Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Devil Wedding, a Georgian folk tale


Tales of the Uncanny by Václav Černy, Zlata Černá, and Miroslav Novák.
Published in Czechoslovakia, 1976.


The Devil Wedding

Aluda Sazikauli lived at the edge of the village of Shatili. He had neither wife nor children, his father and brother had been killed by Kists, and his mother had died of fever during a pilgrimage to the Cross of Gudan. Aluda took his revenge on the murderers of his father and brother, provided for the funeral of his mother, and from that time he lived alone. He was respected by the villagers, for he was a good hunter and an amusing drinking companion, who always knew how to add to the general good cheer with a fine story. “To the Cross of Gudan,” he would say, “you should have been with me and now you could make me choke on every lie you catch me telling. Can I help it if you are all so unadventurous?”

One day Aluda Sazikauli set off to hunt mountain goat. There were great numbers of these shy creatures on the distant mountain slopes. He travelled until dusk and spent the night under his cloak in a sheltered valley by a spring. The next day he climbed the bare mountains. Boulders jutted out from the rock-face like the teeth of a fairy-tale giant, but not a mountain goat was to be seen. He crossed over the summit and descended into the next valley, but again he had nothing better to eat but bread, cheese, and water from a spring. In vain did he call on Ochopinto, the herdsman of the wild animals of the forest. By late in the afternoon of the third day he had seen nothing. Then suddenly he saw three nanny-goats and a mighty he-goat with powerful horns standing outlined against the sky. Taking cover behind boulders, he crept close to them, and felled the he-goat with a single shot. The third night was fast approaching, and he could not spend the night on the bare mountainside. He put the mountain goat on his back and began to climb down the steep slope.

Suddenly in a narrow valley, between the trees, he saw smoke rising, and before long he came to an extraordinary building. It was a stone castle made of rough-hewn boulders. The castle was built right into the hillside and had a crumbling watchtower. A drawbridge led to a wooden portico, guarded by twin towers. The castle was gigantic. Its doors were so huge that a rider with his spear held high could pass through them, and two knights in armor could ride side by side along the battlements.

“To the Cross of Gudan,” said Aluda Sazikauli to himself.  “There are no castles built like this, today. Our ancestors must have been mighty men! “

The light was fading and smoke was rising from the chimneys. Singing could be heard from the great hall and Aluda longed for a warm hearth where he could rest his weary limbs. Easing the goat from his shoulders, he called, “Masters of the house!“ There was no reply. He called a second time, and there was no answer. When he was about to call for a third time, the door opened. Dusk had fallen and Aluda thought that his eyes were deceiving him in the gathering darkness. Out of the house and down the lowered drawbridge came a man with seven heads. The heads twisted in every direction and they spoke one after the other in the same voice:

Welcome, guest! Come in and accept the hospitality of this house!”

At that moment, Aluda realized that he stood before the terrible seven-headed devil, Baqbaq, whose very name cast fear in the hearts of ordinary men. Aluda was frightened but it was too late to draw back and decline the invitation. “May the White Rider help me," he thought to himself as he stepped bravely toward the seven-headed monster.

“I see you are a hunter “ The devil laughed so heartily that the valley shook. “I shall call my son to take care of your prey.” He turned two of his heads and called into the house. The door opened once again, and his son stepped onto the drawbridge. He was even more misshapen than his father; he had three legs and his arms brushed the ground.

“This is my youngest son, Forest-Howler,” said Baqbaq. “My son, take our guest into the hall.”

“Come in, my guest,” Baqbaq turned to Aluda. “You are not the only one who will be feasting under my roof tonight. We are celebrating the marriage of my daughter, Three Eyes-beautiful Eyes. I am sure you have heard of her.”

Aluda was terrified but all the same he smiled politely and followed Baqbaq and his son into the castle. They passed through an anteroom and entered the great hall. A cauldron hissed and steamed above a great fire that roared in the hearth. The guests were sitting on benches along the walls, and they fell silent as Baqbaq led Aluda inside.

