living. Many became teachers who could do little more than write their names. I remember there came into our neighbourhood one of this class, who was in search of a school to teach, and the question arose while he was there as to the shape of the earth and how he would teach the children concerning this subject. He explained his position in the matter by saying that he was prepared to teach that the earth was either flat or round, according to the preference of a majority of his patrons. The ministry was the profession that suffered most—and still suffers, though there has been great improvement — on account of not only ignorant but in many cases immoral men who claimed that they were ” called to preach.” In the earlier days of freedom almost every coloured man who learned to read would receive ” a call to preach ” within a few days after he began reading. At my home in West Virginia the process of being called to the ministry was a very interesting one. Usually the ” call” came when the individual was sitting in church. Without warning the one called would fall upon the floor as if struck by a bullet, and would lie there for hours, speechless and motionless. Then the news would spread all through the neighbourhood that this individual had received a ” call.” If he were inclined to resist the summons, he would fall or be made to fall a second or third time. In the end he always yielded to the call. While I wanted an education badly, I confess that in my youth I had a fear that when I had learned to read and write well I would receive one of these ” calls ” ; but, for some reason, my call never came.
More and more I am convinced that the final solution of the political end of our race problem will be for each state that finds it necessary to change the law bearing upon the franchise to make the law apply with absolute honesty, and without opportunity for double dealing or evasion, to both races alike. Any other course my daily observation in the South convinces me, will be unjust to the Negro, unjust to the white man, and unfair to the rest of the states in the Union, and will be, like slavery, a sin that at some time we shall have to pay for.
Though I was but little more than a youth during the period of Reconstruction, I had the feeling that mistakes were being made, and that things could not remain in the condition that they were in then very long. I felt that the Reconstruction policy, so far as it related to my race, was in a large measure on a false foundation, was artificial and forced. In many cases it seemed to me that the ignorance of my race was being used as a tool with which to help white men into office, and that there was an element in the North which wanted to punish the Southern white men by forcing the Negro into positions over the heads of the Southern whites. I felt that the Negro would be the one to suffer for this in the end.
I saw coloured men who were members of the state legislatures, and county officers, who, in some cases, could not read or write, and whose morals were as weak as their education. Not long ago, when passing through the streets of a certain city in the South, I heard some brick-masons calling out, from the top of a two-story brick building on which they were working, for the ” Governor ” to ” hurry up and bring up some more bricks.” Several times I heard the command, ” Hurry up, Governor!” “Hurry up, Governor!” My curiosity was aroused to such an extent that I made inquiry as to who the ” Governor” was, and soon found that he was a coloured man who at one time had held the position of Lieutenant-Governor of his state.
Of course the coloured people, so largely without education, and wholly without experience in government, made tremendous mistakes, just as any people similarly situated would have done. Many of the Southern whites have a feeling that, if the Negro is permitted to exercise his political rights now to any degree, the mistakes of the Reconstruction period will repeat themselves.
In the fall of 1878, after having taught school in Malden for two years, and after I had succeeded in preparing several of the young men and women, besides my two brothers, to enter the Hampton Institute, I decided to spend some months in study at Washington, D.C. I remained there for eight months. I derived a great deal of benefit from the studies which I pursued, and I came into contact with some strong men and women. At the institution I attended there was no industrial training given to the students, and I had an opportunity of comparing the influence of an institution with no industrial training with that of one like the Hampton Institute, that emphasized the industries. At this school I found the students, in most cases, had more money, were better dressed, wore the latest style of all manner of clothing, and in some cases were more brilliant mentally. At Hampton it was a standing rule that, while the institution would be responsible for securing some one to pay the tuition for the students, the men and women themselves must provide for their own board, books, clothing, and room wholly by work, or partly by work and partly in cash. At the institution at which I now was, I found that a large proportion of the students by some means had their personal expenses paid for them. At Hampton the student was constantly making the effort through the industries to help himself, and that very effort was of immense value in character-building. The students at the other school seemed to be less self-dependent. They seemed to give more attention to mere outward appearances. In a word, they did not appear to me to be beginning at the bottom, on a real, solid foundation, to the extent that they were at Hampton. They knew more about Latin and Greek when they left school, but they seemed to know less about life and its conditions as they would meet it at their homes. Having lived for a number of years in the midst of comfortable surroundings, they were not as much inclined as the Hampton students to go into the country districts of the South, where there was little of comfort, to take up work for our people, and they were more inclined to yield to the temptation to become hotel waiters and Pullman-car porters as their life-work.
The public schools in Washington for coloured people were better then than they were elsewhere. I took great interest in studying the life of our people there closely at that time. I found that while among them there was a large element of substantial, worthy citizens, there was also a superficiality about the life of a large class that greatly alarmed me. I saw young coloured men who were not earning more than four dollars a week spend two dollars or more for a buggy on Sunday to ride up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in, in order that they might try to convince the world that they were worth thousands. I saw other young men who received seventy-five or one hundred dollars per month from the Government, who were in debt at the end of every month. I saw men who but a few months previous were members of Congress, then, without employment and in poverty. Among a large class there seemed to be a dependence upon the Government for every conceivable thing. The members of this class had little ambition to create a position for themselves, but wanted the Federal officials to create one for them.
I felt that the conditions were a good deal like those of an old coloured man, during the days of slavery, who wanted to learn how to play on the guitar. In his desire to take guitar lessons he applied to one of his young masters to teach him; but the young man, not having much faith in the ability of the slave to master the guitar at his age, sought to discourage him by telling him: ” Uncle Jake, I will give you guitar lessons; but, Jake, I will have to charge you three dollars for the first lesson, two dollars for the second lesson, and one dollar for the third lesson. But I will charge you only twenty-five cents for the last lesson.” Uncle Jake answered: ” All right, boss, I hires you on dem terms. But, boss! I wants yer to be sure an’ give me dat las’ lesson first.”
At the time I went to Alabama the coloured people were taking considerable interest in politics, and they were very anxious that I should become one of them politically, in every respect. They seemed to have a little distrust of strangers in this regard. I recall that one man, who seemed to have been designated by the others to look after my political destiny, came to me on several occasions and said, with a good deal of earnestness: ” We wants you to be sure to vote jes’ like we votes. We can’t read de newspapers very much, but we knows how to vote, an’ we wants you to vote jes’ like we votes.” He added: ” We watches de white man, and we keeps watching de white man till we finds out which way de white man’s gwine to vote; an’ when we finds out which way de white man’s gwine to vote, den we votes ‘xactly de other way. Den we knows we’s right.”
