An imaginative and captivating read, Screwtape Proposes a Toast was C.S. Lewis’s follow-up published in the Saturday Evening Post to his popular book, the Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is a fictitious correspondence between a senior and junior devil about how to damn men’s souls. In the follow-up, Lewis has poignant insights into the nature of modern society, and in particular the way in which equality and democracy can corrode all that is good and sturdy in humans.
The text is posted here. You can also read a PDF version of the original magazine publication here.
“Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it — make it respectable and even laudable — by the incantatory use of the word democratic.”
Jeffrey Tucker absolutely nails it in this piece for The Freeman. Jeff is one of those guys that gets freedom on a real gut, rubber-meets-the-road level. He also gets it on an intellectual level. He can pull from a treasure trove of work done by great thinkers on why liberty trumps central control, and he can also pull from keen insights on every day life and apply it all to present ideas for living free, here and now, and fighting to free the future. Tucker talks first of the intellectual journey to anarchism, then the practical journey; the part that really transforms your outlook on life.
“[L]et me admit that my anarchism is probably more practical than ideological—which is the reverse of what it is for the most well-known anarchist thinkers in history. I see the orderliness of human volition and action all around me. I find it inspiring. It frees my mind to understand what is truly important in life. I can see reality for what it is. It is not some far-flung ideology that makes me long for a world without the State but rather the practical realities of the human struggle to make something of this world though our own efforts. Only human beings can overcome the great curse of scarcity the world has imposed on us. So far as I can tell, the State is, at best, the great annoyance that slows down the mighty project of building civilization.”
I borrowed this story from a friend’s Facebook feed. She rightly pointed out that this research has pretty significant implications for the social sciences and might alter the current direction of sociology, psychology, and behavioral economics. What I find interesting is how common-sensical the findings are. The fact that this work will shake up these disciplines reveals just how silly and prone to trendiness academia can be. I’m also willing to wager that, should this and similar work start a new trend in the social sciences towards more context-dependent theories, the pendulum will swing absurdly far and another counter-revolution will happen a few decades later reminding us that, yes, some elements of the human mind are universal. The paper posits, in short, that institutions matter, a lot. They shape our worldview and affect everything from how our brain processes spacial relations, to our sense of fairness.
“The potential implications of the unexpected results were quickly apparent to Henrich. He knew that a vast amount of scholarly literature in the social sciences—particularly in economics and psychology—relied on the ultimatum game and similar experiments. At the heart of most of that research was the implicit assumption that the results revealed evolved psychological traits common to all humans, never mind that the test subjects were nearly always from the industrialized West. Henrich realized that if the Machiguenga results stood up, and if similar differences could be measured across other populations, this assumption of universality would have to be challenged.”
This excellent book review by Anthony Gregory is depressing, or “blue”, upon first reading, especially if you’re new to revisionism. The patriotic myths of war heroes and cunning statesmen are shattered, and with them a sense of American identity. It takes some time. You have to stand back and look at the facts and alternative narratives free from nationalistic impulse. Then you grasp that most history books are little more than propaganda favoring the powerful status quo. It hurts at first. With time, it is liberating. This book review is an excellent appetizer for this way of examining the past. Open your mind and give the revisionist view a try. Let it sink in before you reject it. See what happens. I’m willing to bet you’ll develop lingering suspicions about mainstream histories. That’s a good thing.
“The Founding Fathers are the first official heroes targeted, appropriate in both chronological terms and in considering the civic mythology of the United States. And so who were the true heroes? According to Russell, it was the rabble. John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Sam Adams, John Jay and the rest of them looked upon the common American people, populating Philadelphia where they were holding their conspiratorial meetings, as “vicious,” “vile” and otherwise unsavory folk. “But what the Founding Fathers called corruption, depravity, viciousness, and vice, many of us would call freedom”