“Our house has been honoured by a new guest,” said Baqbaq, “a Khevsur hunter. I don”t know your name, guest,” he turned to Aluda, “but I see by your weapons that you are a brave man, and a mighty hunter.”

Aluda turned a little pale, but his host continued:

“You may put your weapons aside, because you are safe in my house.”

Aluda drew back a pace, but he was instantly surrounded by hideous claws that reached out towards him. “Entrust me with your gun and scimitar, so I can hang them in a place of honour.” It was Baqbaq’s middle son, Mangy-Polecat who spoke. Reluctantly Aluda placed his gun in one of the claws, even more reluctantly he unbuckled his scimitar and put it in the second claw, and then the third claw seized him and stood him in the centre of the room.

“Allow me to introduce my guests, Khevsur,” said Baqbaq. “I am sure you have never met any of them before.” Baqbaq laughed in all his seven throats, and the company joined him until the rafters shook with their roaring. It was, indeed, fine company. There were fewer of them by far than there were heads; they stared at Aluda out of many eyes; they stretched out so many arms that Aluda thought that they could have taken Ananuri Castle apart stone by stone before he could count to five.

“You should tell us your name, guest,” said the ghastly Thundershaker, who was presiding over the wedding feast, “so that the bride and groom may later remember this day with pride,”

Aluda Sazikauli hesitated. If he told them his real name they would come to visit him and the rest of the villagers would avoid his house in horror. He would become an outcast in his native village, and mothers would frighten their children with his name. He made up his mind to lie to them.

“My name is Seven-Devils-Enemies-of-the-Gods,” he said.

“You have a strange name for a Khevsur,” said Thundershaker in surprise. “I have met a great many of your fellow countrymen, and they had all sorts of names, but I have never heard of anyone with a name like yours. We know that Khevsurs swear to the Cross of Gudan. You ought to do so now, so that we can believe you.”

The rest of them joined their voices to his until an indescribable uproar set in.

“To the sock on the gam, my real name is Seven-Devils- Enemies-of-the-Gods,” Aluda hurried with his response before the noise had quietened. No one heard him properly, and so everyone believed him.

The master of ceremonies then called for silence. He delivered a toast and handed Aluda a goblet of arrack. The goblet was as big as a warrior’s helmet, but without batting an eyelid Aluda drank it all. The devils growled in admiration and Thundershaker called out:

“Bring me the cauldron and I shall give our guest a portion of honour!”

At once Baqbaq’s sons jumped forward and handed him the huge, steaming cauldron from the fire. Thundershaker fished something out onto a dish. Forest-Howler knelt down beside Aluda and placed the dish before him. Aluda saw that the dish contained a human head. He blenched and his hands began to shake; he tried to swallow but his throat was dry and he felt nausea rising in his throat.

Baqbaq was watching Aluda’s expression intently, and he guffawed with all his seven mouths:

“It seems you do not feel well, guest. Surely you do not mean to say that the food I offer you does not appeal to you ?

“Actually, I have lost my appetite today,” lied Aluda. “I tired myself out with my long journey, and your portion of honour seems a trifle too rich for my stomach, weakened as it is with hunger. If you would not be offended, I would prefer some cheese which I brought with me.

All the demons present began to bawl at the top of their lungs, but it appeared they were not offended by the refusal. On the contrary, they were bubbling over with sympathy, and each was recommending his own proven remedy against nausea.

“The best is snake’s bile,” screamed a toothy goblin from the corner.

But the seven-voiced Baqbaq shouted the rest of them down: “Give him a vat of beer, that will restore his appetite.”

Everyone agreed and at once they brought a full vat. They held it to his mouth and poured the beer into him until he thought he would drown. With all his might he pushed Forest-Howler away who thought Aluda wanted him to pass the vat around the circle. The demons drank, a river of beer gurgled down their throats, and soon they had to bring another vat. The beer tickled their palates, and they began to pat their furry bellies, and all at once they burst into their own wedding song:

“Ho, ho, hyde,

We have a bea-oo-tiful bride.

She’s lovely and furry from head to toe,

Hunchbacked, warty and pigeon-toed.