In fact, one of the saddest things I saw during the month of travel which I have described was a young man, who had attended some high school, sitting down in a one-room cabin, with grease on his clothing, filth all around him, and weeds in the yard and garden, engaged in studying a French grammar. The students who came first seemed to be fond of memorizing long and complicated ” rules” in grammar and mathematics, but had little thought or knowledge of applying these rules to the everyday affairs of their life. One subject which they liked to talk about, and tell me that they had mastered, in arithmetic, was ” banking and discount,” but I soon found out that neither they nor almost any one in the neighbourhood in which they lived had ever had a bank account. In registering the names of the students, I found that almost every one of them had one or more middle initials. When I asked what the ” J” stood for, in the name of John J. Jones, it was explained to me that this was a part of his “entitles.” Most of the students wanted to get an education because they thought it would enable them to earn more money as school-teachers.
Miss Davidson and I began consulting as to the future of the school from the first. The students were making progress in learning books and in developing their minds; but it became apparent at once that, if we were to make any permanent impression upon those who had come to us for training, we must do something besides teach them mere books. The students had come from homes where they had had no opportunities for lessons which would teach them how to care for their bodies. With few exceptions, the homes in Tuskegee in which the students boarded were but little improvement upon those from which they had come. We wanted to teach the students how to bathe; how to care for their teeth and clothing. We wanted to teach them what to eat, and how to eat it properly, and how to care for their rooms. Aside from this, we wanted to give them such a practical knowledge of some one industry, together with the spirit of industry, thrift, and economy, that they would be sure of knowing how to make a living after they had left us. We wanted to teach them to study actual things instead of mere books alone.
The more we talked with the students, who were then coming to us from several parts of the state, the more we found that the chief ambition among a large proportion of them was to get an education so that they would not have to work any longer with their hands. This is illustrated by a story told of a coloured man in Alabama, who, one hot day in July, while he was at work in a cotton-field, suddenly stopped, and, looking toward the skies, said: ” O Lawd, de cotton am so grassy, de work am so hard, and the sun am so hot dat I b’lieve dis darky am called to preach!”
During this first Christmas vacation I went some distance from the town to visit the people on one of the large plantations. In their poverty and ignorance it was pathetic to see their attempts to get joy out of the season that in most parts of the country is so sacred and so dear to the heart. In one cabin I noticed that all that the five children had to remind them of the coming of Christ was a single bunch of firecrackers, which they had divided among them. In another cabin, where there were at least a half-dozen persons, they had only ten cents’ worth of ginger-cakes, which had been bought in the store the day before. In another family they had only a few pieces of sugarcane. In still another cabin I found nothing but a new jug of cheap, mean whiskey, which the husband and wife were making free use of, notwithstanding the fact that the husband was one of the local ministers. In a few instances I found that the people had gotten hold of some bright-coloured cards that had been designed for advertising purposes, and were making the most of those. In other homes some member of the family had bought a new pistol. In the majority of cases there was nothing to be seen in the cabin to remind one of the coming of the Saviour, except that the people had ceased work in the fields and were lounging about their homes. At night, during Christmas week, they usually had what they called a ” frolic,” in some cabin on the plantation. This meant a kind of rough dance, where there was likely to be a good deal of whiskey used, and where there might be some shooting or cutting with razors.
While I was making this Christmas visit I met an old coloured man who was one of the numerous local preachers, who tried to convince me, from the experience Adam had in the Garden of Eden, that God had cursed all labour, and that, therefore, it was a sin for any man to work. For that reason this man sought to do as little work as possible. He seemed at that time to be supremely happy, because he was living, as he expressed it, through one week that was free from sin.
Perhaps I might add right here, what I hope to demonstrate later, that, so far as I know, the Tuskegee school at the present time has no warmer and more enthusiastic friends anywhere than it has among the white citizens of Tuskegee and throughout the state of Alabama and the entire South.
Not a few times, when a new student has been led into the temptation of marring the looks of some building by leadpencil marks or by the cuts of a jack-knife, I have heard an old student remind him: ” Don’t do that. That is our building. I helped put it up.”
My experience is that there is something in human nature which always makes an individual recognize and reward merit, no matter under what colour of skin merit is found. I have found, too, that it is the visible, the tangible, that goes a long ways in softening prejudices. The actual sight of a first-class house that a Negro has built is ten times more potent than pages of discussion about a house that he ought to build, or perhaps could build.
I picked up Booker T. Washington’s “Up From Slavery” today at the used bookstore. I purchased it primarily because of one section I read while skimming it. There are two parts of interest in this one section. The following single line:
I am glad to add, however, that at the present time the disposition to vote against the white man merely because he is white is largely disappearing, and the race is learning to vote from principle, for what the voter considers to be for the best interests of both races.
If indeed this was the case, it’s possible that things have reverted tremendously.
And this next section:
I ate and slept with the people, in their little cabins. I saw their farms, their schools, their churches… In the plantation districts I found that, as a rule the whole family slept in one room…
…At times I have eaten in cabins where they had only corn bread and ” black-eye peas” cooked in plain water. …notwithstanding the fact that the land all about the cabin homes could easily have been made to produce nearly every kind of garden vegetable that is raised anywhere in the country. Their one object seemed to be to plant nothing but cotton, amd in many cases cotton was planted up to the very door of the cabin.
In these cabin homes I often found sewing-machines which had been bought, or were being bought, on installments, frequently at a cost of as much as sixty dollars, or showy clocks for which the occupants of the cabins had paid twelve or fourteen dollars. I remember that on one occasion when I went into one of these cabins for dinner, when I sat down to the table for a meal with the four members of the family, I noticed that, while there were five of us at the table, there was but one fork for the five of us to use. Naturally there was an awkward pause on my part. In the opposite corner of that same cabin was an organ for which the people told me they were paying sixty dollars in monthly instalments. One fork, and a sixty-dollar organ!
In most cases the sewing-machine was not used, the clocks were so worthless that they did not keep correct time — and if they had, in nine cases out of ten there would have been no one in the family who could have told the time of day — while the organ, of course, was rarely used for want of a person who could play upon it.
The above was taken from Google Books OCRing, so though I cleaned up a few eggregious errors, there may be some more. I also truncated it so that the important information was conveyed while still retaining essential context, and I added the bold for emphasis.
It gripped me because just recently I was listening to a discussion of “The Theory of the Leisure Class” and an attack upon the “conspicuous consumption” of the upper classes to flaunt their wealth. I’ve heard it fairly recently used to describe the buying habits of poor urban blacks, with their seeming predilection for high-end looking “bling”, “rims” and “kicks”.
The following story was transcribed and introduction was written for a ‘zine a few years ago and was never published. I offer it here now because I just rediscovered it on my computer.
Jim Tully is one of my literary heroes, and I don’t have many. Tully was a defacto Satanist, of this I have no question. He lived his life as he saw fit.
Credited with originating the hard-boiled writing style practiced later by such authors as Dashiell Hammett. His own story is on par with such figures as Jim Thompson and Jack London, writing not from fantasies, but from his own hard won experiences.
This red-headed Irish bruiser became one of the most respected writers during the roaring twenties, a time filled with more historical greats than probably ever before or since.
A literary bum, Jim also spent time doing an assortment of jobs to get him from one day to the next. By the time his first book was published in 1922, he’d been a dishwasher, chainmaker, boxer, newspaper reporter, tree surgeon, circus handyman, and Hollywood press agent. Through these jobs he compiled a few lifetimes of experiences and characters to write about.
