Kipling, Gods of The Copybook Headings, and It’s Different This Time

“I prefer Kipling. ‘The female of the species is more deadly than the male.’” – Clue

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So, yeah, I drove by this one time.  Didn’t stop. 

Ahhhh, Kipling.

Kipling won the Nobel™ Prize© in literature back when it meant something, i.e., before the Nobel® committee discovered the internet, started spending time on Facebook®, stopped reading entirely and, remembering on a Thursday they were still supposed to give some award away related to something called “literature”, awarded one to Bob Dylan thinking he might bring some primo weed to Stockholm if he won.  Instead?  Bobby didn’t show up at all, and sent them a crappy recording describing a book report that a teacher would flunk a freshman for (really) instead of a lecture.

And no weed for the committee.

Can a Nobel® Physics™ Prize© be too far out for the guy who did the special effects for Star Wars™?  At least that guy ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm, no more, either.

Seriously.  Bob Dylan?  For literature?

Anyhow, back to Kipling.  He wrote poems that were amazing in the rhythm, word choice, and thoughts behind the poem.  I’ve previously mentioned “If” – which has for decades been one of my favorites – that post is here (LINK).

Another favorite of mine is the following one, The Gods of The Copybook Headings.  It was written in the aftermath of World War One, which was particularly devastating for both England, generally, and Kipling, personally.  The title refers to books that school children used to practice penmanship by copying the same sentences again.  And again.  And again.  The phrases that they used were typically based on Bible verses or other generally accepted moral aphorisms.

The Gods of The Copybook Headings

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Kipling was weary.  He’d seen that when people varied from accepted wisdom and morality, the results were . . . horrifying.  The idea was simple:  the experiences and accumulated wisdom of thousands of years of civilized human experience might (just maybe!) have something to say to us, here, now and today.  Well, his today was 1919, which isn’t really our today.  Everything is different now, right?

Peterson refers to Christian morality (and the Bible in general) as an emergent phenomenon.  It is worth far more than the sum of its parts – it has been distilled and the relatively simple parts produce an amazingly complex outcome – here’s a link to my post that included that (LINK).  With Christianity, it’s a measure of its complexity that it eventually produced the conditions required for the birth of science and the freedoms that eventually sprang from the Reformation.  It’s an irony that Christianity gave birth to the very society that could look at Christianity critically – and it could ask the hard questions about itself – because of itself.

Kipling gives an innate understanding of what Glubb would later begin to quantify (LINK).  Kipling also seems prescient in exactly the places our moral failings would begin to falter – from the general populace disarmament that led to the biggest slaughters in all of history to our greed that led to multiple stock market bubbles . . . and the associated collapses.

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Rudyard spoke of the dangers of collectivism, even before the full horrors of the Soviet Union and communism appeared, costing at least seventy million lives.  Yet even now, after the complete and demonstrated failure of collectivism, we’re pretty sure Venezuela will be paradise.  Did I say Venezuela?  I meant California.  What, California now leads the United States in poverty?  Hmmm.  Hang on, I’ll get back to you.  Just must be the wrong people putting it in practice.  It certainly can’t be that greed for the wealth of others produces nothing but pain and sorrow.  Covet not . . . hmmm.

Kipling even nailed that in failed collectivist states that beyond the moral and economic destruction of the country, even money itself would be degraded to the point of uselessness.  To double it up?  Kipling knew that we would delude ourselves to believe that collectivism was worth trying again.  And again.

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

I think that Sin must test pretty poorly in market research – “Seems like it’s pretty judgmental, Alex?”  But I think Sin is there for a reason.  Sinning is bad.  It can be seen that the morality of a dual parent household is unmistakable in its superiority statistically.  It’s really not even close when it comes to outcomes for children.

And marriage is hard.  Very hard.  It’s much easier just . . . having random sex.  And not having marriage.  And not having kids.  And the very end of a civilization, since without the morality that gave birth to it, it can no longer produce the intellectual capital, the wealth, and the free society that allows people to make moral choices.

It doesn’t produce enough strong men.

Thankfully, the chaos that emerges produces strong men that make hard choices.  But it’s a pretty rough ride.  Well it has been.

I’m reliably informed by the Gods of The Market . . . that it’s different this time.

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom - How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.

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