The bridegroom comes from far away,

And he’s even furrier, hey, hey hey!” 

When they thus reminded themselves of the bride, Thundershaker bellowed out once more:

“Show our bride to the guest, for that is our custom. He is a human and he will spread tales of her beauty among his people.”

They all agreed, and as one body they led Aluda to the bride’s chamber. There sat Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes surrounded by her bridesmaids. She was not as hideous as Aluda had feared, in fact she would even be quite comely if she could only hide her third eye.

“Be in good health, beautiful bride,” Aluda greeted her. “Never did I see a more beautiful devil bride. I never would have thought that devil maidens were so beautiful.”

“I like you too, guest,” said Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes, and when none of her bridesmaids were looking she added: “You are almost as fair as I, and fairer by far than my groom. You are no doubt courageous and they told me you are a good hunter. I am sure you could support a loving wife and a family of devil children. Kidnap me!”

“How could I dare to do such a thing?” Aluda protested. “I would insult the house in which I was made welcome, and I would make blood-feud enemies out of my friends.” “But you said that I appealed to you, and I want you,” Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes stamped her foot stubbornly. “I shall order my maid to saddle a horse secretly and you will kidnap me.”

Aluda refused, he resisted, why he even tried to run away, anything to escape from this two-fold danger, but all in vain. Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes snatched him up and tucked him into her sewing basket, and then she whispered something to the hideous old woman who was her maid. In a little while she released him and took him out into the courtyard and through the wicker gate, into a pasture where a saddled horse stood waiting.

At that moment joyous shouting burst out from the front of the house. The groom had arrived to claim his bride. Aluda was scared beyond thinking. What was he to do? He could see no way of escape. Before very long the wedding guests would discover that the bride had disappeared, and he with her. They would pursue them both, and he had no means of fighting them. And even if he did manage to escape how could he live with a wife like Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes?

Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes, noticing his dejection, snuggled up to him and said: “You kidnapped me and I can never return to my father’s house. But I shall defend myself with you and if worse comes to worst, I shall die with you. For didn’t you say that you were fond of me?”

From the house came the wailing of the bridesmaids, and the terrible roar of the frenzied wedding guests, and above it all the dreadful voice of the insulted bridegroom thundered out:

“Who has kidnapped my bride?”

“Seven-Devils-Enemies-of-the-Gods,” answered all the demons at once, one louder than the other.

“Even if there are fourteen of them, or even twenty-one, swore the groom, “not one of them will escape me. I shall tear every one of them into a thousand pieces!”

Aluda tried to hide behind a boulder, comforting himself that they might overlook him, but Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes misunderstood his intention; she leaned against the boulder, for she thought he wanted to roll it down on the house. She wrenched an enormous crag out of the mountain-side, and the crag went surging down towards the house below with a deafening roar, tearing down everything in its path. Then she snatched Aluda under one arm, the horse under the other and bounded up the mountain slope.

When the crag crashed into the castle below, caving in the walls, the devils set up a terrible howling. Only the groom lost no time and stormed after the runaways up the mountainside.

“Ha, now I”ve got you,” he called out behind them in a thunderous voice. “Stand still, all seven of you!”

Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes set Aluda and the horse down and leaned against another boulder. In the dark she could not see who was where, and the devils could not see her.

By the sound of the shouts, though, it was apparent that they were not far behind them. Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes rolled another boulder down the mountainside and the groom roared out in rage and in pain.

“What is the matter with you?!” asked Baqbaq’s seven heads.

“Nothing, but I am becoming more and more cross!” said the groom, not wanting to confess pain in front of his father-in-law.

And the narrow valley replied to his thunderous voice with the echo:

“Cross… cross… cross…”

“Ha, there is that Khevsur,” said the devils who were higher up the mountain. “He’s swearing to Gudan’s Cross!” And they started to topple boulders down in that direction. Those who were lower down picked up rocks and pelted them uphill, all of them bellowed, those who were hit roared out, rocks rumbled and trees cracked. No one knew who was fighting whom in the confusion.