Just like the most of the once great figures of history, Tully has been all but forgotten. His works slowly went out of print and his name brought up less and less. Just like the legacy of Al Jolson, who was in his time considered to be the greatest entertainer the world had known, is resigned to the intrepid hands of those who search the dustbins of our uniquely American past.
As Satanists, we search these dustbins. Most of the dust it churns up is lung-choking garbage, but once in a while an amazing thing will be found.
“Thieves and Vagabonds” was originally published in H.L. Mencken’s monthly magazine The American Mercury in 1928. This work is being published for the first time in 80 years.
Since we’re talking about Mencken, I’ll quote him now. It’s one I’ve sort of adopted as my own long-form motto:
“I hope I need not confess that a large part of my stock in trade consists of platitudes rescued from the cobwebbed shelves of yesterday… This borrowing and refurbishing of shop-worn goods, as a matter of fact, is the invariable habit of traders in ideas, at all times and everywhere. It is not, however, that all the conceivable human notions have been thought out; it is simply, to be quite honest, that the sort of men who volunteer to think out new ones seldom, if ever, have wind enough for a full day’s work.”
-H.L. Menken, from “In Defense of Women”
Kevin I. Slaughter
THIEVES AND VAGABONDS
NO BIRD flew through the air. No bare branch stirred. The turbulent water of Lake Huron was icily supine in the midst of the frozen desolation. The little town in the Thunder Bay river section was buried deep in snow. For days the weather had remained the same.
The cold cut to the marrow of sparsely clad bones, like frost-bitten razor blades. The deep drifted snow glinted chameleonlike under the spasmodically shining sun. It, too, seemed a frozen candle in the sky.
All day the wind had whirled the snow in every direction. It abated by night, and the snow ceased falling. A deadly calm, and a deadlier cold settled over the earth. It was twenty degrees below zero.
Every living thing had hunted shelter for the night. The stars glistened above, as if piercing through the atmosphere with swords of burning steel. The moon was a mist of frozen white and yellow.
To keep beggars from freezing the calaboose was left open. A pine structure for the lesser offenders, it stood on a side street―alone.
A group of vagabonds huddled around a jumbo stove in a wretchedly furnished room that faced a row of cells. The window of the room was stuffed with rags; there were but three unbroken panes of glass left. The door was cracked and frostbitten. The unbroken panes were covered with a heavy frost. A large lamp, fastened with a bracket, was above the door.
The echo of a locomotive whistle was heard, like the faraway sound of vibrant music. The vagabonds listened, and a flare of interest passed over their life-beaten and weather-lashed faces. But no word was said as they turned their eyes to the round stove again, like tired dogs dozing. The engine whistled once lore and all eyes became alert.
“That old boy’s a ramblin’ to git out o’ the cold,” said a derelict with a weazened face. “He thinks !it’ll be warmer ‘n Detroit.”
“Yeap,” said a one-legged man, “it’s a hell of a night for yeggs and hoboes. I wouldn’t even want a railroad bull out on a night like this. We’re gittin’ punished for our sins.”
“It’ll be hotter ‘n this when you git punished fur your sins, One Leg,” grunted a heavy man with a red kerchief around his neck.
“Maybe so, maybe so,” drawled One Leg. “I been punished enough in my time for all I ever done.”
The heavy man, a crumbling mountain of muscle, smiled a crooked smile, rubbed his week-old beard with a knucklecracked hand, and said, “What da hell, what da hell―gittin’ soft, One Leg? You’d steal pennies from dead men’s eyes.”
“You bet your life I would, Husky. Dead men don’t need no pennies, and they don’t need their eyes shut-they can’t see nothin’.”
The group laughed without mirth.
“I hope no hobo’s on that rattler just pullin’ in. He’d freeze―sure’s Gawd is just,” said the derelict with the weazened face.
“Don’t worry your potato soul, Weazle,” advised the man called One Leg. “They ain’t no smart ‘boes ridin’ freights tonight. And them that ain’t smart―well, the deader the better. Too many dumb ones on the road already.”
The decrepit of the earth lapsed into silence. The husky vagabond arose and reached into the bottom of the wood-box. He pulled out a chunk of wood. “Don’t know what we’ll do when the wood’s gone,” he sneered. “Burn the shack down, I guess.”
“I’d just as soon,” responded One Leg. “These jails are gettin’ rottener every year. A self-respectin’ tramp can’t stop in them no more. It used to be when I first went on the road they was decent jails. You’d git good eats and java. Now all you git is hell from the jailers and corn bread and chicory.”
He was interrupted by the man with the weazened face. “Well, if you don’t like the jails you kin quit trampin’.” Then, scornfully, “Quit your crabbin’! You’re lucky they let the jails open.”
The large man moved his shoulder and neck muscles nervously, completely oblivious of the conversation.
“What’s the matter, Husky, old snowbird, do you want a shot?” asked a vagabond, looking at him.
“Naw, I don’t want a shot. Gosh! Can’t a man sit quiet without you mosquitoes buzzin’ at him? I was jist thinkin’ o’ the days I was a man―and a damn good one at that.”
“What you was don’t buy any ham an’ eggs,” laughed One Leg. “People go to Hell ’cause they was what they was. No one gives a cockeyed nigger for what you was. What you was is all over―has-beens ain’t useful to society nohow.”
“That may be, One Leg, but a hasbeen’s better ‘n a never-was, any day. What you were shows what you was-and I was one of the two best men of his weight in the world. Think o’ that, you bums and would-be yeggs! The world’s damn big―and they wasn’t any man in it―millions and millions o’ them―that could lick me. Huh,” he looked about with scorn, “that’ll make your eyes pop out like eggs―huh―the world’s damn big.” He raised an immense hand. “Lookit that mitt―and this mug”―putting his hand to his jaw. “It’s stopped wallops from all o’ them―an’ the best any o’ them ever got was an even break wit’ me―and only one o’ them ever done that.
“I used to go ’round ’em like hoops on a barrel and they called me the Ghost Wit’ the Kick of a Mule. I put the fear o’ Gawd in their hearts, I did. I played on their ribs till they cracked. Didden I put the Chicago Slasher out wit’ a rabbit punch―and he croaks before mornin’? I’ll say I been a man in my time!”
The derelicts looked at Husky in a disinterested manner. He rose and went on.
“When Regan was champeen, who fought him a twenty-round draw? Me! An’ the gong saves him in the last round. I was gittin’ better ‘n the twentieth. I kin hear the crowd hollerin’ yet. No one ever stood up in front o’ him twenty rounds before, neither. In the third round he sez to me, he sez―’Say your prayers, Husky, you’re a goin’ to Heaven to-night,’ and I grunts back at him, ‘Not ’til I gives you hell first,’ I sez. And then we went at it. Lord almighty, what a battle! In the ‘leventh round I drops him for a count of eight. Eight, do you hear that? I jest come within two counts o’ bein’ the champeen o’ the world, I did. But the Kid he gets up and shakes in his knees and then comes at me with his right sailing plumb fer my jaw, an’ quicker ‘n lightnin’ I squared ‘roun ‘n’ hooked my left―an’ doubles him up like a rusty knife.”
