Tag: politics

the fable of the bees

BEEHIVE. Woodcut, 19th century (Photos Framed, Prints, Puzzles, Posters,...) #12407722

Mandeville’s The Fable of The Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (1714) has stuck vaguely in my mind since a politics class in college for its notorious claim that “private vice is public virtue”. Said claim influenced key economic thinkers, including—perhaps most notably—Adam Smith.

I am no amateur of political theory1 and the text is satire, but the exact origin of the thought (that private and public virtue could be so related) matters little, there can be little argument that such is, in fact, how our liberal economic reality is structured.

And well, what did we think was going to happen? I guess I am shocked I didn’t raise my hand in the politics class and ask how anyone could ever be stultified enough to claim something so obviously wrong-headed and false?

How did we get there? And how have we persisted with the idea for so long? Perhaps (like most of history) it was (and is) simply a rationalisation of an order emerging from a higher power—and not the good kind either.

Perhaps there could be comfort in the thought that it has all been a joke taken too far, a satire the elites (or more likely, the Machine) picked up and ran with. A great or nefarious misunderstanding, but originally a perversion nonetheless.

Yet what kind of moral universe must one inhabit (or have created for oneself) such that you could reach the point of believing black bricks (not only can, but do!) make a white house? diseased organs a healthful body?


We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world – to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity – our own capacity for life – that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.

We have made “personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world” yes, and shamelessly too, but Berry and we can now see very clearly (with several centuries of hindsight) the flaw in the original economic architecture: it takes no concern for any reality outside the beehive. The ‘Great Economy’ of sun and flower and pollen in which the ‘Little Economy’ of the bee’s kingdom subsists.

And this egregious and absurd error has metastasised so far beyond all conceivable scope that an absurdity has occurred: the Fable has dissolved its own ground, the Fable has killed its very bees.

“How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?”… Where are those who killed the bees of the field?

what matters


It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.

A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

Salman Rushdie:

We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love.

*update* [02/04/2022]

John Ruskin:

To watch the corn grow, and the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over ploughshare or spade; to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray — these are the things that make men happy; they have always had the power of doing these, they never will have the power to do more. The world’s prosperity or adversity depends upon our knowing and teaching these few things: but upon iron, or glass, or electricity, or steam, in no wise.

a single tribe, a new man

Marcelo Gleiser:

A tribe without enemies is, almost by definition, not a tribe. As a consequence, tribal dispute and warfare is part of what defines humanity..
..[however] things have changed a lot… the biggest enemy we have to fight against right now is our tribal past. What served us so well for thousands of years is now an obsolete concept. It’s no more about the survival of this tribe or that one, but about Homo sapiens as a species. … For the first time in our collective history, we must think of ourselves as a single tribe on a single planet. … We are a single tribe, the tribe of humans. And, as such, not a tribe at all.

I remember Taylor mentioned this “widening of the sphere of human loyalty” as present in all the world’s great religious traditions, and the emancipatory energy it gives the human spirit as  a key force in unfolding history.

The Kingdom that the faithful have prayed for for two millennia has—in an important sense then—come. This City of Man (now engulfing a Planet) will now share some of the same problems that the universal elements in the City of God has had?

But what does the development mean for the City of God, has its Kingdom come? Is Adam’s new unity (even if just ideological and for a handful of elites..) completely spurious when it comes to redemption, to moving past what being human use to mean, what it might be able to mean?

two dostoevsky quotes on man

From Notes from Underground:

Shower him with all earthly blessings, drown him in happiness completely, over his head, so that only bubbles pop up on the surface of happiness, as on water; give him such economic satisfaction that he no longer has anything left to do at all except sleep, eat gingerbread, and worry about the noncessation of world history — and it is here, just here, that he, this man, out of sheer ingratitude, out of sheer lampoonery, will do something nasty. He will even risk his gingerbread, and wish on purpose for the most pernicious nonsense, the most non-economical meaninglessness, solely in order to mix into all this positive good sense his own pernicious fantastical element. It is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain, simply in order to prove to himself–as though that were so necessary—that men still are men and not the keys of a piano.

And on our drive to “live at our own sweet foolish will“:

Man really is stupid, phenomenally stupid. That is, he’s by no means stupid, but rather he’s so ungrateful that it would be hard to find the likes of him. I, for example, would not be the least bit surprised if suddenly, out of the blue, amid the universal future reasonableness, some gentleman of ignoble, or, better, of retrograde and jeering physiognomy, should emerge, set his arms akimbo, and say to us all: “Well, gentlemen, why don’t we reduce all this reasonableness to dust with one good kick, for the sole purpose of sending all these logarithms to the devil and living once more according to our own stupid will!”

Does this reality count as an ally, an obstacle, to the aspirations of Surveillance Capitalism, Technological Totalitarianism, the Metaverse?