Aluda took his chance and jumped up on the horse and started out on the narrow sheep trail along the mountain precipices quite unmindful that with every step he could break his neck, while the devils battled amongst themselves mercilessly. Perhaps they all truly believed that their adversaries were enemies of the gods, or perhaps in their boundless rage they wanted to revenge themselves on their comrades for the blows they had received. Who can say?

Suddenly, the voice of Thundershaker boomed out Of the valley:

“Ho, ho, not one of you will escape ! I know what I shall do”

He stepped up to the side of the mountain, leaned his mighty shoulders against it, braced his feet against the opposite precipice and leant so mightily that the side of the mountain cracked and collapsed, its peak tore off and buried the entire valley. For miles around the earth shook, the mountains twisted, and in the fissures new valleys appeared. And from that spot where the terrible horde of devils lay buried, there rose a column of dust and acrid smoke as if from burning limestone.

But by then, Aluda was in safety. At that very moment he was crossing the mountain pass, and carefully he guided his horse through a narrow gorge between two escarpments and down into the valley which he knew well.   

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Silver Forest, a Serbian folk tale.

Tales of the Uncanny by Václav Černy, Zlata Černá, and Miroslav Novák.
Published in Czechoslovakia, 1976.


The Silver Forest

People have always been lured by the mysteries of deep, shadowy forests from the beginning of time. As long as they gathered the fruits of the forest, or felled trees in clearings dappled by the sun or on the forest's edge, they felt content. But when the path led deeper into the shadow of the forest, uneasiness fell upon them. Here the mysterious gloom thickened and boulders covered with moss loomed up in the path. The surface of murky pools no longer mirrored the blue sky. Only an occasional breath of air or the splash of frogs disturbed its somber calm. The lonely cry of birds and the cracking of dry twigs were the outward signs of the hidden life of the forest.

Not only did shy animals hide in the green half-light, but also mysterious beings lived here. These beings were seldom in sympathy with people. Phantom lights in the swamps tempted the wanderer from the safety of the dry paths; ugly "wild-women lurked in the deserted glades. Their wild dancing caused the death of anyone who joined them and did not succeed in escaping in time.

A thousand dangers threatened any man who boldly entered the twilight of the forest. And only very few ever succeeded in reaching the place where beautiful wood-nymphs gathered for their songs and dances under the tall spreading oak tree whose leaves shone with gold. So strictly did they guard their secrets, that every dare-devil who spied on them was cruelly punished. And yet sometimes the nymphs took pity on a lonely hunter or a lost wanderer and took him or her amongst themselves as a brother or sister. Songs were sung about such people, even though they spoke reluctantly of their adventures.

In one village, there lived an old man who had an only son named Dushan. The father was a wise and intelligent man and so he did not make Dushan stay at home with him. When he grew to the age when he could support himself, his father sent him out to gain experience of the world.

"There are many people in the world, and many trades and much useful knowledge. Go and discover for yourself what is right for you. When the time comes, you will return home."

So Dushan went. He walked through villages and towns, he met Christians and Turks. He studied various trades, but in the end his heart was captured by the violin. From the moment that he succeeded in playing it, he never again parted with his violin. Whenever he was grieved by the avarice of men or the injustice of their lot, he took out his violin and played until his sadness passed. And he loved to play it just as much when the sun shone brightly and gaily dressed girls danced in a circle.

In his travels Dushan learned many things and he understood many things, but still he did not feel that the time had come for him to return home. His hands were just as empty as when he had left and he had nothing remarkable of which he might be proud.

And so he wandered on. Once, when he had left a noisy city behind him, he was attracted by a soft green footpath. He turned to follow it and walked until he came to a forest. Silence encompassed him, disturbed only here and there by the cry of jays. Dushan lost track of time and of the way back and he let himself be carried on by the hushed pathways, trodden down by animals.

The sun had already set long ago and the forest had grown dark. Shreds of light white mist rose from the ground to hang among the trees. Suddenly a bright moon rose above the tall trees and in that instant the forest was utterly transformed. The trees towered high, their leaves shone with gold and their trunks glistened with ancient silver. Smoke was rising above the trees, and the flames of a fire flickered in the distance. Dushan caught a glimpse of strange beings dancing around the fire. They were winged maidens dressed in long flowing dresses.