“It was a night like this an’ colder ‘n Hell wit’ the door open. They was forty thousand people there an’ I come near bein’ champeen. You git that―you bread-beggars―you crums―you meat-snatchers―you unbathed bastards! ―an’ don’t make fun o’ your betters! I’m still man enough to clap your heads together.” He slapped his immense broken-knuckled and finger-twisted hands together and went on: “Don’t you never call me Snowbird agin, One Leg, or I’ll make you pick your teeth with that crutch o’ yourn. I’ll make you dig your grave with it if you say I’m a hophead out loud.”
One Leg looked about the room, then turned with a bored expression away from Husky. The other vagabonds did the same.
The ex-bruiser, baffled by their unconcern, trembled with the memory of past glory. The crumbling muscled hero of a little hour that had passed, he looked about forlornly.
His hands dropped from their clenched position; his taut muscles relaxed. He jerked the soiled red kerchief from around his neck and wiped his rheumy eyes. He then seated himself by the stove. A strained silence followed.
One Leg broke it with, “Well, ‘boes, any of you want to see my new invention?”
“Sure―what did you invent?” asked Weazle.
“A dog-fooler,” answered One Leg, pulling up the trouser of his remaining leg and showing the calf of it wrapped about with heavy brown paper. “There ain’t a dog in this country can bite through that,” he said proudly.
Husky felt the paper and exclaimed, “Gosh, it’s only paper!”
“Sure! What did you think it was―cement?” One Leg snarled.
“Well, a fellow needs somethin’ like that―there’s a lot of dogs in Michigan,” commented a vagabond.
“Well, I ain’t very fast on this one leg,” resumed the inventor, “so I had to rig up somethin’ to protect it.”
“I’ll bet a Newfoundlan’ kin bite through that,” said a vagabond who had not spoken before. “I seen ’em up in Maine bigger ‘n cows.”
“How about a bull-dog?” asked another.
“Oh, they can’t bite very hard,” answered One Leg. “Their jaws don’t open very far―it takes a big mouth for a hard bite.”
“A collie’s mean, though,” ventured Husky. “They’d bite their uncle if he wasn’t lookin’.”
“Them little terriers are pizen to me,” said a nondescript. “They don’t bite so hard, but they raise old Ned till they git all the darn dogs in the neighborhood after a guy. ”
Husky looked bored. “Let’s forgit about dogs,” he said. “Doc don’t care about dogs, do you, Doc?”
The vagabond addressed might have been any age. from fifty to eighty. His shoulders were round, his hands delicate, slender and bloodless. His face was pinched pink and blue. His hair straggled silver into his bleared and insane eyes.
His pockets were ripped on his buttonless coat, the collar of which hid his thin neck. There remained still a touch of authority in his incisive manner, as if he belonged not in such crass surroundings. With precise enunciation he turned to his mountainous questioner.
“My name is Dr. John Abercombie, if you please, sir, and I may say that I am not at all interested in dogs-only the human brain.” He raised his right hand in the manner of a professor before a class. “It is, gentlemen, the most marvelous gift of God. I speak of man’s brain―not woman’s.”
Laughter interrupted him. He frowned at his audience.
“And I often said to her, ‘But, dear, remember our position―and your own good name―even if you do not love me―you cannot afford a scandal. You surely would not trade a brain specialist for an Italian teacher of the dance! Ah, dear wife, do you not recall the words of the woman-weary Shakespeare, “Frailty, thy name is woman?” Madness lies in getting what we want―one should be careful of the brain. The convolutions of the cerebrum are many―this man belongs in the medulla oblongata position. He has touched the pia mater which connects the nerves of your body―it is that most delicate portion of the brain.’”
Weazle rubbed his yellow eyebrows in a bored manner.
“Well, one thing’s a cinch―none of us has any brains―that’s why we’re here.” He looked at Doc. “Believe me, herdin’ sheep in Idaho beats this life. The sheep may be dumb, but they hain’t any dumber than us.”
“Chortle for yourself, Weazle,” snapped One Leg.
“Well, I’ll sing, then,” returned Weazle beginning in a cracked tenor voice:
Oh, all you young Dukes and you Duchess,
Just listen to what I do say,
Because it ain’t ourn that we touches,
You send us to Botany Bay.
Because it ain’t ourn that we touches,
You send us to Botany Bay.
Oh, had I the wings of a buzzard,
I’d spread out my pinions and fly
‘Way back to Old England forever,
And there I’d be willin’ to die!
“Gentlemen,” said Doc slowly, “most anyone would be willing to die in England.”
Weazle flared into a cockney accent:
“England’s a white man’s country―and the women are all beautiful―not like in this hick country.”
Doc rubbed his thin, bloodless hands, and gazed at Weazle with the round eyes of the insane.
“Slandering womanhood ill becomes a gentleman, young man. Perhaps you have never known a real American woman.”
“No―but that wop did.”
Doc was frozen dignity.
“I shall not discuss such matters with children.”
His head sank. He looked a fragment for the pity of his fellows.
All were oblivious except Husky. He rose from his seat and put a heavy hand on Doc’s shoulder. “Don’t take it so hard, old boy. You were up an’ now you’re down. I know what you mean-these yaps don’t. They’re just a lotta hogs an’ they hain’t never seen but one pen in their life. We been in real ones, ain’t we, Doc?”
He patted the remnant of science. Doc did not stir.
“No use talkin’ to these yaps about brains, Doc. They don’t know what you mean.”
The door opened.
A rugged fellow of about thirty-three entered. He held his hands funnel-like to his mouth and blew hot breath upon them.
He wore a dark suit that had been well tailored. Full of the grease-stains of the road and pricked in several places by the sharp pieces of coke upon which he had lain, it nevertheless fit him well and accentuated the lines of his powerful body. He was about six feet tall. His hair curled around the edges of his cap. His face was intelligent, well cut; his eyes a vivid blue. When he removed his hands he showed a sardonic sneer. He tried to smile. The sneer remained.
All in the group save Husky were deferential to the new arrival. They acted as though a man had appeared among them. He walked toward the stove.
“God Almighty, what a night! Is this all the wood you’ve got?” He blew on his hands again. Then as if irritated at the scarcity of wood, “What a hell of a bunch of vagabonds and thieves you are! You’d all sit here and freeze before you’d rustle some wood.”
He pushed One Leg from his chair, tore it apart, and put it in the stove.
He pulled a quart of whisky from a sagging coat pocket.
A constable’s voice was heard.
“Come on, here! It’s a wonder you ain’t froze! You oughta be in school instead of galavantin’ around the country.”
He stood in the door with a youth of fine features.
