compliance as revenge

The proper way for a man to retaliate against the world is for him to simply submit to its will. It desires to have him be less than a man, to be a cog, to obey and serve the wills of others, to act not as a demi-god, but as a victim-servant. And what greater disservice could he do the world than this? He serves the world when he rebels against it; the rebel Tesla sets loose a million lesser engineers to achieve their dreams, and they, in achieving their dreams, serve the public interest to the utmost potential of their gifts. But the submissive Tesla, the one the world wanted, the one his employers and coworkers and landlords and customers wanted, the Tesla we would not have cursed in life, had he existed would have been a man cursing humanity to a doom of struggle against those dragons he slew with ease. We would have smilingly accepted his service as a busboy, and he would have smilingly cursed us with a century of cold and darkness.

If we self-consciously withhold our gifts, like John Galt, the most likely means is not some sort of solitary retreat, but an acceptance of the will of society, if only because we have to eat. What does it mean for generation after generation of entrepreneurial talent produced by our cities to flower only as swarms of drug dealers? It means only that we have gotten our wish: we have kept talent from self-determination, and in terrible revenge, it has allowed its course to be determined by conditions. What does it mean that any black market enterprise has a ready supply of brave innovators for the helm and prudent intelligences for the engines? What does it mean that these men need not be lured from captaincies of industry or state, but may be drawn from the dustbin of fast food and unemployment? What can it possibly mean except that our society makes a practice of wastage of talent, and talent, with that hatefulness only possible to those once wronged, assists in its own destruction.

In my present misfortunes, how many geniuses scourge me? How many economic minds could have warned of this depression, but hearing the anger in the crowd, were silent? How many engineers looked to pave a way to greater production and open vistas of ambition for the youth of my generation, only to retreat to their own garages when challenged for their academic credentials? How many philosophers had already cracked every question I will ask, but replied to a publisher’s rejection saying, “World, your ignorance is your own, and you deserve its fruits.”

Perhaps the answer is none, or one or two. Perhaps the drive of talent is so strong that the mere resistance of the world generally fails to prevent its bearing fruit, as in Tesla’s case. Yet we cannot know what we have actually lost, because we have lost it too thoroughly to even count it. In any case we know the habit of disposing of the gifts of men by states to be not quite a fixed policy, but a well-practiced one. We know that vengeful genius does not need to concoct a plan to destroy the world, because the world’s plan is to destroy itself by wasting genius.


“Why did Cain kill Abel?”

I was asked to explain this a little bit.  It’s a funny thing that Cain’s act seems cynically rather intuitively obvious, (“Well, he was jealous!”) and at the same time blatantly irrational, serving no real or even imagined interest of Cain’s, and not even avenging a perceived slight.

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It was God, not Abel, who rejected Cain’s sacrifice, and the mere fact that retaliation against God is impossible really does nothing to undo the absurdity of an act of violence against Abel.  Of course every part of this is as familiar as violence itself; we are so used to irrational, self-destructive, downright mindless violence that the most incomprehensibly idiotic acts fit neatly into well-used human categories.  We have no reason for what we do, but we have a name for it, and even a narrative cliche for the things we have done a million times, and should not have even been stupid enough to do once.

So to begin with, the reason that Cain killed Abel is that he acted in error.  He acted evilly, but not in the sense we often imagine of ruthless self-interest or dogmatic certainty of a some evil principle, but in the blind wrongness of perverse self-destruction or mindless waste.  And there’s something to be said about the circumstance in which he errored, because in the background of Cain’s mysterious action is God’s mysterious action that provoked him.  God looked with favor upon Abel’s sacrifice, and not Cain’s; we are tempted, for lack of detail, to call this unreasonable on God’s part.  However…If Cain and Abel had each submitted an economics paper to Dr. Friedman, and gotten a similar reception, we would know on that basis alone that one paper was in true fact better than the other, even if we were ourselves incapable of comprehending either paper.  If God is anything like Friedman, that is, anything like God must be to be God at all, then his judgement is to be trusted.

Very well, Cain’s sacrifice was defective in a real, but unknown way.  Where does that get us?  Well where it gets Cain is to an explicit lesson from God, a privilege few enjoy and what could have been the key to major personal growth for Cain.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

It’s a teaching opportunity. It’s direct, sound advice from God to Cain personally in his exact circumstance. It’s how to handle rejection and failure. It’s illumination of the nature of sin: The thing that seeks to rule over you, the error that seeks to corrupt your character and has its moment of opportunity when you make a misstep.  It’s God’s wisdom for a situation that will come up over and over again through the life of every human being since Cain.  It’s God’s plan for turning your misfortunes into strengtheners of character, of using the hard world he gave us as a force to purify our souls of errors. As hungry belly immunizes the man against the temptation of sloth, so the hard knocks of failure in ambition abrade away the rust of complacent pride and give our dreams the polish that only a resilient surface can take. Such is God’s plan for hardship, such is the strategy by which God prevented sin from blooming immediately into an all-consuming flower of self-indulgence and suicide (a flower some aristocracies have, however, more recently succeeded in cultivating). And then we have Cain’s plan:

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

How much of human history, whether of whole societies or whole men, is described in this little answering of God’s instructions? “No thanks God, I’ll just do something blindly idiotic instead,” said Man to his maker.  I’ll just harm my brother, and myself, and gain nothing, because I’d rather pursue an error of my own than the wisdom of God. I’ll just funnel a million lives and innumerable gifts into the monstrous whirlpool of pride that was the Great War. I’ll just take God’s Liberty and modify it to create monarchies and slave classes. I’ll just sell my birthright for porridge.

I can’t give a rational explanation for Cain’s crime, because it was a blatantly, purely irrational act. I haven’t the slightest difficulty in believing the story however, because the proper explanation is intuitive: Cain killed Abel because Cain is exactly the same kind of dumbass that i am.