Dushan started in fear. At once he remembered the many tales he had heard about evil wild-women and beautiful but cruel wood-nymphs. He did not dare to approach the fire, but at the same time he was loath to forego this wondrous sight. So after a moment's hesitation he sat down quietly at the foot of the spreading oak tree under which he stood and watched, spell-bound, to see what would happen. 

A group of winged maidens drifted away from the fire and slowly moved closer to the place where he was hidden. The maidens were dancing in the light of the moon, crossing from the darkness of the tree's shadow into the moon's bright radiance, their long dresses catching on branches and merging with the white mist. A gentle singing accompanied their dancing. Dushan could not restrain himself and at the sight of such beauty, he sighed aloud.

Instantly there was pandemonium among the nymphs. Their singing stopped abruptly and the air was awhirl with the beating of their wings. The nymphs searched for the intruder who had stolen into their midst. The dark shadow of the spreading oak tree did not protect Dushan. The nymphs caught sight of him and in the very same moment all of them fixed him in the stare of their evil eyes. At that moment Dushan found that he could neither speak nor see.

He found himself in total darkness and he could not even plead for mercy. His lips were unable to move and in vain, he stretched his arms out to where he believed the nymphs were. They no longer paid any attention to him and began to dance once more. Dushan began to weep, for there was no help for him now, and he must perish wretchedly in the depths of the forest.

Suddenly he remembered his violin. It would tell his tale of sadness to these heartless creatures. He settled down beneath the tree and began to play. He played in the dark forest and in the bright light of the moon, though he saw nothing of it. He told of the beauty which he had allowed to entice him, wistfully he sang of his pain and his grief. The nymphs stopped their dancing and listened to Dushan's song.

When he finished playing, they darted off into the forest and searched for healing herbs which would break their spell. One applied the healing balm to his eyes, another brought healing water and gave it to him to drink. Dushan's vision and speech were restored. The nymphs took him amongst themselves as a brother and he stayed with them for a long time and accompanied their dances with the song of his violin.

After many years he returned to the world of people and to his native land. But it is not without reason that people say that the forest leaves its mark on a person to the end of his days. Dushan was often silent; it seemed as if he lived in another world. And year after year he would disappear into the forest for days on end. 

The Ecological Disaster of Easter Island

Back in 2012 I found a good deal on flights to Easter Island, only $999 with return flight from Los Angeles.  I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I took it.

I won't relate the entire experience here, but it was very interesting.  The Polynesians on Easter Island created a small civilization in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, one of the great stories about Easter Island is how they destroyed themselves, which is one of the great ecological disaster stories of all time. The question is, how did this ecological disaster happen? It's known that the Easter Islanders built large statues, and it's known that they chopped down all the trees on the island. Often the story is told of how they used all their trees to build their statues, and that this somehow killed them off.  Here I will provide more detail on the core elements of this famous ecological disaster.

The people of Easter Island were Polynesians who set sail from somewhere around the Marquesas Islands in the Western Pacific some time around 700-800 CE, plus or minus a few hundred years. A large two-hulled sailing ship was used, a catamaran, and was of a considerable size, possibly up to 19 meters (62ft) long and capable of carrying 12 metric tonnes (27,000lbs). This ship was sailed by a crew of colonizers and included Easter Island's legendary discoverer, Chief Hotu Matu'a. 

On board the ship they brought supplies including plants and animals that would be needed for colonization of any new island they discovered. Polynesians typically carried yams, taro, breadfruit, bananas, sugar cane, coconuts, and many other crop plants and seeds. Animals they brought typically included pigs and chickens, but it appears no pigs were brought on the voyage that discovered Easter Island. Most important for this story are the Polynesians rats that were able to stow away unnoticed in the cracks and crevices of the ship, surviving off the ship's supplies during the long voyage.