All the vagabonds looked up except Doc. He still stared at the rotting floor. The youth walked to the stove.
“They’re comin’ younger an’ younger. Soon babies’ll be on the road,” laughed a vagabond.
“Yes―lovely babies,” remarked Doc, looking at the youth. The sound of the constable’s footsteps could be heard, dying.
Tacked to the wall was part of a map of America. The ruffian in the tailored suit walked toward it.
“It’s not all here. The Gulf of Mexico and the Southern States are missing.”
“Well, you don’t count ’em anyhow,” laughed One Leg.
The man traced a route with his finger.
“We’re a hell of a ways from nowhere…and along ways to go.”
He walked away and stood with his back to the stove. His eyes scanned the array of derelicts.
“Where you from, Bozo?” He turned to the youth.
“Over yonder,” returned the lad, circling the room with his hand.
“We’re all from over yonder,” put in Doc.
The wind rose in a terrifying crescendo. The kerosene lamp flickered. A shadow passed over the room.
The wind died down, then rose again, louder than before. Doors and window rattled violently.
“It’ll blow the cells outta the building if it keeps this up,” laughed Weazle.
“Or the wool off a sheep’s tail, eh, Weaz?” suggested One Leg.
Doc spoke in a cracked, appealing voice to the youth who had taken his fancy.
“So you’re from over yonder?” He broke into a half song:
Over yonder―when the roll is called
Over yonder―I’ll be there!
The ruffian in the worn tailored suit took up the words in a rich vibrant voice:
On that bright and glorious morning
When old time shall be no more…
When the roll is called over yonder
I’ll be there!
He beat time with feet and hands. The youth and Weazle took up the song.
They stopped suddenly. The wind pounded at the door. The ruffian in the tailored suit took another drink.
“Gimme a swig o’ that, for God’s sake!” pleaded Husky. “I’m needin’ a drink for a week. I’m goin’ nuts in here―two whole days of it.”
“Who ran your saloon last year? I’m not feedin’ good liquor to hoboes. You get a couple of swigs of this an’ it’d blow your empty can off. It’s not regular liquor, you know. It’s nitro-glycerine. I use it for soup―it opens anything.” He looked at Husky, trembling on his pine box scat.
“Lord, have a little pity, ‘bo! I’d give everybody a drink if I had it. I’d give the sun away an’ sit in the shade… That’s why I’m here.”
The man’s sneer vanished for a second. “I’ll give you a swig-just to watch it work.” He handed him the bottle. “Bathe your troubles on Nitro Dugan.”
The vagabonds became alert at mention of the name.
Husky clamped his immense jaws about the neck of the bottle.
“Here―what the hell! I’m giving you a drink―not the whole bottle!”
Nitro Dugan wrestled with Husky, who held the gurgling fluid upward.
Impatient, he stepped backward and slammed a heavy fist against Husky’s jaw. The bottle broke and fell to the floor.
Husky stood, legs apart, the neck of the bottle in his mouth.
“Give a bum a horse and he’ll want a stable,” snapped Nitro, looking at the spilled liquor. The bottle neck rattled to the floor.
Husky’s mountain of muscle trembled as though lava poured through it. He frowned at his benefactor with menace and seated himself on the pine box. Nitro sneered at him, “Now would you like some ham and eggs?” His voice rose. “What do you think I am―a traveling bartender?” Pointing to the floor, “Look what you did-you’d muss up Heaven if they let you in.”
Husky’s heavy voice boomed. “Gwan away from me-afore I tap you on the button!”
“Don’t talk to me that way, ‘bo. I’ll put a hole through you so big you can bury yourself in it,” sneered Nitro Dugan.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen―remember where you are,” pleaded Doc. “It ill behooves men to forget themselves over such trifling matters.”
“Shut up!” snarled Husky, pushing the emaciated vagabond backward.
He stood before Nitro with fearful menace. “Go ahead and try to put your hole through me, ‘bo. They hain’t a bullet made that kin go through my hide.”
Nitro stood with his defiant sneer, his right hand buried in his coat pocket.
All eyes opened startled wide.
“Don’t, for God’s sake! Don’t you see he’s just a wreck? And now you’ve drove him mad with hooch,” the youth pleaded.
“The hell I’m a wreck! I’m Battlin’ Hagen, you whippersnapper! No longlegged sap kin talk about drillin’ holes through me an’ git away wit’ it.”
All drew in closer. The youth held Nitro’s right hand. Nitro commanded, “Hands up, you bum, or I’ll throw a bullet through you!”
Husky dashed toward Nitro. A bullet missed him. He twisted the snub blue revolver from Nitro’s hand. The youth picked it up.
Nitro made a move for the gun, but Husky was upon him.
“Now we’ll take it―man to man―you yellow dog!” Nitro, with the same defiant sneer, twisted a left fist upward. It connected under Husky’s chin. The blood spurted from his teeth.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” pleaded Doc. A wild blow caught him. His jaw went to one side. His eyes popped. He fell unnoticed.
One Leg decided against Husky and thumped him with his crutch. The blows rattled from his head.
Then, as if irritated, Husky pulled his right shoulder back in the midst of the general melee. His fist caught One Leg on the right ear. It shot him perpendicular for at least six feet. He then fell like a telegraph pole, chopped low.
Husky did not look at him.
Now roused, he rushed in relentlessly, using every trick long years in the ring had taught him.
Nitro parried, feinted, and stalled for time. His blows rattled on Husky’s jaws like pebbles on an iron roof.
Hurtling bodies drowned the noise of the roaring wind. Nitro’s coat was torn from his shoulders. Crushed against the door, he began to push his knees upward in an effort to cripple Husky. The ex-bruiser, equal to the occasion, used the same tactics.
“Stop it! Stop it! I’ll shoot,” the youth cried.
The gun was leveled at the bloody assailants. As if eager for a breathing spell, they stopped hostilities and looked at the youth.
Doc sat erect, rubbing his jaw. He rose shakily and stood, a ghoulish spectator, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth.
One Leg still slept, like a crippled soldier, with the crutch across his breast.
The blue gun was held firmly. The monsters of men looked down its barrel.
The lamp above the youth accentuated his fine cut features. A strand of blondishbrown hair fell from under his cap. The vagabonds faced him in a half-circle as he leaned against the door.
“You wouldn’t shoot, would you, kid? Why do you care if we kill each other?” coaxed Nitro.
“I don’t―but if you do, they’ll blame it on us―and throw the key away.”
“Ho ho―that’s it―lookin’ out for yourself!” Nitro again sneered, stepping closer.
“Sure―ain’t I human? But stand where you are!”
The revolver was shoved forward.
“Now quit your fightin’―both of you. You’ll get us all thrown out in the cold. If you want a fight, beat it on out of here. Then you kin freeze and go to Heaven like little babies swattin’ flies.”
Husky sprang forward. He grabbed the gun with one hand; and with the other he ripped the youth’s clothing to his waist. The lad’s cap came off in the scuffle.
The half-circle of vagabonds gasped in unison.
“God Almighty! It’s a girl!”
The words awoke One Leg. He clattered to his one foot.
Centuries fell from every face save Doc’s. Impassive as stone, he saw not a girl, but a fellow vagabond.
The girl, with hair falling over her slender shoulders, now stood with the expression of a trapped animal; arms folded across her breast. The half-circle began to close in.
“You dirty devils! Now you want to paw me! You’re all alike―every one of you―even the damned preacher in the Reform School!”
Her words made them hesitate. Her left hand searched for the door knob. An awful stillness followed. The wind could be heard trumpeting outside.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” pleaded Doc.
“Shut up, you nutty yap!” from Nitro Dugan.
Husky, his mind on weightier matters, held the revolver loosely in his hand. He touched the girl’s arm. She shrank.
Nitro Dugan moved closer, and delivered a powerful blow to Husky’s Jaw. He grappled for the gun.
It turned downward and exploded. A moan followed.
The girl looked upward for a second. Her left hand searched for the door-knob again. Her right crashed the lamp to the floor. A blue flame spread over the kerosene in Husky’s direction.
Dodging low, she was gone. The door slammed shut.
Husky awaited the fast creeping flames. Nitro Dugan jerked the door open with,
“Well, it’s our move―damn the luck!” Doc remained.
The other vagabonds scurried after Nitro Dugan.
“Wait a moment, gentlemen,” Doc called. “Perhaps he isn’t dead.” No hobo heard.
An obscure paragraph in a Detroit paper announced next day that the jail at______ had burned to the ground.
Two unknown tramps, seeking shelter for the night, had been found dead among the ruins.
From DAMN! A Book of Calumny
THE ROAD TO DOUBT
The first effect of what used to be called natural philosophy is to fill its devotee with wonder at the marvels of God. This explains why the pursuit of science, so long as it remains superficial, is not incompatible with the most naif sort of religious faith. But the moment the student of the sciences passes this stage of childlike amazement and begins to investigate the inner workings of natural phenomena, he begins to see how ineptly many of them are managed, and so he tends to pass from awe of the Creator to criticism of the Creator, and once he has crossed that bridge he has ceased to be a believer. One finds plenty of neighborhood physicians, amateur botanists, high-school physics teachers and other such quasi-scientists in the pews on Sunday, but one never sees a Huxley there, or a Darwin, or an Ehrlich.
A NEW USE FOR CHURCHES
The argument by design, it may be granted, establishes a reasonable ground for accepting the existence of God. It makes belief, at all events, quite as intelligible as unbelief. But when the theologians take their step from the existence of God to the goodness of God they tread upon much less firm earth. How can one see any proof of that goodness in the senseless and intolerable sufferings of man—his helplessness, the brief and troubled span of his life, the inexplicable disproportion between his deserts and his rewards, the tragedy of his soaring aspiration, the worse tragedy of his dumb questioning? Granting the existence of God, a house dedicated to Him naturally follows. He is all-important; it is fit that man should take some notice of Him. But why praise and flatter Him for His unspeakable cruelties? Why forget so supinely His failures to remedy the easily remediable? Why, indeed, devote the churches exclusively to worship? Why not give them over, now and then, to justifiable indignation meetings?
Perhaps men will incline to this idea later on. It is not inconceivable, indeed, that religion will one day cease to be a poltroonish acquiescence and become a vigorous and insistent criticism. If God can hear a petition, what ground is there for holding that He would not hear a complaint? It might, indeed, please Him to find His creatures grown so self-reliant and reflective. More, it might even help Him to get through His infinitely complex and difficult work. Theology has already moved toward such notions. It has abandoned the primitive doctrine of God’s arbitrariness and indifference, and substituted the doctrine that He is willing, and even eager, to hear the desires of His creatures—i. e., their private notions, born of experience, as to what would be best for them. Why assume that those notions would be any the less worth hearing and heeding if they were cast in the form of criticism, and even of denunciation? Why hold that the God who can understand and forgive even treason could not understand and forgive remonstrance?
THE ROOT OF RELIGION
The idea of literal truth crept into religion relatively late: it is the invention of lawyers, priests and cheese-mongers. The idea of mystery long preceded it, and at the heart of that idea of mystery was an idea of beauty—that is, an idea that this or that view of the celestial and infernal process presented a satisfying picture of form, rhythm and organization. Once this view was adopted as satisfying, its professional interpreters and their dupes sought to reinforce it by declaring it true. The same flow of reasoning is familiar on lower planes. The average man does not get pleasure out of an idea because he thinks it is true; he thinks it is true because he gets pleasure out of it.
Free will, it appears, is still a Christian dogma. Without it the cruelties of God would strain faith to the breaking-point. But outside the fold it is gradually falling into decay. Such men of science as George W. Crile and Jacques Loeb have dealt it staggering blows, and among laymen of inquiring mind it seems to be giving way to an apologetic sort of determinism—a determinism, one may say, tempered by defective observation. The late Mark Twain, in his secret heart, was such a determinist. In his “What Is Man?” you will find him at his farewells to libertarianism. The vast majority of our acts, he argues, are determined, but there remains a residuum of free choices. Here we stand free of compulsion and face a pair or more of alternatives, and are free to go this way or that.
A pillow for free will to fall upon—but one loaded with disconcerting brickbats. Where the occupants of this last trench of libertarianism err is in their assumption that the pulls of their antagonistic impulses are exactly equal—that the individual is absolutely free to choose which one he will yield to. Such freedom, in practise, is never encountered. When an individual confronts alternatives, it is not alone his volition that chooses between them, but also his environment, his inherited prejudices, his race, his color, his condition of servitude. I may kiss a girl or I may not kiss her, but surely it would be absurd to say that I am, in any true sense, a free agent in the matter. The world has even put my helplessness into a proverb. It says that my decision and act depend upon the time, the place—and even to some extent, upon the girl.
Examples might be multiplied ad infinitum. I can scarcely remember performing a wholly voluntary act. My whole life, as I look back upon it, seems to be a long series of inexplicable accidents, not only quite unavoidable, but even quite unintelligible. Its history is the history of the reactions of my personality to my environment, of my behavior before external stimuli. I have been no more responsible for that personality than I have been for that environment. To say that I can change the former by a voluntary effort is as ridiculous as to say that I can modify the curvature of the lenses of my eyes. I know, because I have often tried to change it, and always failed. Nevertheless, it has changed. I am not the same man I was in the last century. But the gratifying improvements so plainly visible are surely not to be credited to me. All of them came from without—or from unplumbable and uncontrollable depths within.
The more the matter is examined the more the residuum of free will shrinks and shrinks, until in the end it is almost impossible to find it. A great many men, of course, looking at themselves, see it as something very large; they slap their chests and call themselves free agents, and demand that God reward them for their virtue. But these fellows are simply idiotic egoists, devoid of a critical sense. They mistake the acts of God for their own acts. Of such sort are the coxcombs who boast about wooing and winning their wives. They are brothers to the fox who boasted that he had made the hounds run….