Easter Island is not a tropical paradise like other Polynesian islands of the Pacific Ocean. It lies just outside the tropical latitudes, it's not in the South Pacific high pressure zone, and it's far from the intertropical convergence zone. For this reason some of the usual Polynesians crops the first colonizers rbought withthem would not have been able to grow, for example, it is much too cold for coconuts and other tropical fruits.  Despite good rainfall and its location in the middle of the ocean, the island's humidity is 80% most of the time, which actually has an overall drying effect on the climate.  The island is also fairly new, consisting of three volcanos no older than 1 million years, which means the soil still very thin and the landscape is visibly covered with pebbles of vesicular basalt, or "cinders" as they're often called. On my visit to the island I described it as a "windswept lava grassland". Also the small size of the island and the highly porous rocks means it has no permanent streams or rivers to supply fresh water for irrigation. The only permanent fresh water on the surface of the island is contained in three lakes within each of the three main craters that form the island.

The combination of less than ideal soil, water supply, and climate, meant that farming on Easter Island was marginal.  Drying winds and poor soil forced the farmers to grow their crops inside stone circles, "manavei", so the plants wouldn't be subjected to the full force of the cool and drying winds, as well as salt spray from the waves that constantly batter the island's rocky coast. 

Since farming was marginal, the Rapa Nui people relied heavily on fishing. Tuna was the staple food of their diet.  To catch tuna required boats to go out from the shore so the tuna could be fished.

Now you can see where the problem begins. Since their arrival on the island, the Rapa Nui people had been cutting down the island's trees as fuel for fire to provide heat and cook food, to build their giant statues and other structures, and most importantly to build canoes to go fishing for their staple diet of tuna and seafood.

All the time this was going on, the rats they'd inadvertently brought to the island on their colonizing ship had been eating the seeds of the trees, so very few new trees were growing.

Eventually they chopped down all the trees and once that happened, they had no wood to build or repair boats so they could go fishing.  Without the supply of fish that was the mainstay of their diet, they starved.  War soon broke out over the remaining resources.  Some islanders desperately resorted to cannibalism

Here's my Facebook album of the trip, which is the best way to enjoy it because the photos all have captions.  

Here are the full set of original photos with no captions.

Friday, December 25, 2020

How to grow cacti, cactus, cactuses, and succulents from seed


Glottiphyllum depressum, just one of the many succulents growing from seed in my greenhouse

I've been growing succulent plants for about 25 years, but this year I decided to focus on growing them from seed. In this way I could quickly build a collection of rare succulents at low cost, and have spare plents to sell and swap with other growers. I'd grown from seed a few trimes before with mixed success.  One of the first things I noticed was a lack of information online about how to grow succulents from seed.  This page is meant to rectify that by collecting information in one place.  

This page will be updated periodically, so come back later for updates.

One of the first places I found for seed growing info was Mesa Gardens germination tips.  


After trying Mesa Garden's mix for my first year I had mixed results.  The germination rates were excellent but then plants seemed to languish.  Part of my problem was that I had to substitute some ingredients in the mix, but mostly my previsou experience with vermiculite was that it holds too much water for succulents.  The ample water holding capacity of vermiculite was good for getting seeds to germinate, but detrimental to keeping the young seedlings alive during those ciritcal first few years.  In fact the plants often died soon after germinating, or were stunted. 

Another resource was Windowsill Cactus.  This page covers earlier efforts to grow succulents, before the development 


I was wondering if you sell your Metamorphosisenips seeds starting mix.  I don't see it for sale on the site.  Otherwise, can you share the recipe?