The throwing overboard of free will is commonly denounced on the ground that it subverts morality and makes of religion a mocking. Such pious objections, of course, are foreign to logic, but nevertheless it may be well to give a glance to this one. It is based upon the fallacious hypothesis that the determinist escapes, or hopes to escape, the consequences of his acts. Nothing could be more untrue. Consequences follow acts just as relentlessly if the latter be involuntary as if they be voluntary. If I rob a bank of my free choice or in response to some unfathomable inner necessity, it is all one; I will go to the same jail. Conscripts in war are killed just as often as volunteers. Men who are tracked down and shanghaied by their wives have just as hard a time of it as men who walk fatuously into the trap by formally proposing.
Even on the ghostly side, determinism does not do much damage to theology. It is no harder to believe that a man will be damned for his involuntary acts than it is to believe that he will be damned for his voluntary acts, for even the supposition that he is wholly free does not dispose of the massive fact that God made him as he is, and that God could have made him a saint if He had so desired. To deny this is to flout omnipotence—a crime at which, as I have often said, I balk. But here I begin to fear that I wade too far into the hot waters of the sacred sciences, and that I had better retire before I lose my hide. This prudent retirement is purely deterministic. I do not ascribe it to my own sagacity; I ascribe it wholly to that singular kindness which fate always shows me. If I were free I’d probably keep on, and then regret it afterward.
QUID EST VERITAS?
All great religions, in order to escape absurdity, have to admit a dilution of agnosticism. It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely. “For who hath known the mind of the Lord?” asked Paul of the Romans. “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” “It is the glory of God,” said Solomon, “to conceal a thing.” “Clouds and darkness,” said David, “are around him.” “No man,” said the Preacher, “can find out the work of God.” … The difference between religions is a difference in their relative content of agnosticism. The most satisfying and ecstatic faith is almost purely agnostic. It trusts absolutely without professing to know at all.
THE DOUBTER’S REWARD
Despite the common delusion to the contrary the philosophy of doubt is far more comforting than that of hope. The doubter escapes the worst penalty of the man of hope; he is never disappointed, and hence never indignant. The inexplicable and irremediable may interest him, but they do not enrage him, or, I may add, fool him. This immunity is worth all the dubious assurances ever foisted upon man. It is pragmatically impregnable…. Moreover, it makes for tolerance and sympathy. The doubter does not hate his opponents; he sympathizes with them. In the end, he may even come to sympathize with God…. The old idea of fatherhood here submerges in a new idea of brotherhood. God, too, is beset by limitations, difficulties, broken hopes. Is it disconcerting to think of Him thus? Well, is it any the less disconcerting to think of Him as able to ease and answer, and yet failing?…
BEFORE THE ALTAR
A salient objection to the prevailing religious ceremonial lies in the attitudes of abasement that it enforces upon the faithful. A man would be thought a slimy and knavish fellow if he approached any human judge or potentate in the manner provided for approaching the Lord God. It is an etiquette that involves loss of self-respect, and hence it cannot be pleasing to its object, for one cannot think of the Lord God as sacrificing decent feelings to mere vanity. This notion of abasement, like most of the other ideas that are general in the world, is obviously the invention of small and ignoble men. It is the pollution of theology by the sklavmoral.
Ritual is to religion what the music of an opera is to the libretto: ostensibly a means of interpretation, but actually a means of concealment. The Presbyterians made the mistake of keeping the doctrine of infant damnation in plain words. As enlightenment grew in the world, intelligence and prudery revolted against it, and so it had to be abandoned. Had it been set to music it would have survived—uncomprehended, unsuspected and unchallenged.
PIA VENEZIANI, POI CRISTIANI
I have spoken of the possibility that God, too, may suffer from a finite intelligence, and so know the bitter sting of disappointment and defeat. Here I yielded something to politeness; the thing is not only possible, but obvious. Like man, God is deceived by appearances and probabilities; He makes calculations that do not work out; He falls into specious assumptions. For example, He assumed that Adam and Eve would obey the law in the Garden. Again, He assumed that the appalling lesson of the Flood would make men better. Yet again, He assumed that men would always put religion in first place among their concerns—that it would be eternally possible to reach and influence them through it. This last assumption was the most erroneous of them all. The truth is that the generality of men have long since ceased to take religion seriously. When we encounter one who still does so, he seems eccentric, almost feeble-minded—or, more commonly, a rogue who has been deluded by his own hypocrisy. Even men who are professionally religious, and who thus have far more incentive to stick to religion than the rest of us, nearly always throw it overboard at the first serious temptation. During the past four years, for example, Christianity has been in combat with patriotism all over Christendom. Which has prevailed? How many gentlemen of God, having to choose between Christ and Patrie, have actually chosen Christ?
OFF AGAIN, ON AGAIN
The ostensible object of the Reformation, which lately reached its fourth centenary, was to purge the Church of imbecilities. That object was accomplished; the Church shook them off. But imbecilities make an irresistible appeal to man; he inevitably tries to preserve them by cloaking them with religious sanctions. The result is Protestantism.
The notion that theology is a dull subject is one of the strangest delusions of a stupid and uncritical age. The truth is that some of the most engrossing books ever written in the world are full of it. For example, the Gospel according to St. Luke. For example, Nietzsche’s “Der Antichrist.” For example, Mark Twain’s “What Is Man?”, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Haeckel’s “The Riddle of the Universe,” and Huxley’s Essays. How, indeed, could a thing be dull that has sent hundreds of thousands of men—the very best and the very worst of the race—to the gallows and the stake, and made and broken dynasties, and inspired the greatest of human hopes and enterprises, and embroiled whole continents in war? No, theology is not a soporific. The reason it so often seems so is that its public exposition has chiefly fallen, in these later days, into the hands of a sect of intellectual castrati, who begin by mistaking it for a sub-department of etiquette, and then proceed to anoint it with butter, rose water and talcum powder. Whenever a first-rate intellect tackles it, as in the case of Huxley, or in that of Leo XIII., it at once takes on all the sinister fascination it had in Luther’s day.
Do I let the poor suffer, and consign them, as old Friedrich used to say, to statistics and the devil? Well, so does God.
From The New Mencken Letters
“I realize what life must have been in Judea 1925 years ago. No wonder the Romans finally bumped off the son of Joseph. After an hour on the main street, listening to the bawling, I feel like loading a cannon with the rejecta of the adjacent hogs (Sus scrofa) and letting fly. The thing is genuinely fabulous.
I have stored up enough material to last me 20 years.”
-From a letter regarding the Scopes Trail
“So long as there are men in the world, 99 percent of them will be idiots, and so long as 99 percent of them are idiots they will thirst for religion, and so long as they thirst for religion it will remain a weapon over them. I see no way out. If you blow up one specific faith, they will embrace another. And if, by any magic, you purge them of pious credulity altogether, they will simpl[y] swallow worse nonsense in some other department.