San Diego, CA.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

I'm nothing but a pile of rags

I think all that's left of me is this piece of art. They took away my opiate pain medication yesterday and then I went into shivers and withdrawals for most of the afternoon. Now I'm just this burned up piece of meat lying in a bed in pain with different colored pieces of fabric on me. Some parts of my body need to be covered with fabric, and other parts need to be exposed in the fresh air. My thighs, where my skin grafts were taken from, look like margarita pizza with tomato sauce, all nicely browned with cheese on top, ready to eat. I'd like a slice of me, I look tasty. At various times throughout the night and day, like clock work, the nurses come around poking, prodding, measuring, pouring more pills down my throat. I can't do much for myself except lie here in burning agony, just a piece of art with different colored fabrics covering different parts of me. My feet are covered in plastic girders that hold my feet at 90° so they don't heal into a tiptoe position. My little pee pee is covered with a loincloth. I don't really care but they put it there because they think I might be embarrassed for people to see my pee pee, but I'm not. Yesterday I had to do a poo but I was so constipated, I hadn't pooed in six days because of the opiate pain medication, so my poo was like a brick and I had to pull out the little pieces of the poo with my fingers. It was disgusting. I can still smell the shit under my fingernails, even though my fingers have been thoroughly scrubbed. It had been fermenting in my bowels for six days. Such are the horrors that I have to endure here, pain, more pain, different pain, pain level 10, a different pain level 10, I didn't even know there were different types of pain level 10, the psychological pain, all of it unendurable, yet it must be endured regardless. And I just lie here like a piece of art covered with different colored fabrics, as the nurses and doctors and visitors come by and look at me and tell me how great I'm doing, ripping bandages and skin from me, pulling out staples, taking blood from me, putting pills in me. Just a little pile of rags made into an artform

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Capitalism is good, not evil.

I recently went on a four day vacation to Kings Canyon and Sequioa National Parks.  It was the first time my wife and I had gone on a decent vacation.  It made me realize that it's good to be fully employed again, to be able to take paid vacations again, to have good health insurance and be more healthy, to be able to afford some nice things and enjoy life more fully. I feel sorry for people who think corporations are evil, billionaires are evil, oil is evil, anything that makes money, or gets you ahead in 
life, or makes life easier and more comfortable is evil, and the only things that matter are social issues and the environment. Those are the same hypocrites that make daily use of things that made humble inventors into billionaires, things made by corporations using oil and gas products, the same people who often have never had to face the social issues they complain about. I used to be one of those people, so I know about that self-defeating attitude. It only sets you up for a life of poverty, misery, and general dissatisfaction, which probably explains why those people make up a disproportionate number of the whiners on Facebook. Maybe they're just lazy, dreamless, ineffectual, or unable to adapt and compete in the modern world? Whatever it is, they lack a well-rounded world view in which capitalism, social issues, and the environment can, and do, easily coexist. Maybe those people should walk everywhere instead of using transport, spin their own plant and animal fibers to make textiles to fabricate their own clothing, grow and process their own crops and livestock for food, attempt to treat their own injuries and diseases, live in meager huts of their own construction and be at the mercy of the elements, and generally live a miserable Stone Age existence. Then they might "get it" why humans have toiled for the last 10,000 years to build the civilization we have today.

- Dave Bad Person

Here's an article I've copied about some of the myths commonly perpetuated about capitalism.

4 Common Capitalism Myths Debunked

The term Marx coined stuck and has led to some confusion about why markets actually work.

 One of the most disappointing things I face as a college professor is the lack of understanding most students have regarding capitalism. The simple fact is, despite its importance to our daily lives, relatively few people have a strong grasp of what causes economic growth and why markets are so central to continuously rising standards of living.

In my teaching, I have encountered several myths or misperceptions about capitalism from students as well as individuals outside the classroom. Dispelling these myths has become a focus of much of my teaching.

One of the most pervasive misunderstandings about capitalism is the idea that it was created by someone. Some of this can be attributed to the language used to describe Adam Smith’s role in explaining the market process. The common reference to Smith as “the father of modern economics” can lead people to assume that he in some way created the market system. It is also not unreasonable to conclude that, since socialism is generally reliant on planning, many would assume that capitalism is as well.

Markets arise out of our human qualities.

However, as Friedrich Hayek explained, the market system is not really “created” as much as it is a system that evolves out of human interaction and discovery. Similar to language, the market economy was not created by a single individual or group but evolved over a long period based on the interactions of many people. The rules and institutions which support the market economy arose from these interactions.

This notion of a spontaneous order emerging out of the individual actions of millions of people, and the discovery of rules and institutions that will facilitate the continual progress of this order, may be the most important aspect of capitalism. It succeeds because it arises out of humanity itself.