This fact constantly forces itself upon me when I read the usual anti‑clerical literature say in Socialist tracts or in such papers as the Truth-Seeker What always emerges is this: that the stupid man, even after he has been convinced that Jonah did not actually swallow the whale, still remains a dunder‑head. Today he is on his knees; tomorrow, emancipated, he snorts with the Boisheviki. Turn to Italy. Anti-clericalism is the fashion—-but the country swarms with quacks. The mob-man must believe something, and it must be something indubitably not true. The one thing he can’t get down is a fact.
For these reasons, it seems to me a waste of time to attack the dominies.
I used to do it for the fun of it, but never seriously. In truth, I can never take religion seriously enough to get in a sweat about it. It simply doesn’t interest me. Ail I ask is to be let alone. If, as seems likely, the present mania for passing Christian legislation goes to such lengths that life in the United States becomes insupportable, I shall move out. But meanwhile what goes on in churches intrigues me no more than what goes on in lodge-rooms of the Knights of Pythias. I know no one who is religious, and hence am not privately bothered.I often read religious books, but only as a relaxation.”
-From a letter to Upton Sinclair
“The God business is really quite simple. No sane man denies that the universe presents phenomena quite beyond human understanding, and so it is a fair assumption that they are directed by some understanding that is superhuman. But that is as far as sound thought can go. All religions pretend to go further. That is, they pretend to explain the unknowable. As I said long ago, they do it in terms of the not worth knowing. La Eddy first borrows the old Jewish God and then offers to tell us exactly what He wants. Illness, it appears, is distasteful to him. He is surprised, and a bit horrified, to observe a Presbyterian doubled up with cramps. He intended no such thing; it is all due to the Presbyterian’s folly. All this, in brief, is buncombe. Anyone who pretends to say what God wants or doesn’t want, and what the whole show is about, is simply an ass.
Eddy’s guess is not even probable. She goes against the plain evidence. That is all there is to it.
In other words, the objection to religion is that it represents an effort by ignorance to account for a mystery that knowledge simply puts aside as intrinsically impenetrable. The more ignorant the man, the more firm his faith. All genuine knowledge is skeptical.”
-From a letter to Marion Bloom
“I seem to have been born a complete theological moron. I have a wide acquaintance among the clergy of all denominations and frequently discuss divinity with them, but so far I have felt no impulse whatsoever to accept their teaching. My father and grandfather were skeptics before me and that fact probably explains my general attitude. I never think of asking supernatural aid in time of trouble, and I am thoroughly convinced that there is no survival of human personality after death. Some time ago a bishop of my acquaintance asked me what I’d do if on dying I found myself at the pearly gates. I told him that I’d seek out the Twelve Apostles at once and say, “I apologize most profoundly”. This, I fear, is the best I can offer.”
– Letter to reader of an article publishedin the New Yorker, 1939
April 16, 1938.
Dear Mr. Rhode:-
I can hardly qualify as an atheist; I had better be described as an agnostic. Your first proposition seems to me to be dubious in its premiss. There is no visible reason for saying that the human mind can comprehend only the products of other minds. Its area of comprehension is, of course, very narrow, but if it encountered a phenomenon disassociated from any other mind it might conceivably comprehend it. Your second proposition is equally dubious. I can imagine a chain of causation going back into infinity, and thus having no beginning in an uncaused effect. Your third proposition may be either true or not true,but if you proceed to the corollary that you know what the purpose of the universe is, you are upon very shaky ground. Your last proposition I deny flatly.
I know hundreds of men who are quite devoid of what you call the desire to worship. You must know plenty yourself.
My view of the anthropomorphic God described in the Bible is set forth at some length in two books, “Treatise on the Gods” and “Treatise on Right and Wrong.” I should add, perhaps, that neither book denounces any of the prevailing religions, or has any propagandist purpose. I have no desire to convert anyone to my own ideas, and in fact greatly dislike all converts. The one proposition which, in my estimation, is sufficient[ly] self-evident to be fought for is that religious speculation should be completely free, and that any effort to limit it is anti-social and immoral.”
– On April 11 Rhode had written Mencken from 608 Orpington Road, Baltimore, that his Sunday School class was discussing the proofs for the existence of God. Would Mencken as an atheist kindly dispute these propositions: 1) That the human mind can comprehend only the products of the divine mind; 2) That the uncaused cause of everything is God; 3) That our world has a purpose; and 4) That God must exist because we desire to worship Him.
Fiona Kobusingye, coordinator of the Congress of Racial Equality Uganda, notes that Al Gore “uses more electricity in a week than 28 million Ugandans together use in a year” -source
Studies have established that most hate crimes are committed by single or small groups of young males unaffiliated with organized hate groups. -source
Hate crime or boredom attack, my injuries are the same. One thing about being hated, though—you have an identity. You’re a member of a distinct class who is important to the attacker. If you are attacked without reason, you’re nobody— you’re of no importance whatever. Mulling this over makes me question the whole notion of prosecuting hate crimes. Why is a racist thug more dangerous than the man who just feels like beating someone—anyone—up? The racist might send a message to a large population, but the nonracist sends a message to an even larger group, a message that says, “You count for nothing” and “No one is safe.” -source
Technology Is Much More Important Than Rhetoric
Consider the relative effects of Zero Population Growth rhetoric vs. birth control technology at changing the population growth curve of the world. It’s monumental. Technology alters incentives, which is a far more effective way to achieve widespread change than to attempt to fight human biases or change minds. Unfortunately, technology is also much newer in human history than persuasion, and so is a much less intuitive strategy. -source
For well over a decade, I have been sending snail mail from North America to South Africa, where friends and family still reside (and where my accent originates). Having used the Canadian, South African and European equivalent services, I can safely say that there is no viler or more inhospitable dump than the United States Postal Service. The latter is far and away inferior to the aforementioned rival monopolies. -source
Broadly speaking, the religious view is most popular among ordinary citizens, the biological view is held by most actual researchers in the human sciences, and the cultural view is dominant—well-nigh exclusive, in fact—among our non-scientific elites and educators. -source
“Ghana is also popular for its witch camp situated in Gambaga in the Northern region. The camp is a sanctuary where women alleged to be witches seek refuge from attack and persecution. Ghana’s witch camp is the first or its kind; in fact, it is only in Ghana and Nigeria that witch camps are known to exist in Africa. Unlike in Ghana. most of those accused or bewitching their neighbours in other African countries do not make it to a refuge camp alive. They are hunted down, killed with clubs or machetes, lynched,. or made to die a slow and painful death.” -source
“We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as president of the United States.” -Colonel Qaddafi of Libya -source
Every month I will collect large or small numbers of quotes from various sources that I read, and provide the source. When a text is in bold, it’s me who is adding emphasis. I will separate them with neat UNICODE symbols, not thought through enough that they are some kind of meta commentary – many I don’t know what they mean in mathematics or engineering or whatever the source.