Unlike socialism, which attempts to impose rules and institutions regardless of their conformity to human nature or desires, markets arise out of our human qualities. And the rules and institutions that facilitate the ability of markets to perform are discovered as we discover ourselves and in the way we interact with one another.

This may be the most pernicious of all the misunderstandings I encounter regarding markets. The idea that absent market capitalism would create greater shared wealth within society continues to permeate the thinking of a great deal of people. This is despite mounting evidence that, as markets are used by more and more countries, global poverty is steadily decreasing.

All developed countries have market-based economies.

Importantly, the evidence is clear that this decline in poverty has happened as countries have come to embrace market capitalism as the way forward – especially China and India. As other countries see the success of these two previously very poor countries and begin following their lead, we can expect to see poverty in the rest of the developing world significantly reduced as well.

In the Wealth of NationsAdam Smith explained how markets, by continuously expanding the range of goods and services to an ever-increasing number of people, would produce what he called “universal opulence.” However, since Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels first launched their frontal assault on capitalism, many intellectualsentertainers, and even politicians have embraced the idea that capitalism causes poverty, or at least prevents people from escaping it, and more disturbingly, that socialism leads to greater prosperity for the masses.

It’s not surprising, then, that these ideas filter down to the public-at-large. But this idea that capitalism leads to poverty for the masses while socialism leads to their prosperity is exactly opposite to all the evidence we have.

All developed countries have market-based economies. Those developing countries seeing the greatest growth have adopted market principles. Contrast this with countries that have fully adopted socialism, such as Venezuela or North Korea. It is troubling that incoming students do not understand this.

The underlying foundation of capitalism is human freedom.

The term “capitalism” was coined by Marx as a pejorative towards market-based economies. The term stuck and has led to some confusion about why markets actually work. As economic historian Deidre McCloskey has noted, people at all times have attempted to amass capital (land, resources, and money). But those collective attempts didn’t lead to the type of society-wide economic growth we have seen since 1800.

The underlying foundation of capitalism is human freedom. As Adam Smith recognized, when individuals are permitted to pursue their self-interest through markets, they are amazingly good at finding ways of bettering not only themselves but society as well.

Equally important, as economist Joseph Schumpeter explained, out of this freedom arises a continuous process of improvement – what he called “creative destruction.” It is this constant innovation – discovering and bringing to market new products and services, finding ways of improving existing products and services, and finding more efficient ways to create these products and services – that truly drives economic growth and increases standards of living.

The fact is, while the accumulation of capital is a feature of a market economy, it’s certainly not exclusive to it. It is individual freedom and the innovation that arises from it that drives the engine of capitalism.

While it is true that some individuals and firms succeed while others do not in capitalism, this also is hardly an exclusive feature of markets. All economic systems have some individuals who succeed and others who fail in one form or another.

Over the long run, society in its entirety benefits as a result of markets. 

However, capitalism is different in this regard in two important ways. First, capitalism increases the number of “winners.” Unlike other systems, capitalism reduces the barriers to entry into market activity for larger numbers of individuals. The resulting competition provides greater opportunities for success (both great and small) than in any other system.

Second, over the long run, society in its entirety benefits as a result of markets. This is because markets, as mentioned above, bring more goods and services within reach of more people than any other system.

Markets also produce products and services that improve our lives in ways that our ancestors could never have dreamed. Just consider all the things that exist today, that didn’t a mere thirty years ago. The simple fact is that today even the poorest modern Americans have more goods and services at their disposal than kings and queens did just two hundred years ago.

So, although individual firms may fail, and individual people may not gain great wealth, the fact is that, over the long-run, we all win by enjoying better living standards than previous generations.

If the United States is going to continue to see its economy grow and the living standards of its citizens improve, it is important that students are taught the basics of the economic system that has allowed them to experience Adam Smith’s “universal opulence.” Without this basic knowledge, they're easily led to believe the myths I’ve mentioned and to vote for politicians and policies that will ultimately undermine the very system that has made their lives significantly better than their ancestors, as well as better than most of their contemporaries across the globe.